Those seekers of a life without fun, who believe all alcohol consumers are binge drinkers, have no time for those of us who wish to sample exciting wines during the dullest month of the year. In the same way as those who break their Lenten fast with wanton feasting, so many will hit February in a frenzy of consumption, whilst those of us who continue as normal find the hangovers far less painful. But “Dry January” seems to have assumed a new interpretation among members of the wine trade. Perhaps it is after all of the calories taken on over the festive season that we try to cut out the sweet wines, in an effort to participate along with the puritan elite? So, here is my Dry January – not a sticky in sight.
The following wines were my favourites consumed at home during January, except for the first wine, which we drank on Christmas Day.
Unione Nero di Wongraven Barolo 2006
Sigurd Wongraven is the man behind the great Norwegian Black Metal band, Satyricon. Luca Roagna, aside from being one of the great producers of Barolo and Barbaresco, is his mate. Wongraven now has his own range of branded wines from several European countries/regions, including a Champagne (well, why not, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, The Grateful Dead and others have beers and whisky), but he began with Luca, sharing their joint passion for loud music and wine. About six or seven years ago I managed to track down some of the results in Oslo. The branch of Vinmomopolet closest to our apartment stocked the Barbera, and I found some of the Barolo in the main branch in Central Oslo. As I’m a fan of the work of both of these guys, I was thrilled. This was, sadly, my last bottle though.
In the decanter this blossomed. Not complex in Barolo terms, but beautifully scented with varietal typicity, the palate having more delicacy than power. A lovely wine in this moment, both for the occasion, and just as a reminder that Nebbiolo provides such pleasure in all its forms when it gets it right. It doesn’t have to be a big name single site wine to provide a thrill.
La Grande Pièce “Vin Rouge” , Mai & Kenji Hodgson, Rablay, Loire
Mai and Kenji were originally residents of Vancouver. They came to France on a twelve month working visa, and then obtained a “Skills and Talent” visa (they keep these quiet, don’t they) enabling them to start their business, with tremendous help from other Loire natural winemakers.
This is made from Grolleau Noir and the palate is really fruity, fresh cherries with good acidity which complements the bouquet of sweet cherry. Production is tiny and I think there may be just a few odd bottles around. This is not the easiest variety to like, according to some (so be warned), but I had no difficulty. I just love this kind of thing, pure “glou”, plain and simple.
La Bota de Fino 54, Equipo Navazos, Jerez, Spain
Dry January would not be the same without some Sherry. This is a Saca of June 2014 with fruit from Macharnudo Alto, aged at Valdespino in Jerez. As this is an older bottle it has a darker colour, the nose is deep and nutty with an orange citrus twist. Age makes it complex and profound, but it remains incredibly fresh, and goes to prove how wrong the suggestion that Fino Sherry should be consumed quickly can be. A wine to savour slowly with food. Also a reminder that if you have some older bottles of EN knocking about, fear not, but instead, rejoice. Oh, and it’s very dry.
Vino Blanco 2014, Navazos-Niepoort, Jerez, Spain
Equipo Navazos has established a real reputation among connoisseurs of both natural wines and Sherry for its Florpower table wine, but before those wines were released, their collaboration with Dirk Niepoort hit the shelves. Take Palomino grapes from impeccable sources, ferment, and then age under flor without any addition of spirit.
In 2014 the resulting table wine has a golden-straw colour, and a nuttiness from the flor on the nose. The palate, by way of contrast, hits you with a citrus freshness. It’s so alive, and despite 13% alcohol, has a lightness and elegance, with a gentle, almost Chablis-like texture on the finish. It’s not difficult to imagine crushed marine organisms in the bottom of the glass. Superb! With a profile more “classical” than Florpower, it shouts out class, even to those drinkers for whom the funkiness of Florpower might be a little scary.
This 2014 was also bottled in magnums and I bagged a few. The 2014 in bottle is so good that I’ll probably open one of these in the summer. Cannot wait!
Post Flirtation Napa Red 2016, Martha Stoumen, California
I have already mentioned this wine recently (First Impressions, 8 January), but I make no apology for doing so again. Martha made just 330 cases of this blend of Carignan (65%) and Zinfandel (35%). It wins hearts on colour alone, but the bouquet of raspberry and rhubarb intrigues and draws you in.
Just 11.3% abv, but packed with vibrant fruit which almost explodes in the mouth. I think it is absolutely brilliant. The sad thing is that you may not find any around. I know that Solent Cellar, where I found my bottle just sitting innocently on the shelf, had a few enquiries after I wrote about it, but it’s still up on the web site (£22.99)…perhaps if you are swift.
“Orra” 2009, Wind Gap, California North Coast
This blend comprises almost 70% Grenache to which is added 10% Counoise and the rest is Mourvèdre. It starts off very bright on the nose but the palate is rich and spicy, with red fruits, and a hint of orange citrus or maybe iron. Although this is now eight years old, it still has grip and tannins, and this, along with the freshness, balances the 14% alcohol. In fact the odd thing here is that, whilst we are not looking at a low alcohol wine, the fruit was certainly harvested before it became over ripe, hence that great fresh taste. It’s a wine that will benefit from pairing with something like couscous with a touch of harissa, which is what we paired did.
You can pretty much rely on the wines of Pamela and Pax Mahle to come up with the goods at a terrific price, whether their more classic Pinot and Chardonnay, or their more esoteric Trousseau Gris (which I’ve enjoyed a few times). I’m not sure whether Orra is currently produced – this was picked up last summer from Butlers in Brighton. Roberson usually have a few wines from Wind Gap. Indigo import the “Pax” label.
Bourgogne Chitry 2015, Alice & Olivier De Moor, Courgis (Chablis)
The De Moors are based in Courgis, southwest of Chablis. Producers of “natural” Chablis (when the frosts stay away), they also farm in Saint-Bris and Chitry, producing wines from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris and Aligoté (they make some of the most beautiful Aligoté in Burgundy).
This Chitry is a Chardonnay from one of the Bourgogne villages allowed to add its name to the Bourgogne Blanc AOP. If you draw a line directly southwest from Chablis to the River Yonne you pass through Courgis before hitting Chitry, followed by Saint-Bris and Irancy. The terroir is all limestone here, so the wine shares a little bit of the Chablis style, and crafted by such masters, this Chitry is exceptionally good.
There is lemon and a touch of butter, wrapped in a crisp wine which, whilst not complex like a fine Chablis, gets ever more serious as it warms in the glass. It comes from peasant roots, but it shines. I really do think that the De Moors are genius’, and if I were compiling a mixed case of wines from all the nicest vigneron(ne)s in France, they would be near the top of the list.
Their wines are reasonably well distributed, but 2016 was especially bad for the De Moors, who were pretty much wiped out by the frosts which have dogged them over several vintages. They have consequently been producing wines from bought in grapes, largely from Southern France, all organically grown by friends, under the Le Vendangeur Masqué label, which Les Caves de Pyrene bring in, albeit in tiny quantity. You probably read about Melting Potes last year, and now a new cuvée, d’une si belle compagnie méridionale has landed.
La Fontaine aux Enfants 2016, Domaine Marc Kreydenweiss, Andlau, Alsace
This is one of the wines I picked up in Alsace on my October road trip to Eastern France. In fact, the domaine was just a few doors away from where we stayed in Andlau. It is run by Marc’s son, Antoine, who is one of the most gifted biodynamic winemakers in the Bas Rhin. The grapes for this bottling come from the very top of the steep, granite, Kastelberg Grand Cru, which rises above the small place we rented in the village. Those grapes are Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois, hence this is not a designated Grand Cru wine, but it certainly is a terroir wine.
Not pale (as Pinot Blanc can be) by any means, the nose has a smokiness which truly reflects an early morning stroll up the hill to sample the breathtaking views of the village and the dense forest beyond. Think fresh dry acidity with a little mouthfeel of dry extract and then, as it sits in the glass, just a touch of fruit richness coming through.
This is easily the best Pinot Blanc I’ve drunk in a long time. I regretted just buying the one bottle of this, although I bought a few Pinot Blancs whilst in Alsace. I’d say its main characteristic would be its precision, all through a good length. With only the greatest of restraint do I hold back from using the term “mineral”.
Poulprix Vin de France, J-F Ganevat, Jura
Despite my campaign to convince Jura neophytes that there is more to the region than Overnoy/Houillon, Puffeney, Tissot and Ganevat, I still seem to drink J-F’s wines with some frequency. For me, the estate wines are the world class, serious, numbers (with prices to match). But the negoce wines, under the Anne & J-F Ganevat label, are such fun.
Usually, the negoce wines allow wild experimentation with interesting blends, and here I may need a little help. I was reliably informed that Poulprix blends Jura Trousseau with Mondeuse from Savoie and Syrah from the Rhône, and it certainly tastes like it. A vibrant, palish mid-red which almost glows, it is scented with red and black fruits, and dark cherry, the palate showing rich, ripe fruit and a nice line of acidity running through its spine. Delicious. But just as many sources claim this is Gamay blended with old Jura varieties as suggest the Jura/Savoie/Rhône source.
I’d love to know the answer – but it’s a delicious wine anyway. It also comes in magnums, you know!
Collita Roja 2012, Celler Pardas, Penedès, Spain
This is the last bottle of a pair a friend sold me about a year-and-a-half ago. It’s made from Sumoll, a wonderful Catalan native variety. I never seem to find a wine made from Sumoll that I don’t adore. This natural wine is full of lifted red fruits with herbs and a touch of bitter spice. As with so many of the wines here, where there is richness and alcohol (14%) it is balanced by freshness and vibrancy. On the finish you get just a touch of earthiness, characteristic of the variety.
This comes from the Cellar Pardas estate, Finca can Comas, at Torrelavit, inland from Sitges and Vilafranca del Penedès. Their philosophy, alongside biodynamics of course, is quite unusual for the region – all their vines are dry farmed, the ground is left untilled, and no fertilizers are used. The wines as a result combine the richness associated with the region with a certain pleasing austerity, though perhaps not quite so much austerity in Collita Roja as some other cuvées. If you spot any of their wines (Indigo Wines is the UK importer) they are certainly worth trying.
Blaufränkisch “Rusterwald” 2011, Heidi Schröck, Rust, Burgenland
Plenty of people know I have a soft spot for Heidi’s wines. She may be better known out in the wider world for her dessert wines, both under her own label and for her collaborations with the late Alois Kracher. She also makes a range of red and white dry wines, including a couple from Burgenland’s signature red variety, Blaufränkisch.
Rusterwald is dark-fruited and classically peppery, the fruit concentrated and smooth. Of all the wines in this article it is the most classical in terms of proportions and flavour profile. Heidi’s wines are quite different to the natural wine norm around the Neusiedlersee, but as with all of Heidi’s bottles, there is something about the vitality of the winemaker transferred into the wine. I’m not really sure why these wines are not more widely known? It could be my own subjectivity, although I liked them before I met the producer. But I don’t think so. Alpine wines imports them, though they might only have the Blaufränkisch Külm, from this variety, at the moment.
May February be even drier…and not too cold.