Part 1 of my March 2017 Vaults Tasting Article covered the exciting new importer of Spanish wines, OtrosVinos. Part 2, here, covers Tutto Wines and Vine Trail. Winemakers Club and Gergovie get a shout in Part 3, and finally, Part 4 will cover the wines of Peter (Florian) Lauer, imported by Howard Ripley. I had four hours at Farringdon Street, and that means this time I didn’t get to taste at the Carte Blanche and Clark Foyster tables. This was partly down to time and partly down to the press of people bunched around the tables chatting to their friends on pouring duty. Better luck next time. I am wholly to blame for not getting to Wines Under The Bonnet, especially as I’ve had several of their 2Naturkinder wines and have been pretty impressed. I’ll be looking out for any future chances to taste their portfolio.
Tutto have an excellent range of very natural, sulphur free, wines, with a good spread around Italy and The Loire, with diversions into Beaujolais and Slovenia among others. Like all the best wine importers (those here), they really do put in the leg work, literally, to seek out great wines.
Again, there were crowds around this table and during the whole time I was stretching my arm for Damiano to charge my glass there was a young couple blocking half the table and the spittoon. Etiquette, daahlings, etiquette. I still managed to try most of the wines.
Of the non-Italians on the Tutto list, I adore the wines of Marko Fon, and the Vitovska 2014 is the place to start. It comes from Kras, an area of limestone strewn with herbs in the region of Slovenia which borders its better known Italian counterpart, Carso. Vitovska is a delicate wine, orangey in colour, with extract and texture from the skin contact to be sure, but with refinement and elegance.
One of Tutto’s core growers is Jean-Pierre Robinot from the Loire outliers of Jasnières and the Coteau du Loir (sic). There’s no better wine to begin with than their Bistrologie (2014). This is made from younger parcels, but ha! These Chenin Blanc vines are still 40 years of age. It sees about a year in old wood, and it’s mouthfillingly fresh and alive.
It’s hard to really chose the best from Tutto. Their wines are often edgy, but always exciting. I’ve selected half-a-dozen of the Italians here, but I didn’t taste anything I didn’t like (I’m more tolerant of a nose that needs to settle down or be rectified with a carafe than some tasters, but I do have experience handling such wines).
Matej Skerlj only has two hectares and this is only the second time I’ve tried his wines. He’s in Carso, so just over the hills from Marko Fon. As I suggested Fon’s Vitovska I’m going with Malvasia here. Orangey again, with a lick of citrus and wild herbs. Fresh acidity too.
Testalonga is one of the best producers in Liguria. This is real garage winemaking, literally. The vines are over a hundred years old (Antonio Perrino reckons some of his olive trees are a thousand years old), and the resulting red and white show it. I’ve chosen his red because you don’t often see Rossese di Dolceacqua. A pale cherry colour, the wine itself is all red fruits. It will age, but it’s already a perfect candidate for the description “ethereal”.
Barraco was a fairly new producer to me (I’d only tasted their very good Zibibbo back in October last year). We are in Sicily here, around Marsala, so the grape variety in Alto Grado 2009 is Grillo. This, apparently, is Nino’s first Marsala proper. The grapes are late picked, fermented, and then left in 1,000 litre old oak for six years, under flor. Bronze in colour with a sherry nose and complex nutty flavours. Quite astonishing.
ArPePe is pretty well known in natural wine circles, and they are probably, now, the most sought after wines from Valtellina. It’s that hidden stretch of “Nebbiolo” vineyard in the bit of Northern Italy hardly any of us go to (east of Lake Como, on the Adda River, near the town of Sondrio). The Rosso di Valtellina 2014 on show at The Vaults is grippy and pleasantly bitter/savoury. Nebbiolo here is called Chiavennasca (after the nearby village of Chiavenna). This is hot country. The slopes are steep and south facing, and Valtellina even has its own Côte Rotie, a cru called Inferno. This wine hails from another of the Valtellina crus, Sassella. It’s also another wine for which “entry level” is quite misleading. The vines are 50-years-old.
I get the impression that Babacarlo is close to the heart of the guys at Tutto, and one or two customers too. Lino Maga makes wine on slopes surrounded by forest, near Broni in Oltrepó Pavese (the Pavia Province part of the River Po, in Lombardy). Try Lino’s Montebuono 1986 (not a typo). This bottling is a blend of Croatina, Uva Rara, Ughetta (obscure grape of the day) and a touch of Barbera. You get fruit that seems both sweet and bitter. High acids make it unquestionably a food wine, but imagine a nice savoury Barolo. This doesn’t taste the same, but the experience is similar. Expensive, though. This quality doesn’t come cheap, even from Oltrepó Pavese.
Not too far from Barolo is the underrated Piemontese region of Roero. There are many unsung estates here, making increasingly attractive wines (in both flavour and price, as the two “B”s get ever more expensive). Luca Faccenda, of Valfaccenda, makes a very attractive Roero Nebbiolo 2014 near Canale. Don’t expect a Barolo lookalike exactly. It comes from a vertiginous, but sandy, slope surrounded by woodland, and the wine is made the old way – stick it in old oak and more or less do nothing (no punchdowns or pumpovers or anything). There are tannins, for sure, but freshness underneath, and the perfume of a much more expensive Nebbiolo…which means you’re half way there.
Vine Trail import French wines from small domaines, all sought out by themselves. They have a good nose and import a couple of my favourite Champagne Growers in a list which includes Domaine Sainte-Anne (Bandol), Léon Boesch (Alsace), Jean-Philippe Fichet (Burgundy) and Daniel Bouland (Beaujolais) to name a few.
Here, I’d like to concentrate on the Savoie wines of Gilles Berlioz. It’s not the first time I’ve tried to plug the wines of France’s Alpine region, suggesting (perhaps optimistically, but you never know) that one day they will be as fashionable as Jura. Gilles and Christine Berlioz are, in any event, one of the producers you must try, though they have not yet reached the popularity (and consequent scarcity) of Belluard. They founded their domaine in the sub-region of Chignin, south of Chambéry on what is known as the Combe de Savoie in 1990, and they soon began organic conversion. Today they are moving towards biodynamics.
Chignin “Jaja” 2013 is made from the Jacquère variety, often considered the workhorse of the region. The Berlioz plot consists of 30-year-old vines on clay over limestone. It has the usual lemon zest of the variety but the older vines add a chalky, saline quality. A touch of crisp apple and “ice” finishes it off nicely.
Roussette de Savoie “El Hem” 2013 (named after Gilles’ Moroccan-born lawyer friend) is made from pure Altesse. It is quite exotic, with a bit more weight than the Jacquère. Think ripe peaches with a hint of spice or quince.
Chignin-Bergeron “Les Filles” 2013 comes from Chignin’s special cru. Biodynamic Roussanne (the Rhône variety) is fermented in fibreglass and given a short ageing before bottling in spring. This wine shows extra dimension in elegance, greater depth, and is more mineral too. The fruit here is reminiscent of ripe apricots. It’s a lovely wine which will not hurt if kept a year or two.
Gilles makes a version of the region’s signature red grape, Mondeuse “La Deuse”. This 2013 Mondeuse has the addition of around 10 to 15% Persan, and the nose is very concentrated. You can buy pretty nice, sappy, Mondeuse for half the price, but the Berlioz version is very concentrated on the nose. The fruit is dark, the acidity fresh, and it’s long too. It’s hard not to imagine it coming from a site covered in glacial moraine, however much such fancies have been “scientifically disproved”. This is a romantic wine anyway. At just 10% alcohol it does, as Vine Trail say, hark back to another time.
I wasn’t going to leave the Vine Trail corner without a taste of Champagne. Agrapart Terroirs NV is a Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut based on 2011 and 2012, made from 50% Avize fruit, plus grapes from Oger, Cramant and Oiry. Winemaking here is quietly biodynamic, Pascal Agrapart following the phases of the moon for all tasks. This cuvée was bottled in March last year after three years in bottle on lees. It’s this long lees ageing, sur lattes, which really creates the quality and complexity of fine Champagne. But Agrapart has a kind of House signature, at least for me. It’s a mineral texture and a very pure line of acidity, perhaps enhanced by the lowish 5 g/l dosage here, which also helps make this Champagne taste bone dry.
Raphael and Vincent Bérêche make my favourite Grower Champagnes. Instagram users might spot that I managed to scoop some more of their special Reflet d’Antan on Thursday, just one more precious bottle. The Bérêche Brut Réserve NV is one of the most impresssive entry NV blends you can find. This new edition (my first taste of it) has equal proportions of each of the three Champagne grape varieties, with a fifth of the wine seeing oak, bottled at 7 g/l, from a 2014 base with 2013 reserves. It was disgorged in September. Wow! Fresh, precise and ever so slightly saline. And, considering the fame that Raphael and his brother seem to have gathered in the past five years or so, this remains remarkably good value (around £30). Drinking now, if a little tightly wound, but it will open in the glass so long as you choose a good one.