I really have forgotten how many of these Oddities Lunches we’ve done now. I must look it up so we don’t miss an important anniversary, but this month was special because Oddities went on tour for the first time. The venue was Sager & Wilde‘s Paradise Row bar, a couple of minutes away from Bethnal Green Underground. I’ve been to S&W Hackney Road a few times, but this was my first visit to the Railway Arch. It’s a nice big space, and we had it all to ourselves. There’s no doubt that the folks there pulled out all the stops to make us very welcome. The food was very good and the service could not be faulted, especially their generosity in replenishing us with clean glasses through the meal. A very big thank you to the Sager & Wilde team for another brilliant lunch.
Whelks in Bean Broth with Sorrel – Slow Roast Lamb, Black Trompettes and Cabbage
One first time Oddities attendee said, on the Wine Pages Forum, that it had taken him back to the early days of wine tasting, where it was all both daunting and exciting. I think the whole ethos behind these lunches is to bring excitement back into wine appreciation. Broadening horizons, challenging preconceptions, and challenging ourselves and our palates. The conclusion is almost always that what we are tasting is very good, sometimes very beautiful, and occasionally stunning. It’s such a relief that there are hundreds of brilliant wines out there made in strange places from unusual varieties, because the Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhônes some of us drank in our youth are now mainly in the domain of the very wealthy.
“Kalkspitz” 2015, Christophe Hoch, Krems, Austria – This is made in a pétillant naturel style from a blend of mainly Grüner Veltliner, then Zweigelt, plus other varieties, just east of Krems, though of course this wine is labelled as a Landwein, not Kremstal. One Austrian retailer described it as like a cross between cider and root beer. One person at lunch said perry is more apt, and I agree. It’s a bit mean to serve a wine like this as a refreshing aperitif to an unsuspecting audience, but these people know what to expect (mostly). You usually have the choice of cloudy (due to the yeast still in the undisgorged bottle) or clean (by standing it up for a couple of days). Thanks to our wonderful railways I had been forced to leg-it from a far away rail terminus. Up and down the stairs of the London Underground it went, so (very) cloudy it had to be. But dry and refreshing it was…I was pretty thirsty. When I first wrote about this wine on my Blog I said it was one of the weirdest wines of the year. There you go – Newcomer Wines sell it, if you dare.
Kayagatake Koshu 2012, Grace Vineyards, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan – I’ve had quite a few Koshu, having been to Japan several times, and sought it out in the UK. It’s not impossible to find, as supermarket chain Marks & Spencer even had one some time ago (they may well still sell it). I like the grape variety, for me it’s the best of the Japanese grapes, but it can be a bit “dull” on the palate and mushroomy in its cheaper versions. This one was pale in colour, very fresh and with good acidity. I’m not sure I’ve had a better one. It really is a grape worth trying.
Pinot Auxerrois “Schouwen-Druiveland” Barrique 2013, De Kleine Schorre, Netherlands – Like a Number 74 bus, none for ages and then two come along at once. No sooner have I drunk my first truly good Dutch wine (Apostelhoeve Riesling) and along comes another. Golden yellow in colour, it does have a PG nose to it, but I had wrongly guessed Semillon. It had that touch of richness. It was also very fresh and clean, but with depth too.
Clairette Blanche 2014, Craven Wines, Stellenbosch, South Africa – I’ve had two or three wines from Craven but not this one, and I’d been wanting to try it (as indeed the next wine as well). It had a smokiness on the nose, but the palate was clean, refreshing. We went all around the houses trying to identify this…well, you don’t often see Clairette vinified as a single varietal (do you ever?). A couple of people were kicking themselves for not guessing it. One of the nicest wines in an excellent, great value, range from this producer.
“La Rapture” 2013 (Vin de France), Turner-Pageot, Languedoc – This would be a Faugères if Sauvignon Blanc were allowed in the AOC. I did guess the grape variety simply because it reminded me of some of the “natural wines” from Sancerre. As it opened in the glass it did in fact become more like the Sauvignon Blanc we are used to, but for a few minutes it seemed to cloak itself in a greater complexity (no, it wasn’t reduction!). Another nice and relatively inexpensive wine. I’m told Leon Stolarski Fine Wines may have some on special offer at the moment. Well worth a look (actually, if you like Languedoc-Roussillon you really should know this excellent importer of small producers from Southern France).
Rufete Blanca 2014, Sierra de Salamanca, Vinas del Cambrico, Spain – Salamanca is one of my favourite cities in Spain, home to the country’s nicest “Plaza Mayor”, its oldest university (1134), and a spectacular double cathedral, yet I had no idea it possessed a wine region. Neither had I tried Rufete before, so it’s little wonder no one guessed the grape variety. This was the first of my “wines of the day”. I know what I thought it was. I was erring towards some Chenin Blanc in there, and I was willing to go out on a limb with an Eben Sadie Chenin Blend. Oh the pleasure of blind tasting! Oh the thrill of seeing your friends laugh at your ignorance. But I stand by the Chenin similarity, and the quality of this wine is little short of stunning. That’s why tasting this sort of thing blind is so exciting, you lose the chance to be influenced by your unconscious bias. Well done OW Loeb for sniffing this out. I think quantities are tiny.
“Aspriu” 2012, Celler Pardas, Penedès – This producer is based in the hills inland from Sitges, in the Province of Barcelona. I have been lucky enough to drink their excellent red wine made from a local star variety of some obscurity, Sumoll (called Collita Roja, I’m glad I still have a bottle left). This white wine is made from a variety more often associated with sparkling Cava, Xarello (or Xarel-lo). Another lovely wine from Pardas, this comes from a 1.2 hectare plot at around 200 metres altitude. Grapes are picked, refrigerated, macerated on skins for 12 hours, then part (2/3) fermented in concrete egg, part (1/3) in Hungarian oak on lees. I don’t think you’ll find these wines in the UK but they have a nice web site at http://www.cellerpardas.com . Check it out. Nice wild boar on the label too.
“Vinu Jancu” 2014, La Garagista, Vermont, USA – I tasted this domaine’s wines at the Real Wine Fair in London this year and liked them a lot – you can read about them in my first article on Real Wine 2016 here (I came away with a bottle of their pét-nat, “Grace & Favour”). This wine, made believe it or not from the hybrid variety, Crescent, spends five weeks in demijohns macerating on skins. It has an onion skin colour and is all quince and lemon. I looked back at my notes last night and it seems to have been my favourite wine from La Garagista back in April. This was another contender for Wine of the Day.
Pinela 2014, Vipava Valley, Batic, Slovenia – Pinela is the autochthonous grape variety which is a speciality of the Vipava Valley in Western Slovenia (north of both Kras and Trieste), and the mainstay grape of this producer. Batic are one of the regions best producers and the family claims to have been winemakers since the 1500s. This is the second Batic wine I’ve had this year and both have been very fine. The Pinela has had a little skin contact but it’s a long way from being an orange wine. Elegant and complex, a good match for firm fish and white meat, and another example of a completely unknown grape variety making wine as good as any classic variety.
Arbois 1988, Camille Loye, Jura – I hope that I’m using the correct tense here when I say that Camille Loye is in his nineties. He’s retired, but I do hope still going strong as I’m pretty sure the sign to his d0maine, which appears in a photo in Wink Lorch’s Jura book, was still there last month. Loye is one of the great old winemakers of Arbois, but not nearly as famous as Jacques Puffeney of Montigny-les-Arsures and Pierre Overnoy of Pupillin. When he started out in the 1950s I’m guessing he never dreamed how fashionable this corner of Eastern France would become. This wine tastes nothing like its age, a Loye trait, I understand, from what Wink says. It was a privilege to drink this brambly-smooth medium bodied Trousseau. You could be fooled into thinking it’s about a decade old, maybe fifteen years, but hardly twenty-eight. Lovely. If you ever see any, grab some. It’s not all about Puffeney and Overnoy, however masterful that pair can be.
Gamay 2014, Cave Spring Cellars, Niagara Escarpment VQA, Canada – My second Cave Spring of the year. This Gamay is from fruit grown on the Escarpment at Beamsville and Twenty Mile Bench. The fruit is really pristine, almost as you imagine a nicely focused cool climate Gamay to be, but don’t read that as in any way under ripe – this is perfectly ripe. And I’m going to use the “M”-word again here, very mineral too. But nevertheless, definitely Gamay, especially on the nose. If it reminds me of anywhere, I’d guess Geneva. I like this. Of necessity, I imagine, it costs over £20 retail in the UK, but well worth a try if my description appeals. Try Theatre of Wine for a bottle.
Rossese di Dolceaqua Superiore “Posau” 2012, Maccario Dringenberg – Rossese is the mainstay red grape of this DOC of Western Liguria, near the French border, and this is one of the finest examples made. There’s a touch of earthiness, but it’s bright, fragrant, with red and black fruits and as the grapes are grown at altitude (up to 500m) it clearly benefits from the cool nights, which remove any chance of it being a jammy, alcoholic, wine. I’m not sure whether this wine currently has a UK importer, but we are beginning to see more Ligurian wines in the UK (Red Squirrel has several), and they are increasingly worth making a detour for.
Massandra Pink Muscat 1950, Ministry of Food of the USSR, Crimea – It was a privilege to drink this rare gem, but also a little chilling. Maybe very few of us were born when this was made, but I’m old enough to remember the USSR and the Cold War. Now, with Crimea de facto part of Russia again and an icy wind blowing once more from the East, this seems an uncomfortable blast from the past, culturally. But not uncomfortable to drink. It definitely had the characteristic nose of Muscat (Pink Muscat is always so gently aromatic). It had a lot of sediment but fortified to 15% it was still a magnificent wine, just scented, mouthfilling and very long. Perhaps fading a little, but not much. In the end, there was no contest. Despite Silver and Bronze medals to Vermont and Salamanca, it’s Gold to the Crimean. Now, anyone remember when it was the Russians who won all the Olympic Golds?
The full lineup
Just a quick mention for Mother Kelly’s next door. We decanted for a swift beer and they have a very good selection. Several of us had the very good Estonian Session IPA, pump 5 on the list.