The Vinyl Factory is a nostalgic venue for any music lover. Even the entrance has its charm because you go in via Phonica Records on Soho’s Poland Street, past the vinyl and CDs, before descending. I always enjoy an event there, and the Indigo Wine Portfolio Tasting yesterday was the best yet. Indigo’s portfolio contains so many brilliant wines that I was forced to leave out some old favourites. You’ll have read about some of Indigo’s stars several times on this Blog before, so whereas a few old friends appear below, I’ve tried to introduce many new names as well.
I plan to run through the producers in the order in which I tasted them, but some of the best discoveries are towards the end. Javier Revert was massively impressive in his first solo vintage, and Eulogio Pomares makes some of the best Albariño wines I’ve tasted…ever. A wine of the day is really difficult to isolate, but Frederick Stevenson (aka Steve Crawford) makes some particularly impressive stuff, and his Barossa Grenache gets my vote among a host of great wines snapping at his heels.
Hoffmann & Rathbone, East Sussex
We begin close to home with an impressive small producer of English Sparkling Wine, based at Mountfield in East Sussex. They make an excellent Classic Cuvée 2013 from the three main Champagne varieties (60%PN, 30%CH, 10%PM) which sees around three years on lees. There are nicely developed flavours of orchard fruits with a touch of the more exotic peach and ginger spice.
Rosé Réserve 2011 blends 85% Pinot Noir with 15% barrique fermented Chardonnay, and this has been given 40 months on lees. The lovely salmon pink colour comes from a little skin contact. It combines genuine depth with massively impressive freshness. The fruit has a little plump weight, but is well balanced with lifted red fruit flavours on top, and real length. It retails for around £50. Whilst it is so much more difficult to judge a wine on two sips than on a bottle with food (I see this as an excellent gastronomic sparkler), I was extremely impressed by the quality here, and the attention to detail. Definitely one to watch, and try.
There is also a Blanc de Blancs which was not on taste.
Fossil Vale Da Capucha, Lisbon
Pedro Marques makes lovely, terroir driven, wines, so I won’t hold it against him that he has seemed a little bored and disengaged on both occasions when I have tasted with him (here, and at Real Wine last year). The wines are also very inexpensive, and come from a part of Portugal from which we rarely see wines with this much interest.
Fossil Branco 2016 blends Arinto, Gouveio and a little Fernão Pires into a very mineral white with a bitter herby twist on the finish. Fossil Tinto 2015 is largely composed of Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz, with 10% Syrah. Dark coloured, it has nice peppery fruit with a touch of tannin and texture. Again, this is a wine focused on savoury minerality, with a bit of grip.
Eduardo Torres Acosta, Etna, Sicily
Eduardo has a fascinating CV. Born on Tenerife, he decided to make wine on Sicily after a stage with Arianna Ochipinti, followed by a winemaking stint at Passopisciaro. I tried three superb wines, all Terre Siciliane IGT (the vines are all parcels on Etna but the wine is made outside of the DOCG).
Versante Nord 2016 white is made from a mix of co-planted varieties up to 700 metres on volcanic ash – five north facing sites, as the name suggests. This is a typical Etna white with zip and a herby focus.
The red Versante Nord is a year older, from 2015. It is made from 80% Nerello Mascalese with 20% Nerello Cappuccio (with a few stray old vines from other varieties in the mix). This has nice high-toned cherry fruit in a tasty pale red. Pirrera 2015 is a single vineyard wine, again at altitude on the slopes of Etna. The varietal mix is the same, but with the Nerello Mascalese upped to 90%. It has a deeper and more powerful nose, bigger tannins at present, and a bit more concentration. Potentially impressive but needs a little time.
These are wines to watch. An interesting guy with a clear talent, who knows what he wants to achieve. Probably Tenerife’s loss and Sicily’s gain.
Vina Čotar, Kras, Slovenia
Many will probably have tried these beautiful wines from the chalky hills of Slovenia, mirrored in Friuli’s Carso Sub-Region, over the Italian border. A large range is produced here, from both local and international varieties. All of them are good. If you want to taste a very different interpretation of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, you could very well find the Čotar versions, always sold with a decent amount of bottle age, a perfect place to start.
This producer makes an additional interesting red from the local variety, Teran (also found in Croatia and, as Terrano, in Italy). Teran 2015 saw ten days on skins followed by thirty months in big old oak. A deep colour gives out a bouquet of perfumed blackcurrant, gorgeous but easy fruit on the palate, matched with high acidity and low (11.5%) alcohol. Perfect with fatty dishes.
The reds are very good but for me it is the whites which hold the greatest interest. Malvazija 2016 (a sample) saw a week on skins. Its nose is exquisite, already showing plenty going on in there. Rich but dry, textured rather than tannic. Vitovska 2015 is less fragrant with a greater citrus element, but like the Malvzija, it is dry and textured from one week’s skin contact. I finished with a Malvazija 2015, which seemed a little paler than the 2016 but had already developed more depth.
All of these wines taste super pure. The terroir clearly dominates, but they are all unsulphured and their vibrancy is in part down to that. They are classic examples of how no-sulphur wines can age. All of these would go 20 years…but why would you wait?
Weingut Georg Breuer, Rüdesheim, Rheingau
I’ve been a fan of this estate for some years, and I won’t deny that it was exciting to meet Theresa, who had to take over the estate in sad circumstances in 2004, aged just twenty. Her story is one of determination leading to well earned success. The philosophy here is no herbicides, organic manures, low yields and largely old casks made from German oak. Every wine in the range exhibits a vibrancy which one doesn’t always find in the Rheingau, yet they don’t lose their regional identity, especially at “Grand Cru” level.
The entry level village white is simple but refreshing, dry and 11.5% abv, setting the tone for Terra Montosa 2016. This cuvée is a dry blend of the “second best barrels” from Theresa’s top sites. Here you get more weight, depth and texture and, if I’m honest, great value too.
The single site dry wines are a big step up in quality, of course, and the price leap isn’t as significant as it might be, but you do have to pay for the best. Two of them were available to try. Berg Rottland 2015 is pale and green-flecked, has a well defined Riesling nose, and crystal clear fruit, with even a hint of lime. It’s both mouthfilling and delicious.
Nonnenberg 2015 is a Rauenthal site, a monopole of just under six hectares on loam over slate, planted with old vines. For me this is Theresa’s most impressive wine, but of course it needs time and yesterday the nose was, as one would expect, more muted. The slate seems to give this dry wine a firmness and structure, but it will develop more exotic notes with the years. Of course, I’m speaking subjectively, as a fan.
Birgit Braunstein, Purbach, Burgenland
I’d not tried Birgit Braunstein’s wines before, but I knew her as a member of an Austrian Association of women in wine. Heidi Schroeck, who I have visited, is also a member, and I wasn’t aware that they are good friends (both have twin sons, another point of contact). I could really see some acute similarities between the two women.
Birgit runs a little over 20 hectares in the part of the Leithagabirge on the northwestern side of the Neusiedlersee. She farms organically and biodynamically, using minimal sulphur at bottling. Indigo don’t import her range of exciting looking amphora wines (perhaps they will…hopefully), which see eight months in Tuscan terracotta buried in her garden. The wines on taste were described by Birgit as her “more classic range”.
Welschriesling 2017 was a lovely start, fresh and zippy, perfect summer drinking (as this variety often is from this region). Chardonnay Felsenstein 2017 is a mineral, dry, savoury wine made interestingly on a similar latitude to Chablis (hint!). With Pinot Blanc 2017 you get even more of that terroir texture, but the fruit is more rounded here. The finish has bite.
A very nice Rosé 2016 is made from a blend of equal proportions of Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt. I think this simple wine has the fruit and zip to make a perfect summer sipper, though I’m quite a fan of pairing Austrian pinks like this with a plein-air schnitzel.
Pinot Vom Berg 2015 is of the lighter, cherry-fruited style of Pinot Noir, hand punched with minimum cellar work. A nice wine, but I could not help finding Birgit’s Blaufränkisch Heide 2015 even more impressive. White pepper and cherry fruit from vines planted on that chalky limestone which this variety so loves. A characteristic purity is always found in these Burgenland Blaus, with great acids and freshness. Gorgeous.
The final red, Wildwux 2015, is a project on biodiversity, where cherry trees are being planted at the end of vine rows, chickens roam the vineyard and nesting birds are encouraged, among a raft of measures to enhance nature. This Zweigelt/Blaufränkisch blend is lovely and precise.
I was very happy to make Birgit’s aquaintance. I felt a positive passion coming through for what she describes as a “perfect place to live”, which is something that I can honestly agree with one hundred percent.
Peter Wetzer, Sopron, Hungary
Peter Wetzer farms just five kilometres from the Austrian border, and I realised we have therefore cycled so close inside Hungary that we could have visited him. I’d previously tried his Kékfrankos (the Hungarian name for the Burgenland classic, Blaufränkisch), so it was great to meet him and try a few more wines. Peter pretty much uses natural winemaking techniques, an old family press and open-top fermenters, and there is no doubt that his wines have real personality.
Furmint 2016 is slightly unusual – whilst this Hungarian grape can be found all over Burgenland (of which Sopron is geographically part), the grapes here come from friends in the Tokaj Region. The wine is fermented in new oak and is pale and fresh, with a mix of herbs and underlying citrus. Very good.
Kékfrankos 2016 has more bitter cherry fruit and less of the pepper than some versions. It’s a grape that can perform as well in Sopron as it does in Austrian Burgenland. Very characterful and quite an individual expression of the variety, plus a natural wine vitality.
There were two vintages of Pinot Noir. The cuvée comes from two sites, on limestone and slate, which both add very different characteristics to the wine. The fruit (30% whole bunches used in the fermentation) is clean and precise in the 2015. The 2016 definitely seems younger on the nose but has a translucent quality to it. The tannins are more youthful and grippy.
Peter says he just wants to make wine as naturally as possible, wine which exhibits a sense of place. He surely achieves this.
Pax Mahle, with his wife Pam, source fruit from organic vineyards largely in Mendocino and California’s North Coast. Winemaking is based on low intervention, letting old vine fruit speak for itself.
Buddha’s Dharma Chenin Blanc 2015 is a good example. It doesn’t really taste like a lot of Loire Chenin. It is very fresh, acidic and bitter-savoury (it comes off volcanic soils, which of course you don’t find in The Loire). It’s a wine full of life, which sees just a tiny bit of sulphur added at bottling.
Carignan 2016, like the Chenin, comes from Mendocino fruit, this time from the single site Testa Vineyard. Again, we have very old vine material, planted in 1912 on light volcanic sand. A touch of earthy/iron texture complements carbonically macerated fruit. A lovely wine, I really like it.
There were three Syrah on show. The Hermit 2014 is from the North Coast. It’s amazingly fresh with a bouquet of violets and lavender. Sonoma Hillsides 2016 is a carbonic maceration cuvée which has been aged in concrete. It has a dark, dense but vibrant colour and real fruit intensity. Both are different but equally exciting. The one bottle of Griffins Lair 2013 had all gone, but Pax told me this was 100% whole clusters off alluvium (coarse sand and gravel) at San Pablo Bay (Sonoma Coast), crushed by foot. It used to be a Wind Gap wine, which is Pax’s other label (and some of you will know I’m very partial to the Wind Gap wines). Superb low intervention winemaking characterises all of Pax Mahle’s cuvées.
Raúl Pérez and César Márquez, Bierzo
This set of wines spans the Castro Ventosa label (the Pérez family estate), those made by Pérez and Márquez as a joint venture, and the wines César makes on his own. César was there to show them all.
From Castro Ventosa you get two extremes in a way. El Castro de Valtuille Mencía Joven 2016 may come in at 13.5% abv, yet it happens to be an excellent, refreshing, example of this fantastic grape variety, and makes lovely summer drinking with berry fruits to the fore and just a slightly bitter texture on the finish. In contrast, Valtuille Cepas Centenarias 2014 is a classic old vine cuvée where the concentration comes through. At 14% abv it only has half a degree more alcohol, but it feels a bigger wine, albeit more tamed than some of Raúl’s other efforts.
Of the joint project, there are three 2015 single vineyard Mencía reds (La Palousa, El Rapolao and Las Gundiñas), all finely crafted with textured acidity and tannins, almost chiseled in fact, and all capable of a rest before drinking. There is also a white from Godello, La Vizcaína “La del Vivo” 2015 which struck me as very refreshing, but with a little depth to it as well.
César Márquez’s family vineyards are at Villafranca del Bierzo. Their first vintage was 1989, which by coincidence was the year I visited this beautiful part of Northern Spain, when the wines of Bierzo, and the Mencía variety, had no profile beyond the region.
Tasting César’s Godello, La Salvación 2016, was a good contrast to the jointly-produced white. It is slightly more fruity with a nice citrus finish. The name reflects the old and almost lost strains of the variety rediscovered by César and the vines here are as old as 120 years of age. All four Mencía reds are equally good, my favourite being El Llano 2016. Velvety texture in the mouth finishes with a tannic bite.
All César’s wines are microvinifications from tiny vineyard parcels which reflect the different soil types around Villafranca and Valtuille, and as others have said, this young man is a rising star of the region.
Eulogio Pomares, Rias Baixas
Eulogio Pomares is the winemaker at Bodegas Zárate, and Indigo imports some of those wines. The wines below are Eulogio’s personal project.
There was a very nice pair of reds here, Caiño Tinto 2015 (zippy acidity and ribena fruit) and Penapedre 2015 (blending Mencía, Palomino and others, fermented in open-topped vats, just 1,600 bottles, really vibrant and also grippy). Fine and interesting wines, both of them (and worthy of exploration).
Eulogio has been called the “King of Albariño”, an epithet of which in my humble opinion he is wholly deserving. Carralcoba Albariño 2016 is the wine I’ve tried before. Made from 70-year-old vines it is magnificent. Good as that wine is (and it is extremely good), Maceración con Pieles 2016 was a revelation. Four weeks on skins, then nine months in acacia barrels, it’s a wine of some complexity and real presence, with a fascinatingly soft sour note on an incredibly long finish. I’m not a wine scorer, but these would be up there with the best of the best. In some ways it’s pointless to say more. The wines speak eloquently enough for themselves.
Envínate (Tenerife, Almansa, Ribeira Sacra)
Envínate is pretty well known now. The projects of four friends who met at university in Alicante centre on “Atlantic” wines. Roberto Santana leads the Tenerife winemaking and produces wines which highlight what the Canaries are capable of just as well as Suertes del Marques, the bodega which put the island on the viticultural map. All wines shown were 2016 vintage.
There are red and white wines named Táganan, which is a vineyard on the north side of Tenerife, on volcanic soils close to the Atlantic Ocean. Both are blends of several local grapes from vines grown between 100 to 500 metres altitude, and both see 8 months ageing in stainless steel and neutral oak. They are fantastic drinking wines.
Benje also comes as white and red. The white is mainly Listán Blanco and the red, mainly Listán Negro, from old vines grown at even higher altitude, up to 1,000 metres. Like Táganan, these are wild vines, untrained. Fermentation is as natural as possible, using ambient yeasts.
They are characteristically textured like all volcanic wines, but they are also complex. If you look at the photos of the wild landscape of Tenerife in John Szabo’s book, Volcanic Wines, you can almost taste the terroir. If you haven’t tried them (and I’m guessing many readers will have), then do so.
Javier Revert, València
Javi Revert was my “producer find” of the day. He’s the winemaker at Celler del Roure, but 2016 is the first vintage for his solo project. He was showing four wines, though sadly Clausus (amphora aged Tortosi and Trepadell varieties) was all gone when I got to his table.
Micalet is a five grape field blend which Javi’s grandfather planted in 1948 on white chalk. There is citrus here, but the overwhelming quality is salinity. It is one of the most arresting first tastes of a producer I’ve had for some time, I think.
Sensal is made from Garnacha Tintorera with Monastrell. It’s a one hectare single parcel of old vines on limestone aged in neutral old oak. Only 1,200 bottles made. Simeta, by contrast, is a parcel on sandy soils planted in 1970 at around 650 metres. The grape here is 100% Arcos, which I don’t think I’d ever tasted before. Ageing is in demijohns and earthenware jars. The fruit intensity is superb, acidity is fairly high, but there is a nice roundness as well.
Javi is a new grower for Indigo, and his production is fairly small so I don’t know how much wine they will be allocated. But he is a real find for the importer and I have no doubt he will be just as big a star in the future as some of their bigger names. Pricing is currently pretty reasonable, especially for the quality. The labels, not that it should matter, are fantastic too. As well thought out as the wines themselves. Again, I should caution that a few sips are not the best circumstances in which to make a reasoned judgement like this, but I feel sure these wines will be highly sought after in a year or so.
The final tables at this Tasting were lined up with “free pour” wines – a selection of bottles where the producer wasn’t present. These tables were crowded, but rightly so because there were more gems here. I tasted through a lot, and feel bad that I can’t list them all. But in a long piece like this, the few wines mentioned below deserve a big plug.
Mother Rock Force Majeure Semillon 2017 gets a mention for delicious Swartland fruit, more concentrated than the wine’s sub-£10 trade price suggests.
A wine of contrast to the fruit in the above is Channing Daughters “Clones” 2013 from Long Island, New York State. Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Tocai Friulano and Muscat Ottonel makes for an interesting blend aged in French and Slovenian oak hoggsheads, and majors on spice and texture.
Ochota Barrels is a fantastic Adelaide Hills producer who seems fairly well represented in UK independents and you can’t go wrong with their innovative wines. Three wines were on show. Weird Berries in the Woods 2017 is Gewurztraminer from Ironstone and red clay with two-to-three days on skins. It’s dry but with some weight (but just 11% alcohol), and rather than the more traditional flavours of the variety, it majors on nutmeg and ginger.
Texture Like Sun 2017 is presumably Taras Ochota’s ode to the substance described in the lyrics of the Stranglers song “Golden Brown”? Another unusual blend of Pinot Noir, Merlot, Grenache and Gewurztraminer. It’s a field blend off clay over limestone, just 12.2% alcohol, and it really maxes on full fruit refreshment.
The Green Room 2017 blends 82% Grenache with 18% Syrah from a McLaren Vale single site (planted 1947) of mixed red loamy clay and ironstone sitting above a limestone base. Fermentation is 85% whole bunches which, depending on batches, see between 30 to 90 days on skins. It’s another massively fruity wine, but with a little more depth and spice than “Texture Like Sun”. You cannot go wrong with Ochota.
I’m finishing here with the wine I’ve already described as my “WOTD”, Frederick Stevenson Hongell Grenache 2016. This is classic Barossa old vine Grenache from a vineyard south of Tanunda, off clay. It’s initially very fruity, then a hint of pepper, then a snapping crocodile of a bite and grip as it pulls you under. At 14.3% abv it has punch, but it’s in perfect balance and doesn’t taste at all that strong on account of the bright fruit. A fantastic wine, as is everything of Steve’s I’ve ever tried. The label here is also beautiful. It’s designed by Lucy Bonnin, but all of the Frederick Stevenson labels are excitingly different.
I’m very impressed with the wide range imported by Indigo, who continue to seek out innovative new producers when, with some stars in the portfolio, they could easily rest on their laurels. A lot of importers might look at them with a degree of jealousy. I will end with a list of Indigo producers I’ve not mentioned here, but who I think are special. Some you may know better than others:
António Madeira, Alvaro Castro, Evening Land, Coto de Gomariz, Fedellos de Couto, Daniel Landi, Celler Pardas, Nin-Ortiz, Terroir Al Limit, 4 Kilos, Jamsheed, Rafael Palacios and (I had no idea Indigo imported his wines) Antoine Sunier, whose 2016 Morgon I somehow forgot to taste. I’m sure there are other producers in the portfolio who I have criminally forgotten to mention.