Part 3 of my Real Wine Fair roundup for 2017 covers nine European producers, half of which may be familiar to readers, and the other half, I’m guessing, less so. Europe in general is familiar territory, of course, to lovers of natural and low intervention wines. It was, after all, the place where the modern movement began (though I’m sure natural wine really started out a couple of thousand years ago, if not after The Flood), and whilst natural wine has spread all over the world, it seems still to have its heart in Europe.
This is an area where I could have gone over old ground very easily. It is also somewhere I could have written about too many producers, making this Part 3 a bit of a slog. I hope that the nine winemakers represented here, some in detail and some less so, are just about the right number. If you are wondering at the presence of familiar names, you’ll hopefully find that I’m looking at new wines. When you consider passing on COS, think again. Their new white amphora wine was (a very tough choice) my overall Wine of the Fair.
Christian Binner, Ammerschwihr (Alsace)
Although I haven’t had any Binner for a year, I love the wines, which I find are genuine expressions of their site, rather than being merely varietals. Most of his wines are sulphur free, aged in century-old large foudres, and are put through their malolactic. They do truly fit the cliche of “alive” in my book, and I commend any of them. There are several cuvées of Riesling, including Grand Cru, which are at the extreme end of mineral, and are some of the purest versions of the variety you’ll find these days in the region. But, unusually, Christian is a great red wine maker too. His Pinot Noirs are superb, whether in the simple easy drinking style (but fruit packed, not always a given in Alsace), up to the unfiltered “Cuvée Béatrice”.
Christian also makes wine with various friends as Les Vins Pirouettes. Here, there’s another fine example of his red wine prowess, in Hubert & Christian Pinot Noir 2014, a wine which fulfills all the gulpable qualities required for fully signed up membership of “club glouglou”. Available in litre bottles, this would easily suit a bladder pack (like a Du Grappin #bagnum).
Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène
La Folle Berthe, David Fourbet, Saumur (Loire)
Fourbet was a journalist in Paris who decided to follow the dream, making his first vintage in Saumur in 2014, but only getting his own place in time for the 2015 vintage. He leases from the recently retired Philippe Gourdon, whose vines are perfect for David’s philosophy of wine, having been farmed biodynamically since the late 1990s. Gourdon has been a great help whilst Fourbet starts out.
Four wines were on show. Amandiers 2015 is made from Chenin (I hope). Initially a little quiet on the nose, but it is very pure, with a nice line of acidity. A wine for drinking.
P’tite Berthe 2016 is a Pineau d’Aunis. This variety seemed to go right out of fashion when I was beginning to appreciate Loire reds, but it seems, luckily, to have been brought right back by the natural wine movement (plantings decreased from around 2,000 hectares in the 1950s to a little over 400 ha by 2010). It seems to have an almost haunting quality to it, and this is certainly the case with this particular wine. It is quite pale, with medium weight of bright red fruit. Smooth, but also not devoid of tannins. What you get after the fruit is something reminiscent of weak black tea. The perfume is beautiful.
Vinneaux 2015 is pure Cabernet Franc. There’s only a bit more colour here than the Berthe, but with a touch more weight, and a little more tannin. This is a delicious wine, but also a thought provoking one as well. I may slightly prefer the Pinot d’Aunis over the Cabernet Franc wine, but both are good.
I was also able to have a small sip of the first (2014) vintage of Renaissances, a lovely sour wine, 100% Chenin Blanc, concentrated, with real texture and great length. This is a producer I must get to know better.
Importer – Under The Bonnet Wines
Partida Creus, Tarragona
Massimo Marchiori and Antonella Gerosa run Partida Creus from Bonastre in the Baix Penedès. Like David Fourbet, above, they were professionals (Italian architects in this case) who made a lifestyle change and moved to Catalonia, first to Barcelona, before hitting the countryside, and winemaking.
I’m flattered that a lot of people think I know quite a bit about wine, and that I’m often a step ahead of at least all the other old fogeys like me. But I’d never tried Partida Creus before the Fair, let alone really knew that they were making “some of the most talked about wines coming out of Spain”. That comment was written exactly two years ago in Saveur Magazine by Rachel Signer, a prominent American writer on natural wines. [Rachel writes a blog, by the way, A Brave New Palate, which is well worth exploring, and is currently in the process of funding a magazine on natural wine].
With my reputation in tatters, especially as I’ve been writing about Spanish natural wines an awful lot this year, I put my mind to tasting the six wines on show. What I found ended up being one of my top producers of the day, a brilliant discovery for me. Rachel was not wrong.
This part of Spain boasts a host of very old vineyards which, in the past, have been used for pretty ordinary wines. In such a region a quality-focused winemaker has a lot of fruit to choose from, not necessarily at the ridiculous prices you have to pay if you set up somewhere like Priorat.
I began with an example of a fairly staple local variety, Xarel-lo, with other rare local varieties, but treated here very differently, to make a pink Pet Nat wine at 10% alcohol, sealed under crown cap. CV Rosado Pet Nat Cartoixa Vermell is fruity, spicy, and that’s about it, but that’s all you want from the style. Complicated doesn’t make for a good glugging fizz, but really good fruit does.
SP Blanco 2015 is Macabeo with good acidity and a lovely freshness, simple but fruity. BN Blanco Natural 2015 is similar, but from a different site, and with no added sulphur.
BS Sumoll Blanco 2015 is made from red Sumoll, vinified white. It has an onion skin colour from the red grape skins. The free-run juice makes this a gentle wine, with really fruity flavours, and there’s also a little bit of spice again on the finish. A very attractive wine.
VN Vinello Tinto 2015 takes the same grape variety, Sumoll Tinto, and vinifies it as a red. I’ve grown to really appreciate this native grape over the past couple of years. It can make wine with body, but here it is quite gentle. The fruit flits between strawberry and light cherry, with very attractive fruit acids, almost like strawberry juice. “Vinello” is the Italian term for a “drinking wine”.
Much as I love a Sumoll, the best wine here, for me on the day, was BB Bobal 2015, served from magnum, almost to emphasise its serious qualities. It’s a very pale red, not too far off the colour of a Rosé des Riceys. This is unusual, because Bobal often has a deep colour. Generally used to make bulk wine, it is increasingly being taken more seriously. There was also (possibly) a very slight touch of reduction, though for me that doesn’t pose a problem (I’m certain it blows, or shakes, off at lowish levels). Red fruits and red fruit tea are the main characteristics of this wine, a satisfying combination.
Imported by Les Caves de Pyrène
Vale da Capucha, Pedro Marques, Lisbon
Pedro Marques is one of the young stars of Portuguese wine. I say young, he’s in the second half of his thirties, but the enthusiasm he exudes, and the thoughtful way he creates his wines, are both symbols of a man who has been making wine only since 2009, and yet has received international praise for what he is doing. Lisbon is a relatively unfashionable region in a country so often forgotten, and yet it has an amazing palate of autochthonous grape varietes, and Pedro’s family vineyards, around ten kilometres inland from the coast, near Torres Vedras (just north of Lisbon), are full of them.
First I tasted some of Pedro’s classic whites. Branco is, in 2015, a very tasty entry level blend, usually of Arinto, Gouveio and Fernão Pires, which has a slightly saline and mineral quality. Pedro believes his estate’s terroir better reflects white varieties, and there’s evidence of this in his Alvarinhos. Alvarinho 2013 exhibits the delicious qualities of this grape with a little age – a lovely line of developed fruit and mineral texture, whilst Alvarinho 2015 was much fresher, with almost a tropical quality. There are, additionally, varietal cuvées of Gouveio, Arinto and Castelão.
Pedro also makes two relatively simple but very sappy wines which are easy drinking without losing that interest provided by the native varieties. Fossil Branco 2015 uses the same varieties as the Branco blend above, It has a palate of citrus and pear, with a delicious saline finish which makes it a good bet for seafood. Fossil Tinto 2015 comes from 60% Touriga Nacional with 30% Tinta Roriz and 10% Syrah. It has black fruits, but a floral scent. Good acidity means it will work well with food (I hesitate to suggest a cliche such as cabrito, but, along with any pork or fattier meats, that would be perfect).
Both of these wines are fun. They combine modern flavours with tradition, and although these wines are both “natural”, and indeed “vegan”, they don’t have the low alcohols you often see in such wines (14% and 13% repectively). That may appeal to some, if not to others. They would make a wonderful choice in a restaurant.
Importers – Caves de Pyrène for most of the range, but Red Squirrel bring in the two Fossil wines.
Cascina degli Ulivi, Stefano Bellotti, Piemonte
I’ve written about Stefano and his truly beautiful wines before, and many of you will already know of him from Jonathan Nossiter’s Natural Resistance film. I’m not ever going to miss an opportunity to try his wines, and indeed buy some as they are not easy to come by. The man (he’d hate me for saying it) is a legend. How he copes with these big Fairs I’m not sure. He seems to me a quiet and humble man who I’d imagine would prefer to be on his farm. But maybe he parties like the Georgians when the day is done?
I was able to try two wines which were new to me, plus one I wanted to try in the new vintage, though I had an idea I’d end up buying a bottle anyway. The first new wine was a Moscato Passito, made from grapes dried on straw in small boxes, fermented in only half full barrels with 15% skin contact. Not unlike other passito wines, this really did seem to have some extra dimension of purity and shone in the glass. It has 15% alcohol, and a concentrated sweetness with a slightly caramelised sugar note. Then comes the honey, raisins and fig. Not a wine to spit.
Etoile du Raisin 2007 is a most unusual wine. Made from Barbera harvested in 2007, with Dolcetto, Ancellotto and a touch of Cortese making up 15% of the blend. It didn’t finish fermenting until 2011, and Stefano finally decided to bottle it in September 2012. It’s quite smoky on the nose, and on the palate there are plum fruits and gentle balsamic flavours. It also comes in at 15% abv, so a red wine to sip and contemplate, not so much a food wine. This wine won’t appeal to everyone because of its concentration and alcohol, but it’s complex, and very individual…like its creator.
My favourite wine from Bellotti is often his “orange” A Demûa Bianco, which has the characteristics of a skin contact wine, albeit in a gentle way. But Stefano makes a simpler white, and I tried the new vintage, IVAG 2016. IVAG is, of course, Gavi backwards. Naturally Stefano didn’t apply for the DOCG. The powers that be know by now that this great grower makes wines far too individual to give him the same “Gavi” label worn with pride by sometimes insipid bottles from industrially-minded producers.
IVAG 2016 has lovely fruit, for a (non-)Gavi. Good Gavi tastes of pears, and this wine has that, plus a nice rich lick of pineapple (or was it apricot) as well. Pure Cortese, in more than one sense. It provides a way in if you want to try something which expresses the terroir southwest of Novi Ligure much better than your average bottle of Gavi.
Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène
Cantina Filippi, Castelcerino, Soave (Veneto)
I didn’t try the wines this time, but I have to give them a mention. The stand was being manned by fellow Blogger, Emma Bentley, who works with the estate. Their vineyards are the highest in Soave, well known for its “wines of the plain” at mere DOC level. They are lucky to have mature vines, most being more than 60-years-old, and the philosophy is to produce terroir wines which reflect the three cru sites on the estate. There’s an entry level (but unfiltered) bottling, which knocks most inexpensive Soave off the table, plus a number of more expensive wines, which nevertheless offer amazing value for money. Aiming my comments at independent retailers, these wines offer a lot of bang for the buck. And I’m not just saying that because Emma offered me her seat to eat my QCH pork pie!
Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène
A quick break for lunch – Quality Chop House pork pie with “Kernel Table Beer” mustard, in the company of the Filippi Soaves
Casa Belfi, Albino Armani, Prosecco (Veneto)
Casa Belfi make “Colfondo” Prosecco from vineyards around San Polo di Piave, a little less than 20km south of Conegliano. Colfondo Prosecco is often cited as the historical version of this modern, often industrial wine. It is bottled on its lees sediment, rather like the méthode ancestrale pétillant naturel wines of France. Rather like real Lambrusco, it’s a very different wine to the norm.
Belfi’s Prosecco Colfondo Frizzante (currently 2015 vintage) is a low alcohol (around 10.5%) dry wine with bracing flavours. Susie Barrie reviewed a previous cuvée of this unapologetically “natural wine” Prosecco on Decanter’s web site in 2015, saying “I was sceptical, but it’s superb”, and it still is. This biodynamic Prosecco is nothing like the stuff you buy for £5.99 in the supermarket. Expect to pay a shocking £13 or so.
So is there more to Casa Belfi? Of course there is. They make a very unusual Prosecco Colfondo Anfora, which is also available in magnums. This is an even more delicious rendition of the Glera grape variety, for the adventurous palate. It sees seven days skin contact in a large amphora, and the resulting wine is floral, and a little bready in a nice savoury way. All bottling is done strictly adhering to the biodynamic calendar, and remember, it is bottled on lees. Not only will it continue to develop in bottle, but if you don’t want the cloudy option (a more textured experience), you have to stand the bottle upright for a good 48 hours and pour carefully.
Casa Belfi’s Raboso Frizzante was completely new to me. Raboso is a traditional red grape from the western part of Veneto, and it probably means “angry” (from the Venetian dialect word, “raboxo”). This could have something to do with its inherent acidity, yet this non-vintage red fizz is not exceptionally acidic. The fruit levels are crazy and, although it is also fermented on lees, it tastes clean. Drink now, or, like the Proseccos, keep it a little while to see it develop in bottle.
I should state firmly that these are wines which have no pretension to be serious. The basic Prosecco is remarkably cheap, not for Prosecco of course, but cheap for a really tasty dry sparkler. I will be looking to get some Raboso for weekend afternoons in the garden, or taking to BBQs, hoping that my sources for the other two wines order some.
Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène
Vino di Anna, Anna Martens, Etna (Sicily)
Real Wine had five Sicilian estates on show, and as is so often the case with Sicily at wine fairs, I know the wines too well to taste them. But I drank Anna’s Palmento Rosso 2015 very recently at Terroirs in London, and it was so good I had to tell her. Is this really a red? Fermented on skins for 3-4 days only, it is a pale red more than a dark pink, but only just. The fruit is almost sweet, filling the mouth and coating the tongue. There’s almost a typically Sicilian level (13%) of alcohol here, but you really can’t tell. You can almost knock it back like fruit juice. It’s mostly Nerello Mascalese, but there are other varieties in the field blend, including some white ones. The 2016 is almost ready to bottle, but do try this, A super wine.
Etna Rosso “Jeudi 15” 2015 is the current iteration of the first wine I ever tried from Anna, a wine which over time has flitted between Burgundy-, and Bordeaux-shaped, bottles (for what it’s worth I have an aesthetic preference for the burgundy shape). This is Etna’s wonderful Nerello Mascalese once more, and there’s some of the rare Minella variety in the field blend too. Created in an open fermenter (8 to 10 days on skins this time with some whole bunches), it has more bite and grip than Palmento. More colour too, not that it matters.
Anna makes wine with her partner, Eric Narioo, who’s well known to us all as one of the men behind Les Caves. The vines are all at altitude (600 to 1,200 metres) on Etna’s northern slopes. “Palmento” refers to the stone floors where the grapes were traditionally foot trodden. Eric and Anna restored a 250-year-old building with one of these floors, in which they make their delicious biodynamic wines from a small, six hectare, estate. Anna had run out of her white wines, but everything here is worth a try. I think I bought the very first vintage of “Jeudi 15”, and the wines seem to get better and better.
Importer – Les Caves de Pyrène
COS, Vittoria (Sicily)
COS was founded by Giusto Occhipinti, along with school friends Giambattista Cilia and Pinuccia Strano, back in 1980. Over time, the wines of COS have moved in a much more “natural” direction. The company has also become famous as one of Sicily’s proponents of amphorae. COS has pretty much revitalised Cerasuolo di Vittoria [Classico] as a DOCG, as well as the local Frappato grape. Their Nero d’Avola exhibits a restraint hardly seen elsewhere on the island, and as I mentioned above, “Pithos” has become a byword for classy terracotta-aged wine.
I usually have a few COS wines at home, often a few bottles of Frappato, Cerasuolo (which traditionally blends Nero d’Avola and Frappato), and the two amphora wines, Pithos Bianco and Rosso. I also have a tendency to mention these on the Blog fairly frequently, so here I’m going to talk about a couple of wines I see less often, plus one amazing new wine.
Nero di Lupo 2015 is 100% Nero d’Avola, made from vines only a little over a decade old, which is fermented and aged in cement tanks before bottling. If I haven’t bought this wine for several years, it is only really because I like some of the others so much. It’s very good in 2015, fruity but not too big (only 12.5% alcohol). If you’ve been put off by the monster Nero d’Avolas of some other Sicilian producers, this will make a refreshing change.
Aestas Siciliae Vino Dolce No 5 is a new (to me) dessert wine made from Moscato grapes which have dried on the vine. Grapey and concentrated, yet it only has 12.5% alcohol, and the sweetness is not cloying. It’s too hard to be objective when a wine is this moreish. Just sip it.
The last wine I’m going to write about in this Part 3, and therefore of all the wines I tasted at the Real Wine Fair 2017, was my Wine of the Fair, my favourite wine of the day. It was also a new wine from COS, which I’d never tasted before, and which is not yet imported into the UK as far as I’m aware. Don’t take my word for it – many others were raving about this wine. It is clearly not in my interests, wishing to secure a bottle (or magnum, oh yes!) or two, for me to big this up, but I cannot lie.
Zibibbo in Pithos 2014 (poured here from magnum) is made from Muscat of Alexandria (known as Zibibbo on Sicily). It’s aged on skins for eleven months in amphorae, so that alongside the grapey flavours and aromas of the Muscat grapes, you also get candied fruit and pleasantly savoury, or bitter, spice, presumably from the skin contact and terracotta. Smooth, and quite powerful, yet only weighing in at 10.5% abv, it is totally delicious. If restricted to a one word tasting note, it would be “want”, though I’d like to add a very plaintive “please” to those nice people just outside Guildford. I presume they will be bringing in as much as they can beg from Giusto.
Importer – Les Caves de Pyréne
So that’s all I’m going to give you for Real Wine 2017, but I hope you’ve enjoyed the limited selection of producers and wines I’ve described in these three articles. I am sure that they complement all the other pieces written about this extraordinary Fair, and the 170 producers who attended. I’m not really sure how I could have got around many more in a day, and I doubt that any of the Press managed to speak to all of them.
After the Fair I was invited to a Tasting of French Alpine Wines, organised by Wink Lorch. As I said in Part 1, it was to celebrate the successful end to her Kickstarter Campaign to fund her next book, on this very subject. My next article will be on that Tasting, and it was indeed a particularly interesting Tasting because some of the wines were well aged.