Already this year there have been some astoundingly good Tastings on the London circuit, but Newcomer Wines’ “The Old New World” at the Royal Institute of British Architects was right up there with the best.
I remember my first visit to Newcomer Wines soon after they had opened in a small shipping container in Shoreditch Boxpark. The shop was tiny, but I remember walking away with several bottles, and returning for more every time I passed by.
Now, Newcomer has moved to a larger store at Dalston Junction. I’m slowly getting used to the bus journey out there. Visits are less frequent, but I try to take a suitcase to make it worthwhile. It may be harder to get to but the new shop has allowed Newcomer to expand, not just in the number of producers they represent, but also to expand beyond their original focus, Austria. Austria remains their specialism, but now we have wines from the Czech Republic, Switzerland, NE Italy, Germany and Hungary.
The RIBA Tasting was the first major showcase for the whole range, and most of the producers were there (happy to be in London when there was a major artisan wine event on in Vienna at the same time). We were blessed. There were just so many astonishing wines to try.
MARKUS ALTENBURGER (Burgenland)
Markus has 10 hectares on the slopes of the Leithaberg mountains, which ring the western and top part of the Neusiedlersee. His winery is at Jois, which is located pretty much directly north of the lake. These low mountains are mainly limestone, here known as Leithakalk (which the local Blaufränkisch variety loves), and mica schist.
Blaufränkisch is perhaps the signature variety at this domaine, yet Markus is also doing interesting things with white wines, the perfect example being his varietal Neuburger called Betont, fermented and aged in concrete eggs. It’s an easy drinker, whereas Kerne und Schalen (skin and stones) is a field blend (Traminer, Welschriesling, Grüner Veltliner and Neuberger) fermented in egg (two days on skins before pressing) but aged in the traditional 2,000 litre casks.
The three Blaufränkisch are well differentiated. Vom Kalk is a 2016 vintage from limestone, lighter in style and fruit driven. It’s a mix of old and young vines from six different sites, once again aged in 2,000 litre cask. Helden 2015 is half from limestone and half schist, which sees two years in mixed old oak. It gets a tiny bit of SO2 before bottling and has more structure.
Gritschenberg 2015 is a single vineyard on limestone planted with old vines. Here you get a beautiful floral, violet, perfume and great concentration. It’s a wine with the capacity to age, and currently has plenty of grip.
Markus is also quite well known for his Chardonnay, though there was none to taste yesterday. The reds here are very good, with genuine terroir expression, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try the whites too.
JUTTA AMBROSITSCH (Vienna)
Jutta Ambrositsch is typical of pretty much every producer at yesterday’s tasting, in that she is vehemently against doing anything with her wine, other than watch it make itself, unless she absolutely has to. To achieve this, and thereby to achieve a true expression of terroir, requires perfectly healthy grapes.
Jutta came to wine in 2004 from a career in graphic design. She, along with her husband, farms around 4 hectares on the hills north of the city of Vienna. She has 3 ha in the 19th District around the Nussberg cru, and 1 ha over at Stammersdorf (near Bisamberg) in the 21st District. The city keeps these vineyards relatively warm and frosts are rare around Nussberg (but possible over the Danube in the 21st). Hail has been more of a problem in recent vintages.
Jutta brought with her four whites and one red. The whites are Kosmopolit (young vines from both sides of the Danube); Satellit (Jutta’s first site planted mainly with Grüner, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay); Sieveringer Ringelspiel (single vineyard, planted 1952 with 12 varieties, some unidentified) and Rosengartel (a site on the Nussberg cru). The first three of those whites are all Gemischter Satz field blends, picked together at different degrees of ripeness, and co-fermented. Rosengartel is a 100% Riesling.
The Rosengartel site is just eight rows next to vines owned by Fritz Wieninger. One thousand vines produce just one bottle each. It’s one of the best viewpoints in the vineyards, Vienna in the foreground surprisingly close, and on a clear day Jutta says you can see Bratislava down river.
I also had my first taste of Rakete, a pale but glowing red Gemischter Satz from Zweigelt, Merlot, St-Laurent and a little Blauburger, plus a smattering of co-planted white grapes. The wine is direct-filled into bottles from tank, so unfiltered, has a deposit. It’s light, fruity, and served chilled, will be a wonderful summer drink (on my “must buy” list).
These are brilliant “non-intervention” wines which are among the very best in the Vienna Region. Although Vienna can be the source of many excellent wines, Jutta is one of a handful of winemakers there who can be described as inspired. In fact , I’d say, none more so.
MYTHOPIA (Valais, Switzerland)
Mythopia was the creation of Hans-Peter Schmidt and his wife Romaine, located in the Swiss Valais Region, at Arbaz (up in the mountains above Sion). They specialise primarily in Fendant (Chasselas) and Pinot Noir (which makes up around 70% of plantings). A mixed ecosystem includes the introduction of bees, apricot trees (the Valais produces the best apricots known to man) and herbs, whilst the vines are all planted on steep calcerous schist at altitude. Hans-Peter says the wine is just grapes and air, and nothing else.
The two Fendant-based wines on taste were Jadis 2013 (blended with some Rèze, better known if at all for the Vins de Glacier it makes in nearby Sierre), which is orange, with an amazing scent of orange citrus and soft fruit with an acidic core, and Disobedience 2013. Both see a month on skins and then around four years in 400 litre oak. Disobedience has a bigger nose and something strangely like hickory. It’s mouthfilling with a very long finish, both nutty and smoky.
With Pinot Noir, we begin with the pale but vibrant Illusion 2013, which it must be said has an unusual nose. Pi-No 2014 is basically fermented on skins and left in barrel. It tastes fresher with a touch more acidity. Finally, Imago 2009 is quite pale and looks older. It’s a little cloudy, softer, and has some tannin still (it also sees a month on skins).
There is no question that these are quite difficult wines, and they divide opinion among people I know. I personally like the fact that they challenge preconceptions. Sometimes the zero sulphur regime might lead to some volatility on the nose, although the palate doesn’t seem affected. But these are exciting wines and the adventurous explorer will come to appreciate what Hans-Peter and Romaine are doing here. Their reputation suggests they have little to prove.
MILAN NESTAREC (Moravia, Czech Republic)
I’ve been tasting Milan’s wines for a few years, and until 2018 he was the only Moravian producer I knew well. This young guy farms on mainly windblown loess soils in Moravsky Zezkow and Velké Bílovice close to Austria’s northern border. Milan belongs to the Autentiste group of Czech wine producers, which I name checked in my article on Basket Press Wines recently. This group are trying to express a Moravian character through low intervention agriculture and winemaking, describing their philosophy as “making the most honest wines possible”.
There are two wines in the distictively, and colourfully, labelled Forks and Knives range. The white 2016 is Müller-Thurgau (off clay, 50% of the fruit undergoing carbonic maceration) and the red 2016, Pinot Noir. Both are light, easy drinkers, the Pinot showing pure, simple, cherry fruit with a bitter finish. Really fun wines.
The next white is even more fun. Danger 380 Volts 2016 is a cloudy blend of Müller-Thurgau, Neuburger and Gelber Muskateller…delicious, vinous, and zippy, which screams fresh pear juice. Killer Thurgau 2015 is a slightly more serious version of the grape, limestone soils adding to the mineral definition.
TRBLMKR 2015 (Troublemaker) is pure Neuburger which gets 8 days on skins. Really good and a little different, it’s mouthfillingly fruity, but there’s texture too, and a nice linear diminuendo as it fades out. Another under appreciated grape variety, perhaps.
CHRISTOPH NEUMEISTER (Graz, Steiermark)
Steiermark has a great reputation for Sauvignon Blanc, producing wines to rival the best of The Loire, but in a different style. Even in a land of fine SB, Christoph Neumeister is a true meister of the variety.
Four of them were on show, Steirische Klassik 2017, Ried Klausen 2016, Ried Moarfeitl 2015 and Alte Reben 2013. The first is a scented introduction, the middle two are single vineyard wines, well differentiated (elegance versus complexity and concentration). The “old vine” cuvée is made from 60-to-80-year-old vines. Here, the bouquet is toned down and less open, yet you can see the complexity starting to build.
The essence of his wines is texture and mouthfeel, plus complexity. Healthy grapes are a prerequisite, and sorting is fanatical. The fine lees play their part to give that texture and complexity, producing Sauvignon like nothing you’ve tried before.
Christoph also produced a zippy Gemischter Satz blend from seven early ripening varieties of quite old vines, and a nice Gelber Muskateller (both 2017) which was grapey yet dry on the finish. But my interest was pricked by his Roter Traminer “Ried Steintal” 2016. It hints at Gewurztraminer (but is less spicy and with different aromatics) and also Roter Veltliner, but it finishes dry. It’s a plump wine but well balanced, and I thought it had something special, even though you are probably going to come here primarily for the very fine Sauvignon Blancs.
WEINGUT ODINSTAL (Pfalz, Germany)
When the original vines here were planted by a Mayor of Wachenheim, Johann Ludwig Wolf, locals thought him mad to plant at 350 metres, but what interested Wolf were the unique soils in a former basalt quarry, volcanic terroir of the finest sort. There are other soils here, calcarous clay, shell limestone and red sandstone, and Andreas Schumann uses these to fashion different site-specific expressions of fine Riesling (and Weißburgunder).
The first of four Rieslings, 120NN (2016), is named after its altitude, though it’s the lowest of the Odinstal sites. It’s fruit driven and juicy. Three of the higher altitude single vineyard wines, all 2016, showed how different wines can be off these different soil types (their names are self explanatory). Muschelkalk at 350 metres is so different to Buntsandstein (vines in the latter were planted in 1978 and 1983), which has a spine-tingling bitter streak, truly delicious.
Yet it’s Basalt which is the most singular wine, from that unique volcanic core of the ancient Pechsteinkopf volcano. These wines mature more slowly and the nose is noticeably more closed, but the Riesling fruit has great density and the wine is intense and fine. There is also a very fine Weißburgunder off basalt, clay and sandstone too, 350NN.
Winemaking is biodynamic (since 2008) and the estate makes all its own biodynamic preps. Cows and bees make up a mixed polyculture, and agriculture is very much the focus, rather than “winemaking”. The wines are stunning and I’m glad a couple of people steered me to this producer.
WEINGUT PRANZEGG (Bozen, Südtirol, Italy)
Martin Gojer took over the family estate in 2008 and immediately began conversion to biodynamics. The passion here is for the traditional varieties of the South Tyrol, especially with the reds (Vernatsch and Lagrein). Here, close to Bozen, the vines are at altitude, with white varieties in the highest vineyards.
Tonsur 2016 comes from the highest site, at a lofty 700 metres, just one hectare exposed to the south. This is a field blend, with 70% Müller-Thurgau, all picked and fermented together and basically left to do its own thing for seven months (50% on skins with 25% stems). Caroline 2015 is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Manzoni Bianco. This site is only at 200 metres above sea level, exposure north on richer soils. Both wines have the crisp flavours of mountain wines.
Vino Rosso Leggero 2016 is a bit of a star in the glouglou sense. It’s made mostly from Vernatsch, fermented on the skins of “Caroline”, which gives a touch of texture and structure. It’s just 11% abv and lipsmackingly delicious.
Campill 2014 is 100% Vernatsch, and is the Gojers’ most important wine. Old vine fruit (up to 80 years old) undergoes a five week maceration with stems, ageing in a mix of concrete and old wood. There’s a lot more body here, but it is still elegant and fresh, a beautiful example of this once maligned Südtiroler variety. Laurenc 2014 uses the slightly better known Lagrein (40 to 50-year-old vines) to make a slightly more complex wine with a deep cherry bouquet, equally deep concentration, mouthfilling fruit and acidity. I prefer the Vernatsch, but only just.
One gets the impression that this young couple are brimming with enthusiasm for their biodynamic project. This type of approach is definitely a minority one in the region, although there are notable “bio” domaines to follow. It is especially their passion for the autochthonous varieties of the region which makes them so worthy of support…along with the quality of the wines. The Vernatsch was a revelation to me, and the Leggero is something I hope to be glugging this summer.
CLAUS PREISINGER (Gols, Burgenland)
Claus was one of the producers I purchased back on that first Newcomer visit. I’m not sure how I’d heard about him, but his wines, at all levels, have been part of my drinking for quite a few years. He began his own venture only in 2000, but in that time he’s amassed 19 hectares from an original three. There’s a lot of variety in there, and his technique is totally instinctive, so that the more expensive wines are usually very interesting and sometimes a surprise. Claus was in fact the first producer in Austria to use Georgian amphora.
ErDELuftGRAsundreBEN is the label for the skin contact wines. Weißburgunder 2016 is superfresh and light, whereas the Grüner Veltliner version is quite different with a bit more depth. There is also a Blaufränkisch 2015 which is lightish for a 13% abv wine, but has great cherry depth. There’s also real texture, in part from the limestone soils, and also from amphora fermentation. This is a great amphora red to try if you’ve never had one.
At the cheaper end of the range Claus usually produces a number of single variety wines, of which I think the Zweigelt is my favourite, but yesterday we had Kalk und Kiesel 2016 to try. It’s a field blend of 70% red grapes (Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch) and 30% white (Müller-Thurgau and Welschriesling). A cherry-red fruit bomb with a little texture.
I love every wine of Claus Preisinger I’ve ever tried, but there’s a special place in my heart for Puszta Libre! as some readers may know. The inspiration here is the simple wine once sold in large bottles with a small label, which Claus describes as the sort of wine his grandfather drank. The 2016 version blends Zweigelt and St-Laurent. It is concentrated but light and therefore a great quaffing juice to be drunk slightly chilled. I know people who got through several bottles of this last summer, myself included.
RENNERSISTAS (Gols, Burgenland)
Stefanie and Susanne have only made three vintages (and aside from their petnat, the 2017s are not yet in bottle, due to be released in May, so the rest here are all 2016), but few Austrian producers have created such a storm over the past couple of years. I’m sure this is in part down to the fact that their enthusiasm is really infectious, and they have a great sense of humour between them. You never see them not smiling or joking.
That solitary 2017 petnat is called In a Hell Mood and it’s a blanc de noirs made from Pinot Noir. This sample was disgorged a week ago. It’s fruity-fresh with a pale peachy colour to it, and a lively bead and frothy mousse. I adore it.
Of the still whites it’s hard to choose between Welschriesling (20 days on skins, 70% whole bunches and a tiny 2.5mg/litre of sulphur at bottling) and Weißburgunder (same 20 days on skins but no stems and no sulphur). But it’s even harder to choose between the reds.
Waiting for Tom is the Rennersistas cuvée I’ve drunk the most. Blaufränkisch (with some whole bunches) is joined by St-Laurent and Pinot Noir to give a light, crisp, slightly acidic red with lovely refreshing fruit.
Zweigelt is fermented with 50% whole bunches and is dark and full of vitality. In fact “full of life”, the wines seen unnervingly to reflect their makers. Blaufränkisch is very concentrated with high-toned fruit, but the fragrant cherry nose seals it for me in choosing this (but only just) as my favourite red here.
The sisters are really beginning to hit their stride, but they were well tutored, working with Toms Lubbe (Matassa) and Shobbrook (both, apparently, prone to lateness!), and now they have a close friendship with Claus Preisinger. With the lighthearted atmosphere when tasting with the “Rennersistas” it’s easy to miss what they are achieving in the bottle, though their success keeps growing and growing.
STROHMEIER (St Stefan, Steiermark)
Franz and Christine Strohmeier make wine in a part of Styria famous for an unusual grape variety, Blauer Wildbacher. This variety makes Schilcher and Schilcher Sekt, a speciality which until recently was pretty much unknown outside of Austria, unless, like me, you are blessed with friends there. Our Austrian friends love it, but they admit that most of their foreign friends they serve it to are less enamored. It is often searingly acidic. I like it, but you know I’m slightly “odd” when it comes to obscure wines and flavours.
The odd thing about the Strohmeiers is that they export around 95% of their production (Japan and the USA being their main markets), because Austrians on the whole, despite the notable natural wine movement in Styria, just don’t get what they are doing…and what they are doing is quite incredible. What was also interesting is that, meeting Franz and Christine for the first time, they turned out to be (like me) a little older than many of the “natural wine” crusaders in Austria.
The Blauer Wildbacher wines here are very fresh, undergoing no malolactic fermentation. Rosé Sekt sees no added sulphur and is an uncompromising sparkler. But that doesn’t have any negative connotation. It’s frothy, a little smoky and tastes of sour cherry. No true wine adventurer could fail to adore it. TLZ Karmin No 6 is a palish pink still wine from the same variety, strange in some ways, but where the bitter acidity is balanced by concentrated soft fruit. TLZ? Trauben (grapes), Liebe (love) and Zeit (time) – what it takes to make the wine here.
There is a nice sparkling Sekt made from Sauvignon Blanc to try for those seeking adventure from a better known grape variety, and Sauvignon is also the variety for TLZ – Wein der Stille No 8 (wine of silence). Nine months on whole bunches, which Christine called their “hard core orange wine”. Tannic structure and “pow!”. It may be hard core, but fans of hardcore will love it.
We finished with an off-list “Schilcher”, a Siassa No 7. Harvested on 2 November, it’s another Blauer Wildbacher but made sweet(ish). Riper fruit yielded just 300 litres which was made into a pale orange/pink wine which basically tastes like the most beautiful strawberry juice, but with 11% alcohol.
I have to say I am looking forward to adding to the single bottle of Strohmeier I currently have in the cellar. Wines of purity, excitement and soul.
CHRISTIAN TSCHIDA (Illmitz, Burgenland)
I’m going to try not to categorise Christian, even as someone who goes very much against the grain of local winemaking. He’s an individual, and he makes wines of genuine greatness. And he’s been doing so with vineyards which his family planted in the 19th Century. But when I say makes wines, I’m misleading you a little. Christian is one of the masters of “hands-off” wine production.
There is only one negative thing I can say about Christian’s wines, and that is that I can’t afford to buy them too often. At least the Himmel Auf Erden (Heaven on Earth, the Alfred Hrdlicka labels basically explain the name) range can be less expensive, and we began here with that line’s Maische II 2016. Scheurebe is the mainstay, with Pinot Blanc and Gelber Muskateller (…possibly). Anyway, it’s quite sensuous with citrus and herbs, dry on the finish, made from vines over 50-years-old with fermentation on skins.
As we rise through the whites they just gain in complexity. Non-Tradition 2015 is a pure (in every sense) Grüner Veltliner, Laissez-Faire 2015 has amazing ripe fruit but again finishes dry, with zest.
The reds Christian makes are quite imposing, but via their fruit more than anything. Cabernet Franc is the variety in the fairly tannic and structured Non Tradition 2015, but the fruit underneath shows it just needs time. Kapitel I 2016 also has lovely refined fruit with a textured, grippy, finish. Both wines are crushed by foot and left to do their thing in large barrels. Christian picks for acidity and he wants to make wines that age.
There’s a story, by the way, that the person who planted the Cabernet Franc thought he was planting Merlot. Christian, I think, was fortunate. The Franc is much more in the Tschida style than I imagine Merlot could ever be.
Blaufränkisch is the basis for Felsen I 2013, cloudy, tannic, but showing signs of development and nascent complexity. But it also tastes as if it has 300% concentrated fruit in there too, amazing juice!
To avoid stupid cliche I must stop there. It is easy to make the same comments as everyone else, but at the end of the day Christian is an ordinary bloke going his own way. It’s just that he knows exactly what he wants from his wine and achieves that magnificently. It was a privilege to meet him again.
WERLITSCH (Leutschach, Steiermark)
Ewald Tscheppe is another favourite producer of mine from the Newcomer stable. He is a proud member of the biodynamic association, Demeter, but his whole philosophy takes the idea of holistic farming as far as possible. The soils in this part of Styria are known as “Opok”, a sandy loam blown from the Alps. On a variety of complex soils, Ewald grows mainly Sauvignon Blanc and Morillon (the local Austrian name for Chardonnay) and, through various blends, fashions a range of expressive white (and orange) wines.
A pure Morillon 2015 starts off the range and is delicious with softer fruit and a savoury, almost saline quality. Vom Opok 2015 comes next, a pure Sauvignon Blanc. Then comes Ex Vero, which are a series of blends of the two varieties in varying proportions. Ex Vero I 2013 comes from vines at lower altitude and is fresh and mineral. Ex Vero II 2012 is from the mid-slope and has more Sauvignon Blanc to Ex Vero I’s greater Chardonnay content. Ex Vero III 2013 is from the highest vines, up to 500 metres altitude, and is dominated by Sauvignon Blanc. Ex Vero III 2006 is marvelous. It’s a wine of even greater concentration, a little nuttiness coming through, but with still fresh acidity at over a decade old.
All these wines range from really very good to exceptional, but the most singular example of the Werlitsch oeuvre is Gluck. We tasted the version from the tricky (in Austria) 2014 vintage. Gluck sees a couple of weeks on skins and is a lovely golden colour. It’s a fairly tentative wine, not as assertive as it looks in its by now famous brown flagon. Fresh and sour, a wine to contemplate over as much time as you can give. Possibly a legend in the making, although as with a wine like Vin Jaune (which it does not resemble), it won’t be to everyone’s tastes.
CHRISTOPH HOCH (Hollenburg, Kremstal)
Christoph makes what was once the weirdest wine I’d ever drunk, although in the few intervening years the sparkling Kalkspitz has been superseded for outright craziness (Tom Shobbrook’s cider and Mourvèdre blend has to be up there). Take some Grüner, Zweigelt, Sauvignon Blanc and Blauer Portugieser and apply for a patent on the blend. Kalkspitz is the non-vintage, Kalkreich is the vintage, in this case 2013. Here, Christoph gets to blend Weißburgunder, Grüner and Riesling.
Whilst the sparklers are slightly weird, I love them, not least for their shock value. But all Christoph is trying to do is to understand his terroir of chalk and gravel on Kremstal’s Hollenburg. His still wines, named for this site, are varietal examples of his two main grapes. Grüner Veltliner and Riesling not only blend grapes from around 40 different plots at different altitudes, and with different exposures. They also blend vintages. Some of the batches may also be aged under flor. What is going on here is complex and complicated, but it’s well worth paying attention.
ATTILA HOMONNA (Tokaj, Hungary)
Attila Homonna worked in advertising, then as a New York DJ, before turning to wine since 1999. His winery in the village of Erdöbénye produces tiny amounts of wine from Tokaj Region stalwarts Furmint and Hárslevelú. The focus is on dry wines from old vines with very small yields. I was really zipping through here, as you can tell (and it didn’t help that the table was somewhat blocked by expansive gesticulation on the public side), but the wines were impressive, and I shall have to take another look when the opportunity comes along.
So, as I’ve said, an amazing Tasting. There are some wonderful producers covered here, and I hope my notes are useful. Do go out and try these wines. There are, if my counting is up to scratch, fourteen producers profiled, but a further eighteen I have missed out, and around half of those I’ve bought wine from. But if there is one I’m annoyed at leaving out, it is Rudolf Trossen. Rudolf, with his wife Rita, farms vines of up to a hundred years of age at the lesser known village of Kinheim in the Middle Mosel. The buzz around his wines made me cross I didn’t try them. In all my time reading about Mosel wines, I’d never come across his name, yet he’s been farming biodynamically since 1978 (one of the pioneers in Germany). Sulphur isn’t required because long lees ageing “stabilises” the wine. Another bit of detective work required, I think.