Time to Go Pink

With temperatures hitting twenty-seven degrees here yesterday, it has focused the mind on the pinker hues as a source of vinous pleasure. I hesitate to focus just on rosé here. The first hurdle to overcome is the connotation of that label, that it’s a drink for girls, as it undoubtedly is in some minds. But secondly, and more importantly, we should not forget that today there are many lighter coloured “reds” with low alcohols, especially in the realm of natural wines, which sort of fulfil the same function as a rosé. Benefiting from chilling a little, they are fresh and fruity.

I actually look forward to bringing out these wines, and to making the most of whatever sunshine we get. There’s nothing worse than realising summer has passed you by, and there’s still a dozen bottles of pink in the cellar…unless you buy the ones that will age.

I remember in the early 1980s, judging at the International Wine Challenge. I think one of my first tables was the Rosés, which, along with “Spanish Whites” (yes, that one as well) was considered a very short straw (the big boys probably got Barossa Shiraz, Amarone and Napa Cabs). But quality has rocketed since then, and more than quality, diversity. Whilst the supermarkets will still be pushing Chileans, Provence or Navarras in the rosé category, independent merchants will have much more to offer for your garden table.

The baker’s dozen wines below are my usual eclectic mix. If we get a hot summer, these will be gone in no time. If you fancy a change from Whispering Angel, read on.

I’ve already drunk a couple of bottles of this first wine this year. Palmento Rosso 2015, Anna Martens (Vino di Anna), is a field blend (Nerello Mascalese plus others, including white varieties), which gets fermented on skins for just three or four days, so it’s a very pale red. At 13% abv it’s a bit more alcoholic than many of the bottles here, yet it tastes light and fruity. It’s truly delicious. The 2016 is coming soon, via Les Caves de Pyrène. I picked up a couple of bottles of the 2015 (retail) at Terroirs near Trafalgar Square.

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Another wine I’ve drunk up already is Czech, Forks & Knives Red, Milan Nestarec. This Moravian beauty is made from the Suché grape. There’s a little sparkle, juicy fruit and a soft yet refreshing finish. Fun too. Imported by Newcomer Wines. Of course, it also happens to have one of the most summery labels you’ll find.

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Moving south, the next wine I have to suggest is one of the most beguiling I’ve drunk this year. It also has something in common with the Rosé des Riceys I’m going to mention later – a haunting nose and floral freshness which will remind many of a rose hip tea. Cseresznyeérés 2014 is from that lovely Hungarian producer, Hegyikaló. This is really a pale red, and cloudy too, but the rose hip nose and the soft strawberry and cherry palate linger on as you sit in the shade on a scorching May afternoon. Slip over to Winemakers Club, grab a bottle (if they’ve any left), and serve it very lightly chilled.

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If, as it seems, we are focused in the east right now, we need to talk about Austria. Even when I was more fixated on the classic wines of the Wachau, I always enjoyed a pink Zweigelt, preferably sitting on the banks of the Danube. The two still wines I’d like to recommend are more modern, natural, wines, from around the Neusiedlersee. At Illmitz, Christian Tschida makes a very fine pink in his Himmel Auf Erden (Heaven on Earth) range. Okay, so this isn’t quite what you might expect…unless you know Christian. Cabernet Franc, skin contact, and unfiltered. Stand it up for several days, mine is full of small sediment balls. It will age, and it will go with food, a serious pink. Also from Newcomer Wines.

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The second Austrian pink I’m recommending, if you can beg some, is Rennersistas Waiting for Tom Rosé. With luck, some of this will be arriving at Newcomer Wines before long. The sample 2016 was one of the best wines from these young ladies at Raw Wine back in March. Based in Gols (Neusiedlersee’s northern end), this blend is Pinot Noir, Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch. The wine is fruity and zippy. The girls worked with both Tom Lubbe (South Africa and Roussillon) and Tom Shobbrook (Australia). I can’t remember which one they are waiting for.

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I can’t leave Austria without a fizzy one from The Klang! Meinklang Prosa comes from their vineyards near Pamhagen, south of the Neusiedlersee (on the Hungarian border). Strawberry flavours with a touch of cherry, off-dry but set beside good acidity. Billed as a “frizzante“, this really is a wine to seek out when you need a little fruity and uncomplicated sparkle. Light and simple (and sealed with a rather endearing tied cork – the look is rustic, yet the wine isn’t). Look at Vintage Roots for this wine, although I’ve bought it from Wholefoods Warehouse in London, where I found it on just a couple of occasions last year.

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Another natural home of the “pale red” is Jura. There are dozens of Poulsard/Ploussard wines which fulfil this description, so many that it seems pretty difficult to select just two or three. But I will try.

The non plus ultra of light Arbois reds comes from Domaine de La Tournelle, their L’Uva Arbosiana. Carbonic maceration, a month in vat, then moved to foudres and bottled the following spring without sulphur. This is a wine I have drunk every summer for some years, and would hate to be without. If you can, drink it in the Bistro de la Tournelle on the banks of the Cuisance in Arbois. If you bring it home, or buy it in the UK, keep it cool, and be prepared to use a carafe to shake off any reduction. Another hauntingly fruity wine. Find it either at Dynamic Vines, or from the retail shop at Antidote Wine Bar (Newburgh Street, near Carnaby Street in London).

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Domaine L’Octavin, in Arbois, make several delicious pale reds. These are all very “natural”, and their light fruit makes them perfect for drinking on the cool side. Ulm is certainly the first of such wines which comes to mind. This odd blend (for a still wine) of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (proportions vary from vintage to vintage, but check out the label below) sees all the grapes co-fermented as whole bunches. Dorabella (Ploussard) or even Commendatore (Trousseau) are equally exciting. I’ve not yet tasted a wine from Alice Bouvot which has not excited me, although the way she pushes the boundaries in search of purity and naturalness might just about scare a few people, for sure. Ulm has just 10.5% abv. It should be available from Tutto Wines (specialists in the unsulphured), possibly in magnums too (now there’s an idea!).

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It would be an error for me to leave Jura without recommending one of the region’s inimitable pét-nats, but which one? Patrice Hughes-Béguet’s Plouss’ Mousse would be a shoe-in, were it not for the fact that I don’t have any right now. I will therefore recommend my other current favourite Jura wine of this style, Domaine des Bodines Red Bulles (nice pun – “bulles” means bubbles and it is kind of red). Alexis and Emilie Porteret are a young couple whose vines and winery lie on the northern edge of Arbois. Red Bulles is another sparkling Ploussard which is just simple and fruity, but as such it does exactly what the label suggests, providing fun for uncomplicated summer drinking.

This is the one wine you won’t find in the UK, as far as I am aware. A visit to buy at the domaine, or perhaps to Fromagerie Vagne (aka Epicurea) in Poligny, is your best bet. North American readers can contact Selection Massale (Oakland, California, plus New York and Chicago).

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Head south from Jura and before you reach The Alps, you get to that odd pre-alpine enclave known in France as the Revermont. This is where you’ll find one of France’s up-and-coming wine regions, Bugey. Bugey-Cerdon is a cru of Bugey, making méthode ancestrale sparkling wines from Gamay and (often) a touch of Poulsard. These pink sparklers are off-dry, and low in alcohol (around 7-8%). Refreshing and frothy, the sweetness makes it perfect for light desserts, as well as simple sipping. Less grapey than a Moscato Rosa, or a Brachetto, these wines are just beginning to appear in the UK. The version which is currently my favourite, is from Philippe Balivet (now run by Cécile and Vincent Balivet), based in Mérignat.

This wine was purchased in the region, but keep an eye on the shelves. With Wink Lorch publishing a book on The Alpine Wines of France later this year, we are beginning to see a bit of a surge in availability (for both Savoie and Bugey). In the meantime, Christopher Keiller Fine Wines import excellent Bugey-Cerdon from Alain and Elie Renardat-Fâche (and other Bugey wines from the excellent Franck Peillot).

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So, three to go. I can’t leave France before mentioning a rather special Pinot Noir rosé. It doesn’t come from Burgundy, but rather Champagne’s Côte des Bar. I chanced upon Rosé des Riceys (from the cluster of villages which go under the name of Les Riceys) in the 1980s, and felt very geeky diverting from the Autoroute to grab a few bottles as often as I could. Then I discovered that Champagne producer Olivier Horiot makes small quantities of this unusual wine. It is unusual because it’s a rosé with tannins. And when it ages (which it does rather well, indeed it almost demands age) the red fruits which give that haunting “tea-like” quality are joined by gamey old Pinot notes.

The Sampler (Islington and South Kensington) bring over tiny quantities of this rather expensive pink, from two site-specific bottlings, “En Valingrain” and “En Barmont”. The former is slightly less structured than the latter cuvée, but expect complexity and length like (I hope) you have rarely found in a pink wine. Note that my last bottle of Valingrain is a 2006. The Sampler is, I think, listing 2010s right now (at around £40-a-pop, which may sound a lot, but this wine has a reputation in France which the British have so far missed).

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Spain is an enormous source of rosado wine, but the one I’m recommending here is the all time classic. I don’t have any right now, but Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rosado Gran Reserva is undoubtedly one of the finest pink(ish) wines you can buy. It has a colour which in bottle hardly looks “pink” at all, more onion skin. It is characterised by its freshness, even when approaching twenty years old. Chateau Musar rosé can age magnificently as well, but Tondonia’s rosado usually has an ability to outlive it. It is not exactly widely available, but it does appear from time to time in shops like Harrods, Fortnum & Mason, and The Sampler.

Last, but by no means least, is my favourite rosé of last year, Clos Cibonne Tibouren. It’s a “Cru Classé” of the Côtes de Provence, from near to Le Pradet (between Toulon and the Îles d’Hyères). This old mediterranean variety also goes under the name “Rossese” in Liguria. It makes smoky, red fruited, slightly earthy, wine in this special cuvée from Cibonne. It’s really the antithesis to all those supermarket Provençals (though Simone, Tempier and a few other’s pinks shouldn’t be put in that category). I have one magnum left for a visit by Aussie friends in July. I hope the weather obliges. This wine is magnificent. Clos Cibonne wines are imported by Red Squirrel.

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Pink wine comes in all guises, and there are whole styles, and whole countries, I’ve left out of this case for summer drinking. As I’ve been scrolling through for photos I’ve come across many more wines I could have written about. There is still a lot of bland rosé out there, and I hope that if I have achieved one thing here, it is to have pointed out some less well known, yet characterful, choices. You’ll have no doubt gathered that I have a penchant for haunting, ethereal, versions, but I also like the simply fruity as well, especially if they come with bubbles.

The important thing is not to get hung up over drinking pink. It’s just another style of wine, and indeed it’s capable of complexity as well as being refreshing. Christian Tschida ended up almost reluctantly making the Himmel rosé (above) after his father claimed he could make a better one than his son. The result is far from the bland style we all came across two decades ago, and still do on the hypermarché shelves today. Compare something like the clean and fruity Bugey-Cerdon to the old style of semi-sweet fizzy pink you might have tasted from Portugal, or industrial Lambrusco, and the similarities are remote. But the idea of fun remains.

So, simple pleasures, or serious complexity (and an ability to improve with age). Two styles of pink. Try both this summer. And we didn’t even mention Champagne…

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Crafty Little Tasting

Crafty Little Tasting was the rather nice name Alliance Wine gave to a tasting of their more artisan winemakers, which took place at Carousel, on Blandford Street (London) on Tuesday. More than 170 wines were on show, and I managed to taste more than seventy. Very few warranted ignoring here, so I’m going to skip through without too many notes. I apologise if this article is even longer than usual. I really wanted to get everything down in one go. I hope you can make it to the end. There are some particularly nice Greek wines towards the bottom, and also a nice pair from New Zealand to finish up with. In between there are also delights from Italy and Spain, a rather surprising wine from Poland, and two excellent producers from Alsace and Jura.

Overall, this is an exceptionally well chosen range. The wines don’t tend to run to the artisan extremes that some of the smaller importers manage. There might be slightly less risk taking here, fewer wines at the periphery of the world of wine. But that is in no way a criticism. What Alliance do very well is supply a host of really interesting wines to independent retailers and restaurants.

From Italy, we begin in Piedmont. Tenuta Olim Bauda is set in the beautiful rolling Monferato Hills, north of Nizza. This is prime territory for Moscato and Barbera, and there is a textbook Moscato d’Asti (frothy, with grapey Muscat fruit and 5.5% alcohol), and a fairly concentrated Barbera d’Asti, with nice colour, bright fruit and some tannins on the 2016.

Staying with the froth, Venturi Baldini is a new Lambrusco producer to me. With lovely bitter cherry and just 11.5% abv, this Montelocco Lambrusco is perfect to introduce this style for summer drinking, with charcuterie at lunch in the garden…preferably.

Val D’Aosta is one of my favourite wine regions to visit, for its innate beauty as much as anything. It’s just luck that the wines are generally of a very high standard, although production is so tiny that the wines are rarely seen outside of the region. That’s been changing, insofar as the UK is concerned. La Crotta di Vegneron, based in Chambave, is one of the larger producers, a co-operative, but a welcome addition to the Alliance list.

On show were Crotta’s Petite Arvine and Fumin, two signature grapes of the region. Petite Arvine is the grape of Switzerland’s Valais, just over the Saint-Bernard Pass. This is bright and peachy, with grapefruit acidity and lots of extract. Fumin is a massively under rated variety, especially by some anglophone wine writers. This version has a high tone of sweet cherry fruit, with a bitter finish. Like Barbera, such wines come into their own with fattier foods. It is not at all heavy.

La Crotta makes two highly acclaimed dessert wines, often the best in the region. If you ever come across their Moscato Passito or Malvasia Flètri, give them a try, as well as the wines above. I know Alliance import the first of these.

Another rare alpine variety is Lagrein. Alliance have one from the Cantina Merano co-operative (in the Adige Valley, northwest of Bolzano). Another blend of florality on the nose and cherries (this time slightly darker) on the palate, the 2015 is a bigger wine than some versions I’ve tried, but wins on a little greater concentration than many. The co-ops up here all make very good wine.

Gulfi is a name that is fairly well known to lovers of Sicilian wines. Based north of Ragusa on the island’s southeastern side, they specialise in the wines of Vittoria. Two varietal wines (white Carricante and red Nero d’Avola) and a Cerasuolo di Vittoria blend were an interesting contrast to COS (who I wrote about in Part 3 of my Real Wine Fair roundup the other day). These wines are bigger than COS wines, with generally higher alcohols. But the white is nice, bright but with a fascinating sour finish. The reds both have sweet fruit.

The other Sicilian I tried was a Grillo from Cantine Rallo. I like my Grillo to be fresh, and this was, although with 13% abv it didn’t quite have the acidity and lightness of some. It’s a style thing. If you want a bigger, rounder, Grillo, here you have it.

Another island wine was the Cannonau di Sardegna from Mora & Memo. This has red fruits and a bitter twist, remarkably fresh for a wine with 14% alcohol…be careful, it is quite moreish.

Alliance has now taken on Riecine, the exquisite producer of biodynamic Chianti Classico in the Gaiole hills. The Classico 2015 is no shrinking violet, but it is clean, with medium colour and a little tannin, which needs to rest. Riecine Rosé is always good, often more than. A salmon pink rosato in a clear burgundy bottle, 13% with great fruit and length. In fact, it’s one of the best pinks in Chianti.

“La Gioia” is their “Super Tuscan” – old vines, low yields, vineyards at 500 metres, a year in new and second use barrique. So this 2013 is big, and there’s depth. “Riecine”, or “Riecine de Riecine” as it is sometimes known, is the estate’s top wine. Both are 100% Sangiovese, but this is a small production cuvée, aged for 36 months, first in concrete egg, then in used tonneaux. The 2012 is already gaining depth on the nose, and complexity, but it needs a lot longer before it opens and shines fully.

“Sebastiano” is not a Vin Santo, but a passito. The grape canes are usually cut, so the majority of the Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes dry on the vine. I’ve had a few bottles of this. It’s delicious – mahogany colour, a figgy/toffee nose, smooth and sweet. Hard to spit! But not cheap, of course.

Moving on to France, Alliance do like to buy Beaujolais, and they usually do the region very well. Domaine de Colette had three wines on show. A simple Villages 2014 was fresh and classic, and then we were able to contrast a 2015 Regnié Vielles-Vignes with a 2014 Morgon. The VV from 2015 was dark and concentrated for this Cru, showing the higher alcohol of 2015. But being Regnié, it didn’t go over the top. Still, I much preferred the classic profile of the Morgon myself. Leaner, but fresher too.

Domaine de la Couvette is at Bully, in the Southern Beaujolais, not all that far from Lyon. A 12.5% “Blanc”, from Chardonnay, was light and fresh, very pretty but with an unusual lick of quince on the finish. There are two straight Beaujolais reds, a simple cherry chiller, and an organic version, which did in all honesty have a bit more fruit and depth. But it is a 2015 (the other two are 2016). Nice labels here too, which I shouldn’t really comment on, but it’s useful for retailers to know people will be attracted to the bottles. They will provide simple summer drinking pleasure.

Next, we move to alpine climes again. Jean Perrier is based on the western bit of the Combe de Savoie, as it goes up towards Chambéry. Not a producer I know, but as Savoie is becoming the new Jura, it’s good to see Alliance bringing some in. Jacquère is the workhorse grape of the region, and appears in Perrier’s mouthfillingly fresh (quite bracing) Crémant, and the still white Cru Abymes. Chignin-Bergeron is a specific name for wines made from Roussanne, which is more rounded (peach and pineapple), with a slightly fuller palate. The Pinot Noir, like many from the alps, is pale light ruby and with almost carbonic red and cherry fruits.

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Last year I went to the annual Jura Tasting at the Chandos House Hotel in London. I tasted the wines of a producer who, as an annual visitor to the region, I know really well. It was amazing that one of the most highly regarded growers in the village of Château-Chalon, Berthet-Bondet, had no UK importer. Well, now they do.

At the entry level (though entry to a fine domaine doesn’t come cheap), we begin (as we always do in Jura) with a red. “La Queue Au Renard” blends Pinot Noir, Poulsard and Trousseau into a light and sappy single site wine of character. The whites, “Balanoz” (a Chardonnay parcel), and “Savagnier” (Savagnin, of course) are both made in the ouillé style (ie topped up). Both are approachable yet classy.

The oxidatively aged wines here are superb. Château-Chalon 2009 is very elegant (a B-B trait). It is very young, of course, but it has already started to come together nicely. If you want to try the style at half the price, buy “Tradition”. A blend of Chardonnay and Savagnin, it is aged for two years in 228 litre barriques without topping up. A layer of flor protects the wine, as with the Vin Jaune style Château-Chalon. It doesn’t have the depth and complexity which will come with age in the C-C, but it has beautiful line and a nutty finish. But, of course, nothing beats a fine Château-Chalon, which even at over £50, is good value for a world class product.

I’m often guilty of neglecting Languedoc, but I did want to catch up with Mas Cal Demoura. This well known producer is situated not far from Gignac and Montpeyroux, in the hills north of Clermont L’Hérault. The “Mas des Amours” Côteaux de Languedoc red is simple, but tasty. “L’Infidèle”, a Terrasses du Larzac cru wine, is deeper (garrigue herbs, pepper, dark fruits), smooth but with lingering tannins. It’s a five variety blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsault coming in at 13%. Ageing potential abounds.

Another red of a different kind came from Chinon, on the Loire (Touraine). Domaine de la Noblaie makes lovely wines, very vibrant and alive. Their whole range is one to seek out. Their Chinon red in 2015 is a little darker than usual, richer too. If you feel Cabernet Franc can sometimes be under ripe here, this will persuade you otherwise.

Alliance also imports the wines of Domaine des Baumards. Based in Rochefort-sur-Loire, around 20km from Angers, they specialise in Savennières and Chaumes. The Quarts de Chaume 2009, in half bottle, displays the classic warmer vintage characteristics of concentrated sweet Chenin. Candied fruit, honeyed and waxy. This will age but how can one resist such a wine.

Clément Klur from Alsace deserves a slot to himself. He’s based in Katzenthal (north of Turkheim and west of Colmar), and specialises in wines which, for me, reflect terroir more than grape variety.

His Crémant d’Alsace, bottled without added sulphur, has a rounded character. It’s not the most elegant example, and the Crémant style doesn’t aim for autolytic complexity, but it wins on personality. The classic wine from Klur is the “Gentil”, a blend of Pinots Blanc and Gris, with Gewurztraminer. The 2015 is a little fresher, perhaps less soft, than the previous vintage. Gewurztraminer dominates on the nose this time. Alsace blends are coming back, trust me.

Clément’s varietal Pinot Gris is one for those who find many Alsace examples too alcoholic and too sweet. This is just off-dry, and soft, but there’s a great lick of acidity to balance it. Almost a mineral touch…on an Alsace PG! Top of the range is a Grand Cru Riesling (2011), from Wineck Schlossberg. This really is mineral, and structured. 13.5% alcohol, and potential to age, this is impressive. But don’t open too soon.

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The next table was showing all sorts of odds and ends from different countries. I was looking forward to the Slovenian wines from Guerila (based in the Vipava Valley). I’ve been drinking too many of the finer wines from Batic and so I found these wines a touch pedestrian. I was very interested in the Polish wine on show (my “oddities” radar was flashing), Domaine Bliskowice. I know almost nothing about this domaine, except that they only planted vines in 2009. If you asked me to name a Polish wine region, I’d be blank-faced. But they were at Raw Wine 2017, so their natural credentials must be good.

“4&14 Canva” appears to be the name of the wine. I’m not saying we’ve discovered a new superstar, but this smooth and simple wine is very tasty. I have no idea of the grape variety/varieties. All credit to Alliance for taking a punt on this. I’ve reproduced the back label, for those who speak Polish (you’ll need to click to enlarge).

There were a lot of very good Spanish wines, an area where Alliance does particularly well. Bodegas El Lagarto “Ruby Luby” from Arribes del Duero was a pretty good start. Six months on lees, darkish yellow, herby, mineral, with taste and texture. 13.5% alcohol. I really liked this and it’s relatively cheap.

Casal de Armán makes wine in the Ribeira region of Northwest Spain, and is based in Ribadavia. “Eira Dos Mouros Blanco” is mainly Treixadura from the Valle del Avia. Fresh, light, but stony mineral character dominates. The red “Eira dos Mouros Tinto” is a fascinating wine. I wondered what the grape varieties could be, and researching the Alliance web site I see it is a blend of the very well known Brencellao, Caiño and Sousón varieties. Bright cherry, a bit smoky, supple tannins…like the white, this is really nice.

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Cellar del Roure also makes very attractive wines. From Moixent, near Valencia, their whole range is attractively labelled, too. Showing two wines, the first, called “Cuillerot”, is a blend of six white grapes, is dry and fresh, but with deep flavours too. “Safrà” is a bright-fruited red wine, just 12.5%. Tannic now, but it will soften. 85% Mando and 15% Garnacha Tintorera. Look out for “Vermell” from  this producer too (bigger and richer).

I particularly like the wines of Rioja producer, Abel Mendoza, especially the white wines. Their barrique aged Malvasia white Rioja is pale and fresh, even at five years of age (as with this 2012). A 2010 Viura further proves how well their white wines age. Real depth, with grapefruit and lime to nuts and creaminess. Aged in barrique as well.

Mendoza’s “Jarrarte” is quite unusual. A red Rioja, vinification (of 100% Tempranillo) is by carbonic maceration in cement, and the fruit gives that away (dense cherry bursts out). But we also have 14.5% alcohol in the new 2016 vintage. I swear you’d not realise it’s this high, so nicely is it balanced. It’s remarkable value, and I’ve not, myself, tasted anything quite like it. The 2015 was my first vintage of this wine, and this 2016 is just as good.

I also couldn’t turn down a sip of Pazo de Señorans Albariño 2016, from Rias Baixas. Some of you will have read about the full range of Señorans wines I drank at a dinner at the end of March (at Lymington’s Shipyard Restaurant). That included some wonderful, aged, bottles. Out of that context, the 2016 tasted every bit as good as you could want, cementing this producer’s place at the top of the Galician pyramid. With a nose a touch like Sauvignon Blanc, you get grass and asparagus, but even more, that mineral structure, and a surprising touch of underlying richness beneath the acids.

My last Spanish red was an afterthought. Phoebe, from Alliance, pointed me towards this amazing gem of a wine. Always pays to ask for a tip or two. Oller del Mas only produced 1,056 bottles of Picapoll Negre Especial from their Pla de Bages DO vineyards not far from Montserrat. It’s the same grape as Picpoul Noir, which is as rare in Languedoc-Roussillon as it is in Catalonia. A pale, bright, red, it is smoky with a brambly undertone. The 2014 is about £50 a bottle, but it’s very good and I felt privileged to taste such a low production rarity. As such a rarity, it probably has a limited audience. Just as well with only a thousand bottles to play with.

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Spain ended for me with Equipo Navazos. They need no introduction, I’m sure. I’m a fully paid up friend of EN, who bottle some of the most glorious wines in the world in my book.

“Florpower” Bota 44 MMX is their table wine, both clean and sour in a lovely, soft, way. This is Palomino Fino, with just a hint of the chalky white soils which give the best of Jerez its character. This is a nice and fresh, even though it is an aged version from 2010, with 32 months under flor, 8 months in butts, and 24 months in tank. Each bottling of Florpower is quite different, but do try any you see. It’s such good value. The current bota is No 67, from 2014.

“I Think” Manzanilla En Rama comes in a screw-capped half bottle. A saca of February 2017, it is both light and textured, and has real en rama yeasty character and the texture of a more or less unfiltered wine. More expensive than most half bottles of Sherry, but the wow! factor is there.

Manzanilla Pasada Bota 59 “Capataz Rivas” is from Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín. From a 15-butt solera of very old Manzanilla, this has the depth of age (average age of around 15 years), but also the fresh salinity of Sanlucár. I’ve had this several times and it’s a stunner. La Bota de Manzanilla 71 is a more recent release and shows the vibrancy of a straight, relatively youthful in comparison (around seven years old) Manzanilla. This is a wine for a seafood lunch.

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If you are flagging a bit, try to stay awake. There are a few wines to go, but we have reached Alliance’s Greek wines. Greece appears to be back on the agenda in the UK, with quite a few hitting the shelves. These guys have a good range.

Especially good were the two wines from Vassaltis on Santorini. Of two 2015 Assyrtikos, the “Barrel Aged” cuvée showed depth and keeping potential, though my own preference was for the zippy unoaked wine, with six months on lees. Great texture and grassy grapefruit freshness.

T-Oinos is a producer on the island of Tinos (in the Cyclades, not far from Mykonos). “Malagouzia” is a simple but effective white, its citrus and mineral flavours reflecting perfectly this boulder strewn island. “Clos Stegasta Assyrtiko” is bigger all round, and even more mineral. Real personality. “Mavro” 2011 blends Mavrotragano and Avgoustiatis varieties grown at 450 metres on granite. Impressive dark wine but still tannic. “Clos Stegasta Mavrotragano” 2013 is also tannic, but has a lifted nose and crisp acidity to balance a big wine.

Bizios makes Nemea. West of Athens, this hilly region of the peloponnese produces a long time favourite Greek red from Agiorgitiko. At 14% abv, this is at the powerful end of the Nemea spectrum, but I liked its smoky, slightly bitter, fruit.

La Tour Melas makes wine in Achinos, in Northern Greece (facing the top of the Island of Evia). These are fairly traditional wines with a nod to Bordeaux. “Cyrus One” 2015 blends international varieties Merlot and Cabernet Franc with Agiorgitiko, getting 15 months in oak. Imagine blueberries and raspberry on the nose with a floral bouquet. It has grip, and would suit smoky BBQ food.

The wine eponymously named “La Tour Melas” (2014) has a very traditional gravure label of an 1806 print of Echinos (sic) by Irish painter and travel writer, Edward Dodwell. This is pretty much like a Saint-Emilion. Merlot and Cabernet Franc, 14.5% abv, dark fruit, graphite and vanilla oak notes. Actually pretty impressive, if not the kind of style I buy much of these days.

Moving out of Europe we reach the final five wines. I wanted to try Raats Family Wines “MR de Compostella”. It’s a Stellenbosch blend of all five Bordeaux varieties. As the 2008 got the highest ever Wine Advocate score for a South African wine, you may not be surprised that the 2014 weighs in at 14.5%, nor that it comes in a very heavy bottle, heaviest of the year so far. Not my cup of tea, but this big, tannic, wine has such sweet fruit. Impressive, but hard to do anything but sip it.

The Drift Farm “Year of the Rooster” is altogether different. A single vineyard Touriga Franca rosé, it’s light, fruity and fun (and pink, of course). It comes from a single mountain vineyard in the Overberg Range (east of Cape Town), weighs in at just 11.5%, and sadly comes from a production run of just four barrels.

“There are Still Mysteries” Pinot Noir is pale, with a vibrant nose and strawberry and raspberry fruit. You don’t expect 14% alcohol. It’s appealing, nevertheless, and pretty serious stuff. Which you would expect for £50-a-pop. The rosé is quite serious too, but a more manageable £15. But both are impressive in different ways.

Last, well almost, were the pair of wines from New Zealand’s Central Otago District, made by Mount Edward. This leading producer is based in Gibbston. Alliance showed a 2016 Riesling from the Lowburn sub-region, in the typical off-dry style which New Zealand seems to do so well now in Otago. More weight and richness than a German Kabinett, but real concentration of flavours and varietal character.

The Pinot Noir from 2014 was, if anything, even better. Excellent fruit, very concentrated and lifted. It’s elegant but, yes, it is all about the fruit. Duncan Forsyth and his partners have fashioned a lovely Pinot Noir here.

This would have been a nice way to end, but the final wine on the table was Stella Bella‘s Pink Muscat, from Australia’s Margaret River Region. Moscato Rosa is often quite expensive from its heartland in Northeastern Italy. The Aussies fashion somewhat more inexpensive versions. As a pink alternative to Moscato d’Asti, and for around £12.99 in the UK, this is a delicious, low alcohol, palate cleanser. Frothy, grapey, and that’s about it, but sometimes you don’t need any more…especially after tasting 70+ wines. I took a cheeky slug. It’s the colour of mouthwash at the dentist, but oh so much better to swish away all those tannins.

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Summit in Sight – Alpine Tasting for Wink’s Book

Last Monday was not only the final day of Real Wine 2017, but also the day when Wink Lorch‘s successful Kickstarter finished. Wink now has the funds to go ahead with her (ahem!) long awaited second book project on The Wines of the French Alps.

I have been trying very gently, over the past couple of years, to suggest that the regions which loosely comprise the French Alps (Savoie, Bugey, Isère and the Diois) have the potential to become as exciting as those of Jura, currently one of France’s most regenerated wine regions. Savoie has vines just as dispersed as Jura, and the other alpine regions mentioned above are very small in real terms. Yet there are signs of life, even in that very conservative region of the pre-alpine Revermont, Bugey.

There had always been a number of very good family domaines, making wines like small rocks in a sea of mediocrity. Yet winter sports created an eager and not particularly discerning market in the Alps, and co-operatives and negociants satisfied the demand with undemanding wines. For some reason, the artisan quality path of next door Aosta, over the border in Italian Savoy, was never followed with enthusiasm, but of course Aosta is a tiny region.

The old families, Dupasquiers, Quenards, Grisards and Tiolliers, who did keep the flame alive, have since been joined by enough young growers to bring more than a mere prospect of excitement to the regions. Today the future looks bright. In fact, it does look rather like Jura did in the 1990s in this respect.

This tasting, organised by Wink with wines she’d brought over from her Alpine home, supplemented by a few wines from Joelle Nebbe-Mornod, of  specialist Web Merchant Alpine Wines, amounted to fourteen bottles from around the region, which we tasted alongside some delicious local fare (cheeses, charcuterie and an exquisite Torte de Savoie). The great thing about the Tasting was that several of the wines had some decent bottle age. Two went back to 1997. It was a rare opportunity to see how these wines develop.

I won’t provide detailed notes on every wine as that would make this article very long, but I hope the flavour of it comes through. I also hope that my positive comments will whet the appetite of those who signed up for a copy of the book (due to be published in November), and perhaps those who have not done so may be moved to purchase a copy when it comes out. Some of Mick Rock’s stunning photos have already appeared in updates. The book would be worth the price for those alone, but it will really be a gateway to some fascinating, high quality, wines. Wines which perhaps you never thought existed.

We began our Tasting with a rare variety (fewer than 10 hectares in existence) from one of Savoie’s finest producers, Maison Philippe Grisard (of Cruet, on the Combe de Savoie). Mondeuse is the autochthonous alpine red variety most people know. That is officially “Mondeuse Noir”. Mondeuse Blanche 2013, from an altogether different variety, is floral, and yet it has a pleasant rounded fruit texture allied to a lively freshness. A very nice wine, but perhaps worth trying for another reason. Whilst it may be almost extinct, it has had a great impact on modern viticulture – it is a parent vine to both Syrah and Viognier.

Nice as that wine is, it was hard to compare with the next wine, coming as it does from my favourite Savoie producer. Domaine Belluard Savoie Ayze “Le Feu” 2010 comes from the rare Gringet variety. Ayze (also Ayse locally) is a small enclave on the River Arve, between Geneva and Chamonix. Domaine Belluard was founded in the 1940s, but it is only over the past decade that it has become one of the most sought after producers in France, so much so that even I have difficulty in sourcing their wines (at increasingly high prices). I’ve even seen Belluard’s “Les Alpes” (another Gringet cuvée) given a name check on two occasions by Keira Knightly, in Noble Rot Magazine, where once she described it as her “gateway white wine”, and on another occasion chose it (with duck rillettes) for her hypothetical “last meal”. No wonder Belluard is now in superstar winemaker territory.

“Le Feu”, a still white of considerable complexity at this age (the oldest I’ve ever drunk), shows why. It starts off as a lovely, almost softly floral, wine (which indeed it remains when young). With a little age it adds spices and herbs. In this 2010 I was getting subtle ginger notes very clearly. In fact, Gringet is a real find as a still varietal. It had been previously used for sparkling wine in Ayze (and Belluard do make a lovely bottle fermented fizz). Its qualities are now well known. Just a pity there are only somewhere between 20 to 30 hectares planted.

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Next we tried four examples of a more commonly known Savoie grape which, like Gringet, has been under appreciated for many decades: Altesse. This local variety is grown in Bugey too, but in Savoie it can also go under the name of Roussette. There is a separate high quality AOP for Roussette de Savoie. All four of the following wines have that appellation.

Roussette de Savoie 2013, Domaine St-Germain comes from a little further east along the Combe de Savoie (southeast of Chambéry), near Fréterive. It has a lovely deep nose which is not a million miles from Pinot Gris, and there’s even a richness here, but not taken too far. Thirst quenching is still possible.

Roussette de Savoie 2009, Domaine L’Idylle is from back down the road in Cruet. Their wines were the first from Savoie I ever bought in the UK, from Yapp Brothers (who continue to import them). The older 2009 ironically had more acidity than the St-Germain version, but also more restraint, and less richness. It has aged quite well. But will Altesse age even further?

Five years older than L’Idylle was Roussette de Savoie 2004, Prieuré St-Christophe. This estate is owned by Michel Grisard, who is known as the “Pope of Mondeuse” (there’s some of that to come). Michel currently owns around 6ha of vines, split between Fréterive and Arbin. He is committed to biodynamics, and his wines are imported by Dynamic Vines in the UK. This is a wonderful wine. The nose has the complexity of age, yet the palate is clean and fresh, like a young wine. You will be pushed to find a more impressive example of an aged Savoie white. But yet…

Roussette de Savoie 1997, Prieuré St-Christophe takes Savoie’s Altesse variety to another level. Of course, it is far from likely that many estates in the region could show a white wine of this age, twenty years, which would display complexity and freshness. This is certainly getting mature, but it doesn’t lack anything. There’s a lovely quince flavour on the finish. Where that young Altesse seemed a little Pinot Gris-like, this has more the texture of mature Chenin. A remarkable wine.

 

As we move on to the reds, we begin in the territory of one of the rarest grapes in France. There is one vineyard of Espanenc in the country, at Remollon, in the Hauts-Alpes. The grapes usually go into a blend at the local co-operative, but in 2015 Yann de Agostini made a micro-cuvée from just 200 plants which had been grafted with cuttings from the Remollon vineyard.

Domaine du Petit Août “Un de Ces Jours” Espenenc 2015 is the Vin de France which was the result of that micro-vinification. The domaine itself has just between four and five hectares currently, located not in Savoie, but in the region of Hauts-Alpes, at Theus, not far from Gap. The vineyards are all at altitudes of between 600 to 700 metres, and Yann Agostini has a passion for obscure varieties. He’s perhaps best known for his varietal Mollard. The Espenenc is a neat little red, not over complex, yet very interesting. Light, aromatic, and obviously made with care. Only 200 bottles were produced, so I feel especially privileged to have tried it.

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Next, a red from the producer of our third white, above. Persan 2013, Domaine St-Germain is an example of another autochthonous Savoie variety. Michel Grisard (of Domaine St-Christophe) has been spearheading the replanting of Persan, and Domaine St-Germain is one of a handful of noted producers. It’s not a bad wine by any means, but for me it is less interesting than the Espanenc. The fruit is fairly simple, but pleasant.

The following two reds were finer examples from the same domaine, but of course we have now moved on to Mondeuse, the finest and most interesting of the Alpine red varieties. Mondeuse is reasonably well known now, although when Yapp’s started importing one a couple of decades ago, hardly anyone here in the UK would have tried it, except perhaps without knowing, on a skiing holiday.

Mondeuse is a dark skinned variety which tends to come in two shapes and sizes. Some cheaper versions are real gluggers, almost like Beaujolais. Some Bugey Mondeuse can be like this. Then there are the deeper coloured, dark and brambly wines which need time. Such wines have real intensity, bite, tannins, and combine a floral and fruity bouquet with a bitter cherry palate, sometimes with black hedgerow fruits.

Domaine St-Germain makes three terroir/single site Mondeuse cuvées, and we tried two of them. Les Taillis 2013 is dark fruited with some tannins still. But it’s showing good acidity, and is accessible. There’s a very attractive wild side to it. La Perouse 2007 was quite different. Six years older, but still a relative youth. The tannins are tamed a little here, but that fresh acidity persists. A very attractive wine, but a serious wine too, for Mondeuse.

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For our final pair of aged Mondeuse, we return to Domaine Prieuré St-Christophe. Remember, as Pierre Overnoy is the Pope of Ploussard, and Jacques Puffeney is the Pope of Arbois, so Michel Grissard is the Pope of Mondeuse. His biodynamic reds may be unheard of among drinkers of Bordeaux and Burgundy, yet that doesn’t make him any less of a star in biodynamic wine circles. We were so lucky to be able to contrast his Mondeuse Tradition 2003 with his Mondeuse Prestige 1997.

The 2003 initially has a tannic edge, but softens as one swirls, even with a tasting sample. There’s texture and (for Mondeuse, which is not a heavy grape variety), a little weight. Here we have a good example of the floral element developing on the nose. The 1997 has a much deeper and mature nose, almost in the direction of mature Burgundy, with some sous-bois elements, without losing fruit. I think such a wine would impress most people. Genuine eloquence, and, not wishing to sound too pretentious, a wine which seems to have wisdom. Anyway, I guess you can tell I liked it.

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The 2003 Mondeuse Tradition, with the 1997 Prestige in decanter

We finished our Tasting with two gently sparkling wines in the demi-sec category, from the extreme north and south of the region. Bugey-Cerdon is made by the ancestral method, whereby fermentation takes place here in thermo-regulated tanks, and then continues in bottle, but is not followed by disgorgement. This means that some of the original yeast sediment is left in bottle, and that no additional yeasts, nor sugar (by way of liqueur) is added. It’s really the origin of the popular pétillant naturel wines we are all (I hope) glugging, except that Bugey-Cerdon (Cerdon is a Bugey cru) is not dry.

Bugey-Cerdon 2015, Domaine Renardat-Fâche comes from the important wine commune of Mérignat. The wine is a lovely bright pink-red blend of Gamay with some Poulsard. It is fragrant and fresh, demi-sec, and a mere 8.5% alcohol. I have a genuine soft spot for this wine. I was first introduced to it in the 1990s, by friends near Gex. Over the ensuing time, a number of artisan producers have begun to receive acclaim for versions with far less acidity and way more fruit than those earlier examples. It’s a wine you must explore, and over the past eighteen months I’ve been noticing examples on UK shelves, though you have to look hard.

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Clairette de Die 2015, Domaine Achard-Vincent is an example of the revamped Clairette de Die wine which seemed to go out of fashion in the 1990s and 2000s. Made from a blend of Muscat (minimum 75% under AOP rules) and Clairette, the méthode diois is a very particular process. The must is filtered so that even the larger yeast cells are removed. There is just enough yeast and sugars left to enable a gentle fermentation in bottle. The wine is then disgorged into a new bottle. It should not be confused with the méthode traditionelle Crémant de Die, which is a dry sparkler, confusingly made just from Clairette.

This biodynamic Clairette de Die wine is frothy and grapey, although the Muscat effect is slightly tempered by the Clairette. This wine is traditionally taken on its own, either with pastries, cake or nuts. I know many people for whom the demi-sec sweetness is a welcome alternative to the acidity of Champagne, and like Bugey-Cerdon, it has low alcohol (just 7%).

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A little tale of strife

It is rather a shame that these two regions, in the far north and far south of what we might widely term the French Alps, are currently at near war over what amounts to restrictive practices, or a threat to livelihoods (depending on whose side you are on). Bugey-Cerdon was once France’s only méthode-ancestrale pink with an AOC/AOP. This year sees the release of pink Clairette de Die. Bugey is up in arms.

Wink Lorch herself wrote a very interesting article about the dispute (The War of the Rosés…) for Winesearcher here. It’s worth reading. I’m sure we all know how jealously regional wine producing bodies guard their regional character, but it does also remind us of how conservative attitudes can be in rural France. Not everyone, and certainly not the various viticultural bodies, display the same openness of the young and dynamic growers, who are often the ones moving these appellations forward. I love Bugey wines, and rarely drink those from Die. But please, gentlemen!

What do I think? Well, I can see, as Wink says, that we could see vast amount of Gamay being made into a semi-sweet, commercial fizz which might affect Cerdon. But then we have pink pét-nats from all over the world now. One or two Beaujolais producers are making them in the same style, as Vins de France. I don’t think Bugey can stop these wines, which do not rely on an AOP. They have to get on and market their wines as well made, artisan products. Hopefully, like alpine wines in general, they will shine through in the end.

A note on sources

I’ve mentioned a few importers in this article, and you will also find other references to the wines of Savoie and Bugey in particular in my Blog. I’ve also recently been drinking the wines of Dominique Lucas’ Les Vignes du Paradis. These are wonderful wines made near the Chasselas enclave of Crépy, near Lac Léman’s southern (French) shore. Dominique’s wines (he also makes Pinot Noir in Burgundy) can be sourced from Les Caves de Pyrène.

I would suggest also looking at the web site for Alpine Wines (formerly Nick Dobson Wines). This merchant specialises in wines from Europe’s Alpine regions. Better known for excellent ranges from Switzerland and Austria, they also have an interesting selection of wines from Savoie, which I know will get larger over the coming year (in time for Wink Lorch’s book launch, at a guess). As I said above, Joelle, owner of Alpine Wines, brought some of the wines we tasted.

 

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Real Wine Fair 2017, Part 3 – France, Spain, Portugal, Italy

Part 3 of my Real Wine Fair roundup for 2017 covers nine European producers, half of which may be familiar to readers, and the other half, I’m guessing, less so. Europe in general is familiar territory, of course, to lovers of natural and low intervention wines. It was, after all, the place where the modern movement began (though I’m sure natural wine really started out a couple of thousand years ago, if not after The Flood), and whilst natural wine has spread all over the world, it seems still to have its heart in Europe.

This is an area where I could have gone over old ground very easily. It is also somewhere I could have written about too many producers, making this Part 3 a bit of a slog. I hope that the nine winemakers represented here, some in detail and some less so, are just about the right number. If you are wondering at the presence of familiar names, you’ll hopefully find that I’m looking at new wines. When you consider passing on COS, think again. Their new white amphora wine was (a very tough choice) my overall Wine of the Fair.

FRANCE

Christian Binner, Ammerschwihr (Alsace)

Although I haven’t had any Binner for a year, I love the wines, which I find are genuine expressions of their site, rather than being merely varietals. Most of his wines are sulphur free, aged in century-old large foudres, and are put through their malolactic. They do truly fit the cliche of “alive” in my book, and I commend any of them. There are several cuvées of Riesling, including Grand Cru, which are at the extreme end of mineral, and are some of the purest versions of the variety you’ll find these days in the region. But, unusually, Christian is a great red wine maker too. His Pinot Noirs are superb, whether in the simple easy drinking style (but fruit packed, not always a given in Alsace), up to the unfiltered “Cuvée Béatrice”.

Christian also makes wine with various friends as Les Vins Pirouettes. Here, there’s another fine example of his red wine prowess, in Hubert & Christian Pinot Noir 2014, a wine which fulfills all the gulpable qualities required for fully signed up membership of “club glouglou”. Available in litre bottles, this would easily suit a bladder pack (like a Du Grappin #bagnum).

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

 

La Folle Berthe, David Fourbet, Saumur (Loire)

Fourbet was a journalist in Paris who decided to follow the dream, making his first vintage in Saumur in 2014, but only getting his own place in time for the 2015 vintage. He leases from the recently retired Philippe Gourdon, whose vines are perfect for David’s philosophy of wine, having been farmed biodynamically since the late 1990s. Gourdon has been a great help whilst Fourbet starts out.

Four wines were on show. Amandiers 2015 is made from Chenin (I hope). Initially a little quiet on the nose, but it is very pure, with a nice line of acidity. A wine for drinking.

P’tite Berthe 2016 is a Pineau d’Aunis. This variety seemed to go right out of fashion when I was beginning to appreciate Loire reds, but it seems, luckily, to have been brought right back by the natural wine movement (plantings decreased from around 2,000 hectares in the 1950s to a little over 400 ha by 2010). It seems to have an almost haunting quality to it, and this is certainly the case with this particular wine. It is quite pale, with medium weight of bright red fruit. Smooth, but also not devoid of tannins. What you get after the fruit is something reminiscent of weak black tea. The perfume is beautiful.

Vinneaux 2015 is pure Cabernet Franc. There’s only a bit more colour here than the Berthe, but with a touch more weight, and a little more tannin. This is a delicious wine, but also a thought provoking one as well. I may slightly prefer the Pinot d’Aunis over the Cabernet Franc wine, but both are good.

I was also able to have a small sip of the first (2014) vintage of Renaissances, a lovely sour wine, 100% Chenin Blanc, concentrated, with real texture and great length. This is a producer I must get to know better.

Importer – Under The Bonnet Wines

 

SPAIN

Partida Creus, Tarragona

Massimo Marchiori and Antonella Gerosa run Partida Creus from Bonastre in the Baix Penedès. Like David Fourbet, above, they were professionals (Italian architects in this case) who made a lifestyle change and moved to Catalonia, first to Barcelona, before hitting the countryside, and winemaking.

I’m flattered that a lot of people think I know quite a bit about wine, and that I’m often a step ahead of at least all the other old fogeys like me. But I’d never tried Partida Creus before the Fair, let alone really knew that they were making “some of the most talked about wines coming out of Spain”. That comment was written exactly two years ago in Saveur Magazine by Rachel Signer, a prominent American writer on natural wines. [Rachel writes a blog, by the way, A Brave New Palate, which is well worth exploring, and is currently in the process of funding a magazine on natural wine].

With my reputation in tatters, especially as I’ve been writing about Spanish natural wines an awful lot this year, I put my mind to tasting the six wines on show. What I found ended up being one of my top producers of the day, a brilliant discovery for me. Rachel was not wrong.

This part of Spain boasts a host of very old vineyards which, in the past, have been used for pretty ordinary wines. In such a region a quality-focused winemaker has a lot of fruit to choose from, not necessarily at the ridiculous prices you have to pay if you set up somewhere like Priorat.

I began with an example of a fairly staple local variety, Xarel-lo, with other rare local varieties, but treated here very differently, to make a pink Pet Nat wine at 10% alcohol, sealed under crown cap. CV Rosado Pet Nat Cartoixa Vermell is fruity, spicy, and that’s about it, but that’s all you want from the style. Complicated doesn’t make for a good glugging fizz, but really good fruit does.

SP Blanco 2015 is Macabeo with good acidity and a lovely freshness, simple but fruity. BN Blanco Natural 2015 is similar, but from a different site, and with no added sulphur.

BS Sumoll Blanco 2015 is made from red Sumoll, vinified white. It has an onion skin colour from the red grape skins. The free-run juice makes this a gentle wine, with really fruity flavours, and there’s also a little bit of spice again on the finish. A very attractive wine.

VN Vinello Tinto 2015 takes the same grape variety, Sumoll Tinto, and vinifies it as a red. I’ve grown to really appreciate this native grape over the past couple of years. It can make wine with body, but here it is quite gentle. The fruit flits between strawberry and light cherry, with very attractive fruit acids, almost like strawberry juice. “Vinello” is the Italian term for a “drinking wine”.

Much as I love a Sumoll, the best wine here, for me on the day, was BB Bobal 2015, served from magnum, almost to emphasise its serious qualities. It’s a very pale red, not too far off the colour of a Rosé des Riceys. This is unusual, because Bobal often has a deep colour. Generally used to make bulk wine, it is increasingly being taken more seriously. There was also (possibly) a very slight touch of reduction, though for me that doesn’t pose a problem (I’m certain it blows, or shakes, off at lowish levels). Red fruits and red fruit tea are the main characteristics of this wine, a satisfying combination.

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrène

 

PORTUGAL

Vale da Capucha, Pedro Marques, Lisbon

Pedro Marques is one of the young stars of Portuguese wine. I say young, he’s in the second half of his thirties, but the enthusiasm he exudes, and the thoughtful way he creates his wines, are both symbols of a man who has been making wine only since 2009, and yet has received international praise for what he is doing.  Lisbon is a relatively unfashionable region in a country so often forgotten, and yet it has an amazing palate of autochthonous grape varietes, and Pedro’s family vineyards, around ten kilometres inland from the coast, near Torres Vedras (just north of Lisbon), are full of them.

First I tasted some of Pedro’s classic whites. Branco is, in 2015, a very tasty entry level blend, usually of Arinto, Gouveio and Fernão Pires, which has a slightly saline and mineral quality. Pedro believes his estate’s terroir better reflects white varieties, and there’s evidence of this in his Alvarinhos. Alvarinho 2013 exhibits the delicious qualities of this grape with a little age – a lovely line of developed fruit and mineral texture, whilst Alvarinho 2015 was much fresher, with almost a tropical quality. There are, additionally, varietal cuvées of Gouveio, Arinto and Castelão.

Pedro also makes two relatively simple but very sappy wines which are easy drinking without losing that interest provided by the native varieties. Fossil Branco 2015 uses the same varieties as the Branco blend above, It has a palate of citrus and pear, with a delicious saline finish which makes it a good bet for seafood. Fossil Tinto 2015 comes from 60% Touriga Nacional with 30% Tinta Roriz and 10% Syrah. It has black fruits, but a floral scent. Good acidity means it will work well with food (I hesitate to suggest a cliche such as cabrito, but, along with any pork or fattier meats, that would be perfect).

Both of these wines are fun. They combine modern flavours with tradition, and although these wines are both “natural”, and indeed “vegan”, they don’t have the low alcohols you often see in such wines (14% and 13% repectively). That may appeal to some, if not to others. They would make a wonderful choice in a restaurant.

Importers – Caves de Pyrène for most of the range, but Red Squirrel bring in the two Fossil wines.

 

ITALY

Cascina degli Ulivi, Stefano Bellotti, Piemonte

I’ve written about Stefano and his truly beautiful wines before, and many of you will already know of him from Jonathan Nossiter’s Natural Resistance film. I’m not ever going to miss an opportunity to try his wines, and indeed buy some as they are not easy to come by. The man (he’d hate me for saying it) is a legend. How he copes with these big Fairs I’m not sure. He seems to me a quiet and humble man who I’d imagine would prefer to be on his farm. But maybe he parties like the Georgians when the day is done?

I was able to try two wines which were new to me, plus one I wanted to try in the new vintage, though I had an idea I’d end up buying a bottle anyway. The first new wine was a Moscato Passito, made from grapes dried on straw in small boxes, fermented in only half full barrels with 15% skin contact. Not unlike other passito wines, this really did seem to have some extra dimension of purity and shone in the glass. It has 15% alcohol, and a concentrated sweetness with a slightly caramelised sugar note. Then comes the honey, raisins and fig. Not a wine to spit.

Etoile du Raisin 2007 is a most unusual wine. Made from Barbera harvested in 2007, with Dolcetto, Ancellotto and a touch of Cortese making up 15% of the blend. It didn’t finish fermenting until 2011, and Stefano finally decided to bottle it in September 2012. It’s quite smoky on the nose, and on the palate there are plum fruits and gentle balsamic flavours. It also comes in at 15% abv, so a red wine to sip and contemplate, not so much a food wine. This wine won’t appeal to everyone because of its concentration and alcohol, but it’s complex, and very individual…like its creator.

My favourite wine from Bellotti is often his “orange” A Demûa Bianco, which has the characteristics of a skin contact wine, albeit in a gentle way. But Stefano makes a simpler white, and I tried the new vintage, IVAG 2016. IVAG is, of course, Gavi backwards. Naturally Stefano didn’t apply for the DOCG. The powers that be know by now that this great grower makes wines far too individual to give him the same “Gavi” label worn with pride by sometimes insipid bottles from industrially-minded producers.

IVAG 2016 has lovely fruit, for a (non-)Gavi. Good Gavi tastes of pears, and this wine has that, plus a nice rich lick of pineapple (or was it apricot) as well. Pure Cortese, in more than one sense. It provides a way in if you want to try something which expresses the terroir southwest of Novi Ligure much better than your average bottle of Gavi.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

 

Cantina Filippi, Castelcerino, Soave (Veneto)

I didn’t try the wines this time, but I have to give them a mention. The stand was being manned by fellow Blogger, Emma Bentley, who works with the estate. Their vineyards are the highest in Soave, well known for its “wines of the plain” at mere DOC level. They are lucky to have mature vines, most being more than 60-years-old, and the philosophy is to produce terroir wines which reflect the three cru sites on the estate. There’s an entry level (but unfiltered) bottling, which knocks most inexpensive Soave off the table, plus a number of more expensive wines, which nevertheless offer amazing value for money. Aiming my comments at independent retailers, these wines offer a lot of bang for the buck. And I’m not just saying that because Emma offered me her seat to eat my QCH pork pie!

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

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A quick break for lunch – Quality Chop House pork pie with “Kernel Table Beer” mustard, in the company of the Filippi Soaves

 

Casa Belfi, Albino Armani, Prosecco (Veneto)

Casa Belfi make “Colfondo” Prosecco from vineyards around San Polo di Piave, a little less than 20km south of Conegliano. Colfondo Prosecco is often cited as the historical version of this modern, often industrial wine. It is bottled on its lees sediment, rather like the méthode ancestrale pétillant naturel wines of France. Rather like real Lambrusco, it’s a very different wine to the norm.

Belfi’s Prosecco Colfondo Frizzante (currently 2015 vintage) is a low alcohol (around 10.5%) dry wine with bracing flavours. Susie Barrie reviewed a previous cuvée of this unapologetically “natural wine” Prosecco on Decanter’s web site in 2015, saying “I was sceptical, but it’s superb”, and it still is. This biodynamic Prosecco is nothing like the stuff you buy for £5.99 in the supermarket. Expect to pay a shocking £13 or so.

So is there more to Casa Belfi? Of course there is. They make a very unusual Prosecco Colfondo Anfora, which is also available in magnums. This is an even more delicious rendition of the Glera grape variety, for the adventurous palate. It sees seven days skin contact in a large amphora, and the resulting wine is floral, and a little bready in a nice savoury way. All bottling is done strictly adhering to the biodynamic calendar, and remember, it is bottled on lees. Not only will it continue to develop in bottle, but if you don’t want the cloudy option (a more textured experience), you have to stand the bottle upright for a good 48 hours and pour carefully.

Casa Belfi’s Raboso Frizzante was completely new to me. Raboso is a traditional red grape from the western part of Veneto, and it probably means “angry” (from the Venetian dialect word, “raboxo”). This could have something to do with its inherent acidity, yet this non-vintage red fizz is not exceptionally acidic. The fruit levels are crazy and, although it is also fermented on lees, it tastes clean. Drink now, or, like the Proseccos, keep it a little while to see it develop in bottle.

I should state firmly that these are wines which have no pretension to be serious. The basic Prosecco is remarkably cheap, not for Prosecco of course, but cheap for a really tasty dry sparkler. I will be looking to get some Raboso for weekend afternoons in the garden, or taking to BBQs, hoping that my sources for the other two wines order some.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

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Vino di Anna, Anna Martens, Etna (Sicily)

Real Wine had five Sicilian estates on show, and as is so often the case with Sicily at wine fairs, I know the wines too well to taste them. But I drank Anna’s Palmento Rosso 2015 very recently at Terroirs in London, and it was so good I had to tell her. Is this really a red? Fermented on skins for 3-4 days only, it is a pale red more than a dark pink, but only just. The fruit is almost sweet, filling the mouth and coating the tongue. There’s almost a typically Sicilian level (13%) of alcohol here, but you really can’t tell. You can almost knock it back like fruit juice. It’s mostly Nerello Mascalese, but there are other varieties in the field blend, including some white ones. The 2016 is almost ready to bottle, but do try this, A super wine.

Etna Rosso “Jeudi 15” 2015 is the current iteration of the first wine I ever tried from Anna, a wine which over time has flitted between Burgundy-, and Bordeaux-shaped, bottles (for what it’s worth I have an aesthetic preference for the burgundy shape). This is Etna’s wonderful Nerello Mascalese once more, and there’s some of the rare Minella variety in the field blend too. Created in an open fermenter (8 to 10 days on skins this time with some whole bunches), it has more bite and grip than Palmento. More colour too, not that it matters.

Anna makes wine with her partner, Eric Narioo, who’s well known to us all as one of the men behind Les Caves. The vines are all at altitude (600 to 1,200 metres) on Etna’s northern slopes. “Palmento” refers to the stone  floors where the grapes were traditionally foot trodden. Eric and Anna restored a 250-year-old building with one of these floors, in which they make their delicious biodynamic wines from a small, six hectare, estate. Anna had run out of her white wines, but everything here is worth a try. I think I bought the very first vintage of “Jeudi 15”, and the wines seem to get better and better.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

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COS, Vittoria (Sicily)

COS was founded by Giusto Occhipinti, along with school friends Giambattista Cilia and Pinuccia Strano, back in 1980. Over time, the wines of COS have moved in a much more “natural” direction. The company has also become famous as one of Sicily’s proponents of amphorae. COS has pretty much revitalised Cerasuolo di Vittoria [Classico] as a DOCG, as well as the local Frappato grape. Their Nero d’Avola exhibits a restraint hardly seen elsewhere on the island, and as I mentioned above, “Pithos” has become a byword for classy terracotta-aged wine.

I usually have a few COS wines at home, often a few bottles of Frappato, Cerasuolo (which traditionally blends Nero d’Avola and Frappato), and the two amphora wines, Pithos Bianco and Rosso. I also have a tendency to mention these on the Blog fairly frequently, so here I’m going to talk about a couple of wines I see less often, plus one amazing new wine.

Nero di Lupo 2015 is 100% Nero d’Avola, made from vines only a little over a decade old, which is fermented and aged in cement tanks before bottling. If I haven’t bought this wine for several years, it is only really because I like some of the others so much. It’s very good in 2015, fruity but not too big (only 12.5% alcohol). If you’ve been put off by the monster Nero d’Avolas of some other Sicilian producers, this will make a refreshing change.

Aestas Siciliae Vino Dolce No 5 is a new (to me) dessert wine made from Moscato grapes which have dried on the vine. Grapey and concentrated, yet it only has 12.5% alcohol, and the sweetness is not cloying. It’s too hard to be objective when a wine is this moreish. Just sip it.

The last wine I’m going to write about in this Part 3, and therefore of all the wines I tasted at the Real Wine Fair 2017, was my Wine of the Fair, my favourite wine of the day. It was also a new wine from COS, which I’d never tasted before, and which is not yet imported into the UK as far as I’m aware. Don’t take my word for it – many others were raving about this wine. It is clearly not in my interests, wishing to secure a bottle (or magnum, oh yes!) or two, for me to big this up, but I cannot lie.

Zibibbo in Pithos 2014 (poured here from magnum) is made from Muscat of Alexandria (known as Zibibbo on Sicily). It’s aged on skins for eleven months in amphorae, so that alongside the grapey flavours and aromas of the Muscat grapes, you also get candied fruit and pleasantly savoury, or bitter, spice, presumably from the skin contact and terracotta. Smooth, and quite powerful, yet only weighing in at 10.5% abv, it is totally delicious. If restricted to a one word tasting note, it would be “want”, though I’d like to add a very plaintive “please” to those nice people just outside Guildford. I presume they will be bringing in as much as they can beg from Giusto.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyréne

 

So that’s all I’m going to give you for Real Wine 2017, but I hope you’ve enjoyed the limited selection of producers and wines I’ve described in these three articles. I am sure that they complement all the other pieces written about this extraordinary Fair, and the 170 producers who attended. I’m not really sure how I could have got around many more in a day, and I doubt that any of the Press managed to speak to all of them.

After the Fair I was invited to a Tasting of French Alpine Wines, organised by Wink Lorch. As I said in Part 1, it was to celebrate the successful end to her Kickstarter Campaign to fund her next book, on this very subject. My next article will be on that Tasting, and it was indeed a particularly interesting Tasting because some of the wines were well aged.

Posted in Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Festivals, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Real Wine Fair 2017, Part 2 – Mainly USA

In dividing my Real Wine Fair 2017 odyssey into three manageable parts, I decided to base Part 2 on four North American producers I tasted. But as this will be the shortest of the three parts, I’m going to throw in one from Australia and one from England as well. There is no doubt that The USA is increasing its “natural wine” profile in the UK year on year. Three of the producers below were completely new to me, and were showing some brilliant wines, but first, we’ll begin with a producer I do know pretty well.

What did I get from tasting these particular producers? Well, with the North Americans and the Australian, I think none conformed to stereotypes and cliches about what wine from these places tastes like. There was an overwhelming sense of joy in the wines, rather than an attempt to be serious. They are, on the whole, wines to drink, rather than (as is so often the case in these regions) wines of high alcohol, wines to sip on their (and often, your) own. This is the prime reason why even the more affluent younger drinkers are turning to these wines, and away from the monsters. It’s what makes a Wine Fair like Real Wine (and Raw) so important, and also so obviously popular with a younger audience. The demographic here, as compared to many other London Tastings, is telling, and should be a warning to the trade.

La Garagista, Vermont

La Garagista are in Barnard, and have vines around Lake Champlain, and Mount Hunger. The focus is on biodiversity and permaculture on their home farm, and all winemaking is biodynamic. Viticulture is only part of their story.

I first met Caleb and Deirdre a year ago, and loved their wines. My favourite was without doubt the pét-nat, Grace and Favour, made from La Crescent, a hybrid grape variety said to be descended from Black Hambourg. It gets its name because that is the variety of “The Great Vine” at Hampton Court Palace, outside of London (where “grace and favour apartments are allotted to former royal functionaries). It was just a month ago that I drank the 2015 bottling of Grace and Favour, so I had to try the new one.

Grace & Favour 2016 has less of the zip and direct thrust of the 2015, but that is replaced by a lovely floral ambience. It’s quite a different wine, but equally good. The 2015 was my first vintage of this sparkler, and it was such an exciting wine. This is a little toned down, but it won’t be any less of a shock (I’m hoping in a good way) to the uninitiated.

Ci Confonde Rosso Pet Nat 2015 was completely new to me. I knew of a rosé in this series (made from Frontenac Gris), but Caleb said that this cuvée was made from Marquette, a hybrid developed in Minnesota especially for colder climates. It was my first (but not last) “new” grape variety of the day. The wine is frothy, fruity and has a certain savoury quality on the finish. Very possibly a challenger to Grace & Favour.

I finished off with Loup d’Or 2015, which I have tried before – so “Brianna” is not a new variety to me. Brianna is a hybrid between vinifera, labrusca and riparia plants, developed this time in Wisconsin. It does, again, suit colder climates. It was originally developed to use as a table grape, but is now quite widely planted in the Midwest for wine production. Up in Vermont it seems to make a very taut wine, but it also has a creamy texture. If citrus and cream sounds weird, don’t let that put you off. It’s an unusual wine, but it has a nice floral quality which the adventurous will find beguiling.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

Caleb pouring Grace ’16, some red pét-nat Ci Confonde, and that map again – one presumes they draw a new one every year? Most of us need it!

 

Golden Cluster, Jeff Vejr, Oregon

Jeff Vejr is lucky to be able to source his grapes from one of the Willamette Valley’s heritage sites. Originally called the Charles Coury Vineyard (it has since been renamed David Hill Vineyard, after a later owner), he was one of the three original pioneers of Oregon viticulture (David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards, who died back in 2008, was perhaps much better known). Jeff pays homage to Coury, the region’s unsung hero, through his labels, but he is completely opposed to the modern day marketing story that Oregon means Pinot Noir. Hence the diversity of varieties he bottles. Jeff’s not a local, he hails from New Hampshire, and his first vintage was only in 2013. Early days then, but lots of promise.

Coury Old Vines Semillon 2014 is far from typical, if you are thinking Graves, or Australia. Dry farmed on its own original rootstock, it is given a little skin contact (two days), and is then aged on the lees in bottle. But the vines are old – in fact the oldest Semillon vines in America’s Pacific Northwest, and you can tell. Good texture and mouthfeel, combined with quite a concentration of fruit, though not remotely flashy. The fruit is bright, layered over a gentle beeswax base. Delicious, and a piece of viticultural history too.

Dion Vineyard Syrah 2015 actually has 2% Grenache added. Made with some whole clusters, this is aged partly in 500 litre wood, and partly in some stainless steel kegs. Apparently Syrah does extremely well in the Willamette, although I’ve little experience of it myself. This has nice bright fruit, very tasty now, but I presume with the capacity to age.

The one wine I wasn’t quite sure about was Olmo Flora 2016. Flora is a cross between Gewurztraminer and Semillon, made in 1938 by Harold Olmo at the California Viticultural Experiment Station. I first came across it not in North America, but in Australia, via Brown Brothers’ well distributed dessert wine, Orange Muscat & Flora. This also comes from the David Hill (originally Charles Coury) vineyard. It is a relatively low acid wine with quite a sour and ever so slightly bitter finish. But I won’t pass judgement and dismiss it on one sip.

Savagnin Rose 2015 was much more to my taste. The variety is also known as Roter Traminer, but may be better known to some as the grape variety in the rarely seen Alsace wine, Klevener de Heiligenstein  (which isn’t, confusingly, made from Klevner, note the middle ‘e’). It’s a white grape, yet has a pink skin. This cuvée tastes dry, but has around 5g/l of residual sugar, balanced by good acidity which is nevertheless not too assertive. There’s also some protective CO2. Jeff thinks this was the first planting of the grape variety in Oregon. A fun wine, worth trying if you can find it.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

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Bow & Arrow, Scott and Diana Frank, Oregon

Scott and Diana are based in Oregon, but some of their wines could almost be straight out of Anjou and Touraine. They’ve been going almost seven years, and bring their own brand of low intervention wines to an industry which at times can seem like, well, an industry. They share with their natural wine counterparts in The Loire a predilection for lower alcohols, refreshing in both senses.

Melon Blanc 2015 is clearly a nod to Muscadet, further evidenced by the year the wine spends on its lees in tank. Like Muscadet, this wine has very linear minerality, and fresh fruit, but expect a little more body than many Muscadets, at least the young ones. With superb length, this is really good. It won’t match the ridiculously low prices which the French wine fetches, but at around £20 UK retail, it’s still very much worth seeking out (and I will).

Gamay Noir 2015 is made by semi-carbonic maceration from vines grown in the Willamette Valley. The nod to The Loire continues, in that this reminds me more of the increasingly delicious versions from here, than of Beaujolais. I’m finding North American Gamay quite exciting right now, and this is no exception. Expect fruit concentration, but something resembling restraint.

Was Air Guitar 2015 my favourite wine from Bow & Arrow? Certainly, it gains bonus points for the name with me. It’s a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, with the fruits firmly in the “red” spectrum, rather than anything darker. It has the same kind of restraint I found in the Gamay, something which for me signals perfect ripeness, but no unwarranted extra hang time.

Scott was also showing his Pinot Noir wines. Rhinestones 2015 is actually a blend of 60% Pinot with 40% Gamay. Think good Bourgogne Passetoutgrains, or the best of Dôle from Switzerland’s Valais. I don’t think there’s a hint of pretension here, just a very pleasant and fruity wine for glugging…yet extremely well put together despite the minimal intervention.

Hughes Hollow Pinot Noir 2014 (an error in the catalogue listed 2015) is a single vineyard wine from a north facing site in the Willamette Valley, just west of the Eola-Amity AVA. Very much cool climate initially, and Scott said he thought it may have just been planted for extra volume, although the vines are planted on their own rootstock. But with global warming, the vines now achieve full phenolic ripeness without going above 12% abv (yet), and 2014 was a very warm vintage. Ripe fruit is quite floral on the nose, whilst on the palate it’s mainly raspberry with a touch of red cherry. There are tannins which are quite smooth but not without texture. Hughes Hollow is possibly the most potentially fine wine from Bow & Arrow, although my heart is probably with the Melon and Air Guitar.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

Scott Frank demonstrates a bit of air guitar to the thronging crowds at Tobacco Dock, defending the faith

Ryme Cellars, Megan and Ryan Glaab, California

In Part 1, I mentioned how I’m always stopped by people recommending producers to me, and how they often end up being some of my best discoveries at big wine fairs like Real Wine. My friend Nayan Gowda was responsible, via social media, for sending me to Ryme Cellars, having graduated with Megan. This was no mere plugging of a mate, the wines are brilliant.

Megan and Ryan are both winemakers (Ryme combines the first letters of their names), and they started making wine together out of Healdsburg in 2007. They claim to have the same ideas and intuition in their winemaking, but where they did disagree was in what to do with their Vermentino. So they made one each.

“Hers” Carneros Vermentino 2016 takes as its inspiration the bright and clean wines of the Ligurian coast. Stainless steel renders a lovely fresh “garden wine”. “His” Carneros Vermentino 2014 (note the vintage) is a skin contact wine, more orange than Megan’s yellow. It’s made from whole clusters, with two weeks on skins. It has texture from the winemaking method, but great purity. I didn’t tell Megan I kind of preferred Ryan’s wine, but only because I love the style. Both wines are very good.

However, I liked the next wine even more. Fiano is an under rated grape variety. Famous in Italy’s Campania/Irpinia region, and especially around Avellino, we are seeing the grape spread beyond its homeland. One of the most exciting finds of last summer was Larry Cherubino’s version from Frankland River in Western Australia.

Sonoma Fiano 2015 is every bit as exciting. It comes from Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County), a little north of Healdsburg. Megan said she thinks there are only around eight acres of Fiano planted in California. This version is simply made, aged in neutral French oak for ten months with just one racking. The fruit is rounded and stony, with a nice gentle texture, overlaid with citrus freshness.

Napa Ribolla Gialla 2013 is a rare find. In the Oak Knoll district of Napa, at the foot of Mount Veeder, a guy called George Vare has around 2.5 acres of this Northeastern Italian grape variety. Megan and Ryan secured a single ton of grapes, and decided (they love the wines of Sasha Radikon) to ferment it on skins for six months, before ageing for two years in more neutral French oak. The wine is very complex already. The colour is deep, the nose is quite spicy (ginger and nutmeg?), and the palate is textured, with the tannins of a red. It tastes of crunchy pears. There’s quite a bit of gras adding a little weight, but it’s in no way a heavy wine, just nicely poised.

The first wine this couple made together in 2007 was an Aglianico, from fruit sourced from Peachy Canyon Road, Paso Robles. It had been planted to complement the prodigious quantities of Zinfandel around that district. This would remind you that it’s pretty hot here, but Aglianico is a late ripener which doesn’t mind such temperatures. Picked in late October, foot trodden as whole clusters without destemming (ouch!), it is aged for three years in barrel, then given a year in bottle before release. The 2012 Paso Robles Aglianico has 14% alcohol, but also a very high ph of 3.2, so enough balancing acidity. Right now it is super tannic, though the acidity lifts it, making it not hard to contemplate. It’s made to age…Megan said well over twenty years. But it seemed to me to have enormous potential.

Not generally a fan of high alcohol Southern Italian reds, I’ve nevertheless always had a soft spot for Aglianico. Like Sicily’s Nerello Mascalese, it seems to retain freshness (both grapes are often grown at altitude in the finest examples). As an example of the remarkably assured winemaking here, this wine is exemplary.

I didn’t get to try the Carignane and their Cabernet Franc.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène.

Megan holding a carafe of the highly impressive Paso Robles Aglianico

 

Martha Stoumen, California

Matha makes wine by herself in Northern California, aiming to create real biodiversity in the vineyards she leases directly. She had three wines at the Fair: Post Flirtation 2016, a blend of 65% Carignan plus Zinfandel made in the glouglou/gulpable style (11.3% alcohol); Venturi Vineyard Carignan 2015 from Larry Venturi, out of a vineyard on Russian River’s former bed, covered in large stones; and Mendo Benchlands 2015, 60% Nero d’Avola blended with 40% Zinfandel (whole clusters, foot trodden, one month maceration then 18 months in neutral oak, 14% abv).

Sadly, when I arrived a little before 5pm, Martha was clean out of wine. I mention her in part because of the rave reviews she got from some of my friends, and also for what I decided was the “Label of the Day”, for the Post Flirtation Blend, which I have reproduced below.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

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Sam Vinciullo, Margaret River, Western Australia

Sam Vinciullo was another of the star producers at Real Wine 2017. Sam has had a varied winemaking career, around Australia and in California. But his most formative experience was working with Frank Cornelissen on Etna. Helped by Sarah Morris of Si Vintners, who sold him his first parcel of fruit for the 2015 vintage, Sam makes three wines – a red and a white, and a “red-white” blend. 2016 is his second bottled vintage, 2017 being safely in tank.

Warner Glen Sauvignon 2016 is no typical Sauvignon Blanc. The nose is stunning, almost tropical and very primary, but not in the same direction as many New Zealand versions. It’s softer than you expect on the palate, though the acids are there, as is a nice texture. Sam allows fermentation to run wild, with no temperature control, but every stage of vinification is scrupulously monitored, and the winery is said to be spotlessly clean.

Warner Glen Red Blend 2016 is Cabernet/Merlot, a combination that’s hardly uncommon in Margaret River. Sam destems the fruit, but uses a high proportion of whole berries. The red winemaking is very gentle, and the resulting wine has a nice medium weight with bright, vibrant, fruit. Definitely a wine to match with food. Good to go if you open it early, or splash into a carafe. Probably even better in a year.

Red/White Blend 2016 is one of those fortuitous discoveries which may not be the height of sophistication, but provide the perfect fruity wine for summer. The blend is Merlot and Semillon. It has a nice glowing red colour to it, very attractive (I know that pretty labels and bright colours shouldn’t sway sophisticated palates, but this is a fun wine, not a Grand Cru). It simply delivers fruit and freshness. Great garden fodder, if we can persuade the sunshine to return.

Sam is pretty particular about his way of doing things. He eschews oak, uses a small basket press, and there is no pumping, just hand punching in open fermenters. He’s very tactile, getting to know the skins as he said. Sam aims for texture and a relatively low ph. Native yeasts and no added sulphur complete the picture. So whilst the grapes are your usual Margaret River fare, the winemaking, and hence the wines, are not. As I said at the top, but will repeat here, star quality.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

 

Davenport Vineyard, Limney Farm, East Sussex (UK)

Whilst the sparkling wine industry in the UK is relatively new, Davenport has a history longer than many, having built up vine holdings at a rate of about an acre a year over twenty years, and over five different sites. They are unusual, for our UK climate, in being fully certified organic. Some copper and sulphur are used to control mildew, but all other treatments are made from plants (nettles feature prominently). There is generally a very high degree of environmental awareness here, even down to bottle weight and non-bleached cartons, and the winery is solar powered.

The range of wine is quite broad, although Davenport were not showing their top “traditional method” white – the current vintage (2013) is settling in bottle after disgorging.

Limney Auxerrois Sparkling 2014 is somewhat simpler than that 2013, made from Pinot Auxerrois instead of the classic three variety Champagne blend. Nevertheless, it gets two years on lees in bottle, and reminded me a little of a very good Crémant de Bourgogne.

Davenport Pet Nat 2014 is more fruity and quite simple, but I can’t recall tasting a better English wine in this style. It is only in its second vintage, but I really hope it proves a big success. In its first vintage it was made from Pinot Auxerrois, but that block was apparently eaten by badgers in 2016, so they switched to a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Faber (Faberrebe), and they think this is even better. I can’t comment on the 2015, not having tried it, but the ’16 is delicious, in the pét-nat style, ie ripe fruit, great acidity, slightly tart but very refreshing. Simple wine to knock back and enjoy.

Limney Estate Sparkling Rosé is the counterpart to that resting white. Mainly Chardonnay, with 10% Pinot Noir for colour. It gets a year on lees and is dosed at 4g/l, so it is very dry. There’s a line of fine acidity to go with the fine bead, and it’s red fruits all the way.

Horsmondon White 2015 comes from a vineyard planted originally in the early 1990s with a range of varieties which at that time were considered, by the English viticultural fraternity, to be the future of English wine. They may have been proved wrong in the event, but the Bacchus, Ortega, Huxelrebe, Siegerrebe and Feberrebe planted here make a refreshing white, which is given a touch more weight by placing the Ortega in wooden foudre for six months.

I am generally wary of many English white blends using these type of grapes, which can often produce wines high in acidity and which are rather one-dimensional. But this wine has gained a very good reputation, and I’d say deservedly so, especially for its thirst quenching qualities. Sip at the cricket on a Sunday afternoon.

Diamond Fields Pinot Noir 2015 was, for me, the least convincing of the Davenport wines. It is actually made from the strain of Pinot called Pinot Noir Précose, a Pinot Noir mutation known in Germany as Frühburgunder. It is basically an earlier ripening version of the Burgundian grape. We grow some ourselves, just one big old vine, which yields at best thirty bunches, which we juice. It’s a real pain, always having uneven fruit set, and with some tiny berries among the normal ones.

Diamond Fields has darker fruit than you expect from Pinot Noir, along with a bitter touch on the finish. I’m going to put my neck on the block by suggesting it is not going to yield the complexity true Pinot Noir is capable of, due to its early ripening properties.

There’s nothing wrong with Diamond Fields. It’s just that for me, although there are a couple of glaring exceptions, I am just not convinced that global warming has gone quite far enough, and that vine siting and age are yet helping create truly exciting still Pinot Noir in England that offers value for money. But as we know, it’s getting warmer and if we can become lucky with the rain, the future may well be bright for English red wine.

 

 

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Real Wine Fair 2017, Part 1 – Austria & Germany

Real Wine is an event I really look forward to. Okay, 170 producers is an impossible task for anyone, and I reckon I’d need five days to do the Fair justice. But the Fair is very well organised (if you excuse the lack of water bearers for glass rinsing), Tobacco Dock is a good venue (and not as inaccessible as I always imagine), and certainly on yesterday’s press day there was plenty of space to taste, at least in the morning. Of course, there are always minor gripes, but those are too minor to air here. Real Wine is a fantastic Wine Fair. Like my summer holiday, I wish it would never end.

My strategy for getting the most out of an event like this is to download the catalogue and make a list. Then I get to the event, bump into lots of people, and find my list grows considerably longer: “you really have to taste…”. Difficult as that makes the task in hand, those recommendations often yield the best surprises, and I’m forever grateful for them. Yet I also tried to enforce another rule yesterday. Don’t spend half your time tasting wines you already know. With a crossover of producers with Raw Wine, there are several big names I had to pass by, but one or two favourites had new wines to show, and one of those was my Wine of the Day.

Part 1 of my roundup will cover Austria and Germany. Part 2 will cover North America, Australia and the UK. Part 3 will cover some European producers. After the Fair I went to a Tasting of French Alpine Wines, organised by Wink Lorch, as celebration for hitting the target for her Kickstarter campaign, for a book on the same subject. A write-up of that tasting will follow Parts 1-3.

AUSTRIA AND GERMANY

Meinklang, Burgenland

Don’t worry, I’m not going to run through all the Klangs again, despite these guys being one of my favourite few Austrian producers. But I had to say hello, hector a few passers-by to come and taste, and to try one wine, the 2015 vintage of Foam Rot. This is a red partner for their white pét-nat, and it is made with 80% Gamaret and 20% Blaufränkisch, from their vineyards near Pamhagen (near Neusiedlersee’s southern shore). Gamaret is an interesting variety, a cross (1970) between Gamay and Reichensteiner which is largely planted in Switzerland (I’ve written about Gamaret from Geneva’s vineyards this year). This wine has a good colour, and lots of fruit, ripe red cherries and darker notes (blackberries?). Perfect for a pét-nat. Hoping there will be some around for me this summer.

Importer – Winemakers Club

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Claus Preisinger, Burgenland

Claus is another favourite of mine, but although I drink a good number of his wines at home, I only said “hello” back at Raw. And in any event, having drunk a bottle of his 2015 Ancestrale sparkler at the weekend, I wanted to try the 2016. It’s quite different, but equally delicious. 10.5% abv, as opposed to just 9% in the 2015, it is also back to being stoppered with a crown cap, rather than the mushroom cork closure on the previous vintage. The nose really hits you – fragrant. It’s a bronzy colour (let’s not forget, the grape is the red St-Laurent), and there’s nice extract. It may be a little gentler than the rapier-sharp ’15.

Claus is based in Gols, at the northern end of the lake. He was talking about all the heavy snow they’d been having this winter (up to 20cm on the ground), and that a severe frost was also forecast for yesterday. I’m sure we all wish Claus, and all the other winemakers around the Neusiedlersee, the best of luck.

As a lover of the indigenous Austrian varieties at this address, I often forget Claus’ Pinot Noir. This is a mistake because he does produce a very good one. Pinot Noir 2015 is very fruit driven, but 2015 was a warm vintage, here as in most places. The wine, from a relatively cool climate terroir, is not at all jammy, but it does have a lovely texture, which Claus says was enhanced by the warm weather.

Unable to resist, I did have a quick glug of a couple more wines. Kalk und Kiesel Weiss is Preisinger’s entry level white. It won’t be the same every vintage, as that’s the way Claus works, but the new 2016 is very fresh, and if you don’t mind a touch of zippy apple (not cider), then this is one to try. By way of contrast, the Blaufränkisch ErDELuftGRAsundreBEN (sic) 2015 is in a very different style, and one for keeping. Quite big with concentrated fruit and tannins. Excellent, but give it time. The labels are very plain here, but the wines are far from it.

Importer – Newcomer Wines

Christian Tschida, Burgenland

This particular Tschida is based in Illmitz, on Neusiedlersee’s eastern shore, home to some of Burgenland’s finest producers. Christian’s small domaine consists of around ten hectares of vines which look unkempt compared to many of his neighbours’. But everything here is done with a combination of love, passion, and (truthfully) an awful lot of thought.

There are four wines which go under the Himmel auf Erden label (aptly, for the region, on which I’ve written before, heaven on earth). There’s a white made from Gelbermuskateller, Scheurebe and Weissburgunder, which is fresh with good acidity; another white labelled Maische Vergoren, which replaces the Weissburgunder with Muscat Ottonel, and has some skin contact (cloudy, with a bitter, almost earthy finish, which I love but it might scare some), a pink (not on show, but thankfully I have some), and the Himmel auf Erden Rot. This was a 2014 (the whites being 2015s). It’s a savoury wine blending Zweigelt and Cabernet Sauvignon, which go together surprisingly well.

Kapitel I is the first of the more serious bottlings. This one blends Zweigelt with Cabernet Franc (50:50). It gets ten weeks on skins, then a year in oak. Another good combo, but this one’s not for glugging.

Felsen I is 100% Blaufränkisch, grown on limestone on the eastern side of the lake. It has a high-toned and peppery nose, concentration and length. Felsen II is 100% Syrah. This gets the ten weeks on skins again, but two years in oak this time. The nose is dark and mysterious, probably olives if you want a word for it. It has structure and mineral-texture, with, at this stage, a fair line of acidity. Maybe keep this the longest?

Importer – Newcomer Wines

Martin and Anna Arndorfer, Kamptal

Anna comes from Kamptal winemaking royalty (her father is Karl Steininger). They make wonderful wines here, which I only discovered last year, via their “Handcrafted” label (Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, the former which I drank a few times).

Vorgeschmack White 2016 is a blend of those two varieties (with Riesling at 20%). They are harvested together, pressed on the same day, and co-fermented. This is another delicious wine, which seems to express terroir more than those individual varieties.

Riesling Strasser Weinberge 2015 comes from two of the best sites in the village of Strass, on pure primary rock. Fermented, then aged ten months, in large oak, the wine is intense, with a lovely line and length. Fresh, but balanced by some body. I really like this.

Grüner Veltliner Die Leidenschaft 2015 is a selection from the Arndorfer Estate’s oldest vineyards, some of which were planted in 1959. Mouthfilling, refreshing, and with palate-cleansing acidity. It will age.

Roter Veltliner “Terrassen 1979” 2015 does what it says on the label. A terraced single vineyard, planted in 1979. Mineral and fresh, perhaps not as expressive as the Grüner Veltliner, but the Roter version (a white grape, not red) is a fascinating variety. Definitely has a (ahem!) mineral quality, but also the kind of subtle flavours you can’t really put a name to.

Müller-Thurgau “Per Se”2014 is yet another shockingly good version of this most maligned of varieties. It has a bronze colour from two weeks on skins, and a lot of extract and texture. For some, this should come with a red flashing warning light. For others, I doubt you’d easily guess the variety, and it’s one of the most unusual versions of this grape you will find.

Martin and Anna have a side project with their friends, Stefanie and Alwin Jurtschitsch, called Fuchs und Hase. The project is focussed solely on pét-nat wines. Relatively inexpensive, fruity and fun, but also very well made, these are worth seeking out.

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

Weingut Werlitsch, Ewald and Brigitte Tscheppe, Sudsteirerland

This estate is close to the Slovenian border, at Leutschach. The estate’s eight hectares of vineyards here are steep, and farmed biodynamically, the grape varieties being almost exclusively Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay (which here goes under the synonym of Morillon). The key word here is “nature”. Understanding nature in this specific location is the all-consuming aim of this couple, and I think their wines show it (as does one of their label styles – a tree with roots hugging the earth, which reminded me of the Japanese tale of Laputa).

Morillon vom Opok 2013 is a nice, rounded but balanced, Chardonnay. It’s a more simple style, if you want to get to know Austrian Chardonnay. Both Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc do excel in Austria’s Southern Regions. Opok is the sandy sedimentary loam which is said to give a certain powerful quality to the white wines.

Freude 2013 blends the two, though it’s mostly Sauvignon. Some stems are often added here, and the wine gets a whole year on skins. That creates a lovely orange colour. There’s fruit here, but the finish, in keeping with many orange wines, has the texture and savoury quality of a red wine. It’s lovely if, like me, you get the style (that’s a bit unfair, let’s say “like”).

Glück 2013 is perhaps a little less forthright. This cuvée blends the two varieties in equal proportion, and skin contact is just three weeks. But all of these wines are aged for several years in neutral large oak, hence the current vintage on show being 2013. The latter two wines in particular show genuine complexity. Freude is very complex for a Sauvignon Blanc from outside its homeland. The complexity (if not the style) reminds me of Abe Schoener (Prince in his Caves).

Importer – Newcomer Wines

Maria and Sepp Muster, Sudsteirerland

Weingut Muster is also near Leutschach. This is a very old estate, dating back to 1727. As with the Werlitsch vineyards, we have steep stony slopes on “opok”. The Musters also have something else in common with their near neighbours. Like their “Freude” wine, Muster’s skin contact cuvée is bottled in an earthy flask.

Sepp and Maria’s Opok White 2015 is a blend of varieties (SB and CH with Muskateller and Welschriesling). It has colour but no skin contact, and is another lovely expression of the region. There is also a pure Welschriesling vom Opok and a Gelber Muskateller vom Opok (both 2015).

I like all of the Muster wines. Try the Graf Sauvignon 2013 if you want to experience another totally different iteration of this variety. The reds are often overlooked – and aware of that I brought home the Rotwein 2011 (made from Blaufränkisch, Blauer Wildbacher (the grape of Schilchersekt), and Zweigelt, all fermented on skins). I do rather wish I’d also grabbed the somewhat more expensive Erde 2013 as well, though. That is created from Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay with a year on skins, then aged in a variety of cask sizes (225 litres up to 3,000 litres). Pure heaven (and earth) for fans of “deep orange” (deep referring to profundity as much as colour).

Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène

2Naturkinder, Melanie and Michael Voelker, Franken

I’ve written about this lovely couple a few times. Ex-publishers who turned to wine (with six hectares of vines close to Iphofen) and bats. This is Silvaner country, and it is the main grape of choice for Michael and Melanie. They might only have six hectares, but they produce a lot of cuvées (I’ve counted 15, eleven of which were on show yesterday). Where to begin?

Silvaner Pet-Nat 2016 (originally “Bat-Nat”, but I prefer “Pet-Bat”) is as good a place as any. Easy going, with 10g/l residual sugar, this is quite spicy (ginger), cloudy and very “funky” (it promises the full on Funkadelic).

There are two cuvées named after their favourite vineyard inhabitant (not the Johann Straus operetta). Fledermaus White 2016 is another nod to Müller-Thurgau, this time with 25% Silvaner, and will do you for a simple white.

The very interesting Kleine Wanderlust 2015 will sort you for a red. Take 80% of the Regent variety (which you will also find in the UK now) and 20% Dornfelder (which Bolney in Sussex use to make a delicious red fizz). Made using carbonic maceration, but from a very dry vintage, fermentation actually stopped. With just 10.5% alcohol, it’s packed with oozing blueberry fruit. Quite different.

The Heimat wines undergo a degree of skin contact. Heimat Silvaner 2016 is a serious wine, with 20 days on skins. The vineyards aren’t on hillsides, but they are of a southerly orientation. As far as I’m aware it is, by a long way, their most expensive wine to date, and whilst 2Naturkinder do focus on gluggable wines, this is something different. The bottle of this wine on taste at the Fair was a barrel sample, but it has real potential.

This couple are getting a bit of a reputation, but the wines are very firmly of the non-interventionist style and, as I intimated, they are quite funky.

Importer – Under the Bonnet Wines

Weingut Brand, Pfalz

Daniel and Jonas Brand remind me of the Rennersistas from Gols in Austria. They are two brothers in their early and mid-twenties who took over the family domaine and took off in a very different direction. I asked whether their father had confidence in what they are doing. “Not at first, but now, yes” was Daniel’s reply. It’s all down to trust.

The Brand brothers farm at Bockenheim, north of Deidesheim and Bad Dürkheim, and directly west of Wörms, in the northern part of the Pfalz. I started off tasting their Pet Nat White 2016, made from a blend of Silvaner and Pinot Blanc (Daniel didn’t say “Weissburgunder”). It has just 12 hours maceration and is both simple and very tasty. There is a red/pink Pet Nat as well, made from Pinot Noir with 10% Blauer Portugieser. I think I liked this even more.

Wildrose 2016 is 100% Blauer Portugieser, and a very interesting version of a variety which gains little respect from wine writers outside of Germany. But among the several cuvées made by these young men, the one which perhaps illustrates their potential is Mythos 2015. It is made from an early ripening grape variety called Cabernet Mythos (aka Cabernet Mitos), developed in 1970 as a cross between Blaufränkisch and Teinturier du Cher. It is made almost like a rosé, with just 12 hours maceration before being racked off into barrels. The teinturier element nevertheless gives it a typical dark colour (Teinturier grapes have dark flesh). The vines are 30 years old, grown on limestone, with loess and loam. It’s dark, very fruity, but the fruit acids are prominent, as is a mineral texture. You expect more than the 12.5% alcohol which undoubtedly helps this wine retain its freshness. Not complex, but certainly a wine which poses questions and makes demands of the taster.

Importer – Under the Bonnet Wines

FOOTNOTE – The Glou(glou) which binds us together

Whilst the Fair is about the wines, visitors need sustaining. There’s a whole raft of food on offer, and Real Wine does this very well. New this year was the incredibly popular Quality Chop House. Imagine a fine pork pie with pickled walnuts, and mustard made using Kernel Brewery’s fabulous Table Beer. As wine tasting is a taxing business, sugar levels could be re-instated with some delicious cinnamon and marzipan pastries from The Bread Station (London Fields), the perfect accompaniment to coffee from Taylor Street Barristas (New Street). Canopy Beers (Herne Hill) were on hand in the main hall, and were popular with the exhibitors. These are just a few of the many well thought out ways of getting us poor wine addicts through the day.

The wine shop is an unmissable part of the Real Wine Fair. Last year I brought a suitcase with me, but this year, with a post-Fair Tasting to get to, I made do with just a couple of bottles. Where the shop scores is in the large selection brought to the event, mainly, but far from exclusively, from the Les Caves de Pyrene warehouse.

If all that were not enough, I did joke that I only went to the Fair to buy Michel Tolmer‘s bande dessinéeA Short Treatise on Tasting (wine tasting adventures with Tolmer’s characters, Fifi, Mimi and Glouglou, who seem almost a trade mark of the natural wine movement). Michel was on hand for book signings, as was Wink Lorch, signing Jura Wine. Noble Rot also had a stand to entice what must have been the very few Fair-goers who do not already purchase a copy.

With seminars and talks, Real Wine is a a proper event. It really warrants more than a day to do it justice, but I did my best (though I could have spent the day just chatting to some of the nicest people in the wine trade). Part 2 of my happy adventure will therefore follow soon.

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More Recent Wines

This post brings us up to mid-April, as I attempt to catch up on the most interesting wines I’ve been drinking at home this year. Beginning with a couple of Austrians from Newcomer Wines (hoping to pop in there next week), it’s mainly crazy Europeans, except for the last, a solitary representative from Vermont.

Anyway, time is short, and with the Real Wine Fair, plus what I hope will be a very exciting Savoie Tasting with Wink Lorch just a few days away, I’d better crack on with these.

Puszta Libre 2015, Claus Preisinger, Austrian Rotwein – As you probably know by now, Claus is based in Gols, towards the northern end of the Neusiedlersee (eastern side), but this wine, in its tall, thin, bottle is labelled merely as a table wine equivalent. The label tells us to serve it “Gekühlt” (self-evidently “chilled”), which it certainly warrants. It’s a lively and fruity mixture of Zweigelt, Pinot Noir and St-Laurent, seeming to blend raspberries and cherries on nose and palate with a touch of spice. It slips down easily, and my note says “adorable”, which it is. Just 12% abv, so think of it like a really good straight Beaujolais and you’ll get the idea.

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Blaufränkisch “Tochter” 2015, Andreas Nittnaus, Gols (Burgenland) – Andreas is brother to Martin, with whom he also makes wine, and he’s one of several producers with the same surname close to Gols (a real hotbed for Newcomer Wines producers these days). This “daughter” is dark, quite smoky at first before its very concentrated darker fruit enters the nose. The palate is initially quite grippy, but when it opens it becomes smooth textured. Its 13% alcohol gives it weight, yet it isn’t heavy. A very nice Burgenland Blaufränkisch, though labelled as a “Österreichischer Biowein”. Whereas the Preisinger wine (above) is definitely for drinking now, this wine will evolve if left a while, though also very tasty now.

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Gentil de Katz 2015, Clément Klur, Katzenthal (Alsace) – Composed of Pinots Blanc and Gris, plus Gewurztraminer, this is a straw yellow Alsace blend of a style which had pretty much gone out of fashion. Once called “Edelzwicker”, a blend of noble grape varieties, and produced in large commercial quantities, I first came across a refined version of the label “Gentil” on the delicious Hugel blend from the Sporen vineyard (today, designated Grand Cru). Now “Gentil” has been appropriated by quite a few natural wine talents, and the noble blend is back with a vengeance.

This wine tastes somehow both old fashioned and modern. Biodynamic, just off-dry, it has a certain richness on the palate (13% abv), and nice fruit and floral aromas (including, perhaps, orange blossom). The back label suggests it will keep for five years, though this 2015 is delicious now. I wouldn’t serve it too cold as the aromas and flavours really developed as it warmed up, as did its gentle complexity. You may remember me writing about Klur’s Crémant, so definitely a name to watch in a region brimming over with new young talent. This came from Solent Cellar.

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Côtes du Jura 2010, Domaine Macle, Château-Chalon (Jura) – This is a classic for anyone who has been drinking these from the 2010 vintage, though I imagine most have been drunk by now. Like Roulot’s 2010 Bourgogne Blanc, this is a wine people haven’t been able to get enough of. I think this was my last one.

Some would consider Macle the pre-eminent producer of this village’s famous Vin Jaune style, Château-Chalon. Here we have a lovely table wine, blending Chardonnay and Savagnin. It has a fresh citrus nose with a hint of apple, and the palate finishes slightly nutty, from the Savagnin, rather than oxidative winemaking. It has developed a rounded richness on the palate over its evolution in bottle, but it retains an almost firm minerality. Best of all is its amazing length. A very impressive wine from one of the Jura’s best addresses.

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“Forks & Knives” 2014, Milan Nestarec, Moravské (Czech Rep) – This is the white version of Milan’s “Forks & Knives” wine. The previous bottle was a bit spritzy, yet this was flat. I’m not sure whether I preferred the version with a little CO2 present, but this one was still pretty nice though, and I mention it here to encourage others to try the wines of this excellent, and committed, Czech producer.

The rather obscure grape variety here is Neuburger. It makes a yellow-gold wine which, when it warms a little, gives out a fruity and floral bouquet, with a nicely soft and fruity palate. It’s sealed under crown cap, and comes in a light red/pinkish version too (made from Suché). The white, bottled unfiltered (so expect it to be cloudy unless you stand it up for a while) is a simple thirst quencher with appley fruit. Possibly not for everyone, but gaining quite a following since appearing at Raw Wine in London in 2016. Nice bright label too.

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Terroir du Léman (Un Matin Face au Lac) 2015, Vin des Allobroges IGP, Les Vignes de Paradis (Savoie) – The producer behind Les Vignes de Paradis is the talented Dominique Lucas. This wine is from Ballaison, overlooking Lake Geneva on the French side, just east of Geneva. The grape variety is Chasselas, mirroring the wines on the Swiss Vaud on the opposite shore. Dominique, a Burgundian by birth, also has a small domaine just outside Pommard, up in the Hautes-Côtes, from where he makes a deliciously fruity Burgundy called “Nectar de Pinot Noir”.

Dominique’s Savoie operation is not large. He made just 3,000 bottles of this 2015 Chasselas, in an experimental cellar stocked with various amphorae and concrete eggs. As with pretty much most Chasselas, it’s a fairly neutral wine to begin with. It has a bit more weight, and a bit less acidity, than many of the Vaud wines I mentioned, and indeed than the slightly pétillant Crépy wines, nearby (one of the several small French AOCs making Chasselas wines of various levels of quality from near the lake). But it also has texture, and a touch more complexity, although over all it majors on simply being delicious and fresh. It’s a very impressive wine, which sort of creeps up on you, unawares.

I bought this bottle directly from Terroirs Restaurant in London (but available direct from Caves de Pyrene), and bought the Pinot Noir from Ten Green Bottles in Brighton.

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Frappato 2014, Terre Siciliane IGP, COS – COS is the result, as many of you will know by now, of a holiday collaboration between three school friends way back in 1980. The COS philosophy has changed down the years, and today’s wines are natural, and some of the most beautiful and poised wines on the island of Sicily. The estate is near to Vittoria, Ragusa and Modica, in the southeast.

Although COS are famous for their amphora wines, their pure Frappato is fermented in stainless steel, and aged in cement tanks. It’s a vibrant, palish red with a bouquet that sings of red fruits (strawberries, redcurrants, cranberries), with a slightly earthy finish which often makes people wonder whether it has seen the inside of a terracotta vessel. I’ve been in love with the wines of COS for many years, and I regularly change my mind as to which of their cuvées I like best. The Frappato always has its turn.

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Müller-Thurgau 2015, Stefan Vetter, Franken – Franken, or Franconia to some, is the source of some excellent wines, both white and red, although it deserves to be better known in the UK. What it has not previously been known for is fine wine from this particular, much maligned, variety. It is true that Müller-Thurgau does have its stars. I’m sure there are readers who can name at least a couple from Northeastern Italy, and some may have come across a once famous wine from the eastern end of Lake Geneva. But in Germany it is infamous for the sugar water which almost destroyed that country’s wine industry (and “industrial” it was).

Vetter is based at Iphofen, a wine village not far from Würzburg (to the southeast). This may be the most expensive German M-T you’ll have tasted (around £30 from Winemakers Club), but believe me, it is good. Flowery scented, it has nice extract and has gentle fruit. It comes in at a mere 10.5% alcohol too, very refreshing. Stefan Vetter also makes a range of extremely good Sylvaners, perhaps more of a mainstream variety in Franken. They are even more expensive, but their place on some very special restaurant wine lists should vouch for the quality.

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L’Etoile 2010, Domaine de Montbourgeau (Jura) – L’Etoile is a very small and perhaps little known Jura appellation, close to Lons-le-Saunier. Its name (and that of the village at the centre of this AOC) comes from the star-shaped fossils found all over the vineyards. This nine hectare estate is run by Nicole Deriaux, the third generation of her family to make wine here.

L’Etoile is perhaps most famous for its Chardonnay, which from this estate can be particularly fine, but the Savagnin here is lovely too. It has a real purity, and a sort of crystalline texture, with a little spice, rather than the quintessential nutty flavours of Savagnin from other Jura AOCs. It’s also nice to taste a wine that combines the mellowness of maturity, with the fresh, slightly more mineral, texture from this special terroir. This is a producer who has garnered plenty of praise, but not yet enough, I think.

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Grace & Favour 2014, La Garagista, Vermont – The Real Wine Fair is upon us this weekend, and it was at the 2016 Fair that I drank my first wines from the State of Vermont, including this rather lovely sparkler. The grape variety is La Crescent, descended from Black Hambourg, which is the variety of “The Great Vine” at Hampton Court, the Tudor Palace, just outside London. Grace and Favour apartments there are rented free to elderly Royal functionaries (former Ladies in Waiting etc), so this wine is a homage to Hampton Court.

Dierdre Heekin and Caleb Barber practice polyculture farming, with vineyards close to Lake Champlain, in northern Vermont. They are committed to American native vines from vitis riparia and lambrusca, along with some vinifera crosses. I recall Doug Wregg on the Caves de Pyrene (the importer) Blog saying that when tasting these grapes you really do begin to question the hierarchy of noble varieties. I seem to have that experience so often. Committed viticulture and winemaking from good terroir always trumps semi-industrial production, whatever the grape variety, and many a lesser known grape variety affords a wealth of new flavours.

Anyway, the wine…it’s fairly orange in colour, and if truth be told, somewhat like a very refined sparkling cider. That might put off the scoffing anti-natural wine bore, yet the palate is very clean and precise. It’s unfiltered, so cloudy if stored horizontally, with plenty of particulate yeast matter (er, bits) in the bottom of the bottle. But at the end of the day, it delivers a mouthwateringly refreshing glass, which is clearly wine, yet has the flavour of a crisp Braeburn apple, with a mere 11.5% alcohol. A slightly unusual wine, for sure, but I’ve met plenty of people who’ve tried it, and not one has failed to shout its praises.

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Posted in Austrian Wine, Jura, Natural Wine, Neusiedlersee, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Another “Masters” Class (Spanish Whites)

Just six of us were at Masters Superfish yesterday for a lunch themed on Spanish Whites. I must say that there are those among us who feel that our Fino lunches here in Waterloo provide a wine style most suited to fish & chips, yet for me we had two very different sparkling wines to open the innings, and both went on to make centuries, to pursue the cricket analogy.

As ever, the food was simple but perfection. I’m often asked about London restaurants by overseas readers, and London has enough worth visiting to fill a very large directory. But if you want to sample the so-called national dish, then this is the place to come. French friends find it bordering on incomprehensible that we can enjoy London’s Michelin-two-starred venues and somewhere like Masters in equal measure. I think they are missing out. When you factor in the price, £15 yesterday for some fresh prawns, onions and gherkins (not so wine friendly), and the Masters Special (the exceptionally large cod and chips below), then what do you have to lose?

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As for the wines, and those sparklers, well, the first of those was rare and rather special. Clos Lentiscus Sumoll Ferèstec 2010 is a Penedès methode traditionelle wine made by Bodega Can Ramon. It’s a miniscule cuvée of just 720 bottles (this one was numbered 51). Biodynamically produced from the increasingly well-regarded red Sumoll grape (vinified white, as opposed to Sumoll Blanc (sic)), it was disgorged in April 2016. The unique part of its production is in the use of local honey in the dosage. It could be the answer for anyone getting hayfever in Barcelona?

The wine is pretty dark in the glass, almost pale bronze. The bouquet shows richness, and a mature character, quite complex in the style of Champagne producers like Selosse and Prévost. On the palate it’s very different from what you are expecting. Totally fresh, with a very direct and elegant acidity. At around €50, this is magical, if you can find any (I think you’ll have to go local). Although it isn’t labelled as Cava, it illustrates that there is more than mass produced fizz in Spain.

If such a claim needed validating, then our second wine certainly reinforces it. Colet-Navazos Reserva 2010 is made from Chardonnay, aged on lees for 40 months. This was disgorged in October 2014, so it has had around two-and-a-half years pda. This wine, bottled as an Extra Brut, also has a unique aspect to its production as well.

Collaboration began between Colet and Equipo Navazos in the early 2000s. The aim was to make quality sparkling wine from Palomino Fino grown on the chalky Albariza soils of Jerez, using native flor yeasts. Meanwhile, both companies embarked on the ageing and production of two Penedès wines, from Colet’s home vineyards, using flor yeasts again, and using sherry-style wines in the dosage. I admit I’m not entirely sure whether the dosage in the 2010 is from Jerez or Montilla (the 2011 uses a blend of Manzanilla and Manzanilla Pasada), but you get the idea.

The straight Extra Brut is made from Xarel-lo, but this Extra Brut Reserva is pure Chardonnay. It is elegant, refined, and bone-dry. The Chardonnay and the long ageing give it a hint of Champagne about it, but the flor character, though pretty subtle, gives it an extra dimension, and a personality all of its own. There is perhaps more regionality to the Xarel-lo cuvée, but the Chardonnay Reserva is pretty sensational. Definitely a wine for the connoisseur to seek out.

Tempranillo “Blanco” 2015, Bodegas Sonsierra, Rioja is a somewhat unusual cuvée. Whilst other white varieties usually dominate white Rioja (largely Viura), this is made from 100% white Tempranillo grapes, a natural vineyard mutation of the region’s major red variety.

The wine undergoes a 24 hour pre-fermentation maceration, then 4 months on lees (with twice daily stirring) in oak (85% French, 15% American). This gives the wine body. The nose combines tropical fruit with a floral element, and maybe a little toasty spice from the oak. The palate is silky and full. It certainly requires food, and is beyond the spectrum of what you might normally expect from Rioja Blanco.

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Godello 2006, Adegas Coroa, Valdeorras was very interesting. You may have read about the Pazo Senorans dinner I went to recently, where we had a taste of older Albariño, showing how well that Galician grape variety can age. Godello can age just as well in the right hands (cf  Rafael Palacios’ As Sortes). I saw a note for this vintage on Cellartracker, posted in 2012 and saying this vintage was past its prime. Well, the 2006 may be past its prime today, but I think only just. It’s waxy, peppery, and there’s little fruit except maybe a lick of grapefruit acidity. There is also the hint of a butterscotch note developing as well, a sure sign of passing its prime, perhaps. But there was still some complexity.

I just think that it was a fascinating example of Godello at a decade old, not from a wine like As Sortes, intended to age that long, yet still providing something of interest. Others may well have thought it “past it”, there was not a lot of discussion on this wine, but I thought it went rather well with the food, myself.

Pedrazais Godello Sobre Lias 2015, Alan de Val, Valdeorras is a younger and more alcoholic (14%) Godello. Valdeorras (because someone asked) is a small area nestled between Ribeira Sacra and Bierzo, in Spain’s northwest. Although there are increasingly good reds produced, it is best known for white wine made from Godello, which is often steely when young, but ages well.

Pedrazais is a vineyard with north facing slopes, and the vines are planted at around 450 metres. Sobre Lias translates as on the lees and this gives the wine texture. There’s also fresh acidity, but a kind of sweetness to the fruit, no doubt down to the 14% alcohol. But the acidity, coupled with its texture, makes it a versatile seafood and fish wine.

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A change of direction in both grape variety and region for our final dry wine. Ekam 2013, Castell d’Encus is from Costers del Segre. This is a DOP quite a long way inland from Tarragona in Catalunya, towards Lleida. Ekam is made from Riesling (with a tiny bit of Albariño in some vintages). This may not sound like a traditional variety for Spain, but the vineyards of Castell d’Encus are up at between 800 to 1,100 metres altitude. In fact, Ekam has a growing reputation.

The wine is very dry, someone remarking that it reminded them of a German Trocken wine. It’s fermented partially in stone vats, carved out of bare rock, and it does have a similar texture to that which one gets from concrete eggs. The wine is intensely mineral, with grapefruit-fresh acidity. It’s youthful now, but delicious, yet I think a little bottle age will allow it to develop and improve.

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Although Masters don’t exactly do dessert, we did satisfy our need for a sugar rush with a sweet Godello. Pardoxin Dulce Godello de Recolección Tardía, Palacio de Canedo/Prado a Tope is, as the label says, a late harvest wine, from Castilla-León. The wine has  lots of sweetness without being cloying and heavy. Perhaps something more of interest than something to actively seek out, but it was a nice end to lunch, though we did have to decant to a coffee bar at Waterloo Station for a caffeine fix. Spain strides onwards!

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Masters Superfish is basic dining but the fish, and the chips, are peerless. They are at 191 Waterloo Road, London SE1 8UX, just a few minutes past The Old Vic theatre. Booking recommended: 020 7928 6924.

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Deptford Fun City

Deptford Fun City was a record label started by the Copeland brothers, Miles and Stewart, which flourished briefly in the late 1970s. It was an offshoot of Illegal Records, and was set up to release the music of several Deptford artists, most notably Squeeze and Alternative TV. I’d never been to Deptford before yesterday evening, but I do remember the joke, rather close to the bone, that Deptford was so poor they couldn’t afford a comma.

Deptford is still, well, perhaps the right word is authentic. It reminds me of bits of London I remember from the 1970s. If you think Shoreditch, or even Dalston, are edgy, then come down here. Around 85% of the population have lived there for a long time, and probably don’t travel the ten minutes it takes a Southeastern train to get up to Canon Street, one of the City of London’s more obscure mainline rail stations. But arriving at around 6.15pm yesterday, there were signs of infiltration. Gents in suits, ladies in macs, alighting with me. Not so much city slickers, but those city workers a little bit down the food chain. There is a sense that Deptford is beginning to get a makeover.

It is here that The Winemakers Club has opened its second location, Winemakers Deptford, at 209 Deptford High Street. If you turn right out of Deptford Station you find a large Poundland, and an Iceland, but turn left and it’s all local shops, with one or two more interesting venues being created. A couple of hundred metres in this direction you’ll find their fairly simple, unprepossessing even, frontage. Don’t be put off.

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Inside, the decor is very simple. It has the air of a French bar à vins, and the only sign that this is no ordinary local bistro is the array of interesting bottles on the bar, and on the shelves opposite. There’s nothing like the number of wines for sale at Winemakers’ Farringdon bar/shop, but I’m guessing that equally, there are nothing like these wines elsewhere in Deptford.

Four of us dined there, and so we were able to share a wide selection of food from the menu, and I must say, it was all extremely good, some of it sensational for a place of this size. One time when “hats off to the chef”, in this case Rory Shannon, means something. Excellent brawn (listed as Head Cheese on the menu) came with finely cut, soft onions. Crab croquetas were sensational (could have eaten another portion), and smoked mackerel paté with Kent radishes was not far behind. Heritage tomato bruschetta had the taste of real tomatoes, the pigeon salad with garlic croutons only lacked for a little more pigeon (because it was so good), and a Lincolnshire Poacher souffle served with picalilli was also good. We all shared two portions of highland beef tagliata which, on account of the quality of the meat, was excellent.

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Brawn, Crab Croqueta and Rory Shannon’s home cured Salamis

I began the evening with a glass of Meinklang Sziklafehér. This comes from their Somlo vineyards in Hungary, but from the bottom of the mountain where the volcanic matter is covered by a layer of loess. A field blend of Olaszriesling, Harslevelü, Juhfark and Furmint, it’s quite simple and light, but invigorating and zesty, with a slight prickle. A lovely summer aperitif. We were given a plate of home produced salami as an appetiser, including a very good Finocchiona, which you’d be hard pressed to tell from an Italian-produced version. Rory Shannon has his own curing cabinets and it’s something of a speciality here.

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Next, Gino Pedrotti’s Nosiola 2015, bottled under the Vignetti delle Dolomiti IGT designation. It comes from Trentino, from valley vineyards swept by the southerly winds off Lake Garda. Straw coloured, there is a lovely scent somewhere between floral and fruity. The palate finishes with an unmistakable note of slightly bitter hazelnut.

Tète Red is a non-vintage blend of mainly Cabernet Franc (90%) with Grolleau, made by four young winemakers coming together as “Les Tètes”. They are based at Panzoult, and are one of a couple of new Loire producers in the Winemakers Club portfolio. This is simple, fruity and extremely pleasant. In fact, this is a perfect example of the bar à vins kind of bistro wine you’d be excited about discovering in Paris. Forget complexity, this is about thirst quenching. It does that supremely well.

The next wine was brought along by one of my dining companions. From a producer I am getting to like a lot, but a wine I’ve never drunk before (I tasted it at Viñateros this year, but that’s a different kettle of fish). Envinate Benjé comes from the island of Tenerife in the Canaries. It’s a red, made from one of the several Listan varieties on the island, Listan Prieto (with the tiniest touch of Tintilla, all vines being between 70 to 120 years old). Apparently, Listan Prieto turns out to be the same grape as South America’s Pais, the most widely cultivated red grape in Chile until Cabernet Sauvignon took over in recent times. Brought to South America by Spanish missionaries, one imagines that the Canary Islands was a stopping off point for victualing ships for the Atlantic crossing.

This is a beautiful wine, which really knocks on the head perceived wisdom about noble and not so noble grape varieties. It’s a lesson we are being taught all the time by the finest producers on Tenerife (cf Suertes del Marques as well). The part of Tenerife where this wine comes from, 1,100 metres up on the cliffs in the northwest, is quite marginal, with the vines benefiting from colder night time temperatures. This makes for a wine which has a certain concentration of fresh, bitter cherry fruit, but not excessive body. There’s a savoury, saline, quality to it as well.

A step up from their Tàganan cuvée, Benjé was Wine of the Night for me, a perfect demonstration of how to create true beauty from an unfavoured vine variety, from well beyond Europe’s classic wine regions. And it was decanted into a fish, thanks to Mr Zalto! Somewhat thicker glass than his usual fare, but Daniel, I want one.

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Lazio Rosso IGT, Cantina Ribelà 2015 is made from the Cesanese variety, and is effectively, from its production zone, the red wine of Frascati (near Rome). This 2015 was more powerful and full-bodied than one diner remembered the previous vintage, and its 14.5% abv bears this out. A rich and smooth wine from volcanic soils, very well made for a modest price, but perhaps not a style I’d go a long way to seek out. But I could see others liking it more. For me, I loved the simplicity of the Tète Red, and the frisson of excitement generated by the Envinate.

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Winemakers Deptford comes highly recommended. If you are fairly close to Canon Street, it’s also far more accessible than you might think, and just three minutes from Deptford mainline station, which is the first stop (trains seem to be going to Dartford or Strood). As the train goes through the side of London Bridge Station which is currently a building site, then presumably trains will stop there in future. Deptford, as you will see below, has its own claim to fame in the history of rail transport in London.

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Il Popolo del Sangiovese

A group of us get together for occasional Tuscan lunches, usually based on Sangiovese reds with a few token Tuscan whites. I’m sure you’ve read about them on my Blog. There’s always a theme, but when you’ve run from Chianti Classico Normale to Brunello Riservas, something different is called for. So yesterday’s theme began as “Tuscan grape varieties from outside Tuscany”. As no one managed to find any Greek Vernaccia, nor Slovenian Trebbiano, it was agreed that we’d relax the whites. Someone also brought an Umbrian red grape, but we are not a spiteful bunch.

Lunch was at Popolo, in Rivington Street, close to Old Street Station, London, where Jon Lawson (who spent five years with Theo Randall) is head chef. It was my first visit to this tiny Shoreditch restaurant with an Italian flavour and a hint of Spain. The food was excellent. I started on Piquillo Pepper croquetas (too hungry to remember to photograph them), then lamb’s cheek pasta parcels (for me, the highlight, they were just so good). Then everyone shared bavette steaks and pigeon (not enough pigeon to go round all of us), before finishing with a cheese platter, including a Taleggio of exceptional quality. The service was friendly and we felt a genuine welcome. A great place.

One word on this lunch. You might get the impression from the notes on individual wines below that they were not all of stunning quality, that some were not very exciting, and that one or two were faulty. It is true that, for example, the wines were not of the same consistent quality as those at the last of these Tuscan lunches I went to – at The Glasshouse in Kew. But that would be misleading as to the success of the lunch.

Apart from the very good food at Popolo, and of course the company of good friends, it was the trying of these wines from such diverse sources, and with such diverse flavours, which made this lunch both satisfying and such fun. Exploration is surely as big a part of enjoying wine as a procession of fine vintages, where in fact quality can be drowned by the next wine which is just that tiny bit better.

We began with three whites. Hans Family Vineyards 2013 Marlborough Arneis (Herzog) was very attractive. Richer than the majority of bottles of the Piemontese version perhaps, but it still had a chalky texture with pear and peach stone, accompanying a floral nose. I managed to guess the grape, but went for Australia rather than New Zealand.

Montevecchio Vermentino 2016, Chalmers, Heathcote, Victoria was a clearskin wine, brought along by one of our friends at OW Loeb. It is a wine under consideration for their keg programme. Montevecchio is a second label of Chalmers, used for more experimental wines. This is a one-off as it was used to season some new botti which are now to be used for Sagrantino, so I understand. Lighter than the Arneis, in fact it hardly tasted like a warm climate wine, yet it does have real flavour. I’d have thought it would do well in keg. Very refreshing.

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Timorasso “Fausto” 2012, Marina Coppi, Colli Tortonesi comes from the hills at the southeastern edge of Piemonte, beyond Alessandria and Tortona. Marina dedicates this wine, made from the rare but rather good Timorasso grape, to her grandfather, the great Italian cyclist, Fausto Coppi. It’s lovely, rather richer than the version of Timorasso I know best (Walter Massa, at Monleale), coming in at 14.5% abv. There’s a little skin contact for richness and texture, and it wears the alcohol well, with freshness to balance. It also developed whilst in the glass.

Sangiovese “1492”, 2012, Christobal, Mendoza, Argentina kicked off the reds. It’s a pretty commercial wine, but nevertheless very pleasant. There’s actually a good bit of Sangiovese in the country and I’d say that it has potential if taken seriously. This wine is, unashamedly, a fairly cheap quaffer, but not bad.

“Venustas”, Mark’s Vineyard Lot 1, 2012, Ambyth, Paso Robles was a nice foray into California. It’s actually a blend of Sangiovese and Tempranillo, made biodynamically. The Sangiovese makes up the larger part of the blend (54%), but the wine was quite oaky. We felt that perhaps the Tempranillo had soaked up a lot of oak, making it dominate a little. The 12.4% alcohol should have been seen as refreshingly low, but perhaps there was not enoughbody for the oak. A smooth and rich red, though, even if it was without very much evident Sangiovese character.

Australia is just starting to get better known outside of wine geek circles for its Italian varietals, though she has been making them for many years. A lot of the work has been done in Victoria (many of you will have come across the Gary Crittenden range), and that’s where we were for our first Aussie, Sangiovese 2014, Dal Zotto, King Valley. This was very true to the variety. Perhaps the higher elevation of the King Valley helps. Not too dark, with a certain lightness, smooth but with a nice lick of acidity. Someone remarked that it was quite like a Chianti Classico, which (having taken this wine) was exactly how I’d hoped it would be received. Red Squirrel have chosen well here, as this is no warm climate Sangiovese with no connection to its roots. Quite lip-smacking.

Sangiovese 2013, Payten & Jones, Yarra Valley hails from a producer I’d never come across before. They are based in the Valley’s wine centre, Healesville, and the vines for this wine are in the Yarra sub-region of Gruyere (sic). Payten & Jones are wedded to as little intervention as possible, and they joke on their web site that this wine makes itself, bar a quick look over the top of the newspaper every day. Quite grainy in texture, I got raspberries, and a touch of herbiness, but missed the juniper the producer describes. This was, once more, a decent wine, but it didn’t have the varietal definition of the Dal Zotto.

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Grotte di Sole Patrimonio 2012, Antoine Arena, Corsica. Arena is Corsica’s best known producer, and Patrimonio one of its best known wines (up in the north of the island, close to Bastia). Arena make “natural wines”, and in fact they were one of the first few natural wine producers whose wines I tried. In fact they may have been the first whose wines didn’t taste volatile. Niellucciu (also sometimes Niellucio) is the synonym for Sangiovese in Corsica, although modern ampelography casts doubt on whether they are in fact the same variety.

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This has masses of acidity and texture on the tongue, and some volatile acidity. It tasted super dry, and our resident Champagne expert suggested it may have undergone a slight second fermentation at some point whilst in bottle. It tasted to him like a fizz-free Sparkling Shiraz! So possibly a faulty bottle?

Back to Italy for the last two dry reds, and to that other bastion of Sangiovese production, Romagna. Romagna Sangiovese Superiore Riserva 2013 “Avi”, San Patrignano is a lovely wine made by a very special community, which gives hope and work to people who are recovering from addiction. They are a large foundation, with around 350 employees and more than 1,300 guests, who pay no fee for their rehabilitation therapy. Wine is but one part of the work experience available.

The group of people who attend these lunches often go on an annual trip to Tuscany, and it was on one of these trips that one of them was accosted in a quiet Florentine Piazza and lured to tasting these wines. When a good cause combines with good wine, there’s nothing to lose. The wine is rich, with plummy fruit and spices (nutmeg, cloves), making this a complex Riserva, capable of ageing, but showing its quality now. I found this wine very impressive.

Sangiovese di Romagna Riserva “Pruno” 2009, Drei Donà ought to have been the star of the day. Drei Donà is a well known producer whose Tenuta La Palazza estate lies inland between Ravenna and Rimini, north of San Marino, and close to the town of Forli. “Pruno” is their flagship wine, a single 3.2 hectare site of 100% Sangiovese, which at Riserva level sees 18 months in a mix of 500 litre and 250 litre French oak, plus a year in bottle before release. And we had a 2009 on the table. I was looking forward to this so much, but it was well and truly corked.

We finished off with two sweet wines, which were both, in their own way, off-topic. But they were also delicious, so we didn’t grumble. I guessed the grape variety in the blind red, Sagrantino Appassimento 2013, Chalmers, Heathcote. Another wine from Chalmers. Although Jasper Hill and other estates around Heathcote (inland in the State of Victoria) gained a name for Nebbiolo in the 1990s and 2000s, Chalmers has pioneered Italian varieties there, and has acted as a nursery for many vines planted by others in the region.

This dried grape wine has 13% alcohol, with hints of chocolate and spice, very sweet, but also “like grown up fruit juice” as someone put it. It did actually taste like the sweet Sagrantino wines I’ve tried in Italy, although the alcohol here didn’t appear out of balance, or too heady.

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Our final wine was purchased off the list at Popolo, in order to have a second wine with the cheese course. Dominio del Urogallo Flor del Narcea Moscatel, Nicolas Marcos was stunningly good. Marcos was born in Spain’s Toro region, but left to make wine in Asturias. He worked for a while under Alain Graillot (of Crozes-Hermitage fame), whom he credits with changing his life. He believes in minimal intervention winemaking, and in wines which are low in alcohol, and which will partner food.

There is no doubt that this hard to describe Moscatel, complex and sweet but at the same time totally gulpable, is wonderful stuff, even taking into account the propensity to eulogise dessert wines after a (very) heavy alcohol intake over a three-and-a-half-hour lunch. But this really was good, and a producer I’d never tried, having missed him at the RAW WINE Fair in March.

 

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Thanks for the delicious loquat, Ian. This fruit is native to China, but is now grown in Italy and Spain. A large bag of these came from Borough Market, and some were generously distributed after lunch.

 

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