On 14th March I published Part 1 of my article on the London Raw Wine Fair 2017. You can read it here. Part 2 covers several European producers, from Italy, Spain, France, Slovenia and Greece. As I said in Part 1, one day at Raw is not really enough, and I noted more than thirty producers I would have liked to have tasted and which I couldn’t get round to. But they were all either big names, or people I know quite well. Hopefully, those covered here will for the most part be new to many readers.
Azienda Vitivinicola Selve (Donnas, Aosta)
When I began Part 1, I started with a producer who was new to me, the Rennersistas from Austria, who I identified as one of my highlights of the day. I’m beginning Part 2 with another star of the show. Selve is a very special family estate, situated right at the bottom of Italy’s smallest region, at Donnaz (Donnas in dialect), on the border with Piemonte. The grape variety, as is common around Donnaz, is Picotendro, which is simply the local name for Nebbiolo.
If you’ve been reading my Blog for a while, you may know about my love for the Aosta Region, and its wines. I’ve had a good few Aostan Nebbiolos, mainly from the Donnas Co-operative, whose top bottling is always pretty good, and amazing value. In all my visits to Aosta I’ve never come across this estate.
Selve has always been a natural wine domaine since its establishment in 1948, insofar as no chemicals have been used on the vines, nor in the winery. All the vines are grown on steep sites, trained on pergolas arranged on steep terraces which all face south, their walls soaking up the sun and releasing it in the evening.
First, I tasted wines from 2011, 2012 and 2013. A Selve Picotendro “Cru Minin” 2011 aged in old oak was pale with haunting scents and lovely smooth length. Minin is regarded as the finest of five sites owned by the Nicco family here.
For 2012 I tasted both a version aged in oak and a version aged in chestnut (the oak-aged wines have white writing on a black label and the chestnut wines have red on black). The chestnut version was a revelation. Slightly plumper, I felt, but the scent here is just beautiful, and both these wines have great length. It is no criticism to say that, like the very best Barolo (and Burgundy), the bouquet is at least half of the pleasure.
Selve Picotendro Riserva “Pantheon” is released only in the finest vintages (in the 2000s it is 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2009 so far). 2003 is typical of this release. Harvested at the end of October, everything is done gently and by gravity. It sees at least three to four years in wood. Quite old fashioned Nebbiolo, but really lovely.
Selve.Zero 2010 is a special Riserva for a special year. Aged in chestnut, its name comes from the fact that the Italian Ministry of Agriculture tested the wine for any chemical or animal residues and found less than 0.01% (doubtless down to animal excrement in the vineyard, thinks Jean-Louis Nicco, grandson of the estate’s founder). Selve wines are some of the very first in Italy to declare themselves Vegan.
The current releases have a long life ahead of them. The older wines are magnificent. They are imported by OW Loeb, and I implore the folks there to save me a bottle or two before everyone scoops them all up. I know of at least three or four people who felt the same way about these wines.
Valdonica (Grosseto Province, Maremma, Tuscany)
Valdonica produces around 50,000 bottles of wine near Sassofortino in the Maremma, southwest of Sienna and in sight of the Tuscan coast. There are three grape varieties planted – Sangiovese, Ciliegiolo and Vermentino, from some of the highest vineyards in Coastal Tuscany (500 metres), on mainly volcanic clay, rich in quartz. The wines here are made by Tim Manning, who readers will probably know from the brilliant wines going under his own Vinochisti label, or as Assistant Winemaker at Chianti Classico producer, Riecine, under Sean O’Callaghan during his time there.
Valdonica’s owner Dr Martin Keres was on hand to pour at Raw, and he’d brought six wines to show. Of the two pure Sangiovese wines, Saragio (2012) spends 18 months in barrique, half new and half second fill. It’s a nice dark cherry scented wine with ageing potential.
Baciòlo (2012) is a Riserva version, also pure Sangiovese, aged in new wood. It retains a pleasant pale colour, although it’s an altogether bigger wine, concentrated and with some grip and quite impressive. It’s made from a selection, spends an extra six months in oak, and surely requires some time in bottle.
Mersino is the first of the Vermentinos. The 2014 has a genuine freshness to it. Aged on lees in tank, this gives the citrus-fresh juice a touch of richness, with stone fruit flavours.
Ballarino (2012) is quite a step up in complexity, spending two weeks on skins. It is split between tonneau and steel before blending back after a year. It has a touch more colour, and adds herbs and a good dose of mineral texture to the citrus elements. I liked both wines, but this is the more complex, with ageability. This was described as the top Tuscan Vermentino by Wein-Plus (German Wine Guide).
Arnaio 2013 is a blend of Sangiovese and a grape which seems to be finding a successful home in the Maremma, Ciliegiolo. It’s tank aged, all bright cherry flavours with a lovely scent. Pale, light on the palate, but by no means insubstantial. A very successful wine for everyday drinking, with its own personality.
There is a pure Ciliegiolo (2013) which sees 24 months in new tonneau of 500 litres. This is a darker cherry colour, with good spice and grip. Plenty of tannin at the moment, but they are very ripe tannins. It’s a powerful wine, quite dense, as it comes from a selection of the estate’s best Ciliegiolo. Now it’s not a style that many who know me might assume I’d like, but I do have a soft spot for this Tuscan/Umbrian native grape variety, and I was quite taken with it. But it does need age, and it does need food. Wild boar, preferably.
The key across all these wines is freshness and purity, which is what won me over. For me, the wines avoid the pitfalls of new oak. In some vintage conditions, or with more alcohol, I imagine they would need to be careful, but Tim knows what he is doing. The Valdonica whites are excellent, and unlike at some Maremma properties, no mere afterthought.
Valdonica is imported by Red Squirrel.
Only one Spanish producer gets a look-in this time, but to be fair you did get rather a lot of Spanish wines to digest from Viñateros the other week. It’s my old friend Fabio Bartolomei from El Tiemblo in the Sierra de Gredos. I’ve drunk Fabio’s wines both in the UK and in Spain. What attracts me to them is a quality so often lacking in wines of an amber hue – fruit.
Fabio grows Garnacha, Albillo, Airén, Malvar, Tempranillo, Doré, Chelva, Villanueva and Sauvignon Blanc. I think that qualifies as an eclectic mix. No chemicals are used, either on the grapes, nor in the winery, other than the droppings of the sheep which travers the vines. Last year I reproduced Fabio’s back label which tongue in cheek lists all the things which are not in his wine, stating that he makes “wine made from grapes”. They are aged in a mixture of steel tanks, amphora and old wood in the large old building of the now defunct El Tiemblo co-operative.
The consequence of Fabio’s singular approach is that these are wines on the edge. Sometimes the wines can be a little challenging, as was “Doris” to one person tasting beside me. The whites (well, whitish, mainly amber) often have quite exotic notes of mandarin or quince. The reds, which I know less well, are just the epitome of freshness. Newly fashionable Garnacha truly excelled in both the 2014 and 2010 versions shown here.
My last bottle of Ambiz was drunk on a typically scorching summer’s evening looking across to the Alhambra Palace in Granada last year. Refreshing and thought provoking. You will love them if you have a spirit of adventure like me. They are some of the purest wines in Spain. But be warned, they do love to walk a high tightrope which some palates may find gives them vertigo. But who wants boredom?
The Ambiz wines are distributed by Otros Vinos, who also import into London a couple of other favourite Spanish (very) natural wine producers, Cauzón and Purulio (both Granada Province).
Eric & Bérengère Thill, Jura
Eric Thill, originally from Alsace, was on hand to pour at Raw, but such is the popularity of Jura wine right now that all he had left by mid-afternoon was a few dregs of reds. His neighbour on the next table, Laura from Domaine de la Pinte (who I covered in one of my Jura trip articles last year), had run out of wine even earlier.
Eric farms a little over five hectares at Trenal, near Gevingey, in the southern sector, south of Lons le Saunier and five kilometres north of Rotalier. It’s the land of Ganevat and Labet. Eric and Bérengère (who is a viticulture consultant) can only vinify about three hectares, so the surplus goes to the co-operative.
The white wines had all gone, a shame as Wink Lorch (in Jura Wine, 2014) says that these are the most successful at the domaine. I managed to try literally the last centimetres from a Poulsard and a Pinot.
Poulsard 2014 is very pale with an almost orange tinge. It only finished malolactic three months ago (yes, it really is a 2014). We had a great discussion about this because I know a young Jura vigneron just starting out who had a similar issue. All the old guys told him “just wait, it will come round eventually”. Eric’s did. A beautiful nose on an ethereal wine with a hint of bitters on the finish.
Pinot Noir 2016 was a sample, due to be bottled this week. Aged in epoxy tank with 30 days on skins, to be bottled with neither sulphur, nor protective CO2. Pale cherry colour, a nice fruity red, but with a touch of extra complexity from the skin contact.
Eric pulled out his Liqueur de Chardonnay to finish. Like a Macvin, but fortified using fine de Chardonnay (which is distilled from the unbottled wine in the vat, known as “clair de lie”), not marc (traditionally distilled from the skins and pips). The distillate is added to pure and unfermented Chardonnay juice (the must is just beginning fermentation, but the spirit mutes any desire the juice has to ferment).
Now I’m not generally a Macvin fan, although some of my favourite Jura amis make a lovely version for which I can always find time for a glass before dinner. But they have to work to persuade me to buy a bottle. This version, made from fine, is very elegant, almost light, and I liked it. Unlike Macvin it sees no oak, and it also has an alcohol level of 16.5%, ie at the lower end of the 16-22% required for that product. It is merely labelled as a “Vin Blanc Doux Muté.
The spirit respects the fruit and juice. Where Macvin is made using marc which does not see the same care and attention as the producer’s wines (it must originate from the producer but it is often distilled into spirit elsewhere), there often seems a mismatch. It is something to be wary of.
Le Vignoble du Rêveur/Mathieu Deiss (Bennwihr, Alsace)
Mathieu Deiss is indeed the son of a very famous father, and that may be the reason he’s given his domaine a different name (“Dreamer’s Vineyard”). The vines he farms, the “Mischler Vineyard” at Bennwihr, north of Colmar, come from his grandfather and maternal uncle. Mathieu is experimenting with different macerations, vinifications (including amphora) and unfiltered bottling with no added sulphur.
Three cuvées were on show. Unfortunately I didn’t get to meet Mathieu, and the employee of the importer pouring the wines for some reason showed a little disinterest towards me – I had to request a pour on each occasion and information was slow in coming or non-existent. The wines, however, were pretty amazing.
Singulier 2015 is a maceration wine, blending Riesling with Pinots. Vibration 2013 is pure Riesling, with the emphasis on pure. Imagine freshness, but with a firm backbone. You can’t avoid that old chestnut, “mineral”. The third wine is Pierres Sauvages (2013), another blend, this time of the three Pinots, with Pinot Gris the dominant variety on nose and palate (I’m not sure of the exact proportions in the blend). It’s aged for a year on fine lees, which add texture and richness.
The domaine is biodynamic and the wines really shine. They are totally separate to Mathieu’s father’s wines but they are vinified at the Deiss facility on the edge of Bergheim. Mathieu’s range is brought into the UK by Roberson. I look forward to trying these by the bottle. It was a shame not to meet the man himself.
Domaine Chandon de Briailles (Savigny-lès-Beaune)
This old Burgundian estate has been in the same family for seven generations, but what is less well known is that they are yet another Burgundian domaine which follows biodynamic principles (biodynamic from 2005, certified by Demeter since 2011).
This has been a source of excellent Burgundy over many years, exemplified by one wine which is acknowledged as one of the bargains of a bargain-free region. It’s the Pernand 1er Cru, Île-des-Vergelesses. The 2014 was on show here, very attractive, but tannic (albeit elegant and silky), needing five years minimum. In the much-maligned 2007 vintage this particular wine provided me, and several friends, with gorgeous drinking which has not diminished, even today.
Savigny-lès-Beaune “Les Lavières” 1er Cru 2014 had a lovely gentle softness on the nose and very nice Pinot fruit. Quite floral, violets with a touch of smokiness, on the nose. Good fruit on the palate with a mineral structure, but perhaps less than the Île. Nice freshness.
I also have a few of their red Corton wines in the cellar, and here I had a chance to try Corton Bressandes Grand Cru 2014. It comes from four parcels totalling just over a hectare on the mid-slope. There’s far greater density here, but the wine retains that genuine freshness which probably comes from the estate’s biodynamic viticulture.
I know this domaine’s red wines so well, yet rarely get to taste any whites. Corton Blanc 2014 was a rare treat. Very pure tasting Chardonnay, the fruit almost has a sweetness to it at this stage, though it finishes dry without giving a lot away. Honeyed and peachy, you might think it sees new oak or lees stirring, but it sees neither. It is unusual in that the 0.6 hectares of Chardonnay comes from soils usually planted for red wine (most is in Bressandes). Naturally in its youth right now, this is already very impressive. Wouldn’t mind a bottle myself.
Imported by both Goedhuis and Lay & Wheeler
Les Vignes d’Olivier (Argelliers, Hérault, Languedoc)
Olivier Cohen got interested in wine via spells working in some of the natural wine bars of Paris and Nice (including the seminal La Part des Anges), but was lucky enough on his travels to get to work under several well known winemakers, including Thierry Allemand (Cornas) and Philippe Valette (Chaintré, Macon).
Rond Noir 2015 blends Syrah and Grenache, whole bunch fermentation (as with all the wines here) and one week’s maceration. Rond Vert 2014 adds in Carignan and Merlot to a base of Syrah. Brambles, cherries, round plump Merlot plums, with an extra year in bottle this is quite delicious. 2014 was Olivier’s first vintage, and he was lucky to take over quite mature vineyards (30-40 years old) in a cool micro-climate.
VO 2014 uses the same grapes as Rond Vert, but undergoes two years élevage. The scent of the bouquet is ethereal, haunting, and the flavours are quite unique with very fresh and sweet fruit (in a dry wine). There is also a “Bagnum” (to borrow from Burgundy’s Le Grappin), a 1.5 litre bladder full of light and fresh (100%) Merlot. It’s not like the usual soupy Merlot you might find as a Vin de Pays down here. Three-to-four days maceration in fibreglass tanks and whoosh! Glug it up!
Olivier Cohen is imported by Kiffe My Wines Ltd. The man behind them, Jimmy, worked for Olivier and asked to be paid in grapes. He has fashioned a couple of light and juicy wines, simple but refreshing in the vein of Olivier’s. Pur Kiffe Mourvèdre 2015 and Pur Kiffe Cinsault 2015 (bottom right, below) are real summer wines, perfect on a picnic, or outdoors in the garden. The Cinsault is the lighter of the two, the Mourvèdre being even fresher, but with a little grip.
Mas d’Alezon and Domaine de Clovallon (Faugères, Languedoc)
Catherine Roque used to be the well known owner of Faugères star, Domaine de Clovallon. This is now run by daughter Alix, whilst Catherine focuses on the region’s traditional and ancient varieties at Mas d’Alenzon. The estate consists of around 7 hectares on the region’s famous blue schist. Biodynamically farmed, Catherine uses concrete eggs and large chestnut barrels.
Monfalette 2014 is made from the classic Faugères blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah and Grenache. Where it differs from some of these blends is in avoiding high alcohol and hard extracted tannins (often aged in new oak). The biodynamic freshness is a strand through all Catherine’s wines.
Le Presbytère 2016 is also a Faugères Rouge, but from Cinsault and Carignan. It’s a gorgeous wine, using “simple” as a compliment. Just 12.5% alcohol, and so tasty, even at this stage, before release. Just the sort of thing I was kind of hoping to find at the recent St-Chinian tasting I covered.
Cabretta 2016 is Faugères Blanc, made from Clairette, Grenache Blanc and Gris, and Roussanne. Clean nose, an elegant white at just 12.5% alcohol again.
Catherine also poured Alix’s Clovallon 2016 Vin de Pays d’Oc, an appealing fruity Pinot Noir.
All of these wines are very good. They are imported and distributed in the UK by Terroir Languedoc.
Batic (Vipava, Slovenia)
I’ve drunk a couple of wines from this producer, most recently a wonderful rosé which surprised me with its depth and complexity, so I had to stop by here to taste. Miha and Ivan Batic make wine about as far west as you can get in Slovenia, with 19 hectares in the Vipava region.
Sivi Pinot 2015 is Pinot Gris, a young wine which is still developing. Zaria (I tasted 2007) is a field blend of seven varieties which is given 35 days on skins. It has developed a bronze colour, and a nice texture balanced by good smooth fruit. Complex but tasty.
The Vipava Rosé I’d bought previously was a 2014, a blend of 97% Cabernet Sauvignon with Cabernet Franc, made from high density plantings (12,000 vines/hectare) on the clay-marl soils of the Vogrsko vineyard at Brajda. It had real body and presence, combined with genuine drinkability, dry but very fruity. The 2016 at Raw was a bit lighter, with the fruity freshness of youth, but a 2008 (100% Cabernet Sauvignon) was amazing. Real complexity for a rosé without losing any of that freshness.
Angel is the estate’s signature wine, or Grande Cuvée, named after Miha’s son. It comes from a vineyard situated at the point on the estate where Alpine and Mediterranean climates meet, hot and cold air circulating around a site surrounded by forest, keeping pests and disease away. The vineyard has never been treated with pesticides. The 2011 here was served from a 3 litre double magnum.
A field blend of seven varieties makes up Angel: Pinela, Malvazija, Rebula, Laski Rizling, Zelen, Vitovska, and ooh, Chardonnay (I think). These vines, all over 20 years old, make a wine amber in colour, with scents and flavours of apricot and peach. The finish is smooth and sophisticated. An unusual wine of real quality.
Batic is imported by World in Bottles. Anja Panic set up the company after missing the wines of her home country, and she specialises in Slovenia. I purchased the 2014 Vipava Rosé I mentioned above from Pacta Connect in Brighton.
Domaine Ligas (Yiannitsá/Giannitsá, Northern Greece)
Domaine Ligas is situated on the Paiko Mountain, northwest of Thessaloniki, on the Greek mainland, in the region called Pella. It is run by Thomas Ligas, who studied oenology in France, aided by Jason and Meli. It was Meli who was on hand to pour the wines and tell the Ligas story. They use (insofar as is possible) permaculture in the vineyard, and a methodology within permaculture known as Fukuoka.
Masanobu Fukuoka, who died aged 95 in 2008, is famous in Japan for a philosophy of non-intervention or “do nothing” farming. For Fukuoka, this “natural farming” had an important spiritual element to it, with nature finding balance at its centre. A bit like those Graupert vines at Meinklang which I wrote about in Part 1, in a sense. The Fukuoka philosophy fits into permaculture (which was developed in the late 1970s) because that way of farming is all about simulating the features observed in natural ecosystems and applying them to human agriculture, leading to a more sustainable way of producing food or, in this case, grapes.
Permaculture which follows Fukuoka’s philosophy is apparently notoriously difficult to implement, but Domaine Ligas is blessed with a fairly windy mountainside location, which, just as with Batic’s Angel vineyard above, helps to discourage disease and pests.
Kydonitsa Barrique 2015 is a “Vin de Table” which receives three weeks on skins, but there is also a little flor which forms over its year in barrel. There’s bags of complexity, about 13% alcohol, and the potential to gain complexity over four or five years. But it will taste gorgeous now. And I can’t help adding that the label is gorgeous too (top left, below).
Le Rosé 2015 is a Vin de Pays made from Xinomavro. It has vibrant red fruits with a touch of pomegranate, very refreshing.
Roditis Barrique 2015 is labelled as IGP Macedonie. The oak here is not new, and the wine is clean and fresh with citrus and herbs. The nose is lovely, very perfumed.
Another IGP Macedonie, Pata Traya 2015, is much more exotic. Perhaps herbs and citrus is what one might expect from a Greek wine, but here we are given pineapple, lychee and truffle on the nose. It’s so good, but quite a shock. Very pure.
Xi-ro 2015 comes from one of the experimental vineyards, planted with Xinomavro and Roditis, and is pure concentrated cherry with a finish which was hard to identify (it has been identified as tomato leaf by others with more analytical palates). It’s a great natural wine which would benefit from being served quite cool. Drink young.
Roditis “Maceration” 2015 has more colour than the previous wine of this grape variety. Texture too.
Domaine Ligas is imported by Dynamic Vines. Greek wine is a little under the radar, and in general they deserve to be much better known in the UK. This particular domaine impressed me a lot and I will be looking out for some to buy for myself next time I’m down at Dynamic. An excellent group of wines with which to sign off from Raw Wine for another year.