Diatomists at Cork & Cask Winter Fair – A New Name in Sherry

Diatomists is a completely new name in Sherry to me. I think I remember spotting some Sherry in unusually-shaped half bottle flutes on the shelf behind the counter in the Cork & Cask shop in Edinburgh, but Cork & Cask’s Winter Wine Fair was the first time I’d tasted them. Immediately on walking into the Fair, there on my right at Table 1 was Antonio Morenés Bertrán, Diatomists Sales Director and Founder, who by coincidence I had bumped into just that morning.

The name is unusual. What is a Diatomist, indeed what is a diatom? Diatoms are single cell algae that form complex patterns when they fossilize, and a diatomist is one who “masters the art of diatom arrangement”. Diatoms are the reason why the soils of wider Jerez are unique. They lock in sparse moisture providing essential water reserves for those very hot summers.

Jerez and the wider Sherry-producing regions have long focused on the Bodegas which make the wine. Labels like Equipo Navazos began to highlight the best vineyard sites in their exceptional fine Sherries, and a new wave of producer has followed in their footsteps, placing the vineyard and viticulture at the forefront. This has often gone hand-in-hand with producing a more modern style of Sherry. This style emphasises the individual terroirs of the region, and especially “fruit”, something that may previously have gone unremarked about the versatile Palomino grape variety.

Diatomists set out to emphasise the floral and fruit elements in all their styles. Wines are aged in barrel but created to preserve freshness. The emphasis on the terroir means that all the wines here are from a single vineyard (Pago). This, for all bottlings apart from the Pedro Ximénez (PX), is the Miraflores vineyard at Sanlúcar. The PX is, of course, from Montilla.

Manzanilla de Sanlúcar

From Miraflores Baja, this lower part of the pago is at around 50 masl or below. The grapes are 100% Palomino Fino, sourced from growers selected for the quality of their fruit. The solera, consisting 500-litre Spanish Chestnut barrels, is 30 years old and this individual wine has an average age of five years. The standard abv for Manzanilla, 15%, is present. This is conventionally farmed fruit, and the wine underwent a light filtration.

I bought a bottle at the shop after the Fair and drank it a couple of nights later. It is indeed a fruit-driven Manzanilla, smooth and perhaps less acidic than most, but it’s lack of austerity doesn’t mean it lacks the salinity we associate with the style. Being biologically aged (under flor) it has that salty tang and I’d identify it as Manzanilla for sure. It proved to be an excellent food wine, and a few centimetres left for the next day enhanced a paella no end. This retails for just £12.95 for 37.5cl, the rest of the range retailing for £17.95/half bottle. It may be the cheaper option but don’t let that put you off, because it’s very good and a little bit different. I think you’ll be intrigued by its sheer fruitiness.

Amontillado

This comes from what Antonio called his Singular Bota range. I can spare the marketing description because the wine speaks for itself. This is from a solera of over 100 years of age, and this wine is over 12 years old. It is fortified to 18% abv.

You do not get many dry Amontillado wines that are as obviously fruity as this. It’s a style I used to skip but this was one of my favourites of the five Diatomists wines I tasted. Dried apricots and toast, their notes say. I can’t disagree. Naturally with an Amontillado there’s a certain nuttiness as well, along with a nice lick of salinity. Freshness and depth combined.

Oloroso

This oloroso is also aged for 12 years, from a similarly old solera. This time the abv reaches 19%. Maybe I’m used to the enormous concentration of the Equipo Navazos Sherries, but this was quite easy to drink. I’m not saying it lacks concentration, just that the smoothness and fresh fruitiness are to the fore. It makes a nice contrast. It shows more citrus character than the Amontillado, but the depth comes from the silky texture on the tongue. The finish is more characteristically oloroso, with hazelnuts and vanilla pod coming through, plus a touch of caramel, but dry. Great length.

Medium

Here we have a style which many confirmed Sherry lovers might be unsure about on paper, but in this case, it works quite magnificently. It’s another wine with 19% abv and with 80 g/l of residual sugar, aged for 19 years. This time I’m getting walnuts, and a Proustian memory of my wife’s homemade Seville Orange marmalade (it’s almost that time of year too). That marmalade flavour on the palate is a mix of sweet (on the attack) and slightly bitter (on the finish). I was really won over. The big positive is that it isn’t too sweet and it’s not at all cloying. In fact, the balance is what makes it attractive to someone who probably hasn’t sipped a “Medium Sherry” since I was in my late teens (and that purely because it was alcohol). Now dare I buy one?

Pedro Ximénez

If the “Medium” does fall down my list it would only be because I will find it hard not to grab a PX, preferably before Christmas. Taken from a solera over 200 years old over in Montilla Moriles, this sweet PX has been aged for five years. Alcohol here is a natural 15% and there are 420 grams of residual sugar per litre. Again, I don’t normally buy PX. I find it goes pretty well on ice cream, but I can’t really afford £17.95 for a half bottle of sauce, and the amount one can often drink is limited to a thimble-full. This one is somehow different.

It has that concentrated raisin and fig nose and palate. It’s certainly very concentrated yet not cloying, which I usually find with PX. There are two reasons, I think. First, it’s not one of those full-on, pow in the nostrils, PXs. There’s a subtlety here. Secondly, there is acidity. How many times does a PX seem to be devoid of any acids whatsoever? I’d love to see a tech sheet and compare the acidity to others. The finish is lovely because the sweet raisins give way to spices, definitely nutmeg, possibly ginger, which was a pleasant surprise when fig and raisin are all you often expect to find.

These are Sherries well worth trying. I shall be looking to get another Manzanilla, and an Amontillado, plus a PX if I can stretch the budget without having to give up that Vin Santo I promised myself as another Christmas treat to go with the hidden Panforte stash. I was very impressed, and it’s great to see a new name in Artisan Sherry appearing on the shelves of independent retailers.

All styles are currently available at Cork & Cask, Edinburgh.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Sherry, Spanish Wine, Wine, Wine Festivals, Wine Merchants, Wine Shops, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cork & Cask Winter Wine Fair (Part 2)

Part 2 of the Cork & Cask Wine Fair notes follows on from where we left off in Part 1. It is back there that you will find my introduction if you haven’t already read it. You’ll find some nice bottles from Modal Wines and Wines Under the Bonnet if you take a look.

I promised a look at the fine Sherries from Diatomists. This will follow, but it will take at least a week to publish if anyone is waiting for that.

DYNAMIC VINES

Theodora 2021, Gut Oggau (Burgenland, Austria)

I suppose regular readers would expect me to re-iterate my enormous enthusiasm and passion for Gut Oggau, especially if you happen to have read my article about my visit to the estate in August this year. I had an exceptional tasting over dinner back then, but among the many wines tasted I didn’t get to try the new vintage (2021) of Theodora. The last time I drank this Grüner Veltliner and Welschriesling blend from the Western shores of the Neusiedlersee was the 2020 vintage, back in April. With just a couple of hours on skins you get a vibrant white with flavours of melon and spice. This latest vintage is sensationally good. The only downside is that even as one of the less expensive Gut Oggau cuvées, it will still cost around £40. It’s certainly worth the money for me, but a tough ask for many impoverished Brits. All I can say is please try to taste it.

Cahors “Le Combal” 2017, Cosse Maisonneuve (Cahors, France)

Matthieu Cosse and Catherine Maisonneuve have been farming around Prayssac, within the Cahors AOC, since 1999, specialising in the Cot variety (aka Malbec) for which the appellation is famous. “Le Combal” comes from the chalky gravels of the Lot Valley’s river-terraces, fermentation in stainless steel, subsequent ageing for a year in used barrels. It’s a fruit-forward wine but with some complexity. A wine to drink on the lovely fruit that is still there after its extra time in bottle, but yet a wine which will certainly age further. It’s too long since I’ve bought this producer’s wines, which is why I recommend this. For £24 you get something with a touch of seriousness, yet that lovely natural wine zip as well. And a more savoury side to Malbec is most welcome.

INDIGO WINES

Graue Freiheit 2020, Heinrich (Burgenland, Austria)

Heinrich is one of many excellent natural wine producers in Gols, on the northern shore of the Neusiedlersee. There’s definitely something in the water here, when you run through the names in the village (and nearby) who uphold a non-interventionist approach in the vines and cellar. Gernot and Heike Heinrich have been doing their own thing since 1985, long before some of the new stars appeared (or in some cases were even born). They converted to biodynamics in 2006 and helped found “Respekt”, the Austrian certifying body.

Bottled in a terracotta flask, this is a very interesting, unique style, blend of Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Neuburger, and Chardonnay. The soils are crystal-laden schist and calcerous clay, with fermentation on skins in amphora. Ageing is for 17 months in large old oak. No sulphur is added. Unfiltered, shake before serving, and see what you taste. It’s a complex whirl, for sure. Around £40/bottle. Well, I have some…

Cathedral Pinot Noir, William Downie (Victoria, Australia)

Downie makes this Pinot by blending fruit from the Mornington Peninsula (70%) with 30% grapes from the more inland (but cool-ish climate with cold night temperatures) King Valley. All the fruit is destemmed and goes into a mix of stainless steel and wooden open-top fermenters. Ageing is for a relatively short two-months in stainless steel. The fruit is all red berry with a spicy twist. Acids are fresh and I think it speaks of the Mornington’s maritime climate. There’s even a touch of sea salt (well, salinity, minerality, whatever you wish to call it). It certainly has that definition which you get from coastal fruit in Victoria. Very nice, though it costs around £30. Aussie wine prices are not all bargain basement as you find in the bulk imports. This isn’t natural wine, but it is finely crafted artisan wine.

Rioja Reserva 2014, Remelluri (Rioja, Spain)

Indigo has always been “the” great Spanish specialist for me. I know there are others, but Indigo has a finger on the pulse. Much of their Spanish range is incredibly forward looking, and in terms of their own list, Remelluri seems slightly conservative, despite being one of the great forward thinking, experimental producers in the Rioja region.

The estate’s flagship wine is the Reserva. The vinification is not really out of the ordinary, but the grapes (mostly Tempranillo with small additions of Garnacha, Viura and Malvasia, grown between 500-to-700 masl) are immaculate (farmed organically). It sees 17 months ageing in oak and then three years in bottle before release. This means the oak influence is there but not dominant. It will, of course, enjoy further bottle age if you allow it. I must add that I’m a massive fan of their Blanco as well. This red Reserva will cost around £30, which does again show great value for a serious wine.

THE CIDER TABLE

This table represented a trio of artisan/natural cider makers but was staffed by Robbie Fleming, who makes cider over the water from me, in Fife, and whose products I’m yet to try (sadly not being shown). My first desire was to try a couple by Little Pomona, which was launched in 2017 by Susanna and James Forbes towards the start of what I see as the British craft cider revival. Their original Thornbury farm in classic Herefordshire cider country has 120 trees split between four varieties of apple. They have since moved their operation to Brook House Farm, just south of Bromyard (in time for the 2019 harvest), where they have opened a tasting room.

Bright Lights is new from 2021, mostly made from Bramleys, but there’s a secret added ingredient, a little locally grown pear. It is exactly as the label says, a cider with very bright acids, a real palate cleanser, with a great deal of purity. The Bramley “cattle prod” (they say) acidity was toned down by adding a touch of 2020 Dabinett and Michelin from barrel, followed by bottle conditioning (as they call it in the cider world) to add a little sparkle. Exceptional. £15.

At least as good was Hard Rain Hot Pink, made from Kingston Black apples, but by a unique and almost lost method. The second pressing is used, in other words a pressing of the pomace. The result used to be known as Ciderkin. This version adds in Chinook hops from the field next door, owned by Brook House Hops. The result is then bottle conditioned with local organic blackcurrant cordial. You get a 4.5% drink which is the perfect summer refresher. The hops bring grapefruit notes, the apples, acidity, and the cordial adds a riot of dark fruit. £10 makes it what some might call a no-brainer.

“In Touch” is a “keeved” cider made by Pilton Cider at Shepton Mallet in the heart of England’s other famous cider county, Somerset. Keeving is an artisanal way to make sweet, or semi-sweet, cider with just apples. The method prevents all the sugar being converted into alcohol. The fermented keeved cider here, made from Egremont Russet apples, is soaked with the skins of Regent red grapes. The result is a low-alcohol cider (4.5%) with light apple flavours and a definite hint of wine (Tim Phillips does a similar trick in Hampshire with his version of “A Fermament” macerated on his Pinot Noir skins). Off-dry, smooth, quite lovely in fact. £9.95.

I always have so many wines I want to buy at Cork & Cask that I rather neglect the ciders. I must put that right. I am, as you know, a great lover of petnats, and these ciders are pretty much interchangeable for social slurping.

ROLAND WINES

Bergkloster Riesling 2020 (Rheinhessen, Germany)

This is made from mostly direct press fruit with a little time on skins. The bottle I tasted was slightly reductive, and a taster next to me wasn’t impressed (“farmyard”, she said). I don’t mind reduction, it usually blows away. The grapefruit-like fruit here was plumpish in a wine of 12% abv, and once the nose cleared of slightly off odours it had a quite exotic bouquet of kiwi and peach. £19. Don’t be put off.

Kovidinka, Oszkàr Maurer (Serbia)

If you haven’t yet tried Serbian wine, Maurer is a name to look out for. The first offering is his delicious orange wine. It comes from vines approaching a hundred years old near the Croatian border, on mostly loess and limestone. Kovidinka is the autochthonous grape variety. All methods are natural in terms of inputs, and these old bush vines are also cultivated by horse. Skin contact lasts for six days, with eight months in large format oak for ageing. Zero sulphur is added.

The bouquet hints of apricot, peach and lemon, the colour being very peach-like. The palate reflects stone fruit, citrus and oranges, with a textured finish and a herbal twist. £19.

Crazy Lud 2021, Oszkàr Maurer (Serbia)

The second wine from Maurer is another old vine blend, this time of Blaufränkisch, Kadarka, Cabernet Sauvignon and Prokupac, here off mostly volcanic soils in the Szerèmsèg Region. Once again, old bush vines produce very low yields and the grapes undergo a seven-day cold soak to leech out colour before fermentation in 350-litre old Hungarian oak casks. All varieties are fermented separately and blended at the end. There is no fining/filtration but a little sulphur is added here at bottling. The result, from a cool vintage, is a refreshing fruity red with zippy acids. Possibly not quite as “different” as the orange wine, but still very good. Around £20.

Zweigelt, Martin Obenaus (Weinviertel, Austria)

Back into Austria now, and the region, in the northeast of Lower Austria, which stretches from close to Vienna as far as the Czech border with Moravia. Weinviertel is still quite underrated as a region, but the profile of top producers like Ebner-Ebenauer (Falstaff Magazine Winemaker of the Year 2022) is changing this. Here we have a fairly simple red made from a variety which is also underrated, but when vinified concentrating on the fruit can produce some of the best glugging wine in Austria. Bright cherry fruit combines with fruit acidity to give us a 10.5% abv light red for easy drinking. Simple yet super-tasty. Around £18.

Strekov 1075 “Fred” #9 (Strekov, Slovakia)

Strekov 1075 is the label of one of Central Europe’s great characters, fellow drummer Zsolt Sütö. The region itself is Strekov, with vineyards at around 150 masl on clay and loam soils over a bedrock of limestone and marine sediments. I’ve often seen people say this is a Blauer Portugieser wine, but there is actually more Alibernet (a Cabernet Sauvignon x Alicante Bouschet cross) at a ratio of 30% to 50%. The remaining 20% is the local Dunaj variety.

Half the Portugieser was foot-trodden, but all the rest was destemmed, and fermented in open top vats. Then, the Portugieser (fermented separately) went into 300 and 500-litre Zemplén oak whilst the rest was aged in 2,500-litre Austrian oak. After six months the wine was bottled without fining and filtration, and without any added sulphur. Zsolt uses a number to denote vintage and I think (??) #9 is from 2020. It has ripe cherry fruit and an earthy touch. Personally, I think this wine is brilliant, love it. For me, one of the best two producers on Roland’s list. £25.

Rét 2021, Alex & Maria Koppitsch (Burgenland, Austria)

This is my other favourite producer on Roland’s list, one I go back a little way with, even before they had their first British importer (they since changed to Roland Wines and it’s fair to say they now have a wider retail distribution). This is a lovely family operation making natural wine in the town of Neusiedl-am-See (accessible on the train from Vienna and the local station has a cycle hire shop right next to it. You can easily get to Gols and beyond if your legs are good and the wind off the Pannonian Plain isn’t too strong).

Rét is the entry level red wine, the name expressing the region’s Hungarian heritage. It’s a blend of 80% Zweigelt and 20% St Laurent off gravel, farmed biodynamically. The vines have a very reasonable age of thirty years. It sees eight days on skins, the varieties being fermented apart, and then six months on lees, varietal blending occurring at bottling. No sulphur is added. I drank one recently and to describe it perfectly I must borrow a great term from one of our best tasters, Jamie Goode: “smashable”. Especially at £23.

Kadarka, Bott Frigyes (Garam Valley, Slovakia)

Frigyes was possibly the first name in Slovakian wine I came across. This is another biodynamic producer making wines in relatively small batches off complex volcanic soils with Andesite, Chalk and clay on rolling countryside at around 250 masl. The Kadarka is harvested last of the varieties and half was fermented on skins and half destemmed. Each part was fermented separately before being blended together into 500-litre oak for nine months.

Red fruits (raspberry, strawberry) dominate, along with something a touch darker. The palate has a more complex nuttiness, with tobacco and a little cherry fruit. The colour is magnificent, the bouquet deeply fruity and the palate really interesting, not simple. Around the £26 mark.

THE CORK & CASK TABLE

Here we have a few wines presented by the Cork & Cask team because the importers couldn’t be present. It was a good mix, but I want to highlight four wines, the first of which was very possibly my WOTD.

Vulkàn Nr 2, Meinklang (Austria, Hungary)

I’m not sure how this works, but you probably know that Meinklang is based in Austria’s Burgenland, at Pamhagen, but have some parcels on the Somlό Massif, an ancient volcanic plug in Central Hungary. The grapes here are from Somlό. Nevertheless, this is bottled as an Austrian Table Wine. It’s the second release of this “still wine” version of Vulkàn (there’s a fizzy “Foam”), Nr2 being from, presumably, 2021. The two varieties here are Hárslevelű and Juhfark. A zippy but soulful wine with a touch of CO2 and a whole backbone of tense minerality. Refreshing, yet savoury more than fruity. Definitely my kind of wine (I bought one because Meinklang’s UK agent Stone Vine & Son don’t usually import this, but Cork & Cask went out there, fell in love, and got a few cases added to their pallet). Be swift! c £27.

Rosso di Montalcino 2020, Casanova di Neri (Tuscany, Italy)

Affording decent Brunello these days is almost impossible, but a good “Rosso” can be a perfectly acceptable alternative, and may even be more to our liking, with less (if any) new oak. This Sangiovese has had only 12 months ageing and I think benefits from it because it keeps the freshness I so like in the variety. The nose has great typicity and you can identify the grape, a pleasant experience for me because I drink far less Tuscan wine than I used to. Classy, and probably ought to see a bit more bottle age. £32.

Beerenauslese “Terrassen” 2020, Domäne Wachau (Wachau, Austria) (37.5cl)

I saw a very interesting article recently, asking (inter alia) whether Austria’s most famous wine region is falling behind, stuck in a conservative past and, rather like Bordeaux, is resting on that fame and the prices its top wines still command with the older generation. This Domäne (sic) has, to some extent, moved with the times more than a number of the bigger private estates, despite its very long history (est 1774). I should add that the terraces from which this wine comes are some of, for me, the most attractive vineyards in the world. The region also boasts one of the best cycle routes through vineyards in Europe.

This wine is quite traditional, a sweet, botrytis, Riesling with Pinot Blanc, Grüner Veltliner and Muskateller added, grapes harvested in November, with just 9.5% alcohol and sold in half-bottle. Farming is organic and the wine is certified vegan. Honey, lemon and good acidity, not at all cloying, qualities which make Austrian Beerenauslese good to drink from the off. There’s an open quality to the harmonious fruit and acidity. You’ll get complexity if you cellar it, but ageing will not follow the same profile as a Mosel Beerenauslese, which usually starts with way higher acids and needs age to balance that. Mind you, the producer says drink after 6-8 years. Whatever you do, you get a good deal, a proper dessert wine, for a touch over £20 for 37.5cl. It’s expensive to make.

Rivesaltes Grenat 2018, Immortelle (Roussillon, France) (50cl)

Rivesaltes Grenat is an appellation for Vin Doux Naturel made from the region’s old bush vines. Fermentation starts in a 500-litre open-top barrel. Fortification takes place after five days, arresting the fermentation, leaving plenty of sugar in the resulting wine. The combination of the sweet, ripe, fruit that has not fully fermented and the bite of the fortifying spirit makes this a unique sweet red, with 18% alcohol.

After 12 months ageing you get concentrated red fruits with cherry and clove. The received wisdom is that these are the perfect wines to accompany chocolate desserts, and this is true, but they also go extremely well on their own. As a smooth and sweet after dinner drink, it replaces a liqueur pretty well, and it will indeed last forever. There used to be a fair bit of VdN knocking around from 90-100 years ago at one time.

*NB Some retailer sites will tell you this is made from Grenache, as “Grenat” would suggest. However, the Immortelle web site confirms this as 100% Mourvèdre. £24 or thereabouts.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Cider, English Cider, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Festivals, Wine Merchants, Wine Shops, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cork & Cask Winter Wine Fair (Part 1)

I am slowly getting to know the wine retailers up here in Edinburgh, and the first one I got to meet, thanks to a recommendation and introduction, was India Parry-Williams. India, along with Jamie Dawson and Chris Mitchell, the original founder, run Cork & Cask, a neighbourhood craft beer and wine shop in the Marchmont area of South Edinburgh. The shop has been going since 2013, in a part of the city, south of the Meadows, which looks pretty smart, but has a nice mixed population of families, young people and students. The kind of place with lots of great cafés and a good vibe. Cork & Cask is especially interesting for me because along with conventional wines they sell a very good range of natural wines, all sourced from some of the most interesting small importers I already know.

I was down there on Saturday for the Cork & Cask Winter Wine Fair. Well over a hundred wines were on taste in the local church hall, along with local independent spirits and some fine craft ciders. The Fair seemed a massive success, judging by the number of people there and the smiles of contentment as people sampled the wines. It’s probably too much of a well-kept secret that these wine fairs are the alcohol equivalent of an “all you can eat” buffet. £10 gets you a glass, a tasting booklet and a pour of every wine, cider or spirit you care to sample. These can be boozy affairs, especially when the office boys turn up in London, but this one was just happy and chilled, at least when I left mid-afternoon. Still, I was one of the few taking copious notes.

I met and sampled the Sherries of a new producer for me, Diatomists. Founder and Sales Director Antonio Morenés Bertrán was pouring samples of the five wines available, and I thought that these were interesting enough to merit an article on its own. I drank the Manzanilla on Sunday, and frankly I’d like to drink them all at some point. They are, I would say, quite “different”. Fruit driven expressions of (the PX excepted, of course) the Miraflores terroir at Sanlúcar. So, you’ll have to wait for Diatomists.

Below I shall run through my favourite wines brought to the fair by Modal Wines, Wines Under the Bonnet, Dynamic Vines, Indigo Wines, and Roland Wines along with a few ciders and an assortment presented by the Cork & Cask team where the importer was not present.

We’ll begin with Modal Wines. Nic brought ten wines with him and this presented a dilemma. I know Nic quite well and I like his wines, but he’d gone and brought wines I don’t know at all. So, with apologies, I shall comment on them all. The notes will be shorter as a consequence. He didn’t bring any Joiseph, from Burgenland, and I have been blatantly advocating for Cork & Cask to restock some of these.

Because my original article came in at over 5,000 words, I’m going to have to split it into two parts if you are going to have any chance of getting through all the wines (I promise it’s worth it). So Modal and Wines Under the Bonnet make up Part 1, with Dynamic, Indigo, Roland, the ciders and the rest in Part 2. Diatomists to follow after that.

Also note, the prices are just a guide. They were listed in the booklet but some appear possibly to be ex-VAT and others inclusive of tax. I’m sorry if a few may cost more in the shop.

MODAL WINES

Folias de Baco Petnat Curtido (Douro, Portugal)

This was an excellent wine to begin with, especially as I’d just tasted the Sherries and a real palate cleanser was just what was required. This is a 10.5% abv orange petnat, lightly sparkling and made from Moscatel with 5-6 days on skins. It comes from deep in the Douro Valley, on a small plateau at 700 masl. It’s not the baking Douro we all think about. The vines are blessed with an altitude which allows the grapes to get cool at night. The larger diurnal range helps keep the acidity which the red grapes lower down don’t see. Pale orange, refreshing but the floral bouquet of the Muscat is contrasted by a little bite and structure on the palate. Just a little. £23.95, a lot of glugging for your money. Loved it.

Mas d’Agalis Le Grand Carré (Languedoc, France)

60% Terret Blanc with Chenin, Vermentino, Clairette and others from Lionel Maurel. Maurel favours a gentle “infusion” method with light extractions. The result is a more lifted and elegant kind of Languedoc white made in stainless steel with no additions (incl zero added sulphur). Clean, mineral, saline and £22.95.

L’Archetipo Litrotto Bianco (Puglia, Italy)(1 Litre)

As it says on the label, a litre of lovely skin contact glouglou wine from a producer of otherwise largely single varietal wines from Salento, made from autochthonous grape varieties. Viticulture here is, according to Nic of Modal Wines, one of the most extreme forms of regenerative farming he’s seen. Varieties include Falanghina, Fiano, Verdeca and Marchione. Excellent easy drinking for under £25.

Little Bastard 2021, Staffelter Hof (Mosel, Germany)

Jan Matthias Klein blends 55% Riesling with Sauvignon Blanc, Müller-Thurgau, Muscat and a splash of Bacchus. A little cloudy, like apple juice, the bouquet is floral but the palate lives up to its name unless you like a bit of acidity (which of course I do). Super-refreshing, but potentially challenging for those new to natural wine. Needless to say, I generally buy it when I see it (as I did recently). £25.95.

L’Equinox Wines “To Maike and the Rest” (Swartland, South Africa)

This is the first time Modal Wines has ventured outside Europe, and it’s a wine from a young South African producer. Swartland Chenin with seven days on skins and then aged in barrel. Drinkable citrus-tinged fruit with a dry herbal finish. The Modal blurb mentions “clarity”, very apt. A new wine which I think will do really well. £32.

Folias de Baco Renegado (Douro, Portugal)

Another super-good value light wine from Portugal. Whether it’s a Rosé or light red I don’t know but it’s a typical field blend of twenty-plus co-planted varieties, half red grapes and half white. Everything gets picked and macerated together and what you get is juicy fruit with vibrant acidity, and just 11.5% abv. Easy going but not simple, chill it down a little and smell it develop in the glass. At £18.95 that’s just ridiculous.

Clos Sauvage “Fauve” 2021 (Beaujolais, France)

This is labelled Beaujolais-Leynes, Leynes being a village in the very north of the region, close to, but north of, the Beaujolais Crus (Macon is almost as close as northerly Juliénas). David and Sophie Devijnck harvest their white grapes in St-Véran and their red in the Beaujolais-Villages AOP on the regional border, at around 450 masl. This is 70% whole bunch fermented, but 30% of the Gamay is destemmed, giving a bit more texture and perhaps adding the spiciness you get along with the cherry fruit. The couple aim to incorporate their vines into a completely mixed farm, creating one whole ecosystem. The wine is lovely. About £30.

Majer Red, Slobodne (Hlohovec, Slovakia)

Slobodne’s “Majer” wines (a red and white) are entry level, but more than that because this top Slovakian producer is trying to create multi-vessel blends to best express the terroir they farm. This red blend consists mainly of Blaufränkisch, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Alibernet, the latter a crossing of Cabernet Sauvignon and Alicante Bouschet. The fermentation vessels include tank, barrel, amphora and concrete eggs. It isn’t complex but it’s really drinkable. I hope to grab some next visit to Cork & Cask, assuming it doesn’t sell out. £26.50.

Barbera del Monferrato 2019 (Piemonte, Italy)

Barbera often excels in the Monferrato Hills, where it may get the best sites (rather than Nebbiolo). The soils are Terra Rossa, great for this variety and you get more depth and better balance than with many versions of the Barbera variety from elsewhere. It’s fruity and savoury. The elephant in the room is 15% abv. You may shy away from that, but I can say the wine is certainly in perfect balance and very attractive. It’s only around £25 too.

Aglianico 2014, L’Archetipo (Puglia, Italy)

This second wine from L’Archetipo is made from a vastly underrated variety, Aglianico. It’s capable of great age, and note that this one is from 2014. Valentino Dibenedetto has created a wine where the tannins have softened yet the wine, remember, made via a strong focus on regenerative farming, has energy and vitality in abundance. Aged in stainless steel, then 18 months in old oak, it was bottled in 2021. You will find cherry fruit with hints of violets on the nose, and the cherry palate has a touch of liquorice.  I know why this is one of Modal’s best sellers – it costs just £26. This wine is fittingly dedicated to Masanobu Fukuoka and Rudolf Steiner. If you want to compare a genuine natural wine with ones made from conventional farming and viniculture, then this would be a good choice.

WINES UNDER THE BONNET

Domaine Hugo Sparkling Wine (Wiltshire, England)

Hugo Stewart’s association with winemaking genius Daniel Ham has yielded amazing results (Daniel now makes his own “Offbeat Wines” from Domaine Hugo’s new winemaking facility near Salisbury as well as Hugo’s two cuvées). This is one of the most high-profile “natural wine” estates making English Sparkling Wine, and 2021 is only the first release, based on 2018 fruit. This is also very much a wine which relishes vintage variation and will not taste the same every year. The blend is Chardonnay, plus three Pinots (Noir and Meunier plus some Gris), creating a wine which is elegant, erring towards delicate, certainly classy. I tasted these at Real Wine in London earlier in the year. They were very good then but an extra six months in bottle has worked its magic. Okay, at £50/bottle it’s not cheap but then again, have you seen the price of some ESW nowadays! Top tip for Christmas.

Brand “Rot” (Pfalz, Germany)

The latest release of the red Landwein from the Brand brothers (Daniel and Jonas) is described by them as a “not-nouveau”. Foot-trodden Portugieser grapes make up the lion’s share, with some carbonic maceration Cabernet Franc (maybe 15%). The reason there’s no vintage on this is that some older Cab Franc may go in as well. Originally bottled last November, the guys decided it needed more time, so didn’t release it as a “Nouveau”. They recommend drinking it chilled, in the park, which is fine if you live on the sunny East Lothian coast as I do, but maybe indoors is better in wet and windy England. Still, nothing is added here, a great easy-going natural wine. As the label says, “shake and wait”. 10% abv, around £25.

Amélia Barbier Cabanes Rouge (Languedoc, France)

The cheapest wine I tasted at the fair is from the foot of the coastal massif of La Clape, close to Narbonne, near the salt pans. It’s a simple blend of Grenache, Syrah and Merlot, fruity with a little spice and a touch of tannin. Added interest comes from a salinity which could be because the proximity of salt pans and the sea is auto-suggestive…or I might really be able to taste that minerality. It’s not going to set the house on fire among a group of wine “buff(er)s”, but for only £14.50 you really cannot go wrong. It’s not a natural wine as such (lutte-raisonnée) but it does have low sulphur addition.

Château Barouillet “Monbazar” 2019 (Bergerac, Southwest France)

It is certainly true that I do not drink enough sweet and off-dry Chenin Blanc anymore, and this wine signals just how stupid I am. This 45-hectare estate at Pomport has been run by Vincent Alexis since 2010, when he persuaded his father that they should bottle their own wines. Around 60% of their production is red and white dry wine under the Bergerac AOC, but this cuvée blends Chenin (50%) with Muscadelle, Semillon and a little Ondenc. It’s an old school blend reminiscent, in flavour, of Monbazillac more than the Loire, a little lighter, more floral and a bit less intense than much purely varietal Chenin. It has sweet, raisiny, fruit but nice acids and lifted florality. I’ve enjoyed this producer’s petnat, Splash, several times, and this is at least as good. £23, another bargain.

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The World of Natural Wine by Aaron Ayscough (Book Review)

Occasionally a wine book can be eagerly-awaited for quite some time, and The World of Natural Wine by Aaron Ayscough is one of them. Aaron has been on my radar for many years, via his blog “Not Drinking Poison” (originally “…in Paris” which I believe he started in 2010). He was a resource for many of us just a few years getting into natural wine in the earlier part of this century. He always seemed to have his finger well placed on the natural wine pulse through his knowledge of the early proponents in France, and the Parisian (initially) bars and shops which took up those wines and promoted them.

Aaron has worked as a sommelier in North America, and France, then as a journalist with articles in as prestigious publications as The New York Times and Financial Times. He has also gained hands-on experience, working at wine estates making natural wine in France, especially in the cradle of natural wine, the Beaujolais hills.

When Aaron’s first book dropped through my letterbox, I had an idea what to expect, but this is a heavy hardback with excellent design and production values. The kind of book which impresses from the off. Of course, wine books are quite expensive for a number of valid reasons, and this one will cost you £31.99 in the UK, where it will compete with some other pretty notable volumes released recently. As I hate having to read to the very end of a review in order to see what the reviewer thinks, I shall state right here that it’s worth the money. Many, like me, will find it essential reading.

That said, the purpose of my review is to explain what this book is, and perhaps what it is not. I don’t feel the need to be critical of the detail, especially not the choices made by the author regarding who or what to include. There may be a few producers I’d wished to see (especially one or two in any event mentioned in passing, and one whose cellar appears in a photograph on page 96), but it’s Aaron’s choice. There are also what I call minor omissions, such as a couple of important natural wine festivals (in Strasbourg and in Moravia) which do not appear on the festival list.

My only real surprise aside from those was that where, towards the end of the book, the author gives recommendations for natural wine shops, bars and restaurants in a section called “Natural Wine Metropolis”, he doesn’t include Vienna and Berlin, which for me have thriving natural wine scenes probably at least as healthy as Rome, Montreal and Chicago, but then I guess he has to spread the love for the transatlantic audience, fair enough.

But I hope Aaron doesn’t take those comments to heart. This is a review of what’s in the book, and what is there is brilliant. With no disrespect to other authors, if you want to get to know natural wine generally, and to learn about how it developed, in France and in Paris, you’ll not find a better explanation. Where the book goes further is a bonus. If one wants more, that’s a positive.

The book begins at the beginning – What’s Natural? being the title of Part I. Here we discover, if we didn’t already know, that natural wine requires a totally different approach and way of thinking to conventionally produced wine. It’s what all natural wine lovers learn, usually in a lightbulb moment, and what those implacably indifferent, or antagonistic, towards natural wine find so hard, set as they are in their conservatism and prejudice. This is no short intro, but thirty pages packed with history, anecdote and people, divided by twenty-six subtitles and vignettes.

What better to help us understand this overarching necessity than an explanation of how natural wine is made, both in vineyard and cellar. This follows next. The author is very much an advocate for the purest forms of natural wine, one aspect of this being zero added sulfites. Fear not if he can appear uncompromising. Later on, in talking about natural wine importers and retailers, Ayscough does accept, and not at all grudgingly, that people trying to create a business from selling natural wine may not realistically be able to have such a strict approach. That said, of course, in the UK we know that Gergovie Wines and Tutto Wines have proved they can find a market for only natural wines made without the addition of sulphur.

I’m sure I read somewhere that Aaron was studying winemaking. For sure his technical knowledge seems confident, and although I, like plenty of professional readers, have a good knowledge of viticulture and winemaking, I still learned some things I didn’t know.

Part II, A Pantheon of Natural Wine, is the meat of the book, taking up around 225 pages out of circa 430.  This comprises fourteen chapters, thirteen of which cover French wine regions, with only the latter stepping outside France and into “Europe and the Caucasus”, which means just less than twenty pages on Spain, Italy, Czechia, Austria, Georgia and Germany.

So, this is the first place to outline what the book is not. You will read extensively about natural wine in The Beaujolais, The Jura, or Roussillon, and in fact any other French wine region where natural wine is made. You’ll be introduced first to three “Wines to Know”, which perhaps epitomise natural wine in each region. Then you get profiles of the major names, interspersed with relevant sections on local tasting salons or festivals, forerunners to natural wine production etc. There’s always a page on local dining in each region, where natural wine tops the wine lists, and then a page or two of “Legends in the Making”. You’ll know many of these producers, perhaps, but some not so well.

Ayscough is most at home in France, where one feels his knowledge is considerable, and where his relationships with many of the producers are even quite personal. This is, of course, what makes the book so valuable. I’m sure that in some other countries, in fact some more than others, the author has travelled less and met fewer producers. In France it seems there’s almost no one he doesn’t know.

I don’t suggest this is bad. For a start, a comprehensive guide to natural wine covering every country where you find it would be way too big. As the author says emphatically himself, this is not a buying guide. Equally, he clearly feels, correctly, that natural wine in Europe (discounting Georgia, which is an altogether different case, along with the post-Soviet States, where natural winemaking grew out of the home-use winemaking which survived in the Soviet era) began in France. That history is well detailed throughout this book. For writing on natural wine in other countries, especially in North America, Australia and New Zealand (and indeed the UK, where it may be only just post-nascent, but it is there if you look), one must venture elsewhere…or wait.

When Aaron ventures to other countries one senses a slightly decreasing level of experience from west to east, but I don’t intend that to sound disparaging. I mean, for Germany he includes the one essential family, the Trossens, and to be fair a lot has happened in German natural wine in the last three or four years. Nevertheless, I was thrilled to see the Czech Republic included, and although the sheer breadth and vivacity of the natural wine scene there doesn’t come across, the three winemakers mentioned (Petr Nejedlík, Jaroslav Osička and Richard Stávek) are exactly the three to highlight if you are going to stop there.

The only country I feel really suffers from lack of space is Austria, but again, you cannot have everything when an author is likely restrained by the publisher (as so many are). Austrian natural wine has benefitted from a unique set of catalysts, in particular a new and younger generation taking over family estates at a broadly similar time, and all of them working to erase the memory of the Austrian wine scandal, which did so much damage to the image of Austrian wine. They are succeeding magnificently. The new Austria deserves a book all of its own, I feel, especially as it has gone from new natural wine frontier to a country which has done so much to establish natural wine within Europe in what is a shockingly short amount of time.

So, to sum up Part II, you get a very detailed coverage of France with, insofar as I can tell, no major omissions (what some others might call minor omissions I call the acceptable subjectivity of the author. Regular readers will know my own star producers). Because France has been at the centre of natural wine in Europe, you can’t fault this approach from a journalist who has been at the heart of this scene for over a decade.

By the time we reach the end of Part II we only have around 70 pages left, but Part III Enjoying Natural Wine is no less important than the region/producer profiles of the preceding part. It is divided into “how to taste natural wine”, “how to serve natural wine”, and “how to find natural wine”. All three require explanation.

The tasting and serving bit of Part III contains practical advice, but all couched within that framework we’ve already discussed, the need to think in a totally different way about natural wine, including its place in our lives. Like many older people who came to natural wine after half a life drinking conventionally made wines, I took time to leave behind the baggage. One suitcase contains the idea that wine is special, somehow elevated above other forms of nourishment. Of course, it is special, but now I think not perhaps in that way.

There’s also a rucksack, so to speak, containing a load of posh glasses. I still use my Riedels, Zaltos and Schotts. I don’t pretend that the glass doesn’t have a marked effect on how a wine can taste, and I still enjoy my mostly natural wine at home from my Zalto Universals, but I’m less obsessive over what we used to call “stemware” these days. I enjoy wine just as much out of a Duralex tumbler now, if that’s what it comes in. It does help that the generally lower alcohol levels in natural wine (well, mostly) encourages me to consume them more like a thirst-quenching beverage than a holy experience, to be sipped slowly in silence. Let’s face it, you could do little else with some of those old oak monsters.

That change in appreciation of natural wine also reflects a political side to the movement (hate calling it a movement but I can’t think of an alternative). I mean in a very general sense. Bordeaux is mostly made by either very posh people, or large corporate bodies, at least those owning the production. Burgundy has a more “paysan” past, but the cost of land has inevitably led to ultimate ownership being, in many cases, out of the hands of the families who farmed these vineyards in the last century, at least in the Côte d’Or and much of Chablis. For both regions, maximising profit from fine wine is overwhelmingly the desire.

Natural winemakers most often identify with a paysan past, “paysan” in French of course having a very different connotation than “peasant” does in class-ridden Britain. Not all of them have leftist views, of course. Some French wine regions famous for natural wine appear staunchly right wing, at least at election time. But they do all share a common appreciation of the value of working hard to live off the land, and most of them enjoy a good meal more than they crave vast sums of money. In fact, those making fortunes from natural wine are sadly not the winemakers, but more often those who manage to hoard their Miroirs, Overnoys and Leroys for speculation and profit.

The final Chapter of the book, “How to Find Natural Wine” is massively useful. Although the author says this isn’t a buying guide, you will nevertheless find info here about importers and retailers, plus bars, restaurants and Salons/wine fairs which major in these wines. There’s a city guide covering some major European centres with a natural wine culture, plus a few in North America.

As I say in my intro, this is the only part of the book where I feel like vocalising that something is missing in the omission of Vienna and Berlin. Vienna’s natural wine culture promotes the city’s own natural wines, along with other nearby regions (especially Burgenland, whose natural winemakers are often found in a selection of Viennese haunts, like Weinbistro Mast). Berlin’s natural wine culture is one of the most youth-orientated I know.

There’s a page too on visiting winemakers. I wish more people would think a bit before they visit. As I’ve written myself (The Visitor, article on this site, 26 August 2021), it is especially true of small artisan wine producers that they are emphatically not sitting around all day waiting for people to turn up. Their time is money. They may commonly not have wine left to sell from their tiny production, and if they opened up their range for every wine tourist turning up at their cellar they would be broke within a year. I feel like slapping every person I hear who suggests that they are there merely for the visitor’s convenience simply because they commercialise a beverage. Rant over!

There’s a further reading section, which highlights those books already written on natural wine along with several not strictly on the subject, but which cover the natural wine producers pretty well whilst covering a specific region, or wine style (especially recommended by me from this second group would be Wink Lorch’s Jura book and Simon Woolf’s “Amber Revolution”).

The final pages list resources by country under the sub-headings of importers, bars & restaurants, and wine shops. The cities covered here are in North America (including Canada), Great Britain and Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.

Thankfully (not always the case these days with publishers cutting costs) the book has an Index.

Postscript: After reading through this review I had a few more thoughts, especially regarding natural wine in France. The landscape has changed so much in the past decade. When I first discovered natural wine, like Aaron, France and Paris were my lodestones. It helped that my wife and I speak French and had been travelling to France together since the mid-1980s, visiting wine regions since the beginning. In those early 2000s, natural wine producers were exceptionally welcoming, pleased that a couple of foreigners knew what they were doing.

Likewise in Paris, where we have long had friends, there were a very limited number of places to try these new wines. A few bars, some the new “caves-à-mangers” and a handful of shops (back then I used to visit “Panthéon” and “L’Insolite”, then Verre Volé on the Canal St-Martin and the shop in Oberkampf). Hardly any actual restaurants we knew had natural wines. But of course these places were magnets for people just like me.

Today the world of natural wine has expanded. More places have begun to specialise in natural wines. Of course, we discovered new venues (Septime La Cave, Clown Bar, and Camille Fourmont’s La Buvette were always favourites). At the same time, more people discovered them too. Crowds thronged the pavements and cherry pickers, especially from my own country, hoovered-up all the most critically acclaimed wines. Such wines became known, for obvious reasons, as unicorns. They began to disappear under counters, reserved for close friends of the owner.

Such a state of affairs soon transferred to London. Whereas I could find the wines of Overnoy-Houillon freely available on the shelves of the American chain Wholefoods for a time, soon even when I knew the importer, I wouldn’t be able to buy the wine (Domaine des Miroirs, the tiny estate run by Kenjiro and Mayumi Kagami at Grusse in the southern sector of The Jura, is the classic example).

The mood towards my fellow countrymen has changed as well, largely as a result, I feel, of Brexit. French vignerons and Parisian bar owners seem less well disposed towards us, even though in so many respects we are all on the same side. Speaking French, and having a wife with a great accent, unlike me, helps, but once the staff who might remember you move on, there is sometimes an invisible wall there.

Out in the regions even the Jura, which I have been visiting for over 35 years, is more difficult to arrange visits within. Here, harvests have been terrible for many recent years, a combination of frosts and hail, and I compound my own problems by living by my own example…”please, don’t open a bottle just for me, but if you have a few bottles to sell me that would be amazing”. Alsace seems to remain the most open of the natural wine regions to visitors, but then the producers here have lived off German wine tourism through times when the rest of France didn’t want the wine. It does now.

I think that this is why I began to venture towards new natural wine frontiers (hence my coverage of first Austrian, and then Czech, natural wine). The new frontiers are always most welcoming and you can get to know the best wines before they become over-subscribed.

I think that my point here is that Aaron’s book is important as a document of a wonderful story, especially that of the rise of natural wine in France. In a way it is a snapshot of a world which is to some extent out of reach for many now, not helped by the increasing restrictions on European travel, for Brits at least, in a post-Brexit, post-Covid, world with a spiralling cost of living. But only to some extent. That world is still accessible to a degree, and these wines are worth making the effort to seek out and enjoy. Whether you are fully immersed in this world, or quite new to it, I cannot think of another resource as helpful as Aaron’s book.

I think it’s a book most regular readers of Wideworldofwine will want to read.

The World of Natural Wine (What it is, Who makes it, and Why it matters) by Aaron Ayscough is published by Artisan Books, New York, a division of Workman Publishing Co (2022). In the UK it will cost £31.99 from two of the major online retailers. US price is $40, or $50Cdn.

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Recent Wines October 2022 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

The final eight wines from October include a few which are unusual, even by my standards, though for different reasons, and actually, one isn’t a wine. We have a smart Oregon Pinot, A Furmint from Austria, an Austrian red from a couple whose wines had been out of my physical reach for a while, a wonderful Czech cider, a German Spätburgunder, a magnum from the “Drinking Against Sinking” project and a very good value Mencia blend from Ribeira Sacra in Galicia.

Cuvée Laurène 2007, Domaine Drouhin (Oregon, USA)

Twice recently I have opened a wine I purchased long ago thinking that it might be past its best, and been pleasantly surprised. The first of these is a wine I bought so long ago the small London wine shop where I found it has long gone. It’s the product of Burgundy negociant Joseph Drouhin’s North American arm, which had been founded as long ago as 1987. That’s twenty years before this vintage, proving that they were very much ahead of the game.

The large, 225-acre, Drouhin estate in Oregon lies in the Dundee Hills, overlooking the Willamette Valley and the Cascade Mountains. Once the new frontier of North American winemaking, the Drouhin scouts chose well. The Dundee Hills has become rather crowded now with plenty of big-name estates making the most of a climate which favours the Pinot varieties, Chardonnay and Riesling. The soils, mostly basalt with red loam as topsoil, favour Pinot Noir especially.

This wine was made by Veronique Drouhin-Boss from an assemblage of barrels from their best lots. Cuvée Laurène was first released in 1992 so not only did the vines have plenty of time to mature, but the style of the cuvée had time to bed down. The result, when given fifteen years ageing, was magnificent.

I knew Laurène has a reputation for ageability but there comes a time when you lose your nerve and think a wine may have sat there too long. On opening it has a nice scent, even in the bottle. The colour had a classic brick red rim and in the glass the bouquet developed into a lovely cherry bass note. Next to emerge was an earthy note with spice escaping skywards, just captured fleetingly in the nasal passages. Autumnal, but definitely focused.

Robert Parker predicted some years ago that it would drink through to 2022, but I would say this is not quite fully mature, though I’d imagine I can go a bit further than Mr Parker with Pinot maturity. By now it has become a stately wine which could rival many Burgundies, not that this is what it’s all about. I found it sublime.

Domaine Drouhin’s Oregon wines are, I believe, now imported by Berkmann Wine Cellars.

Furmint 2019, Heidi Schröck & Söhne (Burgenland, Austria)

Heidi Schröck was the first Burgenland producer I visited, on my first trip to Rust. Her cellar lies on the edge of the magnificent main square of the town, worth planning a trip to for a host of reasons, even if you weren’t a wine lover. I’ve been lucky since then to purchase Heidi’s wines from, I believe, three different sources in the UK, but I’ve added a fourth since moving to Scotland.

Heidi has run her ten-hectare family estate since 1983, and since my visit she has been joined by her twin sons, Johanne and Georg, hence the estate’s subtle change of name since I last wrote about one of her wines. This bottle’s purchase also coincides with Heidi being named Falstaff Magazine Winemaker of the Year, a well-deserved accolade in my opinion.

It comes from two sites farmed by Heidi near the shores of the Neusiedlersee, called “Turner” (no idea?) and Vogelsang. The vines have seen no herbicides nor pesticides, as is increasingly the case in this fragile ecosystem so essential for bird life (which is far more diverse than just the large numbers of storks who nest on the town’s chimneys).

Furmint is, of course, a Hungarian variety, but it has always had a presence in Rust because the town (and its Royal Charter) dates back to the time it was technically part of Hungary, within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this despite being relatively close to Vienna. The variety fell from favour and plantings were much reduced in previous decades, but it is now almost fashionable again. There are certainly a number of very talented winemakers here who use Furmint now.

The soils in these two vineyard sites are predominantly loam, with sand and gravel, plus a bit of quartz interspersed, which over many years I’ve come to believe does affect the wines in terms of a kind of mineral focus. This cuvée is both fermented and aged in large (1,500-to-2,000-litre) acacia barrels, spending eighteen months on fine lees. That adds the lovely texture we get. It has Riesling-like precision with its focused fruit, acids and salinity. I really think occasionally Furmint does a pretty good impression of Riesling until it opens out into something different.

Beneath all that you do get fruit coming through. All taken together, it’s a lovely wine for the price. I had wondered whether a 2019 would have tired a bit, but not at all. The vintage was excellent for its sugar/acid balance on this (western) side of the lake.

This excellent wine cost just £19 from local merchant, Lockett Brothers, via Liberty Wines. Unfortunately, it is currently the only Heidi Schröck wine they stock, but it’s a pretty good place to start.

Ret 2020, Alex & Maria Koppitsch (Burgenland, Austria)

We stay in Burgenland, and on the shores of the Neusiedlersee for our next wine, but we move north and a little east, to the town of Neusiedl-am-See itself. I’ve known Alex and Maria for a few years, Maria a couple of years longer having first met her at London wine fairs. I immediately engaged with the wines, and said so quite vocally at the time. Due to their initial choice of importer, Koppitsch wines didn’t quite get the UK distribution I had hoped for. Now I’m lucky to be able to get my hands on a number up here in Scotland.

The farming and winemaking here are biodynamic and increasingly “natural”. Ret is one of the Koppitsch entry level wines, fun and easy drinking by design. We have 80% Zweigelt blended with 20% Saint Laurent, from thirty-year-old vines off the gravels sloping down to the lake. The grapes were destemmed and fermented on skins over eight days, most going into stainless steel, but with some of the Zweigelt seeing acacia barrels. As a side note, I’m sure that it hasn’t gone unnoticed how plenty of Czech and Austrian producers are using acacia more and more, either alongside or instead of oak.

The wine sits on its lees for 16 months before blending the three different parts together prior to bottling. At this stage 5mg of sulphur is added, the only chemical manipulation the wine sees. The result is certainly not complex, but the Koppitsch’s can do more complex stuff with other wines intended for ageing. This is glouglou pure and simple, low alcohol (10%), gorgeously refreshing, made lively by a hint of CO2. The fruit, as always when this increasingly popular grape blend is done well, is zippy strawberry and raspberry juice with an undertone of blackcurrant and dark cherry playing minor roles.

I hope that now that the excellent small importer, Roland Wines, has the Koppitsch agency in the UK we shall see these beguilingly thirst-quenching wines grab more indie shelf space. I have also managed to top-up on their pink petnat, a long-time favourite.

“Play na ná nánana” 2020, Utopia Cider feat Milan Nestarec (Sudkuv Dul, Czechia)

I’ve written about the ciders of Utopia before. This is not exactly a new idea, but it is a new departure for Eva and Ivo. We know there are ciders which have wine added to them, cf Tim Phillips’s Hampshire gems and equally, those produced by Tom Shobbrook in Australia. The “Play” series goes one small step further. Utopia’s apples, from their orchards in the Josafat Valley are pressed, fermented and bottled, where they are blended with grapes from a Czech wine producer.

Each beverage (neither wine, but not exactly cider) in this series has a (kind of) musical title, and a recommended track to listen to whilst drinking it. “na na nanana” features Welschriesling and Rheinriesing on skins from Moldavian star, Milan Nestarec. There are a number of other bottlings in the series using the wines of other producers, but I think so far this is the best, and very possibly the best thing I’ve tasted from Ivo yet (though the newly imported Utopia Drinking Vinegars, which I tasted at Autentikfest in Moravia this summer, match the ciders, a real revelation, probably the most exciting new product I’ve tasted for some years).

The cider is lightly sparkling, gentle and not at all aggressive. The skin contact element does show through, giving texture, yet it is unobtrusive. Like all similar products, there’s a definite wine element. If you are a cider purist you do need to be aware of that, but I myself find this and similar products innovative and exciting. With 7% abv this is almost non-alcoholic, and goes down like a very refined gently sparkling natural apple juice (we are very much in zero additives land, and that means no sulphur added too). Trust me, you need more of this than just the odd bottle added to a mixed case (my error).

Utopia ciders and vinegars are imported by Basket Press Wines. For anyone tempted, the track paired with this cider is at sptfy.com/nananana. “Live is Life” might not be so much my bag, but don’t let it put you off the drink, which is brilliant, and costs under £15 for a superbly crafted, artisan, product.

Schweigener Spätburgunder 2013, Weingut Friedrich Becker (Pfalz, Germany)

Fritz Becker Junior (Kleine Fritz) may farm in the Pfalz, but you literally could not get further south in that region. So much so that those of his vineyards near his base at Schweigen which spill down the hill towards the Abbey of Wissembourg are in France. Those vineyards are technically in Alsace, and worthy of Grand Cru designation, but Becker’s wines are all subject to German wine law and labelling, whether they come from the French or the German side of the border.

This requires the labelling of those wines in a way which can only hint at the French names for those sites. Things are not so difficult with this cuvée, the grapes coming from vines on the German side and designated not by single site but as a village wine. It’s a good way in to sample the wines of this top producer, because the single vineyards are somewhat more expensive than the £26 or so you will pay for the current vintage.

This “Schweigener” shows an attractive ruby red colour with mostly cherry and lighter red fruits on a nicely perfumed nose. This then develops further with a forest floor bouquet, hinting at pine needles on dry earth. Despite its age it has a little structure still, and I know others have been surprised at this wine’s structure when younger. I would say this hasn’t completely reached its peak but the fruit is abundant.

The vineyard has limestone soils and the vines are approximately between 30-60 years of age. Fermentation is for three weeks in open vat followed by 16 months ageing in barrique. The Becker family usually buys barrels from Burgundy (the region which remains Fritz’s inspiration), but he’d rather buy a good quality used barrel than a cheaper new one.

When we read about German Spätburgunder there are often a number of names mentioned, but you find that the Becker name generally comes up only when the true aficionados (or the German writers) are writing. Becker’s top wines are hard to source (we are talking the special selections above GG level), and the prices are beyond almost everyone I know. However, I just love the wines he makes which fall within my price range, which is pretty lucky really.

Weingut Friedrich Becker’s wines are usually available from both The Wine Society and German specialist, The Wine Barn. Expect to pay around £30 for this in a current vintage in the UK.

Pinot Noir Nature 2021, Lucas & André Rieffel (Alsace, France)

As a nice contrast to the Becker wine above, we are looking at a Pinot Noir from Alsace. Although Mittelbergheim is in the more northerly sector, the Bas Rhin, we are still a little over an hour by car from Schweigen. We are also in a somewhat different place philosophically as well. Fritz Becker makes wines which are individual and express his wonderful terroir, for sure, but they do take their inspiration from Burgandy. Rieffel, father and son, are making a very Alsace-focused wine, expressing both their own unique terroir and their natural wine philosophy.

Mittelbergheim is, of course, noted as potentially having some of the finest Pinot Noir terroir in the region. The variety can now be designated Grand Cru from neighbouring Barr’s “Kirchberg de Barr” (as well as from Hengst at Wintzenheim) from the 2022 vintage…so long as the wines follow the rules.

This wine comes not from any posh Grand Cru, but from vines below the village, sloping towards the main road. It is fermented as whole bunches in stainless steel and then goes into used barriques (though like Becker, also from Burgundy) for around eight-to-ten months before bottling.

“Nature” is the most easy-drinking of the three (I think) Pinots they make. The aim is to emphasise the fruit over all else, and in this they succeed magnificently. As it says on the label (“Nature”), the wine is not only neither fined nor filtered, but sees no added sulphur. Carbon dioxide is used as a protection against oxidation.

You get an explosion of bright cherry fruit on both nose and palate. The acidity is all pure fruit acids and there is a faint prickle from the CO2. The finish, carried along by all this liveliness, lasts as long as some fine wines, but it is trying to be nothing more than fruity fun.

I drink this quite often. I find it irresistible. It tastes of a sunny afternoon spent in the shadow of a cherry tree, although its lightness does mask 13% alcohol. That’s only half a degree less than many a serious Burgundian Pinot. The overall frivolity does trick you into glugging this back, trust me. Don’t go operating machinery, as they say, after finishing a bottle. You will definitely want to finish it.

This was £29 from Cork & Cask in Edinburgh and is quite widely available through a range of indie wine merchants.

“Drinking Against Sinking” MV, Petr Koráb (Moravia, Czechia)

In Part 1, I wrote about one of Petr’s more frivolous and fun wines, Raspberry on Ice. This magnum is slightly more serious, both as a wine and in its purpose. Drinking Against Sinking was a movement among mostly European winemakers (plus one in Argentina) where they made wine, all with the same label (which they could download), profits going to local businesses, like restaurants and retailers, hit by Covid during the first part of the pandemic. All the wineries involved (including Koppitsch from Burgenland, whose “Ret” I wrote about above) were either natural wine producers, or at the very least organic. A worthy cause. There wasn’t a great deal in the UK, but I managed to bag a mag(num) from Petr’s UK importer.

I must say that Koráb has bottled one of his most impressive wines yet under this label. It’s a field blend of grapes coming from three consecutive vintages. First, we have the juice from his Natur Rysek 2016, macerated over winter. Then comes Orange Traminer, with six months on skins, from the 2017 vintage. Finally, Ryzlynk Vlassky from 2018, grapes picked with a touch of botrytis.

Although you will read elsewhere that this is an “orange wine”, the colour is more of a dark yellow than pure orange, and the smoothness and lack of tannins is commensurate with what you’d expect from that colour. Petr did say he’d made this to age, and yes, maybe it will last longer, but I thought it would make a good wine to open for a Halloween weekend gathering of a few family and friends…I was quite blown away. It was brilliant. Smooth mouthfeel with just a little texture, a little exotic, floral, peachy, with poise and panache.

Basket Press Wines, Petr Koráb’s UK importer, had a few of these. If there were 75cl bottles, even I wasn’t swift enough, but the magnums have all left their warehouse now. That said, a persistent search might throw up a few independent retailers who still have the odd magnum if their customers have no idea what it is, and how good it should be.

Lalama 2017, Dominio do Bibei (Ribeira Sacra, Spain)

Ribeira Sacra is in Galicia and stretches east from Ourense, and close to Pontevedra, all the way as far as the boundary with Bierzo (which is in Castilla y Léon). Some Godello is grown for increasingly sought-after white wines, but this is mainly red wine country. The terroir, to a degree, dictates this, being based on the steeply-terraced granite and slate slopes of the small DO’s twin rivers, the Sil and the wider Miño.

Dominio do Bibei is the producer, under the guidance of Javier Dominguez, with consultancy from star names in Northwest Spain, Raúl Pérez, René Barbier and others. As with most reds from Northwest Spain, the main variety is Mencia. This variety came to justifiable prominence in Bierzo a couple of decades ago, producing fragrant red wines with medium body. In my view it went through a dark period, in both senses, with extracted, tannic and carelessly oaked wines appearing from some sources. I think that has been dialled back somewhat, to most people’s relief.

Along with 90% Mencia there are a couple of interesting varieties in the blend. 7% is Brancellao, an autochthonous variety in the wider region, easy to ripen and which buds early. It’s a variety with generally quite high sugars and low acids. There is also 2% Alicante Bouschet in the mix, a teinturier variety (ie a red grape with red flesh, very uncommon in vitis vinifera). If you taste a pure varietal made from Alicante Bouschet (Portugal makes most of the best, with a few from the South of France) you will notice how incredibly intense the colour is. It’s usually used to beef up weedy reds, though this isn’t the case here. It’s probably why this wine is a little darker than much Mencia, though, because I’d definitely not place Lalama in that former over-extracted category.

Still, this vintage nevertheless packs 14% alcohol, despite it coming off north-facing slopes in a region that is unquestionably more Atlantic than Mediterranean. That said, I’ve seen other vintages of Lalama with around 12% abv. It’s quite potent, but it has a beautiful perfume. It has seen 18 months in a mix of barrique and foudre but the oak is pretty well done. It’s not overtly oaky. There is a smooth, rich, mouthfeel and cherry fruit coats the palate.

In many ways this is not a complex wine, and with 55,000 bottles of it produced each vintage one might not expect it to be, but the rich and tasty fruit is enough to make it attractive to drink. I’ve seen notes suggesting this 2017 will go to 2024, but I found it good to go now. My bottle (not my first, so obviously I quite like it) came from The Solent Cellar, and I think cost somewhere between £25-£30, but there is none currently listed online. I’m not sure of the importer, although it could be Lay & Wheeler. It certainly has a decent UK distribution, ably pedalled by Bibei’s export team.

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Recent Wines October 2022 (Part 1) #the glouthatbindsus

October proved to be a month of restored health, post-Covid, which means plenty more wines to write about. Sixteen in fact, so I shall bring you two tranches of eight wines each. The following eight wines hailed from the usual crazily diverse range of terroirs, from England (Sussex and Kent), Western Hungary, Alsace, the Jura, Northern Greece, NE Italy and Czechia. October was almost a last gasp of summer rather than autumn up here in Scotland, both in terms of dry sunny days, and mild temperatures. If the wines seem to reflect this, I’m not surprised. Even today, when the forecast suggests the country will, at some point, be battered by stormy winds, I managed to pop out to the shops without a coat. I’m not sure I’m quite ready to gear up to winter wines quite yet.

Cuvée David Pearson 2015, Breaky Bottom (East Sussex, UK)

Peter Hall had been making wine in the most beautiful location of any vineyard in Britain, six acres set in a fold in the South Downs between Rodmell and the coast, for a remarkable forty years when the grapes for this cuvée were harvested, and he’s fast approaching what I hope will be fifty years at the property. That he makes wine at least as good as any other English producer is an achievement. When you can still find, with persistence, wines from 2010 which retail for half the price of the top cuvées from some other big names in the industry, this is a secret I only share out of fairness to Peter, learning to subdue my own greed (though my eyes and heart are substantially bigger than my wallet).

Peter produces two cuvées each year (one from “Champagne” varieties and one from, or based on, Seyval Blanc, and each is named after a family friend). This wine is from 2015, which in Breaky Bottom terms is relative youth. Named after the man who at first supplied Peter with boxes and later became an integral part of the team at Breaky Bottom, it is comprised of 70% Chardonnay with 15% each of the two Pinots. Just 6,004 bottles were produced.

The result is classic Breaky Bottom. It has a filigree spine of fresh acidity around which clings fragrant fruit. Racy would be a good term. As with most of Peter’s wines, it is built to age and it would be considered youthful in many ways at this current stage in its development. It does have that nascent brioche building from the lees ageing. Excuse the brioche cliché, which I’ve seen come in for criticism elsewhere recently. I don’t know how else to describe it. Well, actually, I did think “croissant” (I eat many more croissants than brioche), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen croissant in a tasting note. That said, citrus aplenty is the main instrument in the orchestra here.

Why drink it young? Well, it’s lovely and fresh, it reminds me how marvellous these wines are, I’m saving my 2010s for company, and to be fair I can’t keep all of my Breaky Bottom stash for years, just to look at. And, of course, it is so damn good.

Try Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton’s Kemp Town for an indie source. Also stocked by Corney & Barrow in London. Both ship wine nationally, so no excuses. And the bonus…this one is only £35.50 at Butlers.

“Jonás” 2020, Sziegl Pince (Western Hungary)

Sziegl Pince is a growing family winery at Hajós-Baja in Western Hungary. The latest generation of the family, Petra and Balázs, were given an 80-year-old vineyard (and a barrel) in 2012. The then twenty-year-olds tended their vines at weekends and in their university holidays. Their hard work earnt them the further gift of a cellar and press, and now they have expanded to a full-time estate of 8.5 ha.

The terroir here comprises mostly loess and clay underneath a mixed topsoil with sand. They work organically, by hand, and see the vineyard’s health as the key to great wines. Having healthy grapes enables them to follow a minimum intervention path in the winery.

Jonás is a white wine made from Welschriesling (called Olaszrizling here), Hungarian stalwart Hárslevelü and Rhine Riesling (Rajnai Rizling). The Welschriesling, 60% of the blend, goes into tank as whole bunches. The Hárslevelü (20% of the blend) goes through a semi-carbonic maceration, and the Rhine Riesling is split 50:50 between pressed whole bunches and grapes receiving skin contact for two days. Fermentation is all in tank, but there’s a little Traminer in the blend as well, which is taken from a 500-litre oak cask. A small amount of sulphur is added, just 15ppm.

The result is very floral and aromatic, but the tiny amount of skin contact is just enough to add a little texture beneath those high notes. This makes a wine with plenty of zip from fresh acidity nicely grounded. The texture helps add weight, almost as if the fruit clings to it in a fresh stream of acids. So, there’s plenty for acid hounds here, but equally it’s a really nice refreshing wine for those for whom “minerality” is a positive tasting note. I loved it.

This is just £23 from Basket Press Wines.

Vin d’Alsace 2020, Domaine de L’Achillée (Alsace, France)

This is a producer completely unknown to me until I tasted their wines at the Real Wine Fair back in the summer. I had been disappointed to see just one exhibitor listed from Alsace but I was very happy once I’d tasted the wines. I would have bought more than the one cuvée had they not sold out at the event’s on-site shop, but I had to make do with this entry-level Vin D’Alsace.

Scherwiller is a village just to the northwest of Sélestat, and just inside the Bas-Rhin boundary. It has no Grand Cru vineyards of its own, but it is where the Dietrich family has farmed for several generations. Yves Dietrich converted to organic viticulture in 1999, and the domaine is suitably named, for a domaine moving to natural wine, after common yarrow in French. Sons Pierre and Jean took over in 2016 and were the first generation to bottle for themselves.

The domaine is quite large, at 18.5-hectares, added to which they have 6 ha of fruit trees from which they make “fruit pétnats” (which I would love to taste). The whole domaine has been biodynamic since 2003.

This simple Vin d’Alsace is constructed from a blend of 50% Sylvaner and 50% made up of Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir (vinified white), and a little Auxerrois, Muscat and Chasselas. In other words, it reflects the traditional Edelzwicker blends for which the region was perhaps infamous in the past. Such blends are undergoing a renaissance, especially at the natural wine estates proliferating in the region, and we are generally much the better for it. Such wines very much reflect their culture, even when some people argue they don’t reflect their place (I’m not one, in fact I often think they better reflect their terroir, but these people can be vocal).

This part of the Bas-Rhin is intersected by several rivers flowing towards the Rhine, and much of the vineyard used for this blend is on clay near the old river quays near the village, used for unloading cargo. The rest is on sandstone and granite. The wine is, as you might expect, floral more than anything else, at least initially. Then we begin to notice more fruit aromas of apricot and plum. The palate is a little more structured than you might expect, with nice citrus acidity refreshing the tongue.

As befits an entry level cuvée, it is simple enough, with a balanced, 12% alcohol. A good drinker is the term I’d use, but in a complimentary way. It points the way towards their wines I tasted back in May, such as the slate-grown Riesling Schieferberg (a lieu-dit giving a wine of great mineral texture and quite exotic fruit), and the 21-day macerated Pinot Noir “Granite”.

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.

Côte de Feule 2015, Arbois-Pupillin, Patrice Béguet (Jura, France)

Although Patrice has his home and cellar at Mesnay, just south of Arbois, this well-known vineyard is just down the hill from Pupillin. In the early days Patrice had a lot of encouragement from the famous vignerons of that village, including Pierre Overnoy. I think he once told me many years ago that some of his Arbois wine was mistaken by these guys for Pupillin, so he must have been listening.

The vineyard is a well-exposed slope of limestone and marl, one which ripens mostly Ploussard/Poulsard and Trousseau very well. I know as I’ve walked here in hot summer weather. This ripe 2015 also illustrates how well these wines age as well. Although this one sports Patrice’s second-generation label (taken from a fine lithograph used for his grandfather’s gentiane production), it’s not that long ago that I’ve drunk his “Feule” sporting the old, original, label. I can tell you that the new label was a big improvement.

This is darker than I remember, so much so that I had to check the wine’s composition. Retailer notes suggest Ploussard tout-court. I find it hard to believe that there’s no Trousseau, or Pinot Noir, in here. But that doesn’t really matter. The wine is smooth and seductive with glossy red fruits and just enough structure remaining to suggest it is drinking very well indeed. You get cranberry and redcurrant plus a touch of plum, the latter adding depth (but it’s not a traditional Ploussard element). This is a very fine Jura red natural wine, and it shows how Patrice was already maturing into a very accomplished winemaker even back then. Personally, I rank him as a top producer now.

Purchased at the domaine, but Patrice’s wines are selectively imported by Les Caves de Pyrene. They should not be overlooked, including his exciting negoce wines, made in horrifically frost/hail-affected recent vintages which put a heavy financial, and doubtless emotional, strain on many Arbois growers and their bank balances.

Lamda Barrique 2017, Ktima Ligas (Central Macedonia, Greece)

Many people are realising Greece makes very fine wine, wines which have on the whole had far too low a profile on our UK market (though perhaps better known in some other export markets). When people do think of fine Greek table wines perhaps certain reds and whites easily come to mind. Orange or amber wines, perhaps less so.

Domaine Ligas is at Pella in Central Macedonia, in Northern Greece. We are talking north of Thessaloniki, for those who can place that city. Thomas Ligas began farming here in 1985, aiming to work with autochthonous varieties. Assyrtiko is certainly a native of the region, although of course it is far better known as the fine wine grape from the island of Santorini, in the Aegean.

Viticulture here is a very strict (if that is the right word, considering the untouched nature of the vineyard) and successful form of permaculture. There’s a lot of love for Masanobu Fukuoka and his hands-off farming practices here. The farming makes a significant contribution to the profile of all the beautiful wines made by this supremely talented family, but this Assyrtiko sees one day macerating on skins before going into barrique for 18 months.

The result is as different to Santorini’s common iteration of the variety as you could imagine. Fairly dark-hued, this has the weight befitting 50-year-old vines and, when I’ve drunk it younger, a texture slightly more pronounced than you might imagine. As well as the skin maceration we should remember that Assyrtiko is highly mineral as well.

At five years old this is now smooth as honey, a description validated by a certain beeswax texture. The fruit is apricot, and the wine has a nice saline edge. I’m so glad I resisted the temptation to drink this sooner. It definitely shows the value of ageing it. This has blossomed into a truly majestic Vin de Grèce, befitting its iconic Maria Callas label. The label makes the wine stand out, recognisable on any table. The wine itself is outstanding. Only 2,000 bottles made in 2017.

Ktima Ligas is imported by Dynamic Vines. If you can get to one of their tastings, often attended by Ligas daughter, Meli, who lives in Paris, you are in for a treat over the whole range. However, I think this wine may be my favourite.

Pelegrim NV, Westwell Wines (Kent, UK)

Pelegrim is the flagship multi-vintage, traditional method, sparkling wine made by Westwell Wine Estates, who are situated at Charing, on the edge of Kent’s North Downs, not far from Ashford. This cuvée was relaunched, with an exquisite new label by winemaker Adrian Pike’s partner, Galia, in late October. You can find my article of 13 October by searching for Westwell in the search box or clicking on the article “Westwell Wines Pelegrim Relaunch” in the list of top posts to the right. I therefore won’t go into a lot of detail about Westwell, except to say that former record company owner and talent spotter Adrian Pike has taken Westwell into the top rank of quality English wine, both still and sparkling, since he came here in 2017.

Pelegrim is a blend of the three major Champagne varieties, grown on Kentish chalk. We have a ratio of 25% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 35% Meunier. The wine sees a fairly short three years on lees, that is short by the increasingly long ageing of the more expensive cuvées of English sparkling wine. Nevertheless, this is a cracker of a wine, very fruit-forward, dominated by fresh red apple with a little creaminess. Dosage is 8g/litre.

There is a key ingredient which I am yet to mention which makes this the juicy little star it is. Reserve wines. Adrian has been able to build reserves and 20% of the cuvée is made from these wines, stretching back over the past five years. The reserve wines undoubtedly add depth and softness to the very fresh fruit from the base vintage.

The shorter period on lees has a very positive outcome on what you have to pay for the wine. It’s another great value English sparkler which you ought to be able to find retailing for £32.50. I’d be pushed to find another sub-£35 English sparkling wine that is such good value, and it is very much ready to pop the cork now (though it will age should you wish to cellar it). To be honest the fruit is so good on this I see no reason to hold back unless you buy a half case.

This bottle came direct from Westwell, but their wines are available through their exclusive UK agent, Uncharted Wines, in London or UK-wide through their web site. Westwell also sells direct to the trade and the public within Kent (cellar door sales generally by appointment but they are currently opening for tours and tastings Thursday to Saturday, 11am until 5pm…but check before travelling, especially over winter). A list of Kent stockists can be found on the Westwell web site.

Fontanasanta Nosiola 2013, Foradori (Trentino, Italy)

Foradori, and this estate’s shining light, Elizabetta Foradori, probably need little introduction to readers here. Even the most conservative wine writers will be unlikely not to mention this beacon estate when talking about Italy’s northeastern wine region, Trentino-Alto-Adige. The Foradori vineyards are at the intersection of these two, often wrongly stapled together, parts of Italy which rise from north of Lake Garda, up the course of the A22 Autostrada, towards the Austrian border at the Brenner Pass. Foradori are just off this motorway, near Mezzocorona.

Foradori are the pioneers in biodynamic wine in the region, and as far as Trentino goes, one of the few estates of truly world class. However, they are wont to go their own way in pursuit of excellence, for example in amphora vinification. The conservative wine authorities don’t always take to this individuality and so the Foradori wines are labelled as IGT Vigneti delle Dolomiti. They still sell, and for impressive prices.

Foradori is the most impressive name in the production of the region’s autochthonous, and under-rated, red Teroldego grape variety, but here we have one of their equally desirable wines made from a white variety best known in the eastern part of Italy, Nosiola. They are one of several estates which have forced critics to re-evaluate the variety.

Fontanasanta is a 3-ha hillside site overlooking Trento, a little to the south. Nosiola thrives on the chalky clay soils here. It is vinified in amphora, the variety also being especially sympathetic to clay/terracotta. The Foradori family claim this is the traditional vessel for the grape. Skin contact turns it into quite a serious wine here, and when I say skin contact, we are talking an eight-month maceration before the wine is moved into acacia casks. The amphora used are Spanish Tinajas, which are said to be the most porous of this type of vessel, making them especially suitable for very long macerations like this.

If you let this wine age, and I recommend you do so, it will give you a gem of waxy, herbal exoticism. This, coupled with its notable salinity, will render the wine complex with an incredible length. Gorgeous stuff. I know that insiders are well aware of these wines, but I think the fact that these wines don’t come from a region like Piemonte, Tuscany or Friuli makes them slip well under the radar of many wine lovers.

Foradori wines do not come cheap. You will pay at least £46 for this Nosiola, I should think, possibly more (certainly more for an aged version). But there are dozens of white wines made from more fashionable grape varieties, at twice the price, but with half the complexity as this has.

Purchased (but some years ago) from The Solent Cellar, via importer Les Caves de Pyrene. Solent Cellar has, at least according to their web site, the very tempting 2015 in magnum for £85. Beyond my budget, but it would make someone very happy for Christmas.

“Raspberry on Ice” 2021, Petr Koráb (Moravia, Czech Republic)

Petr Koráb is one of the most interesting guys making wine in Czech Moravia. Younger than the old-time masters like Osička and Stávek, he’s every bit as good a natural winemaker. He’s also innovative, and his wines range from serious, through off-the-wall inventive, to wild fun. In Part 2 we shall see another side to Petr, but this wine is in the fun category, and is probably the queen of fun.

I first tasted Raspberry on Ice in extremely pleasant, but tiring, circumstances. We’d flown to Vienna and driven from there to Boleradice in August, where as you probably know we spent a few days visiting some of Moravia’s natural winemakers (and also attended the Autentikfest natural wine fair). We were given dinner almost on arrival by Petr and his wife, at a beautifully set table under the trees outside the Koráb cellars just up the hill, on the edge of the village, before an evening of hard-at-it tasting. It was the perfect pick-me-up. Would it match that experience in that romantic setting when opened back at home?

The blend here is Pinot Noir and St Laurent. It genuinely is like raspberry juice. Effectively, this is all you need to know. It has concentrated raspberry aroma and fruit, with that typical raspberry acidity. Uncanny. It’s all about the fruit, the whole fruit and nothing but the fruit (to misquote Funkadelic). It’s a pale red, frisky, not without a prickly bite, one which embodies all that is meant by “glouglou”. I’m not sure this didn’t all fly out the door in the UK but it is worth checking as another shipment might have arrived. Seemingly a summer wine, it would brighten any autumnal day, for sure. There were some magnums too!

One from Basket Press Wines, of course. I don’t see it on their web site but worth asking whether more is on the way? Otherwise, make a note for next year.

[Enjoying a rather special outdoor dinner chez Koráb, but I promise the wine is as good as I said despite the hospitality]

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The Vineyards of Britain by Ed Dallimore (Review)

I think I’ve mentioned Ed Dallimore a few times in recent articles, and a while ago I promised a review of his book, The Vineyards of Britain. Now I’ve finally found time to put fingers to keyboard to tell you about it. The keen-eyed readers amongst you will know that I liked it, because I did say don’t wait for my review to buy it. Nevertheless, I guess a few readers would still like a more detailed review, so here it is.

Ed Dallimore has, according to his back flap biog, worked in the wine industry for fourteen years. Ed left university in 2008 and not really knowing what to do, joined Majestic Wine’s Graduate Scheme. In 2012 he headed out to Sydney, Australia, and bagged a job working for Mount Pleasant Wines. Fast forward the best part of a decade and Ed is back in the UK already having had the idea for this book. The leg work was done, after three months planning, between April and November 2021, and I read on the Worldofbooze blog (see below) that he reckons he covered 18,000 miles for his research, often visiting producers more than once.

The book contains something like 140 wine producers, of all shapes and sizes. Initially, Ed planned to include 250 but as was pointed out to him, not only would that have taken an impossible amount of time, it would also have made for a very long, and expensive, tome. Although Ed has therefore missed out a decent number of wine estates and vineyards, and despite the slightly misleading suggestion on the inside of the front cover that it is a “comprehensive” guide, this is certainly the most comprehensive book on English and Welsh wine out there, and I think it fair to say by quite some distance.

Before running through the book’s contents, I want to highlight one thing that really makes this a thrill to read, the photos. Some wine writers manage to employ a professional to enhance their work. Others, Simon Woolf comes to mind, have a co-author who’s a dab hand behind the lens (Foot Trodden with Ryan Opaz). Ed is lucky to be an exceptional photographer himself. There is no way, I am presuming, that he could have employed a photographer, so it’s pretty lucky that he has been able to populate the book with at least one exceptional photograph on each of the producers visited. The images really bring each visit to life.

The Vineyards of Britain begins with a really good introduction. Just enough history of viticulture in Britain, without succumbing to the myths, before a couple of pages noting the pioneers here. There’s a page on terroir, one on climate change, which Ed thinks is likely to have the biggest impact on British viticulture in the decade to come, and then a couple of pages on the opportunities which are there for the industry to grasp. The intro wraps up with an explanation of Ed’s philosophy. I’ll leave the reader to discover what that is, but it certainly accords with mine.

This is not the only thing I have in common with Ed. As the book works its way through the wine regions of England and Wales, from the Thames Valley and Chilterns on page 26 to East Anglia on page 332, Ed is not afraid to indicate who has really impressed him. Whether it is the incomparable Peter Hall at Breaky Bottom (who Ed has taken the definitive photo of), new stars Jacob Leadley and Zoë Driver at Black Chalk, England’s greatest wine thinker, Tim Phillips (Charlie Herring Wines with his magical “clos” near Lymington), Adrian Pike at Westwell in Kent, or Daniel Ham’s Offbeat Wines, Ed seems to pick out for special recognition pretty much all those producers I rate most highly. He’s also excited for relatively new names like Ham Street Wines and Hugo Stewart (Domaine Hugo), who I am trying equally hard to follow when I can get bottles.

Each producer profile gets a two-page spread comprising usually text and a photo. That’s enough to give a pretty decent precis of the vineyard and the wines. Each is preceded by their Instagram name (if they have one), web site, usually the address, info as to whether you can visit and when, and one or two recommended wines to try.

Those producers who Ed considers the most important get four pages, and consequently a little more detail. Although less than two pages of text doesn’t seem like a lot, to me this seems just right. You get a flavour and you can always go off and hit Google for more. There are, of course, other books on English and Welsh Wine, and they might have a little more detail on some estates, but I have found that with Oz Clarke and Stephen Skelton MW these tend to be the older, established, names. Ed’s book is not only far more comprehensive on the number of producers covered, he also has a younger man’s finger, more firmly on the pulse so to speak, of new developments.

Of course, I do not mean to underplay the importance of the big names within the industry, the likes of Nyetimber or Rathfinny for example. Nevertheless, as I have said many times before, it is those small, innovative, artisans who are driving the industry forward. Such producers may often be doing things at the fringes, but their absolute focus on quality usually bears results. Ben Walgate was the first person I knew to use qvevri in England. Now, qvevri, amphora and all manner of other similar vessels are creeping into wineries up and down the country, even into Plumpton College.

I do have one or two niggles with the book, and I guess I should mention those. I have already said that Ed’s original idea, to be truly comprehensive, had to be curtailed. There are one or two producers I was surprised not to see included by way of a profile. Bolney, in Sussex, for one example, because they do get a mention in the context of their contract winemaking in another producer’s profile (they do make wine for a number of other vineyards). Bolney makes a very tasty red sparkling Dornfelder – how could you leave that out!

Equally, I would not have necessarily expected to find Matt Gregory included, but it’s a shame he wasn’t as he’s typical of many young pioneers pushing the boundaries, literally, of English Wine. He makes wine in Piemonte and North Leicestershire, and is distributed by the innovative Uncharted Wines in the UK.

Ed mentions some urban wineries, but there’s nothing on London’s very first, London Cru, based in the West London premises of Roberson Wine. I also think that the Lost Vineyards Project and the subsequent petnat called Frolic, made by Daniel Ham on behalf of Tim Wildman (previously best known for his brilliant, fun, petnats from Australia) is one of the most interesting things going on in UK wine at the moment, with its focus on heritage varieties and unloved and forgotten (in some cases) plots of vines. But perhaps this is too recent a project to have hit Ed’s radar before publication.

That said, I accept that you can’t include everyone, in a book which goes far beyond what anyone else has written about English and Welsh wine. My major gripe is a lack of a producer index (there is a Glossary of terms). I consider myself quite knowledgeable about the English wine scene, but I have found myself wanting to look up a producer I have merely heard of but don’t know which county they are in. The fact that they do not appear to be in alphabetical order within their county or region adds to the time it takes to locate a winemaker. It doesn’t detract from how good I think the book is, but it does make it slightly frustrating to use as a guide for reference once one has read it cover to cover.

Anyway, there’s a rumour Ed might have another book on the same subject up his sleeve, and my guess is that some of the more recent developments in the vineyards of Britain may appear there.

As I mentioned, there are other books on English and Welsh Wine sitting on my shelves. Stephen Skelton’s “The Wines of Great Britain” came out in 2019 as part of the Infinite Ideas Classic Wine Library, and is the latest of a number of books he’s written on the subject. Skelton has been, perhaps, the biggest name at the coalface of our wine industry since the mid-1970s, when he helped establish Tenterden Vineyard (now home to Chapel Down) in Kent. He’s now a consultant and has, inter alia, located and advised on many of the UK’s best sites for vines in recent years.

Oz Clarke needs no introduction to most readers. His “English Wine” (subtitled the newest new world wine country) came out in 2020 under the prestigious Pavilion imprint.

Skelton is authoritative, but whilst Clarke specifically points out that his book is not comprehensive, he does give us an almost complete, and entertaining, overview. Both are worth reading.

Ed Dallimore goes way further than both of the above if you want to read about individual producers. Of course, you get all of the major players, but you also get a good number of new and exciting names (I really need to locate wine from Balbina Leeming’s Bsixtwelve vineyard near Winchester, Ed’s praise matched by another author soon to publish an English and Welsh Wine travelogue, Ruth Spivey). If anyone can help me here?

But in addition, Ed also includes a large number of producers many of us are unlikely to ever come across unless we live nearby. Some of these names have been producing wine for years, decades even, whilst others are more recently on the scene, but they are all united as wine growers (some make wine, many send their harvest to a contract facility) whose output is sold mostly at the cellar door, occasionally in a local pub, restaurant or farm shop. They may not be big names, but they are going to receive a visit from me if I’m in the neighbourhood. I’m always curious.

That’s the real beauty of this book. You get producers large and small and so our knowledge of the vineyards of Great Britain is so much the greater for it. We are lucky to have Ed’s dedication to put in months of hard work, tasting and traveling, to bring this knowledge to us. He’s sure not going to get rich on it, though I suspect that this book should sell very well for all the reasons I’ve outlined.

Ed Dallimore’s The Vineyards of Britain was published by Fairlight Books in 2022 (368pp, rrp £19.99, which is pretty cheap for a wine book these days). It’s a soft cover/paperback which in the months since I bought it has withstood a pretty serious amount of flicking through (especially because of the lack of index). I can’t see why any wine lover living in the UK wouldn’t want a copy, to be perfectly honest. Again, I must say, the photos are a bonus.

The book is available at some major bookshop chains, good independents and online platforms, or directly from Ed (I believe) at his web site, 59vines.com. This is where you will find more of the author’s photos and his own wine blog.

I also think it’s worth mentioning the article I read on Henry’s World of Booze, another WordPress blogger like me ( https://worldofbooze.wordpress.com , 17 July 2022). Well worth reading if you want to find out more about Ed.

I follow Ed Dallimore on Instagram at @59vines .

Posted in English Wine, Sparkling Wine, Wine, Wine Books, Wine Tourism, Wine Travel, Wine Writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recent Wines September 2022 #theglouthatbindsus

September signalled our first month in Scotland. It has been wonderful, although after a week here I managed to catch Covid. As that took out thirteen drinking days (it was a long dose), I think we did okay on the consumption front, and here I give you the eight most delicious wines from last month. We have two wines from different ends of Hungary, one from California, one from Moravia, one from the Languedoc, two from Australia, and one Champagne.

Somló 2019, Hidden Treasures Project, Moric (Somló, Hungary)

I know the wines of Moric reasonably well, if not as well as some Austrian producers. Roland Velich broke away from the family winery and set up the Moric label in the early 2000s, producing, initially, Blaufränkisch from Burgenland. This wine is from a relatively new project, “hidden treasures” forming collaborations with lesser known or younger producers.

It is made from grapes grown on the Somló Massif, a remarkable ancient volcanic plug in Western Hungary, lying almost between Lake Balaton and Sopron on the Austrian border. Here, Velich is working with Kis Tamás, one of the new young winemakers in the region. There is a fine tradition of Austrian winemakers working in Hungary, especially from Burgenland, which used to be part of Hungary in the early days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Incidentally, it’s also why Burgenland produces some fine examples of the Hungarian variety, Furmint, which is undergoing a bit of a renaissance there. I have one ready to drink tonight.

The blend here is 60% Furmint from the southern and western sides of the Somló hill. The other 40% is comprised of 35% Welschriesling from the cone’s Northern side and 5% Harslevelü from the southern slopes. The soils are a mix of mainly volcanic basalt with sand, clay and even some chalk.

The wine was fermented a mix of stainless steel and old Hungarian oak. The bouquet is lovely, expressing gentle tree blossom with a herbal touch adding to the floral notes. The palate shows lively apple zip and a mineral/saline texture. Indeed, this is a lovely savoury white wine with a fair bit of depth.

This cost only £26 from Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton’s Kemp Town. Various Moric wines are available via Berry Brothers, Lay & Wheeler and Clark Foyster. I suspect this may have come from the latter.

Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Failla (California, USA)

This full-bodied Pinot comes from fruit grown in the Anderson Valley. This sits in Mendocino County between the coastal range (Mendocino Ridge) and Mendocino itself, over more mountains. The valley is noted for its cool ripening conditions for the most part, with Roederer growing grapes for its sparkling wine there, and a healthy amount of Riesling and Gewurztraminer is produced for other labels. But closer to the Sonoma border there’s a lot more Pinot Noir grown in warmer conditions.

The Failla label belongs to Ehren Jordan and his wife. Ehren trained in the Rhöne Valley with Jean-Luc Colombo, so unsurprisingly he became well known first for high class Syrah. Nowadays the focus here seems to have shifted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The fruit he sources comes from all over this part of California’s Northern Coast, but his cellars, mostly populated with old oak and a liberal smattering of concrete eggs, is (I believe) still down south, near Calistoga.

The Savoy Vineyard Pinot may not be Failla’s best known, but the site has pedigree. Ted Lemon, whose Littorai label perhaps did more than any to make the name of Anderson Valley, established his first long-term contract for fruit with Richard Savoy, choosing to pay by the acre rather than weight, thus establishing a quality over quantity ethos followed thereafter by any winemaker keen to produce the best wine he or she can.

This wine is more plums than cherry, rich and smooth, indicative of its very Californian 14% abv. The fruit is mature but remains vibrant and retains a mineral texture and even a touch of tannin. At a decade old this wine shows its class. Although there is power here, it doesn’t lack elegance, nor complexity. You are not going to get a gentle, ethereal, Burgundy look-alike, though. Despite its ripeness, and oddly the faintest of a nod to a Pinot-esque Côte-Rôtie, it remains unmistakeably Pinot Noir. Just a unique and different rendering.

This wine was a gift some years ago and although they have good US distribution, I’m not sure who brings them into the UK. I have seen their Sonoma Coast Pinot at Fortnum & Mason in London but at £42 that must make this single vineyard wine expensive. Sorry I can’t be more helpful.

“Miya” 2021, Krásna Horá (Moravia, Czechia)

This is one of the wineries we visited in Moravia this summer (see my article of 21 August for more information on the producer). The winery name means “beautiful hill”, and it is beautiful, extending as it does gently upwards behind the modern, family-run, winery in Stary Poddvorov.

They have a modern outlook here, and as they get along well with Milán Nesterec I can sense some similarities of approach. Krásna Horá has certainly developed a similarly colourful range of labels, like Milán, although with their own very individual stamp and personality.

“Miya” is named after a young niece of the family and is made from 100% Zweigelt (or Zeigeltreibe as they call it). The vineyard is a five-hectare site on loess soils. Production is biodynamic and the juice is partly fermented on the skins after whole bunches go into tank (no wood), and bottled slightly sparkling.

The colour is very much pale, as in strawberry or raspberry, so the crunchy berry fruit and the wine’s lightness is no surprise, though as it is so frivolous and easy to glug, the 12.5% alcohol perhaps is. It drinks like a wine with more like 11%, that is, extremely easily. Not that 12.5% is high, it just tastes lighter. This was one of the most refreshing two-or-three wines we drank on our trip and it was equally delicious on a sunny day in Scotland. It’s probably up there in the top half-dozen glouglou wines of the year so far. It’s a gently fizzy fruit bomb. It does have a bright label too.

Around £22 from Basket Press Wines.

“Couleurs Réunies” 2020, Mas Coutelou (Languedoc, France)

Jeff (as Jean-François likes to be known) Coutelou is currently my favourite producer in the Languedoc. His artisan domaine is at Puimiusson, near Béziers. To say he makes natural wines is to greatly undervalue what he does. His commitment to not only his wines but the whole environment goes beyond almost all of his fellow producers in the region. You’ll find around 13-ha here planted to vines, with the remaining seven planted mostly to trees, not always popular with his napalm-reliant neighbours..

The soils at Coutelou are chalky clay, worked manually. Cellar work is equally hands off, with a diverse team working the harvest, including mine and Jeff’s friend, Alan March as a regular. That suggests I am not wholly unbiased here, but that might be unfair. Although I love all the wines, some are a little too potent for my ageing liver, and no matter how genuinely stunning some of the wines are, I am often quite likely to pick out those with lower alcoholic strength.

“Couleurs” only packs 12.5% alcohol. It is a field blend, mostly sourced from the site known as and for “Flower Power”. The vineyard is planted to an assortment of varieties, including Terret Noir, Terret Blanc, Castets, Morastel, Riveyranc Gris and others, hence the name (both red and white varieties are co-planted).

The result here is a wine majoring on red fruits with a hint of rhubarb adding considerable interest. More savoury elements come through next, including tobacco and leather. It’s a nice, spicy red with some complexity. I call it “simple complexity”, the different elements which can, as here, come together from a field blend where grapes are picked at different stages of ripeness. It’s fresh and not remotely heavy. It is without doubt a wine which has a sense of place, especially if you have been lucky enough to experience this part of France in summer.

We drank this with a fairly spicy couscous dish and they went together perfectly. I think some writers might favour other Coutelou cuvées, but I can’t recommend this more highly as a nicely spiced, natural, wine for drinking.

Imported by both Gergovie Wines and Leon Stolarski Fine Wines (check out both sources for different Coutelou offerings), my bottle came from Cork & Cask in Edinburgh.

“Tolone” Riesling 2018, Nikau Farm (Victoria, Australia)

Nikau Farm might not be too familiar to lovers of Australian wines, even natural ones, but if I say it is the family home and vineyard of Dane Johns, then the label “Momento Mori” might come to mind. Dane is an ex-barrista who began his winemaking career with William Downie. He began his Momento Mori label out of a garage, as far as I can tell, buying in low intervention fruit from around Southern Victoria.

Now, Dane has some land of his own in the Baw Baw sub-region of Gippsland, a large viticultural region in Victoria’s south eastern corner which kind of pokes its nose well into New South Wales. It is, by all accounts, a beautiful farm, where Dane also grows the family’s vegetables with his wife, Hannah. They have ninety-five acres in all, which suits their total commitment to biodiversity (like Jeff Coutelou above), and this is including a twenty-five-year-old olive grove. Currently the area planted to vines is less than 2-ha, but there’s plenty of room for expansion.

Dane follows a totally natural regime. The vines have never been sprayed with any synthetic chemical treatments, and the wines are totally what we call zero-zero. Not only are there no interventions in the winery either, but Dane doesn’t add sulphur at any stage. He likes the discipline of working without the safety net of sulphur. It keeps him focused on his aim to make the cleanest wines he can.

Tolone is a small block of Riesling, not that there are any large blocks of vines here. There’s a little Chardonnay planted and mixed in here if truth be known. The terroir is on a base of sandstone and silica, the latter which adds a lot to the wine’s character. Equally important is the prevailing weather, which here comprises especially the winds blowing in directly off the Bass Strait to the south.

The grapes are macerated for 48 hours on skins and the result is a low alcohol (just 9.3% abv) wine with a mineral structure and texture, and relatively high acidity. It is a wine for acid hounds, for sure, but at the same time there is something infinitely pure about this Riesling. It’s as if everything is stripped back to the bones. If that doesn’t appeal, it should. This is frankly an astonishing wine for the adventurous traveller, quite unique, and beautiful in a way that is perhaps highly unconventional. Only 500 bottles made though.

This, like Dane’s Momento Mori wines, are brought to the UK by Les Caves de Pyrene, whenever they can get some. I bought mine direct from them. It did feel like a privilege to drink this. I spotted that Solent Cellar has several Nikau cuvées currently in stock, presumably in tiny quantities, so be quick. The prices are not cheap (£65 for Tolone, two vintages, though there are cheaper cuvées, slightly) but if you share my taste, and those of Doug Wregg, who I know is a big fan, then jump in and check them out whilst Dane remains ever so slightly, and only just, below the radar of the unicorn hunters.

Freiluftkino 2019, Annamária Réka-Koncz (Eastern Hungary)

I’m not sure regular readers want to keep reading about this producer, from Barabas on the Hungarian border with Ukraine. I certainly appear to drink more of her wines than pretty much anyone else’s at the moment. However, not everyone reads every article, and there will certainly be those who don’t know them.

Freiluftkino is a bottle-fermented sparkling wine, the name translating (in German) as “open air cinema”. I’m not sure which one Annamária had in mind, although there’s a very famous one in Berlin. This bottling is made from 2019 fruit, but used unfermented must from the 2020 vintage as the liqueur for tirage. The wine was given a further one year on lees/yeast after this, before disgorging by hand.

It is very much an artisan wine but made by the classic method, rather like a Grower Champagne. Except of course the relatively short spell on lees makes for a young-tasting wine, but in this case a wholly natural one. I last tasted this vintage of Freiluftkino in February this year and it has certainly gained in stature since that enjoyable bottle. I think the shorter lees ageing and second fermentation probably suits the grape blend, which is Királyleányka, Furmint, Rhine Riesling and Hárslevelü.

The wine’s character certainly comes from, and expresses, the complex soil structure the grapes are grown on. It’s a quite unique mix of rhyolite (a tight-grained, silica-rich, volcanic rock), andesite, dacite and tufa. It is steely and focused with a spicy, pronounced, minerality. The wine’s depth is echoed in a fairly deep straw colour with the faintest hints of green-gold. This bottle, unlike the previous, showed hints of freshly baked bread.

This is as appealing as it is cheap (maybe around £26), at least for a wine of this method. However, that doesn’t help because the 2019 vintage only consisted of 1,228 bottles, so it is consequently also rare. I bagged three in total and have one left. I think importer Basket Press Wines may have sold through the 2019, but I may be wrong and I do know that they have been slow updating their web site with new arrivals this month. But contact them directly for availability of Annamária’s wines. They are becoming quite sought after, especially as a few noted restaurants have taken them up.

Contact Basket Press Wines for availability.

Cuvée de Réserve Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs NV, Champagne Pierre Péters (Champagne, France)

Rodolph Péters blends this rather amazing NV from 50% fruit from the village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger on the Côte de Blancs. When I say fruit, I mean some of the finest Chardonnay on the planet. Well, that’s my opinion. The remaining half comes from Chouilly and Cramant further north. The Mesnil fruit has monumental salinity and Cramant is of course noted for its rapier thrust and filigree backbone. All of the grapes are from sites designated Grand Cru.

In many ways this is what we would like all non-vintage cuvées to taste like, especially in terms of quality. But they don’t! The fruit has precision, but the wine is not merely an assemblage of these sites. It is bolstered by a generous helping from a perpetual reserve which dates right back to 1988. It adds the kind of complexity which is rare at entry level in Champagne.

This bottle shows some youthful, mineral, freshness, but it was also starting to develop some nuts and bready notes. If you are looking for fruit you will find it, but perhaps unusually it was apricot in my glass. Nevertheless, at this stage I did think it quite Chablis-like, which for me is always a plus point with Champagne (just so you know where I stand). It’s that poise, I think.

This is simply a majestic Grower Champagne which will only get better. I can’t always be drinking Cuvée Chétillons after all. £50 is not cheap for a NV but the quality definitely matches the price, and you can now pay £398 for a 2014 Chéti at Mayfair’s Hedonism Wines if you wish, though trust me, it’s too young to drink (almost tempted to sell my last 2002, but not quite).

This came from Lockett Brothers in East Lothian, but I think it’s quite widely available. Liberty Wines managed the enviable coup of winning the Péters agency for the UK last year. I hope I can find a spare wad of notes to get some more whilst its still on the shelf. We drank it on my dad’s 90th birthday and it was very much appreciated as Champagne is the only alcohol he will drink now.

ZBO 2019, Brash Higgins (South Australia)

Brash Higgins is the label of Brad Hickey, who originated from Chicago the United States before exchanging a city-type career there for a vineyard in Australia’s McLaren Vale (as you do). I got to know him because his best mate from back home worked with my wife. Brad is one of the best under-the-radar producers in Australia in my opinion, and a few of the wines he makes are not just good but really interesting too. Not least of these is his Chardonnay made under flor in the fashion of a Vin Jaune (called Bloom and usually available by the single, clavelin-lookalike, bottle only).

Another wine I love, and find supremely interesting, is ZBO. Brad has a way of naming most of his wines using three letters of the grape variety, which in this case is Zibibbo. The fruit source is a long way from McLaren Vale, up in the vast Riverland. Okay, you will tell me from your WSET studies that this is a large irrigation region, noted for high yields and not for quality fruit. Well, Brad isn’t the only guy I know to source some good fruit up here on the lower part of the upper reaches of the Murray River (Murray-Darling is the corresponding wine region just on the other side of the Victoria border, in NSW, and has a similarly negative reputation).

The bush vines providing this Muscat variant (Zibibbo is a synonym for Muscat of Alexandria) are around seventy years old or more. They come from Ricca Terra Farms. Brad takes this fruit and drops it (gently) into Aussie-made amphora, where it sees 150 (not a typo) days on skins.

The result is a dry, textured, wine with all sorts of complexity – from wax, to honey, confit lemon, apricot, and even a little mint or eucalyptus. Unfined and unfiltered, there were 288 cases from this vintage, so it has an element of rarity despite its genial £25/26 price tag.

About the vintage…2019. Muscat is for drinking early, surely, you say? This wine, with its long ferment and maceration in terracotta, is built to age. I would guess that 95% of the ZBO which comes over to the UK gets drunk soon after purchase. I assure you it ages well. For me this is a hidden gem of a wine, and it is way, way, cheaper than the impossible to find “Bloom”.

ZBO is one of the half-dozen (I believe) Brash Higgins wines imported by Berkmann Wine Cellars, and this particular bottle came, via them, from The Solent Cellar. It can be found in a wide variety of independent retailers. Lovely label too.

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

Westwell Wines “Pelegrim” Relaunch

I continue to be enamoured by English Sparkling Wine. As I’ve said before, it’s nothing to do with gung-ho jingoism or the slightest feeling of animosity towards our French cousins. It’s simply based on quality, and I should add, individuality. There is a range of artisan estates in Britain making wines with the same kind of personality as those making Grower Champagne in France. Some, of whom I’ve written about before, like Breaky Bottom and Black Chalk, focus almost entirely (Black Chalk has begun to bottle a still Rosé) on sparkling wine. Others, such as Tillingham and this winery, Westwell, have a range of still wines too. I think it is noticeable that if you make high quality sparkling wine you are not going to produce sub-standard still wines.

Westwell Pelegrim with its new label

Westwell Wine Estates, to give it its full name, sits atop chalk terroir on the edge of the North Downs at Charing, not far from Ashford in Kent. Adrian Pike came to Westwell in 2017 and immediately increased the vineyard from just over a dozen acres to thirty. Adrian had a great career in the music industry, having founded Moshi Moshi Records. They had a star roster of successful acts, including Florence and the Machine. However, what drew me to Adrian when I first met him at a London tasting soon after his arrival at Westwell was his “Throbbing Gristle” t-shirt. They were pioneers of industrial music in the late 1970s and had a house a few doors up from the bassist in my band at the time, famous for some pretty loud parties.

Ed Dallimore in his book mentions Adrian’s t-shirts – Have you seen this one, Ed?

The philosophy is to work with minimal intervention, which includes the use of biodynamic preparations in the vineyards, working towards the elimination of all non-organic inputs in the next year or so, following a systematic planned reduction. It’s a philosophy which aims to be equally as hands-off in the vines and winery.

Adrian, like so many of the new names in English winemaking, trained at Plumpton College, near Lewes (E. Sussex), our national viticultural college. However, he got the wine bug before that, working with Will Davenport, after tasting one of his wines whilst pondering a change of direction and, apparently, phoning him up and asking for a job (See Ed Dallimore, The Vineyards of Britain, Fairlight Books 2022, p328). Will has been a pioneer of organic viticulture in England since the early 1990s and equally he was an early believer in English still wines, especially Pinot Noir which is beginning to thrive at the moment with warmer summers…just so long as the late frosts and mildew don’t get the grapes.

Adrian is a bit fan of the Ortega variety so several Westwell wines are made from or include it. This Müller-Thurgau x Siegerrebe crossing was developed in Germany in the 1940s (post-war). It has proved successful in England and Wales because it withstands frost well, and it also ripens early, useful in a country where summers have been known to end abruptly, sometimes before harvest. In its native Germany it is often associated with sweet wines because its early ripening ability enables high must weights. However, in the UK it is more likely to make a dry and zesty wine. Westwell manages to make a skin contact amber wine, a stainless steel-fermented tropical-fruited version, and a very tasty petnat (highly recommended).

There are also Rosés (Adrian likes pink wine, a taste I think he shares with Ben Walgate at Tillingham), both still and sparkling. There’s also a bit of the ubiquitous Regent planted, a red variety also much appreciated in the early days of viticulture in Britain due to its broad resistance to fungal diseases like downy mildew. Regent is undergoing a bit of a rethink at the moment as a new generation of young wine drinkers appreciate the “glouglou” fruit and lower alcohol of natural wines over the more classical flavours imbedded in drinkers who grew up on mostly wines from the classic French appellations.

However, the thing which drew me to write about Westwell today is a more classic wine, made from the three Champagne varieties.

Pelegrim is a classic method sparkling wine named after the Pilgrim’s Way and those who walked it, the ancient pilgrim path which skirts the southern edge of the North Downs as it approaches Canterbury. Medieval pilgrims used the route to travel from the Bishop’s See of Winchester to the shrine of Saint Thomas a Beckett, putting me in mind of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Archeology suggests it is actually much older, a very ancient pathway probably dating back to the Stone Age. It also happens to skirt Westwell’s vines. The cuvée is being re-launched this month with a stunning new label created by Adrian’s partner, Galia.

Pelegrim existed before Adrian Pike came on board at Westwell but Adrian made significant changes. These included later picking for riper fruit, a lower dosage (but not very low, at 8g/litre) and longer lees ageing. The wine is released as a multi-vintage, with the aim of producing consistency every year. The basic blend sits upon 40% Pinot Noir, joined by 35% Meunier and 25% Chardonnay, all a mix of Champagne and Dijon clones. Into this is blended 20% reserve wines from the previous five years. It is this that creates the potential for complexity.

Two factors besides fruit quality and dosage give Pelegrim its individual personality. First, it sees three years on lees. This is not a long time compared to some English sparklers, but it is just right to allow a fruit-forward style combined with some creaminess as complexity begins to show its face. The Chardonnay brings a touch of salinity whereas the Pinots bring both a nice layer of red fruits with a crisp, red apple, acidity.

Secondly, it is fermented to five bars of pressure, a little less than most classic bottle-fermented wines (six bar is more usual in Champagne and most English sparkling wine made by the traditional method). This helps give a slightly softer mouthfeel, which in turn gives an impression, but just that, of a little richness to balance the apple-fresh acids.

Galia’s new label is, I hope you agree, really rather beautiful. It depicts fossilised sea creatures found in the local chalk in abstract form, created from photos taken under the microscope. It’s one of my favourite labels for an English sparkler, sitting somewhere between the wild style often found on petnats and the more classic, if occasionally dull, labels for many of England’s classic sparklers (of course the beautiful classic type face chosen by Reynolds Stone for Breaky Bottom is a notable exception and the exemplar of the classical label).

One very big attraction of Pelegrim is the price. Whilst English Sparkling Wine has risen sharply in price in the past four or five years, especially as costs have rocketed so much and not all vintages have been commercially plentiful, this new launch of Pelegrim has a recommended retail price of only £32.50. I won’t try to argue that this is the best sparkling wine in England, but this is not intended to be one of those cuvées made to impress those wine writers who get the occasional sip at a tasting (we can’t afford the £100 bottles, you know), along with the bonus-rich bankers and hedge fund managers who presumably buy the wines which claim to be the crème de la crème. Instead, it is priced if not for everyone, certainly for those who are prepared to top £30 for a “special treat wine” if the bottle is worth it.

This, in my honest opinion is worth it. We drank it on a special family anniversary and we all loved it in equal measure. It is fruity, so it might not impress those who demand only zero-dosage wines with bags of dry extract and acidity which, in some examples, feels like a fatal thrust from the rapier of Porthos. Yet as well as being fruity it certainly has elegance, and also a wonderful precision. I love the balance here, perfectly judged and, I think, exactly what it means to be. It has quality in excess of its price. Adrian has really nailed it here.

Although Westwell has a good distribution, especially among the hot indie wine shops in London and The South, you can now visit the estate from Thursday to Saturday between 11-5. During these hours you no longer need to book an appointment. You can take a tour and/or enjoy a glass of Westwell wine with local cheese and charcuterie. The bar and shop stay open until 8pm on Fridays and Saturdays. The bonus – cellar door sales.

Image courtesy Westwell Wine Estates

Pelegrim has a younger sibling, Wicken Foy, made from the same grapes as Pelegrim but seeing only eighteen months on lees. It’s available only from independent retailers, plus a little may be available at the cellar door, assuming anyone has any left.

There’s also a kind of super-cuvée available in very tiny quantities. It’s their Special Cuvée Late Disgorged, based on the 2015 vintage in its current form, with, I understand, five years on lees. This is available from agent/distributor Uncharted Wines. Check out www.unchartedwines.com .

Westwell Wine Estates is at “The Vyneyard”, Westwell Lane, Charing, Kent TN27 0BW, and you can check them out at www.westwellwines.com .

Westwell Pelegrim will be launched officially on Tuesday October 25th with a tasting for Trade (3-5pm) and everyone (5pm onwards). The venue is Sager + Wilde, 193 Hackney Road, London E2 8JL.

Image courtesy Westwell Wine Estates

Posted in Artisan Wines, biodynamic wine, English Wine, Natural Wine, Sparkling Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Tourism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recent Wines August 2022 #theglouthatbindsus

It may appear that drinking at home was not a thing in August, but if truth be known we were trying to drink up the sort of wines which either I didn’t want to lug up to Scotland along with a few wines I’d bought several bottles of for summer consumption. We are left with only six I want to tell you about and they come from South Africa, Hungary, Provence, Burgenland, Franconia and The Loire.

Luuks 2020, Blank Bottle Winery (Stellenbosch, South Africa)

I bought several bottles of this over a couple of orders and I’m really pleased I did. It’s a new cuvée from Pieter Walser, and “luuks” means “luxury” in Afrikaans, quite apt. It was the first time Pieter had been able to afford a brand-new barrel, sourced from Burgundy, and this is the result.

The fruit chosen was, perhaps unsurprisingly, Chardonnay from Stellenbosch. Pieter has made a shockingly good wine from it. Interestingly, the alcohol here is not what you’d expect. Some of Pieter’s wines can, how can I put it, creep up on you, and surely Chardonnay might be a candidate for that effect. But no, this shows a very restrained 12.5% abv.

The wine is obviously young at more-or-less two years old, but despite a buttery, toasty, side to it, we also have bright citrus acidity which both balances the oak, and makes the wine so nice to drink now that I’m not sure keeping it will bring a great deal more to the game. It will doubtless broaden but it’s so alive right now, in the way that I described Gut Oggau’s wines recently.

I would say that this is probably the best new Blank Bottle cuvée I’ve tasted for a while, despite the incredibly high standards this wonderful, slightly under the radar, South African producer adheres to. I really like this.

As always, I think all of Pieter’s wines are amazing value. Imported by Swig Wines, this Came from Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton.

Eastern Accents 2020, Annamária Réka-Koncz (Eastern Hungary)

I’ve written about this producer many times, so many readers will know of my special affinity for these wines.  I drank, and wrote about, the previous vintage of Eastern Accents just over twelve months ago, so I have no worries about plugging my first bottle of the 2020.

The key to Annamária’s wines begins with old vines, around 40-to-60 years old. They are situated on what is known as the Northern Great Plain, close to Barabás, right up on the Ukrainian border. This is obviously not one of Hungary’s more famous viticultural regions, but the terroir is not massively dissimilar to that in Tokaj, which is not all that far away.

The blend in this bottling is 70% Harslevelü with 30% of Annamária’s secret weapon, the Királyleányka variety, better known perhaps as Fetească Regală to those familiar with the wines of Romania. The grapes see a five-day maceration on skins, so this is a skin contact wine. This is followed by a carbonic fermentation (my notes on the 2019 say semi-carbonic) in tank (the cuvée sees no wood).

The result is massively fruity, fresh and easy to drink but there is undoubtedly mineral texture from skin contact and lees. There’s a lovely bite to the finish which adds considerable interest. Apart from describing this wine as gorgeous, I’d also call it “precise”. Only 2,028 bottles were made of this. It is both a good introduction to the Réka-Koncz range, and to skin contact wines in general. Although it is darkish in colour, it’s not an especially tannic amber wine, compared to many.

Annamária Réka-Koncz is imported here in the UK by Basket Press Wines.

Château Simone Rosé 2020, Famille Rougier (Palette, France)

Palette is a tiny appellation in Provence, tucked away in the hills close to Aix-en-Provence. It’s a place you might swish past on the Autoroute, which passes close by, but I’ve never been able to spot any vines. I tried to find the place once, many decades ago, and failed. As far as I know there are just two producers in Palette and Simone is the famous one. It has been home to the Rougier family since the 1830s. They happen to make my favourite Porvençal pink wine (along with fine red and white), and I’d rarely buy a case from Yapp Brothers back in the day without adding in a bottle.

However, I do have a confession. Simone Rosé demands bottle age, pretty much unlike (almost) any other pink wine from this broad region, known for its “best drunk on holiday” brands and only a small group of artisan estates. Having not drunk Simone for a long while some impulse got the better of me. I should have kept this bottle longer, but at least I have the experience to assess it as if I were at a tasting. At £40/bottle now, it was a shame to open it as early as I did.

This is on the darker side for a Rosé, quite a distance removed from the pale numbers so fashionable these days, from the coastal seafood restaurants to a supermarket near you. Its colour is in the same sort of zone as Tavel. The grapes grown at Simone are a long list of the familiar and the unfamiliar. Grenache and Mourvèdre form the base of the pink wine, and they sit alongside the likes of Manoscan, Castet, Muscatel (sic), and Syrah. They are co-planted on limestone scree on the Montaiguet Massif.

Partially destemmed, the grapes undergo a long cuvaison of nine months before going into used oak. The result certainly has body and structure closer to a red wine, yet its character, although partially unique, does point towards a white wine in terms of freshness and acid balance. I think the red fruits come through best on the nose, and Yapp’s use “purity” as a description, which is apt. The palate adds in herbal touches with a little spice. They suggest keeping it 2-3 years, I reckon five years is not too long. Certainly drinking it at two years old was at the beginning of the window, but I think that unless you actively dislike the darker, actually more food-friendly style of Rosé, you will find this an impressive wine.

Although previously purchased from Yapp Brothers in Mere, Wiltshire, this bottle came from The Solent Cellar, in Lymington (Hants).

Neuburger 2018, Joiseph (Burgenland, Austria)

Joiseph is partly named after Jois, a village towards the top of Burgenland’s Neusiedlersee. Luka Zeichmann is the young star who makes the wines. He joined up with business partners Alex Kagl and Richard Artner, who both tend the vines, only in 2015. Jois is where you’ll find the vines, but confusingly the cellars are at Unterpullendorf, a good hour away to the south.

When they began there was under a hectare of vines, split into five tiny parcels. They have grown quite a bit since then…to just under six hectares. The vineyards are mostly on a mix of limestone with shale, which you probably know is the common rock type up here on the southeast-facing Leithaberg Hills which surround the lake’s northwestern side.

Grapes cover all the usual Burgenland bases and many Joiseph wines are blends. This, however, is a single variety seen all too little even in its homeland. I think I was lucky to get a bottle because the various importers to different countries rarely seem to have any. Neuburger is a white variety, a cross between Roter Veltliner and Silvaner. Those who don’t know it by this name might have come across it in the Upper Mosel (Germany) or even Luxembourg, where it goes by the name of Elbling. The eagle-eyed will have noticed that I also tasted the variety in Moravia this summer (Osička blends it with MT in his “Milerka”, Stavek uses it in field blends, Krasna Hora in their entry level “La Blanca”, but even better, Petr Koráb makes a varietal Neuburger which is well worth seeking out).

Even in Germany Neuburger is not very well known, and certainly lauded by few wine writers. Of course, give an unloved variety to a star winemaker and you are likely to taste something interesting. A few winemakers in Austria are treating it with respect, rather like the mini-renaissance of Räuschling in Switzerland.

All the Joiseph wines are completely natural. They used to joke that the only vineyard equipment they owned were wellingtons and secateurs. Not totally true, but they don’t own a tractor, often the first toy new viticulturalists buy with their first agri-loan.

Anyway, what does this taste like? Rather good I must say. The big impression comes from its salinity. It has that salty/savoury taste and a bit of texture. This is balanced by different fruit flavours. Pear dominates, perhaps, but there’s a touch of crisp apple and I am sure I got a hint of pineapple in the overall freshness. This isn’t “fane wane”, but it’s a damned interesting bottle. A mere 800 of them were made.

Joiseph wines come into the UK via the excellent small importer, Modal Wines.

Rouge 2019, Max Sein Wein (Franconia, Germany)

The Max in question is Max Baumann, who runs his family’s vineyard at Dertingen, in that part of Baden known in anglophone countries as Franconia. Here, he farms around 3.5-ha of vines which are up to 60-years-old on limestone with a little red sandstone. All farming is organic and the wines are made with minimal interventions.

For the reds Max has plots of Pinot Noir and Meunier, preferring to use the French nomenclature for Spätburgunder and Schwarzriesling. Rouge 2019 has a majority of (Pinot) Meunier blended with Pinot Noir. He handles this variety, which is now getting more attention here, not just as fruit to slosh into Sekt, but really well as a still wine. The result is a wine with a smooth, fruity, mouthfeel, yet a haunting quality as the ethereal fruit of the Meunier comes through, matched on the bouquet by its lifted cherry scent. The Pinot Noir adds a more conventional cherries and berries fatness.

A delicious fruit bomb from an under-the-radar name, but my friend in Bordeaux (Feral Art et Vin) has also sold these wines and he’s got one of the best palates I know, and the best eye for a future German star bar none.

In the UK these wines come in via Basket Press Wines. They have a number of cuvées, including this one currently in its 2018 version, as well as 2019 guise. Around £28.

Saumur Blanc “Les Salles Martin” 2014, Antoine Sanzay (Loire, France)

When I purchased my first wines from Antoine, including this one, he was obviously set to be one of the up-and-coming names of Touraine. Now this Chenin Blanc is ready to drink, his star has risen. He’s based in the appellation of Saumur, at Varrains, just south of the famous Loire-side town itself. We are about five minutes by car from the large co-operative winery at St-Cyr-en-Bourg and much of the fruit from around here will go to that facility.

Antoine keeps alive artisan winemaking with a hillside plot at around 100 masl, which may have grown since, but last time I looked was a mere single hectare. He took over these vines terribly young after his father died unexpectedly, although it was his grandfather who had been the vigneron, sending his harvest to the co-operative as was the way back then.

Antoine had no experience, but he did get help and assistance from a rollcall of some of the biggest names from far and wide in artisan winemaking in the Loire (the Foucault brothers, the two Jo’s…Landron and Pithon, Bernard Baudry and others). With their inspiration he gained Ecocert biodynamic certification in 2014, at which point he began to bottle his wine himself.

Les Salles Martin is 100% Chenin from surprisingly young vines, possibly not quite ten years old. The fruit is aged in a mixture of barrique and foudre, yielding a wine with plenty of acidity and extract which I’d suggest needs some bottle age if you buy it on release. At a little less than eight years old, this is superb. Although I’d be in no immediate hurry to drink it, I’d say that this 2014 is in a very good place right now. It does taste youthful for Chenin, and there’s definitely, to my palate, some oak influence (despite having read that the oak back in 2014 was not new oak) there, but it’s just fantastically refreshing.

The acidity and vivacity in the wine comes obviously via the biodynamics, but it’s also worth noting that Antoine has avoided the malolactic here. From such a small plot of fairly young vines this is rather elegant as well. Lemon and grapefruit dominate, rather than the pear and quince, which may come later.

Another wine from The Solent Cellar. I think the importer is the Monmouth (Wales)-based Carte Blanche Wines.

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