Yesterday was the Winter 2018 Great Exhibition Tasting in the arches under Holborn Viaduct, this time featuring Winemakers Club and Carte Blanche Wines. These Tastings are always good, but there must have been something in the air yesterday, because there were some truly astonishing wines on show. Although I’d love to mention a lot more wines than I have, I don’t have the time to do so, and you might not have the patience, so I plan to give each winemaker a little sketch this time, rather than a tasting note for every single wine.
Note on the photos: If you’ve been under the viaduct you know that it’s quite dark in there. Some of the photos below are not all that good, and where they are missing it’s because they turned out too poor to include.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the show was tasting the fizz. We have four Champagne producers, one Welsh producer, and a guy from Sussex who you are going to hear a lot about, certainly on this Blog, over the next few years. Of the Champagne producers below you will be pushed to find anything written about three of them, even in the latest books on the region. Things are moving so fast in the world of Grower Champagne that it’s difficult to keep up, even for those with both eyes focused on it.
Adrien Dhondt (Dhondt-Grellet), Avize
Adrien Dhondt took over the family’s six hectares in 2012. They have vines around Avize, Cuis, down at Sézanne and up in the Valley, with their oldest vines at Cramant. Adrien uses wood, around 25% of it new, and the results certainly show a bit of this character. The other notable thing about this estate is the use of a “solera” system for ageing wines, and Adrien is one vigneron who doesn’t mind using that term.
I tasted six wines, getting off to a very good start with the non-vintage Dans un Premier Temps Brut, which blends all three main grape varieties from the range of Adrien’s sites, and is dosed at 5g/l, a disgorgement here of July 2017. Lovely and fresh. 2014 base with 30% from the solera reserves.
All the wines here were very good, but I really have to mention the Rosé Brut Premier Cru NV (Pinot and Chardonnay) from the same 2014 base with some Coteaux red added for colour. A lovely gastronomic pink with a strawberry/raspberry bouquet. Pick of the whole range was unsurprisingly Le Bateaux Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs 2013. This was a sample but it had deep fruit and arrowroot biscuit developing into something deeper. Made from the oldest vines Adrien owns in Cramant, it had real punch and it will be interesting to try when bottled. The presumably less expensive Vielles Vignes 2011 from Cramant (also 100% Chardonnay) looks great value.
These wines might not yet be in all the books, but Adrien’s customers include some very smart restaurants. They are highly recommended.
Benoît Déhu, Fossoy
Fossoy is in the Valley of the Marne, and I must admit I’d never heard of it until I came across Benoît’s biodynamic wines a while ago. He took over the long running family estate in 2000 and although he owns around 12 hectares of vines, he only makes his own wine from barely three hectares. The unusual thing about him is that as far as I am aware, all he uses in his wines is Pinot Meunier.
All three Déhu wines on taste are called La Rue des Noyers, named after the walnuts which used to line the road beside this site. The whole of the left bank of the Marne here is Meunier country. I had a rare conversation recently where I was asked why top producers bother with Meunier. Generally my reply is that if it’s good enough for Krug (who obtain Meunier from Leuvrigny a little way east of Fossoy)…but to be frank it is the Growers who are transforming the image of this one time heavy cropper, supposedly only planted for its frost resistence, into a variety capable of producing wines of singular character..
The proof is in the drinking. La Rue des Noyers Brut Nature NV is brisk (no malo) but is a fantastic, dry, food wine par excellence. Benoît’s Rosé de Saignée is even better. He gives it an eight hour maceration for colour and it’s an amazing bright pink. Quite broad and “winey”, another food wine, albeit with great delicacy.
There is also an unusual Coteaux Rouge Pinot Meunier (2013 here) from the same site off Marnes Gris (with sand and clay). The red is certainly not cheap, but it has a singular savoury and mineral quality which makes it very different to any Coteaux Pinot Noir red wine, and indeed to any Pinot Noir.
Éliane Delalot, Nogent L’Artaud
Nogent L’Artaud is also on the Left Bank of the Marne, but much further west than Fossoy. The extreme west of the Marne Valley actually lies in the Aisne département, and the vineyards are not too much further from Paris than they are from Epernay. The small (1.07 hectare) vineyard Éliane farms is on the Coteaux de Charly (Charly-sur-Marne) and Saulchery.
Éliane farms organically, but the philosophy goes way beyond organics. Labour is manual and almost petrol free, Steiner’s biodynamic preps, and essential oils, are used on the vines and animals keep the grass down. Each cuvée is a tiny production, just a few hundred bottles.
There were just two wines showing here, Pléiade Extra Extra Brut (sic) Blanc de Noirs NV (very fruity), and a vintage Brut Nature 2013 which is contrastingly savoury. Both blend Pinots Noir and Meunier and the vintage costs about twice the price of the NV. Both are pretty special, the vintage being easily in the same league as the best wines of Dhondt and Déhu.
Olivier Horiot, Les Riceys
So at last a producer we know, and indeed one I know very well. There was a time when this Aube/Côte des Bar producer claimed he really only wanted to make still wines, but I have always loved the Pinot Noir cuvée, Sève (here presented in the 2010 vintage) since he began making it in 2004.
My picks of the day would first be Soléra, which is a new wine which I’d never tried before. It is a blend of seven varieties, including the rare Arbanne, and Pinot Blanc. It sees a year in oak before it goes into a solera. Off grey marnes soils over Kimmeridgean limestone, it is singular and quite profound, but with notable solera characteristics which make these wines a little less clean for some drinkers (slight oxidative quality with truffle and curry spice in this case).
I’m also a big fan of 5 Sens which we had from 2011. It’s a Brut Nature and includes 20% Arbanne in the blend. This has a savoury nose, and a similar quality on the palate, but there is a fruit-driven quality to it as well. A very individual Champagne, but so are all of Olivier’s cuvées.
The Horiot single vineyard Rosé des Riceys were shown, both En Valingrain (with bite and fresh acidity) and En Barmont (softer). Both require ageing to get that tea-like quality which this rather special (if obscure) appellation can take on with time. Valingrain is the sunnier site, yet as true terroir wines, the rich soils of En Barmont result in the softer wine with more body. The En Valingrain 2006 I drank in December last year had taken on the wonderful, ethereal, perfume for which this vineyard is justly renowned, even though 2006 produced some plusher wines.
Ancre Hill, Monmouth, Wales
Ancre Hill Estate currently farms around 13 hectares in the Wye Valley, and Richard and Joy Morris are currently doing everything they can to double that. Why? Because their biodynamic wines are gaining the reputation they deserve, and if we are honest, probably have not had due to them being somewhat remote from the epicentre of “English” viticulture on the South Coast. Right now they can sell all they can make.
Ancre Hill is not exclusively a sparkling wine producer. They do make still Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the former made by carbonic maceration followed by a period in Austrian oak, the latter 50:50 in tank and barrel for 12 months. If you like your Chardonnay “Tasmanian” in style (very pure), and your Pinot light and fruity, these are well worth a try, seriously.
Blanc de Noirs NV is based on 2013 and 2014 fruit (’13 is organic and ’14 is also biodynamic) with two years on lees, zero dosage, and only disgorged three days before the Tasting (a sample). Fresh, lively, very dry, delicious. An equally good Rosé 2012 blends 60% Pinot Noir with 40% Chardonnay and is packed with fresh red fruits. The colour comes from a six hour cold soak.
Ancre Hill has previously made a still red from Triomphe (aka Triomphe d’Alsace), a riparia/rupestris/vinifera cross which does well in cooler climates. Last year a little CO2 remained and it gave them the idea to make a petnat. And very successful it is too. It’s a mix of 2015/16 fruit, blended before the end of the latter’s fermentation so that the 2016 remained sparkling. The pressure is around 3 bar. Quite floral, deep red, and fruity, it’s a fun wine which I’d have no hesitation buying on those terms (and hope to do so). It’s also half the price of the Blanc de Noirs.
Tillingham/Ben Walgate, East Sussex
Originally from a farming family, Ben Walgate has been working in wine in various capacities most of his life, and not so long ago headed up Gusbourne as its CEO. He has now flown solo to create what I think is an inspirational vineyard outside Peasmarsh, in Sussex. At the moment Ben is buying in grapes from half-a-dozen local sources, whilst preparing the ground to plant his own vines in May (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, plus, as Ben says, a load of Germans like Bacchus, Siegerebe and Ortega, and then a little Gamay too will be part of a larger mix).
Ben’s big project is a qvevri (well, two in fact) full of Ortega which he’s opening with some ceremony next week, but he’d slipped into Winemakers yesterday to show two still wines along with his rather marvelous petnat.
The still wines are a Chardonnay aged in second fill Mercurey barrels, fermenting on gross lees and going through full malo. It is lean but fascinating and quite unique, in a good way, very much out on the edge. Ortega (not the qvevri version) is incredibly fresh on the nose but a five day maceration gives a little waxy texture on the palate. No doubt the chalky soils of the South Downs play their part as well. No sulphur is added.
The undoubted star wine of the moment is Ben’s petnat, PN17. Two-thirds Dornfelder and one-third Ortega, or not quite. As both fermented to dryness whilst Ben was waiting for his bottle delivery, he added some Pinot Noir (still fermenting) to give it some sparkle. This is a delicious wine (you can almost tell that just from the photo below). Ben is really just getting to grips with what he wants to do at Tillingham (there was also a very natural cider last year), and he’s a very creative and intuitive winemaker. Potentially a fantastic talent in the making.
The still wines were samples, however PN17 is available from next week via Les Caves de Pyrene. But sadly you will need to be very quick – just 600 bottles were made. I’m having several!
Moving more swiftly through the rest of the producers…
I am increasing impressed by La Grange de L’Oncle Charles, the Ostheim (Alsace) domaine of Jérôme François. Ostheim is in the Haut-Rhin, a little north of Colmar and east of Beblenheim and Riquewihr. Jérôme farms three hectares which produce for him a meagre 5,000 bottles every vintage. Sittweg 2015 is a blend of 30-year-old, co-planted, Riesling and Pinot Gris on granite, from a warmer vintage. It’s clear that the Riesling adds freshness here to the slightly fatter Pinot Gris, but the wine’s component parts sit well together. It’s basically dry, but with a little gras.
You’ve probably read enough about Domaine des Marnes Blanches, Pauline and Géraud Fromont’s brilliant rising star of a domaine at Saint-Agnes in the Southern Jura. I drank their super Pinot Noir very recently. Yesterday it was the turn of the whites, Chardonnay En Levrette and Savagnin Muscaté En Jensillard (both 2016). Both could benefit from a little time in bottle, but they are hard to resist. I do recommend trying this producer if you haven’t already. They are joining the Revermont firmament.
Likewise, you’ll know the Beaujolais wines of Karim Vionnet. Both Du Beur dans les Pinards and Chiroubles “Vin de KaV” are available in magnum from 2016, and are great in that format if you can get some. But Beaujolais-Villages 2016 must on no account be dismissed. Pure glouglou!
On the same day I first tasted Jérôme François’s wines a couple of years ago, I also tried those of Stefan Vetter. He runs just 1.5 hectares in three leased plots at Iphofen, in Franken (Germany), although after Geisenheim he began his winemaking career working for Nittnaus in Burgenland (Austria). All his wines are wonderful, but a little unusual too – most Sylvaner is pretty bracing with high acids. Stefan makes a more chalky version, but it isn’t at all one-dimensional, it’s almost complex and simple at the same time. Subtle, in other words.
Of two Sylvaners, Longue Tongue 2016 is lovely, but Rosenrain 2015 is, wow! A step up for Sylvaner fans who are not afraid of something different. His Spätburgunder Steinterrassen 2016 is a wine in the same vein, a pale bright wine, with haunting red fruits filling out the bouquet. I don’t think any of Stefan’s wines reach a thousand bottles per cuvée.
From Australia you’d be surprised if I didn’t mention Tom Shobbrook of Seppeltsfield in the Barossa Valley. Unlike so many producers here, Tom manages around 80,000 bottles. These are spread all over the world. Few natural wine hangouts want to be without one or two. But we do at least get a good sniff of the range in the UK, thanks to the Winemakers Club connections, through all those who made wine with Sean O’Callaghan at Riecine over the years.
Of the four on show my favourites were Sammion 2016 and Novello 2016, although I love all his wines. Last time I bought a few bottles I had to toss a coin between Sammion and Giallo and Sammion lost. Undeserved, but one can’t have everything. The vines for Sammion are all between 65 to 110 years old. It gets a 15 day skin maceration in 2016, followed by seven months in concrete egg. The wine builds slowly…wait for it, and you do…into something long and profound.
Novello 2016 blends Nebbiolo, Grenache, Syrah and Muscat. The perfume is so good, gorgeous floral notes, then sweet cherry. It makes for a characterful, yet easy drinking, red.
Winemakers Club’s selection ends with Hungary. Every single wine from Hegyikaló deserves a try. If you follow me on social media you’ll notice I drank a skin contact “Zold Veltlini” 2014 the other day, and we tried the 2015 Zold Veltlini on Friday night after the Sherry Lunch. It is impossible for me to choose between all their wines, but if you want a slightly more straightforward Blaufränkisch, go for Orökségül Voros 2011, which blends Kékfrankos with some Turán (quite peppery with bright cherries). For something further along the curve, perhaps Czeresznyeérés 2015. It’s made from the unusual Medina variety and has a pale pinkish hue. It tastes of bitter macerated cherries.
Meinklang is Austrian of course, but Pamhagan is on the border, and their brilliant H15 Hàrslevelu 2015 is from the volcanic vineyard they have at Somló in Northwest Hungary. It was the pick of their wines on show, but I didn’t find the listed Foam 2017. If you find this blended petnat from the same vineyard, grab one.
Alma Pálinka, an apple grappa of 44% alcohol, comes from Pelle Pince in Tokaj. Fresh, clean and appley, rather smooth and rather more powerful. Will aid digestion, toothache and overwhelming sadness.
Moving swiftly(ish) over to Carte Blanche (though we’ve seen their Ancre Hill Estate already), one of the wines which struck me out of the blue was Christelle Guibert‘s Itata Muscat Orange Wine. Christelle is Tastings Director at Decanter Magazine, but she has also been making rather good Muscadet. In 2016 the frosts made this impossible, but with the help of Leo Erazo, she sourced fruit from some amazing 150-year-old vines from Itata, Chile (Leo works in Argentina, but it helps that he is an Itata native and knows the region as well as anyone).
Christelle wanted to do something “out of the ordinary” and she has. The grapes come off granite and after six weeks on skins they are made in a concrete sphere (eggs are so 2015). The nose is floral and fruity and it doesn’t particularly smell like an orange wine. The palate has great texture, but it isn’t too tannic. Another low production wine, just 900 bottles made. For me, at least, I thought this was astonishingly good.
Vincent Caillé makes some excellent wines in the Muscadet Region under the Domaine Le Fay d’Homme label. The “Melon” wines are all superb, but I’d seen a new label on Instagram and here I had a chance for a first taste of it. It turns out that Je t’aime mais J’ai soif is a Vin de France “Melon” that Vincent makes for a local wine merchant friend. Pure glouglou and great fun.
Fred van Herck now runs Domaine L’Ecu (made famous by Guy Boissard) in the same region, and also largely eschews the Muscadet AOPs in favour of the freedom of Vin de France. The estate, around 22 hectares, is fully biodynamic, and as far as I’m aware everything is bottled without sulphur. There are few domaines in the world who can match the beauty of L’Ecu’s labels, and the wines live up to the same kind of excellence. What to select from a range where I like every single wine I’ve ever tried (and eight were available to try).
If I had to select one of the Muscadet-like wines it would have to be Carpe Diem. On taste we had a 2013 which sees 15 months in amphora. Quite a musky perfume overlays a soft texture in the mouth, with rounded acidity. It’s a pretty complex wine.
Of the reds, I’m going for a tie between Astra 2016 (amphora Gamay, quite big and certainly textured) and Mephisto 2014 (a floral Cabernet Franc). Nobis 2015 is Syrah. To me it doesn’t particularly smell like Syrah, but it tastes like it. Very fresh. But to be fair, all of these wines are really good.
Some readers will know the wines of Maxime Magnon who is based in Corbières. I’ve written about his white cuvée, Le Bégou, in the recent past. He farms around eleven hectares split into almost as many parcels, on steep slopes at altitude. All Maxime’s wines are made using biodynamic methods, though I’m pretty sure he’s not certified, and the terroir really seems to shine through.
Rozeta 2016 is an old vine field blend (mainly Carignan, but with Grenache, Syrah and even some white varieties) off limestone and schist with vines over 50 years of age. Campagnes 2016 is also a field blend, but 95% Carignan off clay and limestone. Both wines have their grapes fermented together, after which ageing is in old Burgundian oak.
The methods chez Magnon are exemplary, with, in addition to biodynamics, the use of sheep in the vineyard, all vines planted separately en gobelet, and vinification is with whole clusters for these reds. Maxime trained with Foillard, and Jean was something of a mentor to him. So it’s not surprising that his reds are deep and bright fruited, but with a depth as well as a pinpoint vitality. Great wines, and personally I think the whites are perhaps even better (though not everyone will agree).
Fabien Jouves is almost a legend now, though I’m not sure he’d be happy being called that. Well, he did choose to call one of his vins de soif You F**k My Wine, which has led to a certain notoriety. His glugging wines are indeed brilliant. You F**k… 2016 has a bright new label and is a bright blend of Malbec, Merlot and Jurançon Noir. It’s superb value, as is the Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Franc Tu Vin Plus Aux Soirées 2017 (fruity Merlot nose with a bit of grip on the palate).
The Cahors wines begin with an easy to drink Les Escures 2016 (aged in concrete), before getting more serious. La Roque 2016 and Les Acacias 2015 differ in soil type (marnes versus red clay/limestone) and vessel (concrete versus foudre), making for two well differentiated cuvées. Basically the first is like pure metal and the second has greater depth and richness (the vintage style difference and the extra year of age must play a part, but La Roque is showing great purity).
These wines from Cahors are all from fruit grown at several hundred metres altitude up on the plateau. They are also all made from Malbec. B763 2014 is Fabien’s best parcel of this Cahors signature grape. From red clay/limestone, it’s made in concrete egg. It has amazing fruit concentration and a rich intensity, but right now it is tannic. Give it 5 to 8 years, says Fabien. Only 3,000 bottles made.
Les Agudes (Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Chardonnay and Semillon) and Les Pièces Longues (Chenin aged in foudre) are the delicious whites, both Vin de France. They should not be overlooked, despite their plain labels, as Fabien evidently knows full well how to make white wines as well as magnificent reds.
I want to just make time to mention that Carte Blanche are now working in association with Gudfish Wines. Gudfish is the baby of Thor Gudmundsson and Bobby Fishel, who are bringing in the wines of the so-called Swartland Revolution. A lot of the wines will be completely new, even to those who have a passing interest in the New South Africa, and they are generating a fair bit of excitement.
One of the producers who has piqued my interest over the past year, ever since I ended up sharing a few quips on social media with “Bob” (real name: Craig Sheard) is Elemental Bob. Craig has gained an image as a skateboarding winemaker out on the edge of what is happening in Swartland…and that is a very precipitous edge, to be sure, especially for the flat earthers of the classical wine world. Craig describes the philosophy he follows as “old world style with new age attitude”.
There are 3,600 bottles of White Blend 2016, which contains 44% Chenin Blanc with Semillon, Roussanne and Verdelho in descending order. Three days on skins, it’s a savoury, “natural”, intriguing, wine. A touch of plumposity too. I’m not a points man, as you know, but I can see why Tim Atkin scored this 94 (and it’s cheap, trust me).
“Bob” (or Craig, if you prefer) is possibly best known in the UK for his Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir 2016 blends equal parts of fruit from Hemel en Aarde and Overberg, with sixteen days on skins, then into old oak with the lees for ten months’ maturation.
Basically, if you can grab anything by Elemental Bob, do (there’s also a 80:20 red blend in 2016 from Cinsault/Pinot Noir, and white varietals from Grenache Blanc and Chenin). The wines are a bit mental, but completely in a good way.