Mastering Food and Wine Pairing at Masters Superfish

This is a wine blog, and I suppose that when I write about a restaurant I concentrate on the wine…and the food too, of course. But this piece isn’t primarily about either, but rather a musing on “lunch” in a wider sense. Long-term readers will have been, at least vicariously, to Masters before. What is arguably London’s finest “fish & chip restaurant” has been the venue for several notable BYO lunches, which have gone under the banner of fizz and chips (Champagne/sparkling) and fish and fino (Sherry). Both are wonderful accompaniments to Britain’s most traditional dish, but this time we felt like widening it out. A kind of bring what you like lunch.

Masters is something of a London institution. Of course, the capital has other contenders, but Masters, for me, is the place to go for fish & chips, and this is surely backed up by the number of Japanese tourists I always see there. Which other nation is so clued-up about the genuinely best places to eat in any given foreign city?

The fish was particularly good last week. A friend quite rightly pointed out that Masters is always that percentage point better than its usual excellence when it is extremely busy, as it indeed was. The oil will be really hot, which makes a difference. But the full Masters experience is not just the fish. A full lunch comes with plump shell-on prawns and a plate of pickled onions and gherkins the size of a courgette. We couldn’t resist adding in a couple of portions of whitebait, one portion being sufficient for three extremely hungry stomachs.

The chips are lovely, dry, fluffy pieces of properly fried potato. I ordered Haddock on this occasion. One of the diners said it was “certainly the best fish I have had in the UK”. He’s a discerning bloke, and as an Aussie knows a thing or two about fish. It really was that good, although it’s fair to say that it was even a small step up from the wonderful fish I’ve had there previously.

So we’ve established that the food is good. I’m sure we all enjoy our fine dining experiences when they come along, but to eat a simple dish so well done makes one realise that fish and chips is not a national joke. I suppose it’s the equivalent of grabbing some cold meats, paté and a good cheese platter in a Parisian bar.

Such a lunch might be deemed to call for simple wines, but in fact we drank the full range, from inexpensive and simple to frighteningly expensive and complex. It was rather odd that we found that every single one of them went perfectly with the food. The essence of a good wine lunch is naturally good food, good company, and just the right number of wines. This is why, wonderful as our various sherry lunches usually are, you frankly get a bit too inebriated. There is always the journey home to be negotiated.

I think the key to the success of this particular lunch was not too many people, and a group who all know each other, but who in most cases hadn’t seen each other for a little while. The food was by no means anonymous compared to the wines, and neither strove to outdo the other, as can happen if you take a dozen different 1982 Bordeaux to a Michelin Two-Star.

I can think of many places where I’ve had spectacularly successful wine lunches. They range from The Ledbury and The Sportsman (Seasalter), through Noble Rot to The Draper’s Arms and Rochelle Canteen (the list is very far from exhaustive). But my point is that this lunch was no less enjoyable, and it’s hard to imagine that is possible from a venue where I paid £20…that includes £5/bottle corkage and a healthy tip.

I imagine that before we go you’d like me to elaborate on what we drank. Five bottles, from a bottle for the rich to a bottle for the poor. You get them in the order we drank them.

Vouvray Pétillant NV, Huet (Loire, France) – These days this wine is usually vintage dated, but this non-vintage bottle is around a decade old. I don’t remember exactly where I bought it, originally thinking it came from the region, but it may have been a bottle I bought from RSJ, the sadly no longer extant Loire-focused restaurant behind London’s South Bank, and the scene of several wonderful wine dinners back in the day.

As a “pétillant”, this wine has lower atmospheric pressure than a fully sparkling crémant, so the bubbles are finer and a little less profuse. The colour here is dark straw, sowing the signs of bottle age, but this is a wine which will normally go ten or twelve years. It is made, of course, from simply Chenin, and from the younger vines at the estate. This gives acidity and freshness, but around three years in bottle before traditional disgorgement allows it to start down the road of complexity, a journey completed when its owner gives it further cellaring.

If I’m honest I wasn’t expecting it to taste quite as fresh as it did for its age, but I was expecting that hint of tarte tatin that came in after the fresh apple and pears of the attack. It’s a dry wine, but the kind of dry wine that gets you wondering whether there’s just a hint of sugar (I don’t know the dosage, but there’s richness from the tertiary elements). A lovely wine. Armit Wines imports Huet into the UK.


Dom Pérignon 2002 (Champagne, France) – So, Dom with fish & chips. To some it will sound decadent, to others a waste of a fine wine. I can’t answer for the first (except to thank the remarkable generosity of the man who brought it along), but I will say without hesitation that it was a superb match for my haddock.

I don’t really need to tell you about Moët’s remarkable prestige cuvée, even more remarkable considering the quantity in which this wine is produced. The 2002 has always been, for me with less experience than others, a lovely DP. I had a couple of bottles of ’02 but I’m pretty sure I drank them. Well, this 2002 was still relatively youthful in some respects, certainly in its freshness and a certain steely quality initially. But when it opened out so much seeped out and amplified. The floral bouquet gave way, eventually, to some beguiling, and almost exotic, stone fruit flavours. Oxidative hints? Hmm, not sure, perhaps the faintest little glimmer.

Elegant, long, glorious of course and ready to drink now without any need for unbecoming haste. Very widely available if you have the disposable income. Occasionally worth an early visit to a Waitrose “25% off all wines” promotion (giving away my secrets).


Chardonnoir 2012, Bodegas Re (Casablanca, Chile) – This is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay from a single site, with the dry-farmed vines mostly at least 60-years-old off steep red clay slopes. Both varieties are vinified and aged in French oak, the Pinot Noir vinified as a white (pressed early and gently), but there is a little colour from the red grape skins, more peachy than pink.

Bodegas Re is a fairly large, 72 hectare family operation. The Morandé family farms some of the best of these two varieties in Casablanca and also in the Maule Valley. The aim here is to make something akin to a still Champagne (as the man who brought it explained). It’s a lovely wine, with both weight and elegance, good acidity and the structure to age further. Acidity plays an important part in the structure, and it does taste like a wine that has not gone through malolactic. But at the same time, it does not lack for absolutely the right amount of weight. Very impressive.

Bodegas Re wines are imported by Berry Bros & Rudd, although I didn’t spot this on their web site when trying to find a price.


Hortas do Caseirinho Frisante (Vinho Verde, Portugal) – Now this is something completely different, although it was no surprise to me, nor the person who brought it, that it was a heavenly match for our food. I told the story at lunch of my first efforts to find and try red Vinho Verde, in Oporto, longer ago than you need to know. A guy in a bar actually tried to persuade me not to drink it. The acidity was ramped up to eleven. Today, things are a little different.

This semi-sparkling red is a blend of Touriga Nacional, Vinhão, Espadal and Touriga Franca. It’s a non-vintage wine, but the grapes saw an eight day cold maceration before temperature-controlled fermentation. It’s a cheap wine that doesn’t taste cheap. The dark purple colour is reflected both on the bouquet and palate. You get plum and the zest of concentrated black fruits. There’s a little soft tannin. It tastes very concentrated yet light, and it only packs 10.5% abv. The fresh fruit acidity cut through the batter on the fish perfectly. I’m told that this is literally cheap as chips in Portugal.

The Wine Society sells this wine’s branco brother for £7.25. If you can find the red version anywhere I’d grab some. Perhaps the person who brought it along might let us know where he found it. I know he generally reads my articles. An ideal breakfast wine too, if such a thing is required.


‘T Voetpad 2016, Sadie Family Wines (Swartland, South Africa) – Without in any way downgrading the majesty of the DP, we did finish up with something very special. ‘T Voetpad (the footpath, which has connotations with the expression of the landscape) is one of Eben Sadie’s “Old Vine Series” wines. Old vines is no lie here. The vines which make up this white Cape blend are all between 90-to-130 years old, planted on original rootstocks on a site which claims to be one of the Cape’s oldest vineyards.

This classic blend is based on Semillon (both Blanc and the rare Gris) with Palomino, Muscat (d’Alexandrie) and Chenin Blanc, all part of a field blend from this single vineyard. The 2016 is quite rich and packs 13.5% alcohol. The wine has a very interesting profile. Stone fruits such as peach probably dominate, but the outlying elements make it special. Orange citrus, quite unusual, gives a nice edge, accentuated by a little salinity, but I won’t go on.

It is typical of a great field blend in that it tastes, however, like one harmonious whole. I say this, and it was true of this 2016 last week, but we were still drinking a baby. This has a good decade before it if you want to give it free rein to show what it can do. Nevertheless, it was also magnificent young, and I’d be just as tempted myself if I owned a bottle. Sadly I can only offer Pofadder.

Where to find it? Uncorked used to be a rare source for some of the Old Vine Series, but I’m pretty sure they don’t have any now. The UK importer to contact is Fields, Morris & Verdin.


Masters Superfish is at 191 Waterloo Road, about a six or seven minute walk from Waterloo Station (when you pass The Old Vic Theatre you are more than half way). Pre-arranged corkage is £5/bottle, but they do have their own inimitable wine list. If you take your own wine I recommend you take your own glasses too. They also serve beer, and in the finest Whitby tradition, English tea, if you wish to go native.




Posted in Artisan Wines, Champagne, Dining, Loire, Portuguese wine, Restaurants, South African Wines, Sparkling Wine, Wine, Wine and Food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Recent Wines May 2019 #theglouthatbindsus

Although May’s weather wasn’t perfect, it was somewhat better than June has been thus far. That might account for the inspiration to drink once more from the wide brimmed cup. We also drank deeply, I should perhaps say with a degree of shame, so even though I have stuck to fourteen wines here, there were many I hated leaving out. I’d like to mention Champagne Soutiran Blanc de Blancs 2006Von Buhl Forster Jesuitengarten 2009 (lovely mature trocken GG Riesling from the Pfalz) and Tillingham PN17 (I only omit my last bottle of that because I’ve mentioned it many times before, but the ’17 is still lovely).


Alex and Maria tend vines by the shore of Burgenland’s Neusiedlersee, based in the town of Neusiedl-am-See, which conveniently has a railway station with a bicycle hire place right next door to it. I only mention this because I think that the cycling here, around the lake, is wonderful…as are the Koppitsch family wines. They are not complex and serious, more soulful and fun, and they reflect the energy and kindness of their makers. There really is something in the air around this large, shallow, lake of reed beds, water fowl, and vines.

On opening, this Zweigelt showed slight reduction, which was easily sorted with a bit of air. It developed that lovely dark bramble fruit palate that makes the variety so eminently gluggable when people don’t try to over work it. Because of this, when the bouquet drifts in, the strawberry perfume is irresistible. At a well balanced 12.5% abv, serve this cool and enjoy. Wines like this can, in their enjoyable simplicity, profoundly change the way you look at wine, and at what supposedly makes a wine “fine”.

Purchased from Fresh Wines of Kinross, Scotland.



Thomas, Jason and Meli Ligas make and sell some of the most profound wines in Greece, on the slopes of Paiko Mountain in the north of the country. Here, their vines grow to their own rhythm without intervention, via permaculture, bar a little shoot repositioning now and again. I’ve never visited, but photos always show a profusion of wild flowers which remind me of how Alpine meadows raise Alpine summer cheeses to unimaginable heights. I wonder whether the flora has a similar effect here.

λ’13 (or Lamda ’13 if you prefer) is cloudy (unfiltered), so although light and fresh, it has texture. That lightness hides 13% alcohol. This is one of Ktima Ligas’ small batches of experimental wines, in this case a blend of pergola trained Assyrtiko and Roditis. The overall impression is of a zesty wine with citrus notes (lemon and grapefruit), the texture (from 3-5 days skin contact) giving an ever so slightly bitter edge to a nice finish. If I were to find a style to compare it to, I might (at a stretch) suggest Swiss Chasselas.

Purchased from the takeaway list at Silo, Brighton. For availability contact Dynamic Vines, Bermondsey.



Emmanuel Lassaigne, of Champagne Jacques Lassaigne (his father), makes wine in that tiny outpost of the Champagne Region between the Côte des Blancs and the Côte des Bar, close to Troyes. The slopes are all south facing and see more sun than their northern counterparts, but Emmanuel farms with some of the strictest standards in Champagne, he’s fanatical about quality.

He owns 3.5 hectares and buys grapes from a further 2.5 hectares over which he has full control, and I’m presuming it is from those parcels that this cuvée comes. It is made from Chardonnay (90% of the Montgueux vignoble is Chardonnay), for his friends at Paris’ La Cave des Papilles (in the 14th). It’s a nice dark straw colour which gives a hint that there’s lovely depth here. No ordinary “house wine”. It’s actually quite spicy and also vinous…a gastronomic wine if you wish. Lassaigne surely makes some of the best Grower Champagnes around, wines that are seriously under rated among Champagne consumers, but I think not among aficionados. This excellent cuvée is a good way in. Pick one up next time you visit, as I know you surely will.

The current vintage is 2014 (ridiculously inexpensive at €31). Lassaigne also makes Les Papilles Insolites 2016 (€53) for the store, unusually for Montgueux, a Pinot Noir, and the shop lists eleven of his wines in total, right up to La Colline Inspirée (€152).



Fritz Becker Junior (Kleine Fritz to his family and friends) farms vineyards which straddle both the German Pfalz at Schweigen and Alsace, in France, where the ancient monastic vineyards slope steeply down to the Abbey of Wissembourg. I’ve written before mainly about Fritz’s Pinot Noirs from those sites, but this Chardonnay, which I picked up on my visit in 2017, comes from the German vines around Schweigen itself.

This is seriously good, honestly. It has an elegant mineral-tinged nose and it tastes not unlike Chablis, although I’m thinking Tasmania too. It has that chalky citrus freshness, and restraint, but there’s firmness and strength too. As it unfurls you get grapefruit, and even a little butter, on the palate. I suspect I was drinking this too soon, although I don’t recall it being too expensive. I bought more Pinot on that visit and just grabbed some odd bottles of his whites. I really wish I had more.

I have an idea someone brings Becker into the UK, but I can’t think who? Perhaps someone will illuminate me. I think I might have bought Becker at Hedonism in Mayfair (London) some years ago.


I WISH I WAS A NINJA 2018, TESTALONGA EL BANDITO (Western Cape, South Africa)

Craig and Linda Hawkins make what for me is probably the most exciting, simply-styled, sparkling wines from The Cape. This is a wine that I’m assuming many of my readers will know, but for those who don’t, this Swartland Colombard petnat fizz is exotically fruity (apple, kiwi fruit, peach), with a palate that is dry but soft. It also tastes more frothy than intensely sparkling. To top it all, it only puts out 9.5% alcohol, so you need a couple of bottles between two…ideally.

Solent Cellar via Les Caves de Pyrene. Around £20.



This is the most “classic” of the wines from May’s selection, but I’ve loved Chidaine’s wines for many years, and I never fail to visit his excellent wine shop if I’m in Touraine (it doesn’t just sell Chidaine wines) on the left bank of the Loire at Montlouis.

Chidaine sources this cuvée from some of his oldest plots of Chenin Blanc, off soils dominated by the region’s famous yellow limestone, aka Tuffeaux, and from vines up to almost a hundred years old in some parcels.

This ’09 is almost golden in colour, and at a decade old you still get a piercing whiff of quince on the nose. It’s slightly off-dry, or perhaps “rich” is a far better description, although at 13.5% abv it is in perfect balance. This is because a counterpoint to the richness is a gripping mineral bite and a texture that just reminds you of the terroir, whatever the scientists might claim. So, a classic(al) wine, but one so redolent of place.

Purchased from the domaine.


DIVÝ RYŠÁK 2016, RICHARD STÁVEK (Moravia, Czech Republic)

Richard Stávek makes remarkable wines at Němčičky, in Czech Moravia not too far from the Austrian Border. He has a mixed farm of around 14-15 hectares of which 4.5 ha are devoted to vines. Richard is one of the pioneers of the new bunch of biodynamic and natural winemakers in the region, where he’s been growing grapes since the mid-1990s.

This wine is probably best described as a light red, but even better as a wine which is fairly unique. The blend is complicated. Modry Portugal, Frankovka (aka Blaufränkisch) and St-Laurent are the red varieties, Grüner Veltliner and Welschriesling the white, and Isabella the French-American hybrid which you can find planted as widely as Vermont, British Columbia, the Azores and Southwestern France.

If I were to use one word for the colour it has to be “luminous”. It looks right out of Chernobyl. “Clairet” would be more polite, but you can’t ignore its rather special vibrancy. A red fruits bouquet leads to a palate with fairly zippy acidity. It both drinks like a white wine, and like a wine with 10.5% abv, rather than the 12.5% on the label. It’s just so fruity and refreshing, an exquisite summer red. It’s a wine to enjoy, not to ponder over, but such enjoyment, if that is what you are looking for.

I have a friend who buys very fine wine. I won’t shame him by giving any more details, but I recall him quite recently talking about having received some Czech wine that would probably go “into the cooking”. I said nowt, but I can’t help finding Czech producers in this part of the country every bit as exciting as the other hubs of European natural wine making. Some of the wines may be eccentric, but boy do they deliver some thrills. Serve this one cool or slightly chilled.

Basket Press Wines is the importer, a wonderful small specialist in Czech wines and those of the wider region.



Provins is one of the larger and better known producers at Sion in the Swiss Valais. They produce a large range of wines, all of good quality. Heida is one of the traditional grapes of the high mountain slopes here, but it is none other than a synonym for Savagnin (and sometimes known as Païen). This part of the Rhône Valley is very sunny, but whilst the light is bright, the altitude of the vineyards, some of Europe’s highest, ameliorates the temperatures.

The wine which results here is clean-tasting, without the nutty signature of Jura-grown Savagnin. Think of the “Traminer” style some producers in Eastern France come up with, but perhaps with a little more weight (13.5% abv). As it has aged the fruit has become a little more exotic, but for me yellow plum is my overall lasting impression. I’d like to say that you also get a hint of Alpine meadow, and I know you’ll think I’m going off on a flight of fancy. But what is wine for if not to allow you to float away to a beautiful location?

People bang on about how expensive Swiss wine is, and they are right, of course. But this can be had for not much more than thirty quid from Alpine Wines, who sell a wide range from this producer among their fine Swiss range.


PINOT NOIR 2011, DENIS MERCIER (Valais, Switzerland)

Madeleine, Anne-Catherine and Denis Mercier farm at Sierre, just a little further up the Rhône Valley from Sion. Denis and his wife began their 7.5 hectare estate in 1982, and have recently been joined by their daughter, Madeleine, a trained oenologist. They have long had a reputation for producing some of the region’s most harmonious and lovely wines. They fly under the radar in the UK, but I do recall my very old edition of “1001 Wines You Must Try Before You Die” featuring their Cornalin, so someone knew their stuff back then.

The difficulty with cellaring wines like this is that I really don’t know when they will peak. This 2011 is stunning right now. It is a perfect garnet-to-ruby red colour, the bouquet is red-fruited with the additional scent of violets, but it is unquestionably developing tertiary nuance through a savoury element. The palate is just gorgeous, silky and sensual. And yet the current vintage of this wine (2017) could have been picked up at the cellar last summer for CHF20. My bottle came from Lavinia in Geneva, and doubtless will cost you more. You may save on petrol but miss the scenery.



Jean-François Ganevat makes an astonishing array of cuvées these days (someone told me more than 100 now), both from the domaine and with his sister under the A&J-F negoce banner. Some are easier to find than others, and thankfully the Crémant du Jura is one of the former. 100% Chardonnay, the grapes are picked early to preserve acids. The wine is fermented in large old oak demi-muids and then gets a decent 24 months on lees before disgorging. No dosage is added.

It’s one of those wines that is hard to describe in a way that does it justice. It’s not actually my favourite bottle-fermented sparkling wine from Eastern France, not even from the Jura, but I do love it. It’s totally dry, and has a bit more breadth than most Champagne, yet the acidity keeps it in a moderately tight corset. The thing that might give away its producer to better palates than I possess is its salinity, which for me is more important in this wine than any fruit. It also has a certain purity which I guess comes from J-F’s experience and philosophy.

I try to buy the odd bottle of this whenever it’s on the shelf, which I’m not sure it is right now. Another wine from Solent Cellar via Les Caves de Pyrene.



Unlike Ganevat’s Crémant, this cuvée from Alice Bouvot in Arbois is hellishly difficult to source. The unusual blend for the Octavin “Brutal Wine Corp” label consists of whole cluster Gamay from 2015 with fifteen days skin contact, and Chardonnay from 2016.

Is it a pale red or a rosé? It’s another luminous wine, and surely such colour brings joy even before you taste it? The raspberry and strawberry fruit is gorgeous, the acidity is tart (verging on brutal for some), but it’s so refreshing and juicy. Don’t let me forget to warn you it’s going to be a little bit cloudy by the time you reach the final third of the bottle. No added sulphur, no filtration. It won’t likely convert a single conservative drinker, but if you want to find the essence of glou, then look no further. There are two possible reactions to this…tears of joy or tears of despair. I hope most of you are with me and unbridled joy. There are actually far more frightening wines than this, folks.

Purchased in Arbois in 2018.



Savoie has come a long way in the past decade, even since I remember nagging Wink Lorch to write a book about the region just as her Jura book was being published. That book is hopefully due to see the light of day later this year, and I’ve been trying to hold back a good stash of wines from that disparate amalgamation of terroirs with which to celebrate its publication. But a friend was finishing a wonderful stint at a wonderful restaurant and I thought I’d open this (and the L’Octavin) to help us mark it.

Jean-Yves farms biodynamically at Conflans, near Albertville, by the confluence of the Arly and Isère rivers. His vines, especially the white varieties, are up to 120-years-old, situated between 300 metres and 600 metres altitude. The estate seems relatively new on the scene, yet is now in its nineteenth year. Jean-Yves specialises in very small production vins parcellaire.

“Les Barrieux” is a skin maceration wine made from white grapes Jacquère, Roussanne and Altesse in the “orange” style. What is most unusual about this singular wine is not the two weeks skin contact, but the fact that it ages under a thin layer of flor. This might shock the unsuspecting. The bouquet is a mixture of orange citrus and rusty metal. The texture is pronounced, and the structure is firmish on the attack, but then you get this extremely long finish which has an entirely unexpected gentleness to it.

In some ways I’d say this is a difficult wine, but for me, genuinely satisfying getting to understand it. I think this came from Gergovie Wines, unless I bought it in France.



Pieter Walser is a Stellenbosch boy, but this is Elgin Riesling from a small block, crafted in Pieter’s inimitable style. It’s obvious what the variety is, and you even get a little bit of petrol on the nose to confirm it. But this weighs in at 14% abv, and although Pieter’s wines never appear as powerful as this would suggest, it does boast a weight and breadth you rarely (if ever) find with Riesling.

It’s so enjoyable that it ought to come with a warning on the bottle. You won’t be doing any work if you drink this for lunch, but you’ll have a warm glow as you snooze it off. Instead you get Pieter’s wonderfully demented rendition of the winery shack (hinterhofkabuff) described by a German journalist in a Stern article, which inspired the cuvée’s name. If you didn’t read my article on a man who is very possibly South Africa’s most interesting winemaker, indeed interesting on so many levels, and one of wine’s finest story tellers, then check it out (Blank Bottle at Butlers – Pieter Walser Fills us In – 3 June 2019).

Blank Bottle is imported by SWiG. This (blank) bottle came from Butlers Wine Cellar down in Brighton.



Very sadly this was my last bottle of Simone. I only really comment on that because I love Julie’s wines and this was a particularly interesting, as well as enjoyable, bottling at every stage I’ve opened one. It is in effect declassified Fleurie, declassified because it took too long to ferment. It’s pale with the most adorable fragrant cherry bouquet, with additionally raspberry fruit on the palate. Light, fresh, quite acidic and with a tiny whiff of volatility (which I think gives it a racy excitement).

For once I think someone has described Julie’s wines far better than I can, so I hope UK importer Tutto Wines doesn’t mind me quoting them. “Like all great wines, there is something about Julie’s not easy to put into words. They are marked by gorgeous aromatics, their delicacy and an almost ethereal quality…” All three poignant observations take the words right out of my mouth. If an artisan could also be described as a poet you have her here.



Posted in Arbois, Artisan Wines, Austrian Wine, Beaujolais, biodynamic wine, Champagne, Czech Wine, German Wine, Greek Wine, Jura, Loire, Natural Wine, Savoie Wine, South African Wines, Swiss Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wild Flor Hove

I was recently lamenting Brighton’s loss (soon to be London’s gain) of one of the city’s leading restaurants, but true to form as one door closes another door opens. Wild Flor in Hove has been open about four weeks, and we managed to get down to try it out on Sunday evening.

The young team behind Wild Flor (Olie Darby leads the kitchen, whilst Rob Maynard, Faye Hudson and James Thomson head front of house) boasts experience from Brighton & Hove’s Ginger Group of Restaurants, with an ex-Butlers Wine Cellar employee in charge of the wine. I say “young team”, because you can see that extra touch of entrepreneurial spirit and innovation in the cooking and the wine list, but one grounded totally in sensible ideas about what will work, commercially. Olie Darby knows that his food needs to have something extra, because Wild Flor is on Church Road, Hove’s restaurant mecca. There are well know places to eat like Forth & Church and Café Malbec among dozens of others within a few hundred metres.

The food is traditional but with innovative touches, and the wine list is extensive, covering most bases. The weight is towards classics (in the widest sense), but Rob Maynard has the kind of depth of knowledge, coupled with a sense of adventure, which has helped him seek out the names that will excite wine lovers like me. Perhaps the wine we drank, from the long by-the-glass list, will show what I mean.

We started out with what might be, in my eyes at least, the best aperitif by the glass in Brighton right now, Pierre Péters Blanc de Blancs. This is unquestionably one of my very favourite Champagne producers on the Côte des Blancs, at Mesnil-sur-Oger. The fruit comes from four classic villages, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, Avize and Cramant. Bottled as an Extra Brut at just 2g/l dosage, it is dry, with floral and citrus notes giving way to a little toasted hazelnut, and a nice creamy palate has more toast on the finish. It’s such a good wine. I think £14/125ml glass is not outrageous for such a good Champagne, and I’d rather pay that than see something disappointing listed for £9.


On Sundays at Wild Flor you get a set price menu with two courses for £28 or three courses for £33, but this includes a selection of hors d’oeuvres. These are currently crispbread with romesco, sea bass brandade with Arbequina olive oil, and brisket with spiced tomato and cumin. You could pretty much call this an extra course.


For my starter (entrée, if you insist, but thankfully they go with the former) I went for citrus cured Loch Duart salmon with fennel and orange, which I paired with François Cotat Sancerre Rosé 2016. This is is such a lovely example of pink Pinot Noir. François Cotat only makes a little rosé, from less than half a hectare at Chavignol. It has a good bit of colour (salmon pink), scents of light raspberry, contrasted with a broader palate of peach and raspberry, with a sprinkling of spice. I don’t know how they tracked down this wine, but putting it on the by-the-glass list was a great idea, and generous. £10/glass.


My main course was effectively a choice between hake, a mushroom risotto or roasted baby artichoke, or a traditional roast (beef or pork), which is a specific Sunday option (lunch and dinner through the rest of the week offer a wider selection of dishes) . Feeling hungry I went with the roast (beef option). This was accompanied by two reds, a Lignier Gevrey and a Brezza Barolo, again by the glass.

Gevrey-Chambertin “La Justice” 2012, Hubert Lignier is from a lieu-dit to the east of the village, on flat but well draining soils. This has a lovely colour and a scent of intense raspberry, which is just starting to turn with the introduction of a slightly gamey note. The palate is not yet completely mature, with fruit still dominant, but it isn’t tannic. Drinking beautifully now, but good for four or five years I think. £16/glass.

Barolo “Sarmassa” 2011, Giacomo Brezza Brezza has this southwest facing site at around 300 metres altitude, on sand and silt at Barolo itself. The grapes are given a long maceration and a traditional ageing in old wood. Initially you notice, after the fragrant bouquet, that the tannins are soft and smooth. This wine does indeed appeal early in most vintages, but it is quite structured. Cherry and spice dominates the palate. I think this is a really good Barolo, but even though 2011 was quite a hot vintage my own preference would be to drink this after maybe another year in bottle. Still, 99% of drinkers would enjoy this now. £15/glass.

Both reds illustrate one of the pleasing things about the wine list here. There are some bottles with a bit of age. So often you peruse a list and your eye hits on a name you fancy, especially among the classics, only to find that it’s the latest vintage and it’s not ready to drink. The Gevrey was drinking now, and the Barolo too for most people’s tastes.



I drank most of the Barolo with my cheese course. You can select one of four cheeses as part of the set menu (in place of a sweet dessert), or take all the cheeses with a £10 supplement. I was too full for that, so I went for Comté (I had to restrain myself from being super geeky and asking the age and affineur – only where there’s a Michelin Star is that perhaps acceptable outside of Jura). It came with biscuits, grapes and jelly.


Wild Flor also offers a vegan menu (the two extra hors d’oeuvres in the first food photo above were part of the vegan package), which my wife was extremely impressed with. The food was really good all round, and I’m not sure how they manage to offer such a large list of wines by the glass, which are also available as a carafe (twenty-three, plus several good beers). Although the wines we drank were towards the more expensive end of the by-the-glass list, you can drink decent Muscadet at £5 and Saladini Pilastri Rosso Piceno for the same.

The longer by-the-bottle list contains some gems. I would have been tempted by Peter Lauer’s 1988 Sekt on another occasion, and if you see that as one of the sparkling wines listed you really know that the person in charge of the wine knows their stuff. Other names on the list include Goisot, Wittmann, Craven, Montenidoli, Keller, Argyros Estate and Guiberteau (the only typo I found on the list). There’s also a cellar selection, one that actually includes two Lopez de Heredia whites (Gravonia and Tondonia), which again shows a knowledge of wine which I sincerely hope doesn’t exceed the demands of their customers down in Hove.

Oh, and even the music was good!

I think it’s fair to say that we shall look forward to going back, and hopefully before too long. Maybe there will even be some of that Sekt left that I so stupidly mentioned. We spent £140+ including service, but the food (one three course menu and one vegan three course menu) came to £61 of that, so you can easily do dinner for a lot less. Two courses of very good food and a glass of wine for £33!

Wild Flor is at 42 Church Road, Hove. They are closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Check out their menus and opening times here.

Posted in Dining, Restaurants | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Blank Bottle at Butlers – Pieter Walser fills us in.

Blank Bottle Winery was established in an old shack (a hinterhofkabuff, so the “story” goes, see later on) in Somerset West, South Africa, …something like  maybe fifteen-or-so years ago, according to legend (bare with me here). I will briefly relate the “story” (you might know it) of how Pieter Walser had a woman come and ask him for some wine, “anything but Syrah, I hate Syrah”. All Pieter had at that point was some unlabelled Syrah, but she tasted it, loved it and bought it, filling her boot. He never told her. It’s a good story. Is it true? As I’ve got to know Pieter a little, I’m very much inclined to believe it is.

You see, Pieter Walser is the best story teller in wine. His Winery is called Blank Bottle in part because of that story, but also because Pieter refuses to put the grape varieties on his label. He wants people to approach the wine without prejudice, but that does mean that nuisance wine writers like me are going to mess it all up for him. There’s not really any way I can get around telling you the grape varieties in each wine. But like the woman in the story, you can be sure that the wine won’t taste remotely as you might expect.

Furthermore, each wine has its own little histoire, a little story about its origins most likely. I’m not kidding, but you could listen to Pieter all day telling his stories. People would pay good money to listen, and I reckon his UK importer, SWIG Wines, is missing a trick. This tasting, though “tasting” hardly describes it, took place for various trade customers at the Kemp Town store of Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton. Butlers has a special connection with Blank Bottle, because Pieter has made some special cuvées exclusively for them.

The Blank Bottle portfolio now contains something like forty-five wines. Some wines are made every year, but a lot aren’t, either because Pieter gets the opportunity to purchase batches of grapes from random sources, occasionally as a one-off, or sometimes because interesting parcels of less popular varieties which estate owners were happy to get rid of are increasingly ripped up by the money boys to be replaced with international varieties. People like Pieter are keeping alive some of South Africa’s old bush vines by paying good money for grapes few of the big boys would otherwise condescend to pick, or blocks which some old timer farmers would otherwise grub-up if they were only getting the going rate.

* Any prices given below are Butlers’ retail prices. Butlers (no apostrophe) is probably one of the biggest retail stockists of Blank Bottle wines in the UK, although they don’t nearly have them all. I’ve reviewed just nineteen of them here (if I can count). I think the prices are pretty reasonable for the level of excitement in the glass.

Offspring 2017 is an interesting wine to begin a tasting with. If you know that the name means something, and that it doesn’t refer to the 1980s/90s Californian “punk” band (not a possibility to be dismissed, knowing Pieter), then you begin to wonder what it means. This is a cuvée which is habitually made from all the bits and pieces Pieter hasn’t crafted into other wines. It’s his big experiment, the offspring of everything left in the cellar each vintage.

So at least for this first white wine, I won’t be elaborating all of the grape varieties. I do know there’s some Darling/Wellington Chenin, Verdelho from Voor Paardeberg and Elgin Semillon, but that’s all, blended together only at bottling, with minimal added sulphur. It’s a multi-varietal white grape blend, very bright, amazingly so, and a well chosen wine for a 10.30 am opener. The bouquet has fresh, fragrant citrus and stone fruit, and the palate has a nice waxy and stony texture. A simple, refreshing, wine, and at £17.49 just sneaks in as, I think, the second cheapest in the range.


Orbitofrontal Cortex 2018 is made from fruit from the Western Cape, never the same from year to year, but simply a choice by Pieter of his favourite white wine of the vintage. This vintage the wine contains Verdelho and Palomino from Robertson, Chenin, Háslevelü, Riesling and a few other bits and pieces. It has pale green glints reflected in the light of a low morning sun. We have a complex array of taste components here – hay, baked apple, pear, richness, yet only 12.5% alcohol. Everything is grounded by a crunch of texture and balanced acids. £24, a total bargain (as they say).

The story of the name relates to an experiment about taste perceptions, which involved Pieter being connected up to a brain scan whilst he made subconscious blend selections of his wines, which were then compared to a consciously selected control sample. It sounds very complicated, but I think Pieter managed to prove that his focused palate works differently to the selections of a group of scientists who used the data from his subconscious to suggest blends. Well, Pieter tells it better, but I’m sure he had loads of fun with the experiment, and he got a cracking, and I’m sure soon to be iconic, label idea for his pains.


It’s worth elaborating a little bit on how Pieter works. Grapes often come to him by word of mouth. He drives thousands of kilometres around harvest time in order to collect fruit, harvesting at optimum ripeness (definitely not over ripeness), often driving up to a farm having heard the grower has a batch for sale. He pays good money, and people get to hear that, and it works in his favour, usually. Because everything is in small batches, he can get the grapes back to the winery swiftly. Almost everything is fermented in small French oak with no additives, other than a bit of sulphur at bottling. Pieter claims he’s way too busy not to let the wines just make themselves, and he realised early on when he had little money that you just don’t need all the chemicals the wine schools suggest that you require.

Kortpad Kaaptoe 2018 The name means “fastest route possible” in Afrikaans. Asking for directions from a farmer, they were “take a right after the Shiraz and Carignan, and then left after the Fernão Pires”. Fer…what? he thought. The grapes were his now! This was the first of Pieter’s wines I ever bought.  The variety is Portugal’s Fernão Pires (aka Maria Gomes), planted by a producer in Malmsbury who then decided he didn’t want it. Pieter has a deal to buy the whole lot. This wine, unusually at Blank Bottle, is fermented in tank. It’s another wine that majors on vivacity, with lemony zip over more than just fruit. You get all those savoury elements you might find in a Portuguese white, but with, unquestionably, a touch of sunshine richness as well. £21


Ultra 2018 There once was a pot maker, famous for his artistic work. But one day he was persuaded to make some amphora-like pots for a wine producer. He layered the clay, building up the vessels in the traditional Georgian way, placing ring upon ring. This way a large pot can be made that would be too big to throw on a wheel, but it takes a long while to form each pot. Several of them ended up leaking, and the producer was angry. It upset the potter so much that he never made a pot again. Pieter had one or two of the pots, which he’d eventually persuaded the producer to sell, and then after a long tale of detective work, tracked the pot maker down to a hermit shack. Pieter is a persuasive guy, and now he has a great relationship with the potter, who is not only making more amphorae for Pieter, but for other producers too.

This wine is a juicy Chenin, all full of unmistakeable orange marmalade fruit (but it’s dry). The farmer who owns the vines is three hours out of Jo’burg, in the sticks. He’s a quiet, unassuming, guy who has a secret. At the weekend he heads for the city where he goes to raves. Pieter said his neighbours have no idea about this guy’s secret life. The label depicts the farmer, in the crowd, at a rave. The wine occupies the amphorae , and it has the texture and salinity that conjures up the outside of the vessel that gave birth to it. £24


Hinterhofkabuff 2018 I can say honestly that I like every one of Pieter’s Blank Bottle Wines that I’ve tried, but I do have my favourites. This is one, so much so that I drank a bottle of the 2016 vintage a week ago, you may have seen my Instagram picture. This is Riesling from Elgin, off a steep slope with very rocky soil. The wine has breadth, and relatively high alcohol (that 2016 reached 14%), but there’s depth too, and as with any good dry Riesling, there’s plenty of acidity to balance everything nicely. £27.50

Pieter did an interview with the German magazine, Stern, in which the writer described his office-cum-winery as a backyard shack (hinterhofkabuff), so Pieter latched onto this for the name of this stunning wine, and the shack, or maybe an imagining of it in Pieter’s head, appears on the label.


Pieter enjoys drawing the labels for his wines, but he’s increasingly getting his kids to do it. He pays them, sensibly not until he finally gets paid for the wine himself, so it can be a nice little pocket money earner. The only problems arise over who gets to design for the bigger cuvées. He pays a royalty, not a flat fee, and if one of his children gets a lot more money he might need a rethink.

Moment of Silence 2017 Pieter first made Moment of Silence in 2007, and it’s currently the wine he’s been making longest. It’s also his wine with the biggest production. There’s a very strange connection between Pieter and this wine. Although none of his parents’ generation are involved in wine, Pieter discovered that his family actually owned the farm where these Wellington grapes come from 240 years ago. There are four blocks of old vine Chenin in here, plus one block each of Grenache Blanc and Viognier. The result is ripe, tropical (mango), creamy and zesty, massively refreshing, but with a nice smooth mid-palate. £17


B-Bos I 2018 Sauvignon Blanc with some Semillon, both from Cape Agulhas, makes this wine, or rather it very much made itself. It’s a cool climate wine with good acidity, and great potential ageability. The alcohol is up at 14.5%, but with all of these wines, you really can’t tell, unless you drink a whole bottle and try to get up, which Pieter did once after disbelieving the lab analysis.

The wine is great, but the story is just as good, if perhaps the most offputting of all of Pieter’s tales. There’s a spider which particularly infests the town of Baardskeerderbos, much as the Funnel Web infests Sydney. This spider has the nickname B-Bos. It’s an ugly orange thing which builds its nest from human hair, allegedly creeping into bedrooms at night to steal hair from men’s beards. The label below is Pieter’s take on the ordeal. £24


The Empire Strikes Back 2018 A white blend of Verdelho (35%), with more or less equal parts Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc in 2018, all from Stellenbosch. You’d be reasonably likely to nail the origins of this, a satisfying, ripe fruited, slightly textured blend of flavours with a decent dollop of acidity. The label has a red star for the “Swartland Revolution” (the Swartland Rhône guys) and the stripes representing the Empire of South African Wine, Stellenbosch. Pieter felt it was time that the bastion of SA conservatism hit back with something edgy, though this wine isn’t really out there at all, but it is dynamic…and different. £24


Give and Take 2017 This is one of the wines exclusive to Butlers. The grape variety is Pinot Blanc from Stellenbosch which has had a year in 400-litre French oak. It’s fairly rich, with a bit of weight, and at 14.5% is not the shy and retiring type, but it has a great savoury quality which makes it ready for food. Pieter wanted to get hold of some Pinot Blanc but the winemaker told him the estate owner had said he wasn’t allowed to sell grapes to him. A bit random, and Pieter has no idea why. However, the winemaker needed some more Semillon and a “swap” could take place under the radar. Hence the name. The label depicts Brighton’s iconic ruin of the West Pier. £22


Manon des Sources 2010 “Manon des Sources” is the nickname of Pieter’s daughter. She drew the label, a self-portrait, aged seven. The grapes are Riesling, Semillon, and Sauvignon Blanc which comes in at an eye-watering 15.6% abv, so why does this not taste especially alcoholic? The answer lies with more than just acidity. Picking hours before supposed optimum (sic) ripeness may be key, and the low sulphur regime may also play a part. It just seems to be able to handle the alcohol. It’s a bottle to share, though, and maybe between three in this case. I have to say that “Manon” deserves her royalty for the label. £21.99


69.99999 2016 is, here, a magnum of a wine made by Pieter since 2014, and which has now changed its name to Oppie Koppie because the wine always got named by the percentage of stems used to make the wine (depending on their ripeness…ie almost 70% in 2016, but 80% in 2017). Customers sadly found it hard to cope with a name change and a long number every year. The label depicts a camera photographing the stems. This is majestic 100% Syrah from Paardeberg (Horse Mountain) near Kimberley, site of a famous Boer War battle in 1900 but now site of some fine viticulture. This wine is all about structure and tannins, though the tannins are ripe and elegant. There’s more than a hint of Northern Rhône to this, and putting my money where my mouth is, I lugged one home with me, a thing of beauty. Bottle of 2017 = £25, Magnum of 2016 = £50

Retirement @65 2018 This is a quite different red. The main variety is Cinsaut from 65-year-old bush vines on a mountain slope at Darling. For the new vintage 2018 a tiny dash of Syrah was added. The wine is a little rustic, in a good way. Dusty, perhaps, certainly savoury with some herbs in with the black fruits. A lighter red, which could be best served cool. Pieter reckons Cinsaut is a challenging variety but I’m increasingly finding that more and more South African winemakers are able to rise to the challenge. I think it has an interesting future in the Cape. The label? The first crop Pieter was going to buy was eaten by birds, so he invested in nets, only to find a flock of sheep got in and ate most of the grapes the following year. £27


Myköffer 2017 “My suitcase”, signifies a suitcase full of memories. The first guilty pleasure of wine over indulgence for Pieter, as a student, was Tassenberg, a commercial red of which over 4 million litres is made each year. Cheap but quite decent, I’m told. His first winemaking job involved actually producing it, where he discovered that the sweet strawberry fruit component he loved as a student was the Cinsaut variety. Pieter had bought that variety on several occasions after setting up on his own, but he could never find Cinsaut with the same profile. That was until he discovered a vineyard in the relatively unknown area of Breedekloof (Darling), up in the mountains east of Paarl, where the grapes had previously been going to a large co-operative.

The vineyard itself is comprised of former bush vines, since raised up on wires and trained on low trellises, on a flat and rocky river bed on the valley floor. Pieter exercised forty pickers to selectively choose ripe bunches in a vineyard that would otherwise have produced quantity over quality. The pale juice went into open top fermenters as whole bunches for foot treading,  before ageing for one year in French oak. The result is a juicy wine with up-front fruit and 13.5% alcohol. It really is another delicious Cinsaut, with a bit more body than Retirement @65. £26.50


Wolf Alaser 2017 This is very possibly a one-off cuvée. Pieter reckons he’s not sure what fruit went into this wine, perhaps 20% being Syrah from Oppie Koppie. It’s odds and ends that were used for topping up other cuvées, from which a single barrel was left, just 300 bottles. It was pretty tasty with nice sappy fruit and whilst you might wonder at the higher price if it really is merely some odds and ends Pieter threw into a barrel, you just need to taste the result. And, of course, it’s pretty rare stuff. The label was designed by Pieter’s son, who invented “Wolf Alaser” as a graffiti tag. £35


A Sigh of Relief 2017 This is the second to last vintage of this cuvée, because the vineyard has been grubbed up. Why? The owner bought a “Merlot” vineyard on Helderberg Mountain, but it turned out that the top part of the site was actually Cabernet Franc, as discovered by a well known viticultural expert who noticed the vines’ bronze growth points in the morning sun, something unique to Cab Franc. I’d have rejoiced, but not so the owner. The nursery probably received a rude email.

The first thing you notice is the amazing bouquet, essence of ethereal violet. There’s a little bit of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon in here too, but this is in essence a Stellenbosch Cabernet Franc, of both power, concentration and elegance. £23.99


It is What It is 2016 The second of the wines exclusive to Butlers is based upon another now ripped out Stellenbosch vineyard, pulled up by their owner on a whim in just one day. I think it’s important to say, for a second time, at this point that there’s a part of the South African wine industry, based on money, which follows wine fashions. This is leading to the destruction of valuable old vine stock capable of making lovely wines.

This one is not aiming at greatness, nor profundity. It’s just a super-interesting mix of Tempranillo from that site, with some Nebbiolo from Goudini in the Breede River Valley, plus a bit of Tulbach Carignan. Aside from being a nice glass, it’s stuff like this, an unusual if not a unique blend, that excites the vinous explorer in me. It’s like discovering a new plant in the Himalayas, or a new species of moth in Uzbekistan. But it’s never going to be repeated, so it is what it is. The label depicts Henry Butler. I think Pieter has captured his essence there…£22


Pinotage 2018 Actually, this wine doesn’t have a name yet (nor a label, hence the photo of the wine instead). It will be the next of the exclusive Butlers bottlings. I will admit I’ve not been a fan of Pinotage in the past. I grew up on all that burnt rubbery stuff. This is just fruity and juicy. Pieter says the key is to treat it like Pinot Noir (Pinot Noir, of course, being one of the variety’s parents, along with Cinsaut). With this particular wine you might even think it’s a pure Pinot, with its high-toned  ripe fruit, powdery tannins and prickly acids. It suggests it might age well for a year or two, in the unlikely event it gets the chance to.

The fruit here is from Darling, and grows below the vineyard from where Pieter sources Retirement @65. This is old vine Pinotage grown on decomposed granite with a year in oak. I shall look forward to this wine arriving, hopefully, by the autumn. I don’t know the price yet. It should provide a replacement for the Tempranillo blend, though I think there’s still some of that left to grab if you are swift.


But Why? 2016 The penultimate bottle from this long and extensive tasting is a Cabernet Sauvignon, which grows on sandy soils just below the 750 metre contour in Stellenbosch. The first thought that might come into your head is how on earth they ripen Cabernet at 740 metres above sea level? Temperatures can indeed be low, but the key is the unbelievable levels of radiation (sunlight), way higher at the top than at the bottom of the mountain. The vines do indeed produce mature fruit, but with lower alcohol levels, the result of slow sugar accumulation from a long hang time. There’s no greenness either. The sand adds to the wine’s elegance. There will be no Cabernet Sauvignon from this site in 2017 due to smoke taint, but the vines survived the bush fire and But Why? will make a return in 2018. No price available.


Jaaa Bru!!! 2017 We finish with one of Pieter Walser’s most captivating wines to look at. It comes in a stumpy bottle with a label depicting a fearsome open mouth with a protruding tongue. The variety is Malbec, which by coincidence translates in Afrikaans as “crazy mouth”. “Ja Bru” is a common Afrikaans greeting, “yes brother”. It’s Stellenbosch Malbec, picked early so that it only reaches 13.5% abv (!). It has a real minty, eucalyptus, profile over dense and darker fruit. Quite a big wine, but uniquely South African. I really like it…really. And of course I love the bottle too.


I hope I was able to convey just a little of the ambience at the tasting. Around twenty wines were sipped (and spat, but I was next to the spittoon and it didn’t see a lot of activity) in a little over a couple of hours. I really can’t begin to tell ’em like Pieter does, so if you ever have the opportunity to listen to him, take it.

He’s not the most socially extrovert person making wine in the Cape. I think he’s far more at home trekking after grapes, or out on the surf. But he has a canny knack for marketing, and if you produce thirty different wines each vintage you need a bit of sales patter. I know that really he does enjoy telling these stories, and I can think of no one better at doing it.

I’ve not even related his best story, which has nothing to do with wine. Ask him whether when out surfing he’s ever met a shark!

For what it’s worth, I think he’s a great guy and fantastic company when mixing with people who truly appreciate wine. As for his wines, how would it be possible to read this and (aside from the stories) not conclude that Blank Bottle Winery is making some of the most exciting wines in South Africa today? That’s a pretty big claim from me. You just need to try a few bottles to see if I’m on the mark.

Butlers Wine Cellar has two shops in Brighton, at 247 Queen’s Park Road, BN2 and 88 St George’s Road, Kemp Town, BN2. See their web site here and check the Contact Page for opening hours.

Other retailers see SWIG‘s Blank Bottle page here.

Wine labels as shirt cuffs, a first for me but Henry’s a stylish guy.

Posted in Artisan Wines, South African Wines, Wine, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

London Wine Fair 2019, Part 2

My coverage of the London Wine Fair 2019 continues here in Part 2. If you did happen to miss Part 1, you will find it (along with any introductory and more general comments) here. This second part covers some wines from Red Squirrel, Modal Wines and The Knotted Vine, along with the new Rhône estate I mentioned in Part 1, and a brief visit to the Nyetimber Bus.


Although only founded as recently as 2012, Red Squirrel has made a very big impact on the market. Their portfolio, growing all the time, has topped fifty producers. There’s no specialisation of country or region here, but they are pretty good at finding stars that have not yet been discovered, such as their Etna producer below.

Black Chalk Wild Rose 2016 (Hampshire, UK) I’ve got more than a soft spot for Black Chalk, which is why I’ve written about them a few times. It’s hard to believe they only launched at LWF2018, and one year on they are garnering praise as one of England’s best up-and-coming new wine ventures. The inaugural Black Chalk Classic 2015 was on show, but I wanted to try the new vintage Wild Rose 2016.

The grapes for both the Black Chalk wines are selected by Jacob Leadley from local friends, all off Hampshire chalkland sites. The breakdown is 41% Pinot Noir, 38% Meunier and 21% Chardonnay for the 2016 Rosé. Fermentation is in a mix of oak and stainless steel, after which it spends 20 months on lees in bottle. It was dosed at 7g/l after disgorgement in November 2018, so it has a little post-disgorgement bottle age too.

There are gorgeous ripe red fruits on a wave of crisp acidity. Freshness and elegance helps this pink stand out. It’s not remotely clumsy. Retail you should pay around £40. Some may suggest English Sparkling Wine is getting close to Champagne pricing, but we should remember that the costs of making sparkling wine in the UK are at least as high as doing so in France, probably more. And in any case, the quality definitely warrants it. For me, this is worth a premium. A lovely, lovely wine.


Beaujolais Cuvée Kéké 2018, Kewin Descombes (Beaujolais, France) Kewin “Kéké” Descombes is one of the new breed of Beaujolais winemakers (I think he’s still under thirty) who have a family history in the region. In fact few could claim ties as strong as Kewin’s, being the son of Georges Descombes (of Gang of Four fame), and the half-brother of Damien Coquelet, another feted young producer. He farms around six hectares in the vicinity of Morgon.

This Beaujolais cuvée comes off a 1.2 ha site Kewin rents, farmed organically like all his vines. Winemaking is simple, full carbonic and almost no sulphur. The result is a magically fruity and ultra-fresh Beaujolais at a just perfect 12.5% abv. I’ve liked this cuvée since I first tasted it, but this new 2018 is really good. Sells for around £24.


Etna Rosso “Navigabile” 2016, Ayunta (Etna, Sicily, Italy) Filippo Mangione rescued a mere three quarters of a hectare of vines on Etna’s northern slopes above the town of Randazzo. The grapes for this Etna Rosso are mainly the pair of Nerellos, Mascalese and Cappuccio, with other stray varieties in a traditional field blend. Fermented in open topped vats, the wine is then aged 14 months in a mix of oak and cherry casks.

The wine has red fruits, cherry and strawberry to the fore, with herbs and the faintest touch of something more meaty (not volatility). It’s moderately tannic for now, but it has the bright acidity to allow this to age for a year or too, and it’s not jammy as some Etna Rosso can be. Alcohol is a balanced 13.5%. For just over £30 this is really outstanding. I described this producer as my find of the day at the last Red Squirrel portfolio tasting.


PN/16, Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir 2016, Vinteloper (South Australia) David Bowley set up as a winemaker in the Adelaide Hills in 2008. He has around 3.5 hectares to farm and his reputation hit the starry heights when he won the People’s Choice Award of best Pinot Noir in Australia at Pinot Palooza 2016. He was runner up again in 2017. Although a self-confessed Pinot Noir obsessive, David does make other wines, including (I must mention) the brilliant little stubbies called “Park Wine”. David’s wife, Sharon, designs all the beautiful labels.

Looking at PN/16 you would have to call it one of the palest wines of the day, even in an era where pale Pinot is quite the rage. Crushed by both hand and foot, you’d be surprised, I think, to be told this sees eleven months in oak, of which a third is new. So the wine has some structure, but less than you’d expect. The fruit is complex already, mainly in the cherry spectrum, but you get tagine-like spices coming through, and that seems an apt description for a wine which also has something of smokey merguez sausage about it. I hope I’m not putting off the vegans among you. It’s a lovely wine, and at 14% abv it probably needs something substantial to accompany. Mechoui agneau, perhaps?



Modal is another non-specialist when it comes to countries or regions, but Nic Rizzi does specialise in hunting down some quite unique wines. He’s not hung up on winemaking methods, yet because he has an eye for wines of freshness, personality, and above all, drinkability, the wines he imports tend to be low-intervention wines.

Oranzista 2017, Slobodne Vinárstvo (Lesser Carpathians, Slovakia) You might have seen what I’ve written about a number of Slobodne wines from Zemianske Sady in Slovakia over the past couple of years. I drank the Cutis Deviner quite recently, and Slobodne does list a Cutis Deviner orange version, but this one is brand new to me.

Oranzista is made from Pinot Gris. The 2017 vintage saw five weeks on skins during a semi-carbonic fermentation and then one year in tank. The result is not the tannic sandpaper cuvée that some skin contact wines can become. It’s altogether gentler, which makes it an ideal summer wine with a good range of food pairing options that you might eat outdoors. The flavours are an unmistakable mix of peach and tangerine, with zesty fruit and zippy acidity. Alcohol is a restrained-tasting 13%. I’d like some of this.


Funàmbul Cava Brut Nature NV, Entre Vinyes (Catalonia, Spain) Maria Barrena has a new organic Cava project from her family’s vineyards close to Barcelona. The vines are over 50-years-old, some up to 80-years, on deep clay and limestone at around 300 metres altitude. The varieties in the blend are the Catalan classics, Parellada, Viura and Xarel-lo. The wine is bottle fermented with about 20 months on lees, with zero dosage.

A glorious bouquet leaps from the glass here, very pure. The dry palate is layered with apple acidity with nuanced stone fruits (peach and apricot). It’s not massively complex, majoring on freshness and liveliness. The alcohol level is just 12%, but its dryness does mean it will accompany food. This is a really good organic Cava, new to Modal.


Kröv Steffensberg “GeGe” 2015, Staffelter Hof (Mosel, Germany) So, as you will surmise, this is Staffelter Hof’s dry Riesling from the Steffensberg site at Kröv, between Erden and Traben-Trarbach. This is perhaps the most famous stretch of the Mosel, although the site isn’t one of the most famous on the river. Nevertheless, this wine, and those made there by Daniel Vollenweider, are bringing it to the attention of Mosel lovers.

Jan Mattias Klein took over from his father, aged 28, in 2005. He has since moved from the classic Mosel style to a more minimalist, low intervention model, which includes minimal added sulphur in the wines. Why “GeGe”? The wine is bottled as a QbA yet it has the sugar and acidity of an Auslese Trocken. It’s a play on the “GG” (grosses gewächs) classification for dry wines from top sites for members of the German VDP wine association.

This is built like a wine from a top site, and deserves some years in bottle to age. The ripe grapes give the wine a tropical dimension, lots of peach, but also, as it’s more complex than that, salinity, minerality, florality and spice. That said, it is starting to drink now, so opening and drinking it with food would not be a terrible idea. Although I don’t know the producer that well yet, it tastes like a top Riesling.


Naturaleza Salvaje Blanco 2018, Azul Y Garanza (Navarra, Spain) This organic Garnacha Blanca is grown in the foothills of the Pyrenees, in Navarra, at San Isidro del Pinar. The thirty year old vines are planted around 550 metres above sea level on calcareous limestone. It’s very dry here, hot during long summer days, but with contrasting cool nights. The wine is made naturally, with no synthetic additives in the vineyard, a spontaneous fermentation and minimal added sulphur, you know how it goes by now. The fermentation lasted ten days, five days of that on skins. Then the interesting bit…ageing was in amphora for six months.

For White Garnacha, this is very aromatic. The fruit is concentrated but the wine is crisper than you’d imagine for the variety, down presumably to those cool nights. Although you get “fruit” here, greengage and yellow plum perhaps, there are also notes of sweet almond blossom and almond, with a green herbal texture, slightly waxy. It’s a wine that works on two levels, both refreshing and multi-dimensional.

Müller Thurgau “Kids Version” 2016, Nibiru (Kamptal, Austria) Julia Nather and Josef Schenter began collaborating on their Nibiru project in Austria’s Kamptal Region in 2015, working out of Josef’s parents’ winery at Schönberg Am Kamp. Nibiru is, according to Sumerian legend, the name of a planet which appears in our solar sytem every 3,600 years with an orbit around our sun in the opposite direction to all our other planets. That appealed to the philosophy of Julia and Josef.

The cuvée name? The grapes were foot trodden by “the kids”, all five of whose names appear on the label. They love this grape variety here, using skin contact to make a dry and waxy wine which has more than one dimension, and is totally unlike the Müller Thurgau of old. In fact this couple have everything in common with the new breed of MT producers in Germany. Think more “Hermit Ram” than sugar water. It’s clean and crisp and (for the variety) has really nice length and mouthfeel. It helps that we are tasting old vines cropped at low yields and made with “natural wine” methods (including very little sulphur). This is a wine of great purity, and a gastronomic wine as well. Both exciting and interesting.


Safràn 2016, Cascina Zerbetta (Piemonte, Italy) This estate is at Quargnento, in the Monferrato Hills, west of Alessandria. Paolo Antonio Malfatti and Anna Maria Zerbetta farm just three hectares of formerly abandoned vineyard using biodynamic methods. Their main crop is Barbera, for which Monferrato is justly famous, but they also grow Sauvignon Blanc.

From this variety they make a sparkling col fondo wine called Shan Pan, which I’ve both drunk and written about at least twice in the past twelve months. This wine is also a Sauvignon Blanc, but is very different. It’s a late harvest wine, aged in a one year old barrel. It fermented to 15% abv naturally, after which the fermentation stopped of its own accord, leaving some residual sugar.

The colour is darkish red-brown, but bright, like cherry wood. It’s aromatic, with oxidative, nutty, notes on the nose, but also plenty of freshness. A quite unique bouquet. It’s sweet, but not as sweet as you might think. Yes, gently sweet, slightly nutty, with a hint of caramel on the palate, not remotely cloying. Worryingly moreish with that alcohol.



David Knott imports minimal intervention wines which he will happily say are aimed at “wine geeks” obsessed with purity. He’s not especially focused on any one country, although the Australian part of the portfolio always throws up some genuine gems that most people have never heard of.

Druida Branco Encruzado Reserva 2017, Vinos Mira do Ó (Dão, Portugal) The grapes for this wine are grown on a 500-metre high plateau on the right bank of the River Dão. As the name “druid” suggests, there’s an air of mysticism to the project. The grapes are crushed in a stone building in the midst of the vines, something like a traditional Sicilian palmento, I imagine. The rock here is granite, and the wine has a fresh bouquet and a fresh mineral texture on the palate, with a touch of salinity. The overall impression is of a well rounded wine with the textured rough edges of, well, granite.

Ageing is in old oak for nine months, and like a traditional, artisanal, Dão this has a touch of austerity to it. It’s certainly not fruit driven, especially with all that citrus and mineral texture. Yet in being so different, it draws you in. You realise you need to pay attention. You realise pretty soon that this is a wine that has the structure to age and all the components to become more complex over time, as those individual parts spread out into a broader palette of flavours.


Long Gully Road Semillon 2017, David Franz (Barossa, South Australia) Peter Lehmann’s son is making increasingly beautiful wines in South Australia, but they still fly a bit under the radar in the UK. Take this Semillon. The variety has had a tough time on the UK market, the result of all those “South Eastern Australia” Semillon-Chardonnay blends which flooded in during the 1980s and 90s.

This wine is made from 130-year-old, dry farmed, vines grown by Steve and Rebecca Falland in their Long Gully Road Vineyard in the Barossa Hills (Eden Edge). The intention with this wine every year is to pick at exactly the right moment, where ripeness does not diminish acidity.

Here the success of that policy is plain to see. The wine has a brightness. That’s what hits the nostrils first. It’s grassy enough to warn hayfever sufferers, but then the waxy lemon hits, more Mediterranean than Barossa. It has a classic Aussie Semillon profile with lemon on the attack and hints of honey on the finish, with something herbal in between. It’s about textures and depth, with the ancient vine fruit giving the wine some class. And length.


A Veredas Blanco 2016, Bodegas Nestares Eguizàbal (Rioja, Spain) This is not your average White Rioja in that it is a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, not the traditional white varieties of the region. The grapes come from a single vineyard in Rioja’s Ocón Valley, near the village of Galilea. It’s certainly a far cry from the dull and oxidised version of white wine we have known from some of the bigger producers, yet neither is this wine something that comes across as a bland, modern, substitute.

A Veredas was fermented in, and then spent eight months ageing in, new French and American oak before both lots were blended. Bottling was without any added sulphur. The fruit is predominantly textured pear with herbs and a little gentle spice, from the wood. It is oaky, for sure, but the fruit is delicious. I still think it needs time for the fruit and oak to integrate, but I think it will before long.

This is, I have to say, a wine style I don’t normally go for. A relatively oaky white in an equally relatively inexpensive price bracket. What impressed here was the brightness and depth of the fruit, and the proof that very good white Rioja is becoming more widely available from more than a handful of producers now.


A Bright Red Blend 2018, Rasa Wines (Barossa, Australia) Andy Cummins makes small batch wines at Angaston, starting formal training after a long love affair with wine led to a job at Barossa Valley’s famous Rockford Wines, following a couch-surfing tour of Europe’s vineyards. The blend in this 2018 is Cinsault (67%) and Grenache (33%) from Tanunda. The fruit comes from old vines, between 80-years-old for the Grenache and 95 for the Cinsault. I think the blend in 2017 was very different.

This is a pale red with a sweet fruit fragrance smelling of amazing raspberry cream. The fruit on the palate is plump and rounded, with great acids, a little bit of crunch on the finish, plus a lick of savoury salinity. It has a nice restrained 12.3% alcohol, not always common in the region, and it’s an altogether perfect summer refresher of a wine. Looks good, smells even better and tastes fantastic. This should arrive on our shores some time in June. It should be here just in time to establish itself on the pavement tables and in the parks of London, assuming the sun returns.

Grenache 2017, Ministry of Clouds (McLaren Vale, Australia) Ministry of Clouds is a virtual winery, a moveable feast when it comes to sourcing grapes, but their broad focus is on fruit from Clare Valley, Tasmania and McLaren Vale. The “they” here  is Julian Forewood and Bernice Ong. If you haven’t heard of them, they have certainly garnered enough top level plaudits in Australia to suggest you should.

Dry farmed Grenache can be very special grown in The Vale, tending to have accentuated fragrance and a succulence of fruit that is synonymous with the region. This wine comes off two blocks of 80-year-old Grenache bush vines, going into old open top fermenters, ageing in three-year-old hogsheads and larger oak tanks. The old vine fruit responds with purity, floral beauty, and a bit of structure, accentuated by nice dusty tannins which turn this into a perfectly balanced wine for the table.

Like every wine I taste from this producer, it is both impressive and highly enjoyable at the same time. There’s just something about this that oozes class, so if you like juicy Grenache, try some. It’s one of those perfect examples of a wine with reasonably high alcohol (13.9% on the label) that nevertheless tastes fresh and if not exactly light, in no way heavy. Grenache done well has that almost magical quality.

Atractylis 2014, Floris Legere (Aragón, Spain) Villaroya de la Sierra is a tiny village near Calatayud, inland from Valencia and Tarragona, and due west of Zaragoza. It’s the unlikely place in which wandering Frenchman Ludovic Vino (this must be the best bit of nominative determinism yet) settled down to farm a small plot of 70-year-old Garnacha and Syrah.

This wine is a pure Syrah, aged 15 months in second- and third-year French oak barrels. The wine has a scented cherry bouquet with darker fruits and a Syrah peppery spice note coming through later. There’s power here, but without compromising real elegance. I think that with the oak regime this will benefit from some age, but I also think the wine has the potential to be quite astonishing after a few years. We shall see.


Famille De Boel (Rhône, France)

In Part 1 I mentioned the “Wines Unearthed” section, up on the gallery floor opposite Esoterica. It was here that I was nudged towards Famille (Nelly and Arnaud) De Boel. Working with other Rhône wineries from 2011, they managed to start their own domaine in 2016, based at Lemps, a little north of Tournon, on the right bank of the Rhône. They own vines at Cornas and Saint-Joseph, and in the Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages Appellation (old vine plots at St-Cécile-des-Vignes).

The vines are farmed biodynamically, and typical of many young winemaking couples who have small children, they are completely focused on not only making low intervention wines but also on encouraging biodiversity in the vineyards. Nelly and Arnaud are also great food lovers, a passion they share, and so they aim to make gastronomic wines at each level. I tasted three wines, a Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages from Uchaux, a Collines Rhodaniennes, and their Saint-Joseph. Their Cornas vines are not yet mature enough to produce wine.

Côtes du Rhône Villages Massif d’Uchaux “Aleph” 2018 comes off silex/slate in hills surrounded by woodland. It’s a blend of Syrah and Grenache. The micro-climate is relatively cool and the wine has nice berry fruit (blackcurrant, mainly) and black olives, with great freshness, plus a little bite. It’s a really nicely made CDR.

Collines Rhodaniennes “Les Voraces” 2018 is pure Syrah off granite, a plot right beside the family home, with its élevage in stainless steel. No oak is used, so this is refreshing Syrah with zip to it. But it still retains a bit of grip. Not complex but vibrant and lively, helped by a sprinkling of black pepper spice.


Saint-Joseph “Rue des Poulies” 2017 and 2016 The 2017 was a sample as the wine is not yet bottled. It comes from a south facing vineyard on the purely granite soils of the best part of the appellation, and after fermentation it is aged half and half in stainless steel and used wood (six to seven years old). The fruit is both red and black, the wine deeply coloured, but the overall impression is of the dominance of crisp minerality with ripe tannins. The 2016 bottle was more of the same, but with a touch greater depth and suppleness around the fruit. There’s plenty of body, so this is a fairly serious St-Jo.

I said in my introduction in Part 1 that I liked everything here – the wines, the people (well, Nelly, at least, who I chatted to), and the overall philosophy. For what it’s worth I also liked the labels too, each of which depicts something specific. The Uchaux for example is called Aleph, which is the first letter of the Phoenician alphabet and means “beef”. That label shows a print which depicts the “Ceremony of Beef” where the butchers paraded their oxen.

It is not easy to asses a range from a brief encounter, but I thought, at least on first acquaintance, that on the basis of what I tasted these wines really deserve some UK representation.


Nyetimber (West Sussex, England)

Nyetimber is a very old estate, named in the Domesday Book as “Nitembreha”. Nine hundred years later it has established itself as probably the most famous wine estate in the UK, producing award winning classic sparkling wines from the rolling green sand and chalk hills of the South Downs. Cherie Spriggs is Chief Winemaker, assisted by her husband Brad Greatrix, and a focus on quality has allowed the brand to go from strength to strength over the past decade or so.

One of the unmissable sights at London Wine Fair now is the famous Nyetimber Bus, a refurbished old double-decker from which samples are dispensed, parked-up in the newish part of the Fair called Drinks Britannia (with its focus on sparkling wines, gin, craft beer and all things artisanal). I don’t envy those working on the bus, as the queues are pretty long for most of the day, and they must get through a fair number of bottles, generously poured for what is, for most people, more a free glass or five than perhaps a serious attempt to taste the wines.

I tasted, and spat (despite the near impossibility of pushing through the throng to find the awkwardly placed spittoon) five wines. The Blanc de Blancs 2013 comes from Chardonnay vineyards in Hampshire and West Sussex and sees four-and-a-half years on lees. The colour is gently golden, from a bit of age, and the initial citrus and floral notes are lovely. That lees ageing results in a toasty brioche finish. The BdeB has consistently been my favourite wine at Nyetimber, although I don’t count the single vineyard wine (below). I’ve only tried it two or three times.

Rosé NV is currently a blend of Pinot Noir (61%) and Chardonnay (49%) which smells of summer pudding with cream and shortbread biscuits. It’s a lovely aperitif wine whose qualities, above all, shout “refreshing”.

The Nyetimber most people know nowadays, the wine poured on Brighton’s i-360 and at Glyndebourne, is the Classic CuvéeClassic Cuvée is a multi-vintage blend of all three classic “Champagne” varieties, and is very much Nyetimber’s flagship. Bottled with 10g/l residual sugar, it’s an easy drinking wine which has now achieved a high level of consistency. There’s fresh apple fruit, spice notes and honeyed “sweetness” (the wine is obviously dry but the dosage is slightly higher than many passionate wine lovers may be used to these days). The most exciting thing is to taste this from magnum. The magnum effect does work here, so much so that the larger format would be a strong recommendation from me.

Tillington 2013 Nyetimber’s single vineyard wine is produced in small quantity when the vintage warrants it. The 2013 was a run of somewhere between 5,000-to-6,000 bottles, I’m told. This wine blends around three-quarters Pinot Noir with Chardonnay from a fine single site in West Sussex. It sees almost six years on lees, which does explain its price, often grumbled about but perhaps without foundation for one of the finest English wines on the market.

The wine still has a fairly high dosage of around 9.7g/l, but there’s a genuine elegance to the predominantly red fruits with citrus, which overlays vanilla and very gentle caramel. You would definitely say it is Pinot Noir-driven. As the wine lingers on an impressively long finish, you get that autolytic character, with arrowroot biscuits and fresh brioche.

Finally I tasted Cuvée Chérie, Nyetimber’s Demi-Sec multi-vintage, designed originally to accompany “delicate British desserts”, though we are perhaps less wholly patriotic to suggest restricting its use just to home grown fare. It’s 100% Chardonnay and benefits from around 20% reserve wines. From what I know, or have been told, about Nyetimber, it is the building up of reserve wines which has transformed the quality at this producer. Any serious English Sparkling Wine needs the addition of some reserve wines to make a multi-vintage blend which can transcend the ordinary, unless the fruit of a given vintage is really special. The addition of even a small amount of reserve wine adds depth.

Chérie balances its sweetness (38g/l r/s) with its fresh orange and lemon acidity and a nice mineral texture, with even a tiny hint of salinity, which results in just the faintest savoury touch. I can see why they recommend “fragrant and gently spiced dishes” as a food match along with the desserts, although “gentle” and “spiced” are not words which are normally paired in my kitchen. “Generously spiced” is more the order of the day, and I don’t think this wine is meant to go with three or four red chillies.

The Nyetimber Bus is great fun, but I must try to taste some of these wines in circumstances which less resemble the Crush Bar at the ROH during the short interval some time. But that’s not what the bus is really there for. Nyetimber should be noted for their generosity in pouring so much stock into the cuckoo chick mouths of thirsty and expectant UK wine trade stalwarts.

I like to end my LWF coverage with a few pics from the rest of the fair. I may not toil around the main floor very much, but largely that’s because time just doesn’t permit it. I’d love to go for a second day, and maybe one year I’ll manage to. I would have loved to spend a morning at the IWC Sake Pavilion. Next year, perhaps. Regrets…I had a few. Not tasting at the Château Musar stand, and having too little time to hit the New Wave of South Africa tables were my biggest, but when you get home and discover a host of other delights you missed you understand why some people do go for all three days.




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London Wine Fair 2019, Part 1

London Wine Fair is a large affair, to say the very least. It’s the largest of the wine events I attend every year, but that doesn’t mean it’s where I taste the most wines. With a few exceptions, the main trading floor is, as its name gives away, where some of the bigger players do their commercial business. Many of the areas down there are devoted to larger producers and importers, alongside a healthy smattering of national and regional pavilions.

The event is also famous for its masterclasses and industry briefings, but if like me you are there for just one of the three days this time, then there’s no time for all that. I have begun to hang out, increasingly, up on the gallery floor at Olympia, in the section named Esoterica. The name betrays a certain pejorative attitude, rather like the old “Country Wines”, used to gently put down a wine from outside the classic regions. I think they should change the name to “The Exciting Bit”, but I guess those paying for the event via their lavish pavilions downstairs would get upset.

I’m only joking, though. This is a very important event for the UK wine trade, which is far more valuable, economically, than the selection of small importers I follow. I’m grateful that the event recognises the part these innovators will play in the UK market’s future. Downstairs discovers the trends, whilst upstairs we are discovering the groundbreaking new wines.


Even in the “Esoterica” section there are more than fifty tables, occupied mainly by small wine merchants/importers. It is a number of these which I shall focus on in my coverage of LWF 2019, with only a few diversions into other areas. On the opposite side of the gallery there is a section called Wines Unearthed. This is where you can find producers who are hopeful of finding UK distribution. After tasting the stars of the Esoterica tables it can range from tiring to, occasionally, soul destroying (no, I’m being too harsh) to taste through these wines. But I did find a very interesting Rhône producer here (for inclusion in Part 2), admittedly because of a tip from a wine merchant friend. One of those domaines where you like everything…the wines, the philosophy and the person.



As with all of these people in Part 1, I have tasted the wines of Nekter already this year, but there are always new wines and new vintages, and I do specifically ask to taste things that are new to me. I don’t think I’ve written about any of these wines before.

Pret-a-Blanc 2018, Schmölzer & Brown, King Valley (Victoria, Australia) This region of North East Victoria comprises the high hills along the King River Valley as it flows from Australia’s Alpine National Park. Tessa Brown (ex-Kooyong and Sorrenberg, eyes immediately light up), along with her husband Jeremy Schmölzer, have recently planted 2 ha of vines at Beechworth, but the bulk of their production comes from a neighbour’s vineyard over the road whilst the couple’s vines come on stream.

This is a blend of 70% Riesling with Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer, whole bunch pressed into stainless steel. It’s an aromatic wine, a genuine Aussie take on an Alsace blend. There’s a floral (jasmine?) element to the bouquet, and the palate is soft, dry, saline and mineral, the latter via a slightly dusty texture. This is really good, and a very nice start at the Nekter table. The 2017 UK allocation of this all went to The Fat Duck, I believe. There will hopefully be some 2018 for the rest of us.

Brunnen Pinot Noir 2017, Schmölzer & Brown (Beechworth, Victoria) This comes off Beechworth’s Ordovician mudstone and shale, the grapes being destemmed and macerated for three days. They then hit the basket press before seeing French oak, six barrels of which one was new. The wine is pale and smooth, scented with strawberry and cherry, and some earthiness on a very long finish. Very fine. Not cheap (£46), but yes. impressive. Everyone is predicting stardom for Schmölzer & Brown, so perhaps it’s worth getting in quick here.


Voetstoots Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2016, Stand Alone (Stellenbosch, South Africa) Alexander (Xander) Grier’s own personal project makes wines using traditional methods with as little manipulation and intervention as possible. It’s a contrast to his day job with Villiera Wines, where he makes wine in somewhat greater quantity. This is his first own label Chenin from a very old block. He gives the fruit six hours on skins after which it follows the time-worn route of basket press to old oak. This is a beautifully fresh wine with so much depth, which will surely increase over a year or two. It’s not heavy, but it does have a bit of weight, assisted by a lovely texture.


Stand Alone Gamay Noir 2018 (Stellenbosch) This is the only Gamay I currently know of in South Africa, and it is far more than a mere rarity. Just three barrels of this were made, after layering the bunches in the tank alternately, destemmed and with stems, to create a more complex carbonic fermentation. This is the wine’s first vintage, and the bottle was an under the table jobbie which is not yet up on Nekter’s web site. Grippy cherries, zesty acidity, but also, unquestionably, serious stuff, 13% abv. I would recommend snapping this up as I reckon it will fly out.


“The Bear” 2016, Donkey & Goat (Berkeley, California, USA) Jared and Tracey Brandt make these natural/biodynamic wines in Berkeley, taking appropriately grown grapes from Napa, Mendocino and Sierra Nevada. The Bear is a single site wine from the Fenaughty and Lightner Vineyard, at altitude in the El Dorado AVA (Sierra Nevada foothills). The grapes are all loosely Rhône/Southern French varieties, Counoise, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Roussanne. We get both dark blackberry and red strawberry fruit with gentle nutmeg spice. It’s basically a pale wine packed with flavour and just enough grip. Excellent.


Seaside Cabernet Franc 2017, Geyer Wine Co (Adelaide Hills, South Australia) Fascinating to taste an Aussie Cab Franc after all those excellent Canadian versions I tried a few days before LWF. Dave Geyer’s take comes specifically from the Sellick Hills area. Half of this wine was originally intended to be a rosé, fermented accordingly. The other half was treated to ten days on skins. Liquorice, blueberry tart, saltiness and a fresh sprinkling of newly sharpened pencil lead, this wine majors on freshness and elegance and tastes remarkably Loire-like in some ways, especially the violet and lavender bouquet. The 13% alcohol doesn’t show at all.


Charbono 2015, Calder Wine Company (Napa, California, USA) Rory Williams is Frog’s Leap’s Vineyard Manager, using his middle name for his own small scale wine project. Charbono is a synonym for Bonarda, a grape which originated in Savoie, but may be better known to readers from the satellite DOCs of Northern Piemonte. This first vintage (the vines were planted by Rory himself in 2008) was fermented with 25% whole bunches for twelve days and matured 18 months in French oak (25% new). You get plum and cherry concentration in a fairly light red, with a minty freshness. The fruit has amazing concentration, enormous, seriously. There are (or maybe were by now, it has been a week) a thousand bottles of this. £38 for an obscure variety? In this case, a definite yes.



Southern Wine Roads is a specialist importer for Greek wines, with a focus on small estates making wine from autochthonous varieties. Their portfolio seems to me to be improving every time I taste here. I’m not an expert on their whole range yet, not by a long way, but as with Alpine Wines (below), I’m convinced that we have here a small importer who it’s time to take a little more notice of.

Assyrtiko “Unfiltered” 2015, Papaioannou Estate (Peloponnese, Greece) The fruit for this white comes from Nemea, known for its often lovely red wines from the Agiorgitiko variety, but it is labelled PGI Peloponnese. It’s very different to the better known Santorini style of Assyrtiko, which is off volcanic terroir. In Nemea the soils are on clay and limestone, usually either side of the 300-350-metre contour line. This is scented with lovely fruit, a certain softness and a bit of mineral texture. It is aged for twelve months in new French oak, which stamps its mark, but I still found it oddly very attractive.

Assyrtiko 2018, Gavalas Winery (Santorini, Greece) You probably don’t often get to taste two completely different Assyrtikos together? Nor do I. But doing so allows you to understand what elements of the grape relate to terroir, and also what a great variety Assyrtiko can be. The vineyard here is claimed to be the oldest currently in Greece, some vines reputedly five hundred years old. These vines are trained in the traditional way, curled and furled into protected balls of wood which crouch low to avoid being blown away. The wine is tank fermented, exhibiting a wild freshness that must come from the sea breezes and rocky volcanic soils of that beautiful island. Pear and lemon with a delicious tropical fruit juice finish.


Litani 2013, Afianes (Ikaria, Greece) Ikaria is an island in the Southern Aegean about ten miles or so southwest of Samos. It’s a small Island but it rises over 1,000 metres in the centre. Its small population inhabits mainly fishing villages on the coast, but winemaking is getting a reputation via this quality estate, run by local pharmacist, Nikos Afianes.

The single variety for this white is Begleri, indigenous to the island. It comes off granite and sand at 400 metres altitude from very old vines (some more than 120-years-old). Made by foot stomping in a granite trough, it is fresh and herby, stony, mineral and with a twist of lemon zest. In fact it’s just as you would imagine a really good wine from the Greek Islands might taste.

There’s also a brilliant red wine which I tasted later but I’ll include it here, Icarus 2014, which is made from another variety peculiar to Ikaria, Fokiano. It’s made in mixed oak with 12 months ageing. It runs out at 14% abv, but it’s pale and has the most beautiful scent of aromatic cherries and red fruit. It’s very dry and it needs time, like a good Barolo needs time. I was genuinely surprised just how much I liked these Afianes wines. This red was one of my wines of the day, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to knock it back alone, in one go.



Paleokerisio 2016, Glinavos Estate (Epirus, Greece) We are up in Northwestern Greece here, on the mainland. I’ve tasted some Glinavos sparkling wines before, but this one is a bit different. It’s an off-dry, semi-sparkling, orange wine. The grapes are equal parts Vlachiko and Debina, the latter being a major variety for this producer’s wines. It’s a bronze skin contact wine with a mineral texture accentuated by the gentle bead, smelling and tasting of oranges, herbs and exotic Middle Eastern spices. The spice element grows on the palate as the fine bubbles fade. In one respect it’s really weird, yet it’s more than just interesting. If you, like me, are also adventurous I reckon you might actually adore this.


Lola 2017, Aoton Winery (Attica, Central Greece) This unique wine is labelled PGI Peania. The grape varieties are Mandilaria, Savatiano and Roditis. They are picked in the cool night air to preserve freshness. The Mandilaria has pine resin added during its separate fermentation, but the resinous flavours you usually get in a retsina (which this technically is) are somehow swallowed in the vat and you are left with the merest hint of pine. The result is just about pink, and really quite delicate. It’s dry too. Only around 4,000 bottles are made.


Naoussa 2015 and Paliokalias 2013, Dalamara (Naoussa, Greece) This is an old estate, dating from the 19th Century, in Northern Greece’s most famous, and perhaps traditional, PDO, but one where the new generation is beginning to raise its reputation even further. Naoussa makes deep reds from Xinomavro. The unfiltered entry level wine is made in quantity (in a Greek context, around 10k bottles), but after a year in oak it even has a touch of seriousness to it. It’s dry, savoury and herbal. The Peleokalias is a single vineyard wine which is showing greater depth and complexity, but leave it to age. It’s pale and quite Nebbiolo-like, but has heightened fruit as well. Another stunning wine.

This was my best tasting yet with Southern Wine Roads, and the best overall selection from them I’ve tasted. I know that they were selected for me as the best wines on the table, but if I were to buy a half case I’d be seriously pushed to leave out any of the eight wines above, certainly choosing all the reds, Lola, the Paleokerisio semi-sparkling orange wine, and the Litani, but then the Assyrtiko…



Alpine Wines sells wine from several countries and regions which are broadly Alpine, or maybe Sub-Alpine at a push, but although this includes a good range from Austria, they are the only really decent source for Swiss wine in the UK if you need a fairly wide selection.

I keep ramming it down people’s throats that they should try Swiss Wine. I know the best is expensive. Even the second best is expensive. But it’s usually different, not the same old same old. I’m tempted to say that it’s no more expensive than a bottle of good Burgundian Chardonnay, except that if that’s all you drink then your palate may not be ready for a Heida, a Petite Arvine, or a Fendant. Yet in truth they are not remotely scary. For starters, whilst some Swiss wine is natural wine, most is not. Just unfamiliar is what I’d suggest. Most of the wines I tasted here were Swiss, with a couple of ringers thrown in. The first of these is from Vienna.

Weissburgunder “Der Vollmondwein” 2017, Rainer Christ (Vienna, Austria) Christ’s wines are less well known overseas than his larger neighbour on Bisamberg, Fritz Wieninger, but he runs a reasonably sized operation. I had to try this a week last Monday as I was aware that several people I know tasted at his place last week. This Pinot Blanc is grown on limestone on the individual Bisamberg cru of Ried Falkenberg, one of the higher sites on the side of the hill facing the city and the Danube. Harvested under the full moon (Vollmond), this is beautifully fresh and vibrant, lemony with a textured, bitter, finish. Yet for all that freshness it does not lack body, and in fact packs 13% abv, so it has a Chardonnay-like weight. A food wine.


Petite Arvine 2017, Jean-René Germanier (Valais, Switzerland) If you read my blog regularly you’ll have come across this producer before. Jean-René and Gilles Besse make their wines above the Rhône Valley, between Martigny and Sion, close to Vétroz. Petite Arvine is the Valais white grape par excellence, out of several fine competitors. It’s one of the Germanier wines I didn’t see at the Swiss Tasting I went to near London Fields back in April. This pale yellow/golden wine reflects yellow fruits and lemon freshness. My notes say “dry, dry, dry” but it is also unquestionably thirst-quenchingly fruity. The dryness balances it out.


“Les Murailles” Rouge 2013, Badoux Vins (Aigle, Vaud, Switzerland) Aigle is in that part of the Canton of Vaud which lies to the east of Lac Léman, off to your left after you leave the lakeside if you are following the motorway towards Martigny. Badoux is a well known company which makes, in the white (Chasselas) “Murailles”, perhaps the most widely recognisable label in the country. This red version, similarly attired, is made from Pinot Noir. Actually I’m told 95% Pinot, but I have no idea what grapes make up that other 5%. A bit of the ripasso technique is used here, and the semi-dried Garanoir/Gamaret grape skins used add weight, and possibly alcohol (13.5%). So we have a wine that is not typical Pinot, especially on the nose, but overall the fruit is much darker, and richer. Quite a big wine really, so something different. Around £33.


Syrah Réserve 2013, Domaine des Muses (Valais, Switzerland) This is a top domaine at Sierre, further up the river Rhône than Sion, and sitting below the ski resort of Crans-Montana. I tasted the 2016 of this wine at the Swiss Tasting I mentioned above. I said 2016 was young, so the chance to try the 2013 was welcome. It still has the bite and structure of new oak, but as with the Canadian Cabernet Francs in my previous article, it has that signature freshness of Valaisin Syrah. There is still the same spice and liquorice I found in the 2016, whilst the plum and darker fruits are a little more juicy and softer. But being a reserve wine, one should expect to age it.

Sonntaler Grauvernatsch 2017, Kellerei Kurtatsch (Südtirol, Italy) Kurtatsch is about half way between Trento and Bolzano/Bozen, in Italy’s dual-language northeast (so it is also alternatively known by some as Cortaccia). This is one of Italy’s great co-operative wineries (Kellerei or Cantina, take your pick), and to be sure, that adjective is not misplaced in this part of the country. Grauvernatsch is also known by another name, Schiava Grigia in Italian.

The wine is a palish red with high-toned, concentrated, raspberry fruit, acidity and grip. Not a complicated wine, it nevertheless has a delicious savoury side, a finish of decent length, and a moderate 12.5% alcohol level. If some of the wines above are “finer” (and indeed all of the wines from the producer who follows), then this simple wine is nevertheless one I’d buy, and enjoy, for what it is. And hey, it’s Grauvernatsch and I bet you’ve never tried one!


Marie-Thérèse Chappaz (Fully, Valais, Switzerland)

Marie-Thérèse is unquestionably one of Switzerland’s foremost and most famous winemakers. Her wines are appreciated by the points-spouting classicists, who habitually spout a lot of points at her, and by lovers of artisan biodynamic winemaking, in equal measure. She has won more awards than she has had the time to attend their ceremonies, but she is a member of the highly regarded organisation of top Swiss estates, Les Artisans de la Vigne et du Vin, which she helped found in 1999.

I tasted four Chappaz wines at the Fair, and I know that Joelle at Alpine Wines brought them along, with her Coravin, in part for my benefit. I’ve never tried more than one of these wines at a time before, and they are sufficiently rare and expensive that I’ve never had more than one at a time in my cellar either.

Grain Nature Champ Dury 2017 is a truly gorgeous blend of Pinot Noir (90%) with Gamay off limestone and made in old oak. The “young vines” are around 25 years old. It is redolent of bright quetsch plum and cherry, big fruit and firm minerality. There’s no added sulphur, and in this case it’s absolutely bright and beautiful. £50 a bottle.

Dôle “La Liaudisaz” 2017 Dôle is much maligned, as perhaps is Bourgogne-Passetoutgrain, which conceptually it resembles. The best Dôle, like this one, will blend 85-90% Pinot Noir with the legally required Gamay component. The wines are rarely complex, but Chappaz does make a wine that is several steps up from the norm. Limestone soils and very low sulphur add an almost magical degree off freshness, in what is otherwise a simple wine. The fruit is crunchy, but there’s a meaty edge to the Pinot which transforms the wine when it kicks in. There’s no fireworks, just hard work resulting in a strangely satisfying bottle. Circa £31, cheap for Chappaz.

Grain Ermitage 2017 This is one of the stunners in the range. It’s made from 100-year-old Marsanne vines on one of the steepest slopes in the region, and an homage to the Northern Rhône, the French wine region way downstream. The wine is big and waxy, with lemon and lime acidity, and it weighs in at 14.5% abv. This means you need to be wary of it, but a little goes a long way, and like Hermitage Blanc, you don’t need to drink it all at once. If I was to try to say how it differs from that French region’s whites, I’d say this has a touch more fruit and perhaps less of the herby thing going on. It sees 18 months in oak.

I don’t think you need to give it the very long ageing that a White Hermitage requires, but you should nevertheless give it the due respect of ageing, a decade perhaps. I think Joelle’s recommendation to partner it with cheese is a very good one, though a perfect match might also be found with a Poulet de Bresse (maybe herbs and lemon, and roast potatoes). £69.


Grain Noble 2016 Marie-Thérèse is best known for her sweet wines, though I refuse to accept that the best of the dry reds and (especially) whites are any less good. The grape here is 100% Petite Arvine. I think the grape is one of the great underrated varieties for sweet wine in the world, and this is a world class wine. The old vines yield tiny quantities of grapes, which are picked berry by berry, with some botrytis. Spontaneous fermentation takes place, after which it is aged in old oak for 24-to-30 months.

The fruit is exotic, complex and complicated (you really don’t want a list of everything that’s in here). What’s more important is the minerality, and the fact that I’ve never come across this degree of freshness in a Swiss sweet wine before. Added to the fruit, it’s explosive, but not “shouty”. 12% abv means it’s neither light nor heavy but a wine with heavenly balance. But before you get too excited, you only get 500 ml for your £75.


Don’t despair though. The Dôle I tasted earlier, and her Fendant President Triollet (which is my sole representative) both sit just either side of £30, and are both very good wines, if lacking the ability to quite scale the heights of the top wines. These wines are exported in tiny quantity, a bit like the low yields of the Petite Arvine above. Alpine Wines has recently taken a delivery and their web site, at the time of writing, lists eleven Chappaz wines. You may even be too late if the Michelin-starred boys have pounced, but do check out their wider Swiss range. They don’t give me anything for my kind words, of course, but my passion for some of these wines makes me continue to plug them vociferously.

Part 2 will follow later this week, with more Esoterica, the “Unearthed” Rhône estate I promised, and the Nyetimber Bus. You have to visit the Nyetimber bus at London Wine Fair (and I’ll tell you, everyone does!).



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Taste Canada 2019

Taste Canada is now an annual event put on by the Canadian High Commission in London to showcase, in 2019, two-hundred wines from British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia. Forty producers were present, so the seven profiled here provide a mere snapshot of the event. But I hope that this short article does manage to convey some of the excitement being generated by Canada’s various wine regions and styles.

I began my coverage of this event with a profile of the producer I personally find the most exciting and innovative in the country, Okanagan Crush Pad. You can read about them here. Although my coverage of Taste Canada may be shorter than last year (fifteen producers in 2018 with some overlap, but take a look here if you are interested), there’s plenty to enjoy.


These are some of the most renowned vineyards and wines in Southern Ontario. Norman Hardie is based in Wellington, with vines in both Prince Edward County and Niagara. The terroir here is principally limestone, which is especially good for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Hardie specialises in these varieties, but he also makes damned good Cabernet Franc as well. Canadian Cabernet Franc first came to my attention from the Okanagan Valley (BC), but Ontario seems to be able to make something special out of the variety, at least if this and the next producer are anything to go by.

The climate in Southern Ontario is usually described as “cool”. Come on folks, -30 Degrees Centigrade in winter in Prince Edward County isn’t cool, it’s remarkably cold. After all, in Vermont to the east they are using hybrids (see La Garagista in my recent coverage of Real Wine Fair 2019 on this site). The reason that vitis vinifera vines can thrive in Southern Ontario is in part down to climate change, but also because they often utilise the technique of burying the vines in winter in Prince Edward.

Niagara is by far the most important region for vines in Ontario, with more than 80% of that province’s vineyards. Niagara is cooler in spring and warmer at the end of the growing season, due to the effect of the Great Lakes, especially Lake Ontario. Budbreak is later and ripening can take longer. The water does help to modify winter temperatures too, and cooling breezes off the lake help stop temperatures rising too much in summer. Without this great body of water there would be no wine. With it, a lot is possible, as the ever improving wines show.

Chardonnay 2016, Niagara Peninsula VQA The vines here grow on dolomitic limestone . Ageing is just ten months in oak and only a little sulphur is added at bottling, without filtration. Norman is no young hipster, but his methods are based on minimal intervention. The nose is fresh, and suggests a lighter wine than that which creeps up on the palate (it has just 12.6% abv though). It’s perfectly balanced, and a genuinely lovely Chardonnay to start with.

County Chardonnay 2016, Prince Edward County VQA This is a different wine to the Niagara, and I think they key is the cooler Prince Edward climate discussed above. The palate has a slightly leaner edge, although the alcohol here is up a touch at 12.8%. Both of these wines are nice but different expressions of individual limestone terroirs.

Cuvée Des Amis 2015, Prince Edward County VQA This Chardonnay comes off five Prince Edward County sites all within a kilometre or two of the winery. In 2015 devastating frosts meant that the crop was tiny and so the sites were blended. The grapes were pressed gently into horizontal stainless steel fermenters, and then the juice was moved into 500-litre oak (25% new then an equal split of 2nd, 3rd and 4th-year fills) to complete fermentation. It was then aged on lees in oak for 12 months, then stainless steel, still on lees, for ten more. Bottling saw a minimal dose of sulphur. It’s nicely rounded out in the glass with a bouquet of citrus and bready notes, the palate being saline and a little savoury, with citrus peel acidity. The bottle says 11.9%.

Pinot Noir 2016, Niagara Peninsula VQA This is off four Niagara sites, the grapes being given a cold soak for a week with two daily punchdowns. They use a small basket press for the Pinot, after which the fermented juice goes into traditional 228-litre French oak for nine months. The result is bright and pale. You get red fruits and cherry, plus dusty tannins and a crunchy acidity which makes it crisp and savoury, but the ripe cherry fruit gives it just a bit of beefiness. There’s a mere 11.4% abv.

County Pinot Noir 2016, Prince Edward County VQA It seems that 2016 was a hot and dry year in Ontario, but the alcohol levels of these wines are low. Despite that, they all have a real presence, and this is no more so than with this wine. It saw 25 days on skins, the first seven as a pre-fermentation cold soak. It went through the small basket press and then into the same oak regime for, in this case, ten months. The rocky limestone soils create a wine of elegance, but the nose seems a little deeper than the Niagara Pinot. It has a little more weight in the mouth too, more of the ripe cherry notes. It’s also a bit more velvety too. Suave, in a good way.

County Cabernet Franc 2016, Prince Edward County VQA I suppose, to the degree that I knew Norman’s wines, I’d kind of seen him as a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay specialist, but that’s not all he makes by any means. In fact I’d love to try his Zweigelt. But he also makes several Cabernet Francs (including a cuvée with no added sulphur). This County Cabernet Franc comes from a good year, thankfully, following a difficult one, as late frost killed off 85% of the crop in 2015 (see Cuvée Des Amis, above).

Ageing is in oak again, 25% new after a reasonably long time on skins (22 days). The overall impression, a very positive one, is of a wine with freshness and bite. The bouquet gives nice red fruits and a little pepper, with a palate at this stage showing grainy tannins, bright acidity and balanced, rich, red fruits. It’s a very impressive wine, one of my top four on the Cabernet Franc Focus Table, and one that will age in the medium term, despite its obvious approachability. It wouldn’t be a disaster if you opened this for Sunday lunch next week, but I’m sure holding off will bring rewards.


François Morissette studied at Dijon and worked with Frédéric Mugnier, Christian Gouges and Jean-Marc Roulot, but this is as far removed from a copycat Burgundy operation as you could imagine. These are very much Niagara terroir wines, in terms of varietal selections. They are also wines of low intervention and very low sulphur. Production is small, with each wine being made in quantities between 500 to 2,000 cases. Their base is around Jordan on the edge of the Niagara Escarpment, and close to Twenty Mile Creek, which hits Lake Ontario at Jordan Harbour.

Irrévérence 2017, Niagara Peninsula VQA Riesling (64%), with Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer. The Gewurz was fermented on skins in qvevri (6 months),  the Riesling in innox, and the Chardonnay in concrete and then into foudre for six months. The result is a very aromatic but textured wine with a very beautiful bouquet (I’m tempted to use that word “shimmering” again), fruity and floral. The palate is a mirage of different elements which seem to interweave into a fairly complex yet gastronomic whole.

Metis Blanc 2017, Niagara Peninsula 100% Chardonnay from young vines of which some of the fruit goes into concrete and the rest into old Alsace foudres. After fermentation the two elements are blended for ageing. On top of the profile you find white flowers and on the bottom, a little buttery mouthfeel. It’s a fresh wine, but with a degree of depth.

Metis Rouge 2017, Niagara Peninsula is a blend of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Gamay. This is a lovely, pure tasting, blend, quite zippy on the acidity front, yet with plush fruit filling it out. It also has a smidgeon of that Niagara crunch. Very nice.

Cuvée Dix-Neuvième 2013, Twenty Mile Bench VQA This increasingly well regarded viticultural zone, one of twelve now designated in Niagara, runs west to east, parallel to the lake and just south of Jordan, and in the middle of the Niagara Escarpment. The soils are a mix of sand and glacial deposits, and the area is cut by streams. So whilst the escarpment protects the vines from cold south-westerly winds, there are multiple different hillside exposures for the vines.

This cuvée is the estate’s Chardonnay, from older vines. It is a nice pale gold with green glints, round and smooth, with depth of fruit but also citrus acidity. The back palate shows a little bit of texture, and that helps the flavours linger in the mouth. The alcohol here is 13.5%, half a percent more than the young vine Chardonnay.

Cuvée Black Ball 2013, Twenty Mile Bench This wine did pass the “VQA exam” in 2013, but not in 2014, I believe, the problem being the usual shortsighted, or petty minded, “lack of typicity”. It’s a skin contact Riesling which is both fermented in 60-year-old foudres from Alsace, and then aged on lees in the same vessels. It has zesty high notes of lime and white flowers and a mere hint of petrol on the nose. It’s clean and dry, with a sour note on the very finish, and it’s bottled without the addition of any sulphur, but as protection it is bottled under a little pressure, creating some dissolved CO2. I can just imagine the VQA judges…”ooh err missus”!

Cuvée Madeline 2013, Twenty Mile Bench A Varietal Cabernet Franc from a coolish, classic, vintage on the Bench. Despite the conditions in 2013 it has no greenness at all, though it does seem to have what I’d like to call a glorious restraint. Cuvée Madeline 2012 is a little darker, has just over one percent more alcohol (13.6%) and a bigger nose, more violet than 2012’s red fruits. It’s super plush, but still grippy and tannic. This vintage was warmer, of course. Both of these wines were among my favourites of the Canadian Cabernet Francs on show. The 2013 has a restrained intensity, whilst the 2012 seems to have an effortless elegance. I think I’d choose the 2012 if pushed, but there’s a £10 price difference (it appears), and not in my favour.


Peter Gamble poured the wines last year, a well know viticultural consultant and one of the key players behind Nova Scotia wine. This year the wines were poured by Rachel Lightfoot. We first explored three of their several sparkling wines, and then three still wines (two Chardonnay and one Pinot Noir) from the Ancienne label. Lightfoot is the family and Wolfville is the town near which (along with Avonport) the family’s 35 acres of vines are situated. The viticultural climate here is assisted by the Minas Basin, which ameliorates the temperatures. The vines are all grown biodynamically on glacial till and sandy loam, in places over water retaining clay.

The sparkling wines come as a Brut Nature with zero dosage, a late disgorged Blanc de Blancs, and a straight Brut. Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature 2012 is 100% Chardonnay fermented in wood, where it underwent partial malolactic before resting on lees for five years before disgorging in January 2018. You get mouthfilling frothy freshness with notable lees development and a filigree spine of acidity. Of course, it finishes nice and dry, with salinity. Sadly they only made 130 cases.

Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut Late Disgorged 2013 had only four years on lees with, again, the base wine (Chardonnay) initially kept in oak. This was dosed at a low 3.5g, so it has a little bit more plumpness and gras, but not too much. It does, however, retain the refreshing quality of the first wine.

Blanc de Blancs Brut 2014 also saw four years on lees, and again is 100% Chardonnay, although they now have some Pinot Noir and Meunier planted for sparkling wines which came on-stream in 2014. It’s pale and quite restrained. It tastes more youthful and the acidity is fresh here. There’s less bottle development, but at this stage the cuvée is amazingly bright. There’s definitely some salinity, again. I would suggest this needs a year or four in bottle to develop.

Nova Scotia, and Annapolis Valley in particular, is tipped as an exciting new source for sparkling wines. Lightfoot & Wolfville is definitely proving that to be true. They don’t currently have UK distribution, and the wines are not going to reel customers in by price, but these are nevertheless lovely sparkling wines which deserve a wider audience. Benjamin Bridge is another Nova Scotia producer who, although not featured here, makes very good Méthode Classique sparkling wines (often claimed to be the best in the province) in the Gaspereau Valley, south of Annapolis. A region to seek out.

Ancienne Chardonnay 2015 and 2016 show another potential winner for the Province. The Chardonnay here comes from the Home Vineyard at Wolfville, off well drained soils with the temperature ameliorated by on-shore breezes. The 2015 was barrel fermented in French oak (20% new) and underwent full malolactic. There is good concentration from low yielding vines, and although the oak is only 20% new (80% “neutral”), there is a bit of vanilla in there. There’s also what I call nice line and length.

2016 was also aged in French barriques (same proportion new). It is less developed and more chewy now, with a recommended drinking window of 2020 to 2023. We are probably looking at £26-to-£30 retail for these, if someone takes the plunge to bring them in. A fair price I think for the quality.

Ancienne Pinot Noir 2016 This is the product of low yielding vines in a good, dry, vintage, the dryest that the Lightfoot family has known at Avonport, where their Oak Island Vineyard, from which this cuvée is sourced, is located. The style is lighter, with the wine a pale and vibrant cherry red. The fruit smells like high-toned cherry bonbon with a floral note wafting through on one of those offshore breezes (it really soars). There is the kind of acidity which is well balanced with the fruit, making for a lovely Pinot in the lighter style. Very nice.


This project goes right back to 1988, when Bordeaux (Groupe Taillan) and Canada (Constellation) formed a joint project to make a brave new red wine at Osoyoos, in the South of the Okanagan Valley. They were pioneers in quality viticulture at the time. The vines make use of the flat mountain benches again. The rainfall here is low, and freezing winter temperatures are offset by the warmth generated by Lake Osoyoos.

The first release of a Bordeaux blend, using all five classic Bordeaux varieties, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec, was in 2001. The wine won immediate acclaim and fourteen vintages later the Grand Vin has established itself as, perhaps, a Canadian icon. The winemaker is Catherine Schaller, who has previously worked in Southwest France with a spell in Chile, before arriving in 2017. The previous winemaker, Matthieu Mercier, who of course made the wines on show, still works for the company in Europe, and he was the man pouring the wines to taste.

Pétales 2015 is a Merlot-dominant Bordeaux blend with high toned, stylish, smoky fruit with a bit of grip. It’s a nice approachable wine, which is exactly what is intended. Recommended drinking is within three years of vintage. If anything, I think consumers would only note that it is fairly expensive, at perhaps £25.

Osoyoos Larose 2015 This was a warm vintage here and the Merlot-dominant blend (71% with both Cabernets forming 20% between them and Petit Verdot and Malbec making up the last 9% of the blend) is pretty ripe. The aromatics are nice, and indeed classic for the varieties. You get dark fruits and a fresh graphite note on the nose. The wine was aged in French oak, a significant 60% new and 40% second fill. Alcohol levels seem high, and 2015 reaches 14%. But with Okanagan freshness, in this case it doesn’t show. The tannin is to the fore, but that’s expected.

Osoyoos Larose 2008 Here we were given an opportunity to try a more mature wine. In fact, with a recommendation to cellar these for 8-to-10 years, this should be peaking. The varietal proportions in the blend were a little different in 2008, Merlot only comprising 60%. Cabernet Franc jumps to 25% on its own, whilst the remaining three varieties split the remainder in proportions too small to worry about the detail. There’s still plenty of fruit left in this vintage, but there are certainly more tertiary elements, which for me comprised hints of leather and coffee. It’s certainly getting more complex.

The Grand Vin is very much in the Bordeaux mould. Some might say that the resemblance is too close to make this something different to that French region. But the famous Okanagan freshness does make it stand apart. If my sheet is right, the 2008 contains 14.9% alcohol. That’s quite a lot, and I wouldn’t want to consume a bottle all to myself. But sipping a small sample, you would not say that the alcohol truly dominates, probably because of that fruit and freshness combination. The Grand Vin is indeed a Canadian classic.



Inniskillin actually has an estate in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, but here we will just look at some of the Icewines made in Niagara. Based off the main highway between St-Catharines and Niagara-on-the-Lake, in the sub-region of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Inniskillin claims to be Canada’s “first estate winery”. They have certainly been making wine here for 35 years. It is fair to say that this may be the Canadian wine estate best known in the UK, and it is via their Icewines, which have garnered top medals almost continuously in international competitions since the 1990s. It is also probably arguable that no single wine producer has done more to put Canada on the map. That wine map is changing, as we have seen already in this article. But Icewine is still a very important flagship for the country. It’s a completely different kettle of fish to German Eiswein, but the WSET lecture ends here…

All four wines below are VQA Niagara Peninsula.

Sparkling Vidal Icewine 2017 Vidal is a hybrid variety, a cross between the vinifera Ugni Blanc and another hybrid called Rayon d’Or, more commonly in Europe called Seibel 4986. It is a thick skinned, winter hardy, variety, so suitable for the Niagara climate, especially forty years ago. It was the original Icewine variety to find favour on export markets.

Sparkling Icewine, like the sparkling sake I drank a couple of nights ago, is the kind of drink you might rarely buy, but when you try it you like it and wonder why maybe you don’t own a bottle at least.

This is made by the Charmat method, about which we can be quite rude here in Europe, effectively fermentation in a closed tank rather than on lees in bottle. The wine is quite golden in colour, richly sweet (tropical fruits, honey) but the sweetness is diminished on the palate by the acidity. The bubbles accentuate this perception. So it’s sweet and refreshing with a little intensity. It’s not really meant for laying down, and it would be quite a versatile wild card with food: appetizers, Asian-style fish and seafood, cheeses and desserts. It might come as a bit of a shock if you wheel it out in the aperitif slot.

Riesling Icewine 2017 I can give you an idea of how Icewine is made by noting that the harvest of frozen berries for this wine took place on 5 January 2018, when temperatures in the vineyard had dropped to -10C. Pressing takes place swiftly, fermentation lasting 18 days. You obtain a wine in this case with 246 g/l of residual sugar balanced by 12.74 g/l of total acidity and 9.5% alcohol. Without the acidity the wine would undoubtedly taste cloying, but it retains freshness. Fruit flavours cover several spectra, as in tropical, stone fruits and rich honeyed elements. The acidity comes across as fresh lime and lime zest.

Gold Vidal Icewine 2017 The Vidal Icewines don’t have quite the class of the Riesling (for me), which does suggest that varietal character is not at all subsumed by the style. But Vidal is successful in some ways because of the relative simplicity it can bring to the table. This wine has 250 g/l of residual sugar, yet it tastes really quite refreshing, and actually might appeal more to anyone who doesn’t know the style.

Cabernet Franc Icewine 2017 So this is my favourite, obviously because I like the obscure, and I’m difficult. But to be fair, it will cost $100 Canadian for a half-bottle (though it also comes as 200ml and 50ml), so it is priced as the best. I’d be more than tempted to grab the small size for $15-or-so if I saw one in a wine store.

The colour is bright bronze-pink, it has lovely thick legs, and smells like a sweet red should. I get cherry brandy/kirsch and sweet strawberry fruit, but it is still only 9.5% abv. The profile is little different to the other wines, with 245 g/l residual sugar and just over 10 g/l of total acidity. Traditionally we are told to pair this with chocolate desserts, the obvious choice, but I’m sure that red fruit desserts and tarts would go just as well. It is the one Icewine from Inniskillin that I might be inclined to age, were it not likely I’d drink it pretty soon after purchase.

Inniskillin is imported by Liberty Wines.


Andrew Peller came from Hungary in the 1920s, establishing his first winery in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. The company, now run since 1989 by third generation grandson, John Peller (with the fourth generation in place to succeed him), has vineyards all over the country. The Niagara operation is becoming one of the foremost names for signature Canadian Icewines, not just in Canada, but now on international markets.

John Peller’s wines are rapidly gaining a reputation alongside Inniskillin, as evidenced by the large number of awards his wines won at the International Wine Challenge 2019. The winery, with its attached restaurant, large tasting and events programmes, all make a big contribution to Niagara wine tourism, education being very much part and parcel of the Peller philosophy, as well as promoting Icewine as a treasure of Ontario. They are based at Niagara-on-the-Lake, right opposite Youngstown and the US Border.

Once more, all the wines are labelled VQA Niagara Peninsula.

Ice Cuvée Sparkling Wine NV is a blend of Chardonnay (70%) and Pinot Noir (30%) with the dosage for the second fermentation provided by the juice of their Vidal Icewine. If there is any complexity it is perhaps in the shadow of the wine’s intensity with regard to sweetness and acidity, but the key here is to experience the wine young and fresh, I think.

Ice Cuvée Rosé Sparkling Wine NV is remarkably pale and is redolent of fresh orchard fruits and red fruits. As you may have guessed from the description of the white sparkling icewine, Peller uses the traditional “bottle fermentation” method for these icewines. The main ingredient in the blend is Pinot Noir (70%), with Chardonnay (26%) and a little Gamay. You might see that there’s some Cabernet Franc in here as well, depending on who you read.

The wine tastes more “off-dry” than actually sweet, at least initially, because of the very fresh acidity. The fruits, largely strawberry, raspberry and cherry, are lifted and light. You notice the sweetness as the wine lingers in your mouth, with, oddly, definite hints of ripe peach (my notes say emphatically). I reckon it would be quite versatile with food.

Riesling Icewine 2017 is the first of the still wines. There’s less of the overt freshness of the sparkling wines, but perhaps more depth. There’s certainly less acidity than a traditional German Eiswein would give you, and I’d argue less ageability. In truth that probably makes it more appealing to all but the real aficionado of wines made from frozen berries. These wines do give a wide array of flavours, but for me orange and lemon stand out. As well as the usual pairing recommendations (Cheddar and blue cheeses, fruit desserts) Peller recommends using it as a mixer in an Icewine Martini, which I think would be interesting (but for their misguided suggestion of vodka instead of gin, of course).

Vidal Icewine 2017 This has a different fruit profile, of tropical fruits, peach and lemon. It tastes more simple, as was the case at Inniskillin with their Vidal, but there is that concentration. It’s hard to think of anything more user-friendly if you want a sweet wine. The alcohol here is 11% (remember Inniskillin’s had 9.5%), so what you lose in a certain delicacy you gain with just a touch more weight.

Cabernet Franc Icewine 2016 The colour here is more full-on bronze and this is the biggest of all the icewines tasted. In fact it comes in at 11.5%, which may be at least partly why. It’s interesting that this is a 2016 because it does appear to have developed some tertiary notes. I’d describe them as caramel-like, but it’s only a hint which you pick up after the red fruits. It seems to accentuate the sweetness (I don’t have an analysis of the sugar/acidity balance for these wines as the Peller web site doesn’t provide more technical details).

This is a newer name to try in the UK for Canadian Icewine, imported by Enotria & Coe.


Rebel Pi is a private label, founded last year by an incredibly successful businesswoman and entrepreneur, Janet Fast, who came to London from Canada as a backpacker in the early 2000s and created a multi-million pound sponsorship company. After selling that company, she was also, incidentally, a contestant on the BBC TV Show, The Apprentice in 2018, where she made it to week nine before being fired by Lord Sugar.

Janet’s Icewine label currently has just a single product, a Roussanne Icewine 2016. It is the only Icewine in the world made from the Roussanne grape variety. That in part was what drew me to taste it, but the marketing is professional and slick (the label is by British graffiti artist Jimi Crayon) so you do take notice…it stands out in a room. Of course all that would mean nothing to readers of this article were it not any good.

Janet is also pushing the recent trend for using Icewine as a cocktail base, as I mentioned in the Peller entry above. There’s no doubt this is a good idea, though a pretty expensive one. Canada exports less than 300,000 litres of Icewine per year, a tiny fraction of that exported by other major sweet wine appellations. Without knowing the production figures for Rebel Pi, I’m guessing its a tiny proportion of that. As you will understand very soon, this wine is not aimed at mass consumption.

Rebel Pi is actually made by Pentâge Winery based in the Okanagan Valley, with vines overlooking the small Skaha Lake, south of Penticton, planted in what was previously an abandoned orchard. The winery is certainly boutique, producing around 5,000 cases per vintage and specialising in Icewine, and in more unusual Icewine varieties. I first discovered Pentâge Icewine when my wife brought back a bottle from a work trip to Vancouver ten years ago, a blend of Viognier, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat and Chardonnay (and no Vidal in sight).

Rebel Pi is indeed quite unique among the Icewines I have tasted. Roussanne is a fairly unique variety anyway. There’s tropical fruit flavours here, with lemon and orange as the luscious primary fruit, then something akin to sweet caramel, which blends into savouriness, a characteristic I’m not sure I’ve really come across in Icewine made from white grapes before. It’s certainly sweet initially, and very long on the palate, its 11% alcohol giving it a similar weight to the Peller Vidal, but with enough acidity to balance it out. It’s unquestionably very attractive. If the retail price of £139 for a half-bottle doesn’t put you off, you should be able to find it in some fairly salubrious retail outlets in London (try Handford Wines in South Kensington).

Rebel Pi won a Silver Medal (92 Points) at the International Wine Challenge 2019. Actually, I think it deserved Gold, but I’m not a judge there. Roger Jones was one of the judges who tasted it, and as a result, presumably, I understand he has it on his list at The Harrow, Little Bedwin. I’d love to tell you what he charges but my computer won’t allow me onto The Harrow’s web site. It must know. I probably won’t stretch to a bottle. I mean, that’s a litre and a half of Stéphane Tissot’s Tour de Curon I’d be foregoing. However, I’m very glad I tasted it, and I hope Janet makes a great success of the wine. Maybe it’s my age, but it does seem a shame to waste it in a cocktail

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Canada Crush

The Canada House “Taste Canada” event took place this year on 16th May. It was my second year at the tasting. In 2018 I was frankly blown away by some of the wines. The 2019 event was, if anything, even better. It is taking a relatively long time for my peers to cotton on to just what an impact Canada should be making as a wine producing country. Most people probably think about Icewine when they think about Canada, and Icewine still continues to interest people, and of course win medals internationally, doing much to raise Canada’s wine profile. But alongside increasingly good dry white wines it is surely the reds which are truly exciting.

In my next article I shall cover a range of producers, from British Columbia to Ontario and even one from Nova Scotia. But in this article I am going to focus on just one operation, Okanagan Crush Pad Winery. This British Columbia producer, which began as a custom crush facility but soon morphed into something much more, has been the source of my favourite Canadian wines ever since I tasted with co-founder Christine Coletta. It was a few bottles on an upturned barrel at Winemakers Club several years ago now, wines which at the time made me sit up and take notice.

Since then the Crush Pad has gone from strength to strength. Today they are certainly seen as one of the leading wineries in the valley, but without doubt I think they are the Okanagan Valley’s greatest innovator. I tasted eight of their wines at Canada House, but although I have written about Okanagan Crush Pad before, I shall begin with a bit of the back story.

Christine came to wine in the Vancouver restaurant industry, before graduating to head-up, as executive director, both the BC Wine Institute and Wines of Canada. With her husband, Steve Lornie, they built a winery on their Switchback Vineyard in Summerland in 2011. The winery has a 40,000 case capacity and even now, there are many wine producers in Okanagan who don’t have their own winemaking facility, for whom the crush pad model works well. They are based right in the middle of this beautiful 120 mile long valley which reaches from the US Border near Osoyoos (east of Vancouver) to Lake Country in the north. It’s a classic cool climate region for vines, which are established mainly on the benches which overlook the valley’s many lakes. The geology is varied, with glacial deposits and river silts on the valley floor.


Christine Coletta

The south of the region contains Canada’s only dessert, but by the time we reach Summerland temperatures are usually not more than 35 Degrees in summer, and annual rainfall across the valley is around 8 to 16 inches, June being the wettest month. The revelation with Okanagan wines in general is their freshness. It’s a word bandied around a lot, especially by me because it’s a trait I love in wine. But people tasting Okanagan for the first time always remark on that freshness.

The team at OCP is made up of chief winemaker Matt Dumayne, an Aucklander who has also worked in Margaret River, Australia and Napa Valley. He is ably assisted by two rather famous names, consultant Alberto Antonini and renowned viticultural guru Pedro Para, who Christine told me once could always be relied on to look at a terroir and recommend exactly the right grape variety to thrive there.

Winemaking is what one might call “natural”, or additive free. The whole OCP philosophy runs from creating biodiversity out in the vineyards which they own or manage, to a continuous search for improvement in the winery. This has led to much experimentation, and techniques like skin contact, along with the use of amphorae and concrete tanks are the norm, not the exception.

The range is split broadly into three: Haywire, Narrative and Free Form, labels which aim to present different aspects of the purity of the valley’s cool climate from a range of individual terroirs. People often describe these wines as “game changing” in the Okanagan context. They all share the trait of purity. The eight wines below provide a snapshot of what I think is almost certainly the most exciting range of wines from any single Canadian producer today. You can find more expensive Canadian wines, more established ones, certainly ones with a more inflated reputation on the international stage, but Crush Pad bottles speak gently of a thrilling new place in the world of wine.

Haywire Vintage Bub 2013 Sealed with a crown cap and at just 11% abv, this blend of equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay was first bottled in January 2014 and spent 52 months on lees. It’s effectively a Brut Nature, with zero dosage. This lees aged wine has already gained some autolytic character and development, building the kind of complexity you don’t usually see under crown cap. There is a nuttiness which is overlain with crisp apple zip. An impressive wine which you probably can’t believe can be had for less than thirty quid.


Haywire Secrest Mountain Chardonnay 2017 is an interesting example of what the future may hold for white wine more widely in the Okanagan Valley VQA. As implied, the grapes are grown at a reasonable altitude for the valley, here at just under 500 metres on a flat mountain bench of alluvial deposits. The berries are whole bunch pressed into concrete egg fermenters, after which the juice goes through its malolactic. The wine is surprisingly rich, and even a little buttery, but it has a bright purity which is assisted by very nice acid balance, giving a tiny bit of crispness too. Alcohol seems well balanced at 13%. A very impressive Chardonnay.

Free Form Vin Gris 2017 is 100% Pinot Noir from the Heckman Family Vineyard at Summerland. The grapes were harvested quite late, at the end of October, and again saw whole bunches pressed into (this time) large concrete. The wine is certainly fruit forward, a mix of tropical and floral elements (not very Pinot Noir, I know) all driven along by great acidity. It’s not an especially complex wine, yet it does have an extra element: texture. This comes from the concrete fermentation. Not a lot of texture, but enough to add interest. It certainly is an interesting wine.

Haywire Gamay Rosé 2018 OCP makes lovely Gamay, the red kind, and this pink version is an extension of that wine. This is made with fruit from near the town of Oliver, further south in the valley. Although it’s warmer down there, we are still looking at fruit grown on another mountain bench at 500 metres above sea level. So the wine, which sees a mix of concrete and stainless steel for its vinification, is basically delicious fruit juice. You get zippy, concentrated fruit and mouth licking acidity. Here comes the summer.


Haywire Pinot Noir 2017 This originates from the same Secrest vineyard as the Chardonnay, farmed by Duncan Billing, although Christine and Steve now own the property. So it is high altitude Pinot. As well as the alluvial deposits with sand and loam, there’s also limestone up here, which I’m sure enhances some of the wine’s flavour elements described below. The vinification is interesting. After destemming, some grapes (with skins) went into two small clay amphora where they spent nine months macerating. The rest went into two large Nico Velo concrete tanks. After those nine months all the juice was blended together prior to bottling.

The wine is all about concentrated cherry, both on the nose and on the palate. It has a real brightness, but also spice elements. And, of course, a lovely graininess, a blend of dusty tannins and skin contact texture.


Haywire Secrest Mountain Gamay 2017 The grapes here were partly destemmed and partly whole bunch fermented in both open top and closed concrete fermenters. Ageing was carried out in larger concrete tanks for around eight months before bottling. The profile is quite different to a lot of French Gamay, and quite a surprise when you first try it, but Gamay has become one of my favourite of Matt’s wines. It has more lifted red fruits rather than cherry, but there’s an additional dimension added by what might be chocolate, mocha or even coffee. Unlike many Gamays, you get a lick of grippy tannin too. It’s a lovely wine which to me speaks of a different terroir.

There was a focus this year on Cabernet Franc at Taste Canada. I was thrilled about this because Canada is really establishing itself as a source of amazingly fresh but ripe Cabernet Franc. Okanagan Crush Pad make two and they were both on my list of the best from a Cabernet Franc tasting table set up outside the main hall.

Narrative Cabernet Franc 2016 This comes from another pair of vineyards down south at Oliver, on Black Sage Bench and Golden Mile Bench. The simple vinification and ageing for nine months took place in concrete tank. There’s abundant ripe red fruits on the nose, and real elegance on the palate, which finishes with a solid grip. It comes from the 2016 vintage, but will probably enjoy a little more time in bottle.


Free Form Cabernet Franc 2017 is quite different. The destemmed grapes were split between two amphorae and three large wooden fermenters. A slow fermentation didn’t finish until spring 2018, and the wine had seen eight months skin contact by the time the juice was pressed in June. It went into large concrete to settle and was bottled in mid-August 2018. The fruit here is darker, more black fruits complemented with spice notes, coffee and herbs. The finish has the characteristic slightly bitter, savoury or bramble note that fine Cabernet Franc can often have when young. It’s a wine with structure to age, and is a little bit more expensive than the Narrative version.

Okanagan Crush Pad wines are imported into the UK by Red Squirrel.


Large concrete tanks at Okanagan Crush Pad (photo credit and © okcrushpad)

Posted in Artisan Wines, Canadian Wine, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Real Wine Fair 2019, Part 3

This will be the final part of my Real Wine Fair 2019 coverage. Here we have a few North American producers of the highest order, a couple of very fine Friulians, and an inspirational trio of Sicilians, nine producers in all. If you have not yet looked at my previous two articles you will find Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

Before hitting the last nine winemakers I would like to make one observation. As I reflect on Real Wine 2019 I realise just what a wonderful event it is and has become, and how much we all missed it last year. And of course it’s not just two days. We are in Real Wine Month, and events are still going on all over the UK. One very famous and senior wine writer commented on the sheer joy of the event, and most of the producers did seem to be enjoying themselves as much as the visitors. I was tasting some of the most exciting wines available in the UK. Not the poshest, not the most expensive, but absolutely the most exciting.

La Garagista Farm (Vermont, USA)

Talking of excitement, Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber must surely run one of the most exciting wineries on the planet, and the beautiful thing is that you can laugh in the face of those of a more conservative bent as you enjoy their wines all made from North American hybrid vines. If Real Wine is about exciting wines, and wines of purity, then there are none more so than those created by Deirdre and Caleb.

La Garagista Farm is located on Mount Hunger, in Barnard, Vermont. It’s a mixed farm. The aim is to look after the land so it looks after them and the community. They use permaculture, organics and biodynamics to achieve this, but Vermont, with its cold winters, is not the easiest place to grow vines. This is why they have nurtured the local hybrids developed at the University of Minnesota. Most of the winemaking is carried out in open-top fibreglass vats, and most varieties undergo some kind of skin contact.

Grace and Favour 2017 This is a petnat which I’ve written about before, but briefly, the name comes by way of the grape variety’s history – La Crescent is descended from the large Muscat d’Ambourg vine at Hampton Court, Henry VIII’s palace outside London, where apartments were given to Royal favourites and Ladies in Waiting as “Grace and Favour”, a tradition which still continues today.

The wine is so bright and fresh, like well chilled sparkling mineral water, though the bouquet is sweet fruited. The acidity is breathtaking, yet the wine is in perfect balance. It’s actually one of the finest (in more than one sense) petnats you can buy…if available. I’m not sure why but the 2018s, which we were meant to taste at the Fair, were stuck in customs. so hopefully they will be with Les Caves de Pyrene soon.

Ci Confonde Rosé 2017 is a pink petnat. I say pink, but the colour is more of a beautiful bronze. The variety is Frontignac Gris and it smells like a dry version of Irn Bru (I apologise to non-British readers who may not have the first idea what I’m talking about). It’s grown on clay with a lot of limestone and is quite ferrous, fizzy and fresh, which I guess is what you need from a petnat. 

Lupo in Boca Rosé 2017 is also from Frontignac Gris, exactly the same juice as Ci Confonde but a different vinification. Some grapes went in as whole clusters, some were destemmed and fermented on skins. The result is a wine with quite an ethereal bouquet, but also brooding. Alongside the fruit I detected the merest hint of caramel.

Loup d’Or 2016 Probably 90% of people at the Fair will never have tasted a wine made from Brianna before. I believe this wine is made in glass demijohn. You get fresh pear and more exotic fruits, and there’s a real Muscat quality (interesting because I read that Muscat and Grenache Blanc figure in Brianna’s past). All the above suggests richness, which there undoubtedly is, yet there’s also zippy acidity which helps the wine slip down (were I not spitting, of course). Its mere 12% alcohol helps.

Damjeanne 2016 Marquette is the hybrid vine base for this red wine. You can tell it’s a hybrid. I think that slightly foxy quality shows more in the reds than whites on my palate. But I love it. The fruit sits on two levels, enormous and concentrated cherry on the base, with fresher pomegranate sitting on top. It only reaches 12.5% abv, but that helps it to retain freshness. The wine has real presence.

Sadly there was no Stolen Roses Petnat Cider to taste, because cider is another speciality of the farm. La Garagista is an amazing project run by two great individuals, although many people, probably among those reading this, won’t thank me for making that more widely known.

Caleb with his wines whilst Deirdre was off tasting 

Kelley Fox Wines (Oregon, USA)

Kelley is totally focused. She strives for perfection in her wines, and despite strong competition I truly believe she is making some of the very finest Pinot Noir in North America, from her base in the Dundee Hills. Of course she has great vine material, particularly in two heritage sites, Maresh Vineyard in the Dundee Hills and Momtazi Vineyard at McMinnville. Viticulture and winemaking are biodynamic, and the vines are all dry-farmed, no irrigation. It may have been Doug Wregg who called these wines “silent living songs”. Such a beautiful, and apt, description.

Maresh Pinot Gris 2017 This wine, and the Pinot Blanc which follows, are not (in Kelley’s eyes) what she is really about. But I would argue, respectfully of course, that to a degree she’s wrong, because both are basically so damned good, and individual wines with real personalities. The bouquet on this PG is a little tropical and there’s an unusual buttery texture on the finish, but it is user friendly and, above all, joyful. Freedom Hill Pinot Blanc 2017 is just nicely fruity, but then a friend commented later how good Kelley’s Pinot Blanc was. It’s a wine that still gets noticed among the Pinots which follow.

Mirabei Pinot Noir 2017 is a barrel selection across all blocks. It strikes as pale and light but Kelley says it puts on weight as it ages, and like all of Kelley’s wines, it is a wine to keep. But with that delicate lightness of being, I thought it is actually delicious now. I shall try to keep mine, but it will be hard. It has such a lovely label too.

Hyland Pinot Noir 2017 is from a new vineyard. There’s high-toned cherry fruit on the nose and the palate has slightly sour cherry with a grippy, savoury/bitter finish (but sour fruit, not stems).

Momtazi Pinot Noir 2016 Has a slightly darker colour and is a bit more tannic right now. The vines are on hard bassalt, close to the ocean, and the structure here is perhaps to be expected. However, the wine still has an elegance and that quality of being light on its feet.

Maresh Pinot Noir 2017 There’s a step up in price here of more than 25% for the wine from this old vine (planted 1970) site on its own roots. It’s characteristically pale, almost transparent at the moment, assisted by the fact that 2017 in Kelley’s sites was a welcome cooler vintage. Serious strawberry fruit dominates, with spice towards the finish. It’s just so wonderfully elegant and, although very expensive in some ways, clearly great value for the quality this will show when mature (in ten or fifteen years, at a guess).


Ruth Lewandowski (California and Utah, USA)

Evan Lewandowski named his winery after his favourite book in the Bible, but his winemaking is, might I suggest, even more inspired. I believe his line of thought was about the acceptance of outsiders, but also very much the cycle of birth, life, death and redemption. These are completely natural wines, no additives. Evan has planted vines on Utah’s pebbly and rocky sandstone soils, convinced that great wines are possible. But whilst he awaits their maturity he is also able to truck from California to his Utah winery, to provide the materials for the label in the meantime.

Elimelech Riesling Cuvée Zero 2017 is packed with great fruit and freshness with a distinct savoury quality. The grapes are from Mendocino and there’s a lovely line of vibrant citrus through this, set off with herbal hints.

Naomi White Cuvée Zero 2017 is 11.5% Grenache Gris from Gibson Ranch in Mendocino’s McDowell Valley. It’s whole bunches into egg fermenters here. The wine is at first floral and then reminiscent of ripe peach on the nose, with stone fruit and a waxy texture on the palate. Exquisite.

Mahlon 2017 Lowell Stone planted a host of Italian varieties in California (near to Hopland, again in Mendocino, close to Russian River), and this Arneis comes from his family’s Fox Hill Vineyard. It has a lot in common with the Piemontese version. Fermentation was in what for shorthand we can call plastic eggs. It is very refreshing, just 12.7% abv. You get florality, spice and orchard fruits, a lightness but with real personality.

Chilion 2017 Cuvée Zero could be my favourite wine here. It’s also from Fox Hill, but Cortese here, the white grape of Southeastern Piemonte and Gavi. It is made in a mix of plastic egg and old barrique, skin contact lasting six months. It’s an amazing wine because there are so many levels to it. There’s the pear/apple/quince and stony mineral element, then the candied orange peel (the “orange wine” bit), and also a sort of creaminess too. Not sure where that comes from, though it does go through malolactic. The alcohol on the 2017 comes in at 13.1%.

All the Cuvée Zero wines signify nothing has been added. Other wines just have minimal sulphur.

Feints 2018 is a wine I’ve had a few times in earlier vintages. This is a blend of Arneis, Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo, all from Fox Hill once more. Is it really a “red”? Who cares. It’s very pale, the fruit has a ripe sweetness but the acidity is crisp. Chilled, this is a delicious vin de soif at just 12% alcohol. It’s so moreish you can drink it like fruit juice. If you love stuff like Claus’ Puszta Libre, or Jutta’s Rakete, try this.

Boaz Red Cuvée Zero 2016 Has a different feel altogether. There is about 80%+ Carignan here, with close to equal parts of Grenache, then Cabernet Sauvignon. Although the grapes are not Italian, the Testa Vineyard was planted by Italian immigrants Gaetano and Maria Testa in 1912, at Calpella (also on Mendocino’s Russian River, six miles north of Ukiah). This is a glass-stainer of a red, the fruit (from the very old vine Carignan) is concentrated and there’s tannin aplenty too. Evan suggests pairing it with either duck cassoulet or lamb tagine, both of which I agree with enthusiastically. Bring it on.

Martha Stoumen (California, USA)

Martha is a brilliant winemaker who leases vineyards in Northern California, liking to work alone creating biodiversity in the vines and natural wines of real beauty. I met Martha back in 2017, but she was not on her table when I went to taste the wines at Real Wine 2019.

All of Martha’s wines have a lightness to them, perhaps exemplified by the name of one of her cuvées: Varietally Incorrect Zinfandel. My favourite wine from her stable remains Post Flirtation Red, the 2016 vintage of which I managed to find several bottles from a couple of sources. The new 2017 vintage seems darker than the previous one. The blend is 55% Zinfandel and 45% Carignan, which I think was the other way around in 2016. It also has a little more grip than the 2016, but it does retain that wonderful lightness and smoothness of fruit, a wine that screams that it is alive through its vibrancy.


Dario Prinčič (Friuli, Italy)

Dario was strongly influenced by Stanko Radikon, who was one of the group who became close friends with, and were mentored by, Josko Gravner. It was Stanko who encouraged him to begin making macerated wines at the end of the 1990s. Dario is based in Oslavia, in the Gorizia Province of Friuli, close to the border with Slovenia, where he farms ten hectares of vines on steep hillsides. The soils here are the famous friable limestone marls with clay and sandstone. Fermentations are in a mixture of large oak and chestnut casks, with ageing (for up to two years) in a wide mixture of oak casks and barrels. Dario’s niece, Katia Ceolien, was there to take us through the wines.


Bianco Trebez 2014 blends Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc macerated for 15 days, with Pinot Gris which sees just five days on skins. The fermentation is then completed with all three varieties in large oak. The colour is golden, the wine rich and smooth, and slightly smoky.

Ribolla Gialla 2016 is the most macerated of the Prinčič cuvées, 35 days on skins. The variety’s skin is so thick that it requires this long. Nevertheless, the wine has bags of texture and structure, yet remains astonishingly fresh. The citrus acidity has real zest to it, and this lays over a palate of more exotic and tropical fruits. It has great length which really goes on forever.

Bianco Jakot 2016 is the thinly disguised “Tokay Friulano” variety which was forced to lose its “Tokay” part due to Hungarian lobbying in Brussels. The disguise is the only thing about this wine which is manipulated. With 22 days maceration, it has a deep golden colour and deeper, darker tones beneath a fresh exterior. In other words, it’s long and very complex, even though it’s still a baby. 2016 was a brilliant vintage here, and this exceptional wine has a great future.

Pinot Grigio 2016 is actually going to be released under the name Sivi. It’s Slovenian for “spicy”. The Italian wine authorities don’t like the idea of a wine like this going under the varietal name. It’s not remotely bland enough for them. It only sees eight days on skins, but the colour is still erring towards a pinkish mahogany on account of the colour pigment in the grapes. No temperature control is used so the temperature gets quite high in fermentation, and they prefer a fairly quick extraction. The wine itself is rather delicate in some respects, surprising as there is 14% alcohol here. Then, after a bit of time in the mouth, the structure and concentration kicks in. It’s unique.

Merlot 2007 is not a wine that is made every year at Prinčič. They only farm a little bit of Merlot, less than 10% of their production being red wine, but it does give them the opportunity to make a red (they also had some Cabernet Sauvignon for many years but they grubbed it up). The vintage reflects the fact that this had very long ageing, nine years, in French barrique (not new, but 3-year-old wood). There’s just so much depth to this wine. You can really tell it’s Merlot, young and fresh Merlot at that, remarkably, for a very nearly twelve year old wine. The acidity is plentiful, and it doesn’t taste low in alcohol either. But the bouquet does show a little maturity, and although there are ripe tannins, the palate shows velvet fruit, rather like a very fine Pomerol…though of course it is no copy. It’s a beautiful example of this particular Friulian terroir.


Zidarich (Friuli, Italy)

Benjamin Zidarich’s wines are emblematic of Carso. The village of Prepotto is in fact near the town of Duino Aurisina. We are on that strip of land south of Gorizia that leads down to the city of Trieste. The soils in the Zidarich vineyards are on limestone, but are in fact red and iron rich, the vines planted on terraces originally reclaimed from forest. The white grapes are mostly Vitovska and Malvasia, and the wines are made using skin contact. There is Teran planted too (aka Terrano, a red grape from the Refosco family). Most of the region is famous for its rough, hard, limestone, and Zidarich is one of several local domaines whose cellars have been excavated from the rock.


Limestone vat (photo credit © Zidarich). See the “Kamen” Cuvée, below

Carso Vitovska 2016 is a deep and savoury wine off the Karst (limestone) rock on that border near Trieste. Two weeks on skins in large wood to ferment, and then two years in bottle results in a wine with incredible umami flavours.

Malvasia 2016 is also from that same wonderful Carso vintage which has provided some of the best wines of the decade so far. The vinification is similar to the Vitovska but this is more pear-like with a strong mineral core. In fact it seems to get more mineral as you taste it, finishing textured and with a bitter twist.

Carso Teran-Terrano 2016 Terrano is from the Refosco family. It’s a deep purple red, a genuine Highway Star, with lifted bitter cherry on the nose. In this case we get a month on skins and two years in oak and the result is big and juicy.

Vitovska “Kamen” 2016 This is the wine vinified in the stone vat pictured above. After one month on skins in limestone the texture even comes through in the bouquet, which is almost brutal. But both on the nose and on the palate this is balanced by really amazing freshness and something akin to red iron, from the iron-rich soil on which the vines for this cuvée grow. Kamen is a unique, fine wine, and a singular expression of this amazing terroir.

Arianna Occhipinti (Sicily, Italy)

We move from Italy’s north to her extreme south, and to be precise, to Fossa di Lupo in Vittoria (Sicily), made famous by other members of the Occhipinti family. Arianna farms largely red varieties, Frappato and Nero d’Avola, but her ten hectares do include a single hectare of white Muscato (sic) and Albanello. These are terroir wines, the red sandy soils giving great freshness. Although the daytime temperature soars in summer, nights are cool, giving the diurnal variations needed to make elegant wines. I didn’t taste the “SP” wines this time, going straight for two reds before hitting the three Single Contrada wines, which I must say are stunning (if pricey).

Frappato 2016 is a blend of vineyards and it has that lightness and lovely ripe red fruit that we now come to expect from the variety. Imagine a cream scone with strawberry jam, except it’s dry, of course.

Il Siccagno 2016 is Nero d’Avola. It is in that fresher style I prefer, and only 12% abv. It’s a blend of fruit and without doubt one of the nicest varietal Nero d’Avola from Eastern Sicily.

Fossa di Lupo 2016 is the first of the Single Contrada, single varietal, Frappatos. These three wines are all new releases from the 2016 vintage, and so it was my first time tasting them. This wine comes from younger vines with an average age of around 15 years. The soils here are about 40 cm of sand over hard white limestone. You can see the step up in quality. The Frappato is still vibrant, obviously influenced by the limestone, but there’s more depth than the straight Frappato, in fact quite a bit more.

Bombolieri 2016 is totally different terroir. There is about 15 cm of white clay over white limestone, and the rock pushes up through the soil in some parts of the vineyard. The vines are a little older, averaging 25 years, and the main step change with this wine lies in fruit concentration.

Pettineo 2016 has the oldest vines of the three, 58-year-old bush vines. The layer of sand in this vineyard is down to around 7 cm, and the underlying rock is softer Tufa. The wine is maybe a little darker, with smooth fruit assisted by very ripe tannins.

Which was my favourite of the three? Very hard to say because they are all wonderful. Pettineo is stunning, perhaps more serious (maybe on account of the old vines). Fossa di Lupo‘s freshness appealed a lot, but I loved the personality of the Bombolieri, which if pushed would be my very personal choice. But one feels that Arianna is right at the top of her game here.

I Vigneri/Salvo Foti (Sicily, Italy)

Here we are in the presence of one of Etna’s true stars. Actually, Simone took me through the wines, but his father was on hand to contribute a few comments. Salvo is perhaps the man most responsible in helping to revive Etna’s viticulture over the past fifteen years, with not only new plantings of traditional varieties, but also rescuing old vineyards. What were once seen as worthless hillside vineyards are now prized and envied in, it seems, equal measure. But Salvo forges on, using traditional methods and with a passion for the beauty he is lucky enough to have around him. He works with a consortium of growers (I Vigneri) to bring to life the magic mountain through his wines.


Vigna Aurora 2018 is a white blend of Carricante and the lesser known Minnella. The vines are at around 850 metres altitude, and that adds to the freshness of the wine. It’s a singular, fine, white just bottled but exuding a liveliness which Sicilian whites don’t always display to quite this level. As a starting point for tasting Foti’s wines, it switches on the light bulb.

Vigna di Milo Carricante 2015 is quite different. It is 100% Carricante which is fermented in large wood, aged in different barrels (still old wood) for six months, and then allowed a year in bottle before release. It has real texture and (with apologies to those who hate the word) minerality. It’s that mixture of stony texture and salinity, with a little more savouriness than the first wine.

Vinudilice Rosato 2017 comes from the same vineyard as the final wine below (the Spumante). The colour is immediately attractive. The bouquet is actually more reminiscent of apples and orchard fruits than anything else. It is refreshing and summery. It’s not your average cheap rosé at all, but a wine for people who can take the genre seriously (though it’s a fun wine, not trying to be clever or anything).

Rosso IGT 2018 is a deep and concentrated Etna red which blends the two most traditional of the Etna grape varieties, Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio. It’s not a heavy wine, though. As with all the Foti wines, there’s elegance, which I think is their key to greatness. They seem effortless, and the fruit is so alive. I often wonder how some winemakers achieve this whilst others don’t (we all know some Etna reds can err towards the ponderous). I think some winemakers just know when to do nothing and let the wine make itself, without additives, of course.

Vinupetra Rosso 2016 is also made from the two Nerellos, but with some added Grenache here. The fruit is so exquisitely concentrated. The fruit is all plum and cherry, but there’s spice too, and just a little dash of creaminess. We haven’t mentioned the volcanic soils yet. I suppose it’s self evident that this is what we are working with but I should point out, and this wine demonstrates the point well, that whilst we have all this prominent fruit, which here is so concentrated it’s almost sweet, we also have a certain structure to the red wines, which the terroir provides.

Vinudilice Spumante Brut 2015 is in many ways a remarkable wine. Don’t dismiss it because of its bubbles. This is a field blend of ten varieties, both white and red, all co-planted together at 1,300 metres altitude. It falls within the Etna Rosso DOC, though you’d call it a Sparkling Rosé, made by the classic bottle fermentation method. It may not have enormous complexity but it does have such beautiful and elegant strawberry fruit, with perhaps a touch of cranberry. I think it has a tiny production, but like all of Salvo’s wines, it is genuinely, heart-stoppingly, lovely.

Vino di Anna (Sicily, Italy)

Anna Martens and her partner Eric Narioo (who is, of course, a founder of Les Caves de Pyrene) make wine from organically farmed vines on the northern slopes of Etna. The vineyards are old bush vines of around sixty to one hundred years old, all at between 750 to 900 metres up the mountain. Many are fermented in their traditional, 250-year-old, palmento (the traditional stone troughs used for treading the grapes, and incidentally Palmento is the name of a very interesting book by Robert Camuto about Sicily and its winemakers (Univ of Nebraska Press 2010)). Palmento is also the cuvée name of some of the wines Anna makes.

Palmento Bianco 2018 is a field blend of autochthonous varieties, harvested usually in September. Most of the grapes are whole bunch fermented in stainless steel, with the exception of the Grecanico, which is macerated for a week on its skins. It is neither fined, nor filtered. You end up with a fresh, stony white with a very nice little bit of texture.

Jeudi 15 Rosato 2018 is a pink wine made from Nerello Mascalese blended with some white grapes, Catarratto and Inzolia. The result is a 12% stunner with a deep rosé colour the French would probably call clairet, and pure red strawberry fruit. It saw six months in qvevri and then a further month in stainless steel.

Palmento Rosso 2018 is 90% Nerello Mascalese with some Nerello Cappuccio and Alicante plus a few white varieties. It sees a five day maceration with ageing in a mix of qvevri, stainless steel and old cask for six months, before it is all blended in stainless steel. This was only bottled the week before the Fair, but it was not showing any signs of bottle shock, a wine with just amazingly fresh cherry fruit and a pleasantly low 12.5% alcohol.

Etna Rosso Jeudi 15 2017 The vineyard, at Monte La Guardia, is at 800 metres altitude and it shows in the wine. This time we have 95% Nerello Mascalese from very old bush vines. The grapes are 70% destemmed by hand, the rest going in as whole bunches with stems. When I say “going in”, here it is half into stainless steel and the other 50% into old wood. The colour is a glowing crimson red, and the fruit is a real blend of every red berry you can imagine. But it also has great fruit acidity, some grip and tannin. It does want to rest a bit, but I’m pretty sure it will be amazing.

Qvevri Don Alfio 2016 comes from another very old vineyard (up to 100-year-old vines) at 900 metres, at Rovitello, the source of one of my first ever Etna wines from Benanti very many years ago. This particular vineyard is small, just six tenths of a hectare on very ancient terraces built into black volcanic rock. This is just made from Nerello Mascalese (95%) and Nerello Cappuccio, which is all hand-destemmed into three buried Georgian qvevri to ferment with around a two-month maceration, before spending a further year ageing in a single large qvevri. The beauty of this wine is that it combined floral scents, and deeper notes of morello cherry with acidity, texture and tannins. The terracotta clay vessel enhances the volcanic terroir of Etna without dominating. It’s a very well judged cuvée.

And that is it. I’ve by no means been able to give anywhere near an exhaustive review of Real Wine 2019, but I hope that my snapshot has at least been well chosen. As always, this event gets a massive number of readers, showing just how interested wine lovers are in wines which, as I said in my opening paragraph, put excitement over poshness and points. I hope it was as successful for all the producer attendees as it was for the trade, press and public who turned out to taste. We’d be a lot poorer for wine, if less poor in the pocket, without the Real Wine Fair.


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Real Wine Fair 2019, Part 2

If you have not seen Part 1 of my coverage of the Real Wine Fair 2019 you can check it out here. That is where you will find any introductory blurb, for what it’s worth. This is the second of three articles on the Fair that took place at Tobacco Dock in London on 12 and 13 May. The articles are not structured in a way which separates countries, so here I cover some European and Australian wineries, and in Part 3 I shall include North America and Sicily. It just adds a bit of variety, I hope.

Bodegas Cota 45 (Sanlúcar, Spain)

Ramiro Ibáñez Espinar and Maria Rosa Macías Peña founded Cota 45 in 2012 with the aim of showing the qualities of the white albariza soils of Jerez in a slightly different way. Of course, using the grape variety Palomino Fino for table wine is a trend we have seen over the past decade, the exemplar perhaps being Equipo Navazos’ “Florpower” releases. What this couple are aiming to do is to make wine in the style of the 18th and early 19th centuries, which effectively means without fortification with grape brandy.

The wines here fall into three distinct categories. Those made biologically (ie under flor) are labelled “UBE”. The oxidatively aged wines are labelled “Agostado”, whilst their sweet wines come under the “Pandorga” designation.


UBE Miraflores 2017 Comes from this well known site (or pago) within a short distance from the ocean, near Sanlúcar, whose cooling influence is said to be strong here. This, according to Liem and Barquin, means later ripening and lower alcohol, which seems self-evident perhaps, but they do suggest that the smoothness and harmony of the musts from these sites close to the sea are much prized by winemakers. This wine is dry, with a lovely softness, although it is less like a Fino, or maybe I should say Manzanilla, than you might expect.

UBE Maina 2016 has had an extra year in bottle. The site (which I think is also spelled as Mahina) is 9km inland, further from the ocean. It’s a hill, under threat it appears from the need for wind turbines as it is exceptionally windy. But again citing Liem and Barquin, its pure white but complex albariza soils provide some of the finest grapes around Sanlúcar. This wine has a little more structure (muscular, even) than Miraflores, but also tastes fresher, or maybe more chalky, or “oyster shell”. It’s all those marine fossils.


Agostado Palo Cortado 2016 only contains 10% Palomino, the rest being a blend of old Sherry varieties hardly seen these days, like Mantuó Castellano, Mantuó di Pillas, Beba and Perruno. This is a lovely wine, quite stunning in fact. It has all the elements of a fortified Palo Cortado, yet an amazing lightness as well. Remarkable, although that might be just too many superlatives for one paragraph.

Pandorga PX 2017 comes, like the wine that follows, in a 50cl bottle. The Pedro Ximenez grapes are dried in the sun for ten days, and then get gently pressed for a long fermentation. The 2017 finished up with 310 g/l residual sugar and 8% alcohol. It’s a lovely golden brown colour. It doesn’t have the weight, and perhaps intensity, of fortified PX, but it does major on elegance and, even now, complexity.

Pandorga Tintilla de Rota 2017 This variety is in some ways a real example of what Cota 45 is all about. The variety is native to the town of Rota in Cádiz Province. It gives small berries which ripen late but give a lot of sugar. In the 18th and 19th centuries it had great fame, but almost disappeared until a revival later last century. Several bodegas make wine from Tintilla de Rota, including Lustau and González Byass (certainly Lustau still have casks, not sure about GB), but no one I am aware of makes a wine quite like this.

Here you get a tiny bit less sugar, 300 g/l, although it doesn’t show. There’s also a good touch more alcohol, which maybe you can tell (9.5%). Although it isn’t quite as elegant as the PX, it is smooth, rich and sweet. In Sherry terms it doesn’t taste heavy because it has not been fortified and the alcohol is still relatively low, but it does taste rich. Another genuinely remarkable wine.

Spain produces hundreds of star wines which are well under the radar in so many of her regions. Go to a specialist importer tasting and you will be amazed. It is true that some people were unsure about the wines of Cota 45, perhaps because they confound expectations. Personally, I think they were one of the stars of the Fair. Most of their wines cost more than £30 for a bottle, which is possibly more than most people have traditionally expected to pay for wines from Jerez. But as with Equipo Navazos, these are something special, for the aficionado maybe, but then we should all be aficionados of this region, for sure.

Alice & Olivier de Moor (Chablis, France)

Alice seemed quite subdued on Monday afternoon, and as she has been so lively and friendly on other occasions when I’ve met her it came as a shock. It only matters because these wines are without any doubt my favourites from Chablis, and in the years since Alice and Olivier have been supplementing their frost-hit yields via their Vendangeur Masqué label, I have tried to follow everything they are doing (and their Caravan blend was one of the three wines I purchased in the shop even before I tasted it).

Caravan Vin de France, Le Vendangeur Masqué 2017 blends Clairette, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Aligoté, all organically grown and sourced from several regions and a number of grower friends. I’ve seen other blends listed for the 2017 online, but the back label clearly states the above. I’m not sure whether there are multiple Caravan cuvées? I think this is a lovely wine. It’s fresh and fruity, but I am sure it could age a year or two (unlikely in my case as it’s that gorgeous freshness I want to tap into).

Bourgogne Aligoté 2017 This has been a de Moor staple in my house for several years, one of a handful of the best (and best value) versions of this variety in Burgundy (and there are indeed one or two very good Aligotés in the Auxerrois). As always, there’s real freshness in this 2017. Note that I don’t specifically use “acidity”. Of course there is acidity, but not as in typical Aligoté acidity. The freshness is in the fruit, and that really comes through and makes this wine so delicious.

Chablis 1er Cru Mont de Milieu 2017 There is a Chablis available under the Vendangeur Masqué label, and very nice it was too. But here I want to focus on the Premier Cru. In part this is because a de Moor Chablis from their own frost-prone vineyards is quite rare these days, but at the same time, this particular wine was another one of the undoubted stars of Real Wine 2019. It somehow manages, and remember that this is a young wine, to combine mineral crispness which smacks the lips and palate with refreshment, with a later sensation that it is fulsome and very long. This was astonishingly good, the kind of quality you will have to pull out big notes for, but you’re worth it.

Domaine de L’Achillée (Alsace, France)

Here we reach Alsace, where I shall cover three of the four producers at the Fair. I only miss out Jean-Pierre Frick, whose wines I love, because I tasted them just a few weeks ago (at the Newcomer/Vine Trail Common Ground Tasting at Fare on Old Street). I tasted here at L’Achillée largely because two or three friends recommended them throughout the morning. It’s always great to get tips like this, although there are always too many recommendations to follow them all through. I’m glad I did in this case.

Yves, Pierre and Jean Dietrich have vines around Scherwiller (north of Colmar, just outside Sélestat and, if you like my obscure music references, overlooked by the Château de Ramstein but unfortunately with only one “m”). Pierre and Jean only took over from father Yves in 2016, at which time they decided to stop sending grapes to the cooperative and to bottle everything themselves. Unusually for a cooperateur, however, the vineyards had been farmed biodynamically by Yves since 2003.


Crémant d’Alsace Dosage Zero 2016 is made from 50% Riesling with Chardonnay and Pinots Blanc and Auxerrois comprising the rest of the blend. It’s dry, obviously, having zero dosage, but as well as a steely, crisp, attack which seems to last right down the wine’s spine until it finishes long, there’s nice white peach and orchard fruits. It’s really mouth filling but not heavy. This 2016 was made from the first grapes of the brothers’ new venture.

Alsace Blanc 2017 is a blend of all the white varieties they have planted, from different plots around their 18.5 hectares of vines. This combines fruit and a certain smoky quality, a bit different. Not complex but a great utilitarian white, for me for lunch time drinking.

Riesling 2017 is also a fairly simple version of the variety (none the worse for that), a blend from different soils. Imagine varietal character but in a more easy going, slightly lighter, style. Riesling Hahnenberg 2016 is from a hill with more sandstone, and from a single site on the Hahnenberg where there is rare granite underlying the strata. There’s also, unusually, acacia forest up there, which at least shelters the vines if not directly influencing the Riesling’s florality. A closer influence is the biodiversity the brothers encourage. Up here there are, they claim, 168 different varieties of plants. The wine is plusher than the Riesling blend, and calls for some ageing. Impressive.

Pinot Noir Libre 2017 is bottled with just 1g of sulphur. The 2016 had no sulphur added, hence the name. They decided the ’17 needed a little, but the 2018 will probably have no sulphur added. This is a very tasty red, with plump sour cherry fruit. That’s all you need to know…glou!

**Crémant Quetsches Alors 2018** This is something different, and I might also add, I think, something marvellous. As well as their vineyards, the domaine has six hectares of fruit trees. They decided to experiment, and last year made 4,000 bottles of plum crémant. The plums are macerated and foot trodden, the juice is fermented naturally, and then the second fermentation in bottle is made with a liqueur from grapes used for the Riesling Hahnenberg.

The result is a fruity, sparkling, plum drink bottled in a sparkling wine bottle, with 5.5% abv and great fruit sweetness balanced by nice acidity. What an amazing idea and what an amazing, refreshing, light drink. Not much to go around so far, but with six hectares of fruit perhaps this will take off. It was really popular on the day so I hope Les Caves will stock it. Let me know if you do, Doug, and save me some.


Christian Binner (Alsace, France)

Christian owns eleven hectares of vines around one of Alsace’s famous villages, Ammerschwihr, at the heart of the Haut Rhin. The area around Colmar is famous for one fact – it has the lowest rainfall in France, something known by every WSET wine student. The wines can be quite big, some varieties quite alcoholic in the days of climate change, but Christian’s biodynamic regime keeps the vines in balance, especially helping with water stress.

I bought the Binner wines many years ago when Les Caves de Pyrene first began importing them. Whether down to the low sulphur regime or not, for me the wines have been up and down. The wines tasted on Monday were lovely, and show Binner to be at the top of his game, perhaps producing the best range that he ever has.

Côtes d’Amourschwihr 2014 is a “village wine” made from a co-planted range of varieties fermented together (rather like an Austrian gemischter satz blend). Like many of these Alsace blends which update the old Edelzwicker (or Gentil as some prefer these days) tradition with more of a focus on quality rather than bulk, it is quite light and zippy, with, in this case, some white pepper spice, just a touch. Simple and refreshing is exactly what it sets out to be.

Riesling “Le Champ des Alouettes” 2016 is big on fruit, not necessarily the fruit you expect. White peach and yellow plum for me. A wine that will be enjoyable if you open it now, on its refreshing fruit, but one that will age too.

Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 2016 is clearly a step up and a vin de garde. As the Wiesbach flows eastwards from the Vosges towards the Rhine, the Schlossberg hill faces due south looking down on the road from Kientzheim to Kaysersberg. The slopes are steep, rising to over 400 metres, and this lieu-dit has a great reputation as one of the Grand Crus worthy of that designation. This wine from that site is aged on fine lees for eleven months and that gives it some texture, to go with the body and structure it already possesses. 2016 generally gave quite classic wines in Alsace, wines that are refined and less plump than the previous vintage. That can be said of Binner’s Grand Cru, a fine wine for at least mid-term, if not longer, ageing. Elegance awaits.

Si Rose is, in this case, a blend of 35% Pinot Gris and 65% Gewurztraminer, from both the 2016 and 2017 vintages (half from each). It was bottled in spring 2018. The bouquet has classic Gewurztraminer traits, floral with lychees, but far more rose petals (hence the name, “Rose” not “Rosé”).  The wine is not otherwise complex, perhaps more orange than pink, but its beauty (and there is beauty here) lies in that scent. It is otherwise clean and fresh.

Pinot Noir “Béatrice” Non-Filtré 2016 is Pinot from this cooler vintage. It results in a wine which is pale red, cloudy (unfiltered) and extra-fruity. The acidity is zippy but it isn’t as light as you might expect from what I’ve written thus far. It comes in with 13.5% abv! I have thoroughly enjoyed Christian’s Pinot Noir in the past and I’d love to grab a bottle of this to try with food. Despite the alcohol, I think that chilling it a little would work well. It had been in the ice bucket on the table.

Muscat SGN Hinterburg 2003 Sélection des Grains Nobles is, as I’m sure you know, the designation for the sweetest wines of Alsace, where a selection is made of nobly rotten berries. Hinterberg is a site to the south of Ammerschwihr, just outside the village of Katzenthal. It’s not a Grand Cru, but lies between the GC vineyards of Sommerberg and the famous Wineck-Schlossberg. It is quite renowned for producing noble rot and sweet wines in the right vintage.

This Muscat is given 12 months in 100-year-old foudre. The colour is a magnificent green-gold. It has mellowed with age, so that the bouquet is light but heady with muscat florality and the acidity has softened somewhat. There’s concentration here, but the wine is at the same time delicate. It’s sweet, for sure, but not cloying. Not an everyday wine, but who wouldn’t like to be able to produce a half bottle of this at a wine dinner.

Domaine Durrmann (Alsace, France)

I’m sure a good few readers will recall my notes on a visit to the Durrmann estate back in 2017. Two things have happened since then. First, the wines began to come into the UK via Wines Under The Bonnet. Secondly, the name “Yann” has been added to “Anna & André” on the label, their son now effectively being in charge of the domaine.

There used to be a split between the more conventionally made wines and those labelled “Naturé”, but Yann is moving to a completely natural approach, as are most of the better known estates in Andlau, where the domaine is based, and neighbouring Mittelbergheim. Monday was the first time I had met Yann.


Pinot Blanc Nature 2018 This is the Durrmann cuvée that I’ve drunk the most of, though in previous vintages. I bought it at the domaine and since then I’ve both drunk it, and bought it from the takeaway list, at Plateau in Brighton. Of course it’s a simple wine, quite high on acidity, but a summer refresher. Better than the old non-natural version in the eyes of several people I know.

Riesling Grand Cru Kastelberg Nature 2012 hails from a pretty decent vintage in Alsace, warm but not a scorcher, and with reasonably average yields. It also comes from the Grand Cru vineyard whose slope dominates the large village of Andlau. This wine shows how GC Riesling ages at the Durrmann domaine. It is soft, a gentle wine with some depth and length. It tastes possibly slightly more mature than I expected, probably down to the softness (which could be a trait of the more serious wines chez Durrmann).

Zegwur 2018 is Gewurztraminer, which in the article on my visit in 2017 I described as “new old school”. It is lighter and lower in alcohol than the Gewurztraminer wines which climate change has made big and blowsy. It is also floral, and yes, soft. The palate has unusual pear with a quince-like finish. I think a wine to divide opinion. I’ll have to try the 2016 I have soon. That was slightly off-dry when originally tasted and this tasted a bit dryer, perhaps aided by that finish.

Pinot Noir Nature 2018 is just like the Durrmann Pinot I’ve drunk before, plush, juicy and fruity. It comes off sandstone (which is all over the hills and in the walls of the several ruined châteaux you can walk to from Andlau). This red reaches 13% alcohol in 2018. The days of puny Alsace Pinot are probably over. There was also Pinot Noir Sur Schistes 2018, which was pretty rammed with soft red fruits, and Pinot Noir Rosé Nature 2018 which also reaches 13%, so carries a bit of weight unexpected in an Alsace rosé.

Yann is clearly still finding his feet and establishing the direction he wants to take the domaine. André made a good beginning, with his ecologically sensitive beliefs, and his experiments (biodiversity of flora and fauna, using sheep in the vineyards, planting trees and encouraging bird life). I’m sure that in the next few vintages Yann should be able to take Domaine Durrmann to the next level.

Gentle Folk Wines (Adelaide Hills, South Australia)

Gareth and Rainbo Belton farm seven hectares in the Basket Ranges and environs. The grapes are grown organically, and unusually (but increasingly necessary with water rights an issue here) the vines are dry-farmed. Everything in the winemaking process lives up to the name – gentle manipulation. The wines are bottled with no added sulphur. Not only are the wines from this relatively new label interesting, they are also some of the loveliest new expressions of Adelaide Hills fruit to hit our shores.


Clouds Riesling 2018 was picked from one of the highest vineyards in the Hills, Scary Gully Vineyard. It was fermented and aged on lees in barrel and allowed to go through full malo. The acidity is toned down but the flavours are all lemon sherbet, almost frothy (the flavour, not the wine, which is clean).

Schist Sauvignon Blanc 2018 was picked from what Gareth calls the back paddock of the Scary Gully site, and I understand that this will be the last wine from this paddock as the owner has grubbed up the vines to make way for cattle (sad on so many levels). It’s super mineral, fresh and quite steely for an Aussie Sauvignon Blanc.

Rainbow Juice 2018 is a blend in several ways. First, it includes grapes from all of their sites. Second, it blends some rosé, some skin contact orangey white, and some direct press white juice. It is indeed mighty fresh, a light wine, but 12.5% alcohol gives it some presence. A wine to enjoy…a lot.

Vin de Sofa 2018 is also from Scary Gully. It’s mainly a blend of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, co-fermented by carbonic maceration, except that they threw in some Gewurztraminer skins. That is no doubt why the bouquet has a rose petal note alongside the red fruits. The fruit on the palate is so appealing, but there’s a little grip as well. Very successful.

Blossoms 2018 is a pure Pinot Noir from a new vineyard for Gentle Folk at Norton Summit. The vines are aged around 25 years old, farmed organically from the off. A short whole bunch fermentation gives bags of sour cherry fruit, stunningly drinkable and easy to swallow swiftly.

Village Pinot Noir 2018 is another simple Pinot, and we are back at Scary Gully for this, a wine which has seen a few months in old oak. Slightly darker, but still a light wine, Gareth describes it as one “for drinking”, and I would add possibly in pints. Smash…

Tiersman Syrah 2018 There’s a lovely explanation of the name of this wine on the Gentle Folk website. Apparently in the 1830s after the proclamation of the Colony of South Australia the Adelaide Hills were known as the Tiers (I bet you know the Tiers Chardonnay from Petaluma). The Tiersmen were people from society’s fringes, those who’d jumped ship, bush rangers, timber cutters and a slew of escaped convicts from the Eastern States. Erinn Klein grew this Syrah at Ngeringa Farm, Mount Barker.

The vinification could hardly have been more simple. Two weeks of foot treading and then into old puncheons with nothing done over winter. The colour is deep purple (drang!), the juice is glass coating stuff but still just 12.5%. There’s a bit of spice over the fruit on the bouquet, sweet fruit packing the palate, and a nice line of ripe but grippy tannins to add food-friendliness. It’s one of the freshest tasting South Australian Syrahs (not Shiraz) you will find. Hey, Penfolds!

Castagna Wines (Beechworth, Victoria, Australia)

There were several brilliant Australian producers on show, but I had to chat with Julian Castagna. He’s one of the nicest blokes in Australian wine, and he was joined on the stand by his sons this year, but I felt honoured to be given a very personal tasting by the boss, especially as it is a few years since I’ve seen him.


There were, as always, a lot of wines to get through, so I shall try to be more brief in their description, but it is worth saying a little about Beechworth. For some reason it is probably the best terroir for Syrah (in my humble opinion) in Australia. My only real regret is that it is just too far for me to reach by car when I’m in Melbourne later this year.

The soils are on decomposed granite with high quartz content on a base of clay, and many of the vineyards are at an altitude of around 500 metres. No wonder Beeechworth Syrahs always seem to share that fresh quality, though few are fresher than Castagna’s. These soils give the wines great depth too, without question. Julian farmed biodynamically from the beginning (he’s been going over 20 years here) and the wines are effectively “natural”. The aim, with which I think they succeed magnificently, is just to express the terroir. What the land gives is what you get, which for me is what wine should be all about.

Adam’s Cider Adam is Julian’s eldest son, who towers over his father, Julian, like a giant, and he has a great big personality too. This cider is made with pears and is just 6% alcohol. If ever you see any please don’t hesitate to buy some. It’s truly delicious, so refreshing.


Pet Nat Allegro 2017 is sparkling Syrah in the petillant naturel style. Better to use the Syrah name because it is not remotely similar to Sparkling Shiraz. It’s not sweet and it’s not massively alcoholic. Unusual for a petnat, it had four years on lees to develop, and only one gram of sugar in the dosage. It’s fruity and a little herby, but also dry, fresh, ever so slightly bitter and steely…and rather amazing.

Allegro Rosé 2017 has, unusually for a rosé, texture, structure and grip. I drank a 2010 not all that long ago. It confounds by almost requiring ageing, as a Rosé de Riceys does, albeit very different wines. A wine for (excuse the cliché) spicy food. It really is. Allow it to develop from fruit to umami.


Savagnin 2016 This was once though to be Albarino, but as Julian says (I make no apology for being a Jura fanatic myself), “Savagnin is just a lot more interesting”. This is a topped-up wine, of course, so the nose is clean with no oxidative notes. However, it does display that varietal nuttiness and there’s a lot of that depth here (and 14% abv).

Harlequin 2016 is a Chardonnay/Savagnin blend with some Riesling. Those varieties spent 30 days on skins. Additionally there is also Roussanne and Viognier added, which were vinified without skin contact. It’s green-gold, highly aromatic, with “skin contact” texture (on the nose too) and a savoury flavour which fills the mouth. Julian says decant it. I want some!

Growers Selection Quasibianco 2017 (magnum) also sees 30 days skin contact, but is 100% Riesling. You can identify the variety and you can identify the skin contact. A fantastic wine which brought to mind Mathieu Deiss’s “Artisan”, which I drank in December last year. I can tell you, that magnum looked majestic.

Adam’s Rib The Red 2015 is mostly Nebbiolo with around 12% Syrah. The colour and bouquet shout Nebbiolo whilst the palate shows slightly plusher fruit, suggestive of Syrah. Whilst most Aussies refuse to blend Nebbiolo, it is not unknown in Italy, outside the two B’s. The Syrah here works rather like the Viognier in Côte-Rôtie. Usually this wine has around 30% Syrah, but in 2015 the Nebbiolo was just so ripe it didn’t need more. Probably the best Australian Nebbiolo wine I’ve tried (and I have tried a good few).

Un Segreto 2015 is 60% Sangiovese and 40% Syrah. The bouquet is mainly plums and cherries with a little bit of an earthy touch. The Sangiovese hits the front palate and the Syrah comes through on the back. It’s amazing when you realise just how it’s working, and the blend does work really well. I remember when French grapes came into Chianti and I always thought that Syrah was usually a nicer blending grape than Merlot, for complementing the Sangio.


Genesis Syrah 2015 We are now with the real deal. All the Castagna wines range from brilliant to brilliant, none fall below that measure for me. But Genesis has foxtrotted its way into being one of Australia’s finest wines, so I should single it out. There is a little Viognier in the blend, and I think Côte-Rôtie fans will tell. It’s beautifully rich, with notes of aniseed and liquorice as well as the fruit. The tannins are firm but ripe and smooth, but of course this demands long ageing to reach the heights for which it is destined.


Sangiovese La Chiave 2015 This is like a really fine Brunello, but with extra life and freshness. It’s quite pale and the bouquet is quite extraordinary, lifted cherry mainly. My notes call the bouquet “shimmering”. I’ve never said that about the smell of wine before, but maybe you know what I mean. Like heat haze on tarmac. But the wine coats the mouth in grippy tannins which cannot fail to warn you that it wants to be left alone, like Marlene, for ten, possibly more, years. The guys back in Beechworth are currently on the 2002!

Sparkling Genesis Syrah 2009 You might ask why take one of Australia’s finest reds and add bubbles? This is unquestionably the finest Sparkling Shiraz/Syrah in Australia. The fruit has real depth under the fizz, a result of six years lees ageing (how many sparkling red wines get that long?). But it doesn’t taste remotely of massive autolysis, in fact it tastes as fresh as if it were just bottled. Its dryness is a result of having 4g of residual sugar. Most Sparkling Shiraz is in the region of 20-30 grams. Don’t chill it down too much.

Aqua Santa NV There were also two Castagna vermouths on show, which I wanted to try but knew my palate would be shot if I did. I did sip this sweet wine, and I spat less than half. It’s not really a Vin(o) Santo, as it is mostly Viognier and made in a solera which was started in 2006. The fruit is harvested late and dried. The wine is rich but with an elegant lightness. The nose and palate mix such an array of exotic and candied fruits that I couldn’t possibly list them all, but mango and pineapple are there. Right at the finish there’s a lick of mocha coffee.


A long tasting with Julian but not a minute was wasted. Such amazing, brilliantly conceived, wines. I could have done with a coffee myself, but time to press on. I’m at a Canadian Tasting tomorrow, and at the London Wine Fair and more next week, so Part 3 will follow in a few days. The schedule is pretty packed at the moment and it’s impossible to keep up, and I’m glad to get the first two parts finished. But I promise you, Part 3 will have some real treats, not least the extraordinary wines of La Garagista, the classiest Pinots of Kelley Fox, and the equally extraordinary wines of Salvo Foti, among others no less wonderful. Please bear with me whilst I taste some more wine.



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