It seems a long time ago, August, days of thirty-degree plus temperatures, three meals a day taken out in the garden, and hardly a serious red wine drunk. Nothing here will be anything more than light red, although the Blank Bottle Winery pair from Butler’s only get left out because I’ve written about them so recently in another article (a gorgeous Tempranillo blend and Pinot Blanc, exclusive to Butler’s Wine Cellar in Brighton, from Pieter Walser).
Other regular favourites also get missed, such as Tillingham Wines‘ PN17. I still have a couple of these from a half dozen I pulled together from different sources and it’s still going strong. Finally, summer would not be summer without some Bagnums of Beaujolais-Villages from Du Grappin. The Nielsens’ wonderful summer glugger provided plenty of lightly chilled glasses whilst standing over a hot stove, or listening out for the frogs in the pond as the sun went down.
The following ten wines are my pared-down best of the best for what was a wonderful month of weather and wine. If the first four are Austrian, I make no apology for that. I was doing some research for my trip in the middle of last month.
Wiener Gemischter Satz Nussberg Reserve 2012, Rotes Haus, Vienna – This truly was research because within a couple of weeks of drinking this I’d spent a day and a half walking in these beautiful vineyards, which afford such amazing views of the Austrian Capital. I had bought this bottle on a previous trip to Vienna back in 2013, at the Heuriger, Mayer am Pfarrplatz, to which we returned one very sunny day this August to quaff Himbeer Sturm after a very long day walking (and drinking wine) among the woods and the vines.
Gemischter Satz can come from anywhere in Austria, but the DAC of Wiener Gemischter Satz, although available in a lighter form, can be built for ageing when from the best vineyard sites. This wine, comes in at 13.5% abv, and is such a wine, although I’m not sure it has the ability to age a long as, for example, Wieninger’s top Gemischter Satz wines can.
The blend here includes Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Blanc, Welschriesling and assorted Traminers, a field blend which in the Gemischter Satz tradition is co-fermented. It has a medium body, a hint of appley freshness still, and quite a bit of herbs and spice, with a touch of texture manifesting itself as a pleasant dryness. Definitely a food wine and quite versatile. It’s always a pleasure to drink a Wiener Gemischter Satz, and I think I’ll be drinking more of this blend from other producers in the coming weeks.
Rakete 2017, Austrian Landwein, Jutta Ambrositsch, Vienna – This is one of my discoveries of 2018. I’ve loved the wines of possibly Vienna’s smallest artisan winemaker since Newcomer Wines began importing them a number of years ago. I first tasted this at the Newcomer Wines portfolio event at the RIBA earlier in the year, but this was my first complete bottle.
It’s a roter gemischter satz, but released as a Landwein. The blend is Zweigelt, St-Laurent, Merlot, some assorted white varieties from Kahlenberg in Vienna’s 19th District and Blauburger. The latter variety is a hybrid of Blauer Portugieser and Blaufränkisch. Its lack of eligibility for the DAC presumably comes from its colour (the DAC is as far as I’m aware for white wines only), but including a hybrid variety may be an additional hurdle. I’m not sure we should care.
The cuvée saw a four-day whole cluster maceration, and it was aged and bottled on fine lees. Consequently, although this is a pale, glowing, red wine it is absolutely bursting with flavours of cranberry, raspberry and strawberry, with a touch of spice. Invert the bottle to distribute the lees for maximum intensity, and serve lightly chilled.
Puszta Libre! , Rottwein, Claus Preisinger, Gols – Another wine without an appellation, and another red wine I’d suggest serving slightly chilled. This is more purple in colour than Jutta’s Rakete, but it has the same low alcohol (11.5%), and lightness. It’s a blend of Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch based on a wine style Claus’ grandfather used to make from the northern shore of the Neusiedlersee in Burgenland. The bottle is based on an old soda bottle design, which presumably nods towards how Claus thinks you should consume this.
Carbonic intra-cellular fermentation gives it the flavour of zippy macerated raspberries and cherries. It is simple, for sure, but the epitome of glouglou, and one of my reds of the summer yet again. I’d go as far as saying that this 2017 bottling is the best yet. Brilliant, pleasurable, glugging.
Schilcher Frizzante , Strohmeier, Weststeiermark – Franz and Christine Strohmeier were natural wine pioneers in a region which has become synonymous with the birth of this movement in Austria. They make a range of lovely wines from their ten hectares, but they’ve become particularly well known for the regional speciality, Schilcher.
Schilcher is made from the rare Blauer Wildbacher grape variety, which is so important to Western Styria that it occupies around three fifths of the area under vine in the region. Schilcher can be a still wine, or Sekt. It is a pale red/rosé with searing acidity and great (usually raspberry with cherry) fruit intensity.
This frizzante version sits between the two styles. Bottled in February 2018, the fruits are fresh but show macerated flavours, with a bitter finish. The acidity slakes the thirst in the heat, and it has (for me) a passing resemblance to Belgian Kriek beer. This is a wine surely for the adventurous.
Stephen Brook in his Wines of Austria book (Infinite Ideas Ltd, 2016) is mildly dismissive (“very popular within Austria, though it finds few takers outside the country”), but Newcomer Wines has brought this in and the more open-minded crowd who shop there, eager for new flavours, appear to have taken to it. I can certainly vouch for its popularity back in Austria. Serve it chilled.
L’Uva Arbosiana 2015, Domaine de la Tournelle, Arbois – This is the first wine I ever tried from one of my favourite Jura producers. I remember heading to Antidote Wine Bar off Carnaby Street when I heard that they sold it (the Clairets of La Tournelle are partners in Antidote).
You’ll notice this is a little old for a fruity pale red. It’s my last bottle and I had been saving it up for this summer, not having had the chance to visit the domaine when in Arbois last year because Evelyne and Pascal were on holiday.
It looked a little more bronze than its usual vibrant pale red, and it probably did need drinking, but the bouquet had even more than usual of that haunting Poulsard aroma, a sort of autumn leafiness. The fruit has a gentle savoury quality. Whilst the vivacity and freshness this wine usually exhibits has almost passed away, it’s still delicious. As a side note, this wine can often be reductive, and generally I always reach for a carafe from experience. I didn’t do so with this older bottle, due to its potential fragility, and frankly it didn’t need it. No added sulphur, 12% abv.
I pray I can stock up with more of this next year.
Savagnin Vin des Allobroges IGP 2016, Les Vignes de Paradis, Savoie – If Belluard remains my favourite Savoie estate, Dominique Lucas’ domaine south of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) is coming up fast, despite all the other contenders (by coincidence both producers share the same first name). Dominique makes some very lovely wines from two-or-three hectares in the hills above the Côte d’Or in Burgundy, but his Savoie wines are gaining a very big reputation.
Savagnin is, of course, much better known in the Jura region, over the mountains to the north of the lake. Dominique has nearly 8 ha vines in an area once almost completely known for inexpressive Chasselas (in AOCs like Marin, Ripaille and Crépy), but even the Chasselas at this address is wonderful.
Whether it is the terroir or not, away from the marnes of its native region, the Savagnin here is almost sweet fruited with a touch of richness, and nowhere like the nuttiness that Jura-grown Savagnin shows. Whereas the norm for the lakeside wines from most other producers is, at best, refreshing acidity and simple dry flavours, there seems to be genuine complexity forming in this low yield tiny cuvée (just 3,300 bottles made). Find one if you can, it truly hits the spot. All the wines I’ve tried from this source have been exquisite. Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.
Pétillant Naturel Vin de France , Famille de Conti, Bergerac – The de Conti family has, as long as I can remember, been the foremost producer of quality Bergerac. I remember in the early days buying several of their well priced bottles from Les Caves de Pyrene. I doubt I’ve drunk one for maybe two decades.
This petnat looks like something different. A jazzed-up label adorns a méthode ancestrale fizz, blending 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Chenin Blanc off the soft sandstone soils of Agen, the land of prunes. It’s a new venture for the family, and judging by all the social media coverage I’ve seen, a very successful one.
This is a completely natural wine, including no added sulphur. Lightly crushed fruit was partially fermented in tank and then put into bottle in September 2017 with the lees. The bouquet is of apples and pears, the bubbles are tiny, and the whole wine is quite tight and focused. Flavoursome and delightful would describe it well.
As with most of these wines today, it’s fair to say that they are not wines for winter, although on a sunny day I’m not so sure. But even if you don’t grab some to see you through our late ending summer (I’m still looking out on blue skies here and we had lunch in the garden), be prepared for the next one.
Sylvaner 2016, Domaine Gérard Schueller, Alsace – Bruno Schueller has become one of the cult names in Alsace. He farms not in the trendy north of the region, but at Husseren-les-Châteaux, to the south of Colmar (ten hectares in all, around Husseren with additional vines in nearby Eguisheim’s two Grand Crus), so often a bastion of conservative winemaking. Like many of the region’s finest vignerons, Bruno has the sort of rebellious nature that means his wines (including an amazing wild Pinot Noir) don’t always get AOP approval, not that he cares.
There is no doubt that Sylvaner is making a comeback in Alsace (and, as Silvaner, in Germany), a comeback that begins with a very poor reputation for thin and acidic, highly cropped, vines. This skin contact wine is something altogether different. Watch out though, it comes in with 15% alcohol, although I’d challenge anyone to nail that fact without seeing the label. It’s rich, not especially acidic at all, and it has smooth texture and depth.
One wonders how many better Sylvaners you might find in Alsace? Genius winemaking. I found this at Verre Volé in Paris (the Canal St-Martin branch).
Tibouren 2014, Côtes de Provence Cru Classé, Clos Cibonne – In some respects this estate reminds me of Château Simone in Palette, another wonderful Provençal pink that ages magnificently and is wholly outside the norm of the region’s many insipid rosé wines. It, as indeed the wine, has a certain old fashioned quality. The estate dates from the 17th Century, and it sits in the hills of the Maures massif, near Pradet, above Toulon.
The grape variety, Tibouren, may sound obscure, but some will know it as Rossese, the red variety of Western Liguria, just along the coast into Italy. André Roux is at the helm, and keeps the wines here very traditional. This pink, from magnum, has an almost orange tinge to it, very delicate. The nose, by contrast, is richly scented and deep. You would not believe just how fresh this 2014 is, enhanced no doubt by the larger format, but still! You also get the kind of complexity not usually found in pink wines from Southern France, and indeed, the sort of complexity you would find in maybe just a dozen or so rosé wines throughout the world.
Simone, Tondonia, Musar…I’d place this Tibouren in the same list of serious rosé wines, with the added benefit that this is nowhere near as sought after and is not usually difficult to get hold of, though the vintage will have changed. Imported by Red Squirrel.
Champagne Bruno Paillard Première Cuvée MV Extra Brut, Champagne – Last but by no means least here is a wine which on the face of it might appear to be less unusual than the rest of this list. But what is unusual in this case is how taken aback I was by how good it is.
I remember when Bruno Paillard, who from a long line of Champagne brokers began in the same broking role in 1975, set up his own Grande Marque in 1981. In the 1990s the House began investing in its own vineyards, and today has a little under 30 hectares, producing around half-a-million bottles per vintage. I recall the first wines from Paillard, imported for a short while by Yapp Brothers, creating quite a stir at the time. It’s fair to say that my long journey with Champagne has since then taken me in a different direction, towards the artisans, the Growers.
Nevertheless, I’ve been more than aware of the rise of the man himself, with his several chairmanships and CEO positions, and of course his great commitment to, and work for, the Champagne region as a whole.
Première Cuvée is a low dosage, multi-vintage blend from 35 individual crus. It is made only from fruit of the first pressing, 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay and 22% Pinot Meunier, 20% being barrel-fermented. What is interesting is that the reserve wines added in are from no less than 25 vintages, back to 1985, and these reserves make up close to 50% of the final blend.
Ageing involved three years on lees for this release, a disgorgement of June 2017 with a further five months in bottle before shipping. I’m not sure of the exact dosage, Extra Brut denoting less than 6g/l (but it seems drier than that). The bouquet is very fresh, yet there’s a really nice touch of complexity which comes through. If Chardonnay notes appear to dominate the nose to a degree, then the red fruits of the Pinots come through on the palate – the palate begins with citrus fruit, but then builds to a lovely brioche or arrowroot biscuit before red fruits, like redcurrant, appear.
Overall, there’s lots of focus, and a whole lot going on here. I was genuinely impressed by a wine I was given as a “try this”. I’m grateful for having had the chance to discover it. I’m sure I’ve not tried a “NV” as interesting or as good as this all year, and I was even more surprised to find that it retails for (I think) around £40.
I’m always slightly jealous of all the Austrians you taste. Vey interesting, but never seem to find the time myself to really get into them. On the neverending wish list I suppose :).
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It’s fair to say that my love for what one might call “the new Austria” grows monthly, though I really ought not lose touch with the Wachau classics that sit in my Cellar.
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