Luis Gutiérrez “The New Vignerons” (Book Review)

When Luis Gutiérrez’s book The New Vignerons was published back in 2017 I sat up and took note, but although I can stretch to struggling through wine books in French, I know my Spanish would not have got me past the first few sentences of the Introduction. When a second edition came out, in English , in May 2018 I trawled the usual bookshops (Foyle’s etc) known to have a decent Wine Section, but never saw it, and so it receded from my mind, because I’m always buying new wine books. However, when I saw it for sale at Viñateros London in February this year it was fairly easy to buy a copy, as indeed it was to collar Luis and cheekily get him to sign it.

Luis’ book was timely on first publication and has proved even more so in the years since. When I wrote my articles about that Viñateros Tasting I was at pains to stress how exciting Spanish Wine is at the moment, endorsing comments that Spain is “the new South Africa”. I’ve been drinking a lot more Spanish wine lately, which will filter into my “Recent Wines” articles in due course, so now seems a good time to write, if somewhat belatedly, about this enthralling book.

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Almost every piece you will read on Spanish Wine will likely begin by stating that Spain has the most vines of any country worldwide. The history of Spanish viticulture is relatively simple, allowing for two exceptions (Rioja, and for different reasons, Jerez). From modern man’s earliest recollection Spain meant, to the majority, red plonk, probably poured from the spout on an animal skin several feet above the receiving orifice. In the late 20th Century a number of producers set about to change that perception, but perhaps looking over the mountains towards Bordeaux, they felt the best way to achieve things was certainly with lashings of new oak and bottles the weight of which would put a man’s back out. Maybe throw in some international grape varieties for good measure.

That main exception (in that it had achieved some renown for quality), Rioja, had become pretty much a generic anachronism by the time I met it. I had no idea that gems existed, Lopez de Heredia being the prime example. The ones I tried if I’m honest tasted as if someone had emptied a number of those cheap tiny plastic bottles of vanilla essence into the vat. And when the so-called modern Riojas came along, I had no issue with their quality. It’s just that why would someone who was not Spanish buy them over Bordeaux, Burgundy and Barolo? Especially at those prices.

As for Ribera Del Duero, well aside from a lucky encounter with Vega Sicilia Valbuena in the 1990s, they were so oaky that it put me off for years until I came across Goyo Garcia Viadero (which wasn’t actually until 2017, when these wines stood out head and shoulders above anything else at a Consejo-organised London tasting). Oh, and let’s not forget Priorat. I was in early and bought some Scala Dei 1988, in the days when it was known as “Priorato”. That was a reasonable 13.5% abv, but when they started appearing at 15%, well even in my youth I baulked. Thankfully the Fredi Torres Priorat I bought this week is back to 13.5%.

Some of the producers now among Spain’s finest were part of this “Modern Spain” movement, but their winemaking was always more nuanced than those who saw a commercial opportunity, perhaps the same type of businessmen who saw fit to downgrade Cava to a generic supermarket sparkler for the masses, from which it has taken until now to recover from. That nuance, coupled with an appreciation of Spain’s great terroirs and great autochthonous grape varieties, is what has informed the next generation of Spanish winemakers. I think it has also informed, and given confidence to, those creating a revolution in Spain via low intervention and natural wines.

Gutiérrez is Robert Parker’s man in Spain. Now I think many of you will know that “post-Parker” began for me around the 1989 Bordeaux vintage, when I opened a wooden case of Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classé to see it registered 14% abv, a far cry from the 11.5% attribution on the labels of Médoc châteaux I had begun to worship the god of wine through from vintages of the mid-to-late 1970s, with all their savoury goodness. But Luis is the man. In fact he was co-author, along with my friend Jesús Barquin and Victor de la Serna of what I had always rated by far the best book on Spain previously (The Finest Wines of Rioja and Northwest Spain, Aurum Press 2011, still well worth a purchase…sadly we never got Jerez and Southeastern Spain). Most importantly, Luis is in the game.

You’ll find the format of the book easy to understand because it is simply fourteen producer profiles of some of the most innovative, forward thinking, and indeed game changing names in Spanish wine. You can see all the names in the photo below, but they include the Envinate quartet, Dani Landi/Fernando Garcia, Eduardo Ojeda (Equipo Navazos), Rafa Bernabei, Sara Pérez/René Barbier and, of course, Telmo Rodríguez finishing it all off.

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Eduardo Ojeda with Jesús Barquin (Equipo Navazos)

The book is published in, well I’m not sure of the size but it’s just a little smaller than A4, so it lends itself well to the beautiful photography of Estanis Núñez, who, like Mick Rock (see Wink Lorch’s books) turned from photographing musicians to wine in his later years. In my opinion his photographs rank alongside Rock and Jon Wyand (World of Fine Wine stalwart) as among the best in the business, and the photography certainly adds to the book.

I think Gutiérrez gets it right in his selection of names. Of course as I said, Luis is the man, and were I to write the same book I’d be writing about Partida Creus, Ambiz, Purulio, Victoria Torres Pecis, and so on, but then again, I am a big fan of Envinate, Señor Jiménez-Landi, and my all time Spanish heroes, Equipo Navazos. It was also nice to see people like Pablo Calatayud (Celler del Roure) included. But if one person really exemplifies what this book is all about, perhaps it is Telmo Rodríguez.

I first came across Telmo in the 1990s. That pioneer of true wine bloodhounds (UK Chapter), Simon Loftus, began to import the wines via the Adnams Brewery’s wine arm, which this young man was making around Spain’s (at the time) lesser known regions. I can’t recall the first Rodríguez wine I tried, other than his family’s Remelluri (in fact, their white Rioja). It may have been Al-Muvedre from Alicante, or possibly Dehesa Gago from Toro.

Both regions were wholly unknown in the UK at the time, and perhaps almost unknown in Spain, yet Telmo saw the true potential of the old bush vines. His foresight has been repeated and echoed down almost three decades as the stars of the New Spain seem to have sought out the same. I’m reasonably certain that if it were not for this man of action, ironically with a family ensconced in Spain’s most conservative (at the time) wine region, we might not have seen a true revival…of Galicia, Andalucia, Catalonia, and regions such as Toro, Bierzo, Sierra Nevada and more. His influence may be indirect in some cases, but he was the man who showed others the way.

It’s fascinating that Telmo discovered a lot of these old vineyards in his wanderings with Pablo Eguzkiza, with whom he works, along the old sheep trails (we call them droveways). They had been planning to write a book on the lost vineyards of Spain but never got around to it. That’s rather like me because I planned to write a book on the lost vineyards of France at the end of the 1980s. You know, Marcillac and the rest of Aveyron, the Ardèche, Jura, Bugey, Jurançon and Irouléguy. Back then even Condrieu was totally unknown to most people and only a very select few really knew Auguste Clape’s Cornas, Jacques Puffeney’s Arbois or Elian da Ros’s Marmandes.

But thankfully Telmo began a winemaking company and the rest is history. I get the impression that Telmo Rodríguez is in some ways the muse for this book, but I’m so glad he is. Instead of merely telling us about what had been lost, he began bringing some of it back to life, and in doing so he became an inspiration, with a small band of others (like René Barbier Ferrer, the founder of modern Priorat), for the new generation that is finally pulling Spain into the 21st Century, in the prominent position it deserves. This prominence is achieved by looking back at tradition, both in the vines and in the winery. Old values and methods reevaluated by people who can balance modernity with the past and in doing so produce such exciting wines.

Does the book have any flaws? Well the main one, no let’s be honest here, its only one, is it’s length, but that is merely me being greedy. I loved reading it, and I would have loved it to have gone well beyond its 270+ pages, and its fourteen producers. Maybe we need a second volume for the “young guns, but I’m not completely sure Mr Robert Parker would be writing the Foreword to that one. Highly recommended and timely.

The New Vignerons (sub-titled A New Generation of Spanish Wine Growers) by Luis Gutiérrez (2nd Edn in English) was published in May 2018 by Planeta Gastro (32,95€/£39.99 RRP.

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Luis’s book with Barquin and de la Serna – The Finest Wines of Rioja and Northwest Spain (2011)

Posted in Spanish Wine, Wine, Wine Books, Wine Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Matthiasson, Linda Vista Chardonnay and Nekter Wines on Zoom

As the UK’s Coronavirus lockdown came into place you could hear the buzz of wine importers working out not only how to keep their stock moving and supporting their growers (by being in a position to sell more of their wine), but also how to connect with their public. There are some who have been swifter out of the blocks than others, and there are a few gigs lined up that will be worth tuning in to, for those who might have more time on their hands, or who have drained Netflix or Amazon Prime of stuff worth watching already.

Importers need to be quite picky about what they present to us. The offer needs to be well thought out, not only to grab our attention but also to make us come back next time. Nekter Wines not only happen to be hosts for the first of these interfaces I have been able to join in on, but also they have come up with something that may be hard to better.

They kicked off a series of web-get togethers on the Zoom platform through an hour with Californian demi-god (only joking) Steve Matthiasson (with a little input from Jill as well). The idea was initially to taste Steve’s Linda Vista Chardonnay, but in fact the hour was spent mostly listening to a raft of interesting stories, and insights, from Steve himself as he sat in the Californian sunshine with Mount Veeder as a backdrop. Around thirty people sat at home, mostly with glass in hand, to join in, with ample time for questions.

If you don’t know the Zoom format, you are sent a link to a virtual conference where each attendee appears in a box on the screen. You can choose to look at this screen or focus just on one participant. So in this case I could have Steve up full screen as if we were having a Skype call, or I could watch the whole room with their assorted pets and reactions to the dialogue.

I apologise that the photos here fall below even my usual average, but they hopefully convey a bit of the atmosphere more than my words on their own.

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I was originally just going to talk in general terms about the event, but Steve Matthiasson’s story is so interesting that it is worth regaling you with it in brief here. Steve and his wife, Jill Klein Matthiasson, farm around eleven hectares in Southern Napa, from their base near Oak Knoll. They own a couple of hectares and farm another nine on leases.

Steve doesn’t come from a wine background, although he remembers loving being up on a cousin’s farm in Canada as a child. He was quite open about the issues which led him to be unable to focus academically at school, but he loved being outdoors. As a ten year old he remembers Greenpeace coming to talk at his school (pretty liberal school I think) and being moved by their environmental message, and the wider environment remains at the heart of everything he and Jill do.

Somehow Steve ended up studying philosophy at college, whilst spending part of his time as a skateboarder punk (I would have loved to ask him about his favourite bands but I figured this maybe wasn’t the place), but he also worked as a community gardener. This led him to UC Davies (horticulture) and then to work on various organic programmes, where he first met Jill. He eventually ended up writing the Californian Guide to Sustainable Farming Practices, and as well as Matthiasson Family Wines, Steve is one of the state’s most highly regarded consultants, following the path of organic farming, low intervention and sustainable viticulture.

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Jill and Steve

Linda Vista Vineyard Chardonnay 2017 – Steve is perhaps better known for his white wines than his reds (not that the reds are any less beautiful), and if you ask your average wine journo to name a Matthiasson wine they adore they will almost always point to the blend called simply “White”. This mix of French and Italian varieties (or Bordeaux and Friuli to be slightly more specific) has been described by Mr Bonné in his book The New California Wine thus: “More than any other wine, Steve Matthiasson’s white blend has changed the conversation about Napa’s potential and about the possibilities for white wine in California”. It has been that influential.

However, whilst Linda Vista is (thankfully) a little cheaper than the white blend (we are looking at £37 as opposed to £50 from Nekter), in some ways it demonstrates exactly the same ideas. This vineyard is rented by Steve and Jill, but it is right up close to their home. It sits on what could very loosely be called the lower slopes of Mount Veeder. We are only at around ten metres above sea level, but the soils and bedrock are the same as this unique mountain. Whilst most of the other well know “mountains” (Harlan etc) around the valley are volcanic in origin, Mount Veeder is made from deep ocean rock pushed up via the fault which cuts right through the Matthiassons’ neighbour’s property.

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You can kind of see Mount Veeder, though the wide angle makes it look further away, but the blur in the foreground is certainly Linda Vista

Steve says that the marine soils give a brightness to the wine with apples and citrus when picked early. Another benefit aiding a certain brightness in this wine is the water retention of the clays, allowing dry farming for anyone who wishes to go down this route. Although too long and detailed to include here, Steve gave us a run-through of all the different flavours in his Chardonnay as it evolves through apple to, if allowed, finally more peachy and tropical flavours.

Naturally Steve picks to get these earlier flavours into the wine, but goes through the vineyard several times to get a range of flavours for obvious complexity. They pick during August and September, over two-to-three weeks, whereas bigger producers pick a whole vineyard in a day. Early picking was even more beneficial in years, like 2017, when fires raged around. With grapes safely (though not seemingly “safe” at the time) in the winery, they avoided the smoke taint others suffered.

The vineyard was originally planted forty years ago by Beringer and leased by the Matthiassons in 2011, but the Château Montelena Chardonnay which was the top scoring wine in the 1976 Judgement of Paris came from the same terrain. The lower end of the Napa Valley is much cooler than the north, perhaps by ten degrees in summer. This means a daytime difference of ten degrees (25° as opposed to 35°), and with noticeably chilly nights even in summer, allowing the grapes to benefit from significant diurnal temperature variation through preservation of their acids. 

The vineyard also has a direct link to the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate, thus benefiting from the famous morning fogs and afternoon sea breezes which flow in towards Oak Knoll, just north of the town of Napa itself. All of this helps the vines to be mostly free of disease. Powdery mildew is the main problem, for which they are developing natural oils. Clove oil works as a good weedkiller. Pests can cause problems, mainly mice, for which it is necessary to spray the oil around the base of the vines because the rodents are less prone to nibble where they can’t hide, but they leave the cover crops between the rows.

The wine is deliberately made, as you can tell, in a style which emphasises brightness and freshness. The wine is certainly easy to approach in youth. So, picked early for Napa (the Chardonnay is usually all in before neighbouring farmers begin with theirs, even taking account of that long picking cycle), and made in neutral used oak, we do not have the Napa Chardonnay cliché. It’s a wine of purity, a nice line of acidity usually making it difficult to place this as Napa, yet with the undoubtedly ripe fruit which the Californian sunshine usually guarantees.

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Not Jill!

The questions asked by those on-screen were all interesting, especially when Steve was asked to talk about influencers on his winemaking and indeed philosophy. Naturally Warren Winiarski, founder of Stag’s Leap, and for whom Steve worked for during eleven years, was described as his mentor. Winiarski had himself learnt at the hand of Californian Wine’s great originator, André Tchelistcheff. Paul Draper of Ridge also gets a mention.

In the “where have you enjoyed visiting” category, Hiyu Wine Farm in Oregon’s Hood River Valley gets a prominent plug. This is one of those “if you know, you know” kind of producers, and I’m certain many readers “do”. I’ve only had one opportunity to taste some of their truly amazing (and expensive) wines, and I can see exactly why Steve would give them name check number one.

So what was initially going to be a quick plug for what are going to be an entertaining series of hangouts at 8pm on a Friday evening has turned into a bit of a Matthiasson fest, but that surely demonstrates just how fascinating the whole experience turned out to be. It felt like being in a virtually private conversation with a winemaker who I personally admire above all others in the State of California.

If you would like to get involved in future Zoom get-togethers with Nekter Wines, contact them or watch out for their social media posts.

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Nekter supremo Jon, our evening’s host

…And More To Come…

Lots of people are getting in on the act. I will just mention two here right now. Many of you will have read my article about a recent tasting of Basket Press Wines carried out for Plateau and Ten Green Bottles in Brighton. Basket Press will be hosting a series of Live Instagram sessions called “A Glass With…”, every Tuesday starting this week at 4pm. The idea is to create a platform where people working in wine and interesting amateurs can learn mainly about the wines of Czech Moravia. The first “glass with” guest will be sommelier Alexandre Freguin, winner of the Taittinger UK Sommelier of the Year in 2018. Alexandre has visited Moravia, and is well placed to talk about the wines, the producers and the terroir. Follow Basket Press Wines on Instagram to discover more about these obscure (to some) wines I keep raving about.

If you need your diary to fill up further, something equally as interesting is going down with Newcomer Wines in partnership with Kiffe My Wines. Every Wednesday at 3pm these importers will host three of their Winemakers in conversation on a theme. On Wednesday 1 April they will have Michael Wenzer, Franz Weninger and Pierre Menard talking about preserving heritage grape varieties, specifically Furmint. Future discussions in the following weeks will centre on how to become a winemaker via a career change, slow winemaking, winemakers who do it all from farming to marketing, and on 29 April, winemaking as an intellectual, physical and political pursuit.

This last conversation will include the heavyweights of Tom Lubbe, Rudolf Trossen and Claus Preissinger, but other weeks you will listen to luminaries including Christian Tschida, Milan Nesterec, and Jutta Ambrositsch among my favourites. Watch out again on social media and via merchant newsletters.

One final plug, with 1 April in mind is for LittleWine (littlewine.co). LittleWine will launch as a platform for education, using words, film and audio, on the subject of a sustainable future as seen through the lens of sensitive, low intervention, grape farming and winemaking, or as the originators put it, mindful farming. The full details of the site will appear on release, but it looks as if a certain amount of content will be available free of charge, with documentaries and producer profiles behind a paywall, but the subscription of just £24 per year looks reasonable to me. The teasers I’ve seen look very professional (understatement), and I’d like to wish Christina and Dani the best of luck for the launch. I hope we don’t crash the site on its launch day because I know a great many wine fanatics worldwide will want to check it out.

A final note on the Covid-19 situation. A friend recently complained that Majestic Wine’s web site was not reachable and Waitrose couldn’t deliver and he had no idea where to buy some wine, until I pointed to a local indie merchant who was making deliveries. I even sent him a list of suggestions within his price range. At this time both small importers and independent wine shops are in need of cash flow. Interestingly, some of those wine shops I know have been very busy, but of course that initial peak in business may tail off once people have a case sitting in the wine rack. Equally, larger importers like Les Caves de Pyrene and Indigo, who you may know better as wholesalers, are making their magnificent portfolios available to the general public

I know these people are not charities, but I would ask anyone who is able to consider carefully the suggestion that we spread the love around the specialists, especially the smaller ones (including Nekter Wines, obviously), whether they have bricks and mortar premises or work out of a room in the suburbs. If we help them make it through, we will benefit in the long run…from having a wider and better range of wines to choose from when we hopefully come out the other side. My impact is small, but together we can keep hold of our wonderful, vibrant, wine industry. The one silver lining of all of this is that many wines which usually only find their way into restaurant lists are now made available to us mere mortals. That’s a thought to leave you with.

Stay safe and drink magnificently.

 

Posted in Californian Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Basket Press Wines at Plateau, Brighton (March 2020)

Oh how different the world seemed a couple of weeks ago. Basket Press Wines, the importer of primarily Czech wines, was down in Brighton to show some new wines and vintages to the staff of Plateau and Ten Green Bottles, and I tagged along so I could get in on the act. I’ve written about Basket Press before, and been to a couple of their public tastings, so it will come as no surprise that I was interested in getting a taste of what they are bringing in right now, especially any new wines.

Of course the restaurants, and most of the wine shops, Basket Press supplies have all had to close down. It’s a bummer for business, for sure. But Basket Press like most of the small importers are selling online now, and these guys are offering free delivery for orders of six bottles or more nationwide. That beats most small importers. You might like what you see here, but I’ll be honest, their whole list is a revelation if you’ve not tried these wines from Czech Moravia (with a couple of forays elsewhere). I got my delivery in quickly…it feels a bit like insider trading must feel, but I’m not proud. I had to have the Hungarians!

Utopia “Johana” 2017 (Cider) (Czech Rep)

This is a Czech cider, and I know you are aware of the artisan cider revolution which is going on right now. But I’m sure that you won’t yet have drunk many ciders quite like this producer’s. The orchards are at Sudkuv Dul in the Bohemian Highlands, and Ivo and Eva Laurin make cider much more in the image of natural wine than conventional ciders.

Utopia ciders come largely from old Czech heritage varieties. There are around 55 varieties planted. Some trees are 80 years old, although they have planted some old English seedlings as an experiment. The apples begin fermentation in Autumn. This is carried through to dryness in spring at which time wild cultures of lactic acid bacteria soften the cider’s edges, like the malolactic fermentation which softens wine’s malic acids.

I can’t help but admire the names of traditional cider apples. In my last article (Recent Wines February 2020) I mentioned some of the varietal names used by Eric Bordelet in France, but here they grow the wonderfully named “Minister von Hammerstein”. Why can’t we have grape varieties with names like this?

Fermentation, and then ageing, takes place over one year in old 225-litre casks, and the cider is then given bottle age before shipping. No sulphur is added at any stage and no fining nor filtration takes place. The result in the case of “Johana” is highly vinous. It’s appley but quite soft. There’s not the same complexity as with grapes for sure, but there is complexity compared to the clean freshness of most ciders. There’s plenty going on here, yet in a very understated way. This is super-interesting juice and definitely something for the table and food rather than just glugging on a park bench, or the beach…and as you shouldn’t be in either of those places right now, that’s good. The packaging is (perhaps) a heck of a lot less exciting than the product inside the bottle.

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Krásná Hora “La Blanca” 2018 (Czech Rep)

This is an estate farming around eight hectares of vines, and purchasing grapes from a further five hectares, on the slopes outside Dolni Poddvorov, close to the Slovakian border inside Czech Moravia. The estate name means “beautiful mountain”. The vines here were originally planted by Cistercian monks, those great dissemblers of viticulture, in the 13th century.

The estate is now biodynamic but it has always avoided synthetic agro-chemicals on the land. Winemaking is similarly low intervention. In order to achieve this, and to restrict SO2 to very low levels, the team has become adept at using skin contact and lees ageing. These techniques are very common in Moravia, and this is one reason why it has become the centre of a very dynamic natural wine production.

La Blanca is the estate’s entry level white wine. The blend is approximately 60% Riesling, fermented separately to 40% made up of more Riesling, with Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Gewurztraminer. This latter 40% gets a month on skins. The wine is very aromatic, with the Gewurz coming through on the nose. The palate has a richness from the skin contact, whilst overall the Riesling gives the wine a spine.

At only 10.5% abv there’s also crisp apple skin and a savoury side. The combination of aromatics and skin contact makes an inexpensive and low alcohol wine amazingly interesting. The Riesling element is lovely, but the richness of the Pinot Gris and the aromatics of the Gewurztraminer make for a wine which is more than the sum of its parts, though at a reasonably simple level. Only 6,500 bottles made.

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Jaroslav Osička “Milerka” 2018 (Czech Rep)

Jaroslav is really the man behind the natural wine movement in Moravia. For thirty years he taught at the local viticultural college, inspiring his students with tales of what this region had once been capable of before the days of Communism and collective farming. He only farms three hectares, planted with seven different varieties. Milerka is his own nickname for the usually unloved Müller-Thurgau. The vineyard has been organic from the off, in the early 1980s and whilst not officially biodynamic, the sprays Osička uses are biodynamic in origin.

This wine is in reality a blend, with Müller-Thurgau forming just 85%, the remainder Neuberger and others. At 12% abv, this is fragrant and floral, and quite light. But Osička is a fan of Jura wines. This doesn’t come through too overtly yet in the nutty flavours which develop late on the finish you can just see a tiny nod towards Eastern France there. Of course this is aged on lees, in acacia barrels.

This producer is a master winemaker, and I think in many countries where he would get more exposure he’d be a genuine star, in the mould of a Puffeney or an Overnoy. This is the first of three wines here from Jaroslav Osička, and his Modry Portugal (see below), always a favourite, was in my delivery last week.

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Réka-Koncz “Eastern Accents” 2018 (Hungary)

The two wines here by Annamária Réka are among four new additions to the Basket Press portfolio from her. This is their first foray into Hungary. I’m not wholly sure how Annamária remained undiscovered, but loath as I am to say so (because quantities are pretty small), these are special. This producer is another of my discoveries of the year. If you have been drawn by me to try the wines of Victoria Torres Pecis or perhaps Veronica Ortega, then you will enjoy Annamária’s wines. Another tiny three-hectare vineyard, Annamária’s vines are in Eastern Hungary, not too far from Tokaji, but equally not far from the border with Ukraine.

Eastern Accents is a cloudy and rather exotic wine made for the true adventurer. On tasting it I felt like taking up the bottle, wandering off to a silent space, telling everyone else not to wait up for me. The main variety here is Háslevelú, blended with Annamária’s most planted grape, Királyleányka. You may have never seen that name, but this Transylvanian variety goes by a name you might have come across in Romania, Feteasca Regală. The vines average between forty and sixty years old. The result is neither white nor orange, but the colour of peach juice. The Hárslevelú saw five days on skins whilst the Királyleányka was hand-destemmed before a two-week semi-carbonic maceration. Scented, juicy and textured, and most certainly easy to fall in love with.

Réka-Koncz “In Return” 2018 (Hungary)

If it was a vinous love at first sight for the previous wine, I think if anything this was even more impressive. Here the Királyleányka variety takes the driving seat, with Rhine Riesling as a passenger. After a 24-hour maceration the whole bunches began spontaneous fermentation. Ageing was on fine lees, but as with the previous wine, no wood was used. The skin contact aromatics really come over strongly here. The colour was slightly darker than Eastern Accents (above), and it shows nice lifted fruit. You do therefore need to like this style to share my enthusiasm.

Needless to say, I decided to grab a bottle of each of the four Réka-Koncz wines imported by Basket Press. I’m really not sure how much will be left, but at least I guess the restaurants are unlikely to be ordering them.

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Ota Ševčík Riesling 2017 (Czech Rep)

Ota is another producer making wine from a tiny area, in this case two hectares in Southern Moravia, at Bořetice in the Hanáké Slováko Region, over two sites. He is a young man with a total focus on the land, and his wonderful wines are among my very favourites from the Czech Republic (see especially the next wine, below).

This Rhine Riesling is off a 1.5 ha plot tended without synthetic chemical interventions, and indeed Ota was a founding member of the Authentiste group of Moravian winemakers whose renown has been growing in recent years for their original work in keeping Moravia by-and-large chemical free among the wider region’s small wine farmers.

The essence of this Riesling, what gives it a uniqueness, is its two days on skins followed by a year resting on gross, then fine, lees in large used oak. So it’s an orange wine, dry but with broader fruit than a traditionally fermented version of the grape might show. It is grounded by a mineral intensity which may to a large part come from the high magnesium content in the soils. The vines are not that young, maybe five-to-eleven years old, but the complexity added by the vinification seems to make up for that. A lovely wine.

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Ota Ševčík Frankovka Claret 2018 (Czech Rep)

This second wine from Ota was new to me. The Frankovka variety is none other than that which we know as Blaufränkisch in Austria. Claret has no Bordeaux associations, rather it mirrors the Clairet/Clarete light red style which is thankfully seeing a bit of a comeback right now, and would probably be perfect drinking under the azure skies of my small lockdown garden.

This wine is actually described as a “blanc de noirs” but its peach colour is closer to orange than white, and there’s just the smallest hint of red molecules in there to show up faintly in the sunshine. It was vinified in stainless steel, with six months on lees. It has a little lees texture, a little body and fleshy richness, with a smoothness of fruit. The finish has a satisfying creaminess. But that doesn’t really sound as thrilling and exciting as I think this wine tastes (in context).

This wine is so new it is yet to make it to many Basket restaurant customers, but if you like this style, I can recommend it highly. Its 12.4% alcohol makes it a good bet to drink cool under the parasol…because sadly we do not possess a hammock, whilst listening to Grand Funk Railroad’s 1970 classic live album.

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Jaroslav Osička P.A.N. 2018 (Czech Rep)

Jaroslav says it is his wish to create an emotional reaction to his wines. I think this remark, which some could see as flowery ideals, is actually central to wine with soul. It is so easy for wine writers (especially those who see themselves as wine critics) to dwell wholly on the “objective” when experiencing wine. But my hunch is that if I do have a subjective emotional reaction to drinking a bottle, or tasting one, you the reader will actually be interested in this. I’m guessing total devotees of Parker Points might take issue with that, but perhaps not too many of them read my Blog.

Oh, so back to P.A.N. It’s another new wine in the portfolio. It’s largely Pinot Noir with the addition of André. That’s a grape variety, occasionally called Semenac, a 1960 Czech cross between Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent, not some bloke who fell into the vat during fermentation. It’s actually, as you might expect, a fruity and easy going red with an imprint of cherry fruit, fairly concentrated but gluggable stuff. Very nice, in a fun way. The emotion Jaroslav creates here is cheerfulness, and plenty of it.

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Petr Koráb St Laurent (Czech Republic)

I didn’t get the vintage of this wine. The one listed on the Basket Press web site is the 2017 but this could be a new vintage. No worries, whatever vintage this Saint Laurent is another juicy, fresh red with typical cherry fruit, bright acids and a little grip.

Koráb founded the winery with his brother back in 2006, in Boleradice. Petr’s focus has been on reviving the old vineyards, and integrating them into a mixed farm with bee hives, goats and sheep. The old vines go up to 75 years of age, and are farmed biodynamically, with natural yeasts and the usual (for Moravia) minimum intervention winemaking, mostly using open vats and old oak barrels. This is another very good producer, and the wine’s label is a reflection of Petr’s philosophy of the guiding human hand nurturing and protecting nature’s bounty.

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Dva Duby “Vox in Excelso” 2017 (Czech Republic)

Jiři Šebela makes wine in Dolne Kounice in Southern Moravia, and yet again these are natural wines, with only the addition of a small amount of sulphur at bottling, if necessary. I’m told this is especially beautiful wine country with vineyards rising above the river valley. Vineyards thrived here on Austria’s border in medieval times, and it’s probably no surprise that Frankovka, aka Blaufränkisch, is the most planted variety.

The difference here perhaps is the soil and bedrock. It is volcanic, based on Granodiorite, which is magmatic stone (ie from magma) which is molten rock beneath the surface, rather than lava spewed forth from an eruption. This gives Frankovka here a very distinct personality. “Vox” has a clear, bright, colour. It has an intense bouquet like distilled iron and blood, which singles it out as quite unique, although there’s a hint of the aromatics of Fer Servadou from The Aveyron in France.

The palate kicks in with crunchy sour cherry fruit and bright acidity. It’s a deep wine, serious, perhaps top level. It has a defining spine running through it and precision. Less of a glugging wine here, a little more serious, but approachable. Just better with food, perhaps and nevertheless very impressive. 13% abv.

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Jaroslav Osička Modry Portugal 2017 (Czech Rep)

We finish with another wine from Osička, one which I’ve drunk (and bought) more than once. The variety here is the rare Blauer Portugieser, which one sees occasionally around the German speaking world and its satellites, and occasionally in the Hungarian red, Bull’s Blood (Egri Bikavér).

The grapes spend eight months in large oak and acacia barrels and then into fibreglass tanks to keep the wine fresh and fruity before bottling. It does have that lifted freshness, especially on the nose where you get fruity floral scents melded with darker and deeper beetroot and a slightly vegetal/umami edge. This is all with just 12.6% alcohol.

I think the reason I like this…well, okay, I admit that drinking a nice Blauer Portugieser helps affirm my faith in so-called lesser varieties…but otherwise I’m there sipping a wine that is just outside the parameters of what we drink most of the time. It’s a “natural wine” but that doesn’t make it unusual. It’s not cidery or scary in any other way. It’s just different, in possession of flavours outside the mainstream. Not so far outside that it ceases to be “red wine” with all those inherent expectations, but just enough that we take note.

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So on a sunny afternoon at a tasting in sunny Brighton we finish on a high note…except that maybe all these wines in their own way strike a high note. If you feel adventurous and need something to stimulate your mind and soul during this period of confinement, maybe take a look at the Basket Press web site here. There is a retail price list on the site (click on “Wines – Shop” on the top bar) but most of these hover between £15 and £25.

Remember what I said about their free delivery, at least whilst wine deliveries are still possible. I’ve actually just received this afternoon an interesting (and timely) email from their mailing list. They have put together two different sampler half-dozens. One costs £111 and one £96.90, delivery included. They are discounted by 5%, but if you buy two you get a free bottle added in as a thank you. I don’t receive anything for recommending these wines, other than pleasure in sharing them with a wider audience, but it does help that these are really nice people working hard at something they are so passionate about.

 

Posted in biodynamic wine, Cider, Czech Wine, Hungarian Wine, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recent Wines, February 2020 #theglouthatbindsus

The wine trade, and the hospitality industry in general, is going through a very worrying time with Coronavirus. I am well aware that my complete inability to find a single four-pack of toilet rolls in any local supermarket in four attempts is absolutely unimportant compared to the stress being felt by all those, whether restaurateurs, bar owners, indie wine shops or small-to-medium importers, who have all worked so hard to build businesses running on low margins and tight cash-flow.

I am very lucky. I may not be all that well off for rice, tinned tomatoes, nor ginger and coconut cream (jeez, why are people going crazy for these…but thank goodness they’d not cleared the shelves of fenugreek), but a rough calculation suggests that if my wife and I shared a bottle of wine every night (which, don’t be overly concerned, we don’t) we could survive for a couple of years. But now is not the right time to stop buying, I think. I can’t even come close to propping up the UK wine trade with my consumption, but I promise to do my bit.

This means that despite all the tastings being cancelled and any planned trips to Austria and France being off for now, I still have numerous things with which to attempt to entertain you all. So much so that my monthly article on wines drunk at home is even a little late. But here we are, a dozen wines (well, one is a cider) knocked back during February chez nous. As usual it’s an eclectic mix of classics, bubbles and glou.

Airén “Bayo Flor” 2018, Vinos Ambiz (Gredos/Madrid, Spain)

Fabio Bartolomei makes truly magical wines, and their magic lies in something more than merely the terroir or the grape varieties used to make them. His Airén Bayo Flor (under flor) exemplifies this completely. Airén is at best dismissed by commentators as just a workhorse grape, once the most planted in Europe. There are many who would dismiss it in the same way as they dismiss Muller-Thurgau or Silvaner. Whilst one would never call this particular wine “world class” in any traditional sense, it is a wine which will cause joy and wonder for anyone who has a deep and passionate love for wine.

In some way, Fabio’s achievement here outstrips that of a winemaker working with a “noble” variety, especially because his own patch of mountain is ferociously malign to human endeavour. Yet the man himself would argue, and he may have a point (especially when you read his back labels) that his input is merely as a mule who moves grapes, must and wine at various stages of the process.

The vessels used in making this strictly non-interventionist viña include stainless steel, wood and the old terracotta tinajas Fabio collected from around his ex-cooperative cellars. The grapes from vines averaging fifty-to-sixty years of age which go into them are brought down from the harsh granite of the Gredos, from 600-to-650 metres above the El Tiemblo bodega. We have a wine of dark straw colour. The bouquet is frighteningly exotic, the wine surprisingly complex. Above all it is juicy…and textured, with bags of extract and flavour. Yet this Viña de Mesa only sees six months ageing, allegedly without skins. Somehow it seems impossible that it might contain 13.25% alcohol. It goes down like fruit juice. It really is quite beautiful. Each of the sub-1,000 bottle production will cost a little over 20€.

This bottle came directly from the producer. Otros Vinos is the UK importer.

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Pithos Bianco 2014, COS (Sicily, Italy)

COS has always been a beacon for those of us whose heads were turned by “natural wines” back in distant times when finding them required Arctic Explorer levels of seeking out. An awful lot has been written about them since those days, and rather than try to add to that I will merely mention Robert Camuto’s travel book on Sicilian Wine, Palmento (Univ of Nebraska Press, 2010), which is a nice way to find out about many of the people producing wine on Sicily back at the time of the island’s vinous rebirth.

The Pithos wines, red and white, are to a degree, what COS is (or was) all about. This “white” (one might better call it orange/amber, or if from the UK, perhaps the colour of Lucozade) is made 100% from biodynamically grown Grecanico, from sites at 230 metres asl near Vittoria, in Sicily’s southeastern corner. The complex soils here are Pliocene sub-alpine sands with limestone, calcareous tufa and red clay. The grapes are placed in submerged amphorae where they spend seven months, their only manipulation being a little added sulphur at bottling.

The result is textured but smooth, especially at this age. The complex notes here include beeswax, tangerine, mimosa and ginger, but that’s just my take. There’s plenty more in there. Normally I would recommend Pithos Bianco as a wine to drink within two or three years of release, yet this 2014 was fascinating in the way it had developed. A lovely wine. Funny, but we kind of think of these as being “classics” now. It’s hard to imagine how new they seemed all those years ago, but they are no less exciting today.

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.

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Champagne Jacques Lassaigne “Les Vignes de Montgueux” (Champagne, France)

Emmanuel Lassaigne’s wines are as firmly established among lovers of natural wines and Grower Champagne now as Manu himself is allegedly established in his seat at the bar of “Aux Crieurs” in Troyes, if every article written about him is to be believed. Just as Aux Crieurs is indeed the best place to drink in the region, Manu is without question the best producer. Of course, the vineyards on the hill of Montgueux, a stone’s throw west of Troyes, only amount to two-hundred hectares. Emmanuel took over from his father, Jacques, in 1999 and farms around four of those hectares, buying fruit from a further two-and-a-half.

From his vines, Lassaigne makes an interesting array of wines, beginning with the house cuvée for Les Papilles, the famous Parisian natural wine shop, up to single site bottlings of real individuality. “Les Vignes” is of course a blend, non-vintage, but nevertheless a wine which seems to express its terroir. It does this via a fairly fullish body with flavours of both apple and more exotic fruits. It has freshness, texture and real presence, and it somehow seems just a little bit different and unique. One can’t help but put this down to it coming from this small island of viticulture between the southern Côte de Sezanne and the Côte des Bar. It is made from 100% biodynamic Chardonnay.

Purchased from La Caves des Papilles (35 rue Daguerre, Paris 14). In UK, try The Good Wine Shop. Although they currently only list the wonderful “Le Cotet” (£82), I have purchased “Vignes” from them in the past.

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Whole Bunch Pinot Noir 2017, The Hermit Ram (North Canterbury, New Zealand)

There is no shortage of exciting winemakers in New Zealand, but probably no one is making wines as close to the edge as Theo Coles. I can’t recall from whom I’m stealing this quote (not made directly about Theo, but it fits), that only those who have fallen off know what it’s like that close to the edge.

If you really want to see the edge (of both darkness and light), try Theo’s skin contact Muller-Thurgau. This Pinot is relatively restrained by comparison, but it’s still a long way beyond what most people are doing with the variety. The grapes come from the layered limestone, clay and iron oxide of Omihi. The wine sees 75% whole bunch fermentation and no additions or manipulations, save a tiny addition of sulphur at bottling.

The result is 12.5% abv, fruity, but clearly with the means to age in bottle. One person I shared this bottle with summed it up so well when he said “it feels as if this is actually doing me good”. What more can you say of a great natural wine. The wines of Hermit Ram deserve to sell out within minutes, though they are not perhaps for the fainthearted. You probably won’t recognise this as NZPN but I hope you will recognise it as so much more.

Hermit Ram is imported and sold by Uncharted Wines.

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Cornas “Renaissance” 2004, Domaine Clape (Northern Rhône, France)

Although 99% of the wine I buy today is a long way removed from what I used to buy ten or twenty years ago, I still have plenty of wines from the old classic regions lurking in the cellar’s depths. Back in the day Clape Cornas was a by-word for inky Syrah requiring a generation to reach maturity, but then along came this “young vine” cuvée so we could drink it rather than leave it to our kids. But wait, you have left this cuvée which has been designed for earlier drinking a full sixteen years before trying it? Yes, but I know Cornas.

This bottle has a reassuringly dark colour, inky almost. There’s not a lot of difference in colour at the rim, but that nose is classic mature Northern Rhône Syrah. There’s even a touch of bacon there, a bit of a shock. The palate shows a wine that has mellowed and which has lost most of its tannins but not structure. It has merely loosened up. It’s velvety and silky in a way young Syrah never is, but in a way which shows the class of the terroir. Very long finish. You wouldn’t want to keep it longer really, but it’s a nice expression of a French Classic which, to be fair back in 2004 as seen by some as very much the junior red from the region’s top three (back then St-Jo hardly got a look in).

Clape Cornas is available via a number of sources in the UK, but this was purchased on release directly from this producer’s original UK agent, Yapp Brothers (of Mere).

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Vin Jaune 1983, Rolet Père et Fils (Jura, France)

Rolet is one of the unsung names in the Jura region. This family company is run today by the brother and sister team of Pierre, Elaine, Bernard and Guy. Their father, Désiré Rolet, planted vines during the Second World War at Montigny-les-Arsures, and the family left the cooperative when elder sibling Pierre joined him in 1958. Since then the family vignoble has grown from five hectares to 65ha today, which makes them the largest estate in single family ownership in the wider region. You can taste their wines at their shop in the rue de L’Hotel be Ville in Arbois (next to the two-star restaurant, Maison Jeunet).

Vin Jaune spends almost seven years ageing in barrel under a thin layer of flor before it is bottled and released. This gives consumers a false impression of the wine’s age, and most often you will find the current vintage on restaurant lists. Whilst some producers make Vin Jaune which tastes very nice when young, it is a wine which unquestionably benefits from further bottle age. To have the opportunity to drink a wine from the 1980s is a treat, one that comes maybe once or twice a year at most.

It’s not easy to reproduce a meaningful tasting note for a wine like this. You’d certainly know it is Vin Jaune even if your experience was limited to younger versions. It has the same flavours, except that the acidity has mellowed along with all the wine’s other attributes. It is still nutty, and spicy too, whilst there is less overt citrus. “Complex” and “long” don’t do it justice really. “Profound” does, without being OTT about it. Rolet VJ has been part of my life since the late 1980s, in part because they always bottled a half-Clavelin version, which made it more affordable to a younger me, and allowed the pleasure of a bottle to be split more easily. So whilst you can surely buy finer Vin Jaune, and certainly more fashionable (and expensive bottles), Rolet really isn’t that far behind. Visit their shop and see what they have.

This bottle came via a generous guest and close friend. Berkmann Wine Cellars imports four (I believe) Rolet cuvées into the UK, including Vin Jaune.

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Sydre “Argelette” 2017, Eric Bordelet (Mayenne, France)

Eric Bordelet makes apple and pear cider in the Maine region in Western France (historically part of Southern Normandy but today administratively in the Pays de la Loire). He took over the family business, 23 hectares of orchards, in 1992. Did you know that before that he was a sommelier? This is doubtless what informs his cider making. Artisan cider has been something of a slow burner that has taken off like a rocket in the past few years, but it could be argued that Bordelet was the first star artisan cider master of the modern tradition.

The family orchards are situated in Mayenne, a region once famed for its English connections at the time of the Plantagenet Kings. The terrain is mostly Precambrian Schist (Argelette) and Granite, from which Eric fashions the Grands Crus of French cider using organic and biodynamic methods. Perhaps the key to the quality of the cider lies in this terroir, but there’s also the profound number of different varieties (I think 30 of apple and 20 of pear) Eric has at his disposal to blend.

All the ciders are fermented in vat on natural yeasts, and when bottled they also re-ferment naturally with no addition of sugars. Argelette is off schist, very old trees and equally as old varieties: Fréquin Rouge, Locard Vert, Damelot, Sang de Boeuf, Tête de Brébis, Kermerien, Bourdas, Doux Moen, Peau de Vâche and so on, all wonderful names which put grape varietal nomenclature to shame. The result is mellow, smooth, with some richness and a stony bluntness, although the finish is long. Refined stuff and really quite vinous in many ways. You can understand why these ciders (or Sydre as Eric prefers here) appeal so much to wine lovers.

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.

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Champagne Suenen Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut 2009 (Champagne, France)

Aurélien Suenen is one of the new and rapidly rising stars of Cramant on the Côte des Blancs. He’s only been running the family domaine (and I use the word domaine advisedly, indeed the cork cap reads “Domaine Suenen”) for a decade, with around three hectares in Cramant and the villages of Oiry and Chouilly. This is all Chardonnay, of course. He also travels northwest of Rheims for two further hectares of both Pinots, on the Massif de Saint-Thierry, but I understand he sells almost all of the grapes from the Massif and (mostly) only bottles the Chardonnay.

If you buy vintage Suenen these days it may well be a terroir wine, named after plots in all three Côtes des Blancs villages, plus La Grande Vigne from Montagny on the Massif, the only Pinot (Meunier) he bottles now. But back in the 2009 vintage it was all going into a vintage blend, this wine being 100% Chardonnay. Whilst consequently less of a terroir wine, do not let that put you off.

Disgorged in mid-January 2017 and dosed at just 3g/l, only 2,483 bottles came into the world. A good length of time on the cork gives this the patina of extended lees ageing, but what you notice most is the sheer verve of it. A remarkably fine bottle of dry Champagne which in our house was always headed for the dinner table. I mean it tastes like a cracking Blanc de Blancs and it goes with white meat and fish, but when you follow a mainly vegan diet everything starts to go with everything. One thing it does go mighty well with is a schnitzel, vegan or not.

This wine came from Champagne via a friend and I’ve not been able to find a UK importer. That should not be taken to mean that there isn’t one. If that were to be the case then the finger of the English wine trade must have slipped decidedly off the pulse of Grower Champagne.

Arnaio 2013, Valdonica (Tuscany, Italy)

Valdonica is the project of Dr Martin Kerres, who began making wines in the Tuscan Maremma in 2008, from vines planted up to 500 metres asl in virgin volcanic soils. Arnaio is 90% Sangiovese, of which Dr Kerres has nine clones, with 10% Ciliegiolo. The grapes were fermented (for the 2013) in a mix of 1,100-litre food grade plastic containers and stainless steel tanks, using around 30% whole clusters, before being racked into barrique, mostly second fill, for around sixteen months ageing. Following this, the 2013 received a further 12 months in bottle before release.

Like all lost wines, discovered in the cellar whilst looking for something else, one does wonder whether it might be too old. I was reassured by checking the producer web site, which stated a drinking window of six years from release. That seems spot on to me as I was going to be towards the end of that window, but not pushing at the exit.

The bouquet is pure Sangiovese, you’d be unlikely to get that wrong, and beautiful it is too. The cherry fruit is lifted by an ethereal woodland scent. The palate is slightly gamey, showing the tertiary development you’d dream of from a Chianti of the same age, though maybe it’s a touch more herbal and with a salty tang I’d associate more with a white wine. Perhaps that’s the Mediterranean calling. It was, in short, a rather pleasant surprise. One of those wines to drink as a couple and rather regret not being able to share it with the uninitiated.

Valdonica used to be imported by Red Squirrel Wines, but I’m not sure they made the transition when RS became Graft Wines. I think I bought this as one of several bottles after I’d met Dr Kerres at Raw Wine 2017. Perhaps someone has picked them up?

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Savigny-les-Beaune Blanc 2015, Le Grappin (Burgundy, France)

Following a career in “The City”, one of the seminal Ozgundians, Andrew Nielsen, spent five years learning the craft of winemaking across several continents. In 2011 he and wife Emma settled in Beaune, eventually finding premises in the old city wall in what I believe was once a small gunpowder store. I think they are the only negoce to keep cellars in the city walls, everyone else having moved out to more modern and spacious premises. But if Andrew learnt anything in his period of wandering, it was that the vineyard comes first.

Despite being an outsider, Andrew is the most affable of blokes, with charm and wit, but also a willingness to raise a glass or two in friendship. It’s not hard to see why he has managed to establish good relationships with grape farmers across the Côte d’Or and down south. “Le Grappin” is the label for the micro negoce wines he makes from the villages and some Premier Cru sites on the Côte, whilst “Du Grappin” is reserved for often more experimental wines hailing from Beaujolais, the Maconnais and the villages of the Southern Rhône.

This particular wine comes from a plot of village wines above Savigny itself, tended under Andrew’s watchful eyes. The grapes received a very gentle pressing before settling overnight in the cellar beneath the walls of Beaune. Next day the juice is racked into used oak barrels for ageing on the fine lees, and it’s pretty much as simple as that. You get 2015 ripeness, but as always with Le Grappin, it is matched by a freshness which might trick you into thinking the wine was maybe half a degree lighter in alcohol than its 13%. That’s good going for 2015, and it’s the freshness, even at five years old, which makes it. For me, it is all a village White Burgundy should be. A bit of texture, a little nuttiness and a big splat of fruit. Wonderful.

Le Grappin sells its wine mainly through their own web site, legrappin.com. The wines are also available through a selection of independent retailers (some of the best known are Burgess & Hall of Forest Gate, London, The Vineking, Highbury Vintners and Whalley Wine Shop, along with the famous Mons Cheeses (Borough Market) and La Fromagerie in Marylebone, Highbury and Bloomsbury.

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Canavese Rosso “Torrazza” 2016, Ferrando Vini (Piemonte, Italy)

Of all the wines in February’s selection this might be the most obscure in some ways, assuming that many people are pretty familiar with wines from the Sierra de Gredos already. Canavese is one of the many DOCs in Northern Piemonte, but it sits in that wilderness north of Turin and south of the Val d’Aosta which is even less explored than Gattinara and Ghemme etc to the east. It forms quite a large area, but the two DOC/DOCGs within it are better known, just: Carema and Erbaluce di Caluso. Canavese is so little known that it does not even warrant a single word in the text of the new “Wine Atlas” edition, though it is, of course, on the map, and Ferrando does get a mention for its fine Carema!

Ferrando Vini is a family firm founded in 1890, run by five generations of the family who have made wine all over wider Piemonte. The cellars at Ivrea, on the Dora Baltea river as it flows out of the Val d’Aosta and down towards the Po, were constructed in 1964 mainly to make what is often termed the “Mountain Barolo”, that underrated Nebbiolo, Carema. Torrazza differs substantially in that it is a blended wine, mostly Nebbiola with Barbera, but also allegedly containing a little Bonarda, Freisa and others. However, it still comes off the extensive sub-Alpine glacial moraines which give these wines from altitude their own often rugged character.

What of the wine? Despite its 13.5% abv there’s a sense of lightness, probably down to its lifted raspberry and strawberry scents. The palate is smooth, fresh and fruity with a little spice. I’d call the finish persistent rather than long. This is no substitute for the Barolo lover looking for a cheaper alternative. Go for Carema or Gattinara (where Nervi makes wine comparable to top Barolo at a price), or indeed Roero where you will trip over all the good producers. This is a wine for the more adventurous. It’s simpler stuff, but certainly no Barbarian.

At £18 from Solent Cellar I must remember to ask for another bottle to be slipped into my next self-isolation case. I think the UK importer is Astrum.

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Côte de Brouilly 2016, Pierre Cotton (Beaujolais, France)

Pierre Cotton is one of the young generation of Beaujolais producers, and without his beard you can tell he’d look very young indeed. He started out channelling his Zen into motorcycle maintenance before taking on one hectare of his fathers vines to make wine at the family home at Odenas in 2014. Pierre’s father retired in 2017, since when Pierre has farmed eight hectares in both the Crus of Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly (with a tiny parcel in Regnié).

Here we are in the far south of the Crus region, and not only are these two Crus the most southerly of Beaujolais, Odenas is also the most southerly village of any real size. The soils here are more complex than we often think. There’s your usual granite of course, but the Côte de Brouilly, as you climb the slope of the hill known as the Mont de Brouilly, has a unique rock called locally corne verte, a pink granite with diorite. It is from a one-hectare plot on a corne verte base that this cuvée originates. Erosion varies dramatically here so topsoils are complex, and being this far south, the micro climate varies as well.

Cotton is a natural winemaker, but so was his father. It’s just that it wasn’t called natural wine back then. This includes no sulphur additions. The grapes for this cuvée come from vines averaging 65-to-70 years old. Fermentation is semi-carbonic in cement tanks, after which the juice is left to age in old foudres for eight or nine months.

This 2016 has lovely smooth cherry fruit, lifted by a real natural wine vibrancy. Any tannin it may have had has largely dissipated and it is drinking really well at the moment. I shall drink my remaining bottle this summer. Cotton’s wines can often show reductive qualities, on account of remaining in the large wood without frequent racking. If this bottle was reductive, any odours must have blown off whilst standing open on the table. It didn’t require a decant and it was very open. I said this is a natural wine, but it didn’t worry my elderly mother, who always enjoys a nice Gamay. I’m not sure she noticed it had 13.5% abv either, as it tastes smooth and light.

This was another purchase from The Solent Cellar, which no longer has this listed but is always a good bet for a very interesting range of Beaujolais. I can’t find a current UK importer (lots in North America). Kiffe My Wines listed the 2017.

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Posted in Artisan Wines, Champagne, Cider, Natural Wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sportsman 2020

Every year a group of us hit The Sportsman in Seasalter (Kent) for a boozy lunch where we have a special dispensation to “BYO” (naturally for a fee). As we know the tasting menu reasonably well, we are able to choose an interesting and focused selection of bottles to take, but we do try for diversity. This year we were perhaps fortunate to get our visit in a little earlier than usual, on the last Friday in February, bearing in mind the potential for the cancellation of “sporting events”.

One small aside…it is perhaps fitting that I can write about this ultimate celebratory lunch for my 400th article on Wideworldofwine. It has, thus far, been a lot of fun, not to mention quite life transforming.

The meal was at least as good as any in previous years, and whilst there are restaurants with more “stars” than The Sportsman, for me there is no more profoundly enjoyable tasting menu available anywhere I know. It really does take me a very long time to reach The Sportsman, involving two train journeys and taxis, and for me it ends up being a rather expensive day out. But it is totally worth it, and to the many people who tell me they really must visit, yes, they really should.

This is a wine blog, and this article is intended primarily to describe the wines we took. That said, the food is wonderful and the least I can do is to post some pictures to encourage you to make the trip.

We began, as always, with a couple of Champagnes. I took along Cédric Bouchard Roses de Jeanne from the Côte de Val Vilaine (near Celles-sur-Ource in the Aube). This is technically a non-vintage cuvée made from vines around twenty-five to thirty years old at the time, although this version is from a 2014 base (the current edition is 2017). Pure Pinot Noir, this bottle was disgorged in April 2016, so most of its ageing was post-disgorgement. Although there is some body, and nice red fruits, there is also precision and stunning elegance. This was really showing well with nascent complexity (at a guess it will age another five-to-ten years). Although not cheap, for the quality it is remarkable value.

Ses Amuses: left – savoury; right – sea buckthorn w/crystallised seaweed macaron

Champagne Ruppert Leroy Rosé Brut Nature was a big contrast. For a start, it is one of the “reddest” pink Champagnes around. As well as being given zero dosage, this wine from Essoyes (Aube) sees no added sulphur, but is a wonderful addition to the cellar of any real Champagne amateur. Gerard Ruppert and his daughter, Benedicte Leroy, partner in this biodynamic enterprise, farming almost as far south in the wider Champagne region as it is possible to go. They are often described as making “Burgundy with bubbles” and this 2015 rosé de saignée (disgorged 07/2018) illustrates this proposition pretty well. If their vineyards were just a few more kilometers to the south then they would be making Sparkling Burgundy. But as with all good still Burgundy, this wine hits you with aromatic brilliance so that for some the palate is merely secondary to its appreciation. Strawberry essence, so pure, but as food friendly as any Champagne on the market.

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Rock and Whitstables with Chorizo

Friulano “Filip” 2017, Coli Orientali, Miani It is hard to know why Enzo Pontoni is not as famous outside of a bunch of real wine fanatics as he ought to be in the UK. Some call him Italy’s best white wine maker, and that bold claim is certainly not ridiculous. He farms around thirteen hectares on the Slovenian border in Friuli, about two-thirds being rented vines. His fastidious farming is famous, as is his “one bunch per vine” philosophy. Although there is power and alcohol here, this wine is concentrated in the extreme, as fine as almost any Chablis you might throw at a bed of oysters. Such clarity in the glass, this is a wine to ponder over, especially as it slowly unfolds, because it is surely very much in its youth.

Chardonnay “La Reine” 1998, Labet (Jura) Sometimes with so much going on at these lunches it is easy to forget to photograph a wine, but I was particularly cross to neglect to photograph this one. “La Reine” is from the era of Julian’s father, Alain, so the queen in question must surely be his wife, Josie. Only the second Vin Jaune-style wine I ever drank was from Alain and Josie, so I felt pretty nostalgic tasting this flor-aged (two years) Chardonnay which comes off a single plot of just 16 ares on argiles rouges down on the Combe, near Rotalier. Despite its age it took a while to open out, and having assumed a degree of reduction we had presciently decanted it. It was one of those wines which unfurled over a couple of hours, giving more each time we returned to it. Glorious.

Pot roast red cabbage, apple, raw crème fraiche; Mushroom & celeriac tart

Viña Tondonia Reserva Blanco 1991, Lopez de Heredia This was my second contribution, a traditional classic white Rioja, blended from approximately 85% Viura with 15% Malvasia from the eponymous vineyard. Fermentation takes place in large oak vats after which the wine is first aged in American oak barrels before a further ten years in bottle prior to release. It has a traditional side to it, and many who had never tried it might at first think it old fashioned. Yet when you actually think about it, you get citrus fresh acids, stone fruit, mineral texture and a nutty, savoury, quality which is a long way from fusty. Unique, a remarkable wine. Maybe not a style to drink every night, but a standout experience for a wine close to thirty years old, yet still tasting fresh and youthful.

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Slip sole done “the other way” (smoked salt butter with dried red pepper)

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Halibut with smoked cod’s roe sauce

Chablis 1er Cru Forêt 2006, Raveneau This was quite a hot vintage in Chablis, and this cuvée is from the youngest vines at the domaine, but they held out pretty well. There is more weight than expected, with pretty ripe fruit (yellow plum and galia melon came to mind). But at the same time you get the elegance of a wine from a top notch producer here…no flab at all, and plenty of depth. There is some nice Chablis salinity which helps focus the palate. Initially I wondered if this would be young, but I felt over the lunch that it is good to go, and perhaps better now than after much further age. Just my opinion.

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Meursault “Clos du Haut Tesson” 2014, Domaine Roulot I used to be able to afford a little Roulot Bourgogne Blanc, and I always argued that it was of at least “village” quality most vintages, perhaps the reason why it has ended up costing village prices. A similar analogy applies here, because this village lieu-dit is clearly of Premier Cru class. A typically Roulot mineral citrus attack leads to rounder (but still precisely focused) yellow fruit Chardonnay with just the smallest hint of oak on a long finish. Masterful Meursault from probably my favourite producer in the village, though I can no longer stretch to actually buying a six pack these days.

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Les Ponts Rouge, Yann Durieux This is a Vin de Table from 100% Pinot Noir fruit grown mostly in the Hautes Côtes, around Messanges, in Burgundy. This wine is often sold with a vintage, and a code at the bottom of the back label shows this bottle is from 2016. Yann became well known during his stint working at another domaine famous for natural wine on the Côte d’Or, Prieuré-Roch, whose prices Yann is swiftly catching up with. But to be fair the reason there is a buzz around this producer is that he does work fastidiously and with very low yields. This is a lighter style of Pinot, though it still registers 13.5% alcohol. It has a nice fruity bouquet, though it was slightly spritzy on this occasion. This is a nice wine, opaque, alive, but my main quibble is that you are paying an awful lot of money for something which is effectively enjoyable glou-glou juice. You can get damned nice Beaujolais for half the money…

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Crispy bacon to dip

Fleurie Chapelle des Bois 2011, Domaine Jules Desjourneys This hard to find bottle comes from an almost equally secret producer at La Chapelle de Guinchay. Fabien Duperray is a former Burgundy merchant who now makes some of the absolute finest (biodynamic) wines in Beaujolais, yet I reckon if you ask the majority of wine lovers, even those mildly interested in having a nice selection from the region in their cellar, they won’t have tried the wines (by the way, who is or was Jules Desjourneys?). I hadn’t ever drunk one until a few weeks ago, but I’d heard the legend.

Chappelle des Bois is, so far as I can tell, one of two Fleuries in Fabien’s wide-ish range. The other is Les Moriers and they both come from separate sites, Les Moriers at around 4 hectares, and Chapelle at 1.9ha, off granitic sand. Ageing is for 24 months, half in oak of which 20% is new. They are built to age, dark and tannic in youth I’m told. Even now the colour is impenetrable, but alcohol is a very restrained 12.8%. I’d say it this “Chapelle” is in its drinking window, perhaps at the beginning. I can see it improving further over five or six years, and it has a bit of structure now which does really require food. But this is a very fine Fleurie, and I was very pleased to become acquainted with it. Very impressive.

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Barolo 2009, Bartolo Mascarello This is the entry level blend, but of course we are talking Mascarello here. Marie-Théresa said that this was a record early harvest for the four vineyards which combine for this blend: La Morra’s Roche di Torriglione, and Cannubi, San Lorenzo and Rué from Barolo itself. Although an early vintage it is perfectly in balance at 14.5% abv, with classic sweet Nebbiolo fruit. However, like the Barolo which follows, we were able to enjoy a relatively brief flowering in the glass before it shut down somewhat, suggesting that even at this level the wine could do with a little more bottle age.

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So, okay, I was too swift…Roast saddle and filet of lamb with celeriac

Barolo “Paiagallo” 2011, Giovanni Canonica This is an equally classic wine from another exceptional producer, from the village of Barolo. I have been impressed with the 2011s I’ve had thus far, most being more or less open for business. This certainly started out as a stunning wine, a blend of powerful structure and such sweet fruit. There was the addition of all the right noises…liquorice, mocha, mint leaf and such exotic aromatics that they are so hard to describe without a flight of fancy. But even here we had a little bit of a shut down after a while, as everything shyly hid behind that structure after giving us a brief display…like the aurora hiding behind the clouds after a couple of hours of pure delight in Tromso last month. If you have some, you are lucky. This will become incredibly fine. It’s already startlingly good. Personally I’d say world class.

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Château Suduiraut 1971, Sauternes It’s rare to drink an old Sauternes like this, although there are a few knocking around. 1971 was a pretty decent year in Sauternes, though not even I go back that far back for that comment to be the result of personal experience. The wines were generally affected by a degree of botrytis before an early October harvest. As with many wines of the vintage, this Suduiraut is drinking nicely, and I see no reason to keep it longer. There is a little noble rot, and it isn’t all that sweet (nor perhaps all that elegant). Where it scores is in a nice rich palate of orange marmalade with top notes of toffee and caramel. It’s mellowness at this stage in its life is its trump card. A very enjoyable wine, sedate, and when you get offered a bottle like this minor quibbles are irrelevant.

Bramley apple soufflé with salted caramel ice cream

That was almost it for the day, but the baker’s dozen beckoned, as if twelve bottles were not enough among six people. It was to be another bottle from the Southern Jura, Chardonnay “Fleur” 2015, Domaine Labet. This is firmly from the Julien era. It was aged in barrel for 27 months, but topped-up (ouillé), not aged oxidatively like “La Reine” above. The beautifully pure Chardonnay fruit of all the Labet wines comes through here, and in the case of this cuvée it is not too young.

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There’s a story about this wine, with a potential mystery. When Alain Labet started bottling wines in the mid-1970s he was one of the first in the region to do so by parcel, all individually named. In addition, he bottled a Chardonnay blended from a number of plots at higher altitude under the “Fleurs de Marne Label”. Now I think “Fleurs”, which is the label for Julien’s young vine Chardonnay, actually comes from “Les Varrons” now, where the vines which go into that particular more ageable cuvée are the remaining old vines in the vineyard. Whatever the truth, “young vines” chez-Labet, actually means less than fifty years old, which would definitely count as “VV” at some addresses! Julien makes ten or eleven Chardonnays and I think this is the only blended one, one that is not a single site expression. But it is Labet, and as I keep shouting, Labet is absolutely at the top table with Ganevat, Overnoy-Houillon et al.

Cheese board to finish, of course

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You can just spot the elusive Labet here, to the right of Tondonia (13 exquisite bottles)

 

— fin —

 

 

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Viñateros 2020, Part 2

Viñateros seems a long time ago, and indeed it’s a week since I managed to get Part 1 published (if you didn’t see it, follow the link here). I’m sure quite a few readers will know I’ve been ill, which is the principal reason why I’m here writing this rather than up in London at more tasting events, those taking place despite the cancellation of Raw Wine. 

This second part of my coverage of the major London tasting of Spanish wines carries on from the first in terms of excitement. I won’t repeat all I said in Part 1’s introduction, but Spain really does seem to be where it’s at right now, as we move into the third decade of the century. The wines on taste back at the end of February, and the producers who came along to show them, seem to have that same buzz we all experienced when the new wave of South African producers first came over a few years ago. This buzz is largely based on a rediscovery of the value of native grape varieties, and the exploration of new regions and old techniques, sometimes together. Below, we have the produce from eleven more producers, whose wines I hope you may get the chance to enjoy.

GOYO GARCIA (Ribera del Duero)

Goyo Garcia does make some wine in Cantabria, but is certainly best known as a producer of somewhat unusual Ribera wines. I say unusual…I’m known to find the densely tannic and alcoholic wines of this “premium” wine region problematic, but if I tell you that Pierre Overnoy was a great inspiration to Gregorio, you will see that we are plainly dealing with a different kettle of fish.

The regime here is zero intervention, completely natural wines (not that they fit the stereotype when you taste them). Goyo farms just a few hectares of very old co-planted vines, spread over three plots near Roa de Duero, almost smack bang in the middle of the region. The grapes are vinified in a century old  traditional cave cellar, where the wines are kept in old French oak barrels in cool ambient temperatures, to age.

Los Quemados 2017 is perhaps the entry level. It still comes from 55-year-old vines in Goyo’s highest parcel at 850 metres asl. It’s mostly Tinta Fino (aka Tempranillo but a variety which occasionally goes under the name of Tinta del Païs here), aged one year in barrel. The night time temperatures can drop 25° here, so the wine is tannic but very fresh. The fruit is elegant too. The 2016 is actually a bit darker than this with a touch more power.

Peruco 2014 is from three plots of 100-y-o vines, again Tempranillo which this time spent three years in old oak. The vineyards are sandy and you get a deep spicy bouquet and bags of salinity. This really is remarkably salty-fresh. Uncanny. Valdeolmos 2014 Is a similar wine in many respects, but it comes off limestone and is unquestionably more mineral.

Cobero 2018 This wine comes from the Cantabrian vineyards, 70-80% Mencia with Palomino in a field blend (co-fermented). The vines are at least 100 years old. There is bite and grip here, and 13.5% abv, which only enhances the sheer depth of fruit.

Odd to try last, but Joven 2018 is a typical young cuvée with lifted fruit and totally lacking the chewy oak of the majority of Ribera del Duero, which is why I would recommend it if you see it and need something to glug. It is the only wine here not seeing oak, but it does have a skin maceration of about three months to give a textured dimension, adding interest. What is interesting is that Joven may mean young, but the vines are old, so a young wine from old vines. Classy.

Imported by Vine Trail

ALFREDO MAESTRO TEJERO (Various Regions)

This producer was formed in 1998 at Peñafiel, right in the heart of Ribera de Duero, but has expanded to produce wines, in addition to Ribera, in Gredos, Cigales, (the area immediately north of Valladolid) and to the south of Madrid. This is a producer many don’t know by name but you will almost certainly be familiar with at least one of their labels, most likely the “Red Riding Hood” of the first wine tasted below.

Lovamor 2019 is described in the event catalogue as “white”, but it certainly looks more amber with a hint of pink (I’m sure I swilled my glass). It’s made from Albillo, from Peñafiel. It’s an incredibly good value wine with texture, a big-fruited palate, acids, freshness and zip. It really shines for a wine where 10,000 bottles are made, but the key is old vines…planted between 1899 and 1910.

Sobrecasa Claret 2016 is from Cigales, a wine made in the old fashioned style, a pale red made 80% from Garnacha with Moscatel, Palomino and Verdejo. The 4ha parcel is at 750 metres asl, planted 1936. Only 3,000 bottles are made each year, and ageing is in old Oloroso casks. It’s pale, savoury and extremely refreshing. On my wish list, a lovely wine…I was about to type “curiosity” but that is not true as it isn’t in any way odd. Just very interesting.

Vina Almate Tinto 2018 100% Tempranillo sourced mainly from Peñafiel, up at 900 metres at the higher end of the plateau. They use 50% whole clusters here and age in concrete. The wine is pale and has a lightness I like which seems to permeate a lot of this producer’s wines.

Valdecastrillo 2017 is darker and deeper though. Twelve months in French oak combine with a surprising 15% abv to give this some oomph! But as well as density it is undeniably fresh.

El Marciano Garnacha 2018 is from the Gredos vineyards. The Garnacha, with an average age of seventy years, is grown up at between 900 and 1,100 metres asl. This is gorgeously smooth but chewy at the same time. All of these wines have the advantage of being well priced. This wine is easy to spot on the shelf – Marciano is, of course, “Martian”.

The Thing 2018 (“La Cosa” in Spanish). “The Thing” is a sweet wine made from Muscat of Alexandria fermented naturally to 11% abv, and bottled in 375ml. Scented like pure floral Muscat, it begins sweet on the tongue and very concentrated, but then, in a matter of a couple of seconds, the acidity says hello and everything seems to spill all over the palate. Although concentrated, and indeed very long, this is a joyful wine. Wines like this make me remember that I do love a good sticky. A resounding yes please!

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene

BODEGAS ARTUKE (Rioja)

This is one of the new wave of Rioja producers. Roberto de Miguel started this small bodega at Baños de Ebro in 1991, and today it is run by his children, Arturo and Kike. They belong to a group unsurprisingly called Rioja ‘n Roll (the younger generation in Spain all seem to be passionate about rock music, almost experiencing in the post-Franco era something that everyone else enjoyed in the 60s and 70s, but which many have forgotten). Their aims are to conserve and promote Rioja as a terroir wine, rather than as a mere brand. The Artuke vines, 22 hectares of them, are farmed biodynamically, and they have a particularly personal approach to the use of oak compared to the old certainties of Reserva, Gran Reserva etc. Their use of different cask sizes and ageing periods means that they deliberately do not comply with these labels.

The Artuke entry level wine is the exceptional value Maceration Carbonic 2019 which is simple and fruit-driven but very tasty. Stepping up, we go to Pies Negros 2018. This comes from high vineyards near the Sierra Cantabria at Abalos (we are in the far north of Rioja here, east of Haro). Tempranillo is blended with just over 10% Graciano and is aged 75% in 500-litre oak and 25% in concrete vat. The result is a youthful wine of some vibrancy.

Finca de los Locos 2018 comes from a 3-hectare block at 500-metres asl, over near at the bodega’s home in Baños de Ebro (Rioja Alavesa). Again we have Tempranillo (80%) blended with Graciano, plus this time a splash of Viura. The large oak in which it ages doesn’t overtly get in the way of quite intense strawberry fruit and a herbal edge.

Paso de las Mañas 2018 is another step up in price and seriousness. One of the Artuke importers (Justerini) says two very pertinent things about this new cuvée. First, the vines aren’t all that old, and they say this wine proves wonderful terroir can trump vine age. Second, they suggest this wine bears a resemblance to Barolo from La Morra. I’d not thought of that but it’s an inspired observation regarding the wine’s bouquet.

La Condenada 2018 is the first of two very serious wines. You will pay somewhere around £230/4 bottles in bond for this. Tempranillo is blended with 20% made up of Graciano, Garnacha and Palomino, just over 1,000 bottles made. The vines are again at Baños de Ebro. It pairs with the only slightly cheaper El Escolladero 2018, from Abalos. This wine comes off limestone terrain, which adds a mineral freshness to a wine of structure and complexity, one for the future.

This last pair are very fine wines indeed, but they do also help to remind me just how good the cheaper wines from Artuke can be, wines of which I am somewhat more familiar.

Imported both by Justerini & Brooks and 266 Wines (formerly The Sampler’s importing arm).

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DANIEL LANDI/COMANDO G (Madrid/Castille)

Daniel Gomez Jiménez-Landi, to give him his full name, but he won’t mind me calling him Dani, makes wine under his own label, whilst joining with his friend Fernando Garcia to make “Comando Garnacha” (originally along with Marc Isart). I think enough is known about Dani (and Fernando) to jump to the wines. They are now generally acknowledged as being among the very finest winemakers in Spain, and perhaps for promoting, better than anyone else, what may be Spain’s current asset of the moment: Gredos Garnacha.

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Las Uvas de la Ira 2018 This cuvée, which translates as “the grapes of wrath”, of course, comes from Méntrida vineyards, but not the Méntrida vines of Dani’s old family bodega, Jiménez-Landi, which he left in 2012. It is very much in the Dani Landi style of Grenache/Garnacha – elegance, a lightness, and in this case dusty tannins, supporting a wine both fruity and savoury. 750-800 metres altitude off granite and sand, whole clusters in open top fermenters, ten months in foudre, simple…but not the result.

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Comando G

El Tamboril Blanco 2017 is Garnachas Blanca and Gris off a tiny north facing 0.2ha site at 1,230 metres. The bottle run is a mere 395! Textured, long and concentrated, this wine is magic, but priced accordingly. I felt pretty honoured to get a good taste.

La Bruja de Rozas 2018 This is the wine most people will be familiar with, the “village wine” from the astonishing vineyards south of Madrid. I say astonishing. By the late 1990s I’d drunk bottles of Marques de Griñon’s Dominio de Valdepusa Syrah, back then a mere Vino da Mesa (of Toledo), now a Pago of its own, from zero to hero in the Spanish wine classification, so to speak. But there wasn’t much else down there apart from the genuinely stark beauty of the country between Spain’s old and new capital cities, which I remember from travelling these regions in my youth. It has a lovely texture but the fruit is so pure, as always with Comando G. A wine which completely justifies being called “alive”. This wine is great value considering the cost of the higher echelons of the Comando G range.

Tumba del Rey Moro 2017 is from a single vineyard of ungrafted Garnacha bush vines on pure white granite at 1,100 metres, and north facing. Tannic at the moment but a very fine wine. A “Grand Cru” in concept, it’s a new vineyard taken on by Dani and Fernando at Villanueva de Ávila. This needs time.

Rumbo al Norte 2017 is also a small single vineyard off granite at 1,150 metres asl near Navarrevisca. It’s a vineyard scattered with boulders and bush vines hugging the ground, beautifully photographed in warm sunlight by Estanis Núñes in Luis Gutiérrez’s “The New Vignerons” book (which I shall review soon). The wine is just remarkable, very accomplished, but also possibly a little more open (it has an extra year in bottle) than Tumba.

The key for all of these wines is the strawberry purity of the Grenache fruit, which is both focused yet also disappears like mist when you try to grasp it. The wine I didn’t taste (there wasn’t a bottle on the table) was the Rozas 1er from the Val del Tiétar. I have a 2015 which I may open soon, so look out for it in my regular “Recent Wines” in a little over a month. These Gredos wines should be in everyone’s cellar.

Daniel Landi’s own label is imported by Indigo Wine, whilst Comando G is under the command of Les Caves de Pyrene in the UK.

CELLAR PARDAS (Penedès)

So we step down a notch here, in terms of fame, but that’s not to say that Celler Pardas is not making some marvellous wines. They equally focus on terroir, albeit with different grape varieties, principally the locals Sumoll, Macabeo and Xarel-lo. They have a distinct advantage over the likes of Comando G, and that is price. We are in what is known as the Alt Penedès here, so these are not hot Mediterranean wines, but wines made from high altitude fruit taking advantage of diurnal temperature shifts and a long growing season.

Collita Roja 2015 I’ve drunk this cuvée with its striking red label quite a few times. It’s made from one of my favourite Spanish varieties, Sumoll, and from old vines. It sees 50% concrete and 50% used wood for ageing, and the result is a concentrated gastronomic wine of some interest.

Rupestris 2018 The name has nothing to do with vitis rupestris, it means “something that comes from stone” in dialect. It’s a blend of mostly Xarel-lo with 15% Malvasia de Sitgès. Everything is done in stainless steel with seven hours on skins during fermentation and then three months on gross lees during ageing. Vibrant, “elevated” (if that makes sense to anyone).

Xarel-lo 2017 is made from a selection of the oldest parcels of the variety and this is more mineral and textured with a nice refreshing acid balance.

Moving to the reds, Sus Scrofa 2019 might sound ever so slightly off-putting to English speaking ears, but it’s delicious. Sus Scrofa is really just Latin for Wild Boar, which is the emblem of Celler Pardas. 100% Sumoll, 12% abv, 50% whole bunches, a purple wine but all red berry fruit with just a smirk of unexpected grip on the finish. Delicious, honestly.

Negre Franc 2015 is a wine made not principally from a Catalan local, but from Cabernet Franc, with some Cabernet Sauvignon and Sumoll. Fermented in resin-coated concrete it then goes into 300-litre French oak for eleven months before bottling. Dark, more tannic than their other reds, it is chewy and grippy but the fruit is big enough to hang in there. It’s not my favourite from the range (though it is the most expensive I’ve seen), but it is unquestionably a terroir wine of character.

Blau Cru 2018 is made from Malvasia de Sitgès, destemmed and macerated for seven hours. The result is a wine of purity, with both stone fruit yet also a sort of Riesling quality to it. As striking as the blue and yellow of the label. It really unfurls in the mouth, I like it a lot. I’m sure the element of precision is the result of altitude and the limestone rich soils here, adding a mineral note.

Celler Pardas is imported by Indigo Wine.

BATLLIU DE SORT (Catalunya)

The vineyards of Batlliu de Sort look out on the beautiful wild Pyrenees, in the valley of the Noguera Pallaresa river, close to the Aigüestortes National Park. The region is known as the Conca de Tremp, which I have never heard of. In fact, of all the wine producers at Viñateros, this is the one I knew least about. However, keep reading…

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Pantigana is an old vine Garnacha Blanca and Malvasia blend from vineyards 40-50 years old on limestone and clay. It’s pale, apple-fresh but soft with a slightly chalky texture on the palate. A nice and quite inexpensive old vine cuvée. I managed to avoid checking the vintage here, which wasn’t printed in the show booklet.

Finca de Borda 2016 is very different, a dry Riesling. The terroir here is slate, up in the mountains, and the wine is dry, textured, slightly chalky again but focused…and pretty impressive.

Finca Les Lleres 2015 is a floral wine with a slightly earthy nose, clearly made from Viognier, but without the heaviness of some Rhône versions. Mouthfilling, this has good acids and even, surprisingly, a little complexity.

Negre Finca Barrero 2017 is all Pinot Noir, vinified in stainless steel. The purity is there again, with velvet cherry fruit lifted up in the mix, so to speak, with the bass and rhythm section provided by a touch of grippy tannin.

Pinot Noir 2018 is from a different location, at Costers del Sègre. It is quite pale but with plenty of depth, and has zero sulphur added.

The importer is Les Caves de Pyrene.

FINCA CASA BALAGUER (Alicante)

This is a project (as was explained to me at Viñateros) directly taken over by Les Caves de Pyrene from the previous company, who were joint-managing the project (or something like that). 2019 is the first vintage where a team under Les Caves’ direction has been in control. Andres Carrul and Marta Ribera set up this garagiste operation a decade ago. The vines grow in the high Alpujarra mountains on slate soils, where it’s a small miracle vines can grow at all, but of course they do and the results can be magical. This is an exciting new addition to the Guildford operation’s portfolio.

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Tregolargo Blanco 2019 Moscatel and Malvasia bottled with zero sulphur. Cloudy, perfumed, a skin contact wine, evident from the nose, and a wine of some interest to the more adventurous.

Moscatel Salicorno 2019 is even more perfumed, with more evidence of skin contact (apparently five days) and, wait for it, flor ageing too, in concrete vat. Creamy and rounded but with a twang of salinity, yes this is more than merely intriguing to me.

Colección El Carro de la Mata 2019 I’m not sure what the variety is here, but it is an amphora wine which saw a month on skins followed by four months ageing. It has more skin texture than the colour suggests but it seems very gastronomic.

Benimaquia 2019 is another amber/orange wine made from grapes grown in the Parc Natural Lagunas de la Mata, which surrounds one of two lagoons, the grapes growing within about ten metres of the tide line. The soil is sand (phylloxera-free, of course), with a high salt content, and in the breeze too. The wine sees five months on skins in amphora. It is quite chewy and unsurprisingly saline, packed with flavour.

Tragolargo Tinto 2019 comes, by way of contrast, from inland Alicante. The wine is 100% Monastrell but unlike its counterpart in France (under the name of Mourvèdre), it is a juicy entry level wine, easy going with just a bit of bite/grip on the finish to ground it.

Garnacha La Rambla de Peligres 2019 is slightly more serious. The grapes are aged in concrete giving a wine with a fragrant strawberry bouquet and a nicely rounded flavour with dusty tannins and plush fruit. Quite an elegant wine, not at all like you might imagine a red Alicante of old to taste.

A producer worth exploring, especially if (like me) you enjoy the old skin contact regime.

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.

COLET (Penedès)

The Cava wines of Colet are well known, and equally well regarded. I apologise to them, and to my readers, that on this table I restricted myself to just a taste of their collaboration with Equipo-Navazos.

Colet-Navazos Reserva 2014 is the Chardonnay wine (the non-reserva is Xarel-lo) made from Penedès fruit. It is made by the traditional bottle fermented process and is Extra Brut (so very dry). The twist is that the liqueur in this case is made from Manzanilla and Manzanilla Pasada supplied by Equipo Navazos. The unmistakable smell of flor is very present on the bouquet. You will either dislike this, or find it thrilling (obviously most readers will be of an adventurous type and be with me in the latter camp). This cuvée had long lees ageing (around 40 months, I think), and further time in bottle, post-disgorgement. The result is quite subtle but it still has pristine fruit, a great bead and a rapier-like focus. Sadly I have drunk mine, and I think I even passed last time around (2015 was disgorged in October 2019). I’m a fool!

Imported by Indigo Wine.

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LOXAREL (Penedès)

The often quoted fact about Loxarel founder Josep Mitjans was that he was only 16 years old at the time he bottled his first wine, quite remarkable. He’s now a little older, and perhaps wiser, and married to Teresa Nin, a member of her own wine dynasty, with a sister well known in Priorat. They make a variety of wines from biodynamically grown fruit off a fairly large 40-hectares (about half coming from each family). I’m always most enamoured with the sparkling wines, but Josep was noted for re-introducingr amphora into Catalonia, and all of the range are well worth exploring.

Al Pèl Barba Roja 2018 The label of this pair is as distinctive as you can get. I know we should not be drawn in by labels, but there’s nothing wrong with praising creative design. What I find with a lot of creative winemakers is that they want to extend that to the package as a whole. This is a sparkling wine made by the Ancestral Method (bottle fermented but no traditional disgorgement) and it’s a wine that is so bright, like tiny fireworks in the mouth and on the tongue.

This wine actually comes in two colours, a pure Xarel-lo and a blend of Sumoll, Xarel-lo, Vermell and Garnatxa. The terroir is mainly limestone which adds a distinct mineral element, sharpening up the wine along with, especially in the Xarel-lo,  its vibrant acids. Both come crown-capped, wrapped in printed paper and tied with string, a laborious task, but the wine is fun.

A Pèl Red 2018 follows the same label theme without the paper bag. The slightly unusual blend here is Garnatxa with Merlot, and this DO Penedès does pack 14.5% alcohol, not that you notice because this is a natural wine with no added sulphur, so it retains an incredible degree of vivacity to go with its predominantly dark fruits (with typical dark fruit acids). There certainly are some tannins evident, but soft tannins nevertheless. Quite a big wine, but worth singling out, very tasty.

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.

RECAREDO (Alt Penedès)

Recaredo has a hundred year history making sparkling wines in Catalonia. Their vineyards dot the hills above the Bitlles river valley in Barcelona Province. The mainly forested limestone scenery is dominated by the landmark of Montserrat. Farming and winemaking follow biodynamic principles, with the quality additions of very long ageing on lees and all disgorgement is done by hand (interestingly, without freezing the neck). This excellent producer aims for wines which will age well and gain in complexity.

All Recaredo wines are well worth trying, and indeed they provide a perfect example of why quality sparkling wine from Spain is making a real comeback after the discount fiasco which saw £5/bottle Cava destroyed when it was supplanted (as will always happen) by the fashion for Prosecco. I shall just reproduce notes from two of the more interesting cuvées.

Intens Rosat 2014, Corpinnat Gran Reserva Brut Nature 86% Monastrell with 14% Garnatxa, this 2014 was disgorged in May 2019, so it has just had eight months pda in which to settle. I am a massive fan of this particular cuvée which simply brims with bright red fruits in the 2014 vintage. It’s a different take on fizz made with red grapes, light enough to drink as an aperitif if required (though it is very dry), but I think more suited to food (where it should not be served too cold) for the more adventurous.

Gran Reserva (Reserva Particular) Brut Nature 2005 This is quite a treat. I did say that Recaredo like to age some wines for a long time, and this one has seen 130 months on its lees. It was disgorged at the beginning of March 2017. The blend is pretty much a 50:50 split between Xarel-lo and Macabeu, old vines planted in 1952. Wow, this has such depth, but also, though it shows signs of maturity, it doesn’t lack for freshness. The spectrum of complex flavours begins with citrus zest, moving through orchard fruits, with apple prominent but by no means alone. As the wine’s great length unfurls you begin to taste nuts as well. This is a wine of stature, for sure.

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.

This rather fine bottle from Recaredo brings to a close my coverage of Viñateros 2020. If there were producers I have not covered which you would have liked to have seen, then I share your disappointment. I tasted from the moment the doors opened until 3.00pm, no slacking, no lunch, but by the end a flagging palate. Most of those I missed I have tasted before, but a second day might have afforded me the chance to visit old friends Suertes del Marqués, Telmo Rodriguez, Marañones, Raventos I Blanc, and Nin-Ortez, to name just a few. How people taste everything…not to mention the masterclasses…I have no idea. But at least in what I did taste I kept my Spanish palate topped up with pure excitement. What a brilliant tasting that was!

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Viñateros 2020, Part 1

There is a sub-title for Viñateros, the large Spanish Wine Tasting, the London event of which was held at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Lindley Hall on 25 February. It is “A Spanish Wine Revolution”. I don’t think that overstates anything. There really has been a revolution in Spanish wine. As one attendee I was chatting with said, Spain is the New South Africa. I know exactly what he meant.

That revolution perhaps got off a little on the wrong track in the 1990s, when every Spanish wine boasted 200% new oak, a few international grape varieties, a bottle you could hardly lift, and at least 14% alcohol. In Spain there is a manifesto written by a group called Club Matador, comprised of a couple  of hundred movers and shakers in Spanish Wine. You could sum it up as “Back to the Future”. Forget the Cabernet Sauvignon and 200% new oak. Spain’s future lies in looking at her past traditions and reintroducing and reinterpreting them for the modern wine drinker. This is what these growers are doing and this is, more than anything, why they have genuine relevance and authenticity.

Those so-called “modern” wines of the 1990s and early 2000s still have a following, as such wines do the world over. But the reason my fellow Spanish wine lover made that comment, likening Spain to South Africa, is because there’s a newer dynamism abroad in Spain. It was there back in the 1990s, but perhaps it was a little drowned out by all the hype for the “modern” wines. It involves rediscovering the value of autochthonous grape varieties suited to the terroir and climate. It reflects the new perspectives of a new generation, something very evident at this London event. It also involves a recognition that Spain can do far more than macho red wines.

I also think that the change in outlook reflects a much warmer and greater appreciation of what the pioneers of Spanish wine really achieved. How many of Spain’s finest producers recall with love their trips into the vineyards with their grandfather, or a favourite uncle, who ignited a flame within them, despite their lack of means to create wines like their grandchildren can fashion today, with greater knowledge and resources. The past is not just autochthonous varieties suited to the terroir, tinajas and old bush vines or steep terraces. It is a past of people too.

That the Spanish wine scene has not only survived, but has thrived, through a period of real economic hardship does say something about the passion and tenacity of those involved. I hope that as we progress towards an uncertain relationship with the rest of Europe, we can continue to enjoy the exciting wines, from far more than the once dominant classic regions, here in the UK, wines brought to us by a select group of equally passionate, equally expert, wine importers (some of whose names will appear below).

Because of the sheer number of wines tasted and the number of other events coming up (though I write this two days after the postponement of Raw Wine in London) I shall need to balance very carefully your desire for detail alongside the necessity for making my coverage short enough for you to enjoy reading it. This is why, on reflection, I have decided to cover Viñateros 2020 in two parts.

If I seem to be not quite on top form right now it is because I’m battling with a bout of illness, which has curtailed my tastings schedule and dramatically slowed down my writing. I have five articles in the queue despite missing several events this week. Hopefully they will all appear before too long.

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ZÁRATE (Galicia)

This estate is located in the famous Salnés Valley, within the Rias Baixas region of Northwest Spain. In fact the estate is set in the grounds of a 16th Century manor. The wines are typically “Atlantic”, with vines grown on weathered granite, subjected to the wind and rain which blow off that ocean. These are exemplary wines, all of them.

Sal da Terra 2018 is comprised 60% Carballoso, a rare variety from Xil, and an interesting entry point. Nice label too. The wine is described as a collaboration between Ben Henshaw (Indigo Wine), Daniel Primack and Jamie Goode (one of several collaborations Ben has initiated). Sold! Truly. This is a fantastic wine. Snap some up. It had breadth and presence, will age but is also salty-fresh (as the name suggests), food-friendly and refreshing. I certainly want a bottle.

Balado 2018 is Albariño off granite, six months on lees. Highly perfumed and apple fresh.

Carralcoba Albariño 2018 is the same variety with nine months on lees and full malolactic. Bigger and very gastronomic, ageworthy. It’s an introduction to the less acidic style of Albariño, a bit broader and more versatile.

Fontecón Rosé 2017 blends Albariño with the local red variety, Caiño Tinto, creating a salmon pink wine in a refreshing style. Caiño is one of those Galician red varieties to watch. You may not know it but it is as much a part of the local geography, and soul, as Albariño.

Carralcoba Tinto 2017 is a single vineyard wine, planted with 100% Caiño. A sour and saline gem if you like the idea of the salty Atlantic influence in a red wine.

Penapedre 2015 comes from the Esperón sub-region and is made from Mencia. You get concentrated cherry and a really nice lifted perfume. Just 12.5% abv, and perhaps like me you appreciate this more traditional style of Mencia, rather than some of the higher alcohol, often oaky, versions sometimes coming out of Bierzo (I could almost write an article on the evolution of Mencia from bulk wine to big wine and back, to a style more like this, showing a degree of verve and elegance even).

Imported by Indigo Wines.

ALBAMAR (Galicia)

This estate is located close to the previous producer, near Cambados, in the Val do Salnés. Again, we have a small family vineyard run on minimum intervention lines. The white wines are made from Albariño whilst the reds are made from either Caiño Tinto, Mencia or Espadeiro (or a blend thereof).

The entry level Albariño 2018 is flavoursome and easy going. Double the price and double the wine, Alma del Mar 2017 is a pale Albariño, but with a nice weight and 13.5% abv. Next to it in the range sits Pepe Luis, here from 2018. It has a deeper nose, and almost pineapple-like fruit. Delicious, and my choice of the three white wines.

The first of three reds, O Esteiro Caiño 2016 (100% Caiño Tinto) shows off the savoury qualities of this autochthonous variety at a light 11.5% abv. A refreshing wine. The second O Esteiro Espadeiro 2016 is from another local variety, one often found in the old field blends you may have come across in other parts of the region. This wine is smoky, a little sour/savoury, in an interesting way.

The wine labelled just as O Esteiro without a grape name to follow is a blend of the two varieties above plus MenciaAlthough ever so slightly cheaper than the varietal reds I probably preferred it, but only (again) ever so slightly. The refreshing acids made me think of drinking it cool. Very fresh.

Imported by Vine Trail.

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BODEGAS PEIXES (Galicia)

The first of two connected labels (with Fedellos do Couto which follows, and whose wines I know far better than these). The Peixes wines are made higher up the Sil valley in Ribeira Sacra, and at higher altitude than the Fedellos do Couto wines, at around 700 metres asl. The soils are granite/mica and the Atlantic influence is tempered by the Continental in these more inland vineyards.

Peixes Camándula 2017 is made  80% from the Sousón grape variety, an early ripener with great polyphenols, along with Mencia, Bastardo and others. There are some white grapes in the field blend. It is relatively light and pleasantly different. Peixe da Estrada 2017 is a more general field blend, mixing fruitiness with a certain savoury quality. Acidity and granite texture are to the fore as well.

Peixes da Rocha 2017 comes from the highest vineyards, at around 800 metres. The vines are over fifty years old. The bouquet is a lifted floral scent which carries the lovely fruit (high-toned plump cherry). Again, the acids provide freshness. This is a wine which deserves to become as popular as the perhaps better known red wines below.

Imported by Indigo Wines.

FEDELLOS DO COUTO (Galicia)

We are still in Ribeira Sacra here, and my guess is that many readers will already know these extremely good value wines. Although they are Atlantic Reds in one sense, partly because the rainfall in the Sil and Bibei sub-zones is pretty high, the influence becomes increasingly continental as we travel to Ribeira Sacra’s more southerly edge. I can’t resist telling you that the scenery here is stunning, and in my opinion more so than certain more famous regions not too far away.

As with Peixes above, here we have three wines, and although they do make white wines under this label, these are all reds as well. All of them are lovely, although my Jura passion does cause me to lean towards the Bastardo (aka Trousseau) when I make the occasional purchase.

Cortezada 2018 is Mencia from Sil, easy going but with delicious fruit. Lomba dos Ares 2017 comes from Bibei, off a selection of plots at lower altitude. It’s a field blend, with slightly firmer fruit than Cortezada, yet it is still a delightfully fresh wine in a somewhat lighter style.

Bastardo 2018 is very pale, slightly smoky, with a complex fragrance, though the fruit on the palate has some presence considering how pale it is. It isn’t (for me) obviously the same variety as Jura Trousseau from its profile here. It has a haunting quality, and is very long. In some ways it’s an enigma, but I mean that as a compliment. It is worth the extra £10-or-so you will pay over and above the Lomba in my humble opinion.

Imported by Indigo Wines.

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SILICE VITICULTORES/FREDI TORRES (Galicia and Catalonia)

Fredi Torres is one of the most cosmopolitan natives of Northwestern Spain’s wine scene. Having been born in Galicia, he moved to Switzerland as a child. He’s made wine there, as well as Argentina, South Africa and Burgundy, and I also understand he’s been a professional DJ (and look at that t-shirt below!!!). He now makes wine, with the help of two friends, in Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra under the Silice Viticultores label, and right over on the other side of Spain, in Montsant, Conca de Barberà and Priorat, all in Catalonia.

Silice Blanco 2018 was the only white on show. Smooth and chalky, a blend of Albariño, Palomino, Treixadura (around one third each) and a splash of Godello. Just 11.5% abv. Silice Tinto 2018 is 100% Mencia off around 80% decomposed granite with schist. It has a smooth quality with texture, and a freshness increasingly missing in Mencia.

Finca Lobeiras 2016 is probably my favourite of the Silice wines (though please do not ignore the others as a result). The blend is 80% Mencia with 20% Merenzao, all fermented with stems. The site is steep limestone under clay and the vines are at least sixty years old. Ageing is in old oak barrels. The result is a dark cherry wine of some complexity which saw just over a year in wood and a further year in bottle before release. Different to the 100% Mencia, and it has real delicacy.

The Fredi Torres wines start with a red 2018 Conca de Barberà called Pomagrana. You only need to look at the colour to get the idea of the fruit he had in mind when naming it. If you like a pale, inexpensive, red with lifted fruit, acidity, and don’t mind a less than serious label, this is for you. Trépat is the (always interesting) grape variety.

La Selecciòn 2018 is from the Montsant DO, a Garnacha with a deep rich nose and smooth fruit weighing in at 14% abv but without overt weight. It’s a good lead-in to the Priorat Classic 2018. It’s made in quite a different style to the cliché of Priorat we have come to expect. It has bright acids and much more freshness. The blend is circa 70% Garnacha, 25% Carignan and 5% Syrah, plus a splash of white Macabeo, with just 13.5% alcohol. It sees around 15% new oak but isn’t overtly oaky. I would suggest that if Priorat tires your palate, give this a try.

All Imported by Modal Wines.

ENVINATE (Tenerife, Almansa and Galicia…and more)

Envínate is the project of Laura Ramos, Roberto Santana, José Ángel Martinez and Alfonso Torrente, who met whilst studying wine in Alicante. Starting out in day jobs, they have methodically built Envínate into one of Spain’s most exciting producers in a fairly short space of time.

Benje Blanco 2018 comes from the Ycoden-Daute-Isora DO in Western Tenerife. A well balanced wine with relatively low alcohol, it is all fruit and (ginger) spice. The variety, Listán Blanco, is none other than the Palomino of Jérez.

Palo Blanco 2018 is bottled from the black sand and basalt of the Valle de la Orotava, up at 600 metres asl, but the variety is the same as in Benje (although in all these wines there can be other interloper vines co-planted, you never can tell). Here all the vines are trained with the famous braiding together of spurs almost unique to the island, which is often likened to dreadlocks. It’s called cordon trenzádo (Suertès del Marquès, you may recall, makes a cuvée named after it). Fermented in concrete, ageing follows in large Italian oak foudres of 2,500 litres for ten months. This is a clean Atlantic white coming in at 11.5% abv, hitting the spot for texture and tongue-fresh salinity.

Albahra 2018 is from the region of Almansa, in the province of Albacete (Castile-La Mancha) and the grape variety is principally Garnacha Tintorera off chalk and sand. Don’t be too swift to pass over the varietal name because Garnacha Tintorera is not Grenache, it’s a synonym for Alicante Bouschet. The wine here is aged in small barrels this time. It’s a lighter wine than much Alicante Bouschet, but I don’t know whether that is down to the Manchuela and Moravia Agria varieties added into the mix, which are both certainly reckoned to be (not that I’m terribly au-fait with this pair, folks) quite acidic blending varieties.

Lousas Viñas de Aldea 2018 is a red made from 80% Mencia in Ribeira Sacra, sixteen growers providing the fruit from mostly very small plots of old vines. Lousas is the label the quartet has retained for their Galician wines. These vineyards are spread between 300 and 500 metres asl, probably counting as mid-slope here. The terroir is slate and schist, but their influence is perhaps moderated by whole bunch fermentation and very gentle foot pressing. A wine of lifted fruit and a savoury edge. Tiny production but extremely good.

Táganan Tinto 2018 We are back in Tenerife here, in fact in the Northeast of the island. The sub-region is called Ágana, presumably after the village of Táganana (here’s hoping I’ve counted all my a’s and n’s correctly). These were truly lost vineyards, ungrafted vines hiding away in clefts between rocks, in hollows and on the edge of rocky outcrops. It’s our first look at Listan Negro, blended here with four other less well known autochthonous varieties. It’s a very bright wine, vibrant, with depth but also some tannin. It’s also a wine of singular uniqueness, always exemplary yet equally brave as well.

To finish the present Envinate lineup, we come full circle, to Benje Tinto 2018, from the same Ycoden-Daute-Isora DO as the corresponding Blanco. The vines here are grown at an astonishing 1,000 metres. There is a small 5% splash of Tintilla, but the main grape (95%) is Listán Prieto, the variety also known as Criolla (Argentina), País (Chile) and Mission in the USA. It usually, at least the few I’ve drunk, makes reasonably light wines with a fragrant perfume, and Benje Tinto is no exception. It differs a little from some of the versions I’ve drunk from South America in a way that suggests the importance of terroir here. It is unquestionably both mineral and a little saline. Atlantic Ocean and volcanic soils come together nicely in a rather lovely bottle of wine. It has just the right degree of wildness without being likely to scare off too many people.

Imported by Indigo Wine

Alfonso on duty in London

VERONICA ORTEGA (Castilla y León/Bierzo)

I’d never tasted Veronica Ortega’s wines before, and this was one of the truly exciting discoveries of Viñateros 2020. She made her first vintage in 2010 after stints in Priorat (Clos Erasmus and Alvaro Palacios), New Zealand (Burn Cottage), Douro (Niepoort), Burgundy (Comte Armand and DRC) and the Rhône Valley (Domaine Combier), but fell in love with Bierzo during a stint with Raúl Perez. That is one impressive CV. So long as Veronica kept her eyes and ears open she was bound to end up making some stunning wines of her own. She has, yet they are not at all in the morbidly classical style.

Veronica farms five hectares in Valtuille, and showed six wines. The first was Cal 2017, named after the very chalky/limestone soils from which this cuvée originates. Limestone and chalk are quite rare in Bierzo, which you will recall is far better known for slate and schist. It was the only white wine on show, 100% Godello, from a 40-y-o parcel of vines. What a bouquet, incredible! Like pear drop with a hint of ginger spice or maybe nutmeg. The palate is very fresh, with the expected chalky texture and mouthfeel. I think the mouthfeel is also down to ageing, half in barrel and half in amphora. I would buy this, for sure.

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Quite 2018 is made from 80-y-o Mencia vines on sand and red clay near Veronica’s base in the village of Valtuille. The name is actually a bullfighting term (her father was a famous bullfighter, apparently). This red accounts for around half of her production and is also aged half in wood and half in amphora. It is dark-fruited with more texture and more nutmeg and cinnamon spice. It would be an easy drinker, and again, I’d love a bottle or two.

Cobrana 2017 blends just 75% Mencia this time with white varieties Doña Blanca, Palomino and Godello in a traditional field blend. The vines are grown at altitude, in Veronica’s highest and coolest sites, on a mix of decomposed slate and red clay. Ageing is the same regime as “Quite”, but for thirteen months rather than seven. The bouquet is somewhat lighter and more floral (the white varieties?), and the palate is reminiscent of red fruits like raspberry and strawberry, but beneath you find more complex and deeper flavours.

Roc 2017 is named after Veronica’s deceased elder brother, a fitting tribute because it is her top red, ageworthy, with deeper colour. It comes from one special parcel of Mencia in the Valtuille Valley, from a sandy site with a stony topsoil. The grapes here are very thick skinned and they undergo a gentle ten day extraction to avoid too much extract or bitterness. The result is only medium-bodied and 13.5% alcohol. Still, it is tannic and fills the mouth with concentrated fruit. Keep at least four years, perhaps?

Versión Original 2016 If you can’t afford Selosse, you can afford this VO. Valtuille Mencia again from the same parcel as above but just from the bottom of the slope, where the sandy soil is deeper. Veronica said 2016 was a cooler vintage, and it has a certain structure with maybe less plush fruit. Bony, perhaps? But sophisticated too. It suggests elegance will come in time. It will take a few years to come around, but I’m sure it will, in three or four.

Kinki 2018 Kinki has a very different meaning in Spanish, a reference to people living on the margins in the 1990s, according to Veronica, or at least that is the inspiration for this new wine, of which 2018 is the first vintage (just 2,100 bottles). Red and white varieties are co-planted at Cobrana in the High Bierzo. Picked early, the alcohol level is only 11%. Light, pale, almost brick red, a wine to drink a little chilled. It helps to show the whole range of Veronica Ortega’s winemaking skills. I was very pleased I tried these, having only heard good things about Veronica’s wines.

Imported by Vine Trail.

VICTORIA TORRES PECIS (La Palma, Canary Islands)

I was so happy to meet Victoria, as you will be able to imagine if you have read anything I’ve written about her wines (most recently after a tasting of her range at The Ten Cases in August last year). In the article which followed that tasting I called her the new star of the Canaries. I guess that takes some justification, and I will try my best.

Victoria began making wine after her father passed away in 2014. She has retained his vines, if not his name on the label (thanks to the power of the Torres winery who, if what I am told is correct, apparently seem to think that “Torres” should be pretty much restricted to their clan in the wine world). The bodega is at Fuencalliente, at the southern end of La Palma, but her ungrafted vines, some as old as 130 years of age, are all over the island, and at altitudes ranging from beach level to 1,500 metres. This range in altitude is why Victoria says her harvest can take three months.

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Las Migas 2017 might be described as Victoria’s entry level white. It comes from La Palma’s southern tip and is 100% (as far as anyone can be sure in these vineyards) Listán Blanco (Palomino). Intense and linear with a long mineral finish, it saw nine months on lees from which it derives a nice texture.

Malvasia Aromatica 2018 comes from plots on the southwest coast, the warmest part of La Palma. 2018 provided somewhat strange growing conditions, which Victoria described as “no winter and no summer”. The result is a fresh dry wine which hits you with its lovely bouquet, POW!

Listán Blanco Solera “2013” is from a solera begun by her father, Matías,  in 2013 and refreshed every harvest since. This version was bottled in 2018. It has such depth, depth you don’t always see in Palomino table wines (unfortified). It does have a slightly sherry-like (fino) touch, despite the soils here being black volcaic ash, not chalky Albariza. This is I’m sure down to the wine’s saline freshness, and the concentration of the solera.

Negramoll 2018 The bouquet here is so concentrated for such a pale wine. It has a slightly unusual sweet and sour note, but smooth fruit. It takes two months to harvest the diverse plots which comprise this cuvée, but the result is very characterful. I think this wine is not for everyone, but it is for me. I drank a 2017 last year and would like to grab some 2018, for sure. That 2017 contained 15% Listán Prieto, and I forgot to ask about the 2018.

Listán Prieto 2018 is a varietal bottling of Victoria’s “Criolla/Pais”. The old bush vines are from two plots in the northwest of the island, one at 1,200 metres asl and the other at 1,400 metres. They are harvested late, in October. The grapes from each plot are picked at optimum ripeness, so that fermentation gets going and the later picked bunches are added to the vat as they come in. This is a wine I’ve not tasted before, but it had a lovely vibrancy to it, easy going but once more, characterful.

I think Victoria’s wines turn ideas of “fine wines” on their head.  These are wines to drink, not trade, but if you drink them and open your heart and mind, you will fall in love with them.

If the previous wines don’t appeal after my rapturous praise, then you cannot fail to be stunned by Malvasia Naturalmente Dulce 2011. Victoria’s father made this, perhaps the most traditional wine of the island. Malvasia grapes are left to raisin on the vine, developing just a tiny amount of botrytis as well. The fruit is destemmed before being foot trodden in an unusual but traditional pine wood lagar, called a Tea.  It’s worth repeating what I’ve written before – that there are only three of these left on La Palma. The issue is that without consistent use every harvest they dry out and crack open. The one at the Torres Pecis estate has been used every year since 1885.

The fermentation is slow, but after foot treading in wood the must actually goes into stainless steel for this part. Fermentation stops just when it feels like it. The result is around 14.5% abv, and deeply attractive, revitalisingly sweet, thick textured, rich but salty too. Out of my price range, but stunningly good. The volcanic wines of the Canary Islands (and indeed the Portuguese Azores) really seem to strike a chord with me.

Imported by Modal Wines.

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VIDAL SOBLECHERO/PAGOS DE VILLAVENDIMIA (Rueda)

It takes a bit of sleuthing to discover much about this small producer in print, but I was very pleased someone recommended I try them last week. With some producers you know the name but have never tasted the wines. In this case even the name meant nothing to me.

The Soblechero vines, all over a hundred years old, are spread around numerous plots east of Rueda itself, although the wines are not in the Rueda DO. Apparently these vines are treated as well as any at a top domaine in Burgundy. Aside from the first wine here, the different bottlings come in at well under 1,000 bottles each, and when reading the notes for the Finca wines do check out the vintages. These are the current releases. You might think this estate dates back centuries but I was surprised to read that it was actually founded in 1999.

El Escribiente Verdejo 2016 This Verdejo sees 18 months on lees in stainless steel and doesn’t go through malo. You expect a nice, simple, entry level wine, but wait…it’s served out of magnum. It has that almost neutral melon flavour and texture you sometimes get in Rueda, and indeed some citrus, but also a gentle depth. Very nice for an inexpensive wine, but we do step up in quality after this.

Finca el Alto 2012 is the first of the single parcel wines. The plot is on limestone and you get fresh mineral Verdejo texture on the tongue. Finca Buenavista 2012 is from contrasting sandy/alluvial soils off scrubby riverside terrain. Perhaps this majors on elegance. Just two barrels made. Finca Matea 2012 is off clay, aged in a larger demi-muid and Finca La Sernas 2011, a red, has power. It also comes in at 14% abv, and it’s quite a wine. This last wine is made with Tinta Fina (which usually means Tempranillo, though it is occasionally used as a synonym for Alicante Bouschet in the region, which can be confusing). The Sernas wine has plenty of tannin but also bags of fruit. Even at this age it still tastes young. These are all very fine wines, well differentiated to show the individual terroirs.

Pagos De Villavendimia La Oxiditiva Here we are back to a white wine, made from Verdejo blended with Viura, of which Soblechero has a little planted. Like all of these wines, it is a Vino de la Tierra, not Rueda DO. It isn’t fortified, but it does pump out 15% alcohol. The fruit is apple fresh and it feels as tightly wound as a spring, or as tense as a wire pulled tight. That is until you spit (or swallow), when it just goes on forever until you find some water to swill mouth and glass. It comes from a solera started in 1948…I ought to have guessed. Think a cross between biologically aged Sherry and Vin Jaune (hazelnuts, lemons, fresh but with a bitter prickle), a remarkable wine. Close to profound. About 700-to-800 bottles will be released each year, drink close to purchase rather than cellar. The wine in the bottle is old enough and you want to retain the freshness.

I was told these wines are mostly sold to expensive Barcelona restaurants (why Barcelona?) and are almost unknown in the UK. What a fantastic discovery by their importer. Try them.

Imported by Carte Blanche.

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BARCO DEL CORNETA (Castilla y León)

Beatriz Herranz is another producer of mostly Verdejo wines, although she also has some Viura and Palomino. She was making wine in Gredos when she purchased her first Verdejo grapes in 2010, but was sufficiently inspired by the result that she rented winery space in the village of La Seca, in the province of Valladolid. Although this is a new venture by a young winemaker, she now owns small plots of very old vines, mostly on sedimentary soils over a limestone base. Her abilities are obvious from the clear delineation between the different bottlings she produces.

Cucú Verdejo 2018 is a pure varietal wine fermented and then aged in stainless steel on lees for 18 months. Textured, citrus fresh but with an added nuance you might not expect from the neutral vessel. The label (which I find attractive, with a frog on a lilypad) perhaps nicely illustrates the organic viticulture and winemaking practices here.

Barco del Corneta Verdejo 2016 has more depth. This might come from its ageing, on lees again, for eight months in large, used, oak this time. It’s worth mentioning that the vines are grown at between 700 to 750 metres asl, so the heat of a continental climate is sufficiently tempered by cool nights, to allow the wines to retain acidity and tension.

El Judas 2017 is made from Viura. It is grown on sandy soils, at a similar altitude, and sees 12 months in neutral French oak. I do perhaps prefer the Verdejo wines, but that is just personal preference. This is equally characterful and well thought through. I’m sorry that I have no idea about the name…there must be a story behind it?

There were two other wines on the table, which I didn’t taste, being aware that I needed to speed up a bit. But I should stress that these are excellent wines, with as much right to appear here as any of the others. I hope to come across them again.

Imported by Indigo Wine.

This marks the end of Part 1. I shall endeavour to bring you a selection of wines from a further eleven producers as soon as I am able.

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Dynamic By Name, Dynamic By Nature

The UK is blessed with an almost uncountable number of wonderful wine merchants, and I love too many of them to be deemed a truly loyal customer. They range from tiny enterprises like Basket Press, Modal Wines and Nekter up to the big boys such as Les Caves and Indigo. I’m not sure whether my computation of size is accurate, but in between sit the medium-sized operations, two absolute favourites which had scheduled tastings for consecutive Mondays. Fingers crossed, I shall be going to a perfectly formed tasting of Savoie, Bugey and Jura wines from Vine Trail next Monday (unless we have a travel ban in place by then). This Monday I was at Dynamic Vines‘ 2020 Portfolio Tasting held in their HQ in Bermondsey, London.

Dynamic Vines has a special place in my heart for a number of reasons. When I began to get seriously into Jura wines Domaine de la Tournelle rapidly rose to the top of the pile amongst my favourites. When my interest in Austrian Wine turned into a passion, it was almost single-handedly after I discovered Gut Oggau. Both are on Dynamic’s list. I must add that Dynamic is also one of just a handful of UK merchants who are starting to take Swiss Wine more seriously. So despite the fact that I had not visited the Bermondsey warehouse for over a year, though having availed myself of these wines from Antidote’s wine shop (near Carnaby Street), I could not have been looking forward to a tasting any more than I was, as I trudged through the wind and rain on Monday morning towards the wasteland around Spa Terminal and Discovery Business Park.

I managed to taste the full range on show from nine producers, out of approximately forty who were there. It seemed a good number because in this case it is worth me writing a bit more about each one. I’m afraid that when I come to write up Tuesday’s Vinateros Spanish tasting I shall have to be more brief. But it is worth listing just some of the names I missed out, to illustrate the strength of the Dynamic Vines range: Causse Marines, Franck Pascal, Josmeyer, Domaine Milan, Abbatucci, Alain Chabanon, Radikon, Tenuta Valgiano, Oriol Artigas and Forjas del Salnes are all producers whose wines I rate highly. But let’s crack on with what I did taste, every one a star in its own way.

DOMAINE COSSE MAISONNEUVE (Cahors, France)

I go back a very long way with the wines of Matthieu Cosse and Catherine Maisonneuve, discovering them in the early 2000s via Suffolk merchant and brewer, Adnams. They began their journey in 1999, at Preyssac near Cahors, and immediately established their vineyard as biodynamic. They started out with a little over five hectares, and have now grown the estate to fifteen. They have a variety of grapes planted on very different terroirs, making wines under the Cahors AOP along with some perhaps even more interesting Vins de France.

Dynamic Vines sells several of these Cahors, of which “Le Fage” (off clay), “Les Laquets” (their first wine, red clay and limestone with older vines) and “La Marguerite” (red clay with iron deposits) were on show. These are all very fine and (NB!) ageworthy Cahors. All are from the 2016 vintage. The wines below, however, are all labelled Vins de France.

Les Béraudies 2011 is a remarkably well priced cuvée made from a blend of Merlot and Malbec. It spent four years in barrel and shows fresh dark fruits underpinned by bite and grip. This is a single parcel, on limestone, and the Merlot vines are 70 years old. It saw three years in older oak and then four years in cement. I’m sure that gives an idea of the kind of approach Matthieu follows.

Abstemes S’Abstenir 2016 is a wine I went for immediately. Gamay (around 40-y-o vines) off limestone is aged in used wood and cement tank. The colour is dark for Gamay, denser than most, structured even. The finely drawn line of acidity running through its backbone defines the wine, as does its fresh acidity, perhaps more than the fruit. I like it because they have crafted a very fine Gamay which is not a mere Beaujolais replica. 12.5% abv seems spot on.

Carmenet 2017 is a remarkable Cabernet Franc, also grown on limestone, the vines having been planted before Cosse Maisonneuve in 1971. They are in what used to be the “Vin de Pays de Quercy” region, outside of Cahors. This is a terroir wine par excellence. The fruit is ripe but it has the kind of freshness I was tasting recently in Canadian Cabernet Franc, yet with plenty of concentration.

Sidérolithe 2017 is also a Cabernet Franc, but off red clay packed with iron and manganese. In fact it has an iron-rich glow and a slightly earthy bouquet beneath a profoundly floral perfume, a deeper expression perhaps than the wine above, more savoury. Just 12.5% abv though. I could drink this right now but without doubt it will age magnificently with all its tannin and texture.

CHÂTEAU LE PUY (Bordeaux, France)

I’ve tasted these wines on many occasions but never really written about them, and they deserve an introduction. This is a remarkable Bordeaux estate. The Amoreau family has been in the region and farming the land since 1610. The land has never been subjected to agro-chemicals and current family winemaker (14th generation) Pascal Amoreau and his father, Jean-Pierre, began eliminating all sulphur additions to their completely  biodynamic production since 1990. No sulphur is generally added to any Le Puy wine.

The estate has 51 hectares under vine, comprising all five Bordeaux varieties for the red wines. The white wine (not shown here) is 100% Semillon, no Sauvignon Blanc. Vinification is quite simple and consistent, with hand harvested fruit fermented in self-regulating open top fermenters for two-to-four weeks. Ageing is in used oak (fine grained) with “dynamisation” (I guess it’s biodynamic bâtonnage), except for the remarkable Rétour des Îles (not shown, trade price just shy of £200/bottle), which goes over the Atlantic and back and “self-dynamises”.

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Émeline Callet

Rose Marie VdF 2018 is a saignée Merlot, fermented for around ten months. It is more a clairet, or light red, gastronomic with red fruits and a savoury edge. This wine is always exceptional. It won’t be cheap but treat it as you would Château Simone, Tondonia or a similar pink.

Emilien VdF 2017 blends all five red varieties (M=85%, CS, CF, Malbec and Carmenère), aged 24 months in both barrel and oak vat. Textured but fruity (blackcurrant and redcurrant) with a leafy sous-bois undertone. The tannins are smooth and the wine is reasonably full in the mouth. Requires perhaps five years for the ’17.

Emilien Francs-Côtes-de-Bordeaux 2016 comes from a more “classical” vintage but has generous fruit above the ample structure. When I said no sulphur is generally added here, well they did add a tiny amount to stabilise this wine in 2016. For me, you can’t tell. The 2013 vintage of the same wine has a more earthy/savoury bouquet showing just a little more evolution and gives a hint at how nicely these wines will age.

Barthélemy 2017 VdF is a parcel wine, 85% Merlot, the rest Cabernet Sauvignon, which has a long vinification and then two years in barrel. You get a purple wine, quite dense, with an unquestionable caramel note on the nose (Emeline Callet who was showing the wines identified it as butterscotch). It’s a complex wine, silky but not ready to drink. Very fine, potentially.

Barthélemy Francs-Côtes-de-Bordeaux 2011 comes up with the goods. Deep aromas of leaf mould and undergrowth underpinned by blackcurrant fruit and blackcurrant leaf. The potential here is significant, but it is already performing. This is probably what Bordeaux should be producing across the region, not just on this patch by the Gironde.

These are sensational wines, and they are priced accordingly, but how many fans of famous fine Bordeaux are even aware of them?

DOMAINE GIACHINO (Savoie, France)

I have admired the wines of the Giachino family for some years, drawn to them initially by their rather fun labels, a rarity in Savoie, certainly in decades past. The domaine is run by brothers Frédéric and David, and Frédéric’s son Clément was over to show the wines.

The domaine has fifteen hectares of vines on the opposite side of the A41 Autoroute to the Combe de Savoie, at La Palud, near to Chapareillan, just east of the infamous Mount Granier. Infamous? In 1248 a giant landslide estimated to have included around 500 million square metres of mountain tumbled down in one night, burrying five villages. The scree forms the Giachino vignoble (and that of other producers) today.

In addition to their own biodynamic domaine, the Giachinos have, since 2015, farmed the vines, dotted around the Combe, of Savoie’s most famous vigneron, Michel Grisard, and his Savoie beacon estate, Le Prieuré Saint-Christophe.

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Caroline et Clément Giachino

Vin de Savoie “Monfarina” 2018 is an attractive entry level glugger blending Jacquère with several other varieties (Verdesse, and Mondeuse Blanche included). This is an easy going wine but with a quite unusual floral bouquet and classic Savoie/Jacquère acids.

Aprémont 2018 is another Jacquère, a regional classic but with more weight and mouthfeel. A step up. It has that clean flavour of almost all Savoie whites, whatever the variety, but a little stony texture as well. The terroir is limestone and marls.

Roussette de Savioe 2018 is an appellation for Altesse, generally my favourite white variety from the region. This is fine, with lemon citrus, pear and stone fruit purity. A genuine further step up is their Roussette de Savoie Prieuré St Christophe 2017 bottling. This has seen twelve months in barrel and 2017 was a pretty exceptional vintage. This is very fine indeed, and although I doubt I shall be able to hang on to my bottle, this will go five or six years. It’s like the Giachinos’ own version but amplified in every aspect.

It has been suggested that the Giachino Prieuré wines do not yet show the depth of Michel Grisard’s. I don’t honestly have the experience (sadly, I will add) to comment, although I have been privileged to drink several of Michel’s creations.What I will say is that both wines under that label are a step up in the Giachino range, which is already very good indeed, one of a handful of the best in Savoie. That is doubtless why Michel trusted his legacy and vines to this family.

Vin de Savoie “Giac’ Potes” 2018 is the first red, a 50:50 Gamay/Mondeuse blend. Gamay is widely planted in the region but is most often seen in nondescript co-operative bottlings. This underwent a short maceration for ten days, whole clusters naturally. It has a fresh cherry bouquet and is very much a “natural wine”, fruity, smashable as they say.

Vin de Savoie “Black Giac” 2018 is pure Mondeuse Noir this time, aged six months in oak. It’s a nice, typical, Alpine red and a good intro to the lovely Mondeuse variety.

Vin de Savoie Persan 2017 is made from a variety which should be more widely recognised. It may be unknown to most people but it is a grape with serious potential, at its best producing highly ageable wines. This shows texture and structure, but with a softness too. That goes with pronounced acidity, which aids its potential for longevity as a varietal wine, but which also signals potential as blending material.

Vin de Savoie “Ma Douce” 2018 does indeed flag up that proposition, here Persan found alongside a splash of Mondeuse and rather more of the even rarer variety, Douce Noire. This is aged in stainless steel for around ten months and is a fascinating blend.

Vin de Savoie Mondeuse Prieuré St Christophe 2016 is the current vintage of the wine which made Michel Grisard the most famous face in Savoie. I know people who would genuinely drink Prieuré over DRC and suchlike, if they could just beg a bottle from the Grisard era. Eighteen months spent in barrel and the product of 60-year-old vines is surprisingly pale. Acidity is quite high but you get a decent hint of the depth and elegance to come. I think this is the first, or maybe the second, cuvée the Giachino family has made from these vines. We can only judge if it lives up to the Prieuré name when it has seen more age, for it is a wine stamped with longevity. The potential is definitely there.

DOMAINE DE LA TOURNELLE (Jura, France)

Pascal and Evelyne Clairet farm vines for their relatively small domaine around Arbois, and their Central Arbois tasting room is attached to their Bistrot de la Tournelle (open July and August in dry weather) at 5 Petite Place, in their garden by the swift flowing River Cuisance. I cannot be objective here, but I hope that my passion for these wines is well founded. They don’t often appear on the list of “sexy producers” beloved of many a youthful Jura fan, but trust me, the wines are every bit as good as you will find. Pascal has helped mentor quite a few young stars in his time, and will be approaching thirty harvests soon.

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Pascal Clairet

Arbois Les Corvées Sous Curon 2016 There are lots of wines made in “Les Corvées”, a vineyard north of Arbois, below the road to Montigny-les-Arsures, but the clue here is “Sous Curon”. These vines are right below the famous terraces of Chardonnay beneath the “Tour” which Stéphane Tissot sells for three times the price of this wine. Immaculate Chardonnay from stony argile over clay.

Arbois Fleur de Savagnin 2017 This is a wine that I’m never without at least one bottle in the cellar. Their classic ouillé (topped-up) Savagnin, all lemon and nuts, aged on the lees, giving texture and purity.

Arbois Ambre de Savagnin 2017 This vintage is stunning. A six month skin maceration produces an amber wine with a bouquet of orange and citrus peel. Think texture and tannin on the palate, but lingering, haunting, even exotic, flavours. I bought several wines in the Dynamic Vines shop on the day. I’d have bought this but I am hoping to visit the domaine again later this year and took a gamble, knowing I could carry no more. This could be the one that got away. Essential for fans of the amber revolution.

Arbois Uva Arbosiana 2018 The first Tournelle wine I ever bought, and probably the second and third too. A very natural Poulsard, made via carbonic maceration. Pale, ethereal, total fruit, unbelievably refreshing, if on the edge of wild. Drink cool to chilled. An anytime wine, yet it excels in summer sunshine. I find this wine sometimes shows signs of reduction. All it requires is air, in a carafe, perhaps with a vigorous shake, to help it reveal its magic.

Arbois Cul de Brey 2015 This is a very interesting blend of Trousseau, Petit Baclan and Syrah. It’s vibrant, prickly on the tongue and zippy for a red. I like this wine as a contrast to the more sophisticated Arbois Trousseau des Corvées 2014. Fermented in open tanks, it is then aged in large foudres. This is classic Trousseau which is made to age. I purchased this very wine at the domaine, both in bottle and magnum. The larger format is highly recommended for this particular Trousseau.

Arbois Vin Jaune 2011 I try to spread my VJ buying, so expensive is it becoming, and I just checked to discover that the last vintage of Tournelle Vin Jaune I bought was 2008. I need to remedy that, because this 2011 is a stunner. The Clairets have a dry Vin Jaune cellar and it produces a very thin layer of flor. This still protects the wine, allowing it to undergo its seven years of biological ageing, but it helps create an elegant and fresh wine. The high notes always sing out, and I can happily drink their VJ relatively young. It always has this lighter side, emphasising the fresh citrus above the nutty tenor notes. 14% abv. I say I can drink it young, but of course there’s no use by date to adhere to. Heavenly.

EMMANUEL GIBOULOT (Burgundy, France)

Giboulot became unintentionally famous a few years ago when he risked prison for his organic and biodynamic principles. Burgundy was, and is, infected by flavescence dorée (aka golden rot), spread by a leafhopper insect. The authorities decreed that growers had to spray for it. Most organic producers in reality either did so, or so I’m told, pretended to. Giboulot stood up for his principles, seemingly alone. It was massive public support, both in France and internationally, which saved him. He farms Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, along with the much rarer Pinot Beurrot.

Emmanuel showed ten wines, and I won’t dwell on every one of them. He farms in the appellations of Beaune, Côte de Beaune, Saint-Romain, and even further into the hills for his Hautes-Côtes de Nuits wines (“En Gregoire” and “Sous le Mont”).

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Saint-Romain Blanc “En Chevrot” 2017 is a good place to begin. It has a fine mineral bouquet, a wine of simplicity, but I mean that as a compliment. Finely dawn. It contrasts nicely with the ever so slightly cheaper Côte de Beaune Blanc “La Grande Chatelaine” 2017, a lovely vibrant Chardonnay. Aged 12 months on lees in large, used, oak, it has medium body and texture. From older vines.

Côte de Beaune “Les Pierres Blanches” 2017 comes from a vineyard immediately above the Beaune 1er Cru Bressandes, with a southeast exposure. 2017 was a good vintage all round for Emmanuel and this bottle shows a little amplitude, ripeness, but great balance. His other Côte de Beaune parcel is Combe d’Eve shown here from the 2014 vintage. It’s a deeper wine with confit lemon and peach on the bouquet, the palate showing a blend of citrus freshness and nutty depth, with plenty of acidity.

Heading further south, Giboulot farms a parcel in the Chalonnaise. Rully 1er Cru “la Pucelle” 2017 shows the latent, but not always realised, promise of this region of more open farmland and soft hillsides. It’s overall a broader rendition of Chardonnay with lovely balance.

Of the two reds from the Hautes-Côtes, I would say grab them in any vintage, especially a good one. Climate change is enabling growers to get a lot more from their Pinot grown up in these once chilly hills, especially, I would argue, the biodynamic growers.

The red version of Saint-Romain “En Chevrot” 2017 is pale, with a defined upper register giving really lovely high-toned fruit. It’s a moreish wine, seemingly easy to drink, until you stop and notice that there’s more here than initially met the eye (or tongue).

Côte de Beaune “Les Pierres Blanches” Rouge 2017 is highly recommended. I will only say that it seemed to me like a distillation of intense strawberry and raspberry fruit. I suggest it’s wine to bring joy rather, perhaps, than mere intellectual stimulation.

Last comes something quite special, I think. Beaune “Lalunne” 2017 is a wine of pale intensity, texture, and seemingly floating over the wine’s structure, a strong waft of fruit. The plot is well exposed to the sun, effortlessly ripening the grapes in 2017. This will surely age into a beautiful wine. But there’s also a certain joy to all of Giboulot’s wines, perhaps surprising considering all he’s been through.

EMIDIO PEPE (Abruzzo, Italy)

The Pepe estate was founded in 1899, so not the oldest here, but still..! Emidio began bottling the family’s wine for himself in 1964 and since then the vineyard has grown to fifteen hectares, creating almost unquestionably one of the two finest wine domaines in the Abruzzo. Emidio drew derision from fellow producers when he began to reject the so-called advances in agronomy and winemaking which took off in the 1960s and 70s, but who’s laughing now!

As you would expect, the wines here are made very traditionally, but there are a couple of things you need to know. First, the vines are trained on pergola. This is still derided by some as a primitive training system, but all over Europe biodynamic producers are discovering the benefits of this high trellising. For one thing, with climate change the high canopy protects the grapes from excessive sun but allows air to circulate beneath. It’s main disadvantage? These vines are backbreaking to pick. Only the old folks really have the stamina.

Secondly, there is no oak to be found in the winery…not even older oak. Glass-lined concrete is the preferred medium for fermenting and ageing the wines.

It was a pleasure to meet Chiara de Iulis Pepe, Emidio’s granddaughter, for the first time whilst I tasted once more some of Italy’s genuinely finest wines. Their acknowledged status, and popularity, is certainly underpinned by the sheer number of “likes” any photo of these wines garners on Instagram.

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Chiara

Never forget that this producer creates a pair of amazing white wines. Don’t make it all about the reds. Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2016 is savoury with hazelnuts, concentrated, long and smooth. Pecorino 2016 is labelled IGT and is even more on the nutty side, a big wine (not heavy). Small bunches with small thick skinned berries are gently foot crushed, so there’s a little skin contact but not a lot. It gives texture, but the Pecorino perhaps has a touch more acidity than the Trebbiano. It’s just about my favourite of the two, generally.

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We were treated to five vintages of the Pepe Montepulciano D’Abruzzo. Each one had been carefully chosen to illustrate a point. Of course, there are lots of examples of the Montepulciano grape variety around for very little money, whereas these cost rather a lot. But as Chiara said, there is no comparison. Those cheap wines are generally examples of an easy going grape variety, and the Pepe versions are genuinely world class wines in my view. Let’s see what I tasted.

2015 – A young wine, for sure. Deep coloured and waiting for its concentration and structure to complete a long journey to maturity. But you can taste everything here that equips it for that journey.

2010 – An iconic vintage, a wine with amazing energy, yet so young. Do not look at this and pop the cork if you can avoid it.

2003 – A very warm year, even up here. This illustrates the function of the pergola system so well. It doesn’t come across as a hot vintage wine. It’s so far removed from stewed fruit (I could name some Tuscans…). Yet again, it also seems surprisingly youthful.

1997 – We are getting serious. Another warm year, it still holds its tannins at just over 22 years of age. Not quite fully ready, perhaps, but for me it is perfect. I wish I’d bought more Pepe before the prices went AWOL.

1980 – This is the wine with the most “different” bouquet of the lot. This is so alive it almost jumps out of the glass and walks across the floor. A guy tasted this and said 1980 was his birth year. He seemed visibly moved. I certainly was. Wines like this make me almost swell with tears – tears of joy, but also tears of pain. At £200/bottle trade price I am sure I will never get to drink a glass of this, though if I did there’s a fair chance it would make “WOTY”. No oak, no chemicals, just grapes aged in glass-lined concrete and bottle for just short of forty years. Perfection plus! If there’s a God……..

GUT OGGAU (Burgenland, Austria)

Remember what I said about this producer in my introduction. These wines are very different to those of Emidio Pepe. The Pepe family make deeply profound wines, the wonderful couple who make these wines in the hamlet of Oggau, close to Rust, on the western shore of Austria’s Neusiedlersee, make wines of profound happiness. That particular emotion, which permeates the all wines, comes from Eduard and Stephanie, and perhaps the whole family. Stephanie’s parents were pouring the wine in England (whilst, I think, their makers were pouring in Vienna), and it was noteworthy what a similar personality Stephanie’s mother has to her daughter, with a smile that lights up the room.

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I’m sure you know the set-up. A “family” of wines, covering three generations, except that with devastated yields in 2016 only one blend of each colour was made (named “family reunion”). None of the wines are labelled as DAC (the Austrian version of AOP etc). Nor do their makers like to talk about the grape varieties in each blend (you can find a certain amount of info on the Dynamic Vines web site, but this is a domaine where it’s all about the terroir). Of course in one case, “Emmeram”, it is obvious that the variety is Gewurztraminer.

Gut Oggau does have a bit of an interesting local crossing planted, Roesler (Zweigelt x [Seyve-Villard 18-402 x Blaufränkisch] of 1970), and whilst I promised not to be too promiscuous about the varieties, I can now pretty much spot that variety where it is there in a blend on a few occasions, as I did on Monday.

Theodora 2018 is especially vibrant in 2018. Just a couple of hours skin contact adds a lifted hint of texture. Unfiltered, it remains a tiny bit cloudy. All wines here are Demeter Certified biodynamic, and Theodora is described as “passionate”, clearly the vivacity of biodynamics working its magic. Timotheus 2018 has more depth and smoothness, maybe a little bit more of a “grown up” white wine.

Emmeram 2018 is the Gewurz. It’s fairly rich but also mineral and dry. Two hours on skins and aged in barrel for a smooth texture. I have served this a few times to people who profess not to like the variety and they always appreciate this one.

Mechthild 2017 is clearly Grüner, off limestone and slate, which around here gives a classically fresh Veltliner. It’s hard to pin down the bouquet, but the wine is very savoury and very complex this vintage.

Atanasius 2018 is our first red, clean and vibrant. It was perhaps overshadowed by Josephine 2017, which was my top wine on the table (a bottle followed me home). She has an earthy touch, yet is so sweet fruited, and that fruit is just incredibly concentrated, almost blood-like. Stunning.

Joschuari 2017 claims to be pure Blaufränkisch but I reckon there may be some Roesler hidden away. It is partially fermented on skins in a mix of wooden and concrete vats, then aged in barrel. In any event it’s a fairly unique flavour which draws me to this cuvée time and time again. Iron is one descriptor which comes to mind, on the nose and in the soul, to plunder JPS. I get nettles too. Some would add mineral. Bertholdi 2017 is the grandfather red. What can I say? Blaufränkisch off limestone and slate again, fermented on skins and pressed in the family’s old tree press, very gently of course. A wine of depth, but you need deep pockets to buy a bottle.

The Family Reunion pair from 2016 were also shown. These are in a slightly different style, very much easy drinking wines, with real verve. The white is slightly spritzy, simple, lively, extremely refreshing. The red is somewhat in the same vein. These are wines to snap up and in my opinion enjoy fairly soon.

I want to go on record that these wines are among my favourites, not just from Austria but from anywhere. I’m not making claims as to overall technical quality. I’m not going to argue with fans of Screaming Eagle or Château LaMoutongauxblahblah. Why do we love what we love? Who knows. I just know these wines will always be a part of my life. Like music, wine creates bonds which define us as people.

KTIMA LIGAS (Pella, Greece)

So I have two favourite Greek producers, and Domaine Ligas is one of them. I’ve known their wines for a long time, and they are one of the reasons I truly believe Greece should have a much larger profile on the world wine stage. Pella is in Central Macedonia, in Northern Greece, somewhat north of Thessaloniki. Thomas Ligas started working the vines here in 1985, in vineyards planted purely with autochthonous varietes: Roditis, Kydonitsa and Assyrtiko for the white wines, Xinomavro and Limniona for the reds. Son Jason is now involved, though he also has various projects of his own (I think he’s in Santorini right now), whilst daughter Meli is often found travelling the wine tasting circuit, and she was showing the wines on this occasion (always nice to catch up, Meli).

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Meli

Pella Roditis 2018 is a lovely, almost sour, white wine fermented in stainless steel and aged just four months in barrel this vintage (more usually 8-10 months, I think). It is labelled IGP, a country wine in the best sense.

Lamda Barrique 2017 gets labelled one step “down” (cough) as Vin de Grece. It’s the one with the famous (now) Maria Callas label. The variety is Assyrtiko, but oak aged (the best contrast to a young Santorini you might find). It sees one day on skins before it goes into barrel for 18 months. The key to this wine is old vines, more than 50 years of age. Superb. I have some.

Spira 2018, IGP Macedoine is another wine I own, but only in this case because I bought some on Monday. So I’ll admit, it was my favourite on the table, on the day. It is a solera wine, comprised of six vintages so far (2012 to 2017) of Xinomavro vinified white (or deep yellow to be accurate). Powerful fruit and a real complexity brought from the solera, a great combination and I won’t be able to keep from pulling the cork soon. I wonder who I will share it with?

Roditis Maceration 2017 (IGP Pella) is the orange wine here, another star in my view. One month on skins, manually destemmed, then aged eight months. If you like the amber nectar this is one to seek out.

Pata Trava 2018 (IGP Macedoine) is a stunning pale pink. I’m pretty sure this cuvée was the first wine I drank from Ligas, bought after tasting it many Raw Wines ago. Unfiltered Xinomavro like no other version of this usually quite “red” (in every sense) variety, and not at all “mavro”. Nor macho for that matter.

Xi-Ro 2017 (IGP Pella) is a more normal rendition of the Xinomavro variety, intense and quite tannic after a year in barrel (old oak). The overall effect is lightened considerably by the “Ro” part of the name – the white variety Roditis accompanies the Xinomavro in a well thought out blend.

Bucephale 2017 (IGP Pella) is the big boy here. Named after the famous white horse beloved of Alexander The Great, this dark Xinomavro saw 45 days on skins in a big oak tank, then a year and a half ageing in barrel. It has a whopping bouquet of bright and concentrated cherry. The tannins are very elegant, perfectly judged in fact, and the wine is very elegant too, if perhaps requiring some bottle age.

Perhaps it was a result of having a bit more time and space to taste these wines than at a more crowded event like Raw, but already firm favourites with me, the range this week tasted better than ever.

DOMAINE DE BEUDON (Valais, Switzerland)

Domaine de Beudon lies near Fully, between Martigny at the western end of the Rhône Valley, before it turns north to Lake Geneva, and Sion further east. The vineyards here are generally spectacular, some of the most impossible to farm in the world. At Beudon there are two ways to reach the vines, by rickety cable car or a one hour (if you are fit) climb.

The vines range from around 500 metres asl up to 900 metres, apart from a small plot near the valley floor. The vines all face south, and believe it or not this is one of the sunniest locations in Europe in terms of solar radiation. Jacky Granges built all the terraces which stop the domaine’s six-and-a-half hectares falling to the valley below, and if that didn’t signal him as a fully signed up eccentric in the eyes of his fellow villagers, farming biodynamically really must have got the conservative locals talking.

Jacky sadly died in 2016, from a fall in the vineyards. His wife and daughters carry on with his work, and one of them, Séverine, told me that his young grandson David says he wants to be a winemaker too. Let’s hope so. This is a special place to make wine. Seven cuvées were shown.

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Séverine

Fendant 2017 Fendant is the name for Chasselas in Switzerland’s Valais. It has taken a bad rap in the past, largely because it was the classic large cropper used to make watery whites back in the bad old days. Regular readers will know my appreciation for the work that highly skilled vigneron(ne)s are doing with the variety, whether in Switzerland (both Vaud and Valais), France (Dominique Lucas), or Germany (Ziereisen). If my favourite Valaisanne Fendant is made by Marie-Thérèse Chappaz, then this one comes second. Mellow, with mineral softness. Chasselas usually gives green grapes but in all the sunshine it is exposed to here, the berries are bronze in colour at harvest.

Riesling x Sylvaner 2014 Notice that they do not call this wine Muller-Thurgau, but rather by the crossing, as many others do in the region. I’m not sure why? This variety has a terrible press, and it generally goes by other synonyms in The Valais as well, anything but MT. The funny thing is that I’ve read that Dr Müller’s nineteenth century crossing has lately been discovered, via DNA analysis, to actually be a cross between Riesling and Madeleine Royale, not Sylvaner (one to remember when someone tries mansplaining MT).

Most commentators do it down…high yields, prone to disease, light and aromatic but incapable of complexity. Wrong! In Germany we are seeing very good examples, if short of greatness (try Stefan Vetter in Franken), and definitely try the skin contact version made by Hermit Ram (Canterbury, NZ). The Beudon wine is sour, in a way that makes it interesting. Dark-ish in colour and savoury. For the adventurous, maybe. Note the bottle age (2014).

Petite Arvine 2017 You don’t need to be adventurous to try this classic Valaisanne white variety, massively under rated by most commentators. It exudes mountain freshness with mineral depth and vibrancy, though with all that sunshine you get a bit of weight to the body, and certainly ripeness. Do try Petite Arvine, from the Valais, or indeed from over the Saint-Bernard, in Italy’s Val D’Aoste. Try this one if you can.

Gamay 2016 Gamay is indeed grown down here. It often finds its way into the Passetoutgrains-like blend, Dôle. This is a good stand alone version, with high acid freshness to the fore. Nice fruit.

Pinot Noir 2013 This also shows similar liveliness to the Gamay. A freshly opened bottle showed a little CO2 on the cork being pulled, but it has a deep fruity bouquet. It also checks in at 14% abv, but the fruity style of the wine overcomes this. I already own a bottle of this from the subsequent 2014 vintage and I really must organise a Swiss lunch and see what people make of it. It can often be my favourite Beudon red wine, but Burgundy it isn’t.

Diolinoir 2014 Diolinoir is one of Switzerland’s many crossings, in this case between Rouge de Diolly (aka Robin Noir) and Pinot Noir, made apparently in order to get a deeper colour. Why bother, you might say, but the variety is quite popular. It has a kind of Dôle-ish quality, in that it’s not very complex but it is a satisfying red wine. The Beudon version is well made and has that biodynamic vivacity.

As an aside, there are so many Swiss crosses, plenty of them planted around Geneva’s up-and-coming vignoble. But a few are very rare. Completer is rare and expensive, but usually a little less expensive is Plant Robert. Finding bottles of this is surely a must for any Led Zeppelin fans?

Constellation 2007 This is a blend, I believe, of Gamay, Pinot Noir and Diolinoir. Notice again the vintage date. It is also an old vine cuvée. It’s lovely, everything in its place, harmonious, floral on the bouquet (roses?) with mostly light red fruits on the palate. It’s basically fruity but has a little structure and texture. Very much a wine of these mountains, where the result is usually freshness from the altitude and a surprising (to outsiders) ripeness from exceptional sunshine.

Do try out the Beudon wines. They make more than was on show here, including a nice version of the often derided (and often deservedly so) Dôle (Pinot Noir/Gamay), and an interesting orange wine if you ever find it (and if they continue to make it…I hope so), called Cuvée Antique. This is made from Fendant (Chasselas) fermented on skins, and goes well with game. If I recall correctly, it’s one of the less expensive wines from the domaine, too. Please drink more Swiss Wine.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to taste any of the wines from fellow Valais producer, Marie-Thérèse Chappaz. They were open on the “public” day (Sunday) but none were available for trade and press on Monday. Allocations were tiny, and it will pretty much all go to restaurants. But I thought I’d be nice and flag the fact that Dynamic Vines has a foot in the door at this iconic domaine. If Dynamic sells out, try Alpine Wines (online only).

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Taste Canada 2020

Taste Canada took place at Fare on Old Street this Monday. Westbury Communications laid on a tasting sponsored by the Government of Canada presenting many of the Canadian wines currently available in the UK along with a selection of producers looking for representation.

Having been out of the game, so to speak, for a couple of weeks due to a wonderful trip to Tromso followed by a less than wonderful cold, I was looking forward to reacquainting myself with Canadian wine. It’s a country I’m getting to know quite well now, and although the wines don’t get as much press as perhaps they ought to, there is no doubt that there’s plenty to get excited about. I think most (not all) of my fellow wine writers were off tasting the new Bollinger vintage, or Nyetimber, so perhaps you will at least find a few words to ponder over on a different, but no less deserving, part of the wine world here?

The line always goes that Canada’s wine regions, lying between thirty and fifty degrees of latitude north of the equator, find themselves geographically in the same zone as Europe’s vineyards. This has relatively little meaning when one considers the respective climates of the two continents, but perhaps this is no bad thing. Canada does have some unique terroirs, whether that be the Okanagan Valley in the west, or Niagara in the east. As Canadian wine develops there are plenty of new names we shall have to learn on top of these, currently just bubbling under the surface.

There have been good wines from Nova Scotia knocking around in the UK for a while, and to some extent Quebec as well (though Quebec may be better known for cider). Add into the mix Similkameen Valley (adjacent to Okanagan in BC), and Ontario’s Lake Erie North Shore and Prince Edward County, and it becomes clear that Canada’s 30,000 hectares under vine produce an increasingly diverse array of flavours. The country currently boasts just over six hundred wineries, not a lot perhaps, but amongst that lot there’s plenty to get excited about. Twenty four of them are covered here.

A quick note about “VQA” might be in order. Canada has no uniform wine law, a job which has been left to individual provinces, and in the country itself many larger concerns bottle and sell imported wine on the local market. VQA is the broad equivalent of an AOP (appellation) in Europe, or AVA in the USA. As far as I am aware all Canadian wine imported into the EU is made from grapes grown in Canada. If you are visiting, then buying wine labelled from one of Canada’s VQA regions or sub-regions will ensure you are drinking wine made from Canadian grapes. Whether the situation might change in the UK in 2021 I have no idea. VQA is your guarantee.

I shall start with the seven unrepresented producers, all of which I think could find a place on the UK market. Then I’ll cover those who already have a foot in the door, some of whom will be known to a few readers. I only missed out one producer.

DOMAINE QUEYLUS (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario)

Champlain Charest is a famous Québécois restaurateur and noted wine collector, who started Queylus with other investors by planting an old apple orchard with vines on blue clay on Beamsville Bench, one of Niagara’s twelve sub-appellations denoted back in 2005. The winery is set back east of Silverdale, close to Fifteenmile Creek. Bordelais Alain Sutra is on board as viticulturalist, whilst dream team Thomas Bachelder and Kelly Mason make the wines. Queylus showed four of them.

I began with the Reserve Chardonnay 2017, a rich wine with 13.5% abv, an oak aged assemblage of the best barrels. Think weight and creaminess, but balanced by a nice, seemingly characteristic here, freshness. Next up Reserve Cabernet Franc 2017. We are used to tasting fabulous Cab Franc from BC, but this single site wine is fresh, mineral and fruity. It has pencil lead on the nose with blackcurrant fruit and a flinty crispness. Surely Cabernet Franc must become Canada’s signature red variety? There’s a splash of Merlot in the blend.

Grande Réserve Pinot Noir 2017 is above all perfumed. The fruit is mainly in the red spectrum with a darker undertone, and a mineral iron rich, perhaps ever so slightly meaty, seam beneath. The palate is velvet, doubtless made to age but very seductive. Finally we have the Grande Réserve Merlot 2017, off that Pomerol-like blue clay. There’s 14% Cabernet Franc in the mix, which perhaps adds the nice spice note. It’s mineral for Merlot but there’s plenty of rich plummy fruit (at 14% abv). I can’t really see these wines failing to be snapped up by a certain kind of importer. Classic wines.

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FLAT ROCK CELLARS (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario)

This is a Twenty Mile Bench producer bang in the middle of the wider Niagara Escarpment at Jordan Station. Founded in 1999, the glass-encased hexagonal winery is a local landmark. Dave Sheppard, who trained at Inniskillin, came on board as winemaker for 2017, but the two wines shown here were older vintages.

Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling 2008 comes from the Twenty Mile Bench VQA. At 10.5% abv it shows citrus, pineapple and a touch of honey, with a mineral side as well. It has aged quite well (the current vintage is 2017). The same can be said of the Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2013 from the same location.

HIDDEN BENCH ESTATE (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario)

Hidden Bench Estate, founded in 2003, is on the Beamsville Bench close to the lake shore. The soils here are limestone/clay with glacial till, the latter adding a characteristic mineral edge to the wines.

The one wine shown was the relatively inexpensive Estate Chardonnay 2017 (£9.50 ex-cellars). Its bouquet was certainly more muted than the Queylus, but it showed nice, if quite simple and easy, varietal character. That comment is not meant to damn with faint praise. Some Canadian wines are ambitious, and ambitiously priced. Something affordable is not to be sniffed at if you are yet to get properly acquainted with these wines.

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LE CLOS JORDANNE (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario)

You may know the name. Jordanne was originally a collaborative venture between Burgundy’s Boisset and Canada’s Vincor. The project was shelved around 2012, but has been resurrected by Arterra (Vincor’s new incarnation), with 2017 being the first new vintage. Original winemaker Thomas Bachelder came back to make the wines in what Jordanne admit was a fairly wet and challenging vintage. He did pretty well.

Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2017 comes from a vineyard just under the Escarpment at Jordan (labelled Beamsville Bench VQA). This has a little weight and real character, though I’d say it’s a little understated. That qualifies as elegance and class in this case. The fruit is definitely ripe, but the wine is more savoury than fruity, and is certainly textured. They call it their “Grand Cru”, from their best parcels. It’s a pretty impressive wine, yet only £11.33 (as listed) ex-cellars.

Le Grand Clos Pinot Noir 2017 has a vibrant colour and is a nice cool climate Pinot, elegant, quite long, and at a winning 12.5% abv it has bags of freshness and vivacity on the palate. On tasting these on Monday I get the impression that  Clos Jordanne is making a comeback at an advantageous price.

MEYER FAMILY VINEYARDS (Okanagan Falls, BC)

This is a new name to me. Situated in the south of the Okanagan Valley, yet north of the prime Golden Mile Bench, output is an artisanal 8,000 cases per year. They’ve been making wine here since 2006. The Old Main Road Chardonnay 2016 is from older vines, planted 1996, on the silt, loam and clay of the Naramata Bench. Viticulture is organic, and the wine is fermented in stainless steel before around eleven months ageing in oak (22% new). It tastes richly oaky, but retains freshness too. Balanced, but in the oak-influenced style. This “micro-cuvée” is part of the “Tribute Series”, in this case dedicated to Donovan Tildesley, a blind paralympic swimmer.

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UNSWORTH VINEYARDS  (Vancouver Island, BC)

Situated at Mill Bay in the Cowichan Valley, Tim and Colleen Turyk took over this small vineyard in 2009. Charme de L’Ile NV is the first wine I’ve tasted from Unsworth, and perhaps the first from Vancouver Island. It’s a simple Charmat Method sparkler made from Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Sauvignette, the latter also known as Epicure, a hybrid of Cabernet Sauvignon and I’m not sure what else (because no one else seems to know definitively). It has a nice, if unusual, perfume and a simple, refreshing, linear acidity. If you like acidity, and maybe if you like the wines of La Garagista in Vermont, give this inexpensive wine a try. Assuming someone takes it on. They do also make a 100% Sauvignette (not shown).

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MARTIN’S LANE (Okanagan Valley, BC)

In the wilder northern half of the valley the soils are mostly volcanic and glacially eroded. Counter-intuitively, rainfall is very low. Winemaker Shane Munn describes this as winemaking on the edge, but from a terroir which yields intense fruit. Sime’s Vineyard Riesling 2015 comes from fruit grown around 425 metres asl. At 13% abv this strikes a bass note unusual for Riesling. It’s dry, rich and ripe. This despite the vineyard facing north on granite, but they do say that the Riesling is the last parcel to be picked each year.

Fritzi’s Vineyard Riesling 2015 is a single east-facing parcel at the foot of a dormant volcano with a lot of quartz in the soil, the vines being planted in 1990. There is an extra half gram of residual sugar (5.5g/l) and a whole extra per cent alcohol (14%). The nose is actually more classic Riesling than Sime’s, but the palate is richer and rounder, less mineral. Both wines see nine months on lees.

This pair of wines confuse me a little, but fascinate me in equal measure. They are difficult to judge on a sip or two and I’d be inclined to try them again. If imported I’d definitely give them a go. I think they have more to give. I’d say they are wines made outside of convention, outside of the box. Very interesting bottles.

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BACHELDER (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario)

Thomas Bachelder’s own wines show the skills of one of Niagara’s best known winemakers. The second three wines here were described as a “tasting exclusive”, but the first is currently imported by Liberty Wines, David Gleave being known to enjoy giving us all the opportunity to try some of  the finest produce of his homeland.

Chardonnay 2017 was spontaneously fermented in oak barrels then aged for 18 months in the same. It’s a small lot wine, despite its general name, made from “old vines”. Smooth on the palate, yet with a crispness of acidity and texture as well.

Wismer Wingfield “Ouest” Chardonnay 2016, Twenty Mile Bench VQA is made from the latest ripening Chardonnay parcel which is furthest from the temperature-mitigating Lake Ontario. It also has the highest elevation and the longest hang time. The result in 2016 (a good vintage), depth, elegance and mineral texture. Tasty but will age.

Wismer Parke “Ouest Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2017, Twenty Mile Bench VQA comes off red soils on the Bench and is vinified and aged in neutral oak. The perfume really comes through, hauntingly beautiful. Another cool climate Pinot which is nicely judged. There’s a hint of tannin in there, but gentle fruit as well.

Niagara “Les Villages” Gamay 2017, Twenty Mile Bench VQA was both a surprise and a treat. You don’t see much Canadian Gamay, but when you do it is almost always very good. This is pale with ripe cherries smacking the nostrils. It’s Gamay with punch and a mineral texture as well. Something a little different, probably what drew me to it.

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BENJAMIN BRIDGE (Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia)

Benjamin Bridge is generally acknowledged as the leading producer of bottle fermented sparkling wines in Nova Scotia, where only a little over four hundred hectares are planted to vines. Although the province can be extremely cold, a wine reputation, especially for fizz, is being forged, in particular where the Bay of Fundy moderates those extremes. Benjamin Bridge does have some of the province’s favoured hybrids, but they are increasingly garnering success with the traditional Champagne varieties as well.

Brut NV blends L’Acadie, one of those widely planted hybrids, with Seyval Blanc (once beloved of English winemakers), Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It’s bottle fermented, seeing three years on lees and dosed at 11g/litre. The tech sheet also suggests that you’ll find a decade of vintages in the blend. The bouquet is interesting, dominated by floral scents. It’s quite mouthfilling with a little weight (you’d guess a higher dosage than much Champagne), but it will make a nice aperitif.

Brut Reserve 2012 is based on 63% Chardonnay with 25% Pinot Noir and 12% Meunier. The must is mostly fermented in stainless steel, but 10% is fermented in old oak barrels. The wine spent four years on lees with blocked malolactic, and was dosed at 12g/l. High dosage and no malo makes an interesting combo. Fresh, direct, acids are prominent but thirst quenching and overall it is well balanced. This won’t be cheap retail but it is a lovely wine, again, especially if you are an acid hound.

Flint Wines is listed as importer, though this producer does not seem to appear on their web site at the moment.

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BURROWING OWL (Okanagan Valley, BC)

Another wholly new producer for me. This large looking winery is at Oliver, in the Valley’s southern reaches opposite Golden Mile Bench. It’s size can be accounted for by the attached restaurant and guest house. Completed in 1998, the vineyards are in a shrubby grassland known as “shrub-steppe”, a delicate ecosystem with a diverse wildlife (including bears, which are “discouraged” but never harmed). Some people call this part of the valley Canada’s only desert. The winery is state-of-the-art but is built with minimum intervention winemaking in mind.

I tasted two wines, both showing promise. Pinot Gris 2018 has a typical peardrop nose, clean and with a spicy finish, 13.5% alcohol adding a little richness. Pinot Noir 2015 was a step up for me. It has a deep, even moody, bouquet and is firmly in the savoury camp. It’s definitely balanced despite its 14.5% abv and has a good long finish. But you don’t always appreciate the effects of 14.5% when spitting.

Fairview Wines is the importer, an operation I’ve never come across before who appear to list thirteen wine agencies online.

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HENRY OF PELHAM (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario)

This is a fairly well known name based at the eastern end of the Niagara Escarpment and the two wines here might be described as an entry into Canadian wine. I’m guessing, from the labels, that the market might be restaurants and bars, for which they are well priced.

Sibling Rivalry White 2017 comprises 55% Riesling, 25% Chardonnay and 20% Gewurztraminer at a stated 11.8% abv. A lifted bouquet where you will notice a bit of “gewurz” spice gives way to a simple off-dry palate with a lick of acidity to balance. It’s well thought out in context. Sibling Rivalry Red 2017 is 65% Merlot with 25% Cabernet Franc and 10% Gamay, fermented in stainless steel before seeing eight months ageing in American oak. It proclaims itself as “serious wine for the not so serious”. I’ll second the second claim, without comment on the first. It is well made, not complex, but there’s nothing at all negative in that observation. It was the most easy going red wine in the tasting, and it will have wide appeal. That’s good for Canada’s profile. I hope that Wine Rascals manages to sell lots of it.

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LE VIEUX PIN (Okanagan Valley, BC)

No, we’ve not switched to Saint-Emilion. Le Vieux Pin is another Okanagan producer based just south of Oliver in the Southern Okanagan. In fact the wines bear no resemblance to Saint-Emilion really. Ava 2018 is, well let’s say immediately, very nice indeed. 51% Roussanne, 36% Viognier and 13% Marsanne were aged seven months in a mix of  37% French oak barrels and puncheons (5% new), 38% stainless steel, and 27% in unlined concrete tulips. One of my favourite wines of the tasting, it has a savoury elegance but equally a bit of heft, especially at the finish. Twice-weekly batonnage has added a creamy smoothness and a touch of gras just short of oily. Herbal, but with yellow plum fruit, it is young now and I reckon could go five more years to a decade perhaps. About 1,700 cases made.

Petit Rouge 2018 is made from mostly Syrah and Merlot, with a dash of Cabernet Sauvignon, aged seven months in used French oak barrels and vats, and concrete tank. It’s smooth but savoury, will also go several years, but appears attractive from the off. About 1,100 cases.

Another Canadian import from Southeast London’s Flint Wines.

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OKANAGAN CRUSH PAD (Okanagan Valley, BC)

You all know my love of OCP’s wines (I write about, and certainly drink, them perhaps more than any other Canadian producer), and how I’m full of admiration for their minimal intervention winemaking. They have been leading the way in sustainability in Canada, but Christine and Steve, along with winemaker Matt Dumayne, don’t rest on their laurels and are always trying to do better. One wine which seems to get better every year is Haywire The Bub.

The Bub 2016 is actually named after one of several nicknames for Alison, Steve and Christine’s daughter. Later harvested Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (a 50:50 blend) are sourced from Secrest Mountain, and from Summerland on the shores of Okanagan Lake. Fermented in concrete and stainless steel, lees ageing is very short and bottling takes place with no dosage added. This is dry, crisp, even austere, sparkling wine but with a floating lightness from the mousse. Made for oysters.

Haywire Waters & Banks Sauvignon Blanc 2016 also comes from the Summerland Vineyard and is whole bunch pressed into concrete tank, spending five months left undisturbed on lees. It has that characteristic OCP freshness, but with less acidity than many SB (and 13.5% abv), so that there’s also a rich fruitiness here too.

Haywire Gamay 2016 is the current vintage of one of my favourite OCP wines and has been for a long time. The grapes are sourced from two high elevation vineyards on Secrest Mountain farmed by Duncan Billing. The regime which winemaker Matt Dumayne employs here is gentle destemming, with whole bunches placed in both open top and sealed concrete fermenters. Ageing is in closed concrete Nico Velo tanks. Vibrant raspberry fruit has a plush velvet feel. The really interesting part comes on the finish, as texture and bite, a contrast to that fruit. I think Gamay fans should track this down whilst there’s still some 2016 around (with bottle age).

Graft Wine imports OCP.

PAINTED ROCK (Okanagan Valley, BC)

There was only one wine on show from this member of The Wine Treasury‘s portfolio, Estate Syrah 2015. It’s aged for 18 months in oak (30% new, 80% French and 20% American). They are aiming high in terms of ambition and price. The bouquet is herbal and peppery, with violets coursing through. It still tastes youthful, though certainly fruity. That mouthfilling fruit is underpinned by a whopping 14.5% abv (stated on label, the info sheet says 15%). That does worry me a little, but then I don’t habitually drink Napa Cabernet or Southern Californian Zinfandel. Those that do will take this in their stride, and to be fair one or two mostly North American writers have been pretty ecstatic about this (“spectacular” said Canadian Natalie MacLean). So don’t let me put you off.

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PELLER ESTATES (Niagara Peninsula)

Peller is always a good bet for quality sparkling wines with a bit of a twist to add interest. Ice Cuvée NV blends a classic 70% Chardonnay with 30% Pinot Noir which sees 30 months on lees before disgorging. The twist here is that the high dosage of 23g/l comes from 110ml of Icewine. The result is a cleansingly fresh wine, not extremely sweet despite the dosage because, as with German sweet wines, acidity keeps it in balance. It’s basically a frisky wine which hides a slightly voluptuous middle.

Ice Cuvée Rosé NV is based on a similar idea. The initial mix is 70% Pinot Noir, 26.5% Chardonnay and 3.5% Gamay. 10% of Cabernet Franc is added prior to tirage, with the wine spending just over a year on lees. This time a blend of Cabernet Franc and Vidal Icewine is added in place of a standard liqueur, leaving a residual sugar level of around 21g/l. Very pale pink, oddly this wine comes across to me as slightly sweeter than the white version (red fruits, which abound, I’m guessing as the reason), but it is still rapier sharp (perhaps its appeal to me lies in that tension between fruit and acid here). I find this quite thrilling in a hedonistic way and if you are looking for something different head over to Enotria Wines who is the importer.

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QUAIL’S GATE (Okanagan Valley, BC)

Three generations of the Stewart family are behind this winery, close to Westbank on Okanagan Lake’s west central shoreline. The Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay 2016 is barrel-fermented in a mix of used and new oak, but it’s not an especially oaky wine despite a chewy texture and toast. But there is a certain seriousness which goes with the restraint, a wine to age I’m guessing. You don’t always find elegance like this at 13.5% abv outside of Burgundy.

Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2015 has a profound nose, quite Burgundian, dare I say it. It is fermented in stainless steel, but sees eleven months ageing in French oak, a quite high 40% being new wood. The wine does push forward a bit, sort of in your face to start with, probably the 14% alcohol in part. On the palate you get smooth fruit, plus tongue-coating tannins. It’s another serious wine which I’m guessing may retail in the £50-£60 range. But for your money you’ll doubtless get something very promising once aged a few years in bottle.

Berkmann is the agent.

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STRATUS (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario)

Stratus is located at Virgil, towards the eastern end of the peninsula, and they presented two dry wines (and one Icewine, see below). Charles Baker Picone Vineyard Riesling 2016 is stainless steel fermented, coming out at 10.5% abv and with 22g/l residual sugar. From a dry, warm, vintage this blends tropical fruits, pineapple and lemon/lime citrus. It’s rich but the residual sugar is balanced by the acids, a wine to see out a decade at a guess.

Cabernet Franc 2016 is proof that Ontario can match BC for Cab Franc freshness. There’s an awful lot going on in the glass here. Violets, red and dark (cherry) fruits, deeper mocha and an ethereal leafinesse (sic) which wafts in, gently. It might not have the bite/acidity of some Okanagan CF, but it does have genuine depth.

Imported by Bibendum.

TAWSE WINERY (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario)

Moray Tawse is pretty big on the Peninsula. As well as 200 acres of Tawse vineyards he has also started another project on the Escarpment, Redstone, along with a joint venture with Pascal Marchand (Marchand-Tawse) in Burgundy. Tawse Winery itself has been voted Canadian Winery of the Year four times in the past decade. The good thing about these wines is that they are quite competitively priced right now for the quality. The listed importer is H2Vin (most of these wines will be available by March this year), but a couple (along with the Burgundy wines) have been available through retailer Oddbins at £20. The wines are nicely packaged for the price.

Spark Tawse Blend 2016 is a traditional method sparkling wine which spent 12 months on cork, dosed at 11g/l. The blend is somewhat unusual, dominated by 44% Pinot Gris with 31% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay. The PG adds a little weight and makes a genuine point of difference here. The bouquet is all honeysuckle freshness and I’d recommend this should be drunk now, not aged. About 4,000 bottles only.

Estate Chardonnay 2016 is only 12.5% abv. It comes from three biodynamically farmed blocks and indeed Tawse is one of Canada’s few actually certified biodynamic producers. This has a clean citrus nose without too much of the oak it was fermented and aged in coming through (presumably used oak?). As you let it sit on the palate some peach and lemon comes out. It’s a smooth wine with a little texture to add interest. You finish with a lick of salinity.

This isn’t earth shattering stuff, but boy, for twenty quid in Oddbins it would have been good. Oddbins was selling older vintages and I’m sure the price will have to have gone up a bit now via H2Vin, not least because of currency fluctuation. Oddbins seems to be currently listing the 2013 (can we trust their web site vintages?) and I’d be drinking this 2016, tasted on Monday, over the next twelve to twenty four months myself. But if I spot a 2013 I shall give it a go to discover whether it has the potential to age, as the 2016’s tech sheet suggests.

Grower’s Blend Pinot Noir 2017 is another wine peaking at just 12.5% abv. Black cherry, plum, a touch of spice…none of these wines are intended for long ageing, but to enjoy now. I think you will enjoy them.

WESTCOTT VINEYARDS (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario)

This is another Chardonnay and Pinot Noir pair from the Vinemount Ridge sub-region (set back behind Beamsville Bench). Westcott is a small winery making six wines from two varieties. Estate Chardonnay 2018 (they also make a step up Reserve of each variety) saw eleven months in oak and came out at just 12.5% abv. Smooth, quite rich surprisingly, this is an attractive wine at an attractive price, perhaps closer to what Tawse used to cost. Quince, baked apple, cinnamon spice, it’s not your straight fruity number.

It is partnered in Daniel Lambert‘s portfolio with the Estate Pinot Noir 2016, a cherry fruited pale Pinot, perfumed with a savoury lightness, but it isn’t lacking in substance. The lighter side sits on a firm foundation underpinned with a little grip. Again, plenty of flavour in here.

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THE ICEWINES

It’s always a treat at the end of a Canadian tasting to linger through the ice wine category, what used to be Canada’s signature wines in the distant past. The problem is that whilst I always enjoy tasting them, I almost never buy them. This is a problem because importers admit to me that they are not easy to sell. As one said recently, there’s a reason they come in halves. They are not cheap and at the entry-level most people taste, they are not that complex either. That said, they are unquestionably lovely wines, though my own palate prefers (oddly) the reds, usually made from Cabernet Franc, or those with more acidity. Perhaps it’s because I am more used to the higher prädikat wines from Germany?

INNISKILLIN has always been the big name in Niagara for this style. We begin with the Gold Vidal Icewine 2017, made from the hybrid crossing of Ugni Blanc (aka Trebbiano Toscano) with Seibel 4986. Aptly described as a winter-hardy variety it can take the low temperatures required for ice wine whilst still amassing plenty of sugar. This is sweet and unctuous, yet hardly complex. But it is a classic, and if not cheap, at least priced as a way into the genre. Abv is 9.5%.

Their Cabernet Franc Icewine 2017 is more expensive (over £50/375ml to trade) but it adds another layer of balance. Less voluptuous, less purely hedonistic, it’s more elegant and ultimately way more interesting for me. I’d even go as far as to say exciting!

Contact Liberty Wines.

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PELEE ISLAND WINERY is further south in Ontario, on Lake Erie, and part of the South Islands VQA. It’s warmer down there than Niagara (all relative in winter here) thanks once more to the Lake effect. Their Vidal Icewine 2016 has an extra year in bottle over the Inniskillin, half a degree more alcohol, and less sugar (230 g/l as opposed to 256 g). That gives a hint more acidity but a touch less richness, so it depends on what you prefer. My own preference…

Contact Hallgarten.

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PELLER ESTATE (yes, lots of Canadian estates, especially producers of Icewine, seem to begin with a “P”) takes us back to the Niagara Peninsula. Their Vidal Icewine also takes us back to 2017, but with a sugar level lower than the previous pair of Vidals (210 g/l). Deep pineapple and peach aromas charm. It’s still pretty sweet, a sweetness which seems almost tactile because there’s a bit of texture evident on an otherwise pure honey and lemon palate.

Peller also showed a Cabernet Franc Icewine 2017. It has a slightly higher abv (11.5%) and just 206 g/l r/s. Whilst 90% of the juice was fermented in stainless steel, 10% neutral French oak perhaps adds an extra dimension. Whatever the case, this is a nice wine, much to my taste. Pure and vibrant, but with a lighter sweetness than the Vidals, it makes for a genuinely lovely wine. But at £40/half bottle trade price, it’s out of my league, I’m afraid. No wonder these wines are less well known than they deserve. The significant fall in the value of sterling cannot help.

Our first Riesling Icewine (2017) has a very interesting bouquet and I’d not necessarily guess Riesling. It has the same rich smoothness as the Peller Vidal, but with a little more structure/spine. The finish has a pleasant lingering bite which I’ve not experienced with Vidal wines.

Enotria is the importer.

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REBEL PI is unusual. First, it’s from Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, which is not a source for very much Icewine, and secondly it is made from Roussanne. I wrote more extensively about this wine at 2019’s Canada House Tasting (see here). It is a private label owned by Janet Fast, but made at Pentâge (yet another P) south of Penticton at the southern end of Okanagan Lake, one Okanagan winery which is noted for its Icewines. Last year I tasted the same vintage so I don’t know whether Janet has created another vintage since, but this remains interesting, if priced with tremendous ambition (£55/half bottle, trade price). You can read more detail by following the link above, but it is nicely made with fresh tropical fruit flavours dominant. I think retail you may be looking at £140/half bottle.

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STRATUS made our final Icewine. Their Riesling Icewine 2017 carries through the quality of their dry wines (tasted earlier). From Niagara-on-the-Lake (which isn’t exactly “on the lake”, the Niagara Lakeshore sub-region intervening between), it comes out at 12% abv and only 121 g/l r/s (a notably less sweet profile). The wine has more of a line and spine, and definitely less fat, than some of its cousins. For Icewine, I’d even call it refreshing, to a degree. At least there’s something more than just sweetness. Perhaps it is just sweetness that true lovers of Icewine look for? But for me, this is a plus point.

Bibendum is the agent for Stratus.

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CONCLUSIONS

With approaching fifty wines mentioned here, you don’t want any lengthy analysis to drag this out longer, but I hope you enjoyed reading my cursory notes as much as I enjoyed tasting the wines. There were plenty I’d buy. I know, some will say that too many are in the so-called classic mould. I think Canada is at the beginning of her wine journey and in this respect it is good to see a wider range of styles than some other young wine producing countries might throw out. We do have biodynamics, we do have minimum intervention, and most wineries are thinking about sustainability. Low intervention winemaking is becoming a buzz phrase, whatever that actually means.

We are also seeing more regions making good wine. Perhaps this tasting, with a focus mostly on Okanagan and Niagara, does not wholly illustrate this. But it is clear that if Niagara lagged behind British Columbia for dry wine once, that is hardly the case now. In fact I’ve seen Niagara stealing the “freshness” descriptor from Okanagan, where Cabernet Franc can be unbeatably fresh.

The tasting also shows a wider range of varieties being trialled, even if there’s a tendency to think Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the ones to capture the market. The aforesaid Cabernet Franc can be world class, but Gamay is also interesting. Producers should note the renaissance in Beaujolais’ fortunes when looking at what to plant. And Riesling? It may not be as popular as Chardonnay, but it’s certainly as good when planted on these glacial cool climate terroirs.

We really ought to be taking a closer look at Canada. The wines do have the disadvantage of being a little pricey, perhaps, but you have to pay for quality. If we are unlucky enough to see tariffs imposed on wines from Europe in 2021, then they may begin to look better value. But whilst the best are without doubt expensive, this tasting surely proved that not all Canadian wines are beyond the pocket of ordinary vinous explorers. There are bottles here that could provide a nice entry into Canadian wine.

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Vineyards of Hampshire – London Tasting February 2020

The Vineyards of Hampshire group held their sixth annual Trade and Press tasting at 67 Pall Mall on Tuesday. The eight producers present last year were joined this time by one new member, The Grange, which is the vineyard of the well known Grange Festival venue for opera, dance etc. The format of the tasting hasn’t changed, but what has changed is a noticeable, steady, step up in quality across the board.

It is fair to say that I have a few personal favourites, but I think it would be unfair to be too overtly subjective in this article. There were a range of vintages and styles on show, but every wine has something good to say. In some ways this isn’t surprising. This group is self-selecting, and so presumably membership is based on mutually perceived quality. But what is pretty impressive is the quality through diversity on show here.

This may just be a snapshot of English wine, and principally English Sparkling Wine at that. But these tastings provide a great opportunity to taste nine estates together, helping us gauge overall progress. Would that other counties could get it together in this way. Where can we taste the wines of Sussex, Kent, Dorset…? Indeed, you’d think that there would be more promotion, via press and trade tastings, of English and Welsh wine as a whole. Perhaps there is, but I just don’t get to hear about them? Certainly we should see a lot more at the London Wine Fair.

Prices quoted are recommended retail.

BLACK CHALK

Jacob Leadley is the man behind Black Chalk. The wines have been made, as several more wines on show have been, at Hattingley Valley Wines, but Black Chalk is evolving as the wines themselves are. As well as honing a very singular style of white and rosé sparkling wine, Jacob is building a new winery to service the thirty acres of Test Valley vineyard the team manages. There is already a shop, and vineyard tours can be booked on the Black Chalk web site. Both wines produced undergo partial malolactic, which helps to create a magical balance and tension between crispness and fruit intensity, in wines I find stunning, authentic and boundary pushing. Wines of the highest quality.

Black Chalk Classic 2016 – Newly released (in fact their web site still lists the ’15), the blend is 46% Chardonnay, 32% Meunier and 22% Pinot Noir. This has the explosive freshness of relative youth with equally explosive fruit. The overriding quality is crispness, but not so much acidity (although it has that), but crisp fruit and texture. When you begin a journey through the tasting room with a wine like this it wakes you up and helps focus the palate. £35

Black Chalk Wild Rose 2016 – Some of you will know that I made Wild Rose 2015 my sparkling wine of the year in my annual review back in December 2019, the first time I’d named an English wine, and the first time I’d failed to name a Champagne for this “accolade”. You didn’t have to take my word for it. Writers as diverse as Jamie Goode, Victoria Moore and Susie Barrie are among the many who have heaped praise on these wines. With 41% PN, 38% PM and 21% Ch, this is even more explosive than the “Classic”. The spine is firm, it has elegance and great length. The raspberry fruit reminds me of the Scottish ones, such freshness. There’s strawberry too. A very tentative sour note on the finish adds a little savouriness. £40

UK agent – Graft Wine.

COTTONWORTH

Whilst my purchasing of English Wine is mostly dictated by retail availability, Cottonworth is alongside Black Chalk in being the English producer I drank most sparkling wine from in 2019. The Liddell family source their fruit from the chalk terroir of their own estate. They did initially make the wine in the estate’s dairy, assisted by Hattingley Valley’s Emma Rice, but Emma now makes the wines over at Hattingley’s own state of the art winery in Lower Wield, near Alresford.

Classic Cuvée NV – This is from a 2014 base, circa 38% PN, 52% Ch and 10% Meunier. It’s noticeably a little softer than the Black Chalk, perhaps a little broader too. Apples come through first, then a slightly nutty element transforms to toast and brioche. £33

Rosé 2015 – This is a classic red-fruited sparkling rosé, very fruity indeed. Pinot Meunier makes up just shy of half the blend, with almost as much Pinot Noir. A splash (5%) of Pinot Précoce (aka Frühburgunder in my garden) finishes the blend. If you want something very fruity, this is a good choice. In fact, it’s a firm favourite with my parents. £36 (well priced).

Blanc de Blancs 2014 – This is classic Chardonnay off chalk which saw four years on lees. With this we have a little autolysis, and signs of further development in the bottle, with more to come, and yet this is a wine which still exhibits a fresh purity. Nicely judged. £45

UK Agent – Berkmann Cellars.

DANEBURY VINEYARDS

Danebury is, I think, the furthest west of the producers in this group. They are over near Stockbridge, in fact the vines are in an old paddock on Stockbridge Racecourse, between Winchester and Andover. It’s a small  seven acre single vineyard estate which has been around for more than twenty years, making just four wines, still and sparkling. Viticulture is organic, and winemaking works on minimum intervention, which includes adding very low doses of sulphur.

I really felt for Danebury because of their four wines, the bottles of their Cossack Brut sparkler and Madeleine Angevine still cuvée had gone missing in transit. This left just two wines to taste.

Schönburger 2018 – I do recall this grape variety being mentioned back in the 1990s, when I was doing my WSET Diploma, but you don’t see much of it. It’s a 1979 crossing from Geisenheim, of Pinot Noir with Chasselas x Muscat Hamburg. This version is true to type, soft and nicely creamy. There’s a little glazed pineapple on the nose, a touch of weight falling short of plumpness and nice fruit. Not a complex wine but both interesting and refreshing. Very English, and a little different. £12.50 (a remarkable price).

Reserve 2018 – Here we have a blend, 30% Madeleine Angevine, 30% Schönburger, 38% Pinot Auxerrois and 2% Pinot Gris. Like the wine above, it comes in at just 11.5% abv, making it a very pleasant dry summery wine. £13

London Agent – Wineservice Ltd.

EXTON PARK

Exton Park has a fairly large 60 acre (24ha) vineyard situated on chalk downland roughly between Winchester and Portsmouth, close to Southampton. The team is led by inspirational winemaker, Corinne Seely, who despite her French heritage succeeds in making not only very English wines here, but more importantly wines which obviously express the terroir of the vineyard. I tend to think of these wines like a Champagne Grower in terms of philosophy (very terroir focused), but yet displaying a sense of place which is clearly not Northern France.

Blanc de Noirs NV – This I suppose is the entry wine for the range. It comprises 100% PN which saw two-and-a-half years on lees. You get lovely fruit ripeness with a little breadth on the palate, but at the same time it doesn’t lack precision. £32

Rosé NV – There’s a 70-30 split between PN and PM. You get a lot of red fruits coming through on the bouquet and palate, with the freshness of whole bunch pressed grapes. The pressing is slow and gentle over seven hours to minimise extract of any harshness. There’s a nice hint of bonbon, which adds an extra layer of fruit without any sense of it being confected. It makes for a nice summer bottle (or even better, magnum). £32/£75

Brut Reserve NV – A simple 60-40 split between Ch and PN, blending fruit from 2011, 12, 13 and 14, bottled in 2015 (hence it has had considerable post-disgorgement ageing). This is possibly the English classic blend with the greatest depth you can taste, with apologies to one or two well known producers of more expensive NV cuvées. It is building complexity, thanks to those reserve wines, and will continue to do so, but it still has amazing freshness considering the age of the components and the time spent on cork. £30, or £65/magnum.

There was no Pinot Meunier single varietal cuvée this time, but do keep an eye out for a future release of that particular Exton Park gem of a wine.

UK Agent – Friarwood.

THE GRANGE

These are the new boys, at least as far as Vineyards of Hampshire is concerned. The vines are on The Grange Estate at Alresford. The vineyard is called Burge’s Field, though it does amount to around 10.5 hectares, on south-facing chalk by the River Itchen. The wines are made by Emma Rice at Hattingley Valley Winery, around three miles down the road.

The first small harvest here was 2014 (around 1,500 bottles made in total). The vintage on show was 2015, where production doubles to 1,500 bottles of each wine. Production may double again for 2016, after which the number of bottles made will increase more slowly.

Classic 2015 – The Classic Cuvée is slightly Chardonnay dominant (55%), with 27% PM and 18% PN. It was very interesting to try this for the first time. The juice is partly aged in oak, and it does have a rounded out quality, and certainly a little texture, although it sees three years on lees too. Twelve different base wines are blended here, and 60% is put through malo. As well as breadth of flavour it shows a nice spine of acidity beneath. £31

“Pink” 2015 – Meunier dominates this blend (58%), with 40% PN and just 2% Chardonnay. Even on the rosé you get a touch of oak, but perfumed elegance dominates. £31.

These are both lovely wines and are well priced for those of a fairly new producer. They currently have no UK agent and the wines are mostly sold locally, and indeed through the Grange Festival. You can enjoy the wines at the opera, and I’m also told they will put a case in your boot to take away. At an advantageous price, it might be sensible to grab one.

HAMBLEDON VINEYARD

Hambledon is England’s oldest commercial vineyard, at least in the post-Roman era. It was established in 1952 by Sir Guy Salisbury Jones, a key figure in English wine. It would be silly not to mention that Hambledon village is also the cradle of English Cricket. The rules of our national game were laid down here in the 18th Century, including the addition of a “middle stump”, brought in after one famous bowler with the endearing name of Lumpy Stevens placed the ball between the two stumps three times in a match without removing the bail (thereby being denied a wicket ea.

Hambledon’s vines are on what is known as the Newhaven Chalk formation (not that they are remotely near to Newhaven). This particular seam goes under the English Channel and comes up again in the Paris Basin. The same chalk, with a very high (and favoured) Belemnite content, mirrors almost exactly that found on Champagne’s Côte des Blancs, south of Epernay.

Hambledon Vineyard has a remarkable 200 acres under vine, but much of this was only planted in 2018 and will take time to come on stream. What I will say is that the wine world has noticed a dramatic leap in quality at Hambledon over recent years, and many now consider their wines among the very best from England’s vineyards. Malolactic fermentation is allowed in full here, and the updated winery is now state of the art and, unusually, fully gravity-fed. The winemaking team is led by former Champagne Duval-Leroy Chef de Cave, Hervé Jestin, who is now a leading consultant on sparkling wine and biodynamics.

Classic Cuvée NV – 56% Ch dominates, from that famous chalk, blended with 17% Meunier and 27% Pinot Noir. It spends three years on lees, resulting in a fresh, textured wine with a savoury touch. Using a cricket metaphor, it shows great line and length (sorry, and I do hope I’ve not used that one before…). Dosage is a very well judged 4.5 g/l, a level which has come down considerably in more recent times, a very good move. £28.50

Première Cuvée NV – The Chardonnay gets upped to 73% here. Although the 24% PN and 3% PM add character, the Chardonnay fruit does dominate, adding real elegance which lifts this above the very nice “Classic”. The base vintage is 2013, with some 2010 reserves added. Dosage is low at 2 g/l, and it saw five years on lees. This rounds out and gives greater depth to the fruit, and the finish has layers of savoury flavours, including a touch of umami. Perhaps some salinity too. £49.50

Première Cuvée Rosé NV – This wine is 100% Meunier. The colour in the bottle, which I failed to capture properly in a photograph, is amazing, almost more clairet than traditional pale pink. This is very much a gastronomic wine. It has an earthy and smoky core which I love, and also something of a still wine quality despite the bubbles. Definitely a wine I’d like to drink at home, although it’s not cheap at £69.50.

UK Agent – Fields, Morris & Verdin.

HATTINGLEY VALLEY

Simon Robinson conceived Hattingley Valley almost two decades ago, but without wishing to be mean to Simon, the name we associate with Hattingley today is that of winemaker Emma Rice, who joined in 2008. There may be a couple of better known names in English Wine, but this Plumpton College graduate, one of the first to take the BSc course at the UK’s “wine university”, is up there with the very best, as her “Winemaker of the Year” accolades in both 2014 and 2016 prove. She makes, or helps make, several of the other producers’ wines shown here, along with their own wines off chalk vineyards planted in 2008, near Hattingley Village in East Hampshire.

One important thing to note about Hattingley which I might not have mentioned before. Viticulture and winemaking here is very thoughtful. The new winery, finished in 2010, is not merely state-of-the-art, but was also designed to build ecological principles into all stages of the winemaking process. This seems common sense, but a decade ago it was pretty much cutting edge. Four wines were on show.

Classic Reserve NV – This is the latest release of the Classic. 53% Ch, 31% PN and 16% PM is the blend, using a high 23% of reserve wines. The result is a fruit-driven entry to Hattingley Valley, but rounded out nicely with those reserves and 19% used oak. The oak shows less than you might expect, but it adds depth. £30

Rosé 2015 – This new vintage won gold at the International Wine Challenge 2020. The core is 85% PN, assisted by 13% Meunier and a 2% splash of Pinot Précose. It’s pale and vibrant with a fruit focus. It also saw 12% oak but you don’t notice any real oak influence, so well integrated it is. Very “alive”, classy indeed. £36

Blanc de Blancs 2013 – 100% Chardonnay, with four years on lees and a further 17 months on cork. It’s a very attractive, fresh, Chardonnay, but partly fermented (around 7%) in used Burgundy barrels, it has great depth as well. It has a very fine mousse, not something I always feel needs noting. This wine will age magnificently, if only it is given that opportunity. The 2011 vintage BdeB won the World Champion Trophy in Tom Stevenson’s prestigious Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships 2017. £47.50

Entice 2018 – This is a rare still wine from Emma Rice, made from that quintessentially English variety (well, German, but I think we have stolen it), Bacchus. The bouquet has that classic Bacchus nose of grapefruit and freshly mown grass, but this 10% abv wine is sweet. Not cloyingly sweet, but fresh and light, and in some ways a perfect reflection of what an English summer picnic with strawberries needs. £22.50 (half-bottles)

Hattingley Valley also makes a rather fine Aqua VitaeI know it’s fine because I’ve tasted it before, but I also know that tasting it at this point would have destroyed my palate’s analytical faculties for the wines which followed. If you fancy a very different English distillate, then try it. It’s made from five times copper pot-distilled Chardonnay from the 2015 vintage and costs £45.

UK Agent – Enotria & Coe.

JENKYN PLACE

Jenkyn Place is a former hop farm which Yorkshireman Simon Bladon converted to vines in the 1990s. There are around 5 hectares (12 acres) of the three classic “Champagne” varieties on the North Downs, near the village of Bentley. The wines are made by another famous maker of English wines, Dermot Sugrue (of Wiston and his own Sugrue-Pierre). These sites are a little different, chalky but with greensand over marlstone, at around 100 masl. The greensand is said to give the wines a unique, more rounded, profile than pure chalk, a quality which becomes more evident with age.

The vines here are relatively young, plantings beginning in 2004, with more vines going in during 2007 and 2010. But as a producer, Jenkyn Place is clearly maturing with the vines, and in Sugrue, they have a very safe pair of hands. The vinification is fairly consistent, using stainless steel. Even at entry level, the wines see at least three-and-a-half years on lees before disgorgement.

Classic Cuvée 2014 – 65% Ch, 25% PN and 15% PM (as listed, but which obviously makes more than 100%, but I think the Meunier figure may be wrong?). It is dosed at 8g/l and no malolactic is undergone. It’s a very nicely balanced blend, harmonious, and in the case of this cuvée the dosage, higher than many these days, is well judged. There is also a vinous quality which is often lacking with entry level wines. £29.50

Sparkling Rosé 2014 – Unusually older than many English pinks on the market, there is also 32% Chardonnay joining the 52% Pinot Noir and 16% Meunier here. Again, no malo and good lees ageing gives us a red fruits-forward wine with a big soft mousse and fine bead. The colour is beautiful, reflecting a softer flavour of nevertheless intense raspberry. £35

Blanc de Noir 2010 – No malolactic here either, this is an even blend between Pinot Noir and Meunier. It’s a very gastronomic wine with a savoury intensity, depth and a broad and softer flavour. It has aged very well indeed and retails for a remarkable price given its age. £35

Blanc de Blancs 2015 – This Chardonnay was again dosed at 8g/l, all the Jenkyn Place wines receiving a broadly similar level of liqueur. With this cuvée we get a slightly different approach in the winemaking. Around 10% of the wine sees oak and also malolactic. That 10% oak does come through in the wine’s texture, and it has a real creaminess which accentuates the Chardonnay character. The alcohol level here is worth noting, only a very accurate 11.78%. In fact the Blanc de Noir (sic) at 12.2% is the only one of these wines which tops 12%. £39

UK Agent – New Generation McKinley.

RAIMES

Augusta and Robert Raimes are the fifth generation of farmers on their land, situated at Grange Farm, Tichbourne, near Alresford in the South Downs National Park. The wines are made up the Road at Hattingley, by Emma Rice, but there is a genuine sense that this is an operation with the family at its centre. The viticulture, and indeed the ageing process for the wines, is noticeably carried out with love and passion. There are currently 10 acres of vines, planted in 2011.

Before describing the wines I must apologise for taking no photos here. It was because I got into a very nice conversation with Augusta, who was my final exhibitor in the tasting round. Sometimes you get too engaged with a passionate owner, and the conversations moves from vines and wines to ideas…I have found what I hope is a nice photo from the 2019 tasting as a mild apology for my omission.

“Classic” 2014 – I tasted this exact cuvée a year ago and this time around it has definitely matured further. With just over half the blend being Chardonnay, with 29% PN and 20% PM, it has the kind of depth and intensity you’d expect from a “Tripple Gold Medal” winning wine (Including Gold at the IWC). It was disgorged in January 2018, so it had both long lees ageing and some considerable further time on cork. It has a mellow softness now, with complexity. It was dosed at 11 g/l, and these days they might lower that a little (the two wines below were dosed at 8g and 6g respectively), but it is perfectly in balance, nevertheless. It is a classic, perhaps different to some of the wines I tasted, but certainly none the worse for it. Variety is good! £30

Blanc de Noirs 2016 – This 2016 vintage wine was disgorged in September 2019 after 29 months on lees. It also has a kind of mellow softness, which is a developing trait at Raimes. It also shows that Emma Rice doesn’t remotely make wine by numbers, reacting gently, without too much intervention, to terroir and vintage. The blend is almost fifty-fifty PN/PM, slightly in favour of the Pinot Noir. £35

Vintage Rosé 2015 – This is beautifully pale, a very delicate colour, complemented with a lovely soft and frothy mousse. 58% PN is joined by 20% Meunier and a nice dollop of 22% Chardonnay. I was told, although it wasn’t listed, that 5% of the “Pinot” is Précose. I always like to see this early Pinot in tiny quantity as it has been part of English wine for a long time. It’s certainly advantageous in cooler summers, and growing it myself, I just have a soft spot for it. I guess it may fade out with climate change, though.

This rosé is the driest of the Raimes wines, with that 6g/l dosage. It shows a big smack of lovely strawberry fruit, with a slight sourness on the finish. I mean that in a positive sense. It makes for a mouthful which is savoury as well as fruity, though “fruitiness” dominates. It just adds interest. Of all the wines on show, this is one which can very easily fulfil a role as a summer aperitif and also a wine at table, not an easy combination to achieve. £40

No UK agent. Contact Augusta Raimes (info@raimes.co.uk). They have a web shop and list (mostly local) retail outlets and restaurants which stock their wines. Like many of the producers here, they offer vineyard tours.

Conclusions

As I said at the top of this article, I am impressed. Not merely because the wines are good. We all know English Sparkling Wine has come of age. I mean because I can see continued development and improvement at all of these estates. Even if the wines are just finely tweaked, the producers in the Vineyards of Hampshire grouping all share a desire to work towards greater perfection. This is a positive sign for English wine.

That Positivity has occasionally been lacking throughout English (and Welsh) wine. At first the fizz was fresh and fruity but vine age, lack of reserve wines and other factors (not least the weather) conspired to hinder complexity in the wines. That is seemingly in the past. Some of the wines here are truly very fine, and a few may well be called “world class”. None are, shall we say, made for the coach parties.

I was surprised at how my own personal tastes seem to veer even more towards the pink wines this time. With a few exceptions, this has not generally been the case for me with Champagne and other sparklers. The pink wines from this tasting were way more elegant, fresh and fine, than many wines I taste in the French Crémant category (exceptions exist again, of course).

Within this market segment of English sparklers there are, of course, those quintessentially English pinks, all strawberries and cream, picnic wines but not “complex”. But the wines I’m drawn to here are the more gastronomic wines, sparkling wines which perform well with food, perhaps with white meat, or even game, should you care to be adventurous. This is a small category but one where quality is remarkably high, although so (of necessity, I admit) are the prices, quite often.

I look forward very much to next year’s event, but in the meantime, come on Kent, Sussex and Dorset!

 

 

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