Restyling Wine – Les Caves de Pyrene at Thirty

Back in the 1990s I discovered a wine merchant who appeared to sell all the weird and wonderful wines I’d come to love over the previous decade. I’d just had a few trips to Aosta, and I couldn’t believe I could get some of that region’s best wines in the UK. Other producers from Marcillac, Irouléguy, obscure (at that time) Loire producers, Palari in Sicily, Roussillon and some of the new Australians I’d read about were on this enormous wine list, full of wonderful wines and wonderfully crazy philosophising.

In those days these wines were less easy to find in wine shops. The proliferation of the classy independents we all visit these days had hardly begun. But these guys did have a warehouse, open to the public, at the quaintly named Pew Corner in Artington, on the edge of Guildford. I tried to get up there a couple of times a year to fill my boot.

That was twenty years ago, and Les Caves de Pyrene was unbelievably almost a decade old already. In the following double-decade which has taken them to their 30th year, they have developed so much. Back in the day, natural wine was hardly a thing, except in a string of bars in Paris where the wines tasted pretty odd, but equally pretty exciting for adventurous types like me. Now many (well, all but the most conservative wine lover) would see the movement as almost mainstream, and wines distributed by Les Caves (as they are generally known among fans) can be found in any town or city that has a thriving wine culture.

The theme of this 30th Anniversary Tasting at the Hellenic Centre in Marylebone, London, on 18 September 2018, was Restyling Wine. The title refers to the division here of wines into sixteen categories which ignore the more commonly used delineations of country or grape variety. Those categories are Light, Crunch, Riesling vs Chenin, Sea and Sand, Elevation, Limestone, Volcano, Garrigue, Old Vines, Orange/Skin, Pots and Eggs, Pet Bubbles, O2/Flor, Indigenous, Juice and Juicier and Decanter (with some wines in keg at the end).

These categories might seem a little random, but it was fun to look at the wines in this way. Yet the title might equally aptly refer to Les Caves themselves. They have been restyling wine for the past thirty years. I would argue that there is no UK importer/distributor which has had such a profound effect on how and what we drink in the UK. Okay, I’m going to have to justify a statement like that.

We have plenty of wine merchants who have made the finest wines of Bordeaux available to us, or who have promoted the vignerons of Burgundy. But Les Caves are responsible for the widening of the world of wine. Not all that many of us drink Mauzac Noir or Vermont wines, Vin Blanc de Morgex or Vitovska. But what was once a bunch of geeks (like me) has become a crowd of often younger wine lovers to whom trying such a wine is just no big deal any more. In the process wine snobbery has been dealt a blow. If it’s good, drink it.

Secondly, Les Caves has, in importing natural wines in such numbers, provided the bottles for those new wine bars and small independents to sell. The idea of a Bar à Manger/Bar à Vins, which started in Paris, spread to London in the new millennium, bars serving simple food and natural wines, drunk socially in a sort of alternative to the traditional pub, with a wine shop section for take aways. It’s amazing just how many of these bars sell Les Caves’ wines.

Finally, you will point out that the UK is now awash with small, and not so small, exciting wine merchants bringing in astonishing wines from around the world. They range from the tiny specialists like Basket Press Wines (Moravian wine) and Otros Vinos (exciting new Spain), to the not so small now, like Red Squirrel and Indigo (who have developed a nearly all-vegan list). But I’d argue that the success of Les Caves is what has opened the door for others to follow. They have created the market and created the oxygen for their own competition.

One hundred and seventy-four wines were on show yesterday. I certainly wasn’t able to try them all, especially as I felt restrained from asking too many people to move from the table once their glass had been primed (pet hate = the table hogger), but I did try around a hundred, and I plan to mention seventy or so here. My theory is you’d rather hear a little bit about all the exciting stuff I loved rather than a lengthy spiel about a smaller number. It saves me the impossible task of culling them back further. I shall follow the same categories as Les Caves.

Just one word of warning – this article is long, over 5,800 words. I promise that all the wines mentioned deserve their place. I couldn’t leave any more out than I have. It would have been more than rude. Maybe eat this in two sittings, but do try to chew it over. I don’t usually ask, but there are some real crackers here.

LIGHT

A broad category, but one where we’d expect true glouglou to reign. Of the eleven wines on this table you cannot go wrong if you choose the refreshing citrus and grapefruit flavours of Partida Creus Vinel.lo Blanco 2017 from just outside Bonastre, in the hills above Tarragona. Absolutely anything made by Massimo Marchiori and Antonella Gerona, former architects from Italy turned genius winemakers in Catalonia, is superb. Vinel.lo is a fresh wine of 10.5% alcohol, made from Grenache Blanc, Sumoll and Trepat among several varieties, and is perhaps the easiest Partida Creus wine to source.

Pol Opuesto, Criolla Que Grande SOS 2016 comes from Mendoza, Argentina, and is a simple but extremely sappy rosé from Pol Andsnes, from vines in Tupungato. This Criolla/Criollo is macerated for 40 days and tastes like wondefully sour grape juice. I’ve no other way of describing it.

Hughes-Béguet Ploussard Côte de Feule 2017 is a wine from possibly the finest vineyard site in Pupillin, just outside Arbois, and from one of my very favourite Jura growers. Freshness combines with a bitter finish and a lick of tannin and Ploussard texture. Red fruits like cranberry and redcurrant dominate. And the updated labels are lovely.

Sepp Muster Sauvignon Blank “Vom Opok” 2016 hails from one of my two favourite producers in Styria, the Austrian region which has embraced natural wine like few others. This wine speaks from its terroir (opok is limestone-rich clay, particular to the region), and is more complex than many Sauvignons. Very mineral with a touch more richness than you might expect…but the overall experience is of the terroir.

I also need to mention that they placed Ben Walgate’s Tillingham Wines Artego 2017 here, but I’ve written about it so recently that I won’t repeat myself (you can search for the Tillingham Wines Tasting at Plateau Brighton, article posted 12 September 2018).

CRUNCH

I didn’t get this category until I tasted the wines, when the idea of really crunchy fruit came through. Smashable stuff, all truly exquisite in their own way, all so, so alive. Domaine Belluard Savoie-Ayze “Les Alpes” 2916 is the perfect place to begin. One of my two favourite Savoie producers, with Dominique Belluard’s classic autochthonous varietal wine, made from Gringet. Who knew that this variety could make such a classy wine? Complex, slightly bitter and mineral with just enough plumpness to make it more than attractive.

Les Vignes de Paradis Chasselas “Face Au Lac” 2016 hails from my other favourite Savoie producer, Dominique Lucas, whose on-form Savagnin featured in my last article on August’s “Recent Wines” (17 September). The “Lac” in question is, of course Lac Léman (Lake Geneva to some), and it’s fair to say that this wine and its producer are a shining beacon of excellence on a sea of mediocrity, as far as the southern (French) shore goes. Weighty fruit and massive presence, genuine class.

The first of the wines from Kelley Fox, Kelley Fox Freedom Hill Pinot Blanc, Dundee Hills 2017 shows what all the fuss is about. Kelley was influenced very much by Oregon pioneer David Lett (Eyrie Vineyards) and left her biochemistry doctorate programme for winemaking, founding her eponymous winery in 2007. This is just so fruity, but the fruit is, yes, crunchy. There’s restraint, but only just, creating tension within the wine, despite its simplicity. A wonderful combo.

Bow & Arrow Air Guitar Red 2016 is another Oregon wine. I met Scott Frank a year or so ago, and somewhere on my site is a photo of him playing air guitar with a wine bottle and, I believe, wearing a Judas Priest t-shirt. It just sums him up. This is a “cabernet” (60% Cab Sauvignon and 40% Cab Franc), cool climate Willamette Valley fruit blended with Cabernet Franc from the Borgo Pass in the Coastal Range. You get just 12% alcohol, perfect for the crunchy Franc fruit to come through. Really good!

Momento Mori “The Incline” 2017 is a high acid, textured, Syrah grown by the Chalmers family in a part of Heathcote (Victoria) known locally as the Mount Camel Ranges. This is a light wine, but it’s an old vine cuvée as well, which gives it an extra dimension. A natural wine, it seems incredibly vibrant.

RIESLING Vs CHENIN

We begin here with two from Alsace. Whilst the first producer gets a lot of attention, the second is, in my opinion equally good. Take note. Domaine Pierre Frick Riesling Bihl 2016 comes from Pfaffenheim, a village south of Eguisheim and Colmar in the heart of the Alsace vignoble. Jean-Pierre, Chantal and Thomas Frick produce wines of great purity and precision, but it’s not all steel, there’s bags of fruit to balance things.

Domaine Binner Riesling Schlossberg 2014 comes from one of Ammerschwihr’s finest Grand Cru sites, granite overlain with silt on a steep slope. The vines are around 40 years of age, and the grapes see eleven months on lees in large old oak. This is an altogether bigger wine, befitting its site, and has the complexity of greater age (and I really have a thing for the 2014 vintage in Alsace). At 13% abv it’s powerful, but so well judged.

Ovum Riesling “Off the Grid” 2016 is yet another Oregon wine. It grabbed me by being quite different. It comes from 1,500 feet altitude in the Rogue Valley AVA (never heard of it!), off alluvial clay. Just under 300 cases were made. It clocks in at 13% (on the label), and is weighty, fruity and quite rich, but very delicious.

I’m a massive fan of Nicolas Carmarans‘ wines, and of the Aveyron where he makes them. It’s a rural backwater anyone with a passion for La France Profonde should make a point of visiting one day. Nicolas ran the Café de la Nouvelle Marie, one of the first natural wine bars in Paris. He left to make wine near Marcillac, but he releases his wines as IGP Aveyron. Selves Blanc 2016 is made off granite from mainly old vine Chenin grown in a cool river valley on the River Selves. Very dry, one tasting note I read once said “crushed sea shells” (quite apt). Expect good acids, and a chalky finish. Nicolas is possibly best known for his reds, yet this white is a star.

Testalonga El Bandito “Cortez” 2017 probably needs no introduction here, such is the fame of Craig and Carla Hawkins’ Swartland classic. This is quite magnificent, one of South Africa’s finest Chenin Blancs. I probably don’t need to say more, but this has just 12.5% alcohol, and such palate-blowing freshness.

SEA & SAND

Pedro Marques has revitalised the once moribund wine region closest to Portugal’s capital city. Vale da Capucha Vinho Branco 2016, Lisboa blends Arinto, Gouveio and Fernão Pires into a wine which is fresh and light, but where the interest lies in a twist of salinity, nuttiness, and a racy character provided by the understated acids.

Zidarich Carso Vitovska 2015 is just one of the regional specialities Benjamin Zidarich fashions from unique iron-rich red loam on a limestone base at around 300 metres altitude atop the hill looking over Trieste, in the south of Friuli. Even the bouquet here has texture, before you get to actually taste the wine. The nose is lifted and bright, and the palate is mellow and complex…and textured, obviously.

Sclavos, Efranor White, Kefalonia 2016 is certainly an unusual wine, but I really liked it. I genuinely think Greek wine is making a comeback and from things I can see going on around the trade, I think 2019 will be a good year for Greece. This wine also has a bright and lifted nose, but the palate here, which is the slightly unusual side of the wine, is all pear and quince. Not what I’d expect from mainly Moscadello/Muscat (with a touch of local variety, Vostilidi, apparently).

Marco de Bartoli Grillo Vigna Verde, Sicily is classic Western Sicilian white wine, dry and lemony (like a Muscadet), yet also with hints of peach and apricot. I think we are just lucky that Marco’s legacy is being carried on with such commitment by his children. This always was a lovely “atypically typical” fresh Sicilian white.

Domaine de Botheland  Beaujolais-Villages Blanc 2016 shows the freshness of the 2016 vintage which retains just a touch of the gras of 2015. It really shows why we should (and will) be paying more attention to Chardonnay from the Beaujolais. With 12% alcohol this is quite light, but so fresh as well. Rémi Dufaitre is making wonderful Gamay wines around Brouilly, and this white complements them perfectly.

ELEVATION

Comando G “Las Rozas” 1er Cru, Sierra de Gredos 2016 is a stunner, a step up from the entry level “La Bruja de Rozas” at this estate. The original Three Musketeers of modern artisan winemaking in this region near Madrid are the guys behind Comando G – Daniel Landi, Fernando Garcia and Marc Isart. The wines are something else. This one, pure Grenache, like all their production, relies on very old vines (some over 80 years old). It is tannic, but very mineral, which gives it a lifted freshness lacking in many modern Spanish wines from this variety.

A total contrast would be La Cave Mont Blanc Vin Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle 2016  which is made from local variety Prié Blanc, in some of the highest vineyards in Europe, nestling above the Dora Baltea river in the Aosta/Aoste Valley. Whenever I try it I recall a day walking in the Gran Paradiso National Park. We lodged a bottle in a cold stream. It tasted like Evian Water with a twist of lemon, and the texture seemed so similar to licking a wet river pebble that I tried it for myself. Very light, lemon and herbs, unusual but quite unique.

Gentle Folk “Come Down the Mountain” 2017, Adelaide Hills has a tiny touch of Australian sunshine fatness but balanced with a good heft of refreshing acidity and a bite you don’t often find with Chardonnay. Bin XXX it ain’t. From the Basket Ranges, it’s all concentrated smooth citrus and just 12% abv. More a wine for seafood than creamy chicken.

LIMESTONE

Champagne Val Frison “Lalore” Blanc de Blancs – Val Frison is a producer I’d ironically been looking for for the past twelve months, and it took a trip to Paris to track some down earlier this year. I then found out Les Caves sell this, and if I could have taken any bottle home with me it would probably have been this one. Brut Nature (zero dosage), 100% Chardonnay from a single vineyard on, unusually, Portlandian soils, near Ville-sur-Arce on the Côte des Bar. Valérie farms around 6 hectares, mostly Pinot Noir, but this wonderful Chardonnay is creamy yet also well focused, pleasantly tighter than some Aube Chardonnay. I love it.

Alexandre Bain “Pierre Precieuse” 2015 may be Sauvignon Blanc from Pouilly-Fumé, but it is unsurprisingly sold as “Vin de France”. It’s unlike almost any wine from this variety you’ll ever have drunk. This newly opened bottle showed a bit of CO2, but it was amazing, if slightly wild. Just try it. It does divide opinion, but my friends do seem to share the love.

VOLCANO

Oops! A lot of wines here, unsurprisingly. Another De Bartoli, Marco de Bartoli Pietra Nera 2017 is an 11.5% fresh Zibibbo (Muscat of Alexandria), floral but with a palate combining a little fat with mineral freshness, and deceptive length. The grapes, as with all of the wonderful De Bartoli Zibibbo, come from the island of Pantelleria, closer to the coast of Africa than Sicily and Europe.

Back on Sicily, Vino Di Anna Qvevri Rosso 2016 comes from the eastern side of the island, on Etna. Anna Martens harvests Nerello Mascalese from 60 to 100-year-old bush vines up at 800-900 metres on the mountain’s north side. They go into 2,000 litre buried qvevris. It’s so juicy that the texture that follows is quite a surprise.

Andrea Occhipinti Rosso Arcaico 2017 is not Sicilian, despite the producer’s name. The estate is in Maremma, but the part which lies in Lazio, to the south of Tuscany. Aleatico and Grechetto Rosso give a purple wine which is not as big as it looks. You get bright cherry, with a touch of red meat or iron on the nose. The tannins are not hard, the wine is slightly spicy on the finish, and seemingly less alcoholic than the 13% on the label suggests.

Bodega Tajinaste Tradicion 2016, Tenerife is made from the island’s main red grape variety, Listan Negro, in the Valle de la Orotava. Smooth, bitter cherry with a lighter redcurrant note above coming through, and a textural finish. The Canaries are on fire with superb wines and this is another discovery for me.

Jean Maupertuis Gamay Pierres Noires 2017, Auvergne – Well, I’ve drunk several of this domaine’s petnats and this Gamay is equally as good, and good value. There’s a massive bright cherry nose which introduces more of the same on the palate. One of the highest glou factors of the day.

Another lovely Gamay from not so far away is Cave Verdier-Logel Côtes du Forez “Le Poycelan” 2017, a dark purple fruit bomb, yet this has a bit of tannin too. 50% of the fruit was destemmed, so 50% with stems, and aged in cement. You can tell through the texture, but the stems add lift. This is a large estate, 17 ha, run by a couple who moved from Mulhouse in Eastern France in the early 1990s. Like the Auvergne, the steep vineyards of the Côtes du Forez, near Lyon but technically the first vineyards of the Upper Loire, have slowly and quietly been increasing their reputation for excellent Gamay, and this can only further the Gamay revolution which the new Beaujolais began.

We end our volcanic section with another Kelley Fox wine. Kelley Fox Momtazi Pinot Noir 2015 has a certain fame, well deserved. The fruit, from this site in the McMinnville Foothills AVA outside Salem is really fresh, with a bright intensity. It’s so fruity at first you could miss the savoury notes that creep in on the long finish. I’m not kidding, this is impressive.

GARRIGUE

I selected Alberto Loi Monica di Sardegna “Nibaru” 2016 because it is not only a lovely pale and vibrant red with an elevated cherry nose, but because let’s face it, we should all be trying wines from Sardinia (and indeed Corsica) if we are going crazy for Sicily. We need to encourage them.

Intellego is another South African winery known to many, and their Swartland Syrah 2015 was described as “sheer decadence” by Peter Richards MW on the Decanter Magazine web site earlier this year. It’s definitely in the fresh, peppery style, showing a little red meat edge, though it doesn’t lack for fruit. Richards also called it “a belter”. Spot on!

Think of garrigue and a few French wines come to mind. From the Les Caves portfolio the producer that springs to my mind is Dominique Hauvette’s family estate at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Domaine Hauvette “Cornaline” 2011, Les-Baux-de-Provence is a wine I’ve not drunk for a very long time, but it has aged so well, still fresh, very classy and yes, archetypal garrigue essence in a glass. Quintessentially Provençal. A blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Hervé Souhaut Saint-Joseph “Clos des Cessieux”2017 is dark, dense and chewy. Put some aside. The concentration is off the scale. It comes from vines up to 100 years of age, and whilst Hervé claims to make wines to drink on release, which with such purity one could, they deserve to be allowed to evolve…in my humble opinion.

OLD VINES

Another Champagne, Pierre Gerbais L’Originale Extra Brut, also (Like Val Frison) came from the Côte des Bar, this time at Celles-sur-Ource, and is unusual in being 100% Pinot Blanc. In fact they are claimed to be the oldest vines currently planted in Champagne (planted 1904). The soils are the region’s typical Kimmeridgian limestone and marl, and the wine itself has a little more weight than you typically find in a Champagne. It’s a multi-faceted wine of significantly more complexity than you might expect from the variety, except that Aurélien Gerbais, who has been slowly taking over from his father, is becoming a name to watch on the ever growing list of exciting Aube Growers.

In wider Burgundy you rarely hear loud praise for Macon, Blanc or Rouge, but two bottles here blow the argument that the region is full of mediocre wines right out of the water. Both are highly sought after, at least in France. Domaine Philippe and Gérard Valette Macon-Chaintré Vieilles Vignes 2014 is mineral and citrussy. The character of old vines cropped low, with attention to every detail, yields another wine of exceptional purity, whilst Domaine des Vignes du Maynes Macon-Cruzille “Manganite” 2015 is as on form as always. Gamay à Petits Grains yields small berries which produce first fruit, and then a wine, of rare concentration for the variety. Magnificent. Julien Guillot is a genius. I can’t write his story here, but it’s worth investigating. As are all his wines.

Jean-Claude Lapalu Brouilly Vieilles Vignes 2017 is an altogether different Gamay, so fruity, but then not so simple – is that a lick of licorice on the finish, or maybe a hint of pencil lead? I can see why this didn’t go into the “Juicy” section, though it’s also very juicy. Don’t forget Lapalu when you recite the big guns of Bojo.

ORANGE/SKIN

Going for an unusual wine? Don’t be put off by the dull label. Andert-Wein Rulander 2017 is orange, smooth and fairly rich. German speaking regions usually call this grape variety Grauburgunder, and it is, of course, Pinot Gris. Rulander is a less common name for it. This is (like Meinklang) from Pamhagen in Austria’s Burgenland.

Now we need a quiet moment of respect for Stefano Bellotti who died in recent days. His Cascina Degli Ulivi “A Demûa” was the first of his wines I ever bought, a Monferrato white made from a blend of Riesling Italico, Bosco, Verdea, Timorassa and Moscatella (sic), all grown biodynamically with immense love. A true great, the star of Jonathan Nossiter’s film, Natural Resistance, and the maker of wines the like of which Gavi has never seen before. I believe his daughter will carry on his legacy.

A couple of similar-ish wines from Australia followed, both Sauvignon Blancs, but one from Victoria, the other Western Australia. Patrick Sullivan Waterskin 2017 is a Yarra Valley wine, cloudy, and which frankly takes SB to another level of weird fruitiness. Is it a level you wish to aspire to? To be honest, yes for some and no for others, but remember, this is my selection so you can take it as read that I like it. No added sulphur.

Sam Viniciullo Warner Glen Sauvignon 2017 is also unsulphured, a skin contact SB from Margaret River. Sam was one of the stars, new to me, of the last Real Wine Fair in 2017. It has much in common with Patrick Sullivan’s wine, but is maybe less wild and shows at least a little Sauvignon typicity.

Talking stars, Scott Frank also shone brightly at the 2017 Real Wine Fair. Our second wine from him today is Bow & Arrow “Le Chenaie” Sauvignon Blanc 2016. It’s almost sweet, but salty at the same time. Not your usual straight-laced Oregon wine, label it up for a night when you are feeling a bit wild and free, then stick on a Behemoth CD.

POTS AND EGGS

Dominique Lucas has already featured here as one of my favourite Savoie producers. He also makes wine in Burgundy. This Les Vignes de Paradis Aligoté “Face au Levant” 2015 is actually from a parcel of 100-year-old vines just above Pommard at around 500 metres, in the Haute-Côte de Beaune. I love it, but be warned that for Aligoté it is atypical, being very rich. It doesn’t have anything like the acidity you expect from this variety, but it does have an interesting saline finish. I know one colleague was less keen, but for me, exploring a grape like Aligoté you sometimes crave some variety, some differentiation.

Foradori Fuoripista Pinot Grigio 2016 from their biodynamic vineyards near Trento will be known to many readers. If it isn’t, try not to read the variety. It’s a ramato wine, pinkish-copper coloured, smooth and rich. It should be ready around 2025 to 2028, but it’s so good I doubt much will last that long before being drained. World class, if you ask me.

COS Pithos Rosso 2017 isn’t far off that accolade. When people criticise natural wine I always think of this. I’ve been drinking it for so long and I’ve not had a single off bottle. It has a high terracotta “lick quotient” – textured to hell, but fresh with great acidity. Nero d’Avola and Frappato from Vittoria in Sicily’s southeastern corner, and forget Etna for now, COS was really the catalyst for Sicilian natural wine. Still going (very) strong.

Kelley Fox has had enough publicity for one day, but this wine perhaps tops them all in some ways. Maresh Pinot Gris 2017 is a pinkish red wine from a very famous vineyard, the grapes fermented in plastic (gives me hope) before racking to amphora. I think the glou score just went through the roof. A few people had this marked down as wine of the day.

Beckham Estate Pinot Noir “Creta” 2014 has a few years under its belt, and you know, it really does taste like Pinot Noir aged in amphora, which it is. Andrew Beckham’s amphora project was inspired by Elizabeth Foradori. This Pinot comes off Oregon’s Chehalem Mountains, and like everything you’ll taste from Andrew Beckham, it is fine wine with a twist.

Another Tillingham wine appeared here, and again, I’m not going to repeat myself from my previous article, but I will say that although available in tiny quantity, Tillingham Qvevri Artego 2017 is my favourite of Ben’s wines to date. Not everyone agreed with me, as I was told yesterday, but it’s my genuinely held opinion. And it’s not from Sicily, but East Sussex! Someone else has an amphora project, and I wish Mr Walgate every success.

PET BUBBLES

A short entry here doesn’t denote fewer good wines, just that I’ve noticed the sun is starting to go down. La Garagista Grace and Favour is a focused petnat from Vermont. If that were not unusual enough, the grape variety is La Crescent, aka Black Hambourg, the same as the Great Vine at Hampton Court Palace outside London. There’s a kind of florality, and also rapier-like precision through the wine’s spine. An unusual petnat, but a very good one.

Loxarel “A Pel Ancestral” 2017 is also a petnat, not a Cava. It blends sweet and sour and umami flavours and scents, and is yet another sparkler to make us wonder why we drank the same old same old for so long.

O2/FLOR

Vittoria Bera Bianchdudui 2000 is unusual even among unusual wines. I know this estate at Canelli in the Alto Monferrato very well, but had never tried this. Moscato that didn’t ferment formed a layer of flor when left in tank. Eighteen years on, we get this, Nutty but also floral. Really interesting.

Marco de Bartoli Vecchio Samperi NV is very well known to me. It’s basically unfortified Marsala, Marsala as they used to make it. This was bottled in 2016, and it’s not unlike a dry Madeira. It is very nutty and complex, but very fresh, really fine. If you’ve not tried it see whether they have it by the glass in Terroirs.

Clos Fantine Valcabrières Blanc NV is Terret Blanc and Gris off dark schist in the Faugères region in Languedoc. Two vintages, 2016 and 2017 I believe, were blended together, hence the NV status. The key to the complexity here is old bush vines of 100 years of age. Grapefruit and citrus peel notes dominate, in a wine of genuine vivacity. The estate has been a star of Languedoc natural wine since the start of the millennium, with a focus on indigenous varieties and impeccable winemaking.

Finally, I get to try the wine with the weird triangular label from Argentina! I even had to leave a restaurant a few weeks ago where they opened a bottle just after I left. So I was happy. Pol Opuesto Chardonnay 2015 is from Ucco, an arid near-dessert region in the high Andes. Pol Andsnes grows vines at 1,600 metres, where the diurnal temperature range is shockingly wide, with freezing nights.

The label symbolises the three wines in one which are blended together. It would take too long to describe the processes in detail, but it involves different methods of pressing the grapes, and different vessels for fermentation. So, swearing I’m not on some strange medication, I was getting a mix of apricot with caramel. I exaggerate, of course. I’m praying I can get hold of a bottle…close run thing with Val Frison for “bottle I wanted to take home but Doug wouldn’t let me”.

INDIGENOUS

One of my first ever orders from Les Caves included some wines made by the Plageoles family in Gaillac. The estate, created by Robert and now run by his grandchildren, is almost a nursery for the forgotten varieties of this part of Southwest France. Domaine Les Tres Cantous Mauzac Noir 2016 has nice cherry notes, which are accompanied by notes resembling beetroot, with a little hint of rhubarb on the finish. No, it’s not horrible, quite the contrary. Light with bite, I’d say. Unusual, for sure, but hey, give it a go one Tuesday night.

Piquentum is an estate I used only to be able to get from an obscure source which I think may not now be trading. Doug Wregg grabbed a slice of this Croatian estate and here we have their delicious Malvazija 2016 from Istria. Savoury and concentrated with a touch of earthiness, or a chalky texture.

Burja Reddo Vipavska Dolina 2016 is a Slovenian marvel, the label of which you might well have seen plastered on Instagram recently. Purple-hued, concentrated bitter cherry, with the bite and zip of a white wine, but unquestionably a red.

JUICE & JUICIER

Apologies for hitting the 5,000 word mark already, but bear with me, just two sections to go, and ten more wines. Nicolas Carmarans features again, with a Carmarans classic, Maximus Rouge 2016. Fer Servadou, the speciality of Marcillac and the Aveyron region generally, is grown at around 450 metres. It is pale and fresh, but quite ferrous, with a finish that nips at your palate. Twisted.

We have to mention Domaine de Botheland Brouilly 2017 because it is indeed juicy, and juicier. Vibrant purple, deep cherry, with a bit of grip right now. 2017’s looking good.

Alex Craighead Kindeli Tinto 2017 is a fun blend of Pinot Noir and Syrah made by carbonic maceration. If you don’t mind cloudy you’ll enjoy the fruit with a little texture you get here. It’s from Nelson in New Zealand, which, considering it’s pretty adventurous for that spot on South Island, you should give it a try…if you don’t, as I said, mind cloudy.

Jauma “Audrey” Clarendon Shiraz 2016 is classic natural wine shizza from James Erskine and the team in McLaren Vale. Lifted, vibrant yet graceful nose, a little plum, really fruity. Named after James’s daughter, it is released young and should be enjoyed as such.

Ruth Lewandowski Wines Feints Red 2017 could just be from the most unusual location to find a great wine in the whole of this tasting – Utah. Evan Lewandowski is the man behind the wine. Ruth is the book in the Bible (though I’ve also been told the name comes from Evan’s grandmother). This wine blends four Italian varieties – Arneis, Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo, an unlikely combo that sure makes for an interesting wine of just 11.5% alcohol. Really marvellous stuff.

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We end with some complex wines which truly needed a carafe, but really need the privacy of your own home. Il Paradiso di Manfredi “Trentennale” 2011 is an IGT Sangiovese Grosso from Montalcino, yet not labelled as a Brunello for the kind of reasons you can guess. The estate is tiny, just 2.5 ha, the wine sees four years in Slavonian oak. It has a haunting nose, not so typical of “Brunello”. The fruit begins concentrated and lively even, but the wine tails off with much more complex notes of tea leaf. Age has really brought complexity. An estate I’ve long admired, though cannot really afford any longer.

Kmetija Mlecnik Cuvée Ana, Vipavska Dolina 2010 is another interesting Slovenian wine blending Malvazija, Chardonnay, Sauvignonasse and Rebula, which ought (if you really have read this far) to be of interest just for the grape mix.

Arianna Occhipinti Siccagno Rosso 2015 is Nero d’Avola. So often turgid and stewed, this Nero d’Avola is like gorgeous fruit juice, with an unexpected Lucozade factor. Big flavour combined with great glugging potential.

Sepp & Maria Muster Sgaminegg 2015 is another of the wines of the day. Another wine that combines gluggability with almost impossible complexity. The fruit is apricot or peach and the undertone is nutty and mineral-textured. Anything from Sepp Muster is a must try, and this beauty is one of the best. The name? Haven’t a clue. I think the grapes are Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, but I may be wrong. It doesn’t really matter.

Finally we reach the end. As I said the other day, Beechworth Rocks. There are a few great producers in this out of the way corner of Victoria. Julian Castagna is one of the best. Castagna Sangiovese “La Chiave” 2014 is biodynamic, slightly tannic right now, and spicy, from a lick of French oak. Fruits include blackberries, cherries and raspberries, with a coffee or dark chocolate note creeping into the finish. You’ll probably not taste another Sangiovese quite like this. I’d buy some…but for the price…but it’s worth it, for sure.

Such a long article. I apologise, but such a tasting deserved some proper consideration. I guess two parts might have worked, but at least I managed to finish it. Thank you Les Caves for all the truly amazing wines you’ve given me these past couple of decades, and for all you have achieved for adventurous British wine lovers. Happy 30th Anniversary.

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Recent Wines (August 2018) #theglouthatbindsus

It seems a long time ago, August, days of thirty-degree plus temperatures, three meals a day taken out in the garden, and hardly a serious red wine drunk. Nothing here will be anything more than light red, although the Blank Bottle Winery pair from Butler’s only get left out because I’ve written about them so recently in another article (a gorgeous Tempranillo blend and Pinot Blanc, exclusive to Butler’s Wine Cellar in Brighton, from Pieter Walser).

Other regular favourites also get missed, such as Tillingham Wines‘ PN17. I still have a couple of these from a half dozen I pulled together from different sources and it’s still going strong. Finally, summer would not be summer without some Bagnums of Beaujolais-Villages from Du Grappin. The Nielsens’ wonderful summer glugger provided plenty of lightly chilled glasses whilst standing over a hot stove, or listening out for the frogs in the pond as the sun went down.

The following ten wines are my pared-down best of the best for what was a wonderful month of weather and wine. If the first four are Austrian, I make no apology for that. I was doing some research for my trip in the middle of last month.

Wiener Gemischter Satz Nussberg Reserve 2012, Rotes Haus, Vienna – This truly was research because within a couple of weeks of drinking this I’d spent a day and a half walking in these beautiful vineyards, which afford such amazing views of the Austrian Capital. I had bought this bottle on a previous trip to Vienna back in 2013, at the Heuriger, Mayer am Pfarrplatz, to which we returned one very sunny day this August to quaff Himbeer Sturm after a very long day walking (and drinking wine) among the woods and the vines.

Gemischter Satz can come from anywhere in Austria, but the DAC of Wiener Gemischter Satz, although available in a lighter form, can be built for ageing when from the best vineyard sites. This wine, comes in at 13.5% abv, and is such a wine, although I’m not sure it has the ability to age a long as, for example, Wieninger’s top Gemischter Satz wines can.

The blend here includes Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Blanc, Welschriesling and assorted Traminers, a field blend which in the Gemischter Satz tradition is co-fermented. It has a medium body, a hint of appley freshness still, and quite a bit of herbs and spice, with a touch of texture manifesting itself as a pleasant dryness. Definitely a food wine and quite versatile. It’s always a pleasure to drink a Wiener Gemischter Satz, and I think I’ll be drinking more of this blend from other producers in the coming weeks.

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Rakete 2017, Austrian Landwein, Jutta Ambrositsch, Vienna – This is one of my discoveries of 2018. I’ve loved the wines of possibly Vienna’s smallest artisan winemaker since Newcomer Wines began importing them a number of years ago. I first tasted this at the Newcomer Wines portfolio event at the RIBA earlier in the year, but this was my first complete bottle.

It’s a roter gemischter satz, but released as a Landwein. The blend is Zweigelt, St-Laurent, Merlot, some assorted white varieties from Kahlenberg in Vienna’s 19th District and Blauburger. The latter variety is a hybrid of Blauer Portugieser and Blaufränkisch. Its lack of eligibility for the DAC presumably comes from its colour (the DAC is as far as I’m aware for white wines only), but including a hybrid variety may be an additional hurdle. I’m not sure we should care.

The cuvée saw a four-day whole cluster maceration, and it was aged and bottled on fine lees. Consequently, although this is a pale, glowing, red wine it is absolutely bursting with flavours of cranberry, raspberry and strawberry, with a touch of spice. Invert the bottle to distribute the lees for maximum intensity, and serve lightly chilled.

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Puszta Libre! [2017], Rottwein, Claus Preisinger, Gols – Another wine without an appellation, and another red wine I’d suggest serving slightly chilled. This is more purple in colour than Jutta’s Rakete, but it has the same low alcohol (11.5%), and lightness. It’s a blend of Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch based on a wine style Claus’ grandfather used to make from the northern shore of the Neusiedlersee in Burgenland. The bottle is based on an old soda bottle design, which presumably nods towards how Claus thinks you should consume this.

Carbonic intra-cellular fermentation gives it the flavour of zippy macerated raspberries and cherries. It is simple, for sure, but the epitome of glouglou, and one of my reds of the summer yet again. I’d go as far as saying that this 2017 bottling is the best yet. Brilliant, pleasurable, glugging.

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Schilcher Frizzante [2017], Strohmeier, Weststeiermark – Franz and Christine Strohmeier were natural wine pioneers in a region which has become synonymous with the birth of this movement in Austria. They make a range of lovely wines from their ten hectares, but they’ve become particularly well known for the regional speciality, Schilcher.

Schilcher is made from the rare Blauer Wildbacher grape variety, which is so important to Western Styria that it occupies around three fifths of the area under vine in the region. Schilcher can be a still wine, or Sekt. It is a pale red/rosé with searing acidity and great (usually raspberry with cherry) fruit intensity.

This frizzante version sits between the two styles. Bottled in February 2018, the fruits are fresh but show macerated flavours, with a bitter finish. The acidity slakes the thirst in the heat, and it has (for me) a passing resemblance to Belgian Kriek beer. This is a wine surely for the adventurous.

Stephen Brook in his Wines of Austria book (Infinite Ideas Ltd, 2016) is mildly dismissive (“very popular within Austria, though it finds few takers outside the country”), but Newcomer Wines has brought this in and the more open-minded crowd who shop there, eager for new flavours, appear to have taken to it. I can certainly vouch for its popularity back in Austria. Serve it chilled.

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L’Uva Arbosiana 2015, Domaine de la Tournelle, Arbois – This is the first wine I ever tried from one of my favourite Jura producers. I remember heading to Antidote Wine Bar off Carnaby Street when I heard that they sold it (the Clairets of La Tournelle are partners in Antidote).

You’ll notice this is a little old for a fruity pale red. It’s my last bottle and I had been saving it up for this summer, not having had the chance to visit the domaine when in Arbois last year because Evelyne and Pascal were on holiday.

It looked a little more bronze than its usual vibrant pale red, and it probably did need drinking, but the bouquet had even more than usual of that haunting Poulsard aroma, a sort of autumn leafiness. The fruit has a gentle savoury quality. Whilst the vivacity and freshness this wine usually exhibits has almost passed away, it’s still delicious. As a side note, this wine can often be reductive, and generally I always reach for a carafe from experience. I didn’t do so with this older bottle, due to its potential fragility, and frankly it didn’t need it. No added sulphur, 12% abv.

I pray I can stock up with more of this next year.

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Savagnin Vin des Allobroges IGP 2016, Les Vignes de Paradis, Savoie – If Belluard remains my favourite Savoie estate, Dominique Lucas’ domaine south of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) is coming up fast, despite all the other contenders (by coincidence both producers share the same first name). Dominique makes some very lovely wines from two-or-three hectares in the hills above the Côte d’Or in Burgundy, but his Savoie wines are gaining a very big reputation.

Savagnin is, of course, much better known in the Jura region, over the mountains to the north of the lake. Dominique has nearly 8 ha vines in an area once almost completely known for inexpressive Chasselas (in AOCs like Marin, Ripaille and Crépy), but even the Chasselas at this address is wonderful.

Whether it is the terroir or not, away from the marnes of its native region, the Savagnin here is almost sweet fruited with a touch of richness, and nowhere like the nuttiness that Jura-grown Savagnin shows. Whereas the norm for the lakeside wines from most other producers is, at best, refreshing acidity and simple dry flavours, there seems to be genuine complexity forming in this low yield tiny cuvée (just 3,300 bottles made). Find one if you can, it truly hits the spot. All the wines I’ve tried from this source have been exquisite. Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.

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Pétillant Naturel Vin de France [2017], Famille de Conti, Bergerac – The de Conti family has, as long as I can remember, been the foremost producer of quality Bergerac. I remember in the early days buying several of their well priced bottles from Les Caves de Pyrene. I doubt I’ve drunk one for maybe two decades.

This petnat looks like something different. A jazzed-up label adorns a méthode ancestrale fizz, blending 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Chenin Blanc off the soft sandstone soils of Agen, the land of prunes. It’s a new venture for the family, and judging by all the social media coverage I’ve seen, a very successful one.

This is a completely natural wine, including no added sulphur. Lightly crushed fruit was partially fermented in tank and then put into bottle in September 2017 with the lees. The bouquet is of apples and pears, the bubbles are tiny, and the whole wine is quite tight and focused. Flavoursome and delightful would describe it well.

As with most of these wines today, it’s fair to say that they are not wines for winter, although on a sunny day I’m not so sure. But even if you don’t grab some to see you through our late ending summer (I’m still looking out on blue skies here and we had lunch in the garden), be prepared for the next one.

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Sylvaner 2016, Domaine Gérard Schueller, Alsace – Bruno Schueller has become one of the cult names in Alsace. He farms not in the trendy north of the region, but at Husseren-les-Châteaux, to the south of Colmar (ten hectares in all, around Husseren with additional vines in nearby Eguisheim’s two Grand Crus), so often a bastion of conservative winemaking. Like many of the region’s finest vignerons, Bruno has the sort of rebellious nature that means his wines (including an amazing wild Pinot Noir) don’t always get AOP approval, not that he cares.

There is no doubt that Sylvaner is making a comeback in Alsace (and, as Silvaner, in Germany), a comeback that begins with a very poor reputation for thin and acidic, highly cropped, vines. This skin contact wine is something altogether different. Watch out though, it comes in with 15% alcohol, although I’d challenge anyone to nail that fact without seeing the label. It’s rich, not especially acidic at all, and it has smooth texture and depth.

One wonders how many better Sylvaners you might find in Alsace? Genius winemaking. I found this at Verre Volé in Paris (the Canal St-Martin branch).

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Tibouren 2014, Côtes de Provence Cru Classé, Clos Cibonne – In some respects this estate reminds me of Château Simone in Palette, another wonderful Provençal pink that ages magnificently and is wholly outside the norm of the region’s many insipid rosé wines. It, as indeed the wine, has a certain old fashioned quality. The estate dates from the 17th Century, and it sits in the hills of the Maures massif, near Pradet, above Toulon.

The grape variety, Tibouren, may sound obscure, but some will know it as Rossese, the red variety of Western Liguria, just along the coast into Italy. André Roux is at the helm, and keeps the wines here very traditional. This pink, from magnum, has an almost orange tinge to it, very delicate. The nose, by contrast, is richly scented and deep. You would not believe just how fresh this 2014 is, enhanced no doubt by the larger format, but still! You also get the kind of complexity not usually found in pink wines from Southern France, and indeed, the sort of complexity you would find in maybe just a dozen or so rosé wines throughout the world.

Simone, Tondonia, Musar…I’d place this Tibouren in the same list of serious rosé wines, with the added benefit that this is nowhere near as sought after and is not usually difficult to get hold of, though the vintage will have changed. Imported by Red Squirrel.

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Champagne Bruno Paillard Première Cuvée MV Extra Brut, Champagne – Last but by no means least here is a wine which on the face of it might appear to be less unusual than the rest of this list. But what is unusual in this case is how taken aback I was by how good it is.

I remember when Bruno Paillard, who from a long line of Champagne brokers began in the same broking role in 1975, set up his own Grande Marque in 1981. In the 1990s the House began investing in its own vineyards, and today has a little under 30 hectares, producing around half-a-million bottles per vintage. I recall the first wines from Paillard, imported for a short while by Yapp Brothers, creating quite a stir at the time. It’s fair to say that my long journey with Champagne has since then taken me in a different direction, towards the artisans, the Growers.

Nevertheless, I’ve been more than aware of the rise of the man himself, with his several chairmanships and CEO positions, and of course his great commitment to, and work for, the Champagne region as a whole.

Première Cuvée is a low dosage, multi-vintage blend from 35 individual crus. It is made only from fruit of the first pressing, 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay and 22% Pinot Meunier, 20% being barrel-fermented. What is interesting is that the reserve wines added in are from no less than 25 vintages, back to 1985, and these reserves make up close to 50% of the final blend.

Ageing involved three years on lees for this release, a disgorgement of June 2017 with a further five months in bottle before shipping. I’m not sure of the exact dosage, Extra Brut denoting less than 6g/l (but it seems drier than that). The bouquet is very fresh, yet there’s a really nice touch of complexity which comes through. If Chardonnay notes appear to dominate the nose to a degree, then the red fruits of the Pinots come through on the palate – the palate begins with citrus fruit, but then builds to a lovely brioche or arrowroot biscuit before red fruits, like redcurrant, appear.

Overall, there’s lots of focus, and a whole lot going on here. I was genuinely impressed by a wine I was given as a “try this”. I’m grateful for having had the chance to discover it. I’m sure I’ve not tried a “NV” as interesting or as good as this all year, and I was even more surprised to find that it retails for (I think) around £40.

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Posted in Alsace, Austria, Austrian Wine, Champagne, Jura, Natural Wine, Rosé, Rosé Wine, Savoie Wine, Sparkling Wine, Vienna, Wiener Gemischter Satz, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Jura Night at Solent Cellar

I’m a little sad this year. Followers of Wideworldofwine will be well aware that Eastern France’s Jura region is one of my passions. They may well know the story of how we used to stay on the Côte de Beaune each spring, and how we took a chance one year, for one of our day trips, to check out Arbois. This was many, many years ago now, but as others know well, once you smell the wood smoke and sample the cakes (Hirsinger) and Comté, you don’t look back.

Whether it was to stay in a tiny gîte with a stream running through the garden when the children were tiny, or merely passing through on the way to or from Geneva or the Alps, what started out as frequent visits ended up becoming a visit every year. Until now. For the first time in many years we have not set foot in the region during 2018, in fact not since November last year.

We plan to put that right as soon as temperatures become tolerable there in 2019 (February can be worse than bitter), but I continue to drink deep of the wines and follow closely what is going on around Arbois and beyond. We’ve not even had the customary Jura-themed wine dinner in London this year, but last Friday I was pleased to give an introduction to the region and its wines at Lymington’s adventurous wine merchant, Solent Cellar.

Simon and Heather at Solent Cellar have shared my love of the region’s wines for a few years, and after their first visit in 2017 I think they also have the bug for travelling there. They began to widen their Jura range after that visit, and you won’t find many wine shops outside London that can match their ever changing offering, which ranges from well known names like Ganevat and Berthet-Bondet, to the remarkably fashionable Philippe Bornard, and a relatively new name on the block, Fabrice Dodane’s Domaine St-Pierre.

As many independent wine merchants do these days, Solent Cellar has to innovate in order to build a loyal customer base, and one way they have done this is to convert the shop into a restaurant from time to time. They work with a versatile local chef, and they can squeeze twenty-four covers in without discomfort. As with most of their events, it sold out quickly, with people left disappointed.

It’s a testament to the knowledge and astute buying here that such trust is placed in the team by their customers. I began my introduction by asking whether anyone had been to the region, and one couple stuck their hands up. Asking if people knew where the region is, it was by no means universally acknowledged. Yet the audience attacked these sometimes unusual wines with a spirit of adventure. I hope that my descriptions of especially the region’s autochthonous grape varieties, and of the main techniques for making them into wine, gave an accurate enough picture of what to expect.

The food was very well executed. Guests were given a glass of very interesting Crémant du Jura Château Bethanie with canapes on arrival. This is a Chardonnay-based méthode traditionelle sparkler with the twist that a small amount of Vin Jaune is added in the dosage, which gives the wine a very interesting slightly (only slightly) oxidative note. I’m sure that there are certain provocative wine writers who in the past might have called this “Krug for under £20-a-bottle”.

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The menu began with a trout starter with delicious saffron-pickled cauliflower, followed by the traditional coq au Vin Jaune et au morilles. The sauce here, in this case, actually made with Vin Jaune rather than a Savagnin substitute, was well executed. Instead of dessert we had a generous cheese platter with young Comté, Morbier and Bleu de Gex.

There was a very wide selection of wines by the glass to choose from, priced keenly, along with some more wines available by the bottle. The ticket included the food and the glass of Crémant, with further drinks purchased through the evening. You can see what was on offer from the photo of the evening’s wine list (above, NB prices are for wines consumed during the meal, not on-the-shelf prices). I tasted all the wines beforehand, but purchased wines throughout the meal, and my brief notes below largely comment on the wines I drank. There was one corked bottle, which we spotted and replaced, but the wines otherwise performed really well.

Michel Gahier Melon “La Fauquette” 2013 – The Melon in this case is not the grape of Muscadet, but Melon à Queue Rouge, a (very) red-stalked Chardonnay mutation/variation. This variety has become very fashionable of late, but there is justification. It hasn’t been much planted for many years so when you find it, the bottle will almost certainly be an old vine cuvée. Jura author Wink Lorch describes it as being softer and with more yellow fruit characteristics than straight Chardonnay, but additionally, all the versions I’ve drunk (at least three or four in recent years) have had a lovely freshness too.

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I drank the Gahier with the trout. You don’t see MàQR very often so it seemed a good opportunity to do more than just taste it. My wife went for the Poulsard Sans Souffre “Love” 2017 from the Fruitière d’Arbois (fruitière is the name for a co-operative in Jura). It may be a co-operative wine but it’s a nice, fresh, red-fruited, natural wine with no added sulphur, and slightly cheaper (£22 vs £28) than the Poulsard from Domaine de la PinteL’Ami Karl from the same vintage, although the latter wine can age wonderfully (they sometimes have an older vintage at their Arbois shop). The Pinte wine has added nuance and complexity with lots of cranberry fruit.

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The main course was, as I said, pretty well handled. Although we naturally didn’t get a Poulet de Bresse (which is what you will commonly get served in Arbois), the chicken was very nice, and a whole breast. We decided to go traditional, drinking the sous voile Savagnin 2013, Daniel Dugois with this course.

Daniel’s son, Philippe, runs the domaine, based in Arsures just to the north of Arbois, these days. This (like Puffeney in Montigny-les-Arsures) has always been a good address for Savagnin aged under flor because they also make one of the best Vin Jaunes around Arbois (a well kept secret). This particular Savagnin wine isn’t released every year, and it sees around five years sous voile, so as you can see, it’s well on its way to being a Vin Jaune when bottled.

It was one of the best performers on the night, and possibly the surprise of the night as well, nutty and complex but fresh too. I’m not sure whether Solent Cellar has any left (I’m also not sure the Jura wines listed on their web site are comprehensive so do inquire what they have if interested), but it comes highly recommended. Flor-aged Savagnin when of a very high quality, is a true bargain, usually retailing at between 50% to 60% of the price of the same estates’ increasingly expensive Vin Jaunes (not to mention the often ignored fact that you get 75cl as opposed to 62cl in the traditional Vin Jaune clavelin).

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A few people drank the Trousseau Singulier, a “barrel selection” from Stéphane Tissot, which still has some tannin but is a deliciously sappy red wine, and a few others went for the Berthet-Bondet “Balanoz”. This 2015 Chardonnay is drinking especially well right now, which I made note of (I have some at home). The other Berthet-Bondet listed in the white wine section, the topped-up (ouillé) Savagnin “Savignier”, was also drinking nicely in a lighter but still slightly nutty style.

I thought the cheese platter was generous, considering the miserly cuts you sometimes get in London restaurants. I had counselled everyone to try one of the Vin Jaunes with the cheese course, and almost everyone did (I think some went with the Trousseau).

Domaine Saint-Pierre is near the village of Vadans, which is just a few minutes outside of Arbois, on the road to Dôle. Its Vin Jaune in a slightly lighter style, quite young (2008), but a Vin Jaune that will happily drink young. Some preferred it because the complexity of older Vin Jaune can be a little bit too intense.

Berthet-Bondet Château-Chalon 2009 is even younger, and I was surprised that this was drinking so nicely. The Berthet-Bondet family make what I consider one of my two favourite Vin Jaune styles from the village (Macle being the other). This wine is truly elegant and fine. As much as it is nutty, it is smoky too. You get complex notes of ginger and cumin, and a layer of quite exotic fruit on top, but just a hint. Of course it will keep for a very long time, but it was very good on the night.

There was one truly well aged Vin Jaune on the list, a real cracker. Jacques Puffeney Vin Jaune 1995 for a ridiculous £12-a-glass was irresistible. I guarantee I’ve seen it for double that in one particular London restaurant. Jacques Puffeney, one of the greatest five or six names in the Jura region, retired after the 2014 vintage. He sold his vineyards (to Domaine du Pélican) but kept the wine he’d made, his pension he said. But still, the supply of wine, from this master of an age when Jura wine would be laughed at by Parisians and Burgundians alike (ha! Domaine du Pélican are Burgundians and they’re not laughing now!) is now finite and running low.

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Although many would place the rise of Jura, from unknown backwater to one of the most fashionable wine regions in the whole world among younger connoisseurs, on the shoulders of Jean-François Ganevat, Stéphane Tissot, or perhaps Pierre Overnoy, others might point to the impact that Jacques Puffeney’s wines made in America when they were imported by pioneer wine merchant Neal Rosenthal. Rosenthal had become close friends with Puffeney when he began falling in love with the region in the early 1990s (as I had done just a few years earlier).

I’m pretty lucky. Puffeney’s wasn’t the first Jura wine I tasted, but during those early visits I fell in love with the Puffeney wines I bought, along with those of André and Mireille Tissot, whose son Stéphane had just returned to the domaine from overseas and was frightening his father with his determination to convert to biodynamics, now almost ubiquitous around Arbois. The oldest Jura wine I own is a 1989 Vin Jaune special cuvée from Puffeney.

This 1995 Vin Jaune at Solent Cellar was just stunning. If the other two similar wines were a high tenor and a baritone, this was a true, deep, bass. A wine of profound complexity, but despite that depth, and despite the acidity of youth having mellowed significantly, it still drank fresh, alive. You could count the wine’s length in minutes. It was a perfect accompaniment to the three regional cheeses.

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As a generous reward for my talk we did get to share a wine of equal profundity with the Solent Cellar team at the end of the evening: Houillon-Overnoy Ploussard 2015 (they spell Poulsard as “Ploussard” in Pupillin, a village just minutes south of Arbois, which claims the title of the “world capital of Ploussard”, and where this domaine is situated). It’s hard to describe a wine like this. Since Emmanuel Houillon, who began working at the estate aged 14, took over more or less completely from Pierre Overnoy at this signature Pupillin domaine things have remained pretty much the same. Ever since Pierre began making wine in the late 1960s he eschewed the use of sulphur at any stage in the winemaking process, and of course the vineyards have been farmed without any synthetic chemicals since at least the 1980s.

The thing which almost literally shines (see the colour) through this wine is its amazing fruit. A host of red fruits with strawberry and raspberry perhaps dominating. Pure concentrated fruit juice. Almost off the scale, yet so simple at the same time. I’m lost for words, really. This was a single bottle from Simon and Heather’s cellar, so not on their shop list, but a privilege to drink, as I know many of you will agree.

A great evening, made even more fun by a nice adventurous crowd in the shop. I think, from the feedback I got, that people really enjoyed it. As Simon told me later, “these things are an effort to put on so we like to make sure what’s on offer are wines we ourselves really like and want to share with our customers”. Admirable!

As I noted, the dinner was sold out, but for customers who couldn’t come, or in at least one case, for those who couldn’t get enough of all things Jura, Solent Cellar laid on some Jura wine flights on the Saturday, accompanied by a slice from a couple of Tartes au Comté left by the chef. The alternative, which we eagerly participated in, was a glass (£6) of Philippe Bornard Ça va Bien petnat served from magnum. This was a treat for me because I’ve seen empty magnums of this wine at the domaine, but never managed to get one for myself. I’m still not sure how Simon managed to, though he is pretty persuasive sometimes. Simply gorgeous, though I’m known to go weak at the knees at the sight of a Jura magnum (Solent cellar even have the odd Ganevat “Kopin” in 150cl if you are extremely swift (£58)).

One final note on Solent Cellar. I have family in Lymington. For a while after they opened I walked past the shop convincing myself that I didn’t need yet another wine supplier in my life. After I cracked I discovered that this is one of the finest wine shops in the country, and I’ve visited a lot of wine shops. The best way to get the measure of them, if you can’t make it in to browse for half an hour, is to go to the web site link (in the third paragraph of this article) and scroll down the Home Page and click on the photo and link to “unique and rare wines”. It’s a lovely three-page snapshot for any wine obsessive to salivate over.

 

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Tillingham Update (Sept 2018)

I wrote about my visit to Ben Walgate’s Tillingham Wines back in June, here. Quite a lot of interest has been generated in what Ben Walgate is doing there, in the far east of Sussex. This is in part because he is largely following a method of natural winemaking, which we see very little of in the UK, and partly because we don’t see many genuinely artisan winemakers either. These reasons have probably been eclipsed, in certain circles, by Ben’s introduction of a couple of Georgian qvevris, imported and buried on the farm, which were used for Ortega (the larger of the two), and for an innovative qvevri cider in the other.

Ben has been busy these last couple of weeks, as photos of him foot treading grapes on social media show, but he did find time to drop by for a tasting at Plateau in Brighton last Wednesday evening. Thankfully the trains decided to co-operate with me for once, and I was able to get down only a little late, so that I could join in and assess what I had tasted in June now that the bottles are all labelled-up and have had a chance to settle.

As soon as I’d grabbed a seat in Plateau’s large upstairs events room I was handed a glass of Starvecrow Qvevri Cider. Ben makes the Starvecrow Ciders with orchard-owning neighbours on the farm at Tillingham. The latest two releases are undoubtedly the most interesting yet. This 2017 vintage was kept on skins in Ben’s smaller buried qvevri for seven months. It has real qvevri texture from the clay vessel and extended skin contact (although its colour is less orange than you might expect). In fact texturally it is just like an “orange” wine, but you can taste that it is cider without doubt. Only 200 litres were made, though Ben has a whole load more qvevri on order. Unusual, but take that as a compliment, Ben. It’s my third time of tasting it this year and it has gone from “good” (London Wine Fair) to “really good” in a few months.

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The second pour was Starvecrow Bourbon Cask Cider 2017. An old barrel was simply filled and left for seven months. That’s no way to make cider, surely? There’s just this strange thing with Ben, that his experiments work. What you get here is a really interesting, nuanced, cider. It retains the freshness of the apples used – if you read that previous article you’d know that they use mainly eating apples (Jonagold, Golden Delicious, Braeburn) with Bramleys providing acidity. This is fresh, but more complex than any commercial cider, and than most artisan ciders, I’ve tasted. It’s less “unusual” than the Qvevri.

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The name of the first wine,  Tillingham Pet Rosé 2017, might lead you to assume this is a petnat, but it isn’t quite that in exact methodology. It is a simple and very nice sparkler, made in the bottle and crown capped. It’s packed with very fresh red fruits, combined with a generous twist of grapefruit zip, especially on the finish. It is bottled with its yeast sediment, so you’ll find it cloudy, like petnat. It adds a little texture.

The grape varieties here are, as often with Tillingham wines, complicated. The three sparkling classics (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier) were blended with a 300 litre tank of Schönburger plus some more Pinot Noir and all co-fermented. The result, just 10% abv, a refreshing wine with a slightly sour/bitter finish to complement the acidity and fruit.

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Tillingham Artego 2017 (10.5% abv) is so named because the Ortega grapes Ben purchased from a nearby vineyard were not planted under DEFRA’s PDO Quality Wine Scheme. For the same reason he can’t label it as “English Wine”, using instead “Product of England”. The distinction is subtle. You just have to trust in people like Tillingham’s UK agent, Les Caves de Pyrene.

So, here Ben lightly crushed the grapes into open top fermenters, where he foot stomped them twice a day for five days. The juice was then pressed in small batches in his basket press. Half the wine was aged in old (second fill) Burgundy barrel, and half in steel. No sulphur was added.

Ortega is an early ripening variety but generally shows lower acids. It has a nice aromatic quality. The bouquet here is noticeably peachy, and the wine is gently frothy. The palate has that creamy peach note again, but the finish is bitter, not sweet. There is acidity, but it’s rounded out, not sharp.

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Artego is a lovely wine and it would be a good way to end the Ortega part of the tasting were it not for Tillingham Qvevri Artego 2017. Here, Ben destemmed the Ortega and crushed it lightly in open vats, macerating by foot just the same as the previous wine. Then the juice and skins were placed into the larger of Ben’s qvevri, which was then sealed with a wooden lid and wax. During its ageing a funny thing happened – a layer of flor grew on top of the wine. Ben was worried on tasting the wine at the top of the qvevri that it would end up like Sherry, but the wine lower down, especially that close to the lees at the bottom, was very different. When all blended together the result is, in context, amazing.

This is the most expensive Tillingham wine so far, retailing at £35 to £40, or thereabouts, but it is also the best so far. I think this is impressive. You do get qvevri texture, but not as much texture as in a radical orange wine. You get texture, but fruit as well, and it’s fairly smooth texture at that. It’s expensive in part because there’s just 400 litres of this cuvée, the size of that larger qvevri. It’s one of those wines, a bit like Aligoté Skin from Andrew and Emma Nielsen at Le Grappin, that you really have to try to taste. I hope that a lot more wonderful wines appear in the coming years once the next shipment of qvevri arrives.

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There was one more wine to come, a work in progress to finish with. It is as yet unreleased and unlabelled (so no photo), but Tillingham Col 2017 will be a Col Fondo-style sparkler (not a wine named after one of the finest people to grace the bar at Winemakers Club, sorry Col). Col Fondo is a style of cloudy Prosecco, but one gaining interest around the globe – you might have read about the wonderful wine made in this style by Dal Zotto (King Valley, Victoria, Australia) in my Red Squirrel Portfolio Tasting article last week.

The grape mix here is Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier, a third fermented in used Burgundy barrels. It has been in bottle for around four months now and Ben thinks it will be just right for release in October. It’s frothy and has quite fresh acidity, and will be another of Tillingham’s lengthening string of fairly easy going, often quirky, always interesting and tasty, sparkling wines. Keep your eyes open. Quantities are always small so you need to get in quickly, either through Les Caves, or through the select bunch of retailers who stock the Tillingham wines.

That was the tasting. One of Plateau’s brightest personalities, the organiser of most of this exciting Brighton bar/restaurant’s wine events, was working her last day, so we decamped downstairs to wish Ania on her way over a few bottles. At this point Ben popped a bottle of Tillingham Chardonnay. The grapes were trodden for 48 hours before the juice was pressed directly into barrel. It was bottled after six months, having been more or less left, other than a light batonnage. A small amount of sulphur was added at bottling.

When I tasted this in June there was no question that it tasted a bit oaky. In only two-and-a-half months it has settled down a lot. Ben feels it still needs longer in bottle, although I’d not be quite so categorical. It is imbued with freshness now, and using a carafe really got some air into it, so I honestly enjoyed it as it is. But I’m sure Ben is right and a longer time in bottle will round it out and allow a bit more depth to show.

That’s pretty much what Ben is doing. His newly planted vines have apparently survived our drought-ridden summer, and hopefully the full range, from Gamay to Madeleine Angevine, will be deployed with the same sense of experiment that Ben has shown thus far. He seems pretty confident that the on-site guest rooms and kitchen/diner will be open next summer, along with a shop selling lamb from the farm, fruit and vegetables, and of course Tillingham wines and Starvecrow ciders. I hope the builders deliver, because if Ben pulls all this off it will be an exciting place to visit, and dine.

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It won’t have gone unnoticed that I’m writing a lot at the moment. I’m enormously grateful that so many, in fact hundreds of, people are finding the time to read what I’m posting, but I know that I’m asking a lot of my most loyal readers with so many articles.

I must tell you about the Jura Dinner I spoke at last week, and that article might come out tomorrow, but as with this article, I’ll try to keep it reasonably short. I’ll try to hold off on August’s top wines until next week (it may require two parts over two weeks this time), before I report on next Tuesday’s big Les Caves de Pyrene 30th Anniversary Tasting, which I’m sure will be something special. There’s plenty more to come after that as well. I hope you enjoy what’s coming up.

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Ripples Become Waves – Howard Ripley German 2017 GG and Reds

There’s a certain sedate quality to your average Howard Ripley Tasting. You turn up early to the grand venue, the Pension’s Room in Gray’s Inn, and for a few moments you can sip amid a sea of calm. Even when people begin to turn up the atmosphere is very civilised, no nudging, nor table hogging. No drunkenness either, or at least by the time I’m through, after a few good chats with acquaintances who I otherwise rarely bump into these days.

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I also look forward with relish to the Grosses Gewächs and Reds tasting, because for me, this is where some of the most interesting advances are being made in German wine, and have been for some years. Traditionally, the British have shown a marked preference for the Prädikat wines, with residual sugar taming, especially in everyone’s favourite region, the Mosel, that acidity for which our beloved slate-grown Riesling is famous.

I’m getting an idea now that more people are coming round to what the Germans already acknowledge…that in its dry form the Riesling grape can make fine wines of genuine Grand Cru quality in Germany, and that these wines have the versatility to accompany food as well as any dry white wines in the world.

As for the reds, if you read this blog with any regularity you’ll know what I think. The trajectory of quality in German red wine is pretty much the inverse of what may happen to the pound in a no deal brexit scenario – it rises inexorably as vineyards mature and producers understand the nuances of their Pinot Noir (or Spätburgunder, if they prefer) fruit.

THE 2017 VINTAGE

There are three things you need to know about the 2017 vintage, which pretty much apply across all of the country’s major wine producing regions. First of all, yields were pretty much lower than hoped, and in some cases very low indeed. The culprit, frosts, mainly late April frosts over the whole country. Some regions (the Nahe, for one) experienced significant hail, but frost was by far the biggest problem, compounded by a warm early spring, so that the vines were well advanced when the frosts struck.

The severity of the frosts can be illustrated by their effect on even some of the steepest vineyards on the Mosel. It is generally thought that these sites avoid the effects of frost because the cold air flows down the slopes, or stays close to the river. Nope, in 2017 even the hillsides copped it. But there were exceptions. I read that Franken’s harvest was a little up on 2016.

There is sometimes an upside to low yields, fine quality. It is the sunshine in the weeks around harvest that can really make a vintage, and many regions experienced a dry summer, despite isolated hail in places, and particularly warm September weather. Harvest was generally early, the earliest ever in some places, so sugar levels were pretty decent for many, as also acidity with good diurnal temperature variation.

It is always difficult to characterise a vintage. Regions differ, as do producers (in style and in the effort they make to excel). But you want to know if I like 2017, and whether I liked the wines. The answer for me is a definite “yes indeed”. Any generalisation would have to say that the wines are very different to the majority of non-classic 2015s, and they are generally a little less light and expressive as many 2016s were at this stage.

Perhaps the wines might turn out to be a little more serious, and possibly even profound. It is here where I must stress that when it comes to judging these wines, I’m no expert, although I know what I like. I tasted all of the wines on offer (fifty in total) and I can’t help wondering why I’m generally attracted to the same producers vintage after vintage. When people tell me they buy the same estates every year, I have occasionally wondered why they are not more adventurous. But I can see why with every year I taste. As with Burgundy, you get to appreciate what an individual is doing, and you also get to appreciate vintage variation.

I don’t want the reds to be a mere afterthought, and of course we are not in 2017 here, so vintage generalisations are not valid. Most of the reds were from 2016 and 2015, with one 2013 on show. If you read my notes, my stylistic preferences will become obvious.

THE WINES

As always, it is not really helping the reader to write something about every wine, although I know I’ve done this in the past. It does mean that some worthy wines get no mention, so remember that this is my personal selection. I already know of people who have ordered (or plan to order) wines not featured here. There are producers I didn’t mention this time from whom I have wines in my cellar, so I’m trying not to be too expansive.

Any serious purchasing will always involve reading around, and, of course, trying to taste for yourself if you can. I love the way that after a Ripley tasting there is always animated conversation about what we all liked, and that’s part of the fun.  NB: Prices indicate a case of SIX bottles in bond unless otherwise stated

Rudolf May, Franken

I want to comment on the two Silvaner wines first, from Rudolf May. This is now a 14 ha estate with prime vineyards on mainly fossil-rich limestone. Both wines show good distinctive qualities. Himmelspfad comes from the warmest part of the Langenberg vineyard (Retzstadt) and is quite rich, with grapefruit citrus notes and a mineral, almost peppery, finish.

Rotlauf is from a cool part of the Johannisberg site where sandstone is mixed with the limestone. This is made in a mix of stainless steel, concrete egg and wood. The fruit is more exotic (lychee) and there’s even more mineral texture, more zip and bags of freshness.

As one sommelier acquaintance remarked to me, how nice it is to see two very fine Silvaners in the lineup. I agree. Don’t pass them over. I know not everyone is up to speed with the top Franken producers, because I’d not tasted Rudolf May’s wines before, or at least I don’t recall doing so. I won’t forget them easily now.

This is especially true because by coincidence I had met the Sales Rep for their Eastern US importer, T Edward Wines’ David Hautzig only the day before at the Red Squirrel Tasting. Small world.

Peter Lauer, Saar

Florian Lauer has become one of my favourite three of four German producers in a relatively short period of time. Last time I looked, he farmed just 8ha, based in Ayl on the Saar. He bottles his wines with “Fass” numbers, which can get confusing, but as with the best of the Saar, these are very precise wines (writers habitually use “chiselled” to describe them), but the fruit is always perfectly judged and they are always elegant. My style in a nutshell.

Three wines, all at £126 in bond, were carefully differentiated. Saarfeilser Fass 13 seemed to me a great combination of fruit and minerality; Schönfels Fass 11 shows a touch less zip and a tad more weight to me; whilst Kupp Fass 18 has a beautiful dry minerality and bright fruit to balance. Too hard to choose, perhaps I’d single out the Kupp. I’d be happy with any.

Von Schubert, Maximin Grünhaus, Ruwer

I can’t help listing this as Ruwer, not Mosel, whatever the German Wine Authorities would prefer these days. The wines have always been distinctive, and Dr Karl’s family are part of German wine history. This is also one of the first estates I bought regularly, in the 1990s when Adnams sold their Prädikat wines.

Abtsberg GG (£126 IB) is fresh with genuine depth in 2017, but I was really taken with the Herrenberg. There’s something akin to greengage on the nose. It has a bright attack and then you discover it’s bright all over. Lime, grapefruit, and eventually a hint of stony texture come through on the palate. There’s plenty of acid there right now, don’t get me wrong, but beneath lies a certain elegance. Delicious, and £114 IB.

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Fritz Haag, Mosel

Oliver Haag looks too young to be making wines with this degree of confidence, especially when he has had to follow in the footsteps of his father, Wilhelm, one of the true greats of German wine.

Juffer GG is a good (and inexpensive at £90 IB) introduction to the estate’s dry wines. On the nose it was slightly muted (this bottle?) but it earns its place here because it genuinely explodes with flavour on the palate.

Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr is, of course, one of the Mosel’s iconic sites. The GG from this site is usually quite dense and can require a good number of years to open. In 2017, tasting the two wines side by side, you see how they have similarities, but the Juffer-Sonnenuhr is just “more” and better. Oliver farms 3ha of this site, vines located in the rocky central portion of the vineyard. They yield wines of true intensity. If you buy this, do age it, despite its ridiculous price (£120 IB).

Schloss Lieser, Mosel

Oliver Haag’s elder brother, Thomas, runs Lieser, the imposing château on the river, just past Bernkastel, which at first I found slightly depressing, but it has grown on me. The wines have always been among my absolute favourites. These are yet more clean and precise wines. Some might say lean, I say strikingly elegant, sometimes like lace.

Niederberg Helden is a wine I am always drawn to. The site, right next to the village, has an 80% slope of weathered blue slate. At 12.5% abv, this is balanced and has an almost savoury quality beside the fruit. Another wine to keep, I think. I would like this in 2017, for sure.

Goldtröpfchen is a big name and yet I personally warmed to it less. But note, this is relative. Remember that this is still a favourite estate making wines I love, and the dry wines here seem to get better every vintage. This has a slightly exotic note on the nose and a slightly sour note on the finish, and seems slightly less light on its feet. But I suspect I was having difficulty reading it.

Weingut Vollenweider, Mosel

We travel down to Traben-Trarbach for this estate. Daniel Vollenweider is originally from Switzerland, but now farms around 5ha of…and this may be the key to his success…old vines which are ungrafted to American rootstock. He’s another relatively new (five or six years) producer in my lexicon, who was recommended to me originally by a Danish friend. The wines can tend to a leaner style, for sure, but they are usually highly aromatic too.

Goldgrube usually gives Daniel very dry wines with quite high acidities, but the acidity doesn’t dominate. The dryness, tasted through a slatey texture, is quite apparent though, as is a nice saline finish. Only £105 IB.

Goldgrube “Aurum” is really stony, very concentrated and the palate shows immense potential to age. It should, as you’ll be paying £138 for just three bottles, in bond. The cuvée is a selection, from vines over 100 years old.

Not that long ago Vollenweider was certainly not considered one of the stars of the Mosel. I think he is now. Ripley were very astute in snapping him up. All his wines, including the prädikaten, are impressive.

Schäfer-Fröhlich, Nahe

Tim Fröhlich is another star, and in this case I think he needs no introduction. He’s now in his mid-forties, though I reckon he looks at least a decade younger. If this estate is aiming for anything, other than expressing the terroir of their 20 hectares, I’d guess it is mineral purity. This is another address to which I perennially head for wines of true character.

Three wines were on show. Felsenberg (£201 IB) is a lovely wine in 2017. Plenty of fresh acidity, and the texture of extended lees ageing, but you can see that there’s a step up over many of the cheaper wines tasted, as seen through the palate. Unusually herby and salty as well as fruity, this is very good.

Stromberg is, if I’m correct, a newer site for this estate. It has one of the best bouquets of any wine at the tasting so far. Very fresh and, in my opinion, no less good than the Felsenberg. £213 IB

Felseneck is, if anything, even more impressive, and worth paying extra (£228 IB). There’s a bit more weight and stature. As I was chatting to a friend it warmed in the glass and its latent complexity began to emerge, or at least a hint of it. So again, this will age. But to be really honest, Schäfer-Fröhlich is an estate where I’d be content with any of these three wines.

Weingut Wittmann, Rheinhessen

Philipp Wittmann is the man here at Westhofen. He converted the estate to biodynamics, turning it into one of the finest in not just the region, but in Germany. Blessed with some fine, indeed some of the finest, sites in Rheinhessen, all he really had to do was focus on going beyond just good quality, and Philipp has certainly achieved that.

We got to taste three wines, the first of which underwhelmed me a little, down to a very dumb nose on a newly opened bottle of Aulerde 2017. To be honest I kicked myself for forgetting to go back to it before the redsIt’s an old vine cuvée that is often quite rich and tropical. However, Kirchspiel was on great form. Lots of freshness, a little spice, with the mainly limestone terroir giving all these qualities plus a certain elegance which some have also called “racy”. At £198 IB this is a great buy, when you consider the cost of the next wine.

Morstein GG – I have been remarkably lucky to have drunk a small number of bottles of this wine without ever buying any. Is it sometimes overshadowed by Keller’s version? If it is, I’d argue that it is no less good. For £258 in bond it should be amazing, but why is it indeed so relatively cheap in the grand scheme of the world’s great white wines?

It has, as Ian Gillan once asked for on Made in Japan, more of everything, or “everything louder than everything else”. Morstein rises to just under 1,000 feet (sounds more impressive than 300 metres), limestone overlain with clay. Whatever it is that makes the site produce such complex wines should be bottled and spread around. The wine really announces itself and has genuine presence of an order not seen in any other wine at the tasting. If you can afford it, and can afford to wait for maturity (although as is often the case with wines like this, it would be amazing on its fruit), then buy a case.

If you can’t, then Kirchspiel ought not to disappoint. And they say Aulerde is a warmer site that drinks sooner. Star wines.

Georg Mosbacher, Pfalz

I thought that the Mosbacher wines would suffer in being placed after Wittmann, but strangely, they didn’t. If I say “strangely”, that is obviously a symptom of my lack of experience. Ungeheuer and Jesuitengarten cost just £135 and £138, respectively, in bond. The former is characterful, with citrus and a little spice, and the latter wine has a touch extra lively freshness, rounder fruit and a nice bitterness, only just noticeable, which adds an extra dimension. In fact I suspect that away from the tasting bench anyone would exclaim over this silky wine, which I’m sure is another which will age magnificently. Amazing value.

 

PINOT NOIR

For the red wines, which Ripley list as “Pinots” here, rather than Spätburgunder, I’m only going to select a few. I made more suggestions at Howard Ripley’s German Reds Tasting (March 2018, here). What I will say is that Britain has long seemed behind the curve on German red wine. Why, I’m not sure? Prejudice, perhaps, tasting (or rather, drinking) wines too young, maybe. There’s no doubt that when the vintage is good these wines can be world class.

Clones play a part, but they don’t provide the answer to quality, only style. Some producers prefer French, Dijon, clones and other prominent producers (Ziereisen, for one) now prefer German (and in Hanspeter’s case Swiss too) clones. The list of those making truly wonderful red wine is now a long one, and even though prices have risen steeply, there is still real value to be had.

The first and third suggestions are both lighter in style, and surprisingly from possibly the least fashionable region for German red wine, the wider Mosel. They are not in the above category of “world class red wines”, but why oh why do we always look for greatness, when a really tasty, juicy, red Pinot is often what we would really prefer on a Tuesday evening?

Pinot Noir Niederberg Helden 2016, Schloss Lieser, Mosel – This is quite pale and light. It has lifted red fruit, a sappy smoothness and is a nicely inexpensive Pinot which I hesitate to call a “glugger”, but so tasty it is. Excellent value at £75, and not a source (estate nor site) where you might expect to see such a wine. Unless you know Thomas Haag.

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Spätburgunder “R” 2016, Jülg, Pfalz – This wine makes the selection here because it’s an impressive effort. It’s possibly not a wine you’d expect me to like, and right now I’d suggest “respect” is more apt a description than “like”. It is harvested from the Wormberg vineyard in France. The village of Schweigen sits on the border, just north of the great abbey town of Wissembourg (Northern Alsace). It is common for producers to own vineyards on both sides of the border, as does both Jülg and Fritz Becker (a producer of world class Pinots and Spätburgunders, who I visited last year (see here)), who I would suggest are the best in the village (though I need to taste more of the wines of Weingut Bernhart, also in Schweigen, whose Sonnenberg “RG” was impressive, if possibly a bit too impressive (vintage?) for my taste).

The former monastic vineyards here are very attractive, as is the former Benedictine abbey itself. The grapes harvested in France are governed by German wine law when made into wine in Germany, but those regulations somewhat unfortunately don’t allow the traditional vineyard names to be used. The wines made by top producers, like Jülg and Becker, are unarguably of Grand Cru quality.

“R” is quite tannic and concentrated, altogether the opposite of the Lieser above. It has dark fruits and I suspect is made to age. I personally prefer the style at Becker, but Jülg makes very good wines. If you find yourself in Schweigen, this is also the place to eat lunch. Warm conviviality and warming traditional food in a series of cosy rooms.

Okay, there’s always one wine that doesn’t get photographed, so instead you get Jülg’s straight Spätburgunder and Bernhart’s Sonnenberg RG

Pinot Noir 2016, von Schubert, Mosel (Ruwer) – I wonder whether some think me perverse, but I always go for the Grünhaus Pinot. What you get here is fairly simple, though in saying that, there’s no doubt that complexity is creeping in year on year. In contrast to the above wine, we are back in the spectrum of red fruits. Accompanying the fruit is a whiff of smoke, doubtless a terroir note from the Abtsberg’s pure slate soils. We are also back to a wine of pure drinkability, though I think it has a little more weight than the Lieser.

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Ziereisen, Baden

Ripley showed five wines from Ziereisen, the magical estate just north of Basel, whose vineyards are nestled among the woods at Efringen-Kirchen. I’ll own up and say this is very subjectively (and it’s a close call, another day it could be Fritz Becker) my favourite red wine producer in Germany. In part it is because, on meeting Hanspeter and his wife, Edel, I will say that I believe completely in what they are doing, at every level and with every grape variety.

We begin with Tschuppen 2015. This is a juicy entry level wine, off clay soils, where the juice (full of chewy cherry) of the vintage makes this bottling even more attractive. Next is Talrain 2015. This is from one of Hanspeter’s higher sites which sits in the lee of the Black Forest. The soil is iron-rich limestone. The fruits are black and intense, with a nice red meatiness creeping in. Mineral but also juicy. These are £51 and £75 per case in bond, respectively.

We then make a qualitative leap to Rhini 2015. This cuvée is from limestone in a protected enclave where iron combines with silt and sand mixed in with the limestone to produce wines of significantly greater complexity. The fruit is plump but the finish is savoury, almost salty. £135 IB seems reasonable to me.

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Ziereisen makes a range of wines labelled as “Jaspis”. These are the top wines, but are a strict selection, as opposed to single vineyard wines per se.

Jaspis Pinot Noir 2015 is a wine for ageing, but has the freshness you get off the limestone terroir here. The fruit is ripe, in part because the forest protects the vines from cooling winds, but also because of the hands on care that the fruit gets shown. The vines tend to be fairly old and the wine is fine, potentially very complex and long, made to age. Ripley describes the wine on their web site as seductive, which is a pretty fair assessment. The fruit is certainly smooth, but it shows just 12.5% alcohol, which adds incredible freshness. £180 in bond.

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Jaspis Spätburgunder Alte Reben 2013 – both of the Jaspis “Pinot” wines have an old vines/Alte Reben version, from vines of at least fifty or sixty years of age, or older. This is the pinnacle of Ziereisen red wine making. Here, 20% whole bunches add lift and freshness to concentrated and spicy fruit. There’s more structure, even though this 2013 has had bottle age. A wine for keeping, a wine of world class when it’s on song, as it usually is. £276/case in bond.

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I’m not sure that it is strictly relevant to this tasting, but Hanspeter Ziereisen makes wonderful wine from two varieties you might not expect. Gutedel (Chasselas in France and French speaking Switzerland) is historically the local grape here, but Ziereisen’s version is way more profound than it has any right to be. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s a Syrah under the Jaspis label. It comes from a very steep, well protected, slope. It is probably the best Syrah in Germany, and that is not faint praise. Expect to see wines designated as “Landwein”. As with the exciting Austrians I’ve been covering recently, Hanspeter has no time for regulatory bodies. His wines speak for themselves.

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Edel and Hanspeter at the Howard Ripley German Reds Tasting in March 2018

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Fine Wine, German Wine, Mosel, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Red Squirrel Portfolio 2018

I’ve been to the Red Squirrel Portfolio Tasting a few times now, and I can say with conviction that the 2018 event, at the China Exchange in Gerrard Street, Soho, on Tuesday this week, was the best ever. It was certainly the biggest in terms of the number of Red Squirrel wines on show (many of them poured by their maker), and I’m pretty sure in terms of the number of attendees too. Plenty of people are beginning to cotton on to the fact that Red Squirrel Wines has one of the most adventurous ranges in London. They are growing slowly but surely as well, and I think there were probably around 200 wines on taste this year.

I’ve not tried to cover them all, of course. There were producers I didn’t taste at all because, like Okanagan Crush Pad, I’ve already tasted and written about their wines more than once this year. Others with who I’m familiar only saw me taste one or two new or less well known wines. But at the same time there were some wonderful new wines to try, and my top three discoveries of the day are the first three producers below. There were so many fantastic wines, so read on.

AYUNTA, Etna, Sicily

Filippo Mangione struck me as a really nice bloke, and I’m not surprised that the folks at Red Squirrel have warmed to him. He’s in that mould of Martin Diwald, Arnold Holzer, or Christian Dal Zotto, people you’d happily go to the pub with. He has some of the oldest vines (some are 200 years old) on some of the oldest volcanic soils on Etna. The wines are made in one of the traditional, and the RS chaps tell me a very beautiful, old palmentos. Why did we not know about him?

Filippo showed three wines, to all of which I might be tempted to extend the handshake of excellence. Piante\Sparse 2016 is an Etna Bianco which is mostly Carricante, but ancient mixed planting means a number of stray varieties make it really a field blend (with around 30% made up of Cataratto, with some Inzolia, Zibibbo and Minella Bianca). They are all co-fermented. Nice and mineral, a bit of texture, very pure, and only 12.5% abv, so fresh as anything. Loved it.

Navigabile 2016 is an Etna Rosso red blend of mostly Nerello Mascalese with 20% Nerello Cappuccio and 10% others. It’s made in open top cement vats before ageing in 35 hectolitre wooden vats. It has that lifted perfume so characteristic of the Nerello varieties and smooth, ripe, tannins.

Caldara Sottana 2015 is a single vineyard contrada wine, 100% Nerello Mascalese selected from the oldest vines in the parcel. It has more spice than the previous wine with a peppery touch, and more concentration, darker and denser fruit. It needs time, I think, but impressive, and special.

The name? Filippo’s nickname, as “ayunta” is Sicilian slang, kind of “more”, which his grandmother used to say to get him to drink more milk. These are really lovely wines, and my discovery of the day.

MÔRELIG, Swartland, South Africa

Andrew Wightman makes natural wines with as little intervention as possible at the base of the Paarderberg Mountain in Swartland (Western Cape). The family bought the farm in 2011 but 2015 was their first vintage. Vines, some planted back in 1965, are on excellent decomposed granite. All wines mentioned are 2017.

The range begins with a very tasty A&B’s Blend which is about 70% Chenin Blanc, 30% Clairette. Chenin Blanc is nice and clean, made in old oak and impressed, but then came the Old Bush Vines Chenin. This is from vines aged 53 years or over, off some of the farm’s best granite terroir. It’s just a step up from the previous wine in terms of the complexity of the basket-pressed old vine fruit, but it also has greater presence, a nicely rounded out wine. There’s a touch of apple freshness coupled with a touch of quince. My favourite of Andrew’s wines.

That’s not to say the reds aren’t good. To steal a tasting term from Jamie Goode, the Syrah is just so smashable. Semi carbonic, ten days on skins in old oak, used both for fermentation and maturation, 13% abv. There’s genuine polish to the palish fruit on bouquet and palate, fresh and with a touch of elegance. Nice!? More than nice!

The Hedge is the flagship red, a blend of 75% Syrah with 13% Carignan and 12% Cinsaut (the SA spelling is used here). The Syrah gets a 30 day extraction and is then blended with the other varieties, which add freshness. A lovely, and potentially quite complex, blend.

LOWERLAND, Prieska, South Africa

Well, I’d never heard of Prieska before. It’s a new Wine of Origin in the Orange River region, in an agricultural district known only for bulk wine, if at all. The idea that someone is doing interesting stuff here would, I’m told, cause a bit of mirth among some South Africans. By the way, you pronounce it “loverland”.

The organic grapes are grown on a mixed farm by Bertie Coetzee, a former rock musician with some impressive winemaker mates (JD Pretorius, Lukas van Loggerenberg and Johnnie Calitz), to whom he trucks down batches for them to make the wines. The key here is altitude. Ripening is difficult enough without a good lot of summer rain to make things harder, but the wines below somehow show quite amazing freshness and complexity.

Lowerland MCC 2016 is a delicious, fresh, Colombard sparkler (14 months on lees, zero dosage), which already shows more presence than most Colombard from Gascony. Witgat 2017 is Viognier, but not at all in the fat and oily style, despite nine months in old oak. It reminds me of a Haisma, or of Stéphane Ogier’s white “Rosine”, in its freshness, definitely worth trying if you think you (or your guests, in which case serve it blind) don’t like Viognier.

With Vaalkameel 2017 we are back with Colombard. Whereas the “MCC” was made by JD Pretorius, this one was made by Lukas van Loggerenberg. The name means “pale camel”. No idea! Great stone fruit character dominates, so much more personality than you usually get out of Colombard, but it’s different to the MCC. Seeing 12 months in barrel, this is a ringer for a top Chenin, and Nik said it had been called out as Chenin when tasted blind on many occasions.

JD, Lukas and Johnnie all came together to create Die Verlore Bokooi 2016, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot (both 35%) with 25% Syrah and 5% Merlot. On the face of it, it’s a quaffer, quite easy going, but it does have a touch of structure and wow, it grows in the glass. This was a “Hidden Gem” in the 2018 Platter’s Wine Guide, and I agree with them, it’s a brilliant find. Actually my favourite wine from Lowerland, though others run it close (especially that pale camel).

The final red, Tolbos 2016, is unusually 100% Tannat. This is a really imposing flagship wine with a meaty, iron-rich, bouquet from only 13.5% of restrained alcohol. Nik said Lukas is planning a trip to Madiran, so much does he love Tannat. I sincerely hope he’s not disappointed, because I doubt he’ll find too many Madirans as attractive as this approachable star.

DAL ZOTTO, Victoria, Australia

This is an old King Valley family who originally emigrated from Italy, and we know that King Valley has some great Italian grape varieties planted as a result of those migrations. Christian is one of the great characters of the Red Squirrel herd, and does a brilliant job of promoting the wines his brother makes around the world.

Dal Zotto is a perennial favourite of any tasting where their wines are on show. The grape focus is purely Italian, with delicious varietals from King Valley grown Arneis, Garganega, Sangiovese and Barbera, all great value. In addition, Dal Zotto makes a real Italian speciality which, given the appalling status of the Italian original among some wine lovers in the UK, really should be tried. If you like tasty but uncomplicated Italian fizz but can’t bring yourself to buy Prosecco (good versions as there surely are), then look no further than the wines tasted below.

Pink Pucino NV is a fun fizzy rosé, dry and zippy but not thin, and pretty fruity. Pucino Col Fondo 2016 is just like a colfondo Prosecco in almost every respect, except again, Aussie fruit shines through in a lovely lifted bouquet. Love the bitter, saline finish.

Christian also poured a new, unlabelled sparkler, a petnat. Some fruit was pressed at 22 baume and added back to the base wine. It’s also “Col Fondo” (“with the bottom”, ie all the yeast cells etc, making it cloudy with all that tasty sediment – shake it up or stand it up, the choice is yours). It has no name yet, so look out for a new Dal Zotto addition. It’s a cracker.

VINTERLOPER, South Australia

Vinterloper started out as an urban winery project but has since grown into one of the new stars of the Adelaide Hills. The wide range includes the innovative “Park” range, sold in 50cl beer bottles which are just right for…er…taking to the park.

There are still a couple of wines under the Urban Winery Project label. White #3 (2017) blends just over half Pinot Gris with Gewurztraminer and a little Riesling, making an interesting dry but aromatic wine. The 37% Gewurz comes through on the nose, and it has a touch of exoticism, but it’s also a nice reviving wine.

Urban Winery Project Red #6 (2017) is a rich Syrah/Tempranillo blend, fairly simple on the face of it, but there’s a nice bitterish cherry touch on the fruit and a savoury note at the end.

I will admit I’m a sucker for the Vinterloper Lagrein, named If Life Gives You…2017. It’s a new wine, just for the UK market. I hope that’s because we are sophisticated enough for this juicy Northeast Italian variety. It’s not an especially sophisticated wine, but one you can really enjoy, with a good amount of character and personality.

ESCHENHOF HOLZER, Wagram, Austria

Arnold Holzer’s wines have featured in my racks for years and I can recommend all of them, especially if you are looking for cheap wines to splash around because he puts a lot of care into these. Invader Orange 2017 is one of the most interesting inexpensive wines around. It’s a Müller-Thurgau skin contact wine. It smells like an orange wine, but it actually comes over really clean on the palate, and the fruit is very evident. It’s one of a tranche of wines redefining this much maligned variety.

The Orange 2015, by contrast, is serious stuff. For a few years this has been up there with my favourite orange wines. It helps that the grape is Roter Veltliner, a rare but lovely Austrian variety. The colour here is true orange, unlike the paler Invader. The skin contact character really hits you on first sniff, even before you allow the extract and texture to coat your tongue. It’s majestic, just so long as you appreciate the “white made as a red” style and philosophy…which I do.

BIOWEINGUT DIWALD, Wagram, Austria

You probably know by now that Martin Diwald is a neighbour and old school mate of Arnold Holzer. The Diwald family have been organic since the 1980s, among the country’s first. Both estates are at Grossriedenthal, in Wagram, more famous, for now, for Napoleon’s famous victory than for wine, perhaps. The region stretches for around 30km along the Danube, east of Kamptal, Kremstal and the Wachau, and not too far from Vienna.

I’ve known Martin Diwald’s wines for exactly as long as I’ve known Arnold Holzer’s, and his Grüner Veltliner Sekt has been a firm fixture of previous summers. As I’m always drinking his whites I think I’ll take the chance to plug the only red Martin had on show, Grossriedenthal Löss 2016. It’s Zweigelt, a variety which can be hard drinking when people extract too much from it, and there are horrible commercial versions of the grape variety as well. When it is done right, it can be both juicy and fresh without being too simple. I know some Austrian producers who don’t like Zweigelt, but Martin does. Maybe the pair of us are perverse. I doubt it.

BLACK CHALK, Hampshire, England

Black Chalk is a new English sparkling wine producer. I was really impressed with their wines when I tasted them for the first time at the London Wine Fair, and after a few extra months in bottle on cork they are even more delicious now.

The winery is based near to Winchester, and although no vines are owned, all the bought in fruit comes from a ten mile radius of the winery, purchased from growers with whom Jacob Leadley (as winemaker for the very successful Hattingley Valley Wines, one of England’s best kept secrets until recently) has close relationships. The name “Black Chalk” comes from the use of the medium in art for sketching out ideas before committing them to canvas.

There are two Black Chalk wines right now, both from the 2015 vintage, and with a production of around 10,000 bottles per year, no major growth is planned (although somewhat bigger harvests will help increase production a little).

Black Chalk Classic 2015 is a blend of half Chardonnay with decreasing proportions of Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. With 9 g/l dosage, it is elegant and fruity at the same time. The Meunier gives lovely fresh acidity in a relatively warm vintage. Ageing is in wood, with one new 225 litre barrel, lightly toasted, adding a touch of complexity.

Wild Rose 2015 is a very pale pink where the Meunier makes up just less than half of the blend with 34% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir. Raspberry and strawberry fruits precede a clean and crisp finish. Lovely. These are very user friendly wines, no ultra low dosage or anything. I think Jacob has judged them beautifully, and this is a label to watch.

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CHAMPAGNE LEVASSEUR, Marne Valley, France

David Levasseur has around four hectares at Cuchery and at Châtillon on the Marne, planted mostly by his grandfather in the 1940s. You don’t often read about this small 35,000 bottle-a-year producer but the wines are very impressive. There are two wines named after the road where the family lives, Rue du Sorbier. They are both Meunier dominated (80%) non-vintage wines, one a Brut which is fruity, and one a Brut Nature (zero dosage), which is dry and more savoury, a food wine.

Extrait Gourmand Rosé is down to 50% Meunier, with 30% Chardonnay and 20% PN. Its colour is somewhere between deep salmon pink and bronze and there’s a bit of extract. “Gourmand” gives away the intention…drink it with food, either firm fish, good seafood, or white meat etc.

There are two wines labelled Terroir, also NV. The Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) has a powerful nose with a touch of salinity. The Blanc de Noirs (all Pinot Noir) has a biscuit nose and is fuller on the palate, with a touch of spice. These are quite singular wines, both with a tiny production of around 1,500 bottles each vintage. Both wines are showing amazing length. They feature the old fashioned method of tying the cork on with string, very labour intensive and as much care is taken in making these wines.

I tasted a nice wine from the Loire, from Muscadet in fact, that I remember tasting a couple of years ago. It’s that “sparkling Muscadet”, but of course Les Perles de Folie from Frederic Guilbaud is not labelled as such, merely as a “Vin Mousseux NV”. Made from the region’s Melon variety, it is tight and focussed with almost rapier-like acidity and a very fine spine, delicious.

Bruno Bouche is a grower from Limoux I don’t recall coming across before, but Être à L’Ouest 2017 is a cheeky Chardonnay with just 12.5% alcohol and, relatively speaking, is cheap as chips. With a great fun label it should fly off any wine list where the wine drinking public are not too up themselves.

Clos Cibonne is one of my few Provençal favourites and these wines are as good as ever. All the wines to a greater or lesser degree feature the autochthonous variety, Tibouren, and I do love the wine where this grape variety is placed in the forefront. Tradition Rosé Cru Classé 2016 is often called just “Tibouren”, although it does contain 10% Grenache here. The 2014 drunk from magnum in August was a reminder that, like the pink from Château Simone, this ages superbly, and improves with time.

KEWIN DESCOMBES, Beaujolais, France

Kéké is one of a bunch of relatively new stars in Beaujolais who are taking the wines back to their roots as well made but gluggable crowd pleasers in the best sense. I really like the 2017 edition of Cuvée Kéké, which has delicious, light, lifted, cherry fruit.

Gluggable doesn’t mean just simple. Kewin makes some lovely wines from, and labelled as, Morgon, and his Morgon Vieilles Vignes is a touch more serious. I prefer the 2016 over the 2015. The nose is more restrained, the fruit more balanced. There is grip here too, and it needs a little time. It has restraint to accompany the density of old vine fruit.

EMIL BAUER & SOHNE, Pfalz, Germany

This domaine is special for several reasons, although the wine names and labels can have the effect of taking the focus away from the serious work Alexander and Martin Bauer have been doing since they took over from their father in 2011. I mean, forget concrete eggs, these guys make one wine in carved stone “barriques” (Riesling Granit, not on taste here).

The 2017 version of Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll (Riesling) is, like many of the dry Rieslings I’ve tasted from this vintage, zippy with fresh acidity, but being The Pfalz, there’s fruit coming through too.

I want to highlight the Scheurebe, Scheu Aber Geil 2017, which has a different kind of fruit, green and bright, with a touch of grapefruit. I’ve not seen it before so it may be new to Red Squirrel, but it’s tasty and interesting. Do you really want me to translate? “Shy but horny”. I really can’t say about the last bit, but I’d not call it shy!

If You Are A…2017 (see label below) is like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but a good one. Clean gooseberry fruit with more tropical notes which don’t dominate. Fresh acids but not tart, nor under-ripe.

Always Enjoy Life 2016 is a Pinot Noir pink, very pale after just a short period on skins. Tasty, but maybe not as interesting as the whites (to me). What is of interest is the red. German Merlot! My Merlot Is Not The Answer 2016 is unusual, not merely for what it is, but also for the fact that despite 14% alcohol, it seems lighter and more restrained (well, a little) than many Saint-Emilions. But it is very juicy and packed with fruit, plus a little grippiness, which will soften with a little age if you want it to.

BRUNA, Liguria, Italy

I often mention these wines, from a producer I only come across at Red Squirrel Tastings. I suppose I’ve always had a soft spot for “good” Ligurian wines, especially Pigato (the Ligurian strain of Vermentino). Of the three “Vermentino” wines Bruna makes, the slightly more expensive Pigato Le Russeghine wins out in 2017. Very unlike the old style of acidic Pigato, this has a whole lot going on, richer and more complex, but it’s still a fresh white at the same time.

Bansigu Rosso 2016 is one for those who enjoy oddities. It’s a blend of Granaccia (70%), with Rossese di Campochiesa, Barbera and Cinsault, plus others, with 13.5% alcohol, and a slightly animal nose (I mean that in a good way). There’s fruit there, and tannin. Just something a little different, but taste it before you buy a case. I know not everyone is as nuts (I mean adventurous, of course) as I am.

I’ll mention here another wine from one of Red Squirrel’s Ligurian producers, Altavia Rossese di Dolceacqua Superiore Riserva 2012. This is the local grape of (mainly) Western Liguria. It is pale with cherry fruit and bite. It’s another wine which initially seems less alcoholic than its 13.5% on the label. Unusual, but less so than Bruna’s red (though I have to say guys, come on, the label!).

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AZORES WINE COMPANY, Azores, Mid-Atlantic

The Azores are a third of the way to America, although the islands, of which the volcanic cone of Pico is the main one, belong to Portugal. You can read about how António Maçanita has brought about a renaissance in Azores winemaking in my article here. The story is one worth reading and maybe I’m in a minority, but it really made me want to go out and see these remarkable vineyards (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) for myself.

António is out there making wine right now, but he was ably supported on Tuesday. I couldn’t resist trying three wines here, despite having tasted them a good few times in 2018 already. Terrantez do Pico 2016 (not 2015 as listed, and not the same Terrantez as in Madeira) is a lovely mineral wine, only marred by its price (probably around £50, justified by the tiny 1,000 bottle production and the cost of producing wines in general 900 miles off the coast of Portugal).

Tinto Vûlcanico 2016 is a much cheaper introduction to the AWC range. It’s a field blend of a whole load of grapes almost no-one has heard of, but with some Touriga, Merlot, Syrah and Aragonez (aka Tempranillo). There’s a bit more of this (3,330 bottles in 2016). The lifted, iron filings, nose is really characteristic of volcanic-grown red wines, so I think the terroir shines through in a really attractive way here, which I know has pleased most (perhaps all the people) who have tried it in my presence. You get an added bonus with this wine – the label pinpoints the Azores on a map for those who may be floundering.

I wanted to re-taste Isabella a Proibida 2016 because the keen-eyed reader will recall that in my last article I mentioned a wine I tried made from the vitis labrusca Isabella variety when in Austria in August. Interestingly, Isabella, as a Native American species, is supposed to be illegal for wine making in the EU (in the article I link to above you can read about the threat faced by António from the authorities when he initially believed this wine was from Isabella, cough), yet the Austrian wine, Weinhof Zieger’s Uhudler frizzante, appears to be quite open about the variety, at least according to Austrian friends who buy it (and Wikipedia).

This Azores wine is a little strange and a lot interesting. It has fruit, simple but rounded out mainly strawberry fruit, but salinity too, from the terroir. It makes the wine slightly sweet (but not really) and sour. But you don’t get any more than a hint of the “foxy” stuff going on in the Uhudler. Perhaps the terroir is such a strong influence…or maybe the variety really isn’t quite Isabella. That would let António off the hook, at least…

PASAELI, Izmir, Turkey

You have to hand it to these guys, and owner Seyit Karagözoglu. They are making some truly tasty wines in an environment (I’m talking political, not climatic) that is not encouraging for winemakers. Where Turkey once looked to Western economic models, and indeed proved a massive success story, wine does not fit in with the stance of the current government. Advertising is almost impossible, so try the wines, and thank Red Squirrel for importing them.

The wines are made from a range of varieties, from the lowly Sultana table grape for which Turkey is famous, through varietal Sidalan, Yapincak, Çalkarasi (vinified as a rosé) and a couple of reds. 6N 2016 is 80% Karasakiz with 20% Merlot, a smooth and fruity wine, quite easy going, and inexpensive. The range tops out with international varieties blended together (both Cabernets, Merlot and Petit Verdot). This K2 2014 is dark and brooding and, even with a few years in bottle, is quite big. But impressive. They do deserve our support.

CROSBY & LOCKHART CELLARS, California, USA

These are Red Squirrel’s first US wines. Their story is a little unusual as they come from a New York distributor which went into winemaking twenty years ago in order to provide an inexpensive but well made line for their own customers. The fruit is sourced from all over California and the wines are made by Anna Davis in Healdsburg, Sonoma County.

These are all simple wines, but well made. There’s a Crosby Chardonnay, and four Lockhart-labelled wines – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. These are clearly aimed at the on-trade, I assume, but should do well. They provide up front fruit, none of the sweetness which masks almost everything else in the big Cali-brands, and so should go with food in a restaurant setting. None are over alcoholic (the Cabernet, for instance, is an almost light and restrained 13.5%). I think a few restaurant buyers could get quite excited having these on the list. Decent labels help.

Native New Yorker in full flow…kinda wish I’d had longer

I can’t expect any more of you than to read all of this (over 4,000 words), which only makes it a trifle annoying there are so many other producers I haven’t mentioned. If you come across wines from Valdonica (Tuscany), Bellwether (Coonawarra) and Okanagan Crush Pad/Haywire Range (British Columbia, Canada) and you’ve not read what I have said about them before, do dive in. I don’t think any of their wines are less than very good indeed. Personally, I’m a big fan of the Crush Pad.

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Thanks Nik, Great Tasting! A man who enjoys his work!

Posted in Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Vienna for Adventurous Eating and Drinking

Plenty has been written about the Vienna wine scene, and a whole lot more plastered over social media. You don’t really need a guide to eating and drinking natural wines in Vienna (although, as always, the Raisin app is your friend). But after several trips to the Austrian capital I do have a couple of favourites when it comes to dining, and I’m going to tell you about those. Vienna has so much to interest the food and drink lover for such a relatively small city, so I’ll also mention one or two other places – a wine shop, a café and a few market stalls and so on, as well.

When people talk about natural wine in Vienna there are a number of “usual suspects”. Don’t worry, we’ll go to one of those next. But the reservation we had for our first night, on arrival, is one you don’t often hear about on Instagram and Twitter. It’s actually a restaurant recommended to us my Vienna friends and acquaintances alike, people who are not really into “natural wine” per se. But after a first encounter in 2015, I would say we are likely to return there on every visit to Vienna.

Glacis Beisl has been around for a while, much longer than the trendy Museum Quarter (housing Mumok and the Leopoldsmuseum in the former Imperial stables), but since the area on this edge of Mariahilf  (Vienna’s 6th District) has been redeveloped, it has reinvented itself. What was once merely a very traditional Beisl is now a vibrant restaurant full of young and old alike.

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A Beisl is a traditional Viennese eatery offering local specialities, most often in an old and dark wood-panelled dining room. There is such a room ay Glacis, and one often suspects that its dark corners offer a certain degree of privacy and anonimity. In addition, Glacis now has a light and airy garden room and, even better if the weather is fine, a nice outdoor garden space. As well as giving the diner a range of options, it thankfully allows for more covers. It does get full and booking is pretty much essential, at least around the weekend.

Glacis Beisl offers a really well executed selection of local specialities which go well beyond the ubiquitous (but excellent) schnitzel and very good tafelspitz (usually boiled beef, sometimes veal, with minced apple and fiery horseraddish). Alongside the menu you will be given a wine list with a pretty decent selection of mainly Austrian, sometimes natural, wines with a small selection available by the glass.

 

Kopitsch Petnat, Preisinger KalkundKiesel 2016 and Nittnaus Zweigelt btg at Glacis

It took me a while to wise up to something which is common in Vienna, as in restaurants in all major cities – there’s always another wine list. As I was reminded by an Instagram comment from Glacis themselves, “ask for the red book”. It is there you should find enough to satisfy the geek inside you…though to be honest even the small list will give you plenty to enjoy if you don’t want to spend a long time about choosing.

I should also mention here that Vienna is well able to cater for vegetarian and vegan diets. Menu tweaking doesn’t seem to be a problem. At Glacis, a delicious vegan mushroom goulash was prepared, slightly adapted from the menu, and a vegan dessert with fresh fruits and sorbet was offered, though not on the menu. All this without any huffing and puffing whatsoever. Schnitzel, for the meat eater, comes as veal or pork, priced accordingly.

 

 

If anywhere deserves the praise heaped on it in this city, it is surely Mast, or Mast Weinbistro to give it its proper name, which does stress how important wine is at this establishment on Porzellangasse, in an up-and-coming neighbourhood to the north of the city centre, just  a ten minute walk outside The Ring. Mast has a small wine list, but as one would expect, there’s a twenty page list if you ask for it.

 

The Austrian section is a delight, packed with exactly what any discerning natural wine lover would expect (though the wine list is not exclusively “natural”). For those who want to stray, large groups, or those coming multiple times in a trip, the wines (and other beverages) from other countries are as wide and varied as anywhere – from Ganevat and Cidrerie du Vulcain to De Moor, Emidio Pepe, Testalonga, Pearl Morissette, Kutch and Equipo Navazos, to name just a few..

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We had to try this collaboration between Mast and Vienna’s own young star, Jutta Ambrositsch, Gemischter Satz Rechts der Donau

Matthias (Pitra) and Steve (Breitzke) have fashioned a wine list that has made Mast famous across Europe and beyond, but that doesn’t mean we should forget the food here. Rather than traditional, as at Glacis, I would characterise the food at Mast as inventive. Very inventive. Martin Schmid is in the kitchen and the style here is what is described as “modern and free”. The food is presented relatively simply to look at, no froths nor jellies as the web site says. But using perfect and fresh ingredients, locally sourced where possible, Schmid manages to conjure flavour combinations just a little out of the ordinary. Inventive, but not to shock. Mast fully deserves its Michelin Bib Gourmand.

 

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If, like us when we visit, you are renting an apartment, you might need to buy some wine to take home. The clear choice here is between one of the well known city stores or somewhere small and specialist. For the former, head to Vinifero. It’s at Gumpendorfer Strasse 36, the road which runs more or less parallel to Vienna’s big shopping street, Mariahilfer Strasse. The sign on the shop also says “Naturwein”, so you know what you are going to get – as their web site says, no chemicals, natural yeasts and low sulfur (sic).

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Vinifero is only a short trek from the centre of Vienna, and though small, worth the walk (though also worth checking opening times, “usually” 2-8pm Tues to Fri, 10-6pm Sat, closed Sun and Mon).

If you are pushed for time its worth paying a visit to Wein & Co. This is one of the bigger wine chains in Vienna with (I think) eight stores. Their flagship store is near St-Stephen’s Cathedral, at Jasomirgottstrasse 3 (it’s the small road which directly faces the front of the cathedral, upstairs is their restaurant and the shop is down the stairs on the left).

Wein & Co sell a very good range of Austrian wines. You will, for instance, find the Styrian speciality made from the Blauer Wildbacher grape, Schilcher (or Schichersekt) here. There is also a reasonably good natural wine section. If you are nearby, take a look at least.

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A good Schilchersekt at Wein & Co, the tart but very traditional Blauer Wildbacher sparkler from Western Styria

Another wine shop option is the wine department at Meinl, the smart department store at the top of the Graben (less than ten minutes’ walk from the cathedral). This is the place to find some of the more famous, and more obscure, Austrian bottles you’ll probably not find anywhere else.

 

All pics from Wein & Co, except bottom right, entrance to Meinl wine bar and wine shop

You can’t escape café culture in Vienna, and frankly why would you want to? To experience one of the famous cafés such as Café Central or Landtmann is pretty essential for any first time visitor, but you soon get slightly fed up with being seated with dozens of other tourists, and anyone who has queued for sachertorte at the Hotel Sacher will probably only wish to do so the once.

The Viennese café was not invented for mass tourism, but to offer a quiet refuge where you can go for breakfast, coffee, or an afternoon cake, where you can catch up with the newspaper or read a book. There are many options aside from the famous establishments, some modern, some from the 1930s, or 1950s, and others offering the same quiet wood-panelled rooms with their old world charm as the ones in the guidebooks.

I shall just mention a new discovery, which we found this last trip (August 2018) – Café Sperl. It was founded on the corner of Gumpendorf Strasse and Lehargasse in 1880. Originally Café Ronacher, it changed ownership and name in 1884. It’s the spitting image of the Ringstrasse cafés without the crowds. In fact it has popular outside tables, so in good weather the interior, with its dark wood tables, billiards and parquet flooring, will be relatively sparsely populated. It’s a true original (so much so that it has appeared several times in movies). If you fancy some peace and quiet, or shelter from the storm, take a look. It’s conveniently quite close to the Museum Quarter and the Naschmarkt.

You might hear some people describe Vienna’s permanent market, the Naschmarkt, as a bit touristy. I think that is a touch unfair. There are certainly many stalls aiming to appeal to the tourists who walk up and down every day, and you can’t get away without stallholders hawking their wares, offering tasty morsels which, once accepted, will almost certainly morally commit you to a purchase, in their eyes.

Among those selling baklava pastries and every kind of roasted and sweetened nuts you will also find wonderful and pristine fruit and vegetables (one stall sells what an older resident told me was “the best in Vienna, but three times more expensive than the supermarket”. If you walk past you will certainly know which one I mean).

Of even more interest might be Feinkost Gerhard Urbanek. It’s a tiny shop, as the photograph shows. It sells perhaps (no, “certainly”) the finest cheeses and cold meats on the Naschmarkt, and inside you can get plates of cheese and meats along with a glass of wine for a lunchtime snack. We went in here with Wieninger’s Georg Grohs after our morning spent with him.

We found about seven or eight people squeezed inside, cheek by jowl, doing exactly that. When one person leaves another squeezes in. Very high quality, and something of an experience to boot. The dry-aged T-bone ribeye was pretty damned good, although for a place that is focussed on meat and cheese they were also quite able to knock together a vegan platter: artichokes, olives and excellent bread.

Urbanek is not far from the bottom (city centre) end of the market on the right hand side of the left hand aisle, as you approach from the city/Karlsplatz. Don’t shout at me if I’m wrong, just ask around. The Naschmarkt is a warren of interesting food outlets…and fridge magnets.

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At the far end of the Naschmarkt, up near the Kettenbrükengasse U-bahn station, on a Saturday morning you’ll find the Flöhmarkt (flea market). Full of the most unwanted tat in parts, there are fascinating stalls of everything you can imagine from the days of empire and the jugenstil. Old musical instruments, religious paraphernalia, beer steins and military uniforms, along with cheap toys, antique toys and objects claiming Roman or Greek origin. Whether there are bargains to be had or just rip-offs to be made, I don’t know, but I love an early morning wander on a Saturday morning before breakfast.

Just two more tips. For vegans you’ll find an increasing number of options in Vienna. Probably the best we have found so far is Swing Kitchen, which describes itself as a vegan burger joint. There are three in Vienna. We found the location at Schottenfeldgasse 3, close to the Naschmarkt. The vegan cheesecake (below, centre) was very good.

Finally, for hard core Austrian wine lovers who frankly find Schilcher Sekt a little 2016 (I think I first saw Schilcher in the UK back then, but hardly anyone has tried it), there is this…

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Uhudler (in this case a frizzante version) is made from the vitis labrusca grape variety, Isabella. It’s a speciality of Südburgenland. This is one of the better known examples from Weinhof Zieger. Pale red, or rosé, it tastes of very concentrated strawberries and blackcurrants.

If that doesn’t sound quite an unusual combination, you also get the classic foxy smell and flavour characteristic of vitis labrusca grapes (labrusca originated in North America and as it is resistant to phylloxera, it has been used for rootstocks in Europe ever since the late 19th Century… grapes for wine in Europe usually come from vines of the vitis vinifera grape family, grafted onto labrusca roots).

For those who don’t know it, “foxy” denotes a musky, earthy, aroma that to be honest might put a lot of people off. Once you do get used to the foxiness, as some North American wine drinkers are rediscovering, the wine is only a little unusual. Definitely one to say you’ve drunk when the assembled masses are knowingly name checking Schilcher, though Ströhmeier’s Schilcher Frizzante would be my choice between the two if I’m honest. But still, it’s wacky…it’s also the second wine from Isabella I’ve tried this year (the other being from the Azores Wine Company).

If you want to read more about where you can eat in and around Vienna, my article on the summer popup heurigen and buschenschanks on the Nussberg Hill might interest you (see here). It’s also worth checking out Mayer am Pfarrplatz, mentioned in the same article. It’s something of a Vienna institution.

I hope I’ve given you an idea of some of my favourite places in what I would probably say is the European Capital I’d most like to live in. Maybe there are a few recommendations there for the seasoned traveller, and perhaps a few will appeal to the first timer as well.

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Klimt frieze, Secession Building, Vienna

 

Posted in Austria, Austrian Wine, Dining, Vienna, Viennese Cafés, Wiener Beisl, Wine, Wine Shops, Wine Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Blank Bottle at Butler’s

I don’t often write about a single wine producer unless I’ve visited them, or at least met the producer at a wine event. I’ve known and enjoyed the wines made in South Africa by Pieter Walser, imported into the UK by Swig Wines,  for maybe a couple of years, but this summer the folks at Butler’s Wine Cellar in Brighton did something unusual – they chose Blank Bottle Winery for their own label red and white.

Many wine merchants have an “own label” range, but these are usually fairly simple wines which perhaps retail around the £10 mark. They expect to increase brand awareness by selling palate loads to customers who are looking for value and a certain dependability. Few of these customers are really after something unusual, maybe even a little challenging. Henry and Cassie at Butler’s are also looking to provide value, in fact amazing value for money. But it’s a different kind of value, that which gives you genuine quality at (here) a little over £20 a bottle. I must say, it was an inspired and brilliant idea.

Pieter Walser is at the cutting edge of South African wine. The story of Blank Bottle has been told many times but it bears telling again. In 2004 a customer came to the house to buy wine. “Anything but Shiraz”, she said. “I don’t drink Shiraz”. Having little red wine left to sell, and so pouring an unlabelled red for her to taste, she loved it and bought three cases. Of course, it was unblended, 100%, Shiraz.

Pieter is convinced that wine is a product of the terroir and vintage it comes from, not the grape variety. He was also determined to break down pre-conceived ideas about what the wines should taste like. Another tenet Pieter adheres to is that wine should not always be the same. When he makes a wine from one vintage, you can’t expect it to be made the next. If it is repeated (and several wines are), you can’t expect it to be the same blend. Another trick is to mix bottle types around, such as putting Shiraz in a traditional Riesling bottle. You just have to trust him, which isn’t hard. He’s an honest guy making honest wines.

When asked (on his web site) what is the best part of his job, Pieter answered “being able to tell stories through wine”. All you need to do is sit back and open your mind (and heart). Ha! I wrote that before I read almost the same thing on his web site!

So how did Butler’s manage a coup like this? Henry had met Pieter when he was travelling around the UK with his importer. I think they got on quite well and it prompted Henry (quite possibly feeling jolly and bold after a few glasses) to ask about an exclusive wine. Pieter had in fact done something similar, though one might say for more (to an outsider) prestigious clients, The Ledbury and Tate restaurants. When Pieter said yes, the deal was on, as was the job of finding what turned into a red and a white. They tasted twenty unlabelled wines and the following pair, exclusive to Butler’s, are those they selected.

It is What it Is 2016 is from vines grown in the Western Cape. As I explained, you won’t find the varieties on the label, but this is mainly Tempranillo, with some Nebbiolo and Carignan. The name refers to the fact that after Pieter harvested the Tempranillo the owner of the vineyard grubbed it all up to plant something else. A real shame on several levels. This is no Rioja lookalike. It’s a really gutsy red, with a little creamy oak, although you’d maybe not guess 14% alcohol. It’s smooth, but you get texture and a nice balance of acidity. Plenty of Tempranillo (and Nebbiolo?) fragrance comes through as well. It’s delicious.

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Give and Take 2017 is 100% Pinot Blank (sic) from Stellenbosch, and comes in at 14.5% abv, although on first sips you might think it a degree lower. Possibly not by the end of the bottle. It has a straw-gold colour with fresh green flecks, which are mirrored in the wine. The greenish bright flecks mirror its innate freshness, whilst the colour is mirrored in the wine’s richness. We are tasting stone fruit with a mineral texture on the finish, overlaid with a squeeze of bitter quince. The acidity lifts it and the alcohol rounds it out.

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It’s almost impossible to say which of these I like the most. Both have labels drawn by Pieter, and whilst the red (a double sketch of Henry Butler) is interesting, I do prefer that on the white wine, depicting the iconic ruin of Brighton’s West Pier, hand drawn, black on white. That said, I hope to buy more of the pair of them.

Both wines retail at £22, and are worth grabbing quickly. Once the 348 bottles of each are gone, they are, as they say, gone. They provide a great opportunity for fans of new wave South African wine to sample a couple of Pieter Walser’s wines you’ll not find anywhere else. I’m guessing that for some people, £22 is a lot to pay for an own label wine. It isn’t a lot to pay for wines like these.

Of course Butler’s Wine Cellar has stocked Pieter’s Blank Bottle wines for a while. The first I bought from them was the classic Kortpad Kaaptoe (2016) made from the Portuguese variety, Fernão Pires. Importer, Swig, say of this that it “smells like luscious turkish delight and crystallised pineapple bashed with quartzy stones”. The vines are old, all over 50 years of age, off sandy soils in Swartland’s Darling fringe.

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They also have Rabbitsfoot 2017, a stunning 14.5% version of Sauvignon Blanc (because Pieter dislikes unripe Sauvignon Blanc) which I think is barrel-aged, and Im Hinterhofkabuff, a fruity dry Riesling from Stellenbosch, the latter of which I have in my cellar.

There is seemingly a never ending stream of different cuvées coming out of Blank Bottle Winery and you really need to go with the flow. For example, I haven’t been able to find any reference to Epileptic Inspiration 2016. Nor have I tasted it, but Henry and Cassie told me it’s drinking really well and so I grabbed one to add to my BBW stash. I’m told it is Semillon, and the bottle says it’s from Elgin. I’m sure it will appear in one of my “what I’ve been drinking” columns soon.

left hand photo, Im Hinterhofkabuff and Epileptic Inspiration and right hand pic, far right, Rabbitsfoot

Butler’s also stocks Jaa-Bru Malbec 2016 (great label) and A Moment of Silence 2017, the latter the cheapest of the Blank Bottle cuvées at £16.99 (a Wellington blend of Viognier, Chenin and (well) Grenache Blanc according to Swig, or it might be Chardonnay, according to Butler’s).

There are a couple of extra Blank Bottle Winery cuvées I’d like to mention, which I don’t think Butler’s has stocked, as they are those which I’ve known longest. The first of Pieter’s wines I ever tasted was Orbitofrontal Cortex. The 2016 version Swig currently list is a Western Cape Blend of Chenin, Grenache Blanc, Semillon, Fernão Pires and Clairette. The 2017 has Swartland Clairette and Verdelho with some Palomino, Grenache Blanc and Chenin. He likes to change things around, but for a reason. This wine is the expression of the best blend Pieter can make in any given vintage, so the fruit quality is what matters.

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Some Blank Bottles at “Out the Box” 2017 on the Swig table

My Koffer (currently 2016 on the Swig list but I’m sure that a 2018 has been made already) must be in something like its seventh or eighth vintage now. As a contrast to Orbitofrontal Cortex, this is a 100% varietal, made from Cinsault harvested in Breedekloof. It’s classic South African Cinsault, with cinnamon and nutmeg spice notes, quite intense, and only 13.5%, which if you know Pieter’s wines should suggest that it is usually super fresh.

The great thing about all of these wines, although not all of the Blank Bottle range, is that they should be available for around £30 or less. As I said, the range at Blank Bottle is large, but having sampled quite a few, I’d be happy to recommend trying any of them. You can generally find out what’s inside the bottle by going to either Swig’s, or Blank Bottle Winery’s, web sites. Or you can go in blind for a bit of fun.

Butler’s Wine Cellar has two shops in Brighton,  to the east and northeast of the city in Queen’s Park and Kemp Town. Check out their web site here. (they are closed today, Monday 3 September, for stocktaking).

It’s well worth checking out Butler’s in the flesh, so to speak. They have a really eclectic selection of wines (and beers), which tops out with an interesting fine wine offering alongside some Californian gems of the kind you almost never stumble across. The Queen’s Park shop (the original) often seems packed to the brim with bottles, and a good half hour or so is recommended for a good old browse. Other areas of interest include English Sparklers and Portugal, plus a lot more than just Blank Bottle from South Africa, but you’ll find genuinely interesting bottles from pretty much all regions.

Swig Wines is the UK importer for Blank Bottle Winery. To see which wines they currently stock, go to their web site here. If you are in the trade you can sample Swig’s portfolio at Out the Box 2018, a tasting of eight small, young, importers at Shoreditch Town Hall in London on Tuesday 28 September 2018. Highly recommended.

Pieter Walser’s Blank Bottle Winery web site is here.

Posted in Own Label Wines, South African Wines, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Shops | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Heuriger, Heurigen, Buschenschanks and Popups: A Walk in the Woods and Vines

Vienna now ranks alongside cities like London, Paris and Berlin for adventurous winelovers to dine out in, but it is the only city among these to have its own vineyards, which begin literally at the garden fences of its northern suburbs, on both sides of the Danube. With these vineyards has grown up a very special wine culture, in my view integral to the soul of the city, that of the heuriger and the buschenschank.

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Gemischter Satz in hand, cheers from the Nussberg!

You will find web sites and forums which argue the detail of how a heuriger (plural – heurigen) differs from a buschenschank, and I don’t propose to fill half this article running through these arguments. Both are effectively wine taverns which serve simple food. Sometimes.

Josef II became ruler of the Habsburg lands in 1765, and along with encouraging the young Mozart, he enacted a law which regulated the Buschenschank, a farm inn (specifically, run by owners or tenants of a vineyard or orchard) serving home produced beverages and uncooked food. The law still applies to this day. You will often read that the Heuriger is a larger, commercial enterprise, serving wine and hot food. You will soon find that such a definition is an over simplification, but it doesn’t really matter to the tourist. If you see somewhere with a bunch of pine twigs or a branch over the door and you like the look of the place, then go in. The larger establishments will be well advertised.

Most of Vienna’s wine taverns are located on the edge of the vineyards, in suburbs which have maintained a chocolate box village feel, such as Grinzing and Stammersdorf (at least when you walk along Stammersdorfer Strasse up towards the Bisamberg vines). But one of the delights of Vienna is the ease of getting out into the Vienna Woods and the vineyards when the weather is nice. In this article we are going to travel up above the Nussberg and walk down to Vienna, through these woods and vines.

On the way we will explore the summer pop-up wine taverns which open in the vines, some with near perfect views over the city. At the end of our walk we will stop at perhaps the most famous inn of them all.

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You can reach the woods in under an hour from the city centre. The U-bahn/Metro line, U4, will take you to Heiligenstadt terminus (note that in summer 2018 engineering work saw the train terminate at the previous stop, Spittelau, with a short ride on Tram D up to Heiligenstadt). From Heiligenstadt, jump on the 38A Bus, which waits right outside Heiligenstadt Station. It will take you along Grinzinger Strasse, then through Grinzing village, before climbing into the woods.

If you alight at the stop before Kahlenberg and cross over the road, there is a chapel set well back in the trees (the Gnadenskapelle – the stop is marked with a red dot on the map below, just before the road name “Höhenstraße” towards the top left, and you can easily follow the bus route from Heiligenstadt on that map).

Before you reach the chapel there’s a nice café, around fifty metres from the bus stop, with outside tables, run by the nuns, where you can grab a coffee before you begin walking. Of course, the truly adventurous can walk up the Nussberg from any point on Grinzinger Strasse, or indeed Nussdorf (where Tram D continues to). If you take the bus up to this point, however, the walking is pretty much downhill all the way.

There is a perfect map of Vienna and its wider area which I would recommend for anyone visiting the city who would like to venture beyond the historic centre. It’s the 1:25 000 map called simply Vienna, by Freytag & Berndt (www.freytagberndt.com). I purchased mine at Stanfords on Long Acre in Covent Garden, London (http://www.stanfords.co.uk).

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Heading down the hill from the café, recross the road to where you got off the bus and the path into the trees is obvious. Keep right initially and you will reach a tiny stream, marked as the Wildgrube on the map. You merely follow it through the woods until you eventually almost reach the vines. As the map shows, you will have reached a three-pronged fork in the road. If you take the left fork, uphill a little, you’ll be right in the Nussberg vineyards in a couple of minutes. It is here, at the next junction, that you will then see a map (photo below) detailing the summer popups on the hill.

 

As the photo of the Freytag & Berndt 1:25 000 map shows, there are several options. If you really can’t wait, the famous Mayer am Pfarrplatz has a very nice popup Buschenschank, Mayer am Nussberg, on the corner of Wildgrubgasse and Kahlenberger Strasse (marked “M” on the map photo), with a big garden at a high point on the hill.

 

If you continue by taking a right turn onto Eichelhofweg you will soon reach our favourite of the summer popups, Wieninger am Nussberg (marked “W” on the map). Why our favourite? When you see photos taken from the Nussberg vines over the city, it is here that the picture was invariably taken. Sit at a table, or on one of the deckchairs, sip on a glass or two of Gemischter Satz, and wallow in the fresh air and the view.

 

 

 

The Eichelhofweg winds down from the Wieninger buschenschank around the edge of the Nussberg hill. Below is the wide Danube, and the suburb of Nussdorf itself. The last vineyard is Ulm, which if you read my previous article about my morning spent with Wieninger’s Georg Grohs, you will already be familiar with. If you are desperate to end your walk you can head right down into Nussdorf to get the Tram D back into Vienna.

 

If you are game for more, then keep following the road, keeping right. You can turn onto the Nussberggasse, but the map will show you a previous right turn (at the big wall!) which will take you on a more interesting route via a small track, away from any traffic, through the vines. What you are aiming for is the Eroica Gasse, which travels south from the cemetery marked by two crosses on the map, and which leads you directly to Pfarrplatz.

It is here that you’ll find what might be Vienna’s most famous wine tavern, Mayer am Pfarrplatz, located in the Beethovenhaus (marked “M&P” on the map photo). It gets its name because Beethoven lived in rooms here for a while, from 1817.

 

Mayer is famous, and as such it will be busy. We’d visited on a previous trip with friends, and they had booked a table. This time we just walked in, and we were quite lucky to find a space, mid-afternoon on a public holiday, at an outdoor table in the vine covered courtyard, although to be fair they will try hard to fit you in. Mayer make their own (very good) wine, including Wiener Gemischter Satz, both under the Mayer am Pfarrplatz label, and Rotes Haus.

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To digress for a moment, the fame of the heurigen is perhaps greatest for the time of year after the harvest, sturmzeit (sturm time), when they invariably serve sturm. Sturm is the part-fermented young wine which traditionally cannot be bottled because it is still fermenting (you will find bottles labelled sturm in places like the Naschmarkt in Vienna…hmmm!).

The wine will be cloudy, a bit fizzy, acidic and, for many people, the source of gutrot and a hangover. But it really is a beverage to experience, though not to be precious about, whether at a heuriger/buschenschank in September/October, or at popup stalls around Vienna during the same time, where it is invariably served from half-pint mugs and drunk rather like a thirst quencher.

There was no sturm wine to be had at Mayer in August, but what does make a fantastic, lightly fermented, thirst quencher and re-hydration drink (especially in the unusually high temperatures experienced in August 2018) is himbeersturm. Himbeer is German for raspberry, and raspberry sturm is usually served in a large glass on ice. Few drinks will be more refreshing.

 

From here you are just two minutes walk from the 38A bus stop back to Heiligenstadt, although you can call for a taxi back to Vienna if you have consumed too much.

The vineyards of Nussberg are the most attractive around Vienna, and having the woods rise beyond is an added bonus here. If you are feeling fit you can even walk through the woods to the famous abbey of Klosterneuberg, with its own vineyards, which lies to the north. But whether you are there in the summer season when the popups operate, or on a cold but sunny day in winter, this is one of the nicest excursions you can make from the city centre, for those just wanting some fresh air and countryside, but especially for wine lovers.

As an alternative to Nussberg you may have made an appointment to go and visit Weingut Wieninger, Vienna’s best known producer, near Bisamberg on the opposite side of the Danube. Close to their winery and tasting room you will find the family’s Heuriger on Stammersdorfer Strasse (the winery is at number 31 and the heuriger at 78).

As I mentioned above, if you continue along Stammersdorfer Strasse you will find a number of heuriger, leading to increasingly small buschenschanks on the appropriately named Kellerweg, which rises into the vines. The Wieninger Heuriger will provide you with a more substantial meal and the chance to drink Wieninger’s range of Wiener Gemischter Satz. It is one of eighteen Viennese restaurants in the “Top-Class Heuriger” scheme.

Opening times are what you need to be on top of for visiting the heuriger and buschenschanks. Places like Wieninger and Mayer’s main locations will only be open Friday to Sunday for some of the year, and so it pays to check their web sites. The main Tourist Office in Central Vienna has leaflets which provide the same information, with more detailed opening times and, if you are quick and they have not all gone, heuriger maps. The summer popups are even more restricted, usually June to August. I was too late for Jutta Ambrositsch’s popup, which finished in July.

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Posted in Austria, Austrian Wine, Heurigen, Vienna, Wiener Gemischter Satz, Wieninger, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Bars | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wieninger and Wiener Wein

It is no secret that I have a disproportionate passion for Wiener Gemischter Satz, compared that is to most sane wine obsessives. It’s not just the flavours, nor an interest in field blends in general. Once you’ve seen these unique, semi-urban, vineyards around Austria’s Capital City, it’s hard not to form an attachment. Once you get deeper into the terroir you are captivated…and captured for life. Gemischter Satz field blends can come from any part of Austria’s vineyards, but Wiener Gemischter Satz is, for me, the heart and soul of Vienna.

Fritz Wieninger runs the best known family winery in Vienna, and has done since his father generously stepped back in 1987. The domaine has an international reputation, largely based on serious wines made from the likes of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, along with autochthonous Austrian varieties, so Wieninger is far from being all about Gemischter Satz (so nor will this article focus just on that wine), but it is symptomatic of the drive, energy and love for his region which Fritz demonstrates that he pretty much single-handedly revived this most traditional of Viennese wines. Before we taste some wines, the Gemischter Satz story is worth relating.

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Oooh, magnums!

Wieninger farms around 50 hectares of vineyard biodynamically (certified by the Austrian biodynamic organisation, Respekt). In addition, Wieninger manages (since 2014) the smaller Grinzing-based producer, Hajszan Neumann (about 100,000 bottles a year), which is also biodynamic (with Demeter certification). Both companies are kept totally separate in terms of vineyards and production, and indeed have quite different identities (as we shall see, a little more experimentation is possible at the smaller operation). Wines for both are however now made at Wieninger’s facility at Stammersdorf, with the original Hajszan Neumann facility on Grinzinger Strasse used for storage.

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Wieninger’s vines are situated in the two most prestigious parts of the Vienna vineyard, Nussberg (sometimes “Nußberg”) and Bisamberg, to the north of the city, just above Stammersdorf in the case of the latter, and they are separated from each other by the River Danube and its canal. Both have different soils and different climatic conditions. Nussberg is a true hill, with vines (between 230 and around 350 metres altitude) protected to the north by woodland (rising to around 500 metres), whereas Bisamberg is relatively flat in comparison, more of a very gentle incline. It sees more wind and sun, and 20% less rain.

Bisamberg is described as having mainly sandy loess soils with calcarous sub-soils, highly water permeable. Nussberg comprises various limestone types mixed with clay higher up. There is no doubt that the terroir of each (geology and topography, plus resulting micro-climates) gives quite distinct wine characteristics, the main one stated as being the creamier texture and deeper fruit in the Nussberg wines.

So back to the Gemischter Satz story. The single vineyards of both Nussberg and Bisamberg have become well known in more recent years, both for the traditional Gemischter Satz field blend and for single varietal wines. Rieds Herrenholz, Kaasgraben, Preussen, Rosengartel and Ulm, for example, are all bottled separately in one form or another.

It is the vineyard named Ulm that I would like to focus on for a moment. It sits on the eastern end of the Nussberg hill, before the terrain drops down to the river below. It’s also very close to the city outskirts and the suburban village of Nußdorf. When Fritz took over this vineyard it was full of different vine varieties, all mingled together and at first he considered grubbing the vines up and planting this special site to Riesling. But before jumping in he talked to various people with expertise in the history and terroir of Vienna’s vineyards, who helped him to realise what I think deep down he already knew,  that here he had a unique collection of vine varieties, all more than fifty years old. It would be crazy not to make a wine from what he had there.

Vienna, and Austria in general, is certainly cool climate viticulture, although you’d not think so because seven of the last vintages here have been classified as “hot”. Co-planting different varieties was always a good insurance against one variety failing to achieve ripeness. As well as more well known grapes like Grüner Veltliner, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Welschriesling, there are rare autochthonous varieties like Rotgipfler, Zierfandler and Roter Veltliner, and the much planted crossing, Neuberger.

The traditional practice, now made law under the Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC regulations (2013), was to pick everything at the same time and to co-ferment all the grapes together (Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC must comprise at least three co-planted and co-fermented varieties). The result from Ulm was pretty much a revelation to Fritz. Not only was the wine wonderful, and indeed complex, but it was reviving a tradition which reflects Viennese culture, that of serving a blended wine with simple food in the city’s semi-rural heurigen and buschenschanks (which I shall explore in another article).

Fritz Wieninger has been responsible not only for initiating the rebirth of Gemischter Satz in Vienna, but in its active promotion worldwide. This wine style has, in a decade or more, grown an international reputation among wine aficionados, and it is largely down to Fritz’s tireless work that this has come about.

We spent five hours with Georg Grohs, who heads up marketing and sales at Wieninger, with Fritz popping into the mix from time to time. He’d just got back from a relaxing holiday and he was gearing up for the earliest ever Vienna harvest, checking on the equipment, the team, and then the vines, both for ripeness and any sign of disease or insects. After a tour of the winery, we settled down for an illuminating tasting.

 

 

 

Georg Grohs, our excellent, friendly, host heads up some pics of the Wieninger winemaking facility at Stammersdorf

We didn’t just run through the Wieninger list. There are way too many wines for that. We tasted a well thought out set of pairings, each designed to highlight different facets of the wines and vineyards. These pairings provided a remarkable focus and a genuine learning experience.

Wieninger Ried Herrenholz Grüner Veltliner 2017 (Bisamberg) vs Wieninger Nussberg Grüner Veltliner 2017 – These wines, despite one being a single vineyard, see the same treatment in the cellar, which includes six months on lees. The mineral texture and grip of the Bisamberg wine contrasts with the creamy weight of the Nussberg. Herrenholz has bright acidity typical of loess-grown, wind-exposed, Grüner Veltliner, with lemon fruit. The Nussberg wine, off chalky clay soils, has a touch more weight and gras, with a different, bitter, touch, which one would say helps with food pairing.

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Hajszan Neumann Ried Haarlocke Grüner Veltliner 2016 vs Wieninger Ried Kaasgraben Grüner Veltliner 2016 – The vintage here was one of the best ever for Grüner in the region. The Haarlocke site is at the western end off the Nussberg, and sees little morning sun (it tends to arrive around 13.30 in summer). It has amazing texture, with grapefruit and tea. Quite herby. Anyone mention pepper? No, none. Kaasgraben is a vineyard close to Sievering, above the village of Grinzing, with quite a lot of quartz. Vines are sixty years old, and the wine is really elegant. It is often mistaken for Riesling. Oh so good!

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Wieninger Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC 2017 vs Wieninger Bisamberg Wiener Gemischter Satz DAC 2017 – Gemischter Satz has various styles. Wines labelled simply with the DAC are usually lighter, and those labelled with a single site are more weighty and complex, and will age. Between the two you will see wines labelled “Nussberg” and “Bisamberg” (their are, of course other designations, with wines from Mauer, Rodaun and Oberlaa south of the city, and other locations hardly known to foreign visitors, but Nussberg and Bisamberg are the great Vienna Crus).

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One fascinating difference between these two wines is the grape varietal composition. The straight bottling contains (on the left, above) eleven varieties, whereas the Bisamberg designated bottling in 2017 contains just three (Pinots Blanc and Gris plus Chardonnay), from 55-year old vines. Both are aged in stainless steel, and the former makes a perfect lighter lunch style.

Hajszan Neumann Wiener Gemischter Satz “Ried Weisleiten” 2016 vs Wieninger Wiener Gemischter Satz “Ried Rosengartel” 2017– Weisleiten is a NNE-facing site which has a very recognisable character in the bottle. Five varieties (Weissburgunder, Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Welschriesling, Grüner Veltliner and Neuberger (a Roter Veltliner x Silvaner cross) make a chalky-textured wine. Heinz Neumann originally grazed sheep between the vines here, and Wieninger is considering bringing them back.

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Ried Rosengartel is in some ways one of the most iconic of the Wieninger Gemischters, and this 13.5% 2017 is stonkingly good. The harvest was quite early and warm but the grapes were at peak phenolic ripeness when picked. There are five varieties here too, but this time it’s Grüner Veltliner, Weissburgunder, Neuberger, Riesling and Traminer. It has a slightly smoky note, and will certainly age…if allowed.

Wieninger Wiener Gemischter Satz Nussberg “Ried Ulm” 2013 vs Mystery Wine – The glorious Ulm is quite yellow in colour. The 2016 vintage of Ulm was voted one of the “Best in Show”, the top accolade at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2018, but in giving it a drinking date to 2021 the judging panel failed to understand the style, as our 2013 proves. This wine from that original site (which we talked about above) comprises nine varieties (I won’t list them). The Decanter judges did pick up on the sensual nature of this bottling, with a juicy richness, here in the 2013 enhanced by five years post harvest.

What was more remarkable, but educational, was that this 2013 had been open, albeit refrigerated, for three weeks. 2013 is a very good vintage, if you have any. The new 2017 when released will cost a bargain €25, the slightly more prestigious Rosengartel, €36.

The mystery wine? We did thankfully spot that it was a Riesling. Bisamberg Riesling 2004 was the wine, essentially a basic bottling, not a single vineyard. I can only say that this was shockingly good for such a supposedly lowly designation, which proves how even the basic level of wines will age if given an opportunity. Even today you’d pay less than €20 for this wine on release (the 2016 Nussberg equivalent is listed at €18).

Our final two pairings were very different, first a couple of the top Wieninger “Grand Select” cuvées, finishing with two of the experimental Hajszan Neumann bottlings.

Wieninger Grand Select Chardonnay 2016 & Wieninger Grand Select Pinot Noir 2015 – Vines for the Chardonnay are 40-years-old. The wine is super classy with rich buttery notes and a little oak, quite full-bodied The oak doesn’t dominate, and in fact the 2016 has been aged in only 10% new oak barrique, the rest being second or third fill.

The Pinot is from the hot 2015 vintage, where the growing season saw five weeks during which temperatures topped forty degrees. 25% of the stems were put back into the must, which helped bring freshness to the wine. It has good colour but this does not strike as a hot vintage wine. Georg was pleased with that comment. He said that Fritz had been told the same thing by sommeliers. This bottle had been open for eleven days, but still showed tannic structure and vivacity. The Grand Selects are on sale at the winery for €48/bottle.

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Both of the Grand Select wines are fine wines in every sense. They are clearly wines which appeal to a certain type of collector and diners in Michelin-starred restaurants. If they are wines of a style I no longer buy, that is not a criticism in any way. What I do think is that it is a testament to Fritz Wieninger that, having produced wines like these, and gained great international praise for them, he still makes, and lavishes equal care on, wines made from autochthonous varieties, and especially the great traditional wines of his city. Neither one nor the other is more important, though what lies deep in Fritz’s heart I can only imagine.

I said that the last two wines were experimental. Wieninger has a certain international standing, and a home market set of expectations, which discourage going too far off piste. With the Hajszman Neumann wines, with their much smaller production, they can try new things. One such experiment has been in the use of concrete eggs and the gradual diminution in the use of sulphur, perhaps the final piece of the jigsaw that begins with biodynamics.

 

Hajszan Neumann “Natural” – Gemischter Satz 2015 & Traminer 2016 – Both of these wines see five months on skins in concrete egg before a gentle press into eight-year-old 500 litre barrels for just five days. They are bottled unfined and unfiltered. The Gemischter is a lovely pure orange colour. It has texture and a certain savoury quality, apricot fruit, with a touch of bitter orange citrus on the finish.

The Traminer is cloudier, a bit more textured, and a bit more raw, but that quality really enhances the wine. This was my favourite of the two for that very quality, though I really liked them both. I hope these wines reach the right audience because they remind me of the experiments of one of the larger biodynamic Jura producers, Domaine de la Pinte. It is also clear that, just like Friuli’s Ribolla Gialla, Traminer lends itself very well to skin contact.

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We finished our long morning with Georg by taking a trip up into the vines, first to Bisamberg where we hooked up with Fritz again, and then over to Nussberg to get down and dusty in Ulm, and then Kaasgraben. The latter is a tiny, half-hectare, site with 55-year-old vines surrounded on two sides, and thus is well protected, by the villas which creep up the hill from Sievering (we are not far here from Jutta Ambrositch’s vines for her Sieveringer Ringenspiel with even older vines planted in 1952). In Ulm we could pick up oyster shell fragments from the chalky layer of a former sea. In Kaasgraben the ground is full of quartz. This is real terroir.

 

 

With Fritz and Georg at Bisamberg

 

 

Oyster shell with chalk and sandstone, Ulm vineyard

 

 

The half-hectare Kaasgraben, partly surrounded by the encroaching wealth of Sievering’s villas

I hope this article didn’t seem too long. For me, it was a genuine lesson about a region and wines I already love. Sometimes it’s nice to focus on smaller producers and bring their wines to the attention of a wider audience. Other times, though, the larger estates can teach us a lot. Their wider spread of vineyards tell the story of a wine region, as here at Wieninger.

Added to that, of course, there are not that many wine regions, and indeed capital cities with proximate vineyards, which owe such a debt to one man. For all the international accolades he has received, Fritz Wieninger will surely be most remembered a hundred years from now as the man who revived one of this great city’s greatest cultural traditions, Wiener Gemischter Satz. Vienna owes him.

In the next article I write on my recent trip to Austria we will travel up into the vines on the Nussberg, and discover Vienna’s traditional wine institutions, the heurigen and Buschenschanks, including those that pop up in the vines in summer, giving visitors a unique and wonderful view as they sip on their Gemischter Satz.

Weingut Wieninger is at Stammersdorfer Strasse 31. Take the Tram number 31 from outside Schottenring U-bahn station (U2, U4 lines) for 40 minutes to the Stammersdorf Terminus. From here the Wieninger Winery is a gentle 15 minute walk.

The Tasting Room is open Monday to Friday (8am – 4pm) and Saturday (10-4), but it is advisable to phone first before heading out all that way.

Link to Weingut Wieninger here

Wieninger’s UK agent is Liberty Wines

Wieninger has its own Stammersdorf Heuriger, just a few minutes from the winery, which is very well regarded, but it is only open Friday to Sunday in season. If you continue up Stammersdorfer Strasser before you reach the vineyards of the Bisamberg you will pass a number of other small Buschenschanks offering wine and simple food, though you cannot guarantee they will be open, and outside the summer months they probably won’t be. If they are then you may be in for a treat if you prefer authenticity to the larger tourist Heurigen you find in villages like Grinzing.

 

 

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