New Wine Leaders 1 – Christina Rasmussen

I was flicking through one of those trade magazines, one which always helps to form a disorderly pile beside my bed after a big event like the London Wine Fair. Anyway, this copy had one of those rankings of young people said to be having the greatest influence on the wine trade right now. How they manage to rank fifty people, I don’t know. I only knew two or three of the people listed, and that’s the thing…you see I know a few young people (and not so young) who have had a significant impact on the UK wine trade, especially on independent retail and education recently, and whose influence, and achievements are no less significant. It got me thinking I should write about a few of them. Perhaps over time, I will. I refuse to call them “influencers”, but they are all leaders in taste, so “Leaders” it is.

I thought who better to kick off with than one of the most open, and frankly nicest people you’ll meet on the UK wine scene. This is someone who has shown considerable focus to get where they are, but at the same time someone who is developing quite a few strings to their bow. I’m talking about Christina Rasmussen.

Christina was born in the UK to Danish parents, as it turns out just over a month after my own daughter. Her parents had been in the UK for just a year and they were very keen that their daughter should have Danish as her first language, so that is what she learnt to speak before English. After school, south of London, Christina left home to study French, taking a four-year degree at Exeter University. Perhaps her linguistic abilities, honed by already being fluent in two languages, helped.

Christina told me that when she went off to Exeter, she didn’t really know what she wanted to do after university, maybe journalism or writing of some kind. As part of her four-year course, she needed to spend a year in France and managed to secure an internship in public relations at Louis Latour, in Beaune. It was here that her passion for wine was ignited. After seven months she had to move on, to a role with an organic cosmetics company in Paris, but having been unaware that wine could be a career she had by then made up her mind what she wanted to do. For someone who loves nature it seemed perfect.

Christina photographed by Robin Lee in her Oxfordshire vineyard

On returning to the UK, we are still looking at an inexperienced, but very resourceful Christina. She didn’t really know to what extent wine PR was a thing, but she was soon contacting Westbury Communications, where she bagged another internship in 2014. It was the foot in the door she needed and over the following almost five years she rose from intern to junior executive, and eventually to director.

During this time, she wanted to write more, so she began her own blog, “Vintage of all Kinds”, soon rebranded to christinarasmussen.co. In 2017 she was writing on other blogs, especially citing Doug Wregg (Les Caves de Pyrene), one of wine’s most wonderful human beings, as a great help and mentor. Equally helpful was Sue Harris, the experienced founder and MD of Westbury. She knew how much Christina wanted to write, and in spite of being her boss, she introduced Christina to people at trade mags like The Buyer, where she could cut her teeth in wine journalism.

With a colleague and friend at Westbury’s annual Beaujolais tasting, a region Christina has a special affection for

One day, out of the blue, Christina got a call from Peter Honegger, who along with partner Daniela Pillhofer, runs Newcomer Wines. Newcomer started out in 2013, wow, almost a decade ago, in order to sell low-intervention Austrian wines out of a shipping container shop in Shoreditch Boxpark. I was a fan from early on, and used to visit before each one of the monthly Oddities lunches I used to co-host at nearby Rochelle Canteen. Newcomer Wines soon outgrew those tiny premises and moved to a shop at Dalston Junction, whilst expanding their range into other European regions. They have become one of the most exciting wine shops and trade suppliers in London, worth even the long bus journey east for me, occasionally (more often than not, come to think of it) accompanied by an empty suitcase.

Peter and Daniela had a vision to do something outside their sphere at the time, something more content-based and educational. Eventually, after six months hard planning, Littlewine (littlewine.co) was born in April 2020. Christina came on board as partner and Head of Content, running the site alongside Daniela. If you don’t already know, Littlewine is a subscription-based platform for wine knowledge, but for wine with an organic and ethical base. Members get high quality wine information across the whole wine world, perhaps with a European focus. This can be regional, winemaker-based or wine-specific.

There is a wine club too, introducing members to some rather fine bottles, many under the radar, small production or stars of the future. Recently, the club included Tim Phillips’s Charlie Herring label, bottles which usually sell out on his open days or go on single bottle allocation (now by ballot). Such selections show not only both deep and wide knowledge, but a finger firmly on the pulse of what is happening in natural wine right now. Littlewine also had an online shop, now closed to focus more on the content, but it was one of those places where you could happily shop nowhere else if you could choose only one place to source your wine.

Anyway, having honed her journalistic skills, Christina was well placed to help create this amazing online resource. Anyone who has read her words will know she’s a very good writer, imparting the facts with just enough passion. She likes to tell a story, and like me feels that this is far more interesting than a florid tasting note. I would describe it as writing with soul, and the reason it appeals to me so much is that this is exactly what I aim for. Christina is also an accomplished photographer, and in fact this led her to learn to pilot a drone which has captured some of the most spectacular images on the Littlewine site. I think I first saw it sweep over some beautiful vineyard scenery in Burgundy on her first trip with it.

Even when working at Westbury Comms Christina had done a bit of grape picking, especially In Beaujolais, one of the accounts she handled there. After leaving Westbury she went out to LA to harvest and make wine with Abe Schoener, for his Scholium Project, as well as for the inaugural vintage of the Los Angeles River Wine Co. She counts Abe as one of her dearest friends and mentors, together with Rajat Parr.

Abe having set up an urban winery in LA with assistance from Christina, they travelled and worked together for two months, and with Raj, to discover and understand the old vineyards in Southern California. Currently, from sites in Cucamonga and Temecula, Abe creates the Los Angeles River Wine Co range, and Raj makes his Scythian Wine Co wines.

A love for the Palomino variety came from drinking the Listán Blanco (a synonym) wines of Tenerife. Back in California, Christina discovered a very old-vine blend of Palomino Fino and Muscat (with other varieties added) made by Cline Cellars from the historic Bridgehead Vineyard in Contra Costa County, while tasting with Megan Cline (second-generation of Cline Cellars). It’s called Cline Cellars Farmhouse White Blend. The Palomino vines were planted in 1935, are head-trained, and are only sprayed with sulphur once a year and nothing else. Christina managed to persuade Megan to part with half-a-ton of fruit and the result was 200 bottles, made in LA, sitting now in the UK awaiting labelling before going on sale very soon. This is where I remind Christina that she did swear and cross her heart that I can get one (honest!).

In the Bridgehead Vineyard, Contra Costa, California

In 2020 Christina made new friends, picking and helping make wine at Domaine Dujac in Burgundy. Christina met Jeremy Seysses’s wife, Diana, back in 2017, when profiling her Snowdon Vineyards in Napa for The Buyer. The Seysses not only extended a very warm welcome in Burgundy, leading to an ongoing close friendship with Jeremy and Diana, but they also gave her more confidence in the wines she had made herself back in California in 2019, and indeed later inspiration for her own vineyard’s Pinot and Chardonnay vine plantings in Oxfordshire (see below). Christina and I share another of those odd skills which sometimes come up in one of those “tell us something we don’t know” questions: we both learnt to drive a forklift truck. I learnt in the early 90s, and Jeremy taught Christina the basics in Bourgogne.

Littlewine goes from strength to strength, but Christina has another project. I’m not sure hobby would be the right way to describe it, being a bit more serious than that word suggests – a vineyard. It’s on land owned by her sister between Oxford and Swindon. One would think its location is marginal, yet rainfall levels mirror the Côte d’Or. The terroir is based on Cotswold Brash, a mix of sandy clay and gravel, and soil samples show limestone strata half-to-one-metre down.

Working with a well-known South of France vine nursery, Lilian Bérillon (www.lilian-berillon.fr ) Christina has planted a thousand Pinot Noir vines, 600 Chardonnay, 600 Savagnin, 400 Gamay, 444 Trousseau, 50 Pineau d’Aunis, and 20 Mondeuse, on one larger and two smaller sites. All of the vines were propagated by massale selection. You can see Christina’s wine tastes in those choices, for sure. It’s now a matter of tending the young vines during the dry summer months and protecting them from hungry mammals.

Whilst she’s an advocate of minimum intervention and regenerative farming, always deeply knowledgeable about soil ecosystems, it has nevertheless been necessary, manually of course, to minimise competition directly around the vine saplings themselves (especially hand-plucking the dandelions which have been so profuse seemingly everywhere this year). Otherwise, this is very much a place where nature is left to do its own thing. So far, Christina has just sprayed with a horsetail ferment and a “tea” which she brewed herself. No synthetic inputs here.

All of this is already a massive achievement for someone hardly into their thirties. Somehow Christina manages to find time for her other passions: photography, yoga, music (like me, she’s a drummer) and (yes) houseplants (something of an obsession she says). Certainly, there is one other thing which surpasses all of these, a love for (and I would say empathy with) animals.

No longer a lizard owner, Christina does still have her chinchilla. Then there are two Shetland ponies (one a rescue pony), and a rescue horse kept at her sister’s place. I think she would certainly keep a dog were it not for the massive amount of traveling she does (her Instagram account suggests she rarely stays still for more than a few days). I am absolutely certain that we shall hear a lot more from Christina Rasmussen over the next decade or two. Her impact on the wine scene has already been immensely positive.

I asked Christina, at the end of our chat, if she could list her favourite wines. Each one of these is full of meaning to a deeply thoughtful wine obsessive (I certainly know one when I see one). These are Christina’s special wines in her own words.

“M……. 14 – Michel Grisard ‘Priez Saint Christophe’ (Domaine Prieuré Saint-Christophe)

The last vintage of iconic grower Michel Grisard, who preserved the Mondeuse grape variety and put it firmly back on the map for fine wine. This is one of the most complex wines I’ve ever had, full of pepper yet soft as silk. He retired with a bang! 

Les Granges Pâquenesses La Pierre Savagnin 2016

Loreline Laborde creates wines that bring a tear to my eye (of the good kind). They are invigorating and full of soul, and her Savagnin cuvées inspired me to plant Savagnin myself in the UK. 

Domaine des Miroirs Ja-Nai 2016

Doug Wregg was so kind to share this with me. It is light as a feather; one of the gentlest wines I have ever tried. This little Jura domaine is simply magical — pure in both philosophy and in wine. 

The Sadie Family Wines T’Voetpad 2016 

It’s hard to express what Eben Sadie has done for our wine world; not only in terms of creating delicious wine, but also for safeguarding old vines, farming in a sensitive and planet-friendly manner, and planting for the future. This bottle captures all of his energy and effort. 

Dard et Ribo Saint-Joseph Blanc Les Opateyres 2017

Meeting René-Jean Dard and François Ribo and profiling their domaine for LITTLEWINE was one of the highlights of my career. This duo creates some of the most energetic and vibrant wines of the Northern Rhône, and every time I drink them I beam from ear to ear.  

Werlitsch Ex Vero II 2006 

This sits firmly on my desert island list. I simply cannot put this wine into words except Dagueneau meets Raveneau and together they have a Styrian love child. 

Finally, I must add that the many wines I have been fortunate to taste and drink made by Domaine Dujac, Rajat Parr (in particular Phelan Farm, his new venture) and Abe Schoener (Scholium Project and Los Angeles River Wine Co) have all moved me immeasurably. Drinking, learning and speaking about wines made by friends and mentors enables a deeper understanding of not just wine, but also people — how we think and how we see the world. Great wine sparks and solidifies great friendships. 

With Abe and Raj, two of the catalysts for Christina’s own winemaking journey

Thanks Christina, for finding time to meet up and chat with me, and thank you for sharing some of the wines which have had the greatest impact on you. Like you, I believe a great bottle of wine can change the way we think about so many things, and can have a genuine effect on the way we feel at the time. Great wine can have lasting impact, and even improve our lives on a certain level.

Posted in Californian Wine, Natural Wine, Viticulture, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Heroes, Wine Writing, Women in Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Journey Through the Past to get Lost in a Field

Back at the end of May I was wandering around the Tobacco Dock venue for the Real Wine Fair and I happened to spy Tim Wildman. I have been a fan of his Aussie Petnats for ages, so I thought I’d head over, say hi and probably taste some new vintage Piggy Pop! and Astro Bunny. What I saw instead was a rather fancy bottle with a lovely bright label (as you’d expect from design-savvy Tim). I was about to get acquainted with his latest “Lost Vineyard” project.

Back in the day (a long time back in the day), before any sane wine journalists were hyping English Wine, it didn’t really have a sparkling focus. Almost all of the wine from my home country was white, lowish in alcohol and quite acidic. In many cases the best compliment you could come up with was that they might be refreshing on a hot day…in five years’ time. Okay, they weren’t that bad, well not all of them. The acidity didn’t really make them interchangeable with Gros Plant for a cheap Kir because they were usually made with grape varieties of mostly Germanic origin, usually crossings, usually floral by nature. And as for cheap, production costs meant they were not…although the prices back then would seem so to contemporary consumers.

Tim’s wine looks back to a time when varieties like Gutenborner, Ehrenfelser, Huxelrebe, Madeleine Angevine, Reichensteiner, Schönburger, Bacchus and Seyval Blanc ruled in an English vineyard. Anything, in fact, which didn’t require much sun to ripen and could cope with a bit of fungal disease. Tim’s Lost Vineyards are in fact planted with such varieties, which with a few notable exceptions (especially Peter Hall’s sparkling Seyval Blancs from Breaky Bottom in Sussex) have well and truly fallen out of fashion, trampled in the march to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier.

The wine in question is called Frolic. It is a blend of twenty-one heritage varieties sourced from eight lost vineyards in seven English and Welsh counties, vineyards which no longer make commercial wines, at least from these varieties. Tim is rightly tight-lipped as to exact sources – he wants to keep making wine from them. Madeleine Angevine, once one of the most popular varieties in the UK due to its tolerance of cold weather, makes up around 70% of the blend. It also includes Reichensteiner, Schönburger, Seibel, and other red varieties such as Triomphe (used to great effect at Ancre Hill in a red petnat), Rondo and Cabernet Noir.

Tim’s wine, of which you will have to wait until one of my “Recent Wines” articles to read how it tastes, tied in nicely with something I found this morning whilst packing my enormous wine library for our imminent house move. Back in the second half of the 1980s, as a newly interested wine lover of three or four years and trying to wean myself off Mouton Cadet, I went to the Sunday Times Wine Club’s London Wine Fair, and began to collect a series of booklets which came weekly in that newspaper.

Four pages on English Wine in the final (sixth) part of a series edited by a presumably very young Joanna Simon paints a very different picture of the English wine scene back in the 1980s (I’ve dated, by a process of deduction, the booklet to either late 1987 or early 1988). The introduction stresses the poor weather, but equally extols the high winemaking standards. Perhaps back then a degree of wishful thinking (and a degree or two too little to ripen the grapes very often, although among the “hobbyists” we did have some exceptional winemaking talent who helped the industry take off).

Back then, Englishness was expressed in terms of floral bouquets and a lot of elderflower references, the codial doubtless striking a familiar note for potential consumers. The taste often consisted of tart fruit (grapefruit and especially gooseberry, always a classic note as well for unripe Sauvignon Blanc from France’s Loire Valley back then, but also very “English”…I grew up on gooseberry tart and gooseberry fool). In those days a lot was made of the fact that Roman and Medieval Britain had a “thriving” vineyard. Most modern writers (Oz Clarke, Stephen Skelton) would probably stress the “thriving” a bit less today.

From today’s perspective, having just had some of the hottest days on record in Southern England, the last big heatwave of 1976 gets a mention, though I’m not sure it had a great specific impact on the long-term prospects for English wine, except to give hope to many downcast grape growers. The system for taxing winemaking and wine was equally a focus back then, with complaints that the young industry was being hindered by unfair tax levels. Plus ça change!

Perhaps one of the most surprising (or not) statistics was how little land was planted with vines back them: just 1,200 acres (not hectares, acres), farmed by between 500-to-600 growers. Figures from June this year put us at over 8,000 acres (around 3,500 hectares). This is a pretty good increase, although to put this in context, Spain (with the largest planting) has more than 960,000 ha. We are still tiny. For the record, France has around 797,000 ha and China 781,000 ha (Source: State of the World Vitivinicultural Sector in 2020, pub 04/2021).

A good few of the vineyards of England followed the tradition set in motion by the father of English wine, Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones. His original vineyard at Hambledon, planted in the 1950s, was effectively a hobby. Whilst commercial vineyards were to follow, certainly from the 1970s, the hobbyists still had a profile, as illustrated by the fact that among those mentioned in the booklet, Beaulieu Vineyard in Hampshire, home of Lord Montague, gets a few lines for their “first-class rosé” made, in a “lighter, fruitier, Provence style” from Seibel. Albert Seibel crossed a number of European varieties with American grapes in the 1950s. The idea was to produce fruit with increased disease resistance. In theory such hybrid varieties are now banned within the EU, though they do crop up in some interesting places, hidden from the authorities.

Lamberhurst, owned by Sir Kenneth McAlpine, was one of the bigger names in English wine in the 1980s. Stephen Skelton ran it between 1988-1991. Karl-Heinz Johner, as winemaker, had a seminal influence on English wine.

Look at the photo of the map and you will see a good number of vineyards you might not have heard of. Highwaymans, Paxton Crest, Croffta, Chalk Hill and Castle Vineyard are all off my radar. I’ll probably find out how many are still going soon as I’m about to begin to read Ed Dallimore’s new “The Vineyards of Britain”. A casual flick through threw out some names I didn’t previously know.

What is maybe more telling is what isn’t on that map. Think of today’s stars, England and Wales’s best-known vineyards, certainly among connoisseurs, and you won’t find many. Back then, Kent seemed the county of choice. The West Country is bare, although to be fair a lot of vineyards in the West of England make good use today of the East of England’s sunshine to ship grapes over. Nothing wrong with that of course, if the results are good. Essex, to a degree, might be the unsung county of English wine. Kentish Pinot Noir was once a euphemism for a joke of a wine among some people I know, but not today. A good example of east-west traffic is Lyme Bay’s award-winning Pinot which I praised after tasting at the London Wine Fair in June this year. It’s fruit source is a secret, but it is somewhere along the River Crouch in Essex.

For me, nostalgia is nothing to be embarrassed by. I’m happy to try a Bacchus from Lyme Bay here, or a Madeleine Angevine from Danebury. Of course, these wines are not in the same league as our finest sparkling wines, but it’s a bit like listening to the music of my youth for me. A reminder of a different time, a journey through the past (to steal from Neil Young).

Tim Wildman’s “Lost in a Field Frolic Petnat” costs around £32-33/bottle and has been distributed mostly to savvy independent retailers and some restaurants. Although many got small allocations and will have sold out, I know that as of yesterday the new and wonderfully named wine shop on the South Coast, “Bottle of Hastings”, had more than a case of bottles left, and more magnums than are healthy. I got my restricted access single bottle from Seven Cellars in Brighton, whose parsimonious policy may mean some might be left (it was just over a week ago). I also saw Tim had been distributing in London, including (inter alia) to the fairly new wine shop “Bedford Street Wines” in Covent Garden.

Posted in Artisan Wines, English Wine, Grape Varieties, Petnat, Rosé, Sparkling Wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Recent Wines, Off-Topic

Why off-topic? My “Recent Wines” articles are almost exclusively made up of wines drunk at home, and the ten wines here were drunk on two evenings last week whilst staying with friends in the New Forest. But perhaps “off-topic” also because some of the wines are a little outside what I’m normally known for drinking. In case you were wondering, as far as I know, no one out of the four of us felt even slightly the worse for wear. I’ll keep the notes for most of the wines short.

“LA BUBULLE À JEANNOT MOUSSEUX BRUT NATURE, ANNE & JEAN-FRANÇOIS GANEVAT (Jura, France)

This wine is something of an enigma. Our friend got it in a case of odd Jura wines from Les Caves de Pyrene and it has no vintage info, just a code (1705B). Vaguely pink in colour it tasted aged, even suggestive of hints of Vin Jaune in its hazelnut aromas. But it’s apparently an Ancestral Method sparkler made from a blend of Gamay and Poulsard, so bearing a little resemblance to a Bugey-Cerdon. The grapes apparently come from the Jura region, but this is by no means certain with the A&J-F negoce wines. Certainly delicious. I’ve seen a suggestion that this may cost around £32 if you can find it. If true, that would be well worth pursuing.

FRÜBURGUNDER 2019, DAVID CROSSLEY (Sussex, UK)

I’m rather proud of this. My Frühburgunder (aka Pinot Noir Précose) usually comes out somewhere in the pink spectrum but 2019 gave us a proper red wine. Unfiltered, but having stood up for a good while 80% of the bottle poured a beautiful luminous red. Scents of cherry and good fruit on the palate. I suspect it may not be a lot higher than 10% abv, though I might be wrong. I also think that it did need a couple of years for the acids to soften…but they have. Definitely the best wine I’ve made so far. 2020 was lost to bacterial spoilage. The 2021 went into bottle only a month ago. Not commercially available. Nothing added (and I promise I washed my feet in water before treading the grapes).

CASOT DES MAILLOLES ROSÉ DE ZAZA XX (Roussillon, France)

This was a case of once more trusting a recommendation from a retailer. I’d popped in to London’s Antidote Wine Bar to pick up some Gut Oggau, but their pink wine hadn’t yet arrived. This was in fact very highly recommended indeed as a replacement, so I thought I’d try one. It was definitely all it was cracked up to be and more.

It’s a Vin de France made from fruit grown somewhere near Banyuls, better known for its fortified wines and powerful AOC reds from next door Collioure, and I’m not aware that rosé wine can be made under the Banyuls, or even Collioure, appellations. The vintage is 2020 and the grape mix is mainly Syrah, with just a splash of Marsanne. It’s a beautiful, orange-tinged, darker-coloured rosé which in some ways brought to mind that much under rated appellation over in the southern Rhône, Tavel. The lasting impression was of vibrancy, yet with a well-disguised 13% abv, it was perfect with food, in this case roasted aubergine with a tomato-based marinade.

TROUSSEAU “LE GINGLET” 2016, Philippe Bornard (Jura, France)

Philippe’s son, Tony, has taken over winemaking at the domaine now, but this wine was made by Philippe, who is still based in Pupillin. I’ve had a number of bottles of Le Ginglet 2016, some bottled under the Vin de France designation and some under the Arbois-Pupillin Appellation. I’m not entirely sure why, but this is under the latter appellation.

Cherry red, fruity and edgy, with genuine verve. There’s still lots of fruit but I would probably judge this 2016 worth drinking soon. This came via Les Caves de Pyrene.

VIN JAUNE 2011, DOMAINE DES BODINES (Jura, France)

On my last visit to Domaine des Bodines in December 2018 I was able to taste Emilie and Alexis’s first Vin Jaune. I was able (allowed) to purchase one bottle, so that got tucked away safely in my cellar. Our friends are also Jura visitors and they managed to pick this up retail in Arbois some time later (2019?), and rather kindly if unexpectedly opened it.

When I tasted this first vintage of Bodines VJ I wrote at the time that this could be the wine to really establish their reputation, although I’m glad to say that reputation has flourished in the interim, based on their other wines. This registers 14.5% abv, yet is so fresh and lively for a VJ. It’s definitely one of those Vin Jaunes you can drink early, and it might cause me to change my mind about when to drink my bottle. There’s no hurry at all, of course, and having just one bottle, I can see I might be reticent to part with it just yet. Fantastic. As far as I know, not imported, though Les Caves have had a few Bodines wines from time to time.

PIGGY POP PETNAT 2021, TIM WILDMAN (Various Regions, South Australia)

Tim Wildman has literally just released his first petnat made from English vineyards, but along with Astro Bunny, Piggy Pop is part of his long-running offering made from grapes sourced in South Australia. Tim is both an English MW and a devotee and master of the Ancestral Method, having made wine using this technique for a decade now.

We drank this on a spit of land close to Hurst Castle, inaccessible on foot, after a trip out in a rib (rigid inflatable boat to land lubbers). On the way back to Keyhaven we saw the local resident seal. Not a late afternoon easy to better.

Piggy Pop is a multi-varietal, multi-region, blend of Nero d’Avola and Mataro from McLaren Vale, Zibibbo from Riverland (where Brad Hickey also sources Zibibbo for his superb Brash Higgins amphora version), plus Fiano and Arneis from the Adelaide Hills. The result is for my money one of the best Aussie petnats on the market. Tim states his aim to make frivolous wines from serious grape varieties which you can “quaff with impunity”. Both of the two Aussies mentioned fulfil that role, and “Piggy” is a gloriously fun-packed frothy pink fizz. I’ve also just grabbed a bottle of the English version, “Lost in a Field”, which I tasted with Tim at Real Wine back in May.

Piggy Pop and Astro Bunny cost £26.80 from anyone who Indigo Wines distributes to, and also The Sourcing Table (online or from their new shop in Peckham). Lost in a Field, with its bright label and statement glass bottle, is a little more expensive, into the thirties, but the nature of the project, resurrecting very old English patches of vines mostly planted more than forty years ago with “Germanic” varieties, has a high-cost base.

CHAMPAGNE MICHEL GONET BLANC DE BLANCS GRAND CRU 2012 (Champagne, France)

Gonet is based on the Côte des Blancs at Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. As a Blanc de Blancs this 2012 vintage wine is made from Chardonnay. Dosed as Extra Brut (2g/l) it was mis en cave in April 2013 and disgorged in April 2021, so it has also seen an extra year of post-disgorgement ageing. Rounded, lemony, bready with some autolytic character balancing the freshness, it is still very much on its fruit. But this costs only £45 (The Solent Cellar, Lymington), and I have to say at that price it is something of a bargain. Long lees ageing, a vintage wine, a prime location for the fruit…all for the price of a non-vintage wine from many of the larger Champagne Houses. It will age further, and it is very good.

BOURGOGNE ALIGOTÉ 2019, BALLOT-MILLOT (Bourgogne, France)

This wine comes from a long-standing producer based in Meursault, where they are better known as producers of that village’s wine. Charles Ballot runs the domaine today, the domaine name coming from the unification of both his parents’ vine holdings when they got married.

Charles’s Aligoté comes from 50-year-old vines, grown under a strict (but uncertified) organic regime which includes the use of no herbicides and minimal other approved treatments. The wine is aged in oak and even after a relatively short period of bottle age has softened way more than you’d expect from Aligoté, even perhaps if you have been assiduously following this grape’s renaissance in the region. It’s almost chalky in its soft minerality. Imported by Thorman Hunt, this again came from The Solent Cellar in Lymington. £18.99. I quite fancy trying the domaine’s Meursault now (around £50, I think).

CHÂTEAU HAUT-BAILLY 1999, PESSAC-LÉOGNAN (Bordeaux, France)

I’m no fundamentalist, and whilst these days I prefer to drink more natural wines, I still have classic wines in my cellar. Everyone outside the rarefied collector clique has been more than happy to slag off Bordeaux for the past decade. High alcohol, Parkerisation, pricing for oligarchs, snooty owners and many other sins have been heaped on the Bordelais, some criticisms quite justified. Yet…yet…when you drink a classic.

Haut-Bailly is what we used to call old school Graves. A wine of lowish alcohol, fruit for sure, but a savoury wine in its essence, built for the job of accompanying food (for most people, let’s face it, for accompanying a large slab of dead cow).

What we have here is a wine grown on a classic terroir consisting of sandy gravels just to the south of the city of Bordeaux. The blend is probably around 60-65% Cabernet Sauvignon with around a quarter Merlot and a small but significant 10% of Petit Verdot. Current wines see around 50% new oak, but I suspect this was less back in the late 1990s.

This is one of my very favourite Bordeaux Châteaux, one I’ve drunk from many different vintages. It was also, sadly, the last bottle of Haut-Bailly I owned. It has a seemingly infinite ability to age when stored in a cool, dark, place. The result is always savoury, though I won’t deny there is blackcurrant fruit here still. It has an earthy side, which I find so much more attractive than the more modern fruit bombs from the wider region I’m less enamoured with. The alcohol is listed as 12.5%, which, whilst not putting it among the cohorts of old 11% Graves, certainly makes it fit for purpose: the dinner table rather than the tasting bench.

You might be able to source some even today, but it will be pushing £100/bottle. I suspect I bought this in the early days of The Sampler in London, so not on release, but I’ve had it quite a long time. I think if it has been safely stored, even for £80-100 you’ll be getting a lot of pleasure if you like wines like this.

CAREMA 2016 (Black Label), FERRANDO (Piemonte, Italy)

Carema is a small appellation in Northern Piemonte. It’s so far north in fact that the next stop for vineyards is Aosta’s Donnaz DOC. It has always had a reputation, largely kept alive by one private producer, Luigi Ferrando, whose sons are keeping the flame very much going (as well as an excellent co-operative in the region whose wines are quite easy to find in the UK). Now the Ferrando wines are starting to garner interest among aficionados of Barolo and Barbaresco, and these wines ain’t cheap.

This is old vine Nebbiolo (sometimes called Picutener up here). Grown at altitude, the wines are perhaps lighter than their southern cousins, but they major on scent (cherry and rose petal) and a nice minerality. I think “ethereal” may be a better adjective than “lighter”. If you expect less ripeness, think again. The 2016 vintage was near perfect, with a long, slow, ripening season without too much heat and little by way of rain. The resulting wine is certainly stately, but not constrained. This means that it will keep like any other great Nebbilo, but it has the kind of delicacy, and lack of big tannins, which make it drinkable now. £80 (ouch!), but it is a very fine Nebbiolo, again from The Solent Cellar.

Ooh, and we drank this as well…!

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

Recent Wines June 2022 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

Part 2 of June’s “Recent Wines” is, as a half-dozen, perhaps, almost as diverse as it can be, although I’m sure someone will be there to shoot down that statement with regard to origin (no Americans, Africans or Antipodeans). I mean in regard to grape varieties and flavour. There are wines from Hampshire, Alsace, Roussillon, Yamanashi, Eger and the Vaud. That’s quite diverse!

WILD ROSE 2017, BLACK CHALK (Hampshire, UK)

Jacob Leadley and Zoë Driver continue to take Black Chalk forward in leaps and bounds. Having established this estate as a boutique winery to be reckoned with from the off, they continue to improve, year-on-year, from an impressive beginning. Their base, including a new winery and tasting room, is close to Hampshire’s Test Valley, near Andover and not far from Winchester. It’s a part of the county which is proving exceptional for English Sparkling Wine.

Of the two wines from this vintage, Wild Rose is my favourite, which is not in any way to disparage the white version, Classic Cuvée. As a sparkling Rosé it contains all three classic “Champagne” varieties, including Chardonnay, but it majors on red fruits: elegant, perfumed raspberry and strawberry with a vibrancy rarely surpassed by rivals. The palate tastes clean and zippy, fresh and fine. An extra year in bottle hasn’t taken away the fruit-driven element which appeals so much to my palate, but one might say it seems more assured.

Winner of a Gold Medal at the Champagne and Sparkling Wine Awards 2019, it is one of the best English sparkling rosé wines currently on the market, but it is increasingly hard to source as most retailers have sold out of the 2017. Mine came from The Solent Cellar. UK agent is Graft Wine. The 2018 Wild Rose is available via Black Chalk’s web site (£40). The “Classic” is £35.

SI ROSE 18-19-20, CHRISTIAN BINNER (Alsace, France)

“Rose” not “Rosé”, this bottle from Christian Binner of Ammerschwihr is a skin contact wine blended from three vintage (above). The blend is complex. The grapes are Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris in the proportion 65:35. The Bildstoeklé lieu-dit provides much of the blend along with some of Binner’s Grand Cru sites. The 2020 Bildstoeklé element saw an eight-day maceration on skins, whilst the 10% added from the Grand Crus saw a longer two-months on skins. These together made up around 70% of the final blend, the remaining 30% coming from a perpetual reserve of the 2018 and 2019 vintages. There were zero additives, which includes no sulphur, and the seal is a glass stopper.

Bottling was in May 2021, so this has rested for a year before opening. Some expressed surprise at this, but skin contact wines tend to age well in my experience, and my cellar seems cool enough for zero sulphur bottles as far as I can tell. On opening you notice this wine is slightly cloudy and a lovely colour evoking both cherry wood and bronze. It smells unmistakably of rose petals, peach and apricot. The palate is initially so smooth you could confuse it with fruit juice, though best not to (the abv is 14%). The wine is rich, but there is a textured dryness to the finish.

I need to choose my words carefully, because I plan to limit myself to three in order to describe this. Sensational, profound and unique fit well. I can’t recall what I paid for this, nor whether it came from Les Caves de Pyrene (Binner’s UK agent) or Littlewine. I can only say that if you haven’t tried it, track some down. As far as Alsace is concerned, if you are not yet on board, jump up.

LE SOULA BLANC 2016, IGT CÔTES CATALANES (Roussillon, France)

Le Soula was founded in 2001, a partnership between Roy Richards and Mark Walford, already working in the region, and Gérard Gauby, whose wines made near Calce in the Agly Valley, headed by his famous “Muntada”, were already vying to be top of the pile for the emerging Roussillon new wave since the early 1990s. The trio were joined in 2008 by Gérald Stanley, who now manages the vineyard.

Le Soula Blanc is one of the most interesting wines from this wild and rugged part of France, namely the Fenouillèdes, above the Agly Valley on the edge of the Pyrenees. A little over twenty hectares are under vine, on rocky granite between 350 and 600 masl. The climate switches from hot sun to cold rain in a moment, as any similar mountain region can.

The grape variety making up most of the blend (49%) is, most unusually for the region, Sauvignon Blanc. But this is a terroir wine, and it seems to express so perfectly this wild landscape despite Saivignon Blanc’s cool climate credentials. The remainder of the blend is made up of Vermentino (23%), Grenache Blanc (14%), Macabeu (12%) plus 2% others (allegedly a little Chardonnay, Marsanne, Roussanne and Malvoisie).

This 2016 vintage was the first made by new winemaker, Wendy Paillé. Farming and winemaking are both biodynamic. The wine, as one would expect, is herb-scented, I think clearly fennel, with honey and quite intense minerality on the palate, along with yellow fruits and pear. This natural wine is refreshing, but at the same time highly nuanced and increasingly complex as it is allowed to warm in the glass (don’t be tempted to serve it too cold). Exceptional.

£35 is actually a bit of a bargain for a wine of this quality with a bit of bottle age. My wife got me this as a present from the Berry Brothers & Rudd shop on Pall Mall. A brilliant choice.

KOSHU GRIS DE GRIS 2020, FUEFUKI DISTRICT, CHATEAU MERCIAN (Yamanashi, Japan)

Château Mercian is one of a couple of Japanese wine producers who first exported to the UK. Yamanashi is around an hour west of Tokyo and just north of Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji. It is far from being the only place making quality wine in the country, but it is certainly the best-known outside of Japan, and few would argue it is the most developed for viticulture. Exactly the same might be said of Mercian itself, Japan’s oldest commercial wine company, now (since 2007) part of the Kirin group (see Anthony Rose, Sake and the Wines of Japan, Infinite Ideas 2018, pp274ff).

Koshu is Japan’s best known autochthonous grape variety. It has a pink bloom to the skin but can be made in a number of styles, from white wine to a kind of white/rosé hybrid. The grape’s thick skin acts as protection in the Japanese climate, as do the wonderful paper “hats” growers use to protect the bunches from the inevitable harvest rains. The vines are also usually grown on pergolas to raise them above the humidity of the soil and to allow breezes to help keep the grapes disease free.

Apparently (Rose, p263) Jancis Robinson used the phrase “zen-like purity” in describing Koshu. Whether this was genuine praise, or faint praise for a variety which can produce quite dilute wines, I don’t know?  I would still argue that you really should try it. Koshu is rarely dilute now, or at least those which are selected by overseas buyers aren’t, and it has become more than a mere novelty.

The wine in question here is a Koshu “Gris de Gris”, faintly pink in colour, though more yellow-gold in some lights, because it has seen some skin contact. This also gives the wine a bit of tannic structure. The aromatics are soft apple compote with a kind of candyfloss texture. I did say it is unique. What to drink it with? Anthony Rose attended a pairing event in London where it went well with fish cake, langoustine and suckling pig. I have paired it with sushi and, on this occasion, with a vegan version of Katsu Curry (using crumbed seitan with sweet potato and edamame). I’m guessing a variety of fish and seafood would also work well.

I should add that this cuvée is one of Mercian’s entry-level wines. The more expensive cuvées are a step up in quality, but this is the perfect place to dip your toe in. £21.50 from The Good Wine Shop (Kew).

CSERESZNYEÉRÉS 2018, HEGYI-KALÓ (Eger, Hungary)

I’ve known the wines made by this young couple in Hungary’s once famous Eger region for quite a number of years and my positive feelings for their wines are no doubt in part down to how much I liked them when many of us met Julia at a tasting at Winemakers Club in 2017. Julia has a wine PhD and Adam is head of wine research at Eger University. They have a mixed farm, with pigs and sheep alongside the vines, making wine very much according to natural principles. They use only free-run juice and no skin contact.

This is their Rosé, which I had not drunk for a long time (since the 2014 vintage) but remembered equally fondly. The grape variety is one you don’t come across often, Medina. It is apparently more commonly planted in Poland, where it is noted for its thick, disease-resistant, red skin. The deep pigment allows for a pink wine to be made without extra maceration. Only old barrels and older wooden casks are used for ageing/fermentation. The terroir is volcanic, which adds a ferrous edge to what is a subtly-flavoured wine. Back in 2017 I described it as tasting a little like a red fruit tea. This bottle was definitely floral and fruity.

I’d recommend this for anyone seeking out Rosé wines made a little differently. It has a beautiful orange-tinged pink colour and the edge you’d expect to find in volcanic wines. I bought this bottle from Solent Cellar (no longer in stock). Julia and Adam still export through Winemakers Club in the UK, but whilst they have other wines of theirs, I can’t see this Rosé currently listed. But do look out for it.

MONT-SUR-ROLLE GRAND CRU 2020, DOMAINE DE MAISON BLANCHE (Vaud, Switzerland)

I’ve written about this wine before, and indeed this producer’s sparkling demi-sec, but I think I can get away with plugging the 2020 vintage of the still wine because it illustrates the fact that Swiss wine is not always as expensive as you imagine.

Mont-sur-Rolle is an appellation in Switzerland’s Vaud region, in the part of the vignoble close to Geneva known as La Côte. To the east of Lausanne, we have Lavaux, with its steep, terraced, UNESCO designated vineyards. La Côte is west of that city, and forms one almost contiguous slope down to Lac Léman. Generally, these wines have been ignored outside of Switzerland, especially as the main local variety, Chasselas, is seemingly forever denigrated by Anglo-Saxons. Mind you, calling a wine like this by the misnomer of “Grand Cru” doesn’t help.

Yves and Antoine de Mestral are in charge of this historic estate dating back to the 13th Century (1258), and in the same family since the 1520s. They are adept at making something interesting out of Chasselas, as their sparkling wine (reviewed 07/02/2022) attests. They work on heavier topsoils, which help give this wine just a touch more weight and body than some examples. The variety retains some of its best traits on these terroirs: verve and herbal essence. It is made cleanly, without oak, aiming for freshness above all.

The result is a light-ish white wine (12% abv) which tingles on the tongue with a little tension. Herbal, for sure, there’s also a floral element (camomile) and pear. It might not be the finest Chasselas in Switzerland but there’s a reason it is well distributed among retailers who take stock from specialist importer Alpine Wines. This is, aside from its attractive, old-fashioned style of label, because it’s a good, accessible, version of a unique Swiss wine style, one made for cheese and lighter fish dishes along with many vegetarian possibilities, and it only costs £22.99. Don’t dismiss it. Approach it on its own terms. In my case, I find well made Chasselas has a certain understated appeal…rather like La Côte when you get to know its villages.

Posted in Alsace, Artisan Wines, English Wine, Hungarian Wine, Japan, Languedoc-Roussillon, Natural Wine, Swiss Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recent Wines June 2022 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

June saw a very interesting bunch of wines drunk at home, but equally, it saw us drinking a lot of repeats, wines I’ve already written about. So, we have just five wines in this first selection of wines drunk at home in June, with six to follow in Part 2. We begin with a simple but tasty Pigato from Liguria and a Wiener Gemischter Satz of some stature. Next there are two German Spätburgunders, one from the Pfalz and one from Baden. The solitary sparkling wine is yet another stunning cuvée from Peter Hall at Breaky Bottom in Sussex.

You might like the fact that I’m not writing about too many wines in these two articles. I’m saving the quantity for another piece…we drank, between four of us, ten wines and one whisky over Monday and Tuesday evenings, and I want to tell you about every one of them in due course.

PIGATO 2019 RIVIERA LIGURE DI PONENTE, TERRE BLANCHE (Liguria, Italy)

Back in September last year I drank a bottle of this producer’s Rossese di Dolceacqua (Recent Wines, Sept 2021, Pt 1, 30/09/2021). I managed to get a bottle of their Pigato from the same retailer. Pigato is a Ligurian clone of Vermentino, although some producers like to bottle wines labelled with both names to emphasise their difference.

Filippo Rondinelli and Nicola Laconi are the couple behind Terre Blanche, based on the beautiful rocky coast close to the French border. This isn’t a natural wine as such, but as I said in reviewing their tasty and great value red, they follow a low-intervention regime for their extremely old vines (some more than a hundred years old).

A few readers will know that back in the 1990s and 2000s I was a fairly frequent visitor to Piemonte, and if we were there for a week, we’d always manage a day in Liguria, either a seafood lunch on the coast or an exploration of the mountains which separate Liguria and Piemonte. It’s a region of great beauty which we never quite managed to get to for a holiday in its own right. As I was first near Dolceacqua in 1989 I have no excuses.

What I’m coming slowly to say is that back in the day Pigato was often pretty acidic and thin, but this wine isn’t. It has more body than many Pigatos I’ve drunk, and at 13% abv, more alcohol. It has peach and honey tones, very smooth, but it doesn’t lack Pigato’s natural freshness. The finish has a pronounced savoury element. The whole package makes it very attractive and ideal for a seafood lunch in the sunshine, when you decide you don’t want a thin and weedy pink. It’s not Meursault, but it’s only £22.50, same as last year if I recall correctly. Don’t look for “stunning” but do look for something nicely different.

I found this at Butlers Wine Cellar (Brighton). They are still listing it.

SPÄTBURGUNDER 2014, WEINGUT FRIEDRICH BECKER, SCHWEIGEN (Pfalz, Germany)

If you have noticed I have begun to drink a few more of Fritz Becker’s wines, I should explain something about the mess that is my cellar. I retrieved a mixed case purchased on a visit there, from the bottom of a pile of boxes, some of the contents of which I’m far from sure of. I knew I had the Becker wines but I wasn’t too worried about their ageing potential. This cuvée may be Becker’s entry level Pinot Noir, but a few years ago I had a 2010 vintage of the same wine and it was glorious. I’m not sure even Fritz had kept one of these that long, because his upmarket cuvées are so good.

It bears repeating that Fritz Becker (that’s the son of Fritz Becker Senior, known as Kleiner Fritz, who has been in charge of winemaking since 2005) now farms close to 25-ha at Schweigen, at the very southern extent of the Pfalz. In fact, most of the Becker vines are actually in Alsace, but subject to German wine law. Being Germany, the 1971 Wine Law made everything between the magnificent French abbey of Wissembourg and Schweigen itself into one amorphous Grösslage, the Schweigener Sonnenberg. And it being 1971, Sonnenberg was the name of the once most famous of the region’s Einzellagen. This means that for all his single site wines, Fritz has to tread a very fine tightrope when labelling them, between telling us which of the original historic sites the wine comes from and upsetting the bureaucrats.

Most of the soils here are a mix of limestone and marl, and some used to say these wines were some of the most “Burgundian” Pinots in Germany. That said, recent years have seen changes, in clones and viticulture. Here, especially, there has been a dialling back of new oak (purchasing one-year barrels from DRC gives them top quality wood without the new oak effect) and the introduction of more wooden vats for fermentation.

This entry-level red is a good introduction to the Becker stable. It doesn’t have the majesty and wow factor of the top wines, many of which are so sought after and highly awarded in Germany that one wonders why so few Brits know them. There’s still a little tannic structure in a wine which has largely smoothed out nicely. Both bouquet and palate are fruity but the texture gives enough grip to make sure it goes well with food. At 13.5% abv that is what it is built for. Is it just me, but this wine never fails to be so much better than by rights it should be?

Purchased at the domaine, but the UK importer is German specialist, Wine Barn. I think the current vintage of this cuvée may be a little under £30. The Grand Crus start from £80 upwards.

WIENER GEMISCHTER SATZ DAC BISAMBERG 2016, WIENINGER (Vienna, Austria)

Of course, you know that the vineyards of Vienna are one of my happy places. The views from up in the vines back over the city have, for some unfathomable reason, a real resonance with me. If you asked me to name my favourite half-dozen places to walk, of course I would include a couple of walks in the Himalayas, certainly one from the Alps and the Pyrenees, but I would also select a walk through the woods to the vines on the Nussberg, with lunch and a glass or two at Fritz Wieninger’s popup Buschenschank (summer season only) on the way down.

This Viennese cru comes from vines on Bisamberg, which is on the opposite side of the Danube to Nussberg, and so closer to the Wieninger winery at Stammersdorf, a long tram ride from the city centre. Wieninger has 70% (35-ha) of their vine holdings here. Gemischter Satz is a field blend where the grapes are picked together and fermented together. It is not a unique way of farming, with the insurance the style brings against under-, or over-ripeness, and disease, being common elsewhere in Austria and certainly beyond. The style is, however, firmly part of the cultural heritage of the city of Vienna, hence it having been granted its own DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus, the Austrian AOP equivalent).

Many gemischter satz wines are simple, fruity, zippy, no more than summer refreshment. There are, however, serious wines which are the city’s Grands Crus, made to age. It is this style that Fritz Wieninger has pioneered, and he’s still the top dog. The contents of this Bisamberg Cru are Weissburgunder, Grauburgunder and Chardonnay, all vines over forty years old, all farmed biodynamically, off sandy loess and limestone soils. The result here is a more complex wine than you might expect, with genuine depth. There is still freshness and fruit, but the acids are softened into a stony, mineral, dry texture. The wine has a certain stature, but not one denoted by weight. That said, it still packs 13.5% abv, more than many lighter examples.

Expect the main theme to be exotic fruits, perhaps mango to the fore, but with apple acidity and a touch of honey. The grapes only see a three-hour maceration, but there is nevertheless a little texture and dry extract. Personally, I love these wines, though they may appear slightly different if you’ve never tried them and don’t know what to expect. That’s including their glass vinolok closure (don’t try a corkscrew).

This bottle was purchased from The Solent Cellar, but the UK importer is Liberty Wines. The former may be out of this right now, but they do have some gems in their small Austrian offering.

CUVÉE DAVID PEARSON 2015, BREAKY BOTTOM VINEYARD (Sussex, England)

Another month, another Breaky Bottom Cuvée. I’m getting through them. Normally I’d not write about a wine I included in my Recent Wines articles only back in December last year, but I continue to be astonished by the quality, and shocking value for money, of Peter Hall’s wines and I make zero apology for continuing to plug them.

Peter Hall’s tiny Sussex vineyard sits in an achingly beautiful Bottom (hollow) in the chalk folds of the South Downs, between Rodmell and the sea. It is accessed by a route which at best can be called a muddy track, which I know has proved difficult for vehicles lower slung than my XC. I wrote about my 2022 visit there (15/03/2022).

David Pearson was a long-time friend and employee of the Halls, who sadly passed away in 2019. The cuvée named after him comprises 70% Chardonnay, with Pinots Noir and Meunier adding 15% each. Peter makes two cuvées each year, one generally being a blend of the three traditional “Champagne” varieties. There were only 6,004 bottles of this one produced.

This is classic Breaky Bottom, in that it has a filigree spine of brittle acidity, like a frosted spider’s web, running through it. Delicate, yet the fruit intensity adds substance. The balance here is of the best kind – precarious. Some might call it “nervosité” in another language, we might call it tension. When I drank a bottle last year, I said it had potential to age. It has progressed, even in six months. It is in a quite magical place (though no hurry to drink) where youth is still very much evident, but maturity is beginning to show itself. It scored 95 points at the IWSC 2020. I’m sure it would merit a higher score today, not that I’m a points man.

£35 from Butlers Wine Cellar. This cuvée has also been spotted in Sussex branches of Waitrose.

BLAUER SPÄTBURGUNDER 2017, ZIEREISEN (Baden, Germany)

Another German Pinot Noir. They may come from miles apart, but there are some similarities between the pair I’ve written about today. They are both grown close to the border of another country, one which has influenced the wine. In this case it’s Switzerland. They are also both entry level cuvées made by supremely talented winemakers whose top red wines are rightly regarded as among the best in Germany. Both Becker and Ziereisen have dialled back the oak, power and structure over the past decades, to initial disappointment from some critics, but generally a route praised by the majority of their clientele.

Hanspeter Ziereisen farms a little over 15-ha of vines near Efringen-Kirchen, the vines grouped on Baden’s Öhlberg, just a matter of a few kilometres from the Swiss border at Basel. The winery address, Markgräfenstrasse 17, places us in that southern part of Baden known as the Markgräferland. The soils here are resolutely Jurassic limestone, so once again, Burgundian comparisons are rife. The terroir though is quite different, even if there are close climatic similarities. The vines, most over 50-years old for the crus, are planted in individual parcels at between 300-400 metres on quite steep terrain and they need protection from the wild winds which can sweep through the Belfort Gap.

This, like the Becker Wine above, is one of Hanspeter’s entry level wines. Whilst it does not come close in quality to the top wines, starting perhaps with the Ziereisen “Jaspis” barrel selections, it does provide a lot more bang for the buck than almost any similarly priced German red wines I can think of (£16.99 for this, half the price of the albeit extremely good Becker wine reviewed earlier). It saw a six-week maceration in stainless steel followed by ageing in large, used, oak. You may only be getting intense cherry fruit on nose and palate, plus a bit of grip and texture, but this is all for under seventeen quid. If some think it is a simple wine, I think it is a great glug…though a 13% glug so be careful.

The Solent Cellar for once appears still to be listing this, and for the same price quoted above. More generally for Ziereisen, contact Howard Ripley Wines.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Austrian Wine, English Wine, German Wine, Sparkling Wine, Vienna, Wiener Gemischter Satz, Wieninger, Wine, Wine Agencies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Italians at The Glasshouse, Kew

When you alight from the train from Central London at Kew Gardens station you cross the tracks and immediately feel you are in a village. The tall trees surrounding the station set the scene for the famous gardens down the road. I have some fond memories of the gardens. A friend’s mother lived in a neighbouring road and at that time there was a now long-gone private gate giving free access for residents. I’m sure that its removal reflects the need nowadays for Kew to extract the full £11 entry from those of us who might otherwise have known how to get in for nothing.

Still, £11 is cheap compared to lunch at The Glasshouse, the increasingly fine restaurant which is my current connection with Kew. A group of friends try to dine there at least once a year in order to pair Italian wines (once just Tuscans but now broadened out a little) with the Michelin-starred food. It doesn’t seem too many years ago, acknowledging that Covid created a void in time, since lunch cost £50-60. £80 was a jump, but still good value, as a treat, because the kitchen seems to have moved up another notch here.

Friday was the hottest day of the year so far by quite some distance, with 33-degrees on my weather app, and the majestic trees of Kew’s Station Approach were puffing out some serious pollen too. But inside the restaurant the perfect air conditioning, said by some to be the best in London, made it the perfect ambient temperature for dining. That said, despite the restaurant temperature, and the fact that I for one had taken my own red contribution in a chiller sleeve, it wasn’t really a day for red wine. The whites showed better. The food was, come to think of it, faultless.

We opened the batting with our one non-Italian of the day, Champagne Bérêche Rive Gauche 2015. Raphaël makes this from fruit largely sourced from vines around Mareuil-le-Port, and it is 100% Meunier. It has the Bérêche signature elegance coming via a thin but firm spine of crystalline acidity. It develops in the glass with a mix of fresh yellow apple and cinnamon spice, with a hint of apricot exoticism. I wonder whether that is the result of a little skin contact? Others around the table detected a hint of cherry, but it passed me by. This 2015 is still a trifle young. It is yet to develop the tertiary notes of mushroom, and the turning of yellow apple freshness into tarte-tatin or toffee apple. Still loved it, though.

Our first course was veal tonnato with green asparagus, fine beans, crispy polenta, capers and pecorino. Two wines accompanied it. The so-called “lesser” of the two was Ca’ Lojera 2021 Lugana. This was 100% Trebbiano di Lugana (so actually Verdicchio, not the Tuscan Trebbiano). Pale white wine with a mineral heart, and a tiny bit of CO2 freshness, it was a delightful choice and paired nicely.

However, I think the next wine, many people’s “wine of the day”, was in a different league. It was also remarkable to note that Pieropan Soave Classico 1995 was not one of the single vineyard wines, but the ”Classico” tout-court. Although it had a richness which in some ways resembled Chardonnay more than Garganega (a vastly underrated grape variety, I think, when treated with care), it was equally fresh as a daisy. You almost had to double-check the vintage, except for the stately length, a sign of maturity. I do remember that we were always told this cuvée would improve with age, but how many people have kept a bottle of this for close to twenty-seven years?

The next course was an exceptional piece of sea bream, crispy on top and soft beneath, served with new season’s tomatoes, crushed green olives, crostini and smoked paprika aioli. I could have eaten two fillets, pure greed but it was so light and cooked to absolute perfection. We chose to accompany the fish with three reds.

Garnacha Not Guerra 2015, Sardinia was the first vintage of the first wine made on Sardinia by Irish MW Mick O’Connell. The grapes were bought in for this vintage, but picked early to preserve freshness. In fact, Mick calls this wine “Garnacha” rather than the local synonym, Cannonau, in order to distinguish the style. It’s perhaps more like a Garnacha grown at altitude in the Gredos Mountains of Spain rather than here in Sardinia.

The alcohol is marked as 12.9% all the same, but it doesn’t taste too alcoholic. It has light juicy cherry fruit flavour supplemented by hints of blood orange, with that unmistakable bouquet somewhere between raspberries and strawberries, allowing for lifted violet scents to waft over the top. Delicious, but perhaps not showing its delicacy on the day due to the heat and, perhaps, being paired with two bigger wines. That said, only 360 bottles were produced this first vintage, so it felt to me like a privilege to try it, my only bottle (I recall it was very much rationed on release). Some felt it had lost the freshness of youth, but somehow it seemed fresh to me, mostly thanks to the bouquet.

Elena Fucci “Titolo” Aglianico del Vulture 2015 is a very different wine. Elena makes wine on the volcanic soils of Monte Vulture, in Basilicata in Italy’s deep south. Altitude allows the Aglianico vines to ripen more slowly, and under less intense heat, than many might imagine. The result is rich, for sure, but also mineral and showing a degree of restraint. The wine is aged in small French oak barrels, and whilst the oak doesn’t dominate, it does bring a dark and firm intensity to the glass. A nice wine, but one I myself might not pair with Bream.

Graci “Quota 1000 Contrada de Barbabecchi” 2013, Etna was, for me, a delight to drink although I may have found myself the most vocal in its praise around the table. Graci is, of course, one of the first names in Etna wines and this cuvée is, I think, Alberto Graci’s top wine. It is made from, as the name suggests, vines grown at 1,000 masl and above, mostly Nerello Mascalese, on a small two-hectare single site.

Like all good Etna, it is classy. Not too dark in colour, more elegant than powerful, with for me cherry and tobacco being the main elements of the bouquet. There’s a little texture, but little sign that this was (I think) originally aged in young, oval, Stockinger casks. It has smoothed out nicely. I can find a drinking date of “by 2025” for this vintage. Personally, I think this took a while to open up so it might go a bit longer if properly stored…or equally it may be a sign that it needs drinking. I have no idea.

I read that this is labelled under the Sicilia DOC, not Etna DOCG, and this, apparently, is because the Etna appellation stops at 1,000 metres. Whatever its designation, this is a fine and beautifully aged wine.

Thanks to Mark Priestley for the Titolo photo

Our third course was some small but once more perfectly cooked pieces of Lamb a la Niçoise with olive oil creamed potatoes, violet artichokes and basil. Our plan was to drink a pair of Fontodi Vigna del Sorbo with it, but the 2004 was irredeemably corked. The 1998 was very mature in that balsamic and tomato purée way that older Sangiovese can go. I thought it smelt lovely, and the palate improved over time. Not enough for most people round the table and in consuming half a glass, I probably drank more than most.

All that remains of the “del Sorbo” 1998 label

Thankfully, the kind man who brought the 1998 also brought a backup. Peter Vinding-Diers Montecarrubo Syrah 2008. I can only say please try this if you can. Dane Peter Vinding-Diers goes right back to my nascent interest in wine. I bought what I think was my first ever mixed case from the Sunday Times Wine Club, chaired at the time by his friend Hugh Johnson, and it contained a white Bordeaux he had made. At the time I recall he was a great champion for Bordeaux whites, and Semillon in particular.

Peter, assisted by his English wife, Susie, has been around the wine world in the interim, certainly making wine in Spain and Hungary, as well as elsewhere in Italy, to my recollection, to name two of their peripatetic stops, all on the way to Sicily. Montecarrubo is their estate on the island, named apparently after the carob trees which grow there. It’s near Siracusa. Although Peter planted the local Nero d’Avola on a different site, he settled on Syrah and Petit Verdot on the estate and has been very happy with the results.

We are jumping ahead though. This 2008 Syrah was, I am told, possibly made with bought in fruit before his estate vines came on tap. However, it was magnificent, and for me, the other contender for wine of the day. As others said, like a good Côte-Rôtie, though more about the pepper and texture, without the bacon fat of mature Rhône Syrah. It did pair very well with the lamb.

Dessert was a lovely, light, toasted almond custard with poached cherries and “caremalised bracelet” (whatever that was). We had two half-bottles of Tedeschi Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 1996 to accompany it. There were definite differences between bottles. I had a pour from the second which, served cool, seemed to have clean dark berry fruit which was almost gluggable, it was that elegant. The first half bottle was described as more “coffee and balsamic”, which my glass was wholly devoid of. If anything, it seemed to lack just a tiny bit of its expected concentration, but on a hot day that was far from what we wanted with this lighter dessert. I’m sure it was down to serving temperature.

I don’t get to dine like this as often as I used to, and I make no pretence of finding it less easy to afford such a day out, post-Covid, what with travel and, in Kew, the absolute impossibility of neglecting to pop into The Good Wine Shop, being just a couple of minutes from the restaurant. Perhaps that helped make this such pleasurable meal, but I don’t think I am alone in being rather impressed with The Glasshouse these days.

Posted in Italian Wine, Restaurants, Sicily, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine and Food, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Recent Wines May 2022 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

In Part 2 of my roundup of the most interesting bottles we drank at home in, effectively, the second half of May, I find a Jura-heavy selection, three wines out of six. The remainder come from Moravia, Alsace and Hungary. Whilst we don’t have as much diversity of location as usual, we do have a real diversity of flavours. Consistency comes in quality, because I doubt that I will drink a better half-dozen wines in succession this year, even if I manage to match them.

L’UVA ARBOSIANA 2020, DOMAINE DE LA TOURNELLE (Jura, France)

Drinking this, we were sending our thoughts, as ever, to Evelyne in Arbois for the tragedy which befell the domaine during Covid. This cuvée has a special place in my heart because it was the first Tournelle I ever brought back to the UK, stopping off on one of our return trips from Geneva, when we would often try to get to Arbois before everything closed for lunch, rushing here and to the A&M Tissot and Domaine de la Pinte shops.

This means I’ve been trying to drink the odd bottle of L’Uva at least once every year for more than twenty years. It’s made from Ploussard (Poulsard) harvested into small baskets, hand-destemmed and pressed gently in order to create a light “vin de copain”. Carbonic maceration, full malo and then bottling after around three months in tank with no added sulphites.

It’s a wine which is recommended, because of the zero sulphur additions, to be transported cool, and we used to use a cool box for the purpose. That said, bottles bought in Central London in the height of summer have never suffered. The cuvée is prone to reduction and often requires a good shake in carafe, but not always (not with this bottle). After a good swirl you will find heavenly scents of redcurrant and strawberry to fill the nostrils. Cherry seems to take over on the palate. It’s a light red which behaves like a hybrid red-rosé on account of the sheer vibrancy of fruit acid balance in the glass. In 20+ years my love for this has never faltered.

This bottle came from Antidote Wine Bar in Central London. Also imported and sold by Dynamic Vines in Bermondsey.

“AMBERO” 2020, PETR KORÁB (Moravia, Czechia)

I finally met Petr and his wife at the Real Wine Fair in London a few weeks ago, and I am very excited that I shall be visiting them in Moravia soon. Since I discovered the wines of Moravia a few years ago I’ve become a big fan of Petr. For a man with a few hectares the diversity of what he makes suggests a man keen to experiment. No one can keep up with him. I have a special fondness for his wild petnats, but here we have a still wine made with skin contact, hence “Ambero”.

The grape is Traminer, a variety which takes well to the macerated style. We are in the Moravian sub-region of Velkopavlovická and the village of Boleradice (which last weekend I discovered I’ve been pronouncing incorrectly, it’s “tze” not “che”). Picked late, on 20th October, the fruit gets extended skin and lees contact, is fermented to dryness (giving 14% abv but don’t be concerned), and is matured in robinia casks. Robinia is also known as “black locust wood” or “false acacia”, and sometimes if you see that a wine was matured in acacia barrels it could be robinia.

This tastes clean and smooth, but with a little texture and grip. It’s very complex. Tarte-tatin, peach, Lucozade and hints of honey or maple syrup leap out. It has zippy acids and plenty of depth. Probably not for those who really dislike amber wines, but a good one to try if you are open to the style and want to experiment. Petr Koráb is imported by Basket Press Wines. They don’t seem to have Ambero on their site, though it may still be available via independent retailers whom they supply (ask them for details). They will always have a good selection of Petr’s current wines.

ARBOIS CHARDONNAY 2015, DOMAINE DES BODINES (Jura, France)

All of the wines I have drunk from this tiny domaine on the edge of Arbois (on the road to Dôle) have been purchased on my visits there. The domaine is run by one of Arbois’ most engaging young couples, Emilie and Alexis Porteret. Their wines, made naturally with both skill and intuition, have impressed from the start, especially the thought given to the viticulture of their tiny holding. Five hectares, which see no synthetic chemicals, nor where possible, ground-compacting tractors, on their blue marl soils. No sulphur is added in the small winery attached to their house at the foot of their vineyard.

This Chardonnay is frankly stunning. How many times do you see an expensive wine that you’ve never tried and wonder whether to spend, in this case for a current vintage, perhaps £44? We all do it…I saw a Jura wine for £72 yesterday. That’s beyond my budget but even I had never heard of the producer. In this case, I can only say I shall jump on the next bottle of Bodines Chardonnay I see.

The wine is a magnificent green-gold colour. The fruit is fresh, even after several years in bottle. It’s quite exotic fruit, with hints of something tropical. This is tempered, perhaps even slightly restrained, by a perfect amount of grip and structure. It’s no fleshy, warm climate, wine but it is made from ripe fruit (it measures a very specific 13.9% abv on the label). Fruit and acid balance seem in a perfect place.

Mouthfilling and very long, it might even be a tiny bit young, still, but I think it’s easily as good a Chardonnay I’ve had in several years, going as far back as Stéphane Tissot’s “Tour du Curon Le Clos” 2005, drunk in December 2018. Note that I’m talking about any Chardonnay, not just Jura Chardonnay!

Bodines is occasionally brought in by Les Caves de Pyrene. I have seen Berry Bros also noted as a source, but they don’t have any on their web site right now. A few enlightened indies will have it from Les Caves. All of their wines are very good, although I’ve only tried their Vin Jaune from cask, my own currently resting in the cellar.

SYLVANER ZOTZENBERG GRAND CRU 2014, JEAN-PIERRE RIETSCH (Alsace, France)

If you like Sylvaner, or maybe if you’ve not tried serious Sylvaner and are prepared to take my word for it, you will love this. Zotzenberg was, in 2005, the first Alsace Grand Cru to be designated for the variety. It’s a site with a southerly exposure of chalk just above Mittelbergheim, where JPR has his base. Chalk is unusual in Alsace, but this cru has been growing exceptional Sylvaner for as long as I’ve known of the village.

This natural wine saw 36-months in demi-muid followed with a year in tank, so you will see it’s no ordinary cuvée, and perhaps you now see why I am extolling a Sylvaner with almost eight years of age. It is, for me, a great expression of both terroir and what the variety can be capable of.

“Mineral” is frankly an understatement, but there’s more to it than chalk. It’s juicy and, if a wine can be, radiant with fruit acids, spice and structure. The freshness speaks of apples and pears, the texture is creamy. For me, this is as good as Sylvaner gets, certainly in Alsace. You’d need to go to Franken for Silvaner to come close(ish). This also takes the food-pairing possibilities of the grape variety to another level. In this instance, Sylvaner is wholly worthy of Grand Cru status on this site.

May I just take a moment to rant? Indie retail wine merchants soon took on board the natural wines of the Jura. They have, almost without fail, neglected to catch on to the fact that Alsace has the biggest buzz in France right now, and this is equally driven by natural wines. I’m especially speaking to those who have bravely begun to offer a few Savoie wines. Alsace is really exciting, particularly in the northern, Bas Rhin, sector, where JPR is based in Mittelbergheim. Wake up! We move on to Bugey soon so don’t be left behind.

This bottle came from the domaine. Wines Under the Bonnet imports Rietsch into the UK. I don’t think they have the Sylvaner Grand Cru, but they do list his 2018 Vieille Vigne Sylvaner, among other cuvées.

“ROBIN” 2020, ANNAMÁRIA RÉKA-KONCZ (Eastern Hungary)

The soils on the Eastern Hungarian border with Ukraine, where Annamária farms around Barabás, are largely volcanic and from this terroir she makes stunning wines which the world is just beginning to get excited over. However, sparkling wine off volcanic soils isn’t the first thing which comes to mind when thinking of the traditional location for a bottle-fermented fizz. Yet the soils are complex, with silica-rich rhyolite, grainy lava-based andesite, dacite (which forms between the previous two rocks) and tufa.

Earlier this year I drank her Traditional Method sparkler, Freiluftkino 2019, and remarkably good it was too. “Robin” is made using the Ancestral Method, which we mostly call petnat. The grapes are a traditional field blend where the main variety is Királyleányka (aka Fetească Regală for those knowledgeable about Romania’s grape varieties). We also have Rhine Riesling, Háslevelū and a little Furmint in the mix.

This cuvée remains undisgorged, so the lees sediments remain in bottle. However, the wine tastes clean with a firm mineral structure running through its spine. The bead is remarkably fine and the tiny bubbles bring elegance and poise. I’d suggest that the wine is more stony-mineral and slightly herby (not herbal), rather than fruity. This is a totally natural wine but only 970 bottles made. It’s definitely one of the best two or three petnats I’ve drunk so far this year.

Réka Koncz wines are imported by Basket Press Wines. It looks like Robin might be sold out, but they do still list the abovementioned Freiluftkino, made effectively from the same grape blend by the traditional method, for £26, pretty inexpensive for quality sparkling wine when you consider the price of a home-grown equivalent or a decent Champagne.

HIP HIP J… [2020], DOMAINE L’OCTAVIN (Jura, France)

Alice Bouvot’s Hip Hip J is probably a quiet nod to Jura, if pronounced Juraah! It’s a Vin de France sourced from grapes grown organically by a friend of the winemaker in Arbois. The “Hip Hip” wines seem to have different coloured “pants” on their labels possibly denoting different varieties, because there is certainly a Chardonnay, alongside this Hip Hip Poulsard Blanc, and possibly others.

So, this is a very unusual Blanc de Noirs. The Poulsard grapes are gently, to avoid colour, direct-pressed into tank for a fairly short fermentation and ageing before being bottled young with just 10% alcohol and, as with all of Alice’s wines, no added sulphur.

Pale straw in colour, the bouquet has fresh citrus. The palate has peach stone and mineral texture. Frankly, if you bought this for the label, and let’s face it Alice’s gnomic negoce labels are wonderful, you might find it on the acid side. I’m an avowed acid hound so I love it, and I know what to expect as any wine I make is lucky to top 10% abv. This is a stripped-back natural wine to slake a summer thirst.

Domaine L’Octavin is imported by Tutto Wines.

Posted in Alsace, Arbois, Artisan Wines, Czech Wine, Hungarian Wine, Jura, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Recent Wines May 2022 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

Part 1 of the wines supped in and around home in May contains bottles which might, even by my own standards, be called eclectic. We begin in Georgia, drink a remarkably good, if secretive, cheap wine, a Freisa from Tortona, a Californian Petnat, an old favourite from Vienna and a stellar wine of real stature from Puerto de Santa Maria.

ALADASTURI 2020, GVANTSA’S WINE (Imereti, Georgia)

Gvantsa Abuladze is the sister of Giorgi and the increasingly well-known Baia (of Baia’s Wine). They make wine in the Imeretian village of Obche, in Western Georgia. The sisters came to fame perhaps when a major article appeared in EU4Business in 2018. Baia founded the company in 2015 when she was in her early twenties, with exports, first to Austria, starting in 2017. Gvantsa joined later, having worked on a EU Voluntary Programme in Sweden.

The vines for this pale red wine come from reasonably young Aladasturi vines (15/16-y-o). The grapes are picked quite late, in November, and placed into qvevri. The wine ferments easily to dryness because this is a grape with high acidity and low sugars (hence the late harvest). Maceration on the skins lasts two months, using wild indigenous yeasts.

The result is a light red with a garnet colour and a bouquet of sweetly ripe red fruits (raspberry, redcurrant and a hint of darker blackcurrant). The palate is dry with notable acids balanced by the zing of concentrated fruit, which also add a smoothness in the mouth. Bear this in mind when I say it’s quite tart, but in a mouth-watering way. You could quite easily glug this, especially with its 11.5% abv, nicely chilled down a little on a hot day. Equally, you could pair it with a spicy stew, which we did. Either way, the merchant selling this calls it “unique” and they are not wrong.

Just £22 from Oxford Wine Company.

UVA NON GRATA VIN DE FRANCE 2020, BOUTINOT (Lyonnais, France)

This wine is something of an enigma, at least from looking at the bottle. It contains almost zero information, so we go to the agent Boutinot’s web site. There’s a bit about Gamay being outlawed in Bourgogne, and a note that the variety loves the granite and silica soils northwest of Lyon, from where the fruit presumably comes. We are also told, though we can tell, that it is made by carbonic maceration. That’s near enough all we get.

What we do get in the glass is lovely Gamay fruit, pure and simple. Crunchy cherries fill the nose with soft red fruits assisting what is simple but tasty fruit on the palate. A friend called this the best cheap Gamay he’s drunk for ages, and I can’t disagree. Within the context of an £8.99 wine, this is very good. There’s little to entice a serious wine lover from the bottle, although the text-free front label is nice, as you can see. But you could do a hell of a lot worse than grab some of this primary-fruited little grenade of Gamay.

Worthy of its Decanter Silver Medal, available from a range of indies including Solent Cellar (Lymington) and Butlers (Brighton).

BRAGHÉ DA UVE FREISA 2018, CLAUDIO MARIOTTO (Tortona, Italy)

DOC Colli Tortonesi is in the southeast of Piemonte, so far east that it is often forgotten, or would be were it not for its increasing profile thanks to producers such as Walter Massa. Mariotto, like Massa, specialises in the local white speciality, Timorasso, but for red wines he favours Freisa. It’s a variety that is more widespread in Piemonte than Timorasso, but it usually falls beneath the radar, in a region where there are many other varieties, from Nebbiolo down, competing for the limelight.

Not a natural wine as such, it is made with minimal intervention and bottled with very little sulphur. It’s a dark-hued red with a deep purple rim. The bouquet shows intense and vibrant bramble fruit (especially blackberry). There are bags of fruit on the palate, but you also get earthy, truffle, flavours and a little tannic bite. It has more body than some Freisa, possibly assisted by its 14% alcohol, which I initially thought high but which didn’t bother me as I drank it. Very tasty, and different.

This was £15.99 from The Solent Cellar.

PÉTULANT NATUREL CINSAUT 2020, BIRICHINO (California, USA)

No, the name isn’t a typo. This Cinsaut is from the Bechtold Vineyard on the Mokelumne River in Lodi. Birichino is a label founded by Alex Krause and John Locke, both formerly at Bonny Doon. They have a focus on unusual (for California) varieties and their labels match their slightly off-centre view of winemaking.

The Bechtold vineyard was planted with Cinsaut as long ago as 1886, by Joseph Spenker (Jon Bonné, The New California Wine, Ten Speed Press (2013)). They are said to be the oldest living Cinsau(l)t vines on earth. Still tended by Spenker’s family to this day, they are dry-farmed, and also have been farmed organically since planting. The grapes are wont to head to Bonny Doon, Abe Schoener and, of course, Turley, so this is a famous site and Birichino might be considered a little cheeky making a petnat from these grapes.

The inspiration with this wine is Provençal Vin Gris, but with bubbles. The Ancestral method of bottle-fermentation is employed and there is no disgorgement. We have nice red fruits, quite exotic (is that guava in there as well?), rounded out by the 13% alcohol (quite high for a petnat). The floral bouquet floats above a good frothy mousse. The wine is dry…and rather delicious. Just as well because it will set you back £31.50, but it’s definitely worth it. Think sunshine Vin Gris with bubbles, what not to like.

Sourced from Butlers Wine Cellar, Brighton. This is one of four fascinating Birichino wines they currently stock.

SATELLIT 2018, JUTTA AMBROSITSCH (Vienna, Austria)

I was almost sad to drink this as I am now right out of Jutta’s wines for the first time since I discovered them, though I think its time had come. She’s a producer who I would always aim to keep a bottle or two to hand. Satellit is a Gemischter Satz field blend from Vienna’s 21st District (centred on Florisdorf), above the bank of the Danube. I guess the name comes from the fact that it is an outlier from Jutta’s main sites, closer to Grinzing.

The soils here are loess. The vinification includes a little skin contact before co-fermentation of grapes all picked together. The overall impression is of apples, but the loess adds a certain richness too. The blend is largely comprised of three varieties: Riesling, Chardonnay and Grüner Veltliner, but a little Sauvignon Blanc, rare in Vienna, helps add a touch of freshness. That said, this is less crisp than it tasted a year ago. Still a lovely wine, though. I’d find it hard to fault any of the soulful wines Jutta makes.

This was £24 from Littlewine. Their online shop is sadly no longer open at present, so I would suggest heading over to Newcomer Wines for supplies.

LAS CEPAS DE PACO « EL REFLEJO » 2018, VINOS OCÉANICOS (Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain)

This is another rather splendid example of the new wave of unfortified wines coming out of the Sherry Triangle. Made by Raul Moreno for Bodegas Herederos de Argüeso, the Vinos Océanicos label has become synonymous with these experimental new-style wines, brought to prominence by Equipo Navazos with their Florpower, just over a decade ago.

The source is an old Palomino clone, given skin contact, and made and aged in old Sherry casks. The colour is bright bronze, with mineral texture. The palette of flavours encompasses stone fruits, nuts, citrus, curry spice, honey, and even faint hints of Cognac. Some appear on both nose and palate. Complex doesn’t even begin to describe it, and it has such length it only finishes when you sip or eat something else. A quite remarkable wine.

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene, my bottle came from Solent Cellar (£34), but it is out of stock there.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Austrian Wine, Californian Wine, Georgian Wine, Italian Wine, Natural Wine, Piemonte, Spanish Wine, Vienna, Wiener Gemischter Satz, Wine, Wine Agencies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

London Wine Fair 2022 – Olympia as Dionysus Might Have Imagined It

As I said in an Instagram post on Wednesday, the London Wine Fair is perhaps not my usual habitat, at least at first sight, but it does give me the opportunity to look outside my box and discover some new things. London Wine Fair 2022 proved successful in that respect, if for reasons the organisers might be less pleased about.

I normally spend much of my time at this large industry event up on the top floor of Olympia’s exhibition hall, in the gallery. Here is the section sadly still named “Esoterica” which in the past has been packed with small and medium-sized independent wine importers. Their wines are not esoteric to me, but then I can see that in the context of the “Trading Floor” below, they may well seem so to the beverage merchants. This time there were just under thirty exhibitors up there and it did seem much sparser. Joining them on the Gallery level were the producers looking for UK representation: “Wines Unearthed”. There’s always something here. The “Alliance Riceys” was my pick (see below).

Down on the trading floor things are mostly about the industry mainstream. Large importers, peripheral activities (publishing, education, vineyard services etc) and the large country or region pavilions (India, Greece and Romania, for example, mingling with Côtes du Rhône, Wines of Murcia or Provence, and so forth). The “Drinks Britannia” corner of the Trading Floor is always well attended, as are all the events taking place around the edge, from special tastings, industry briefings, awards ceremonies and masterclasses.

This means that I’m going to take you on an eclectic journey through the event, perhaps giving a flavour more reminiscent of a few sips than a whole bottle. There won’t be many detailed tasting notes, although we shall still taste as we go.

Olympia as Dionysus might have imagined it

Graft Wine

I hadn’t tasted Graft’s portfolio since before Covid and it was nice to reacquaint myself with a few of their wines. The first wine, however, is currently on its way to the UK and I mention it because I was seriously impressed. Dorper Chenin Blanc 2020 is from Stellenbosch in South Africa. Reg Holder is the winemaker. It’s a barrel-fermented example full of exotic passion fruit and peach on the nose, with a quince-like dry finish. Plenty of acids to balance the oak. Potential to age.

Koerner Clare Valley Pigato 2021 is a perennial favourite on top form. It’s from Koerner’s Gulleyville Vineyard in Watervale, off Terra Rossa soils, with destemmed, whole berry fermentation. It rests on lees for seven days and then has just seven months in stainless steel before bottling. It’s a fresh Vermentino, the bouquet showing orchard fruits, spice and floral notes, fine-boned but juicy fruit refreshing the palate.

Clos Cibonne Tibouren 2020 is the latest release of this Provençal classic, a wine which ranks among the finest Rosés of a region more soaked in mediocrity than most. Very pale, salmon pink, delicate yet with an intensity of old vine flavour, proving that the Tibouren grape is indeed a lost classic.

Vinteloper Shiraz 2019, Adelaide Hills is, as with all the wines made by this Adelaide Hills producer, a modern wine in the best sense. If you cast your mind back to the Australian bush fires of late 2019 (I was there at the time, up in NSW), you may remember that Vinteloper suffered terribly and this lovely red is going to be the last wine made from their own fruit for some years. All I will say is buy it and support this fabulous producer. Maturation was in large French oak for 15 months, then six more in bottle before release. Drink or keep up to a decade.

Alliance Riceys (Champagne)

The three hamlets in the very south of the Champagne Region, almost hugging the border with Chablis, which make up Les Riceys are now much better known than they were when I began to get to know its wines back in the late 1980s. Always a source of Pinot Noir for the large Champagne Houses up north, it was best known for an amazing still rosé which, with age, became one of the most hauntingly ethereal examples of Pinot Noir in France.

Today Les Riceys is full of small grower-producers and two of them, Champagne Péhu-Guiardel and Champagne Arnaud Tabourin, have joined together to seek a UK agent. They are typical of Champagne’s less high-profile growers, many of whom make good, interesting, wines, often less expensive than the more high-profile names we all know, but who we may never encounter, even in France.

I tried two wines from each. The Péhu-Guiardel Blanc de Blancs comes from a 2019 base, has 20 months on lees and a 6g/l dosage. It’s 100% Chardonnay farmed under “Exploitation de Haute Valeur Environmentale” accreditation. They make a Rosé which is blended with 18% still red Pinot Noir. I enjoyed the typicity of the BdeB, which was very obviously Chardonnay. Here, with the pink, I liked the fact that they have made something a little different. The dosage is not excessive but it isn’t totally bone dry like a Brut Zero.

The high proportion of still red wine makes this cuvée quite dark for Champagne, almost a red. It’s not unique and you will certainly come across this colour in the wine bars of the region, but English importers rarely try to sell these darker Champagnes. It’s a real shame. The result is nicely fruity but also assertive. I liked the combination

Arnaud Tabourin’s Cuvée Or is 100% Pinot Noir from a 2016 base. It saw ten months in oak and was given a dosage of 6g/l. It tasted fresh and youthful, very lively. This producer also makes a Rosé des Riceys still wine. I tasted the 2017 which had a nice pale red with burnished orange colour, combining delicacy of fruit with a bit of tannic grip. This may not age a decade or more, like a single site version from Olivier Horiot, but it will still age. That said, the family say they prefer it young and fruity.

This is the only producer I tried from the “Wines Unearthed” but they are typical of many here who just need to find the right agent. I doubt they are charging the prices we are increasingly seeing from the big-name growers, and affordable artisan Champagne is always welcome. Nice people on this stand, too.

Nyetimber (Hampshire, West Sussex and Kent))

I paid a couple of visits in the Drinks Britannia area. The Nyetimber Bus is always a big draw, so their tasting bar is always crowded. Competition is hot these days for the accolade of the “finest” producer of English Sparkling Wine, and I would guess that Nyetimber continues to work towards, perhaps as they would see it, maintaining that position (though rivals might disagree).

So here we must, to assess how they are faring, taste their entry level wine and their best wine, must we not? Well, I can say that the Classic Cuvée, here adorned with a special Jubilee sleeve, is as fresh and attractive as ever. It’s a pale and delicious, elegant blend of traditional Champagne varieties.

As for their top wines, well I asked to try the Tillington Single Vineyard Cuvée but was told “computer says no”. I’m obviously not important enough to taste Tillington, rocking up in casual attire at LWF, though I have sipped a glass on other occasions. I did try Cuvée Chérie, which is a “lightly golden” Demi-Sec. It certainly has more finesse than some versions of this sweeter style of sparkling wine can exhibit. It’s a style which wine professionals can be too sniffy about. This example is far from the coach party-pleaser some accuse demi-sec of being.

Lyme Bay Winery (Devon)

Lyme Bay Winery is near Axminster in Devon. They did own around ten acres of vines there, but these have been sold. The grapes are sourced mostly from Essex and Kent, as is much of the fruit made into wine in the West Country. Their Pinot Noir is sourced in Essex, for both still and sparkling wines, but I first wanted to try the Bacchus 2021 with fruit from Essex, Kent and Hertfordshire. Apple-fresh with elderflower and grapefruit from a mid-October harvest, this was very attractive and almost as good as the multi-award-winning Pinot Noir 2020.

The Pinot Noir fruit is specifically sourced from a vineyard by the River Crouch, planted with both Dijon and Spätburgunder clones. It sees 30% new oak, which is noticeable on the nose but doesn’t dominate. It is more rounded and fruit-driven than you might expect from a young wine that has seen some new oak, a nice smoothness balanced by a little grip on the palate. I think it well deserved its IWSC and IWC Gold Medals (it also bagged a Silver at the Decanter Awards).

Lyme Bay Brut Reserve 2020 blends Pinots Blanc, Meunier and Noir with Reichensteiner, Bacchus, Solaris and Chardonnay. It retains a quite high dosage of 10g/l but in this case, combined with the more unusual grape varieties, it gives the cuvée a point of difference. It was nicely fruity and a little aromatic. Equally tasty, but in a different way, was the Brut Rosé made from whole bunch pressed Pinot Noir. Cool fermented it retains a delicate lightness despite its mid-salmon pink colour. They call it fruit-driven, and it is, but there’s also honey and a touch of black pepper.

These are wines I would buy, especially as they are less speculatively priced than many (£22.50 for the Brut Reserve, £30 for the Rosé, £17.50 for the Bacchus and £27.99 for the still red Pinot). The latter is around the going rate for English Pinot Noir, but it’s a good one.

Ktima Tselepos (Greece)

Tselepos owns a number of wineries in Greece, in Mantinia, where Yannis and his wife Amalia settled in 1981, and Nemea, which was the source of the first wine from Tselepos I tasted back in the 1990s. I also tried one of their wines from a single vineyard on Santorini.

Most of the wines I tasted were from Mantinia fruit and made using the Moschofilero variety. Mantinia is one of the three major regions on the Peloponnese, based on a raised plateau north of Tripoli. As such, it’s cooler than you might expect, allowing for freshness in a variety that has lovely floral overtones, whether made still or sparkling.

Amalia Brut NV is sourced from a vineyard at 720 masl, the wine being a traditional method sparkler with just over nine months on lees. The floral bouquet is balanced by deeper brioche on the palate. Amalia Rosé on the other hand comes from the Asprokampos sub-region of nearby Nemea and it is made from that region’s most well known variety, Agiorgitiko. Again, the vineyard is at altitude (760 masl) and early harvesting preserves freshness. A similar maturation to the white sibling gives a wine which is driven by bright cherry fruit.

Mantinia PDO 2021 is a still white wine which takes us back to Moschofilero, grown up at 680 masl. After a pre-fermentation soak of eight hours, the must sees a temperature-controlled fermentation in stainless steel. Very fresh, as a result, the aromatics (floral and grapefruit) are preserved. The palate has a nice herbal finish. The freshness means that you don’t notice the 13% alcohol.

Blanc de Gris 2021 is another high-altitude wine from a region called Perpatiara, in Arcadia (in the far northeast, close to Türkiye (Turkey’s new official name) and Bulgaria. It sees fermentation split equally between amphora, stainless steel tanks and oak foudres. The wine is mineral, chalky even, in texture, floral but intense, and could be aged for perhaps five years.

Tselepos produces an Assyrtiko wine from a single vineyard on Santorini called “Canava Chrissou”, owned by the Tselepos family. Santorini VV 2021 is made from 100-year-old vines grown on the island’s famous volcanic soils. It has a delicious minerality but is more approachable than some Santorini’s, which in youth can be quite hard.

Last, I tasted their red Nemea (apologies for no photo). I think I was told that this comes from the family’s second estate, Ktima Driopi. Anyway, it is made, of course, from Agiorgitiko and spends eight months in used barrique. The altitude (even as high as 900 masl in Nemea for viticulture), proximity to the sea, cold winters and above average rainfall allow for wines which are fresher and less heavy than you would expect. Plump cherry fruit is balanced here by that fresh acidity. They make a more ageworthy reserve wine, but for me, this is really nice, Nemea just as I like it based on fresh fruit. I like Agiorgitiko. I also like Tselepos.

Champagne Virginie T (Champagne)

This is the label of Virginie Taittinger and Ferdinand Pougatch, who is Virginie’s son. They are based in what was once Champagne’s most famous village, Sillery, at the foot of the Montagne de Reims. The label was launched in 2013 long after Virginie’s family sold the famous house of the same name, and today it acts act as a boutique producer and small negoce, making around 80,000 bottles.

Virginie T Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut is typical of the house. A Chardonnay which has seen a minimum of six years ageing, dosed low at 3g/l. A bouquet of lifted white flowers and a touch of citrus with elegance to the fore. They currently choose to sell direct, online, which is fine as they do ship to the UK. I’m not sure that their online strapline for this cuvée excites me: “less sweet, more trendy”, but perhaps something was lost in the translation. What I will say is that it’s an impressive Champagne which, if purchased as a six-pack, only costs (according to their web site) £36 per unit. I can’t quite believe that.

Virginie T Rosé is a Rosé d’Assemblage with a blend of 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir with red wine sourced from Cumières and Bouzy, on the southern edge of the Montagne. It sees four years ageing and has a pale-to-mid salmon pink colour. Red fruits are more elegant than pronounced and it majors on finesse. It appears, unusually for Champagne where pink wines usually command a premium, to sell for the same price as the Extra Brut.

There is an ever so slightly cheaper Brut in the range, along with a Brut Nature and a Grand Cuvée which are a little more expensive. So, considering the pedigree of the house, they represent remarkably good value from a boutique producer.

I was very interested to taste their organic cuvée, called Transmission. It’s a multi-vintage Pinot Noir based on 2017 (89%), with reserves from 2015 and 2016. Dosage is 5g/l. Its source is the Aube, specifically Neuville-sur-Seine, Celles-s-Ource and Les Riceys. Maturation is in stainless steel and only 2,500 bottles are currently produced. However, once more, the computer said no. Was it my casual jacket rather than my often-smarter attire? Should I have wheeled out the red trousers?

I was sorry that Ferdinand was rather negative about organics in Champagne. Despite evidence to the contrary, he seems to think producers pay organics lip service and slip back into conventional farming after a few years. In fact, Ferdinand was quite outspoken on a number of topics, surprising as I had never met him before. He’s definitely a passionate, quality-focussed, advocate for his brand. One fact is certain, that the packaging for this organic cuvée is really nice, and in my view a lot smarter and perhaps more contemporary than the packaging for their main range, in my humble Champagne-buying opinion.

Japan Centre (London)

A few readers will know that I have several reasons to love Japan, and for over fifteen years I have bought sake from the Japan Centre in Central London. They have moved several times, but are now in Panton Street, not far from Leicester Square (alongside two other locations outside Central London). They now appear to be putting more into promoting sake, a good thing, and they were showing a range of quality examples at LWF.

I tasted three sakes from a number available. The first was called Born Gold from the Katoukichibee Shouten Sake Distillery. This is a very high class Junmai Daiginjo, polished to 50%.  What does that mean? Daiginjo is the designation for the most “polished” rice and 50% is usually the maximum polish (that’s 50% of the rice being polished away). The purest rice, so to speak. Junmai sake is a pure sake with no extra added alcohol. This sake comes from the region of Fukui, north of Kyoto, the brewery founded by the same family as run it today in 1860. The Hyogo rice is of the highest quality and they use soft water pumped from underground in the Haku Mountains.

This sake is fruity, light, naturally brewed to 15% abv, and is very fine, clean-tasting and pure. I’ve not tasted sake this good for a long time. The person pouring said that she had been told this had been served in JAL First Class, but couldn’t verify that. It retails for around £50 for 720 ml.

Next, a sake speciality I am quite fond of, though perhaps that makes me the sake equivalent of a Bailey’s drinker (I never turn down a Bailey’s). It’s a Yuzusiyu, a Junmai sake with added yuzu fruit juice and sugar. Yuzu tastes closest to lemon, but that is no comparison. The best yuzu fruit sake has a kind of sweet and sour (or bitter) flavour. Often recommended as an aperitif, on the occasions we buy some we find it goes really well with lemon sorbet and fruit.

The final sake was another speciality, Nigori. Nigori sake is put through a wide-mesh filter so that some rice solids go into the bottle. The result is cloudy and the colour of milk. This lovely example was from the Gekkeikan Sake Company based in Fushima (Kyoto). It’s one of the world’s oldest companies, founded in 1637.

Nigori sake, as in this case, is often a little sweeter, thicker textured and more mellow than the clear sakes. This is dryer than some, though, with a cotton candy and umami flavour. It won’t break the bank to try this because 300 ml costs £8.19. Much sake is sold in a small 30 cl bottle.

I would suggest that these three styles of sake are a good place to begin if you want to explore this very different drink. Contrary to what some might think, it is not highly alcoholic, and is brewed, not fermented. It goes perfectly with all kinds of umami-rich food. Good Junmai Daiginjo doesn’t have to cost £50 either.

You can drink it in a glass, although in Japan you will be served it in a ceramic cup or earthenware pot (called a Choko). The latter can be of a pleasingly quirky, irregular, shape. Also look for sparkling sake, such as the bottle I purchased from the Oxford Wine Company, reviewed in my “Recent Wines April 2022 (Part 1)” published here on 12 May 2022.

The Japan Centre now has a dedicated Sake Sommelier, Bowie Tsang, who runs seminars for those interested, as of course does the WSET now. I can highly recommend Anthony Rose’s book, Sake and the Wines of Japan (Infinite Ideas, 2018). I think that anyone with any interest in Japan, Sake and indeed the burgeoning Japanese wine scene, should buy and read it. I often consider writing on the subject myself but I could never do it half as well as Anthony Rose and I guarantee that most serious wine lovers will enjoy it.

That’s all from LWF for this year. For me, as a visitor, it was a good Fair, enabling me to be quite random in my wanderings without the intensity and crush of some events, no matter how good. I hope that I have given a flavour of the event, supplemented by the photos below.

SOME PHOTOS

A few of the LWF Pavilions (clockwise: Armenia, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Romania and India)

Events (can you spot Tim Wildman pondering the question?) and peripherals (bottom pic is the Wine Scholars Guild stand)

Wine in a can was very big this year, as were very “fancy” bottles. Packaging seems to have moved on in the post-pandemic era.

Posted in Artisan Wines, English Wine, Sake, Sparkling Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Festivals, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Regenerative Viticulture by Dr Jamie Goode (Book Review)

Regenerative Viticulture is a phrase being bandied around a lot right now, but it is sufficiently new, and current, for the majority of people, that many probably don’t really know exactly what it means. This is why Jamie Goode has, once more, given us a topical book in which he hopes to enlighten us. The “us” in question certainly covers all wine professionals, in whatever capacity. We all need to get up to speed on regeneration, the buzz word of the decade for sustainability, not only in viticulture but agriculture in general. I also think that this book will appeal to any serious wine lover looking beyond books of scores, or those written about their favourite wine region. Certainly, anyone who read Jamie’s previous books examining the more scientific sides of wine (Flawless on wine faults, or Authentic Wine, with Sam Harrop, for example) will enjoy it.

Dr Goode is currently writing a longer book, to be titled “The New Viticulture”, to be published later this year. It’s a work intended to be more detailed and more technical. This current work is intended to “encapsulate what regenerative viticulture actually means, in a text that doesn’t require a strong scientific background” (to borrow the author’s words).

Regenerative viticulture as a concept is both simple, yet at the same time, difficult to understand. This is especially true as many consumers are already confused between organics, biodynamics and natural wine. Regenerative viticulture doesn’t fit into any neat pyramid, but is a separate entity with a focus on ways of creating an ecosystem allowing vines to thrive (including producing viable crops of healthy grapes and resistance to disease). Central to regeneration, but not exclusively so, is soil health.

When I was younger, I am sure I was not alone in being impressed when I visited vineyards of neat rows with not a weed nor plant in sight among the vines. What I didn’t understand back then, was that these vineyards were not only drenched in potentially harmful herbicides and synthetic pesticides, but beneficial root systems, and the microscopic life that inhabits them, were also compacted by tractors, torn by ploughing and stripped of nutrients by water run off’s erosive action.

Oddly enough it was first in Burgundy where I began to understand the negative impact of synthetic treatments and tractor compaction, and it was the top estates which were onto it first and led the way in changing the way they farmed. Becoming something of a passionate fan of Jura wines, I soon got to understand natural winemaking. Hand-in-hand with this philosophy you would always find an appreciation of soil health. In fact, a healthy vineyard is pretty much essential if you are making wine with zero, or minimal, added sulphites. So, I soon came to appreciate whatever the grower sowed or left to grow between the rows, and equally why they were using a horse rather than a tractor for work in the vines.

That, of course, is the romantic side of regenerative viticulture. How you get to that position requires a real understanding of your individual ecosystem (all vineyards are different). Jamie Goode brings a combination of deep scientific knowledge as a Doctor of Plant Biology, with his unrivalled ability as a multi-award-winning wine communicator, to explain a potentially complicated subject in a way which makes the light bulb come on immediately.

After a concise introduction Jamie sets the scene by talking about other vine management methodologies, through organics (the good bits and the bad bits) and biodynamics (especially the practical side of the philosophy). In Chapter 2 we get to understand that “regenerative” farming is effectively the way we farmed before the agri-chemical revolution, and indeed it has been practised as long back as indigenous peoples (anyone interested should read Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu and the relevant parts of Max Allen’s “Intoxicating” on indigenous farming in Australia, whilst noting that Pascoe has his detractors, and also an excellent book on Native American land husbandry by Robin Wall Kimmerer, called Braiding Sweetgrass).

We are introduced to the views and thoughts on the subject by a number of, mostly well known, practitioners of more enlightened viticulture, first in Bourgogne (as the region’s professional body would like us to call it now, not Burgundy), and then further afield, especially producers in Oregon and New Zealand.

One key concept Dr Goode introduces is permaculture. It’s a subject I’m interested in because I know the person who runs the Permaculture programme for Brighton and Hove Council. Permaculture is a subject in its own right, but there is a lot of overlap between that and regenerative agriculture. In permaculture we are beginning to see one path towards regeneration.

One key text is Masanobu Fukuoka’s “The One Straw Revolution”. You might have read my review of this wonderful, short, book (August 2021). Fukuoka was himself an agricultural scientist, not some guru-like peasant, and all his later techniques were the result of a very scientific observation of life in his fields (and, for sure, he certainly made mistakes to begin with). In the same way that Fukuoka will show you the way to regeneration and sustainability in a Japanese context, Jamie Goode will enable you to begin to understand why regeneration is so important to viticulture, not just to put right past mistakes, but in order to allow winemaking to remain sustainable through climate change (chaos).

If you want to taste Fukuoka-style permaculture in the glass, look for the truly astonishing wines made by Nate Ready, at Hiyu Farm in Oregon’s Hood River Valley. Nate, and partner China Tresema, get a page towards the end of Chapter 3.

Chapter 4 introduces the subject of Agroecology, fundamental to regenerative farming. Agroecology, in a viticulture context, means looking at the vineyard as a whole, as one total ecological being or system. Once the vineyard is recognised as an ecosystem, not just soil as a medium for crop production, then you are ready to begin a journey towards sustaining that vineyard, potentially indefinitely. Jamie discovered agroecology earlier than I did, via a book on the subject by Miquel Altieri, recommended to him by Ted Lemon of Littorai Vineyards in Sonoma.

The chapter looks at agroecology and introduces its current buzz topic, Functional Biodiversity. I won’t spin out the details, but if you take a percentage of your land out of production and create (or allow to grow) other habitats, the biodiversity created will directly benefit your crops.

Chapter 5 is called “Farming Soils” and starts out with a great quote from James Millton (Gisborne, NZ): “We’re not standing on dirt, but on the rooftop of another kingdom”. A simple idea, almost a cliché, yet one somehow forgotten by a post-war generation of conventional grape farmers…or if not forgotten certainly not understood. Here we delve deep into the micro-world of fungi and spores. If you want to dig deeper (trying not to disturb the underworld), read “Finding the Mother Tree” by Suzanne Simard, whose work in British Columbia led to revelations about the mycorrhizal connections which communicate in sophisticated and hardly believable ways beneath the ground (the so-called “wood-wide-web”). It opens the mind. Jamie mentions Simard in this chapter.

Chapter 6 gives us the regenerative tool kit. First out the bag, cover crops, though this, you will discover, is a very big subject, especially when remembering that all sites are different. Jamie touches on composting, biochar (which he comes back to in the last chapter) and mulching. Chapter 7 links in via weed control and looks further at no-till systems (Lemon, mentioned above, favours no-till). There’s a handy, balanced, section on glyphosates (“Roundup”) here, as part of the wider discussion of synthetic herbicides. But not all weed control needs the napalm death approach and other systems and approaches are introduced. We also get a good look at some of the most prevalent vine diseases here, a section which any MW or WSET Diploma student needs to understand.

After a brief discussion of certification and whether or not it has value in Chapter 9, we move on in Chapter 10 to a very current topic: incorporating animals. I’d never seen animals in a vineyard before I’d visited the Durrmann family in Andlau a few years ago. In their case it was sheep. Now, I find sheep, and hens, almost common and I’ve even seen pigs. As well as introduced species, some producers are content to allow wild animals (deer, bears, even potentially destructive wild boar) among the vines.

Equally, trees may be planted for shade, but they will, when grown, encourage birds. But they will eat the grapes, you say. They will also eat insect pests. The chapter discusses their value and function to the ecology of the vineyard, which is met with incomprehension in many cases from the viticultural, and especially government, bodies. Not to mention fellow farmers and neighbours. Jeff Coutelou in Languedoc, and the late Stefano Bellotti in Piemonte, both experienced vandalism from unknown sources who didn’t appreciate the planting of trees on or in the vineyard. André Durrmann, whose sheep I met in 2017, has trees actually interspersed among the vines.

One of the great issues with climate change is whether traditional varieties will still thrive, or survive, in the places where they are currently famous. A glaring example is Merlot in Bordeaux, where its tendency to over-ripen when the weather gets hot can lead to very unbalanced, high alcohol, wines. Matching variety to place is rightly discussed in Chapter 11 before the following chapter looks at hybrids and the new resistant vines (known by most as PIWIs, an abbreviation of the German word “pilzwiderstandsfähige”).

PIWIs are becoming increasingly important, even if the varietal label-seeking wine consumer is a long way from hearing about them. They are already getting a lot of producer attention in Switzerland, where research is in far greater proportion to that country’s production level. They are equally becoming more used in Germany. Goode quotes star natural wine producer Jan Matthias Klein as saying that their quality matches the traditional varieties, perhaps with the exception of Riesling.

The French equivalents to PIWIs are called ResDur (the Resistance Durable varieties). You might have heard of a few of them. In my case it’s Muscaris Blanc, Souvenier Gris, Solaris, Pinotin and three Cabernets (Blanc, Cortis and Jura). I’m equally sure that varieties such as Muscaris and Frontenac might be known to those who have sampled wines from the likes of La Garagista of Vermont. I had absolutely no idea, though, that Champagne has approved such a variety. Well, it’s on a ten-year trial, but “Voltis” is allowed as 10% of any blend. I don’t know what it tastes like, but its resistance to disease, and other attributes, do suggest it is an interesting proposition for the region’s climate.

The book ends with an in-depth interview Dr Goode conducted with two very different proponents of Regenerative Viticulture, Mimi Casteel (Hopewell Vineyards, Oregon) and Miguel Torres Jr (Torres, Peñedès). The interview took place at the launch of the Regenerative Viticulture Foundation in London, in March of this year. It’s the perfect note on which to end this marvellous little book.

I should say something about the production values. It’s a nicely bound paperback which does have something of the feel of a “print-on-demand” title (printed by Amazon), so it’s not as flashy as a paperback from a publishing house. But this doesn’t detract from the book, which has clear text interspersed with good, and relevant, photos taken by the author. The author has also been a science editor and that is probably why there are only one of two typos. A way better score than similar self-published works, like the book I’ve been reading over the holiday which asserted that a gig in Milan was very much enjoyed by “the Spanish audience”. You cannot beat a good proof reader.

Regenerative Viticulture by Dr Jamie Goode is available via Amazon for (currently) £16.76, or reduced to £9 for the electronic/Kindle edition. I really think this is a must read for any wine professional or wine lover who is interested in sustainability, climate change and ecological issues relating to viticulture, and wine in general. Whilst the book does contain more solid science, and scientific terminology, than your average wine book, Jamie Goode is such a great communicator that it didn’t feel that I was at any point close to being out of my depth. That alone is an achievement for the author. Rarely have I found a book like this to be so interesting. At 165 pages it doesn’t take an age to read, and it’s short enough that I shall re-read it after a suitable break away from wine-related material. Is there a more important, and relevant, topic in wine at the moment?

Posted in Grape Varieties, Natural Wine, Viticulture, Wine, Wine Books, Wine Science, Wine Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments