I’m a little bit behind again with my regular pieces on recent wines drunk at home, so here I’ll mention just eight stars from February, along with a clutch of wines we drank last Saturday night (which deserve not to be left behind). I’ll try to get up to date with some more wines in the next ten days.
I was reading Andrew Jefford in Decanter’s “April” edition. He was talking about the takeover in Burgundy by the big corporates and billionaires, and how the knock-on effect spells the end of small artisans making top-vineyard Grand Cru Burgundy. It’s pertinent to this series on what I drink at home because once upon a time I bought so-called fine Burgundy. I own a tiny bit, and of fine Bordeaux too. My journey outside the box kind of began from Burgundy, when we decided, on our then annual visit to the Côte d’Or, that Arbois looked interesting for a day trip (we never looked back, I can tell you). But I rarely drink it these days, and have not bought any Burgundy, other than a little from young growers and micro-negoces like Le Grappin, for a long time.
Instead, I drink amazing wine of such variety, excitement and quality, yet which, whilst often quite expensive, costs nothing remotely like that of the wines I once used to stretch to buying. The first eight wines here are a perfect illustration of that. Sometimes I think my drinking just gets better and better, wines freed from the shackles of the required typicity and expectations of classical styles. Yet there is still majesty in the classics, as you will see in the pair that I took to dinner last weekend (though neither were from Bordeaux nor Burgundy, I must try harder). The third wine, taken by friends, is very much a new classic.
Côtes du Jura Pinot Noir 2016, Domaine des Marnes Blanches (Jura, France)
In the past couple of years this domaine, from the Southern Jura, at St Agnès (just a few k’s north of Rotalier) has become a firm favourite among the group of people I drink with. I do keep repeating that they are Southern Jura’s rising stars. What I didn’t realise until recently was that Pauline and Géraud Fromont were in their early twenties when they set up the domaine in 2006 – I only discovered them about three years or so ago, when Winemakers Club began working with them.
Whilst their whites benefit from a while in bottle to achieve their potential, this Pinot is a palish version of the variety, with low (11.5%) alcohol. The raspberry fruit is adorable now, and it is soft and ever so slightly smoky. Others have suggested that their winemaking allows their wines to age, and perhaps this Pinot would be no different to the whites, given the opportunity. But there’s a rare freshness here which just makes me think it’s fantastic now.
Örökségül 2014, Hegyikaló (Szomolya, Hungary)
Héjon Erjesztett Zöld Veltliner, or effectively Grüner to you and me. But with 60 days skin contact followed by a year in old wood. Golden-orange colour gives on to a bouquet and palate of honey and soft lemon. It kind of takes me back to some pleasant childhood memories. I say “soft”, but there’s a richness too, all underpinned with the texture of all that maceration, though it’s not intrusive.
I never know which is my favourite wine from Hegyikaló. Adam and Julia only make around 4,000 bottles a year, spread over several wines, but they seem equally gifted in all four colours. This wine is just brilliant, so long, unquestionably wonderful, and certainly my favourite…until I drink something else they made. This is the second of three wines sold by Winemakers Club here.
Weissburgunder Erdeluftgrasundreben 2013, Claus Preisinger (Burgenland, Austria)
You know Claus from Gols, up at the top of the Neusiedlersee, don’t you. Well this is the first of his orange wines I’ve drunk this year, and this 2013, with a touch of bottle age, was majestic. It comes unfiltered, and you can stand it up to let the deposits and sediment settle if you wish. Claus recommends that you shake it (like a polaroid picture, as the song goes), to enjoy it in its full, cloudy, textural, glory.
If you do decide to be brave, the flavour reward is complex, and you will certainly get more sour/bitter flavours. Nothing is obscured by the cloudiness. It’s rich, long, ever so slightly lactic, citric and probably karmic and cosmic too for all I know. But it ain’t no intellectual beast. Despite 13.5% abv on the label, it’s hard to put down. Almost a glugger! A serious wine, but with the life and joy of Claus’s cheaper wines.
Newcomer Wines at Dalston Junction bring Preisinger into the UK, and in fact he was one of their original producers back in the shipping container days.
Bugey Chardonnay 2014, Famille Peillot (Bugey, France)
Pushing 2018 as the year of Alpine wines, this is another tasty Bugey, made by Franck Peillot at Montagnieu, which is thirty miles east of Lyon, where the pre-Alps begin, in the département of L’Ain. If you read Part 1 of my Raw Wine review published a little over a week ago, you’ll have read about another Montagnieu producer, Yves Duport.
This is pale for Chardonnay, but the nose clearly has varietal definition – you can tell what you are sniffing. It’s lightness carries through when you take a sip. It is balanced easy going, the acidity is fresh, and the alcohol is just 12% (low for a Chardonnay). I think you might make an educated guess that this is a mountain wine.
This was a sample from Winemakers Club (not a freebie, I did a swap with John as I wanted to try this). Peillot is probably better known as a bit of a Pinot Noir expert and, when it comes to white wine, for his Altesse, but this is an attractive Chardonnay. I’m not sure whether Winemakers will ship it? Vine Trail also sell some of Franck’s wines, but as far as I’m aware, not his Chardonnay. But it may turn up in the UK soon, as Savoie and Bugey get more publicity as the year goes on.
Pithos Rosso 2014, COS (Vittoria, Sicily, Italy)
The wines of COS go back a long way with me. We have history, one of seeking out these wines wherever I could find them. Although their Zibibbo in Pithos was one of my wines of 2018, I probably drink a fair bit less COS than I used to – there’s just so much that is new to explore. But every time I drink COS I remember how wonderful their wines are, and every time I drink this wine, I recall with utmost clarity why I got interested in amphora-fermented (in pithos) wines. Pithos Rosso was almost certainly my first.
The “pithos” in this case are 400 litre amphora, buried to the neck in the Georgian style. Into them go biodynamically farmed Nero d’Avola and Frappato grapes, the same blend, more or less, as the Cerasuolo di Vittoria of this part of Southeastern Sicily. Everything about this says terracotta, from the distinct whiff of brick dust on the nose, to the slightly bitter edge, to the concentrated nature of the dark and red fruits (morello cherry dominating). Then there’s the vibrant acidity which gives the wine such freshness. Finally texture, not a lot, but enough to slightly dry the tongue with a prickling sensation. Love it!
COS has always been, and remains, a stalwart of the Les Caves de Pyrene stable. I hear there’s some more Zibibbo in Pithos coming soon. Shhhh!
“Simone C’est Moi! 2014 Vin de France, Julie Balagny (Beaujolais, France)
Julie Balagny is a native of Paris, who somehow rocked up in Beaujolais in 2009 after making biodynamic and natural wine for others in Southwest France. She has a habit of being difficult to visit, and her wines are not easy to get hold of. I used to wear out the soles of my shoes in Paris before Tutto Wines began importing her, but the UK’s allocation is still pretty tiny.
Simone is unusual. It’s normally a Fleurie, but in 2014 the fermentation wouldn’t stop and it ended up being shipped in 2016 (if I recall?) as a Vin de France. It’s pretty pale, so it’s not a surprise to find the most ethereal scent of cherry rising like thin wisps of smoke from the glass, with strawberry joining in as you sniff deeper. The palate is soft and the wine has a calming nature. The acidity is perfectly judged almost as if, after all that extended fermentation, the wine said “ah, yes, that’s just right”. It’s damned near a perfect wine. I now have one bottle left…must share it. Is there a producer in the region whose wines I like more than Julie’s? Probably not.
Sumoll Blanc Brisat 2014, Metamorphika/Costador Terroirs (Catalonia, Spain)
Here we are in Conca de Barberà, near Tarragona, up in the hills at 400 to 800 metres altitude. Sumoll is better known as a red variety making fabulous wines in Catalonia (try some), and occasionally vinified white as a blanc de noirs. This is the very rare vrai white Sumoll, from bush vines of about 80 years old. The grapes go into amphora for six weeks as whole bunches (so the grapes at the bottom are pressed by the weight of the fruit on top, as in Beaujolais sometimes). This makes for some skin contact, and a pale orange wine (“brisat” identifies skin contact in Catalan). The fermented juice then goes into 500 litre old oak for about seven months.
The bouquet is of flame raisins (sorry, pretentious but it just came out) and herbs (let’s not take it too far by being specific). The palate is quite different. It’s a little creamy and quite “mineral” at the same time, with a tad of citrus on the finish. Despite having skin contact in amphora, it tastes “clean”, and certainly mellow. Quite a wine for contemplation, despite coming in at a very low 10.5% alcohol. Otros Vinos is the man to see (well, Fernando Berry is his name).
Xarel-lo Ancestral 2015, Clot de Les Soleres (Catalonia, Spain)
I first tasted this wine in March 2017, and in the intervening year it had lost none of its freshness, if perhaps a touch of its fizz, though as an off-dry wine with just 10% alcohol it might have made better summer sipping under the parasol than as an accompaniment to “the beast from the east” (which in the UK was a few days of late heavy snowfall, not one of Boris Johnson’s unhelpful quips about Vladimir Putin).
From Piera in Barcelona Province, it is a pure Xarel-lo, disgorged in October 2016. It’s completely natural with no added sulphur. The nose is quite grapey but if you were expecting any similarities to Muscat, not one bit. The palate has both richness and freshness, with the fruit being slightly candied with this level of sugar. The soils on which this Xarel-lo are grown are a mix of limestone and quartz, and I find it a little hard to dissociate that soil profile from the underlying structure and texture. It’s frothy too.
Clot de Les Soleres specialises in petnat wines, though not exclusively. As they are completely non-interventionists, each one will be allowed to turn out as it wishes, to do its own thing. This means you get different styles emerging every vintage and you just have to go with it. You can read about Carles and Montse Ferrer’s wines which I tasted at Raw Wine London 2018 in the previous article on this site. It’s another Spanish (Catalan) producer imported by Otros Vinos.
That’s the first batch of the “home consumed” wines, but as I mentioned above, we went to dinner in the New Forest again last weekend. The East End Arms is a nice old forest pub about fifteen minutes out of Lymington (just before you get to East End). It was bought in 1990 by John Illsley, bass player for Dire Straits, who wanted to preserve this lovely pub for the locals.
In fact the restaurant is pretty good, with nicely sourced ingredients, a step above “good pub food”, and it’s name has reached much further afield (I think it got a 9/10 from the Daily Telegraph, and they have rooms too). They were also able, with prior warning, to knock up three very good and inventive vegan courses. Those who have been reading my occasional pieces on New Forest dining should add The East End Arms to the list of restaurants to visit.
We were, as so often is the case, privileged to be allowed to take some wines. All three were right on top of their game, which is why they deserve a mention.
Vino de Parcela “El Tamboril” 2014, Comando G (Sierra de Gredos, Spain) – In the province of Avila, Fernando Garcia, Daniel Landi and Marc Isart got together a little over a decade ago to reinvent the classic wines of Garnacha (the “G”). I love those wines. They have become famous classics, but in some ways I like this white even more than the reds, perhaps for its rarity in coming my way. We are still with Garnacha here, just 90-year-old Garnachas Blanc and Gris. They are planted on a north facing slope of quartz-flecked granite in a tiny parcel (just 0.2ha), “El Tamboril”, at 1,230 metres altitude near the village of Navatalgordo. The great altitude, slightly water-stressed old bush vines and wild landscape produces late ripening fruit, which creates wines of genuine intensity.
López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rioja Reserva 1994 (Rioja, Spain) – Viña Tondonia is the flagship wine of the most traditional of all of Rioja’s great bodegas. Long wood ageing has given this wine, comprising around three-quarters Tempranillo with diminishing amounts of Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano, the organoleptic patina of an old mahogany table, cherished and polished for twenty-three years (don’t worry, it still looks deep red, not brown). Yet it doesn’t taste old, it tastes remarkably fresh. This is because wood at L de H is a seasoning, not the sauce that overwhelms the dish.
The 1994 vintage in Rioja produced wines capable of long ageing, and it has been said elsewhere that Viña Tondonia from this vintage is probably at the apex of that ageability. I think that despite the age of this wine, it has many years ahead of it. Alas, it was my solitary bottle from this vintage, although I have other Tondonia and Bosconia from the 1990s. Yet I will not complain about not keeping it for longer. This old wine was one of the finest classic bottles I have drunk for some months. Such experiences are genuinely moving.
Côte Rôtie “Cuvée Du Plessy” 2006, Gilles Barge – I’d taken this as a backup for the Tondonia. Well, you never know, there have been some instances of perhaps poorly stored Lopez de Heredia wines on the UK market in recent years, as friends have experienced. We decided to open it anyway.
The Barge family is old school Northern Rhône. Well, not quite Chave longevity there, but making wine in the 19th Century, for sure. Winemaking is traditional, with tank fermentations before transfer to old oak of varying sizes. Cuvée Du Plessy is sourced from various parcels on the Côte Blonde, and the Syrah (vines now averaging around 50-years and older) has around 5% Viognier added. There is clearly lift and fragrance, which one presumes the Viognier enhances.
The bouquet of this 2006 cuvée is mature, but it doesn’t have any bacon fat or meat on it. There is a touch of peppery spice, but red berries dominate. It’s beautiful, that fragrance providing so much pleasure that you hardly notice the palate developing slowly as it breathes. I’d be pushed to say that it matched the Tondonia if forced to talk of relative quality, but that’s a pointless comment to make.
On its own merits this is a very fine wine indeed. I used to buy quite a bit of Côte-Rôtie, and I suppose that I slowed down when the wines I was buying went consistently over the £50/bottle mark. However, The Wine Society seems to still be listing the 2006 for £39-a-bottle. In terms of cost, it’s the bargain of the three wines we drank.
I’ve still got several more wines to write up, but I’ll save them. Expect a second “recent wines” article in a week or so. Next up, we have Howard Ripley‘s German Reds on Monday, which I’m very much looking forward to.