One nation under a groove, that’s what Brick Lane in London feels like on a sunny Sunday in early summer. You wander along, bumping into what seems like every race on earth, most of whom are sampling the cuisine of every nation on earth. It’s the kind of place which can restore your faith in humanity. It was pretty much the same in the Old Truman Brewery where the Raw Wine Fair was in full swing on Sunday, exhibitors and visitors alike. The air was saturated as much with a beautiful vibe as with the perfume of spilt and spat vinous delights.
You can read Part 1 of my Raw Report here, covering four Austrian producers. In Part 2 I’m profiling just seven more wine estates (out of the 217 present). Only a snapshot, I’m afraid, but I hope it adds to the coverage of the Fair by others. They include three French producers, two Spanish, a Czech and a Greek. No Italians, although they were the biggest exhibitors, closely followed by France. Italy is ripe for natural wine exploration, but I know many of the producers quite well, and with the exception of Le Grappin, whose wines I know very well indeed, all the producers profiled below were either new to me, or people I’d discovered only a week before.
Domaine de Kalathas, Tinos, Greece (Cyclades)
I’m not going to pretend I knew where the Greek island of Tinos is, although I can locate the Cyclades on a map. This is where the Binda family have established their vineyard, old vines left uncultivated for fifty years until they came along, centenarian vines among the lavender, on the island’s sandy granite.
Jérôme Binda is the winemaker, aided by mentors Jason and Thomas Ligas (of Domaine de Ligas in Northern Greece, another domaine to seek out if you don’t know them), but it was his son, Gabriel, who took me through the whole range. Most are made with local varieties, although there’s an Asyrtiko (sic), which is pretty well known now, and they have a Syrah called (appropriately) “Le Français”, from vines on pink granite and clay. The reds are pretty tannic at the moment, having just been put in bottle for the Fair. For me, the red “A Quatre Sur L’Echelle”, blending Mavro Potamisi, Mavro Tragano and Koumari showed the most exciting flavours. But perhaps the whites are the most interesting wines anyway?
A Rozaki, “Très Vielles Vignes de Vangelis” 2015 was fresh and herby. A sur lies bottling of this grape, “Vorias”, was fresh with more complex flavours. A blend of 20% Rozaki with 80% Aspro Potamisi, from 100 year old vines, called “Sainte-Obéissance”, smelt of pure lavender and violets, whilst “10+12”, coming 100% from Aspro Potamisi de Livaderi, was the most complex of these whites.
Gabriel Binda with the Asyrtiko (sic)
The Asyrtiko was perhaps the most fascinating bottling. The estate’s Asyrtiko vines are still young, and the juice was macerated for three weeks on the skins in 2015. At the weekend this tasted quite tannic, too tannic really. Gabriel said that for 2016 they will shorten the maceration period by at least half. But with vine age and this adjustment I think this wine will be superb. Even in this sample, of which only forty bottles were produced, there was a lovely peach and apricot fruit, melding with an orange peel bite. Enormous potential, whether it softens through age, or whether it is tweaked in future vintages.
The Kalathas range. The Asyrtiko is the bronze one.
Domaine de Kalathas is a brand new domaine introducing their first wines to the British public. They don’t, as yet, have a UK importer. Perhaps they are a work in progress, but there’s great promise here. Along with a firm commitment to biodiversity, the estate works off-grid, relying on solar power for energy, and local wells for water. One to watch.
Milan Nestarec, Moravia, Czech Rep.
Moravsky Zizkov? Me neither. This is where Milan Nestarec has his 8 hectares of vineyards. I have drunk Czech wine before, even Moravian wine – some of you may remember the lovely wines from Stapleton & Springer, including an orange Pinot Noir we were quite taken with, at the April Oddities Lunch. There’s certainly something going on in this patch of Central Europe. I tried three wines from this table, but the winemaker wasn’t present so I didn’t get much back story. It was all left to the palate.
The first wine, a Sauvignon Blanc 2014, was a shock. Quite dark in colour, almost brown, it kind of smelt like Sauvignon Blanc, yet it tasted like none I’d ever tried…in a good way. Concentrated, and almost sweet, so pronounced was the fruit, it’s a wine you want to drink a whole bottle of rather than rely on just a tiny sample. But a promising start, to say the least.
Next up, a Gewurztraminer, labelled Tramin, from 2013. I’m going to be hypocritical here – I so often shudder at wild descriptors, but “crème brûlée, whisky and woodsmoke” was my immediate reaction and I’m going to stick with it.
The final wine I tried looked like it was going to be a pét-nat, presented in a thick, clear glass, bottle sealed with a crown cap. But it was a still, palish Pinot Noir called Forks and Knives (2014). Just deliciously fruity and quaffable, as they say.
Milan has no UK importer, and I think at least one, perhaps two, agents have shown an interest. Whilst these wines are on the unusual spectrum, they are very good and genuinely exciting. I hope they work something out.
Domaine Yves Duport
I wrote a short piece on Bugey back in January (here). In that blog post I said that we are seeing more and more Bugey producers in the UK, and it might be the case that I’ll need to revise my prediction that Savoie is the next up-and-coming French wine region. Bugey sits not so neatly between Jura and Savoie, and to an extent takes its grapes from both sources, whilst stealing a few classics, like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, from not so distant Burgundy.
Yves Duport’s wines only got a minor mention in that article, so it was nice to taste a small selection at Raw. I began with his Altesse de Montagnieu “En Chinvre” 2015 (bottled in February). It’s one of those fresh and mineral grape varieties (Altesse is actually a synonym for Roussette, a grape seen far less in Bugey than it once was) which can’t help remind you of a fresh-flowing mountain stream. The beauty of this version is that the acidity isn’t too prominent. The terroir of the En Chinvre parcel is full of amonites, and you can’t help but find an echo of them in the wine, just as in Chablis. I already had a bottle of the 2014, which I plan to open tonight.
I’ve talked before about the traditional méthode ancestrale wines of Bugey. The Duports make a méthode traditionelle sparkler, fermented in bottle before undergoing disgorgement. It’s a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Aligoté, fermented with indigenous yeasts, with 12 months on the lees. It is therefore a clean wine, crisp with precise fruit, rather than a wine of great complexity – though that might come with bottle age.
Yves makes several Mondeuse, the signature red grape of the French alpine regions. The top of the range, single parcel, cuvée is called “Sous le Château – Terre Brun”. The 2014 was vinified in three-year-old Burgundian oak, perhaps not wholly inert. Although I often enjoy the sappy fruit of this grape unattenuated by wood flavours and effects, the fruit of this parcel is such that I think this quite impressive wine has real potential, and will certainly get even better in a year or so as the tannins soften. Right now it does need some mountain ham and cheese, or something finer.
This is a very good range, which also includes a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Yves’ wife showed me a nice 3-dimensional topographical map of the region. It shows the curve of the pre-Alps around the right bank of the Rhone, with the Duport family’s vineyards around the village of Groslée nestling, protected, in the lee of the mountains with the Bresse plain to the west, and the large mass of the Lac du Bourget to the east. The wines are imported by Totem in the UK, and, as with the bottle of Altesse I found, are often available in small independents like Winemakers Club.
Didier Grappe is a producer I’d heard of but never tasted. There are probably two reasons for this. First, he is located at St-Lothain, a no-man’s land in some ways between Poligny and Lons-le-Saunier. There is viticulture around here but it tends to be small scale, and Didier has only around 4 ha of vines, slightly more than the only other producer I’m aware of in the village. That’s the second reason – not much to sell. Arbois, further north, seems to have dozens and dozens of small producers, but down here you are on your own.
Didier doesn’t even have enough wine for the Poligny wine shops, like L’Epicurea. He is, like Yves Duport (above), imported into the UK by Totem wines, but I think much of his production goes to the USA, that great devourer of Jura’s small labels. Wink Lorch, in her profile of Grappe (Jura Wine, Wine Travel Media, 2014) points to the organic/biodynamic local wine fair, Le Nez dans le Vert, as the great shop window for these small producers, and Didier has certainly been showing his wines there for some time. He warned me to telephone before I visit in case he has no wine left to taste.
I tried five of Didier’s wines. The Chardonnay 2015 sample was fresh and gluggable, and the 2015 Savagnin Ouillé was zingy, in a fruity “Tramin” style, yet had real presence. Insouciantes 2015 is a blend of Pinot Noir, Trousseau and Poulsard, sealed now under screwcap to conserve the evident freshness. There’s a Vin Mousseux de Qualité NV called Clash, the label bearing a drawing of the iconic image from the cover of London Calling. Didier is a massive Joe Strummer fan. It’s a 50:50 blend of Chardonnay and Savagnin, bursting with freshness, simple but in the best way. I finished with a very intense, sweet but not cloyingly so, Vin de Paille 2011, which hits the 14% alcohol required for this AOC exactly. Savagnin is the grape, four years in oak the regime. There was a Vin Jaune 2005 listed in the guide, Didier’s first, but it was not available when I visited his stand.
This is one of the domaines I tasted at the Raw Wine pop-up at the London Edition Hotel last week, but it was good to catch up with Ramon Saavedra again, albeit in broken Spanish and French. The domaine sits high in Andalucia’s Sierra Nevada, with vines between 1,080-1,200 metres. There’s just 2.5 ha of red vines on red soils, but the grape mix includes international varieties like Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, Spanish classics like Tempranillo (aka Tinta Fina here), and local rarities. The range is mainly red, but there’s a lovely fresh Cauzón Blanco blending Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Torrontés, which I especially liked. Imported by Otros Vinos.
Cauzón Blanco and Ramon Saavedra
Another domaine I tried at the Raw Wine pop-up last week. Their orange Albillo was the wine of the night and I was able (eventually) to grab a bottle of it at the on-site shop on Sunday. I was able to fit in three more Ambiz wines before lunch.
A Sauvignon Blanc underwent two weeks maceration on its skins, then between two and three months in an amphora. It vied with the Nestarec Sauvignon Blanc for SB of the year so far, although my friends in New Zealand might disown me for saying that once they saw the wines in glass! Another whitish-orange wine is called Malvar, after a grape variety more commonly used for brandy. This was a 2015 bottling, really fresh but with texture. Then I tried my first Ambiz red, a lovely juicy Garnacha 2014, which disguised its 14.5% alcohol really well (as did the Albillo last week).
Fabio Bartolomei is the winemaker/owner. He’s of mixed Italian and Scottish parentage and has a great sense of humour (and has retained a Scottish accent too, a bit of a shock at first when you know his name but have never met). His is the back label in the photo near the beginning of Part 1 to my Raw Wine round-up. He makes his wine in the Sierra de Gredos, at El Tiemblo. He’s taken over the old co-operative building there, and makes about 8,000 litres of wine in a building capable of producing 1.5 million litres, according to the biographical details on the Raw Wine web site. That’s about nine or ten wines each year from 3 ha plus some bought in grapes. In the vineyard he uses no chemicals, apart from the manure from a herd of sheep which he allows to graze between the rows at certain times of year. He adds nothing in the winery, and uses recycled bottles too. Very green.
Last but not least, Andrew and Emma Nielsen’s Burgundy micro-negociant. Of course I know these wines well, and so do many of you. They range from the great value and innovative “bagnums” (I bought one only the day before the Raw Fair), through Beaujolais and Macon, to the exquisitely crafted wines from the Côte d’Or.
On taste at Raw were seven wines:- Savigny Rouge ’14; Savigny Blanc ’14; Beaujolais-Villages (red) ’15; St-Aubin “En L’Ebaupin” Blanc ’14; Beaune Grèves ’14; Fleurie ’14 and Beaune Boucherottes ’14.
All of these would be good bankers in your cellar and, let’s face it, if you are reading this in the UK they probably are in your cellar. I will say that the Fleurie 2014 just gets better and better. Andrew reckons it is drinking brilliantly now. He’s right, but I can’t bring myself to finish the few bottles I have. The Boucherottes, which comes from a plot next to Pommard and just below the Clos des Mouches, is silky and lovely. It is usually my personal favourite of Andrew’s reds. I liked it when I first tasted it from cask in a previous vintage. The Saint-Aubin comes from a plot I know from the days when I used to stay in La Rochepot and used to slink round the back of the hill, a lovely quiet place. But as the Côte d’Or wines become necessarily more expensive (hail has not been kind to Le Grappin), it is good to know that the 2015 Beaujolais-Villages is mighty tasty as well.
Andrew on usual good form
That’s just another seven producers for Part 2. You can read about four Austrians in Part 1 by following the link near the beginning of this post. There are, of course, other producers I would like to have mentioned, but aside from stamina to keep typing, I lacked the tasting stamina to visit all of the producers I wanted to. That goes for the Real Wine Fair as well.
It can be frustrating to miss an opportunity to taste, and to chat with, favourite winemakers, although it has been nice (at both fairs) to discover new producers as well. Elisabetta Foradori, Anton Van Klopper, Tom Shobbrook and Michael Seresin are all people I’d have liked to meet, but at least in three of those cases I have a good selection of their wines at home.
Like a good art exhibition, the balance between the organisers (getting revenue from attendees and satisfying the exhibitors) and the visitors (actually getting to a crowded table, and then avoiding spitting your wine over someone at the spittoon) can be difficult to achieve, and this is what stops some of us persevering until the bitter end when the hall is indistinguishable from the concourse at Victoria when waiting for the 18.06. But it is worth the effort of attending just to taste an unparalleled selection of some of the most exciting winemakers around, and these events are always relatively empty if you arrive when the doors open (which to be fair, the organisers recommend, it’s just that they go unheeded by most). Certainly, over the two fairs (Raw and Real) I have discovered some marvellous wines and some interesting people. I hope you’ve got some idea of the fun from my blogs on them over the past month.
Needless to say, this was around 10.15
Yes definitely worth getting there early for any big tasting as it is much easier getting to the stands and some chance of a chat with the winemaker.
I’m one of the minority who doesn’t know Le Grappin nor indeed any of these producers and that is the fun of discovery. You captured the mood well David, I can sense the day.
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