It’s that time of year when the London Wine Fair comes to London’s Olympia. For anyone who has never been, it’s an enormous three day event, boasting 14,000 wines from 40 countries. The vast “trading floor” has many gems among the diaspora of larger producers, and I shall bring a flavour of those in Part 2, along with a look at the specialist section of the hall called “Drinks Britannia”. In this Part 1, I will concentrate on one of the areas in the upstairs gallery which I know will be of most interest to my readers, Esoterica.
As the special brochure for this area states, the UK remains “the most diverse wine market in the world…Esoterica offers a snapshot of [that] passion for diversity”. I could not have put it better. If you want to find bravery, passion for wine, excitement and almost a sense of pure altruism towards the wine loving customer seeking new experiences, then the sixty-plus small importers in the Esoterica area offer exactly that. I have chosen just short of a dozen to profile here and all of them are doing great things. Check them out. As there are so many wines, I’ve not written more than a thumbnail sketch of each one, but their selection is a signal of my approval, so to speak.
RED SQUIRREL WINE
The Red Squirrel portfolio was apparently described by The Wine Gang as “most imaginative”. I thought that it was me that said that…well, you get the drift. An innovative range is something all of the merchants here possess, but Red Squirrel have a real eye for both new regions and new producers from old ones. I had to select eight wines to taste at their double table, missing out on some of their well regarded producers like Bellwether, Martin Diwald and Dal Zotto. I think you’ll enjoy what I selected.
Black Chalk (Hampshire, UK)
I should perhaps have included these wines in Part 2 as winemaker Jacob Leadley was down in Drinks Britannia, but this is where I tasted them. It’s another new English sparkler, from Hattingley Valley’s winemaker. Brut 2015 is 50% Meunier plus equal proportions of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with 17 months on lees and a hint of oak to round it out. Rosé 2015 has elegant and vibrant fruit and very good definition. Two very nice new English wines.
Champagne A Levasseur (Marne Valley, France)
David Levasseur makes out of the ordinary Champagnes from 4.2 hectares planted by his grandfather, Albert, in Cuchery and Châtillon-sur-Marne. As far as I’m aware he makes five terroir-distinct cuvées, and I tasted Noir de Terroir Extra Brut. It is labelled non-vintage, 100% Pinot Noir, but as with many Grower wines, it is actually fruit from a single vintage, in this case 2012. It has seen 42 months on lees and has real complexity, with hints of spice as well as apricot/stone fruit and red fruits. Very classy stuff, and quite a gastronomic wine, I’d say.
Pasaeli Wines (Turkey)
Sidalan is a rare variety, even in Turkey but it’s really interesting. Sidalan 2017 combines a soft bitterness here with a lick of refreshing acidity. This is a fascinating producer and this is something a little different. Red Squirrel imports several Pasaeli wines, some of Turkey’s most interesting.
Azores Wine Company (Azores, Portugal)
It is great credit to Red Squirrel that they have taken on importing wines from these volcanic, rocky, vineyards on the island of Pico in the Azores. Arinto dos Açores Sur Lie 2016, made by Antonio Maçanita, is as pure an expression of this rocky terroir, where vines are planted in the cracks in the rock, as you can get. Citrus, grapefruit, stony, and saline, fresh like the ocean winds that sweep the island and the waves that lash it. Not complex, not fruity, just purity in essence. An oddity for sure, but a heritage which needs to be preserved.
Kewin (Kéké) Descombes (Beaujolais, France)
Kéké is one of the region’s rising stars and I have to confess I bought a few bottles of his 2016 Morgon from Solent Cellar only a week or so ago. Cuvée Kéké 2017 is my first taste of his latest vintage. It is wilder than the Morgon, for sure, although it will only scare the more sensitive souls among us (I understand it might be more restrained than the ’16 version). Fruity but with a bit of substance, it’s on my list to buy. A new fave producer in the Beaujolais pantheon.
Black Elephant Vintners (Franschhoek, South Africa)
Someone sent Kevin Swart to the wrong region, but he ended up in Franschhoek rather than Swartland for a reason. This often forgotten region produces fruit capable of showing the more aromatic side of South African wine, and these are seriously different to what some have decided is the norm for other regions (like Swartland).
Kevin is passionate about music (as you will see in the photos, where you’ll also recognise his sense of humour). Five wines were on show, but I’m just going to highlight two blends. Timothy White 2016 and Nicholas Red 2015 both reflect the personalities of Kevin’s children (see labels, one a sporty early riser and one who is more laid back and chilled).
The white blends old vine Chenin, Sauvignon, Semillon and Viognier into a wine which has 13% abv, yet is fresh and elegant. The red, 45% Syrah plus Carignan, Mourvèdre and Petite Sirah (sic) jumps to 14%, but isn’t heavy. An “easy” wine, but it retains that amazing freshness. Definitely pleased I tried this range and got to meet Kevin, a top bloke.
Modal is run by Nicolas Rizzi out of North London. I first met him at the Out of the Box Tasting, which serves a likeminded group of importers of low intervention wines. The small range is nevertheless broad, and includes wines from Slovenia and Slovakia, some of which I tried.
Cascina Zerbette (Monferrato Hills, Piemonte, Italy)
Sauvignon Blanc from the Monferrato? This Shan Pan 2017 is seriously tasty. It’s not really a normal petnat, the second fermentation having been started by the addition of late harvest must. The nose seemed a little neutral but the palate made up for it. Fresh, as these sparklers should be, and with nice definition. Steely fizz with bags of flavour.
Atelier Kramar (Gorizka Brda, Slovenia)
Primario 2016 is Rebula with three days on skins before ageing in old oak for six months. A golden wine with massive flavours and a tiny bit of grounding texture. Bohem 2015 is a blend of Tocai Friulano with Malvasia. Here there is 30 days skin contact then six months in barrel. Golden once more, this is also fresh and sappy. Both are very good.
Slobodne (Zemianske Sady, Lesser Carpathians, Slovakia)
Devin is a variety I’ve tried before via Basket Press Wines. It’s a cross between Roter Traminer and Grüner Veltliner. Slobodne’s Deviner 2014 blends this local variety with 70% Gewurztraminer, fermented in stainless steel and aged in two-year oak. Very nice, but I liked Deviner 2015 even more. This has 50% of each variety blended together with six weeks on skins. Just smell it!
Silice Viticultores (Galicia, Spain)
Silice 2016 is a Mencia as we remember them, before the producers went down the “oak” route. Lighter than many, and aromatic, a style I believe that the variety best expresses itself through. Good value if you can find it for £20 or so on the shelf.
Joiseph (Burgenland, Austria)
Among the many Burgenland producers I taste, I rarely come across these wines, but on trying BFF 2015 I should look harder. They are made by a 24-year-old guy who doesn’t own a smart phone and concentrates on making natural wines from a tiny plot near Jois, at the northern end of the Neusiedlersee. Vibrant colour, quite a bit of fruit concentration plus structure without any hard edges.
If you want to catch Nicolas Rizzi and his Modal Wines portfolio, then head down to Brighton’s amazing natural wine bar and restaurant, Plateau, on 30 May (6.30pm, but do book tickets).
BASKET PRESS WINES
Regular readers will know Jiri’s wines by now, at least from my descriptions, but here we have a selection of new additions and wines I’ve never tasted.
Dobra Vinice (Jizní, Moravia, Czech Rep)
Crème de Vin is a pale gold and very fruity petnat from the town of Znojmo. Fourteen months on lees gives it just a little body but it’s basically a fun wine, made principally of a blend including Pinot Noir and Riesling. I’ve enjoyed this producer’s Kambrium white blend before.
Domaine M (Czech Republic)
Cuvée Weinperky 2015 is a smart blend of Grüner Veltliner, Grüner Sylvaner and Rotgipfler made half in old oak and half in a small (250 litre) concrete egg, which has mellowed with a touch of age. Expect a little texture from the skin maceration, but also a really interesting savoury flavour.
Zdenek Vykoukal (Czech Republic)
Veltlinské Zelené 2014 is from a tiny 1.5 hectare plot just outside Brno, right on the edge of the Austerlitz battlefield. You get bags of fruit here and a bit less of the pepper. Austria’s neighbours, Hungary and Czech Moravia, are starting to show that Grüner is not just at home in one country.
Petr Kočarík (Moravia, Czech Rep)
Kočarik Pinot Noir 2016 is from another tiny holding of 2 hectares, from another producer new this year to Basket Press. Lightish in colour but also quite smooth, with just a pleasant grainy touch. It actually reminded me immediately of a good Alsace Pinot Noir from a warm year, which from me should be taken as praise.
Dva Duby (Czech Republic)
Impera 2015 is another smartly packaged new wine, which arrived just a month ago. The blend here is more typical of Austria, being Blaufränkisch and St-Laurent, the latter making up 70% of the blend. It’s pale and smokey with lots of fruit on the nose, really lovely, pretty.
There were lots of wines I’d already tried and written about, reminding me just how good I think this range from (mainly) Czech Moravia and Slovakia really is. I hope they gain a wider appreciation in 2018. Especially as they are nice people here too.
THE KNOTTED VINE
David Knott is another member of the Out of the Box group, with a small list of minimal intervention producers.
Noelia Ricci (Emilia-Romagna)
Bro Forli 2017 is 100% Trebbiano, but the Emilia clone, different I’m assured to “Toscana”. This doesn’t taste like the dull stereotype of the Tuscan variety, not remotely. For starters it’s very fresh, with decent acidity. It also has a nice salinity. Godenza 2015 is Sangiovese with lifted fruit. It seems to combine texture and smoothness at the same time, somehow. It’s quite a big wine at 13.7% abv, but it’s also very juicy so can take it.
Koerner (Barossa Valley, South Australia)
Pigato Vermentino 2017 is how this is listed. It comes from the south end of the Clare Valley, and is suitably nice and tightly wound. It sees ten months in what I believe is a ceramic egg after a three week maceration in open top fermenters. It’s richer than most Ligurian versions, but still fresh, and leaner than many Aussie whites. I do like this producer.
David Franz (Barossa, South Australia)
You may recall that David Franz is Barossa royalty, being the youngest son of Peter Lehmann. Long Gully Ancient Vine Semillon 2015 actually comes from the Barossa Hills rather than the Valley, and when they say ancient vines they are not lying. They are 130 years old. This is probably why this is so concentrated and poweful, yet loses neither fruit nor zing. This is Aussie Sem’ as we like it.
La Violetta (Great Southern Region, Western Australia)
I was persuaded to try this Up! 2014 and I’m glad I did. It’s a good old sweet fruited, savoury, Syrah but as with many wines from this region, it’s not over the top.
MALTBY & GREEK
Maltby & Greek is one of three specialist importers of Greek wines I shall cover here. They work out of the Apollo Business Park down behind London Bridge Station, around where you can find several other wine businesses (Dynamic, Gergovie, to mention just two). They actually claim to represent all the country’s main regions and grape varieties, and their range is unmatched. Add to this, the fact that there is a building impetus and buzz around Greek wines this year, and they are an importer on the up.
Domaine de Kalathas (Tinos, Greece)
There is no question about it, Kalathas is one of my favourite half-dozen Greek estates. They are based on the beautiful island of Tinos, which lies between Andros and Mikonos, to the southeast of Athens. Obéissance 2016 is an unusual blend of Aspro and Potamisi-Rozaki, which are usually considered table grapes. It’s a foot-trodden natural wine with 14% alcohol, and after the malo 20% of Rozaki, fermented later, was blended in. There is 8g/l of residual sugar, and the low acidity and high alcohol make it taste a touch off-dry. But it also has a sea-salt salinity which makes it a singular wine, even for £40-a-bottle.
Rouvalis Winery (Peloponnese, Greece)
Tsigelo 2017 is actually a varietal Mavrodaphne, but this grape is AOP for sweet wine (from Patras) and as this is dry, it can’t include the grape name on the label. That said, Tsigelo is actually the name of the best clone of Mavrodaphne. Antonio and Theodora have made a fantastic wine here, one of several favourites of the day. It’s part made in amphora (30% in 2017, next year they plan 50% as they were very happy with the amphora batch). It’s just a lovely blend of quite concentrated fruits and balanced with a bit of texture.
Alpha Estate (Greece)
Alpha Estate makes wines all over Greece, and can claim to be one of the country’s most famous quality producers. Two wines were on show, Xinomavro Rosé 2016 and Hedgehog 2013, the latter a Xinomavro with some age from the Amyndeon PDO. Maltby & Greek stock a wide range from Alpha Estate and with just the odd exception, they all retail around the £20 mark, and as such, provide a really good ratio of quality and price.
Nopera Winery (Samos, Greece)
Hardly new to me, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sip Nopera Sweet Muscat of Samos again. I didn’t catch the vintage as this was off-list, but last time I drank a 2013. It’s made from sun-dried Muscat grapes which reach 13.5% alcohol, but the wine still retains plenty of residual sugar, and indeed doesn’t lack acidity either. Nineteen months in French oak rounds it out. Honey and Bergamot spice notes dominate a rich palate of unctuous sweetness. More classy than most Samos Muscat I’ve tried.
I chose seven wines from Indigo, most being new vintages of wines I’ve tried before, with a couple of newcomers thrown in. The Indigo portfolio is as diverse as any I know, and, if you read my recent article, packed with vegan wines as well. But whether you are bothered about what’s in your wine or not, this is one of a handful of the best lists in London.
Bengoetxe (Basque Country, Spain)
Indigo’s Spanish offering might be their strongest suit, and they have included a Txacoli that is a bit more classy and dare I say, serious, than many around. Txacoli 2017 from Bengoetxe isn’t one of the more frivolous versions, and I can’t really see it being poured from a great height into a tumbler, so much as more gently, into a Zalto Universal. But saying that it does have that appley freshness you expect from the genre in a blend of Hondarrabi Zuri and Gros Manseng. It’s just more nicely rounded and less angular than the norm, which for many, buying this to drink in the UK rather than in a San Seb’ bar, is a plus.
Bodegas Ponce (Castile-La Mancha, Spain)
Ponce is one of the names of the moment in Spanish wine. Juan-Antonio Ponce is now in his mid-thirties and has been making biodynamic wines in this unfashionable part of Spain since 2005. Reto 2016 comes from Manchuela and is fresh and lovely, and a perfect intro to Juan-Antonio’s wines. It’s made from Albilla grapes from vines planted in the 1960s on chalky soil. Ageing is eight months in large, 600 litre, old oak. Really lovely, and a name to actively seek out.
Weingut Georg Breuer (Rudesheim, Rheingau, Gernmany)
One of my favourite German domaines, Jo from Indigo confided that Theresa Breuer’s Rauenthal Nonnenberg Riesling GG is one of her favourite German wines. She has good taste!. But as entry level wines go, Rudesheim Riesling 2016, the “village wine”, is a pretty good introduction to the wines of one of the most passionate winemakers I know. It has breadth and also definition, a classic Rhein wein, yet with its own personality. And for around £20-a-bottle.
Bio Weingut Birgit Braunstein (Burgenland, Austria)
Like her friend Heidi Schroeck in Rust, Birgit makes often under-appreciated biodynamic wines on the western side of the Neusiedlersee (Birgit is a little further north than Heidi). She makes a range of some breadth, including wines in amphora buried in her garden, but the new vintage of Rosé, 2016, is just gorgeously fruity. I can recall with clarity the first time I realised that Zweigelt makes really good rosé. This has some Blaufränkisch blended in as well, and should be in everyone’s garden this summer.
Delinquente Wine Company (Riverland, Australia)
Most people dismiss Riverland fruit, but I had a chat with Brad Hickey (of Brash Higgins) about it a while ago and was put right. There’s plenty of decent stuff growing there, it’s just about control, and using it right. In the case of Roxanne the Razor 2017 it’s Nero d’Avola with 25% Montepulciano giving lots of fruit and a little texture to make a simple, juicy, inexpensive, glugger made in stainless steel. And let’s face it, it has a great label.
Antoine Sunier (Beaujolais, France)
Morgon 2016…freshness, yes! Beaujolais 2016 is delivering. Antoine shows that 2016 Morgons are quite different to the 2015s from this Cru, although to be fair, I thought Antoine, and Julien, Sunier made some of the best wines from that hot vintage.
Fossil Valle de Capucha (Lisbon, Portugal)
The Fossil name comes from the terroir in the Torres Vedras appellation near Lisbon, where the soils are limestone and Kimmeridgian clay rich in marine deposits (not dissimilar to Chablis), and the heat you might expect here is tempered by breezes off the Atlantic.
I’ve met Pedro Marques a couple of times and he always seems somewhat taciturn, but his wines are nice. I worry in the past that his lack of warmth has led me to under-praise his wines, so I thought I’d put that right. He makes a very good Branco, but Indigo had the red Fossil Valle de Capucha 2015 on taste yesterday. The blend comprises 60% Touriga Nacional with 30% Tinta Roriz and 10% Syrah. Fermentation is in concrete and ageing in old oak. Smokey and mineral, it’s a very nice lighter to medium-bodied red for cold meats etc.
Champagne Dehours (Champagne, France)
I’m sorry to say that I only tasted two wines here, towards the end of the day. Both are excellent Champagnes, though. Champagne Dehours Extra Brut Rosé “Cuvée Oeil de Perdrix” NV (disgorged July 2017) has the faintest hint of partridge eye colour to it. Zero dosage with extended lees ageing, Pinot Meunier dominates a blend (with Chardonnay) which has bright red fruits and, as Peter Liem says about all Jérome Dehours’ wines, clarity and expression. I would add elegance and presence.
I’ve never tried this Dehours cuvée before, nor seen it on their web site, but here we have it, at H2Vin. The fruit is from the Marne Valley around the village of Cerseuil. It’s a lovely wine, and perhaps not as difficult to find as his single vineyard bottlings. Again I will quote Peter Liem: ” If you do [find them], you should buy them without hesitation”.
Larmandier-Bernier (Champagne, France)
Larmandier-Bernier Non-Dosé 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs “Terre de Vertus” is the first Champagne from this house I ever bought, many years ago now. It was in fact part of my introduction, along with Pierre Péters and Egly-Ouriet, into the world of Grower Champagne. Most of their vines are in the northern half of the Cote des Blancs, but this singular cuvée comes from just north of the small town of Vertus at the southern end of the Cote. It’s very pure-flavoured Chardonnay grown on chalk with little topsoil, and yet again, it is a wine of real presence (in fact, more so than the Dehours above). A true classic of the region.
SOUTHERN WINE ROADS
This importer of organic Greek wines is based in Orpington, Kent. They didn’t have a list of the wines on taste, just a blank page in the brochure, so I had to taste the wines that a young assistant suggested whilst her boss was busy at the other end of the table.
I tried two wines from Glinavos Estate. Lefteris Brut 2012 is from Epirus, bottle fermented, made from the Debina of Zitska grape variety. It is quite broad, frothy, with apple and pear plus a bit of creaminess (18 months on lees). I think it’s good value at £22.50. Glinavos Traminer 2014 is an off-dry Gewurztraminer, 12% abv (50cl) also from Epirus. Aromatic with ginger, orange and pineapple, this was interesting, and nicely packaged.
I won’t argue these were my favourite Greek wines of the day, but they were interesting enough to make me think Southern Wine Roads has a good portfolio, which circumstances on the table towards the end of the afternoon (it didn’t help that I had to find a clean glass) meant I didn’t get to sample in greater depth.
Alpine Wines has long since expanded its range of wines from just Switzerland, but they must be the first stop when looking for Swiss wines in the UK. And it would be true to say that if you are never looking for Swiss wines, then you are missing out. What puts people off Swiss wines is that they are never cheap, but I suggest you blame our economy and currency rather than the Swiss producers, who are not only notoriously generous, but equally, are rarely as rich as the Burgundians and Bordelais…because vine holdings in Switzerland are often tiny.
I sampled five Swiss wines and a couple of Austrian wines here. We’ll go first with the Swiss.
Domaine de Montmollin (Auvernier, Neuchâtel, Switzerland)
If Swiss wines are rare, it is even rarer to see wines from this northern Canton. Oeil de Perdrix 2016 is now seen as the classic regional style, so much so that producers elsewhere in Switzerland can no longer label their ultra-pale pinks “Oeil de Perdrix”, to the annoyance of many. Nowadays, £16-£17 for a rosé doesn’t actually seem too bad, does it? This is scented, light, Pinot Noir from free-run juice.
Very nice, but it was nevertheless surpassed by another wine from the domaine, Auvernier Non-Filtré 2017. This is 100% Chasselas. Now we’ve begun to see very classy Chasselas from Dominique Lucas on the French side of Lac Léman, and a few readers will know how good some of the wines from Lavaux’s steep terraces can be. This Neuchâtel version is stunningly good, for one of Europe’s most maligned varieties. Packed with flavour, it has a slight prickle on the tongue and finishes with a slight herby bitterness which adds a savoury quality. Ben at Alpine says this is the wine that turned him on to the variety. Again, at just under £20, who says Swiss wines are really expensive. I think everyone else just caught up.
Domaine Jean-René Germanier (Valais, Switzerland)
This winery in another of Switzerland’s most beautiful wine regions is now run by Jean-René and his nephew, Gilles Besse. It is among the region’s most highly regarded producers, making the whole range of the valley’s signature wines, from Dole to Cornalin.
The two wines tasted yesterday were Petite Arvine 2016 and Cayas Syrah Barrique 2015, both of which I’ve bought in Switzerland. Both are expensive, the Syrah around £60 now, and the Petite Arvine over £30, so it was nice to have a taste. The Petite Arvine is one of the best examples you’ll find available in commercial quantities of what is my favourite Valais white variety. Simply delicious, citrus and saline, with a creamy edge from partial malo.
I don’t normally go for Syrah soaked in oak, but there are one or two Valais versions I’m quite taken with. The oak sweetens the fruit here, and adds a touch of class. But I’m going to recommend the white, not least because it is a wonderful indigenous variety which deserves wider acclaim.
Cave La Cote (Vaud, Switzerland)
This is a large co-operative from the stretch of Lake Geneva’s northern shore between Geneva and Lausanne. Doral “Expression” 2016 is a varietal-named wine from a 1970 cross between Chasselas and Chardonnay, and oddly it almost tastes a little like a blend between the two. In fact, just a bit like Chardonnay with an unusual amount of acidity. It’s simple, but not lean. It’s just another example of the interesting stuff going on in Switzerland, even at a relatively commercial level. In creating a Chasselas with Chardonnay-like aromatics, it is quite successful. I wish it was closer to £15 than £20, but there you go.
Anton and Elfriede Waldschütz (Sachsendorf, Wagram, Austria)
This couple make reasonably inexpensive classic wines from Wagram and Kamptal fruit. Their son, Ralph, is slowly taking over and the wines are very good value. Riesling Classic 2017 has fruit and a mineral finish. Alpine describe it as “a lesson in crisp Riesling”. Here we are looking at just under £15, but the Reserve version is only £18. Sadly there was none of the Frühroter Veltliner which Alpine stock on taste. I must remember that one!
Stift Klosterneuberg (Vienna, Austria)
If you wander up above the vines of Vienna’s Nußberg and look north, away from the city, the large abbey that dominates the skyline is this one. There are a host of fine winemaking abbeys in Austria but these guys have been doing it longer than most. “Winemaking for 900 years”, they claim. The town of Klosterneuberg is also home to the Austrian Federal College of Viticulture, and the abbey wines are well respected.
All the white grapes here are grown in the vicinity of the abbey itself, but their red grapes are grown at Tattendorf, in Thermenregion. You won’t get bags of complexity for your twenty quid with the Raeflerjoch Pinot Noir 2011, but you do get a smooth, super-fruity Pinot with a bit of bottle age. This is another Austrian producer with a good selection of the less often seen grape varieties. Ripe for plunder.
Totally new to me, 266 grew out of The Sampler’s increased activities in importing their own wines. They aim to specialise in France, with depth in Champagne, along with some “pioneering” Californian, German and Spanish wineries.
Charles Dufour (Champagne, France)
Dufour established his domaine with around 6 hectares at Landreville in the Aube when his father died and the original family domaine was split amongst the wider family. He also has vines at Celles-sur-Ource and Essoyes. Bulles de Comptoir #6 “La Benjamine” (each numbered edition is given a name) is the non-vintage mainstay of Charles’ production.
It has at least a third Pinot Blanc, along with Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, which makes it fairly unusual. Perhaps this is why it has quite forward fruit, and is probably not a wine for cellaring, yet it tastes just brilliant. A singular example of new directions in the region, combining sheer drinkability with high quality. Michiel Demarey at Champagnist.com calls Dufour “the Selosse of the Aube”, but don’t take that to imply an overtly oxidative style. At around £40 it’s silly not to, as they say, though sometimes I wish I kept my mouth shut.
Domaine des Enfants (Rousillon, France)
This Maury-based estate owns 23 hectares, which are all worked by horse and hand. Tabla Rasa 2016 blends four local varieties, Grenaches Blanc and Gris, Macabeo and Carignan Blanc, with tiny yields averaging just 9 hl/ha. The varieties are fermented and aged in wood of varying sizes for 12 months to produce a rich and complex white to rival the more trendy South Africans.
France Gonzalvez (Beaujolais, France)
France makes delicious Bojo, and I will admit that I’ve not bought any for a while. Cote de Brouilly 2016 has the indicative freshness of the vintage, well, compared to 2015. It is unusual in that France Gonzalves often gets along badly with the authorities and has to label much of her production as “Vin de France”, which with a name like her’s is no hardship. Maybe that’s why the moustachioed men in suits and berets relented here. Whatever the reason, its a delicious wine. Made in innox, with less carbonic maceration than usual, so giving a bit of structure, and no added sulphur. Simple.
Binet Jacquet (Faugères, France)
This domaine was founded in 1999, with vines on the schistous part of the appellation, with very thin topsoils. Faugères Réserve 2015 is a very impressive biodynamic wine, a mix of 60% Carignan with 30% Mourvèdre, along with a little Syrah and Grenache. The grapes are fermented gently in different types of vessel, including old oak, concrete tank and egg. It is deliciously fruity for a Languedoc red, but it also has that texture and slight smokiness you can get in wines off slate, which also gives a certain steeliness in the core of the wine.
This is another importer of exciting Greek wines, giving adventurous wine explorers no excuse not to start discovering the wines of this mysterious Mediterranean country. Although Maltby & Greek claim they have the best Greek list in the UK, the Eclectic Wines portfolio does have a host of top names, Hatzidakis and Thymiopoulos to name two.
Domaine Hatzidakis (Santorini etc, Greece)
Although Hatzidakis is primarily known for its brilliant range of Santorini Assyrtiko, it makes equally exciting wines in other Greek regions. However, the red wine, Mavrotragano 2014, comes from Santorini itself, although the grapes also include bought-in fruit as this variety is so rare on the island. The grapes see a seven day extraction, 18 months in oak and then six months in stainless steel. The 2014 was actually released after the 2015 as it was felt it needed longer. It has smoky dark fruit and chocolate/coffee notes, and currently has some ripe tannic structure. I would guess it is serious enough to age for a decade, but will drink sooner with decanting.
Thymiopoulos Vineyards (Trilofos, Naoussa, Greece)
One of the most interesting estates in Greece because they make some wines of real quality along with what is arguably the best value Greek wine in the UK.
Thymiopoulos ATMA White 2017 comes from Macedonian fruit, a blend between Xinomavro (as a blanc de noirs) and Malagousia. It has stone fruit flavours and is simple but very refreshing.
Jeunes Vignes 2016 is a Naoussa red from pure Xinomavro, and it is that great value wine I mentioned above. Simple, sappy and juicy fruit with a smooth but mildly structured finish. It’s just £12 to £13 a bottle, and along with a handful of similarly priced Austrians, it makes the perfect wine to take to dinner or lunch with not especially wine obsessed friends. Something different that won’t frighten anyone.
Domaine Skouros (Nemea, Peloponnese, Greece)
The signature grape of Nemea is Agiorgitiko, otherwise translated as Saint-George, and that is how this wine is labelled, Nemea St-George 2014. I think Nemea has always been my favourite red wine region in Greece, perhaps as it’s one of the few I’ve visited. The wines are often not very complex, but this, like the best, has a bit of body and spice. It’s basically a tasty fresh red wine.
Semeli (Nemea, Peloponnese, Greece)
The second Agiorgitiko here is Semeli Nemea Reserve 2012. It’s a bit more serious, having 18 months in French oak followed by 30 months ageing in bottle before release. Although it is fairly tannic, the bottle age has added some complexity already. I’d still age it further, though. An impressive red.
Tetramythos (Peloponnese, Greece)
Eclectic Wines do sell an Agiorgitiko from Tetramythos, but I finished here with a rather special version of that bane of many a teenager’s stomach, Retsina.
Actually, I drank some Ouzo with Greek friends last weekend, but I didn’t drink a whole bottle, and it was well chilled with ice. The same friends gave me a really nice Mastic liqueur once too. Maybe as you get older you can appreciate these drinks more, without excess.
Tetramythos Retsina Nature 2017 is a wholly different beast. For a start, it is totally an artisan product. Roditis grapes grown at 800 metres altitude are hand harvested and fermented in clay amphora. The pine resin is collected by hand from the pine forest which surrounds the vineyard. There is no sulphur added to the wine at any stage. The resinous notes just don’t dominate the bouquet as they usually do. The wine is textured and quite soft. It hardly seems like Retsina, but as you savour it, the resin begins to come through…just a little. Remarkable.