The Winemakers Club and Carte Blanche Wines got together again at Farringdon Street Vaults for their Winter Portfolio Tasting. Readers of this Blog will know Winemakers very well. Their philosophy is finely stated in the words of founder/owner John Baum: “The place for understated winemakers – those of quiet genius, and for those who want to drink their wines”. Carte Blanche are a good fit with Winemakers. Founded about seven years ago, and based in Basingstoke, their stated aim is to bang the drum for “new regions and new styles”.
Both of these merchants sell, albeit not exclusively, wines which some people would term “natural”, many of which are biodynamic. Certainly you won’t find any winemakers here who don’t give a toss. As far as exhibitionism goes, these are hardly the voluptuous, fleshy, wines of parkerised porn. They often have more in common with a fine etching rather than a canvas where oils have been laid on with a palette knife. If they often seem leaner at times, then they are often elegant with it, and certainly all of the best wines have a frame on which the lightest of silks are often draped, either on their bouquet, on the palate, or both.
This will be yet another long read, I’m afraid, but I think it is right to keep to one piece. As a result, my comments may be truncated, and inevitably with two such high quality ranges there will be producers I can only mention in passing, or will miss out entirely. Explore! If your appetite is whetted, it’s not difficult to find out more from Winemakers Club and Carte Blanche themselves, via their web sites:
Stefan Vetter, Franken, Germany
Vetter is one of the exciting new producers on show, with the wines being available to buy in a month or two. Winemakers Club are leading a London cider revival, from Herefordshire to Barossa, and Stefan Vetter makes a very fresh appley Rural Method Apfelperlwein. This was a very pleasant start to an afternoon’s tasting. There will be four whites, and based on the three I tried (Müller-Thurgau, Riesling and Sylvaner), there’s a lot of promise. Winemakers Club are introducing a few Sylvaners and they might even challenge Aligoté in popularity as the fresh white of 2017. But the wine of the pack here is the Blaufränkisch 2010. Pale, piercing nose, very juicy. The grape is more commonly known as (Blauer) Limberger in Germany, but Stefan has chosen the Austrian synonym.
La Grange de L’Oncle Charles, Jérôme François, Ostheim, Alsace
Another exciting new producer. Based in Ostheim, near Ribeauvillé, 2015 is only Jérôme’s second vintage. The range opens with an old time classic Alsace blend of ten grape varieties, which has a lovely gentle nose, and the softness is accentuated by a relatively low level of acidity. Sittweg is a single site on granite, blending Riesling and Pinot Gris. There’s more body here. Grand K blends Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Muscat. Like the Sittweg, this majors on its aromatics, with the Gewurz and Muscat coming through. Three wines which smell wonderful and I’m really looking forward to buying some.
Domaine des Marnes Blanches, Saint-Agnès, Jura
I’ve been drinking a few of these wines since Winemakers began stocking them last year. Marnes Blanches are without doubt rising stars of the southern part of the region, and we should all join the party. Their Crémant is fresh and wonderfully apple scented. For £30 in the shop, it’s a genuine challenger for even good Champagne. There are two very good Chardonnays, although I find their Savagnins more fascinating in a regional context. En Jensillard 2015 is described as Savagnin Muscaté and shows the fruity side of the grape. The Savagnin Tradition is labelled Empriente de Temps, for their wines which are aged sous voile. Magnificent.
The Trousseau is full of bitter cherry fruit, and the Poulsard is pale and haunting. Apologies for not tasting the Macvin (not a style I drink a lot of), but the new (2008) Vin Jaune is one of the best. It’s actually one of only a small group of VJs which are genuinely approachable young, though it will age magnificently if you are prudent enough to put some away.
Karim Vionnet, Villié-Morgon, Beaujolais
Karim is one of the good guys, and is another producer who really merits support after a weather affected few vintages. His Nouveau, which we tried in Paris, is still fresh and light, even after Christmas. He makes two very good Beaujolais-Villages, one just labelled thus, and one with a little more body and presence, called Du Beur dans les Pinards. Those are all 2015s, but he was also showing a 2013 Moulin-à-Vent, which is nicely settled and smooth, altogether a little more serious.
But going back a step, perhaps because I adore the vivant qualities of Karim’s wines, the one I’ve bought most often (both in Paris and from Winemakers) is the Chiroubles Vin de KaV 2015. This was a little cold, but it’s a really tasty wine from a Cru which isn’t seen quite so often in the UK. Perhaps not as serious as the M-à-V, but it’s a little cheaper too.
Meinklang, Pamhagen, Burgenland, Austria
One of my favourite handful of Austrian producers, so the chance to taste so many of their wines together was a treat, although my bias here is clear to anyone who would take a peak in my cellar.
The wines divide into several sub-ranges. There are some really nice and fairly inexpensive 2015 wines such as Burgenlandweiss (Welschriesling, Gruner and Muscat Ottonel), Sziklafeher (Olaszrizling, Harslevelu and Juhfark, zippy and aromatic), and Burgenlandrot (Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and Sankt-Laurent), a 12.5% glugger which had lots of great press for the previous 2014 vintage).
Slightly more serious are three reds made from single varieties, Zweigelt, Sankt Laurent and Blaufränkisch. These are still in the realm of “drinkers”. But it’s not much of a step up, financially, to two really interesting whites. H15 is Harslevelu, ornate and confident with a smooth body offset by fresh acidity. J13 is made from the rare Juhfark. The nose here is more subdued but there’s more palate complexity. It’s the wine which started off my Meinklang passion.
The last of the whites on show was a Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder), the Graupert Weiss 2014. This is made from vines allowed to grow wild and is part of a permaculture project. The wine has skin contact and you’ll detect floral notes and mandarin citrus, with plenty of extract, texture and mouthfeel. There is a red version (2013), made from Zweigelt, which has so much juicy fruit that you are almost shocked by the serious twist at the end.
The last red comes from the very pinnacle of the Meinklang range, Konkret Rot 2012. There is a white Konkret as well, which is possibly my favourite Meinklang wine, but it wasn’t on show (the Konkrets are both rare and expensive). The red version is made in concrete egg, as the name suggests. It has that dusty terracotta texture also found in amphora wines, and the Sankt Laurent variety gives a deep colour, fine acidity and beautiful elegance. This wine is unique.
Kiral Yudvar, Tokaj, Hungary
This producer has a reasonably large 45 hectare biodynamic estate, and there is a very good dry Furmint Sec 2013, but it’s the sweet wines which have the wow factor. Lapis 2010 is a nicely scented Furmint, sweet but not cloying. Patricia Cuvée 2012 has a degree less alcohol (10%), and is commensurately a little sweeter with a touch more complexity. Furmint is joined here by Harslevelu, as is the case with the Lapis Aszu 2005, a Tokaj 6 Puttonyos showing amazing complexity, with concentrated and unctuous honey and lemon – there’s no lack of freshness along with all those “buckets” of residual sugar.
Hegyikalo, Eger, Hungary
This is a producer I think not many readers will know, other than the few who noticed how loudly I praised a couple of their wines last year (and, of course, those readers who I know buy them too). The added pleasure of meeting Julia, one part of the winemaking couple here, enhanced the experience of tasting so many of their wines.
There were two whites, a sort of pink(ish) light red, three darker reds, and a sweet red on show, and they are all very different indeed. Héjon Erjesztett (2012) is one of my favourite wines from the estate. It blends Olaszrizling and Zold Veltellini (Grüner Veltner). Skin contact makes it almost tannic, but there’s a gentle and quite ethereal nose, a wine to contemplate. They make a lovely single varietal Zold Veltellini as well.
The pink, or probably more of a pale red, is called Czeresznyéerés Roze 2014. The grape here is Medina, not very Hungarian sounding, but this rich, dark, red seems to be planted all over Poland (never had a Polish wine, believe it or not) according to my few minutes of research. Here in Eger it makes a light wine which is very hard to describe, perhaps like a red fruit tea with a bit of bite? If there had been a bottle on the shelf at 5.45pm, it would have gone home with me.
My favourite red is the Kékfrankos 2015, which is a very sappy version with intense fruit. Örökségül Voros 2012 is a serious red, blending Cabernet Franc and Turran (sometimes spelt Turan, a 1964 cross with Kadarka as one of its parents, very dark and normally used to add colour). This is quite a tannic mouthfiller, with evident oak. Tiszta Szivvel (2009) is a pure Turran. It smells of pure, sensual, rose, but is tannic, even a little rustic. Although dry and recommended for beef by Julia, she said it is also paired with dark chocolate desserts.
The last wine, from an unlabelled bottle, was a 2015 botrytis Turran. Very concentrated, sweet but not lacking acidity. Tremendous stuff. Adam and Julia only make a sum total of 4,000 bottles each year, so the wines are not easy to track down. But they epitomise what John and the team are trying to sell to a less conservative clientele.
Tom Shobbrook, Seppeltsfield, Barossa Valley
I think I counted ten Shobbrook wines, plus a cider. I’m sure a few were lined up that didn’t appear on the list. We had Shobbrook Rieslings from the High Eden, various Syrahs and Cinsault, plus other grapes as diverse as Merlot and Mourvèdre to Nebbiolo and Semillon.
Of the whites, go for the Rieslings if you want to play safe (though the High Eden 2016 has quite a unique flavour), but if you want to venture into Tom’s world, try the lovely 2016 Sammion (Semillon), or the even more avant-garde Giallo 2016. This is a blend of Musket (sic), Riesling and Semillon, which tastes not like the derogatory “cider” jibe of those afraid of natural wine, but of a simple but very fruity cloudy apple juice (alcoholic of course).
Clarrot is a 14% Barossa Merlot and Syrah blend which tasted uncannily of beetroot (in a nice way). I always enjoy the fresh, very dry, Cinsault, but the Novello shone more brightly for me. It’s a Nebbiolo/Grenache/Syrah/Musket blend from the Basket Ranges.
The “Tommy” wines are always exciting – Tommy Field is Syrah, Tommy Ruff is a darker and more concentrated Syrah-Mourvèdre. It’s this latter wine that Aussie natural wine proponent Max Allen said tastes like “pink flowers and raspberries squashed between terracotta”. If that doesn’t appeal to you, I know quite a few people that it does excite. I finished off with the slightly more conventional Seppeltsfield Syrah 2013, all dark black plums.
Aussie biodynamic winemaking of the highest order.
A little known fact about Tom Shobbrook – he spent six years at Tuscany’s leading biodynamic exponent, Riecine. The man who became synonymous with that producer, although as loyal winemaker, not owner, is Sean O’Callaghan. His latest project is Il Guercio. I know nothing about it really, and although Sean was purported to be there yesterday, I didn’t spot him to ask. More’s the pity. There was a simple bottle of Sangiovese which in all its unobtrusiveness was deemed “Wine of the Day” by one or two people. Of course, there’s the range of Riecine wines which Winemakers Club stock (grab that magnum of rosato for summer), but this is a wine to send out your spies for.
A final pair of sweet wines before we move on, which John poured for me before I left. Gino Pedrotti Vino Santo 2001 is exquisite. It’s from Trentino (hence the “Vino”), and fashioned from Nosiola (usually a good sign). Snap some up. The second was Maestro Terenzio Passito 2008 from Feudo dei Sanseverino (Saracena, Calabria), a blend of Greco Bianco and Moscato. Winemakers Club is really hot on the stickies right now.
I have rather neglected Italy, which Winemakers Club does so well. Although I’ve not featured them, do not ignore the wonderful wines of Tim Manning’s Vinochisti (Tuscany) and both Romeo del Castello and Guccione (both on Sicily).
CARTE BLANCHE WINES
Domaine du Mortier, Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, Loire
I’ve written about these guys before. These wines are common on the Parisian natural wine bar circuit but not often seen in England. Carte Blanche were showing a very gluggable Saint-Nic and the slightly more serious Bourgueil from the 2014 and 2015 vintages respectively. These are fairly inexpensive for these appellations, and are so much more alive than most of the wines you’ll find there at this sort of price. Below is also another of their sappy reds that I drank earlier.
Domaine de L’Horizon, Calce, Roussillon
Another old favourite from my explorations of Roussillon, I remember back then (they’ve been going since 2006) finding the wines both exciting and challenging.
There are two levels here, the L’Esprit bottlings in white and red, and the corresponding Domaine bottlings. Both of the whites are based on Macabeu with different additions, whilst both reds are built around a base of Carignan, with other varieties. It is definitely worth trading up to the more expensive domaine wines if you can, my favourite of these four being the domaine white (a Côtes Catalanes Macabeu/Grenache Gris and Blanc) of exceptionally low yields (12-15 hl/h) from chalk and schist.
There is additionally a red called Mar-y-Muntanya which I’d not tried before. It’s a good intro to the range, albeit not as serious as those domaine cuvées.
I’m wondering, as an aside, if anyone can tell me why there is a photo of Jancis Robinson at the top of the home page on their web site? I know she has a place down there, but I’d not have necessarily paired her with these wines, and I do read her fairly avidly. Obviously missed something.
Domaine Christophe Muret, Castelnau de Guers, Languedoc
Christophe apparently used to be one of the biggest exporters of melons in France, but just as banking becomes boring, so presumably does melon growing. Anyway, Christophe now makes wine in Languedoc. His most recognisable wine is his dry and stony textured Picpoul de Pinet, an AOC which seemed, a few years ago, to take over the role once played by Muscadet as a dry aperitif or oyster accompaniment. This is a nice wine, although it seems that Christophe may have more of a passion for his interloper varieties. The Chardonnay is very lively, in a leaner and fresher style than you usually find in parts of the Languedoc. The Syrah, Christophe’s passion, is grown on a windy limestone and red clay hillside. The wine is textured from a little skin contact, and whilst you won’t mistake it for Côte Rotie, it’s an excellent cheap version of Syrah.
Mas del Périé, Fabien Jouves, Cahors
Fabien is fairly (in)famous for his cuvée You F*ck My Wine. This is one of his Vins de Soif, a series of brightly labelled wines, of which he was also showing Haute Côt(e) de Fruit, Tu Vin Plus Aux Soirées, and the pink Malbec A Table. All of these are really tasty gluggers, seriously worth trying not just for their bright (and one very rude) labels.
Fabien also makes a range of Vins de Terroir, AOC Cahors under the Mas del Périé label, although these are hardly traditional in style. Les Escures, La Roque and Les Acacias are all well delineated, being both drinkable (the first there is 2015, the other two 2014) as well as having the potential to age. Bloc 763 Malbec comes from a 1.3 hectare site of 50+ year old vines. The grapes undergo a 30 day maceration and are fermented in egg, followed by 22 months élevage in the same type of container. This is a fine expression of Malbec, and I am pleasantly surprised that this is allowed as AOC Cahors.
Likewise Amphore, which comes from a 1 hectare plot, and is both fermented and aged (for 6 months) in various amphora of between 100 to 800 litres capacity. These are some of the most interesting Cahors wines you’ll find, although having met Fabien yesterday, his personality definitely inclines towards his Vins de Soif. If he likes to challenge his audience, so do his wines, but I mean that as a positive. They all, of whatever style, speak impressively for the man, and are fine examples of the real dynamism that is surfacing in Cahors now.
Mouthes Le Bihan, Duras, Southwest France
Duras is a small town with a fascinating Château, east of Bordeaux but outside of the Bordeaux Region. I’ve known the red wine from this estate for many years. The two reds on show yesterday blend Merlot with Malbec. Pie Colette Rouge 2014 (Pie Colette is slang for knocking back a few, but the picture on the label is of course a magpie/”pie” in French). It is another vin de soif, a light wine with generous fruit. Vieillefont Rouge (2011 was listed) is in a slightly more structured style, but hardly much more expensive. The very tasty Pie Colette Blanc is Semillon, with Chenin and Sauvignon Blanc blended 50:25:25. A refreshingly clean, steel tank fermented, thirst quencher from one of the Southwest’s rarely seen appellations.
Other wines to look out for from the Carte Blanche portfolio are Champagne Camille Savès (from Bouzy on the southern side of the Montagne de Reims), the lovely Chablis of Patrick Piuze, and several Spanish producers, especially the two Galician estates of Dominio do Bibei (Ribera Sacra), and Forjas del Salnés (Rias Baixas).
I really wanted to try the one wine listed from Gaznata. This producer is based in an old co-operative cellar near El Barraco in the Sierra de Grédos (within an hour of Madrid). The winemaker is a name you may have come across, a budding superstar called Daniel Ramos. Sadly, this solitary Garnacha, Daniel’s entry level glugger, was too well hidden among the crowds and there was never anyone to ask. Carte Blanche list four of the Gaznata wines, and I’d like to try them all.
The incident with the Gaznata highlighted my only real issue (not really a criticism) with this Tasting – there were just so many wines to try, probably hundreds of them, in quite a small space overall. In that sense, I’m sure there were gems that I missed. I managed to be there for about three-and-a-half hours, but I would have been pushed to try every wine if I’d been there all day. I saw one or two professionals I recognised who were in and out somewhat more swiftly.
In that context perhaps my notes will be valuable where the wines may not be written about elsewhere. There are wines I haven’t mentioned, but probably more due to omission than any active dislike. Some of these wines might be challenging to very conservative drinkers, but then if you read my Blog with any degree of regularity, you will know my tastes are both adventurous and wide. Well done to all the readers who made it this far (is it presumptuous to presume that any did?).
As ever, fascinating. Tastings do tend to stretch the stamina, you should see the list of producers at some of the ones I have coming up! The central European wines (Alsace and Jura eastwards) intrigue me at present. Shobbrook takes no prisoners, love or hate – I tend to love some but not all.
Talking of Ms Robinson, did you see the nonsense article by Caroline Gilby she is promoting one her site? Clichéd nonsense, linking natural wine with fizzy cider (never heard that one before) and then a guide to tasting because obviously if you like natural wine you must not have that ability.
I worry that those who make very general criticisms of natural wines are merely showing their age, and are fearful that all the young people who are drinking natural wines won’t listen to the old school. It’s these older people who can’t taste. They cannot distinguish good natural from the bad. A discerning drinker can do just that (though I’m not a Purple Pager and haven’t read Caroline Gilby’s article). But natural wine is different to wine made with additives. It tastes different and it plays by different rules. That doesn’t mean a fault is not a fault, but as I say above, expect an etching dressed in silk, not a heavy oil painting plastered in cosmetics and smelling of the perfume of new oak.
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