There are a dozen wine merchants in this group, who were showing wines at The Vinyl Factory in Soho on Tuesday last week. How dirty they are, I’ll leave you to assess, but the dirt in question is terroir (presumably). Their manifesto claims:
- We are committed to wines of integrity and authenticity
- We believe in wines that speak of their terroir
- We select winemakers that cherish their vineyards and the environment
- We choose small over large and real before synthetic
- We import wines for people that care, made by people that care
We can all agree with that, can we not? Within the framework of those commitments there was, to be fair, a very wide range of wines, from the cheap and fairly commercial, and the fairly smart and expensive, to the unusual and “out there”. But even in the cheaper range there were many wines of interest and with character, wines you wish would turn up on many a restaurant list when you are wading through the Cabernets and Malbecs (to be fair, there were one or two surprisingly tasty Malbecs on show).
The list of exhibitors was as follows: Roberson, Clark Foyster, Flint Wines, SWIG, Maltby & Greek, Raymond Reynolds, Indigo Wine, H2Vin, Astrum, Forty Five 10º, The Wine Treasury, and Top Selection. As is always the case with a big tasting like this, you have hundreds of wines on offer. I had around four hours to devote. I read on social media that one wine writer had just fifteen minutes! Still, it was nice to see a few fellow scribes, including some of the older generation, so you’ll probably get a few other takes on this event.
The wines I mention below, listed by importer, are those I really liked or found interesting. To those importers for whom I didn’t list many wines (or no wines in the case of two), I apologise. Such events are very hit and miss, and time flies, not to mention the fact that yet again the table hoggers were out in force. Plant yourself in the middle, knock back some bevvies and chat to your mate. Maybe there should be a gong? I probably spent more time at the Indigo table than any other, but then they were more attentive than most, and pushed so many wines of interest under my nose. And I did taste a lot of wines. I worked hard.
Hopefully the photos below give a flavour of the event.
Roberson has a name for California, and justly so. Who has done more to reintroduce these wines into the UK, and to reinvigorate what is available! Matthiasson Linda Vista Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 is lighter and only 12.9% abv, delicious and good value.
They showed a couple of Beaujolais. I love 2014 in this region and Domaine Piron-Lameloise Chénas Quartz shows its elegance. Quite light, not as mineral as I recall the 2015 was at a tasting earlier this year (odd, vintagewise), but lovely fruit. Julien Sunier Morgon 2015 showed some of the characteristics of this riper vintage. I like it a lot. His 2015 Fleurie was one of my wines of the day at that big Bojo Tasting back in June. This felt restrained at 13%.
The first of many Austrians I tasted was Ebner-Ebenauer Zweigelt Alte Reben 2013 from Weinviertal. This old vine cuvée was luminous, high toned/perfumed and with sweet fruit, showing a slightly bitter finish.
Back to America to finish, Broc Cellars Happy Canyon “Coucou” Cabernet Franc 2016 is a light, pale, red with bags of fruit. Very simply labelled, a classic glugger in the natural wine vein. Tasty!
I have fond memories of drinking Jacques Picard Brut Réserve at 28-50 in Mayfair many times. This Jacques Picard Brut Nature is dry and steely, and pleasantly invigorating. Gusbourne Estate Sparkling Rosé 2013 from one of Kent’s best fizz makers, is a complete contrast, but no worse for that. Pale salmon-hued, light summer fruits, fresh but with a bitter note on the finish. It’s made from 100% Pinot Noir, delicious, both fun but serious at the same time.
Heading down to Burgundy, you can find a nice Aligoté without the searing acidity once associated with this variety which is currently making a comeback – Charles Audoin Bourgogne Aligoté 2015 is possibly a product of the vintage, but it reveals another side of the variety here.
Clark Foyster imports a few well known Austrians (Moric, Pittnauer…) and Prieler Leithaberg Pinot Blanc 2015 from the slopes of Western Burgenland may be the least well known (although Prieler has been in Fortnum & Mason for years). This has nice round fruit and a waxy finish with perhaps a touch of quince. Argyros Estate Santorini Assyrtiko 2016 is fatter than some examples, but has great mineral/citrus fruit and freshness too.
A final white came from Kakheti in Georgia, Vita Vinea Kisi 2015. This blends more lemon citrus with a tropical note, a plumpish mouthfeel and a chalky dry finish.
Staying with Georgia, Orgo Saperavi 2015, also from the Kakheti region, is dark as hell (though darker still was to come at another table). Powerful, but with surprisingly smooth fruit, and a bit cheaper than the Kakheti white, above. And back to Greece, a very nice Xinomavro, dry and tannic but with quite a mature nose and a big personality, Diamantakos Estate Naoussa 2013.
To finish here, two very different wines. Helmut Lang Samling 88 Tba 2005 is smooth, sweet and concentrated and would have been a nice wine to end on, but we were all blown away by a Madeira, HM Borges Boal Colheita 1995. Coffee/toffee, caramel and everything else. Very reasonably priced and very moreish, you can’t go wrong buying this.
Les Caves used to import Peter Pliger’s wines and I bought them quite regularly. Now Flint have him and I was really pleased to taste his classic Kuenhof Riesling Kaiton 2015 from Eisacktaler in Südtirol. Maybe a bit bigger fruited and thereby less mineral than some vintages but still vibrant. I remain a fan.
I’d really wanted to try the Martin’s Lane wines from Okanagan Valley in Canada. As annoyingly happens at events like this, some wines get snaffled, maybe by the same people who take up a spot centre table and don’t move for half an hour. So there was no Martin’s Lane Fritzi’s Vineyard Riesling 2014 to try. Thankfully there was some Martin’s Lane Naramata Ranch Pinot Noir 2014. This has real depth on the nose, smooth round fruit and elegance despite a certain plumpness. Very interesting, though fairly expensive. It’s the first vintage for this new estate, which is aiming high. For now, talk to Vagabond or Uncorked if you want to try them from a retailer.
There was also a little Domaine Arlaud Hautes Côtes de Nuits 2014. It’s a domaine whose wines I’ve liked for some years, and it surprises me that they are not a little better known among the many Burgundy obsessives I know. Okay, this is “Hautes Côtes”, but it’s nicely perfumed with more elegance than you might expect, as well as that certain restraint and a touch of earthiness.
I wanted to mention Richard Böcking Riesling 2015 from Traben-Trarbach on the Mosel in part because it was possibly my “picture label of the day”. It has to be said that bright and shiny labels seem to be the thing these days, but this is more classical, or do I mean “romantic” (see photo below).
One wine with a very bright label will be well known to all of you who visit the wine fairs. BK Wines One Ball Chardonnay 2016 is the new vintage from this jovial Adelaide Hills label. At 12%, it is a typically light and refreshing natural wine, great fun. For drinking and not “analysis”, which seems refreshingly to be in vogue as well these days.
At the other end of the spectrum, if you want a world class version of a Burgundian grape variety from Australia, then the Mornington Peninsula is probably the place to go. I have to say that on my only visit there I completely fell in love with the place, and there are many worthy applicants for the title of best Pinot. Yabby Lake Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 would be in with the mix. A fine dry year in Mornington. The wine is palish and very perfumed. There’s still a little tannin to give structure and it will certainly improve over, say, five years. But it’s good!
I did taste rather a lot at Indigo, but some merchants really make an effort to get their wines out there much more than others do. For what it’s worth, I appreciate being recognised and having some interesting stuff I’ve never tried pushed under my nose.
I tasted quite a few South Americans, many with some sort of Michelini Brothers connection. I admit I don’t drink a lot of South American wine, but I have featured the Michelini Brothers before and Dave Stenton contributed an article on this blog about a visit to see them a while ago (see here). If you also look at the recent Decanter Tasting of Argentinian Reds, these brothers seem to be at the heart of everything exciting in that country.
One of their winemakers produced Escala Humana Livvera Blanco “El Zampal” 2016 from Argentina’s Uco Valley. It’s 100% Malvasia with 25 days on skins in cement. You get all of this on the nose and in the mouth. Another Uco Valley wine is Triangle Wines Salvo Semillon 2017. Made from 120 year-old vines, 60% fermented in steel, 40% in egg on skins. Triangle Wines is a project between Gerardo Michelini and Indigo Wines. Both of these are well worth seeking out.
Antonio Madeira Dão Branco 2015 comes from high vineyards and a complanted field blend of around twenty varieties. Winemaking is minimal and it’s pale, fresh and dry. Indigo have plans to import a number of single vineyard wines from Clemens Busch, but in the meantime Clemens Busch Dry Mosel Riesling 2015 is a pretty good introduction, 11.5% and not much money for the quality.
Back to Argentina with another Triangle Wines – Salvo Malbec “El Peral” 2016 (Uco Valley again). 100% Malbec in concrete egg, dry but fruity, young and fun. Over the Andes to Chile, Rogue Vine Jamón Jamón Semillon Itata Valley 2016 has a touch of Muscat added, all old vines. Amazing nose, dry and lemony with a hint of Muscat florality. Altar Uco Blanco, Gualtallary 2015 is 90% Sauvignon Blanc/10% Chenin, oak aged with another beautiful bouquet, on the palate showing lemon citrus and a pleasing salinity.
Back to red, I’ve heard a bit of chatter about the next producer – Frederick Stevenson Dry Red, Barossa Valley 2016 is a blend of Carignan, Syrah and Grenache. Low intervention, smoky but with gentle fruit coming through. Refreshing red at just 12% abv, very un-Barossa in that respect.
Off list again for the Livverá Malbec 2015, which may weigh in at 14% but has brilliant fruit. Tinta Tinto Syrah, Casablanca 2016 is a nice Chilean project by a husband and wife team who do everything, including making handmade, hand drawn labels. But what stands out with this wine is the bouquet – the purest Ribena you’ve ever smelt, and you’d be fooled into thinking it was non-alcoholic until you taste (13.7% abv).
I couldn’t walk away without a sip of Daniel Landi Uvas de la Ira Méntrida 2015. I love this wine, and what value as an intro to one of Spain’s great winemakers. The Garnacha is exquisitely perfumed, and there’s just a touch of tannin for structure. Indigo did show me some exciting wines, but maybe I’d go for this, still, as my wine of the day from their table.
Maltby & Greek
Maltby & Greek do what they say on the label, being specialists in Greek wines, mainly from indigenous varieties. I always regret the lack of wide distribution for wines from Greece, and I’d seriously commend these guys for wines at all prices.
I began by tasting two traditional method sparklers, Domaine Kariniki Brut Speciale 2015 and their Cuvee de Prestige Nature 2014. The wines come from Amyndeon in Greek Macedonia. The “Speciale” is 100% Xinomavro from vines grown at 650 metres altitude. It has a classic profile, rather like a good Crémant, and similarly priced. The “Nature” is a zero dosed Assyrtiko-Xinomavra blend. For an extra pound or so you get a bit more interest on nose and palate, rounder and a touch fatter too (and 13% as opposed to 11.5% abv).
From Agealea, in the Peloponnese (which I don’t know) comes Rouvalis Winery Asprolithi Roditis 2016. I generally like the Roditis grape variety. This is soft, simple and very cheap, probably sub-£10 retail. Also on the softer side is Robola Co-operative San Gerasimo Robola, Cephalonia 2016. One of the many island wines M&G sell which you rarely see in the UK.
One of the big names in Greek wine (for quality) is Alpha Estate. Alpha Estate “Axia” , Amyndeon, Macedonia 2015 blends Sauvignon Blanc with Assyrtiko. Do I prefer it to a good Assyrtiko tout-court? Maybe not, but I’d buy a bottle of this unusual blend to give it a go on the basis of this taste.
I wanted to end my white tasting with a pure Assyrtiko I know but see all too rarely – Domaine Sigalas Barrel Assyrtiko 2015. I know their Santorini “unoaked” version very well, but this version is a little different. It was all gone, sadly. But M&G stock several Sigalas wines, one of the top producers on Santorini.
Along with Assyrtiko, my other favourite Greek grape variety is Agiorgitiko. Ktima Kokotou “Three Hills” 2015 comes from Stamata (Attica), and blends that variety with Cabernet Sauvignon. This is cheap (again, guessing under a tenner retail), and has a nice bright red colour, a simple fruity palate, but with a touch of bitter cherry on the finish to add character. A bistro wine, and the kind of thing I’d relish finding in the type of local restaurant where the wine list is otherwise average.
There were some much more well known reds down the list (more Sigalas and a couple from Alpha Estate) but I ended with a couple of sweet wines. Nopera Winery Sweet Muscat, Samos 2013 is classic Samos Muscat – not complex but sweet and concentrated (and 13.5% abv), but with enough freshness to stop it being cloying. Domaine Sigalas Vinsanto 2006 is a Santorini blend of Assyrtiko and Aidani. This is a step up and classy. Darker than the Muscat, the nose has complexity. The sweetness is figgy with hints of dark brown sugar, slightly caramelised. The palate is balanced: both unctuous and yet not sickly. And it’s only 9% alcohol.
H2Vin showed some interesting wines, and I’ll readily admit I’d like to mention more. But some of them most of you will already know (Larmandier-Bernier, Alphonse Mellot, Jiménez-Landi, Clos du Caillou, La Vieille Julienne etc). You may know the following four as well, but if you don’t…
Xavier Frissant Fié Gris “Les Roses du Clos” 2016 is as tasty an example of this Sauvignon Blanc parent as you’ll find. The books will tell you it originates in Bordeaux, where it is sometimes just called Sauvignon Gris, but it is at home in the Loire (and in pockets around Saint-Bris in Burgundy). This seems like a souped up “SB”, with lots of intense gooseberry and a whiff of cat’s pee! Fresh and bracing, in some ways both “old school” and new.
Jurançon is under appreciated, but the dry version even more than the sweet. Camin Larredya Jurançon Sec “La Part Davant” 2016 blends two-thirds Gros Manseng with Petit Manseng and a touch of Petit Courbu. It undergoes a maceration pellicullaire before fermentation in a mix of stainless steel and foudre before resting on lees. This gives Jurançon Sec its texture and greater complexity. A textbook example of a wine we should all drink from time to time.
Domaine Bargylus Blanc 2010 is from the by now quite well known Syrian estate. It’s my first taste of the white. Note the vintage, this has bottle age. The vines are grown on the slopes of Syria’s coastal mountains and this blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc is quite mineral with lime citrus and a herby note in the background. Where we used to pray for those working at Chateau Musar in Lebanon, now we must send our thoughts out to those working here. Nice to see this on show (I didn’t spot the red?).
The last wine here is from an old favourite, who I first discovered on Adnams’ list in the 1990s, and have latterly mainly picked up in France. Elian da Ros Côtes du Marmandais “Vignoble d’Elian” 2014 has vibrant, dense, brambly fruit with a bitter twist. Some might say “rustic Bordeaux” but there’s more going on here and the winemaking is quality. More than your usual “country wine”, and a producer to follow if you don’t already know him.
Astrum Wine Cellars
Astrum has a good selection of Central European wines to pair with its well regarded Italian offering, and its newcomers from the New World. Huber Grüner Veltliner “Obere Steigen” 2016 comes from the old family producer now under the care of young Markus Huber (10th generation), in Reichersdorf (Traisental). He makes some nice wines, which crop up in unusual places (he makes Waitrose’s own label Grüner). This is more intense, a classic version, very fresh and mineral, with a hint of black pepper.
They also have a few wines from Johanneshof Reinisch in Thermenregion. I’ve had many of this producer’s wines and never a dud. But I would really recommend you try one of Austria’s more unusual, rare, grape varieties in this Johanneshof Reinisch Rotgipfler Satzing 2015. The grapes are from the famous Gumpoldskirchen vineyards, on limestone and clay/loam. It just explodes in the mouth with citrus and tropical fruit plus a more developed note of grapey richness.
Another side of this producer is in their non-autochthonous varietal, Johanneshof Reinisch Pinot Noir “Grillenhügel” 2010. Vines on this limestone (mainly) hillside site are around twenty years old. Fermentation is in large oak after relatively late harvesting, with around 16-18 months ageing in barrel. Lighter than the 13.5% alcohol might suggest, there’s good fruit and emerging complexity. Bring on the game, I could drink this now.
When I want Cique Terre I usually think of Red Squirrel, but the local co-operative is worth a look as well as the independent producers, though as it’s Cinque Terre don’t expect a bargain. I did really like Cantine Cinque Terre Cinque Terre “Costa da Posa” 2016. On these ridiculous slopes around 300 growers farm tiny plots adding up to about 60 hectares. 70% Bosco, 20% Albarola and 10% Vermentino go into this. It rests on the lees but is bottled early after five months or so, giving a bouquet of herbs, honey and wild flowers, with a palate which is brisk and zippy yet surprisingly full-bodied. A mineral finish rounds it out nicely. Looks nice too, yellow straw with bright glints.
Forty Five 10º
This is an Italian specialist. In Italy I’m continually flitting between Piemonte, Tuscany and Sicily, without managing to focus on more than one at a time, but if I were to choose a favourite Italian producer, then Castello di Ama would be in the running. Castello di Ama Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 is brick red with an amazing nose. This stuff ages really well, even the normale, and although many would love it now, it will mature further, though will peak fairly soon.
Dark cherry and tobacco notes from a blend of 80% Sangiovese with Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malvasia off limestone and clay at between 400 to 530 metres altitude. Fruit is 100% destemmed, all varieties are fermented separately, after which it goes into barrel (20% new oak). Long on the finish, and for me, as classy as Classico Riserva gets. Now, of course, Ama do not produce a “Riserva” as such, so this is rare as well as very good.
I’m off to Alsace soon, and I’ll be staying in Andlau, so I couldn’t neglect to try the wine of an Andlau producer. Andlau is in the Bas Rhin, further north than some of the most famous wine villages, though not less endowed with fine terroir and producers in my humble opinion. The village is unusual because the geology of the surrounding vineyards, though complex, contains a lot of Silurian and Ordovician schist. The Vosges are mainly granite with gneiss and even sandstone in places.
Gressser’s Crémant cannot express the complex terroir like his Grand Cru still wines, but there is a brightness to this biodynamic sparkler, Remy Gresser Crémant d’Alsace NV. Quite appley on the nose, it’s a pretty wine, fresh and with a lightness of touch. I think this is made from Pinot Blanc, the standard for the region’s sparklers, although there’s quite a bit of Chardonnay planted (mainly) for Crémant these days.