In this second part of my write-up of the Out the Box Tasting at The Crypt on the Green, Clerkenwell (Tuesday 3 October), I’m covering wines from Basket Press Wines, Nekter Wines and Swig. For a bit more of an introduction to the Tasting, and to read about the wines shown by The Knotted Vine, Modal Wines and Red Squirrel, follow the link to Part 1 here.
For anyone who didn’t read Part 1, the Tasting was characterised by a lot of new producer names, and this certainly carries through, perhaps even more so, to the wines shown by the three small importers featured here. As I said in Part 1, the room was not especially crowded, although such a large space can be misleading as to numbers. If you didn’t make it, or were waylaid at the higher profile events around town, do read on. These guys deserve a shout as well. Their wines should be better known.
BASKET PRESS WINES
Basket Press was set up by Jiri Majerik and Zainab Barrodawalla, Jiri being Czech. Both have extensive but very different wine trade experience, and they set out to introduce more Moravian wines to the UK. Moravia is a region in the south of the Czech Republic, close to the Austrian border and the Austrian Weinviertel Region (and also right up on the border with Slovakia). It’s where most Czech vineyards are situated, south of Brno, on mainly rolling limestone hills with a broadly benign climate.
Many readers of my blog will already know one Moravian producer, Milan Nestarec, whose wines are often available via Newcomer Wines in Dalston. Here I’m featuring five out of eight producers on show, only one of whose wines I’ve tried before. I think they give a good enough reason to explore Czech wines further.
Stapleton-Springer don’t sound Czech. Craig Stapleton is a former US Ambassador to the Czech Republic, and Jaroslav Springer came on board as winemaker. The speciality here is Pinot Noir, which makes up 75% of their fairly extensive 22 hectare plantings. Three wines were on show, all worth trying, but the one I’ll mention is the most unusual. Orange de Pinot Noir 2016 is a wine I first tried at one of our Oddities lunches and was immediately taken with. This 2016 is a pinky orange colour, and a bit of a fruit bomb – you almost taste wine gum. But underneath that is skin contact texture. I’d say, of the three, it certainly has the least “varietal character”, but it does have plenty of character of its own. A very nice wine.
Ota Ševcík makes natural wine in Southern Moravia and was a founding member of the Autentisté wine growing association. He’s also a Pinot specialist (the Čtvrtě vineyard here is renowned as one of the best Pinot Noir vineyards in Moravia), but only one of the wines tasted included Pinot Noir.
Pinoty 2015 blends Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris into a juicy white that has 24 hours skin contact. This contact is in barrique, after which the juice goes into larger oak for eleven months, before resting for a further six months. There’s a touch of almost “car sweet” pineapple fruit which makes it refreshing. Blanc de Noir 2015 blends Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris into a wine which has a smoky nose and a mouthtingling zip.
Richard Stávek runs a mixed agriculture farm in Southern Moravia, and alongside his biodynamic wines, his family breed goats, grow fruit and keep bees. On show were a white and a red, Spigle-Bocky (2015) is the white and Zwan (2015) is the red. Zwan blends Zweigelt and Andre (a local crossing of Blaufränkisch and St Laurent, which gives soft tannins and good acidity).
I also got to try a wine not on the list, Bakon 2015, a skin contact red from the rarely seen Baco Noir variety. I’ve come across this hybrid variety mentioned in France before, the brandy grape Folle Blanche being the vinifera parent: it’s a vinifera x rupestris (ie American vine) cross. Some of you may have come across Baco Noir in Canada, where it seems to crop up in most of that country’s wine regions. Here, in Bakon, it ages in a variety of sizes of old wood of different types. Darkish-hued and peppery/spicy, it was very attractive.
Tomáš Čačík makes a varietal Frankovka (the Moravian name for Blaufränkisch) from a tiny estate of just a few hectares. He seems to be very focused on quality, but his wines don’t reflect this in the price. His Frankovka 2015 is quite a light and peppery version, very attractive. He was also represented by a Cabernet and a Pinot Blanc, a name to watch if prices remain reasonable.
Jaroslav Osička is another member of the Autentisté group of Czech natural winemakers. All the wines shown were white, a Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and a Chardonnay. The latter was my favourite. It comes out of a tiny plot of around three quarters of a hectare near the town of Velké Bílowice. The vines average over 20 years in age and the gentle slopes of the vineyard are at around 250 metres. It was described to me as “Jura-style”, and I suppose it did have a slightly nutty, and ever so slightly oxidative, note which we Jura lovers never really know whether it is the winemaking or the terroir (Chardonnay often tastes ever so slightly like Savagnin around Arbois if you go with the “terroir” theory).
It sees three days on skins in old oak, 10-15% whole clusters, then three months on gross lees, followed by two whole years on fine lees. This makes for a fairly complex wine of, I would say, real class. It had genuine presence. It was done the honour of being served from a decanter, which I’m sure would be sound advice for anyone lucky enough to grab a bottle or two. It was a very difficult choice as I was quite thrilled to discover these Moravian wines, but I think this Chardonnay was my wine of the table from Basket Press.
Nekter is very new, only being set up last year by former management consultant Jonothan Davey (sic), with the aim of bringing over new producers from California, a task so far pretty much left to Roberson for the UK market, along with South Africa and Australia. Nekter have fifteen producers on their books, all making minimal intervention wines, and I will concentrate on four of them, to give you a flavour of the Portfolio.
Keep Wines is an interesting producer. To whet your appetite, it is run by Jack Roberts (Assistant Winemaker at Matthiasson) and Johanna Jensen (formerly with Scholium Project and Broc Cellars). Pedigree established, let’s move on to the five wines tasted.
Blanc Blend 2016 comes out of Napa’s Yolo County and comprises 85% Picpoul which, being slightly less ripe (in brix) than hoped, had 15% late harvested Grenache Blanc added. There’s a touch of the orchard fruit about it, lively, appley, with crunch but without excessive acidity. Just 11% abv.
El Rino 2016 is a varietal Albarino from the Sacramento Delta. It was bottled when just 80% through malo, with the fermentation finished in bottle. So you get a touch of CO2 and a lot of freshness, with an ever so slightly sour note on the finish, which serves to add something interesting to what is a fresh, summery, wine.
Rose 2016 is a pale salmon blend of 85% Syrah and 15% Mourvèdre. The nose was very muted, yet in the mouth it was very refreshing indeed, all fruit and zip.
Two varietal reds rounded off their wines. Counoise 2016 is made by carbonic maceration in stainless steel, with just 12% alcohol to its name. It is light and refreshing with that “country wine” quality, approachable but still rather exciting. Carignane 2016 is fuller in body with a bit more grip and a touch of spice. Take your pick.
The labels, in case you are wondering (photos below) are of what remains of the Norman era Beverstone Castle in Gloucestershire, where Jack Roberts’ father grew up.
Benevolent Neglect is the label of a couple of East Coast emigres who began making wine in 2013, seeking fruit from old vineyards in Carneros/Sonoma and Mendocino. Eaglepoint Ranch is at 1,800 metres above the Ukiah Valley in Mendocino County, whilst Las Madres is one of the most highly regarded Syrah vineyards in Sonoma.
BN Syrah 2015 is elegant, with violets on the nose and classic blueberry fruit. Grenache 2015 comes from the aforementioned high altitude vineyard at Eaglepoint Ranch. It has elegance but a juiciness as well. This is also another source for a varietal Counoise (2015). They describe it as a fun wine for everyday drinking, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. A year ago they were far from happy with how this was turning out, but took the decision to give it another twelve months. It worked. Very bright, the nose is high-toned and all cherries and berries. There is a little tannin there, but there’s enough fruit to balance it. Another country wine, one for really simple dishes, but that is in no way putting it down, rather the opposite.
Illimis is Latin for clarity. Lucinda Heyns has worked at Jordan and Mulderbosch, as well as in California, but has now established her own label in South Africa, making wine with fruit sourced from Elgin and Darling. Elgin Chenin Blanc 2015 gets eight months in old oak. You get peach, pear and apricot plus a touch of salinity and a real whip of zingy acidity, which makes this very attractive. Darling Cinsault 2015 is made from fairly old (40 years +) vines, but by carbonic maceration. This gives off a multitude of red berries, but with a nice savoury finish. Light and fun, and, like the Chenin, very refreshing.
Captains of Trade has proved the hardest to research of all the wines tasted at Out the Box this week. I couldn’t even find any background info on the Nekter Wines web site. I was told that the wines are made at Oak Vale, a well known winery on Broke Road, Pokolbin, in the Hunter Valley, and that’s about as far as I got. But I found some lovely wines on taste from this Australian label.
There were three wines from Orange in New South Wales, all labelled From Sundays (2016). They are all suffixed with an explanation: “Juiced”, “Carbonic” and “Skins”, and it was the last of these which I liked the best. It’s made from 100% Pinot Gris (all three are), with a pinkish hue, more of a “ramato” style than an orange wine, exactly. There’s a little texture, but plenty of fruit too.
A red Pinot Noir, Milla 2016, comes from the Adelaide Hills. Then there were two more wines from NSW’s Hunter Valley. Lucky’s 2015 is 85% Syrah (it says, not “Shiraz”) with 15% Pinot Noir. It’s a blend which was quite popular in Australia in the 1980s, though not seen so much today (but I think it’s starting to make a comeback). Maurice O’Shea’s famous Hunter Valley Burgundy often blended the two together, and Pinot Noir does tend to take on a very different character in this warmer and more humid region. This version, from Captains of Trade, is relatively cheap and excellent value.
The Beast 2016 is an example of a variety, Verdelho, which also had a bit of a reputation at one time in these parts, in fact all over Australia’s wine regions. It fell out of favour, but this egg-fermented skin contact wine is exciting, and shows what could signal a comeback for the grape variety. It combines the tropical fruit of Aussie Verdelho with a touch of texture to provide a bit more interest. Lovely wine.
Finally, Paserine, who had three wines from South Africa on taste, two reds from Tulbagh (Union 2015, a blend of 50% Syrah with Carignane and a bit of Mourvèdre, and Marathon 2015, a Bordeaux blend of, unusually, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 51% Petit Verdot and a 7% dash of Carmenère), plus an Elgin Chardonnay 2015.
My slight favourite was the white. The cool climate fruit is quite intense. It has various elements. Creaminess probably comes from the 16 months spent in barrel, with weekly lees stirring. Then you get purity of fruit, with even some ginger spice adding a savoury character. This probably comes from the cool climate, mediated by the sea breeze which rolls up the vineyard slopes. Elgin is a great terroir for cool climate Chardonnay and the minimal intervention the Paserene version sees makes this previously unknown to me producer well worth seeking out.
I tasted a few wines from the Swig (or should it be SWIG, or even, as I’ve seen it spelt, SWiG?) stand at the Dirty Dozen Tasting at The Vinyl Factory in Soho a few weeks ago, but not many. As on that occasion, this was one of the busiest tables. I got to taste a few more wines but I had to give up on taking photos, and I didn’t manage as many as I’d have liked. I did manage to add seven more producers to those Swig wines I tasted at The Dirty Dozen (a mere three, but you can follow the link to that Tasting in Part 1). Swig do the rounds with some gusto – as they say in their introduction in the catalogue, they do indeed have “a few more trade shows under the belt than some of our fellows [sic] here”. As a result, they are one of the better known importers at this Tasting.
Swig were showing a really broad selection of producers from a wide spread of countries, and their portfolio shows the kind of wonderful mix put together by true enthusiasts, rather than people who just sit here in the UK waiting for the missing Saint-Joseph or Gavi to turn up as a sample. I don’t know the people involved, but you get the impression that they’ve all got dirt under their finger nails on occasion, and grape juice stains on their feet.
BK Wines are probably best known in the UK for the interestingly named One Ball Chardonnay, which I did taste at The Dirty Dozen. Three more BK offerings were poured on Tuesday: Skin n Bones Red 2016 (an Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir) and Waning Crescent 2016 (Syrah from the same source), plus my favourite, Skin n Bones White 2016. This is a varietal Savagnin out of Lenswood. It’s much lighter, and indeed fruitier, than many Jura examples, but it’s really tasty in that gluggable sense you always get with the BK label, and it comes in at just 11.8% abv too, as if to underline its purpose.
Domaine Gournier makes wines which, on this showing, are not going to set the senior critics on fire. Yet the rest of us are really going to get interested when we see a blend of Rolle (aka Vermentino), Riesling and Pinot Gris from the Cévennes. The Gournier estate is quite large, and its various wines are available from a number of different importers, but their Mas Bres Stella Blanc 2015, which is the name of the above blend, is fruity and fresh, and would make a good talking point over lunch. It has the advantage of costing a little over £8 to the trade, making it inexpensive for a wine which might prompt some discussion among wine lovers.
There has been quite a bit of a Sylvaner revival in Germany recently. Of course, there was always a focus on the grape in Franken, both dry and sweet, but Weingut Stefan Winter is based in Rheinhessen. Dettelsheim-Hessloch is not one of Germany’s best known wine villages, but Stefan Winter has been putting it on the map. His achievements are recognised through the estate’s membership of the prestigious VDP organisation. Sylvaner 2016 is herby more than fruity, and mouth cleansing without the overt acidity of some examples. Although at the lower end of the Winter portfolio, it’s a very good example of this (in my opinion, though I know I’m in a minority) under rated variety.
Fratelli Collavo is a Prosecco producer in the Valdobbiadene sub-region, producing biodynamic wines. Two wines were tasted. Prosecco Collfondo is bottled on the lees without disgorging. It means the sediment remains in bottle. The consumer has a choice, either to stand it up and pour carefully for a clear wine, or to be adventurous by just pouring it into a carafe and giving it a bit of a shake (or a rest) for oxygen to work its stuff. Sealed under crown cap (like a pét-nat), this blend of Glera, Bianchetta Treviso and Perera is fun. Just a very different kind of fun to a £5 supermarket Prosecco.
Prosecco Brut 6.0 “Rive di Refrontolo” is 100% Glera and bottled under cork, like Champagne. It’s perhaps a more serious wine, from one of the new single site DOCG designations. Apple and peach flavours and a nice, elegant, bead. Both wines are good, both very different. Again, take your pick.
Vinedos Ruiz Jimenez is a Rioja producer near Aldeanueva de Ebro, southeast of Calahorra. Swig had both a red and a white on their table. The red is pure Garnacha, but the white is, unusually, Tempranillo Blanco. It has rounded, plumpish, fruit and, oddly, given the unusual grape variety, tastes just like a really good white Rioja should. I know people who have fallen in love with its pretty label, and then with the wine in the bottle.
I finished Swig with two South African producers. AA Badenhorst Family Wines are clearly not one of the new unknowns to be discovered at this Tasting. Their wines are rightly renowned. Swig were showing the two Secateurs wines from Swartland (the white Chenin and the red blend, from the 2017 and 2015 vintages respectively), and the Papegaai 2016 red, which is a Cinsault. I have a particular soft spot for the final wine from Badenhorst, Brak-Kuil Barbarossa, which is another wine I discovered via our Oddities lunches.
Brak-Kuil Barbarossa 2015 is made from the Barbarossa grape variety. What, you ask? It’s a variety (or possibly “varieties”) once found in France and Italy, perhaps very old and some say named after the Holy Roman Emperor of the same name (or perhaps it just refers to its beard-staining possibilities if one tends to dribble?). How it turned up in South Africa, and how it became “legal”, I don’t know, but Adi Badenhorst has fashioned something quite unusual out of it.
It’s tannic and meaty at its core, so you think “country wine”. But it’s surprisingly pale considering the initial palate, and the fruit is more red than black. It suggests that something will emerge a few years down the line that is not yet present, only hinted at. I may be wrong – I think 2014 was the first vintage so we don’t know what it has to offer. But there’s a very strange vibrancy and “life” in this wine. I can’t quite put my finger on it.
Pieter H Walser founded Blank Bottle Winery after (you probably know the story by now) a woman came to him asking for a red wine, “anything but Shiraz, I don’t drink Shiraz”. He poured her a glass, naturally she loved it and bought three cases. It was naturally a Shiraz he’d served her. The philosophy behind Blank Bottle (and the name) is take no notice of what’s on the label, only what’s in the bottle. Would that we all did that!
Orbitofrontal Cortex 2016 is a blend of around half-a-dozen white varieties from the Western Cape. It’s a famous wine now, at least in wine geek circles. For me, it’s one of those wines which illustrate the perfection of a blend where each part comes together perfectly, revealing different facets within a coherent whole.
Kortpad Kaaptoe 2016 is more linear, more savoury too. Maybe not quite as appealing to me as the previous wine, but then that would be a tough ask. It’s still very good, and made from 100% Fernao Pires (aka Maria Gomez in Bairrada, where it’s an important variety).
Both of the above whites are sourced from Swartland. The red comes from Breedekloof, in the Breede River Valley between Wellington and Worcester. My Koffer 2016 is Cinsault with smokey fruit, a pale colour and bags of juice in the mouth. These wines have a worldwide following now, and deserve much more recognition in the UK, where certain names tend to dominate from South Africa.