By splitting my article on the March 2017 Vaults Tasting into four parts, I hope I’m making it more manageable. If you really want to skip anything, it makes it easier, but to do so would be a mistake. I don’t mean because of my elegant writing, merely that all of these importers have a raft of exciting wines on their lists, and plenty of these were on show on Monday this week.
THE WINEMAKERS CLUB
I do write about Winemakers Club (John has decided to forego an apostrophe) with some regularity, but even if I cull a few perenial favourites (like Meinklang), there are still too many here to mention.
One producer I’ve not written much about is Királyudvar in Tokaj, Hungary. Their Furmint Sec 2013 is harvested late with low yields. Spicy apple, almost strüdel, on the nose, with really vibrant fruit, nice acids, and dry.
Relatively new to Winemakers is an Alsace producer I’d never heard of until a few months ago. La Grange de L’Oncle Charles can be found at Ostheim, close to Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere before, Jérôme François began making wine here in 2014, and this Sittweg 2015 is just his second vintage. The boy done good. Sittweg is a lieu-dit planted with 40-year-old Riesling and Pinot Gris, blended together here. It’s in the commune of Ammerschwihr, comprising a north facing granite slope sitting just below the forest, right next to the Kaefferkopf Grand Cru. It’s a textured beauty which is as terroir focused as you can get, in the new tradition of Alsace blends, placing site above grape variety. It has some rocks on the label!
Serbian wine isn’t something you have an opportunity to drink every day. Oszkár Maurer makes wine in Northern Serbia, at Szeremi. The Collective 2015 is Yellow Muscat, known in Serbia as Sárgamuskotály, or Muscat Lunel to aficionados of Southern France. Here, it is treated to two weeks on its lees. The nose has that sweet, grapey, Muscat florality. It’s rich, with texture. More than just an oddity, it’s here because it deserves to be.
Back to viticultural normality, Domaine des Hauts Baigneux is in the Touraine-Azay-le-Rideau Appellation, and is run by Nicolas Grosbois and Philippe Mesnier. The wine I tasted is simply listed as Chenin Blanc 2015 but as the back label shows, it does hail from that AOP. It’s very much a traditional old oak Chenin, clean and precise at this age, but there’s a nicely restrained richness under the surface (the vintage, perhaps?). Just 12.5% abv. Yet another lovely Chenin – 2017 seems to be shaping up as a year for discovering them.
I’m rarely drawn to a wine labelled Côtes du Rhône unless for a good reason, there are just so many of them, but Pascal Chalon Petite Ourse 2015 is interesting. It’s made from 40% Syrah and 60% Grenache and coming in at 14% alcohol, it’s very rich. There’s also a “Great Bear”, La Grande Ourse, which has a darker savoury quality and more weight (there is the addition of Mourvèdre and Carignan). Both are reasonably inexpensive for wine of this quality. The domaine and its vines are mainly around Visan (somewhat to the north of Rasteau in the Vaucluse).
There were some other wines I can’t really leave Winemakers Club without mentioning, even though they’re probably well known to most readers. Domaine des Marnes Blanches Vin Jaune 2008 is a wine I’ve written about before, but I don’t own any so I had to have a glug (I didn’t spit, sorry). The ’08 is very young, of course, but I’ve noted before how this is one of those Vin Jaunes where, although a shame to waste its potential, it is (hopefully) not going to put you off Vin Jaune if you drink it now.
I’ve drunk quite a few of Karim Vionnet‘s Beaujolais wines in the past twelve months, and lots of them have been below Cru Village level (I had his 2016 Nouveau a week ago and it was still fresh and alive). They are just so amazingly fruity. When I last tried his Moulin-à-Vent 2013 it was still youthful. Not that surprising, as it is made from 60-year-old vines. Now it has come out of a little slumber and is waking up. Lovely, and with a serious side.
I’m really falling for the wines of Hegyi-Kaló. Ádám and Júliá are lovely people and it’s hard not to. They make wine in Hungary’s Eger Region. I wrote about their wines at the Great Exhibition Tasting back in January here . I was only able to try their Kekfrankos 2015 on Monday. Kekfrankos is, of course, better known as Austria’s Blaufränkisch. At that last tasting it was my favourite red, and it was on good form on Monday, beautiful, pale, with a haunting nose and concentrated sappy flavours, with that characteristic intense, slightly peppery, fruit.
Finally, Stefan Vetter. Stefan is Winemakers’ new Franken producer, based at Iphofen, southeast of Würzburg. I drank a bottle of his Müller-Thurgau 2015 only a week or so ago, and if I’d had time to write one of my “Recent Drinking” articles it would certainly have made the cut. Now, Müller-Thurgau is the infamous grape of much changed Liebfraumilch and other bottles of 1970s/80s sugar water which nearly did for German fine wine. I’m not suggesting M-T is a noble grape, though there are some very good (and famous, even) versions in NE Italy and Switzerland. Vetter’s is another which will make people reassess the variety, if they are prepared to fork £30 for a bottle. His Silvaner is even better…and even more expensive.
Gergovie are based not far from London Bridge Station, on the same site as their bar, the eponymously named 40 Maltby Street. This is another sulphur free zone, with a portfolio boasting names like Bobinet (Loire), Barmès-Buecher (Alsace), and the ever hard to find Barranco Oscuro (Alpujarras).
Another Alsace producer was the first I tasted at the Gergovie table. Nothalten is a village in the norhtern sector of the region, known as Bas-Rhin. Once unfashionable, in the last decades of the 20th Century, the area around Mittelbergheim and Andlau became a hotbed of excitement, especially for young growers. Some of that excitement has moved even further north for the true aficionado, but Patrick Meyer of Domaine Julien Meyer came to cutting edge production late. He is now one of the names to look out for if travelling around there.
Patrick took over from his mother (Julien was Patrick’s father, but died when he was young), having been taught the “new ways” at wine school. He blitzed the vines and, somewhat famously in natural wine circles, realised what he had done. The old ways of his mother had created a healthy domaine, the biodiversity of which he managed to ruin. Thankfully he could see that, and now he works biodynamically, and all his experiments (including the ubiquitous concrete eggs and his love for Sylvaner) come from a desire to implement everything possible to rectify what his costly errors have taught him was misguided.
Crémant d’Alsace 2013 is a blend of Pinots Blanc and Auxerrois, which has more depth than most examples you’ll find. Fresh arrowroot notes on the nose combine with appley freshness on the palate, with a mouth-coating texture, perhaps from the lees.
Nature 2015 blends Sylvaner and Pinot Blanc. Appley freshness is again to the fore. There’s good acidity but it doesn’t dominate. If he’s aiming for purity he hits it on the head. Two delicious wines.
Le Petit Domaine de Gimios is a Minervois domaine, more specifically from the hamlet of Gimios, near Saint-Jean-de-Minervois, run by Marie and Pierre Lavaysse. Marie farms biodynamically and yields are insanely low, down to 8 hl/h. Muscat Sec 2015 is made from basket pressed fruit without skin contact. Dry…ish, it has that richness which suggests a tiny bit of sweetness.
Rouge de Causse 2013 is made from 100% ungrafted vines (actually planted in 1880). It’s a real field blend of untrained bush vines on a rocky site: Carignan, Aramon, Cinsault, Grenache, Terret, Oeillade and Alicante Bouchet to name some of them. They aren’t even planted in blocks, just random vines, so they all get vinified together, though in 2013 about a third of the cuvée was made from the Carignan. You almost get a sweetness on the nose here. It’s pure fruit. The wine itself is quite structured, some might say “old fashioned”, in once sense, but the fruit adds a roundness which softens that side of it. In the end, both facets combine into a lovely complexity.
Gilles and Catherine Vergé make Macon, near Viré. That’s one simple statement which may paint a certain picture. Then try this one by Aaron Ayscough, from his Blog Not Drinking Poison in Paris, about one of their several Vin de France cuvées: “…like white Burgundy that’s been raised by wolves in the forests of Arbois”. So we’ve established these wines are different.
L’Ecart  is also a Vin de France. It’s made from ninety year old Chardonnay vines grown on Jurassic limestone. This is a 2008 (from before you could put a vintage on a Vin de France). It was bottled in 2013. The wines here are all totally “natural” with no chemical additions and as few interventions as possible. Not cheap, but what a wine! Amazingly complex, juxtaposing fruit with a sour and savoury quality, very different from most White Burgundy you’ll come across.
Klinec Ortodox 2006, Brda, Slovenia is mainly Verduzzo (60%) with Rebula, Malvasia and Friulano. It’s orange. Aleks Klinec only makes orange wines now. Each variety is macerated separately and elevage is in a mix of mulberry and accacia wood. It’s from a site called Medana, which before the Communist era was mapped to be a Premier Cru (the listing appears in faded text from an old document on the label below).
There is fruit (apricots and plum), but you also get caramel, orange peel, and even salted nuts, along with a bit of tannic texture (each variety gets individually up to two weeks skin contact). It’s all wrapped in 14.5% abv. Seriously impressive, as the best Slovenian wines increasingly are.
Finally from Gergovie, a couple of wines from small but very much up-and-coming French wine regions. Jérôme Jouret Pas-à-Pas 2015 is a wine from the Southern Ardèche. The grape mix is unusual for the region, perhaps: Carignan, Alicante and Grenache. The Carignan (65% of the blend) undergoes whole bunch fermentation and the result is crunchy but soft fruit, accompanied by a very concentrated fruit compôte nose. Delicious. Jérôme makes half a dozen wines from 12 ha. No chemicals are used at all, yields are kept low and the wines see no wood, just stainless steel. A vigneron to keep an eye on, making beautifully crafted but very drinkable wines.
Cross the Rhône and head northeast and you come to the foothills of The Alps. As that river flows past Seyssel, southwest, out of Lac Léman, it eventually turns northwest, on its way to meeting the Saône at Lyon. The land in the crook of that elbow is Bugey, and like the Ardèche, it is a hotbed of viticultural excitement, albeit on a small scale.
La Vigne du Perron is one of a number of domaines creating interesting wines in a relatively unknown region. Les Etapes 2014 is a pure Pinot Noir from a scree slope near Villebois on the western side of the region. Fermentation is by carbonic maceration in truncated oak vats, and ageing is one year in old oak. There’s a little tannin but very concentrated fruit. A very nice wine with which to finish Part 3.