Back in the 1990s I discovered a wine merchant who appeared to sell all the weird and wonderful wines I’d come to love over the previous decade. I’d just had a few trips to Aosta, and I couldn’t believe I could get some of that region’s best wines in the UK. Other producers from Marcillac, Irouléguy, obscure (at that time) Loire producers, Palari in Sicily, Roussillon and some of the new Australians I’d read about were on this enormous wine list, full of wonderful wines and wonderfully crazy philosophising.
In those days these wines were less easy to find in wine shops. The proliferation of the classy independents we all visit these days had hardly begun. But these guys did have a warehouse, open to the public, at the quaintly named Pew Corner in Artington, on the edge of Guildford. I tried to get up there a couple of times a year to fill my boot.
That was twenty years ago, and Les Caves de Pyrene was unbelievably almost a decade old already. In the following double-decade which has taken them to their 30th year, they have developed so much. Back in the day, natural wine was hardly a thing, except in a string of bars in Paris where the wines tasted pretty odd, but equally pretty exciting for adventurous types like me. Now many (well, all but the most conservative wine lover) would see the movement as almost mainstream, and wines distributed by Les Caves (as they are generally known among fans) can be found in any town or city that has a thriving wine culture.
The theme of this 30th Anniversary Tasting at the Hellenic Centre in Marylebone, London, on 18 September 2018, was Restyling Wine. The title refers to the division here of wines into sixteen categories which ignore the more commonly used delineations of country or grape variety. Those categories are Light, Crunch, Riesling vs Chenin, Sea and Sand, Elevation, Limestone, Volcano, Garrigue, Old Vines, Orange/Skin, Pots and Eggs, Pet Bubbles, O2/Flor, Indigenous, Juice and Juicier and Decanter (with some wines in keg at the end).
These categories might seem a little random, but it was fun to look at the wines in this way. Yet the title might equally aptly refer to Les Caves themselves. They have been restyling wine for the past thirty years. I would argue that there is no UK importer/distributor which has had such a profound effect on how and what we drink in the UK. Okay, I’m going to have to justify a statement like that.
We have plenty of wine merchants who have made the finest wines of Bordeaux available to us, or who have promoted the vignerons of Burgundy. But Les Caves are responsible for the widening of the world of wine. Not all that many of us drink Mauzac Noir or Vermont wines, Vin Blanc de Morgex or Vitovska. But what was once a bunch of geeks (like me) has become a crowd of often younger wine lovers to whom trying such a wine is just no big deal any more. In the process wine snobbery has been dealt a blow. If it’s good, drink it.
Secondly, Les Caves has, in importing natural wines in such numbers, provided the bottles for those new wine bars and small independents to sell. The idea of a Bar à Manger/Bar à Vins, which started in Paris, spread to London in the new millennium, bars serving simple food and natural wines, drunk socially in a sort of alternative to the traditional pub, with a wine shop section for take aways. It’s amazing just how many of these bars sell Les Caves’ wines.
Finally, you will point out that the UK is now awash with small, and not so small, exciting wine merchants bringing in astonishing wines from around the world. They range from the tiny specialists like Basket Press Wines (Moravian wine) and Otros Vinos (exciting new Spain), to the not so small now, like Red Squirrel and Indigo (who have developed a nearly all-vegan list). But I’d argue that the success of Les Caves is what has opened the door for others to follow. They have created the market and created the oxygen for their own competition.
One hundred and seventy-four wines were on show yesterday. I certainly wasn’t able to try them all, especially as I felt restrained from asking too many people to move from the table once their glass had been primed (pet hate = the table hogger), but I did try around a hundred, and I plan to mention seventy or so here. My theory is you’d rather hear a little bit about all the exciting stuff I loved rather than a lengthy spiel about a smaller number. It saves me the impossible task of culling them back further. I shall follow the same categories as Les Caves.
Just one word of warning – this article is long, over 5,800 words. I promise that all the wines mentioned deserve their place. I couldn’t leave any more out than I have. It would have been more than rude. Maybe eat this in two sittings, but do try to chew it over. I don’t usually ask, but there are some real crackers here.
A broad category, but one where we’d expect true glouglou to reign. Of the eleven wines on this table you cannot go wrong if you choose the refreshing citrus and grapefruit flavours of Partida Creus Vinel.lo Blanco 2017 from just outside Bonastre, in the hills above Tarragona. Absolutely anything made by Massimo Marchiori and Antonella Gerona, former architects from Italy turned genius winemakers in Catalonia, is superb. Vinel.lo is a fresh wine of 10.5% alcohol, made from Grenache Blanc, Sumoll and Trepat among several varieties, and is perhaps the easiest Partida Creus wine to source.
Pol Opuesto, Criolla Que Grande SOS 2016 comes from Mendoza, Argentina, and is a simple but extremely sappy rosé from Pol Andsnes, from vines in Tupungato. This Criolla/Criollo is macerated for 40 days and tastes like wondefully sour grape juice. I’ve no other way of describing it.
Hughes-Béguet Ploussard Côte de Feule 2017 is a wine from possibly the finest vineyard site in Pupillin, just outside Arbois, and from one of my very favourite Jura growers. Freshness combines with a bitter finish and a lick of tannin and Ploussard texture. Red fruits like cranberry and redcurrant dominate. And the updated labels are lovely.
Sepp Muster Sauvignon Blank “Vom Opok” 2016 hails from one of my two favourite producers in Styria, the Austrian region which has embraced natural wine like few others. This wine speaks from its terroir (opok is limestone-rich clay, particular to the region), and is more complex than many Sauvignons. Very mineral with a touch more richness than you might expect…but the overall experience is of the terroir.
I also need to mention that they placed Ben Walgate’s Tillingham Wines Artego 2017 here, but I’ve written about it so recently that I won’t repeat myself (you can search for the Tillingham Wines Tasting at Plateau Brighton, article posted 12 September 2018).
I didn’t get this category until I tasted the wines, when the idea of really crunchy fruit came through. Smashable stuff, all truly exquisite in their own way, all so, so alive. Domaine Belluard Savoie-Ayze “Les Alpes” 2916 is the perfect place to begin. One of my two favourite Savoie producers, with Dominique Belluard’s classic autochthonous varietal wine, made from Gringet. Who knew that this variety could make such a classy wine? Complex, slightly bitter and mineral with just enough plumpness to make it more than attractive.
Les Vignes de Paradis Chasselas “Face Au Lac” 2016 hails from my other favourite Savoie producer, Dominique Lucas, whose on-form Savagnin featured in my last article on August’s “Recent Wines” (17 September). The “Lac” in question is, of course Lac Léman (Lake Geneva to some), and it’s fair to say that this wine and its producer are a shining beacon of excellence on a sea of mediocrity, as far as the southern (French) shore goes. Weighty fruit and massive presence, genuine class.
The first of the wines from Kelley Fox, Kelley Fox Freedom Hill Pinot Blanc, Dundee Hills 2017 shows what all the fuss is about. Kelley was influenced very much by Oregon pioneer David Lett (Eyrie Vineyards) and left her biochemistry doctorate programme for winemaking, founding her eponymous winery in 2007. This is just so fruity, but the fruit is, yes, crunchy. There’s restraint, but only just, creating tension within the wine, despite its simplicity. A wonderful combo.
Bow & Arrow Air Guitar Red 2016 is another Oregon wine. I met Scott Frank a year or so ago, and somewhere on my site is a photo of him playing air guitar with a wine bottle and, I believe, wearing a Judas Priest t-shirt. It just sums him up. This is a “cabernet” (60% Cab Sauvignon and 40% Cab Franc), cool climate Willamette Valley fruit blended with Cabernet Franc from the Borgo Pass in the Coastal Range. You get just 12% alcohol, perfect for the crunchy Franc fruit to come through. Really good!
Momento Mori “The Incline” 2017 is a high acid, textured, Syrah grown by the Chalmers family in a part of Heathcote (Victoria) known locally as the Mount Camel Ranges. This is a light wine, but it’s an old vine cuvée as well, which gives it an extra dimension. A natural wine, it seems incredibly vibrant.
RIESLING Vs CHENIN
We begin here with two from Alsace. Whilst the first producer gets a lot of attention, the second is, in my opinion equally good. Take note. Domaine Pierre Frick Riesling Bihl 2016 comes from Pfaffenheim, a village south of Eguisheim and Colmar in the heart of the Alsace vignoble. Jean-Pierre, Chantal and Thomas Frick produce wines of great purity and precision, but it’s not all steel, there’s bags of fruit to balance things.
Domaine Binner Riesling Schlossberg 2014 comes from one of Ammerschwihr’s finest Grand Cru sites, granite overlain with silt on a steep slope. The vines are around 40 years of age, and the grapes see eleven months on lees in large old oak. This is an altogether bigger wine, befitting its site, and has the complexity of greater age (and I really have a thing for the 2014 vintage in Alsace). At 13% abv it’s powerful, but so well judged.
Ovum Riesling “Off the Grid” 2016 is yet another Oregon wine. It grabbed me by being quite different. It comes from 1,500 feet altitude in the Rogue Valley AVA (never heard of it!), off alluvial clay. Just under 300 cases were made. It clocks in at 13% (on the label), and is weighty, fruity and quite rich, but very delicious.
I’m a massive fan of Nicolas Carmarans‘ wines, and of the Aveyron where he makes them. It’s a rural backwater anyone with a passion for La France Profonde should make a point of visiting one day. Nicolas ran the Café de la Nouvelle Marie, one of the first natural wine bars in Paris. He left to make wine near Marcillac, but he releases his wines as IGP Aveyron. Selves Blanc 2016 is made off granite from mainly old vine Chenin grown in a cool river valley on the River Selves. Very dry, one tasting note I read once said “crushed sea shells” (quite apt). Expect good acids, and a chalky finish. Nicolas is possibly best known for his reds, yet this white is a star.
Testalonga El Bandito “Cortez” 2017 probably needs no introduction here, such is the fame of Craig and Carla Hawkins’ Swartland classic. This is quite magnificent, one of South Africa’s finest Chenin Blancs. I probably don’t need to say more, but this has just 12.5% alcohol, and such palate-blowing freshness.
SEA & SAND
Pedro Marques has revitalised the once moribund wine region closest to Portugal’s capital city. Vale da Capucha Vinho Branco 2016, Lisboa blends Arinto, Gouveio and Fernão Pires into a wine which is fresh and light, but where the interest lies in a twist of salinity, nuttiness, and a racy character provided by the understated acids.
Zidarich Carso Vitovska 2015 is just one of the regional specialities Benjamin Zidarich fashions from unique iron-rich red loam on a limestone base at around 300 metres altitude atop the hill looking over Trieste, in the south of Friuli. Even the bouquet here has texture, before you get to actually taste the wine. The nose is lifted and bright, and the palate is mellow and complex…and textured, obviously.
Sclavos, Efranor White, Kefalonia 2016 is certainly an unusual wine, but I really liked it. I genuinely think Greek wine is making a comeback and from things I can see going on around the trade, I think 2019 will be a good year for Greece. This wine also has a bright and lifted nose, but the palate here, which is the slightly unusual side of the wine, is all pear and quince. Not what I’d expect from mainly Moscadello/Muscat (with a touch of local variety, Vostilidi, apparently).
Marco de Bartoli Grillo Vigna Verde, Sicily is classic Western Sicilian white wine, dry and lemony (like a Muscadet), yet also with hints of peach and apricot. I think we are just lucky that Marco’s legacy is being carried on with such commitment by his children. This always was a lovely “atypically typical” fresh Sicilian white.
Domaine de Botheland Beaujolais-Villages Blanc 2016 shows the freshness of the 2016 vintage which retains just a touch of the gras of 2015. It really shows why we should (and will) be paying more attention to Chardonnay from the Beaujolais. With 12% alcohol this is quite light, but so fresh as well. Rémi Dufaitre is making wonderful Gamay wines around Brouilly, and this white complements them perfectly.
Comando G “Las Rozas” 1er Cru, Sierra de Gredos 2016 is a stunner, a step up from the entry level “La Bruja de Rozas” at this estate. The original Three Musketeers of modern artisan winemaking in this region near Madrid are the guys behind Comando G – Daniel Landi, Fernando Garcia and Marc Isart. The wines are something else. This one, pure Grenache, like all their production, relies on very old vines (some over 80 years old). It is tannic, but very mineral, which gives it a lifted freshness lacking in many modern Spanish wines from this variety.
A total contrast would be La Cave Mont Blanc Vin Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle 2016 which is made from local variety Prié Blanc, in some of the highest vineyards in Europe, nestling above the Dora Baltea river in the Aosta/Aoste Valley. Whenever I try it I recall a day walking in the Gran Paradiso National Park. We lodged a bottle in a cold stream. It tasted like Evian Water with a twist of lemon, and the texture seemed so similar to licking a wet river pebble that I tried it for myself. Very light, lemon and herbs, unusual but quite unique.
Gentle Folk “Come Down the Mountain” 2017, Adelaide Hills has a tiny touch of Australian sunshine fatness but balanced with a good heft of refreshing acidity and a bite you don’t often find with Chardonnay. Bin XXX it ain’t. From the Basket Ranges, it’s all concentrated smooth citrus and just 12% abv. More a wine for seafood than creamy chicken.
Champagne Val Frison “Lalore” Blanc de Blancs – Val Frison is a producer I’d ironically been looking for for the past twelve months, and it took a trip to Paris to track some down earlier this year. I then found out Les Caves sell this, and if I could have taken any bottle home with me it would probably have been this one. Brut Nature (zero dosage), 100% Chardonnay from a single vineyard on, unusually, Portlandian soils, near Ville-sur-Arce on the Côte des Bar. Valérie farms around 6 hectares, mostly Pinot Noir, but this wonderful Chardonnay is creamy yet also well focused, pleasantly tighter than some Aube Chardonnay. I love it.
Alexandre Bain “Pierre Precieuse” 2015 may be Sauvignon Blanc from Pouilly-Fumé, but it is unsurprisingly sold as “Vin de France”. It’s unlike almost any wine from this variety you’ll ever have drunk. This newly opened bottle showed a bit of CO2, but it was amazing, if slightly wild. Just try it. It does divide opinion, but my friends do seem to share the love.
Oops! A lot of wines here, unsurprisingly. Another De Bartoli, Marco de Bartoli Pietra Nera 2017 is an 11.5% fresh Zibibbo (Muscat of Alexandria), floral but with a palate combining a little fat with mineral freshness, and deceptive length. The grapes, as with all of the wonderful De Bartoli Zibibbo, come from the island of Pantelleria, closer to the coast of Africa than Sicily and Europe.
Back on Sicily, Vino Di Anna Qvevri Rosso 2016 comes from the eastern side of the island, on Etna. Anna Martens harvests Nerello Mascalese from 60 to 100-year-old bush vines up at 800-900 metres on the mountain’s north side. They go into 2,000 litre buried qvevris. It’s so juicy that the texture that follows is quite a surprise.
Andrea Occhipinti Rosso Arcaico 2017 is not Sicilian, despite the producer’s name. The estate is in Maremma, but the part which lies in Lazio, to the south of Tuscany. Aleatico and Grechetto Rosso give a purple wine which is not as big as it looks. You get bright cherry, with a touch of red meat or iron on the nose. The tannins are not hard, the wine is slightly spicy on the finish, and seemingly less alcoholic than the 13% on the label suggests.
Bodega Tajinaste Tradicion 2016, Tenerife is made from the island’s main red grape variety, Listan Negro, in the Valle de la Orotava. Smooth, bitter cherry with a lighter redcurrant note above coming through, and a textural finish. The Canaries are on fire with superb wines and this is another discovery for me.
Jean Maupertuis Gamay Pierres Noires 2017, Auvergne – Well, I’ve drunk several of this domaine’s petnats and this Gamay is equally as good, and good value. There’s a massive bright cherry nose which introduces more of the same on the palate. One of the highest glou factors of the day.
Another lovely Gamay from not so far away is Cave Verdier-Logel Côtes du Forez “Le Poycelan” 2017, a dark purple fruit bomb, yet this has a bit of tannin too. 50% of the fruit was destemmed, so 50% with stems, and aged in cement. You can tell through the texture, but the stems add lift. This is a large estate, 17 ha, run by a couple who moved from Mulhouse in Eastern France in the early 1990s. Like the Auvergne, the steep vineyards of the Côtes du Forez, near Lyon but technically the first vineyards of the Upper Loire, have slowly and quietly been increasing their reputation for excellent Gamay, and this can only further the Gamay revolution which the new Beaujolais began.
We end our volcanic section with another Kelley Fox wine. Kelley Fox Momtazi Pinot Noir 2015 has a certain fame, well deserved. The fruit, from this site in the McMinnville Foothills AVA outside Salem is really fresh, with a bright intensity. It’s so fruity at first you could miss the savoury notes that creep in on the long finish. I’m not kidding, this is impressive.
I selected Alberto Loi Monica di Sardegna “Nibaru” 2016 because it is not only a lovely pale and vibrant red with an elevated cherry nose, but because let’s face it, we should all be trying wines from Sardinia (and indeed Corsica) if we are going crazy for Sicily. We need to encourage them.
Intellego is another South African winery known to many, and their Swartland Syrah 2015 was described as “sheer decadence” by Peter Richards MW on the Decanter Magazine web site earlier this year. It’s definitely in the fresh, peppery style, showing a little red meat edge, though it doesn’t lack for fruit. Richards also called it “a belter”. Spot on!
Think of garrigue and a few French wines come to mind. From the Les Caves portfolio the producer that springs to my mind is Dominique Hauvette’s family estate at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Domaine Hauvette “Cornaline” 2011, Les-Baux-de-Provence is a wine I’ve not drunk for a very long time, but it has aged so well, still fresh, very classy and yes, archetypal garrigue essence in a glass. Quintessentially Provençal. A blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Hervé Souhaut Saint-Joseph “Clos des Cessieux”2017 is dark, dense and chewy. Put some aside. The concentration is off the scale. It comes from vines up to 100 years of age, and whilst Hervé claims to make wines to drink on release, which with such purity one could, they deserve to be allowed to evolve…in my humble opinion.
Another Champagne, Pierre Gerbais L’Originale Extra Brut, also (Like Val Frison) came from the Côte des Bar, this time at Celles-sur-Ource, and is unusual in being 100% Pinot Blanc. In fact they are claimed to be the oldest vines currently planted in Champagne (planted 1904). The soils are the region’s typical Kimmeridgian limestone and marl, and the wine itself has a little more weight than you typically find in a Champagne. It’s a multi-faceted wine of significantly more complexity than you might expect from the variety, except that Aurélien Gerbais, who has been slowly taking over from his father, is becoming a name to watch on the ever growing list of exciting Aube Growers.
In wider Burgundy you rarely hear loud praise for Macon, Blanc or Rouge, but two bottles here blow the argument that the region is full of mediocre wines right out of the water. Both are highly sought after, at least in France. Domaine Philippe and Gérard Valette Macon-Chaintré Vieilles Vignes 2014 is mineral and citrussy. The character of old vines cropped low, with attention to every detail, yields another wine of exceptional purity, whilst Domaine des Vignes du Maynes Macon-Cruzille “Manganite” 2015 is as on form as always. Gamay à Petits Grains yields small berries which produce first fruit, and then a wine, of rare concentration for the variety. Magnificent. Julien Guillot is a genius. I can’t write his story here, but it’s worth investigating. As are all his wines.
Jean-Claude Lapalu Brouilly Vieilles Vignes 2017 is an altogether different Gamay, so fruity, but then not so simple – is that a lick of licorice on the finish, or maybe a hint of pencil lead? I can see why this didn’t go into the “Juicy” section, though it’s also very juicy. Don’t forget Lapalu when you recite the big guns of Bojo.
Going for an unusual wine? Don’t be put off by the dull label. Andert-Wein Rulander 2017 is orange, smooth and fairly rich. German speaking regions usually call this grape variety Grauburgunder, and it is, of course, Pinot Gris. Rulander is a less common name for it. This is (like Meinklang) from Pamhagen in Austria’s Burgenland.
Now we need a quiet moment of respect for Stefano Bellotti who died in recent days. His Cascina Degli Ulivi “A Demûa” was the first of his wines I ever bought, a Monferrato white made from a blend of Riesling Italico, Bosco, Verdea, Timorassa and Moscatella (sic), all grown biodynamically with immense love. A true great, the star of Jonathan Nossiter’s film, Natural Resistance, and the maker of wines the like of which Gavi has never seen before. I believe his daughter will carry on his legacy.
A couple of similar-ish wines from Australia followed, both Sauvignon Blancs, but one from Victoria, the other Western Australia. Patrick Sullivan Waterskin 2017 is a Yarra Valley wine, cloudy, and which frankly takes SB to another level of weird fruitiness. Is it a level you wish to aspire to? To be honest, yes for some and no for others, but remember, this is my selection so you can take it as read that I like it. No added sulphur.
Sam Viniciullo Warner Glen Sauvignon 2017 is also unsulphured, a skin contact SB from Margaret River. Sam was one of the stars, new to me, of the last Real Wine Fair in 2017. It has much in common with Patrick Sullivan’s wine, but is maybe less wild and shows at least a little Sauvignon typicity.
Talking stars, Scott Frank also shone brightly at the 2017 Real Wine Fair. Our second wine from him today is Bow & Arrow “Le Chenaie” Sauvignon Blanc 2016. It’s almost sweet, but salty at the same time. Not your usual straight-laced Oregon wine, label it up for a night when you are feeling a bit wild and free, then stick on a Behemoth CD.
POTS AND EGGS
Dominique Lucas has already featured here as one of my favourite Savoie producers. He also makes wine in Burgundy. This Les Vignes de Paradis Aligoté “Face au Levant” 2015 is actually from a parcel of 100-year-old vines just above Pommard at around 500 metres, in the Haute-Côte de Beaune. I love it, but be warned that for Aligoté it is atypical, being very rich. It doesn’t have anything like the acidity you expect from this variety, but it does have an interesting saline finish. I know one colleague was less keen, but for me, exploring a grape like Aligoté you sometimes crave some variety, some differentiation.
Foradori Fuoripista Pinot Grigio 2016 from their biodynamic vineyards near Trento will be known to many readers. If it isn’t, try not to read the variety. It’s a ramato wine, pinkish-copper coloured, smooth and rich. It should be ready around 2025 to 2028, but it’s so good I doubt much will last that long before being drained. World class, if you ask me.
COS Pithos Rosso 2017 isn’t far off that accolade. When people criticise natural wine I always think of this. I’ve been drinking it for so long and I’ve not had a single off bottle. It has a high terracotta “lick quotient” – textured to hell, but fresh with great acidity. Nero d’Avola and Frappato from Vittoria in Sicily’s southeastern corner, and forget Etna for now, COS was really the catalyst for Sicilian natural wine. Still going (very) strong.
Kelley Fox has had enough publicity for one day, but this wine perhaps tops them all in some ways. Maresh Pinot Gris 2017 is a pinkish red wine from a very famous vineyard, the grapes fermented in plastic (gives me hope) before racking to amphora. I think the glou score just went through the roof. A few people had this marked down as wine of the day.
Beckham Estate Pinot Noir “Creta” 2014 has a few years under its belt, and you know, it really does taste like Pinot Noir aged in amphora, which it is. Andrew Beckham’s amphora project was inspired by Elizabeth Foradori. This Pinot comes off Oregon’s Chehalem Mountains, and like everything you’ll taste from Andrew Beckham, it is fine wine with a twist.
Another Tillingham wine appeared here, and again, I’m not going to repeat myself from my previous article, but I will say that although available in tiny quantity, Tillingham Qvevri Artego 2017 is my favourite of Ben’s wines to date. Not everyone agreed with me, as I was told yesterday, but it’s my genuinely held opinion. And it’s not from Sicily, but East Sussex! Someone else has an amphora project, and I wish Mr Walgate every success.
A short entry here doesn’t denote fewer good wines, just that I’ve noticed the sun is starting to go down. La Garagista Grace and Favour is a focused petnat from Vermont. If that were not unusual enough, the grape variety is La Crescent, aka Black Hambourg, the same as the Great Vine at Hampton Court Palace outside London. There’s a kind of florality, and also rapier-like precision through the wine’s spine. An unusual petnat, but a very good one.
Loxarel “A Pel Ancestral” 2017 is also a petnat, not a Cava. It blends sweet and sour and umami flavours and scents, and is yet another sparkler to make us wonder why we drank the same old same old for so long.
Vittoria Bera Bianchdudui 2000 is unusual even among unusual wines. I know this estate at Canelli in the Alto Monferrato very well, but had never tried this. Moscato that didn’t ferment formed a layer of flor when left in tank. Eighteen years on, we get this, Nutty but also floral. Really interesting.
Marco de Bartoli Vecchio Samperi NV is very well known to me. It’s basically unfortified Marsala, Marsala as they used to make it. This was bottled in 2016, and it’s not unlike a dry Madeira. It is very nutty and complex, but very fresh, really fine. If you’ve not tried it see whether they have it by the glass in Terroirs.
Clos Fantine Valcabrières Blanc NV is Terret Blanc and Gris off dark schist in the Faugères region in Languedoc. Two vintages, 2016 and 2017 I believe, were blended together, hence the NV status. The key to the complexity here is old bush vines of 100 years of age. Grapefruit and citrus peel notes dominate, in a wine of genuine vivacity. The estate has been a star of Languedoc natural wine since the start of the millennium, with a focus on indigenous varieties and impeccable winemaking.
Finally, I get to try the wine with the weird triangular label from Argentina! I even had to leave a restaurant a few weeks ago where they opened a bottle just after I left. So I was happy. Pol Opuesto Chardonnay 2015 is from Ucco, an arid near-dessert region in the high Andes. Pol Andsnes grows vines at 1,600 metres, where the diurnal temperature range is shockingly wide, with freezing nights.
The label symbolises the three wines in one which are blended together. It would take too long to describe the processes in detail, but it involves different methods of pressing the grapes, and different vessels for fermentation. So, swearing I’m not on some strange medication, I was getting a mix of apricot with caramel. I exaggerate, of course. I’m praying I can get hold of a bottle…close run thing with Val Frison for “bottle I wanted to take home but Doug wouldn’t let me”.
One of my first ever orders from Les Caves included some wines made by the Plageoles family in Gaillac. The estate, created by Robert and now run by his grandchildren, is almost a nursery for the forgotten varieties of this part of Southwest France. Domaine Les Tres Cantous Mauzac Noir 2016 has nice cherry notes, which are accompanied by notes resembling beetroot, with a little hint of rhubarb on the finish. No, it’s not horrible, quite the contrary. Light with bite, I’d say. Unusual, for sure, but hey, give it a go one Tuesday night.
Piquentum is an estate I used only to be able to get from an obscure source which I think may not now be trading. Doug Wregg grabbed a slice of this Croatian estate and here we have their delicious Malvazija 2016 from Istria. Savoury and concentrated with a touch of earthiness, or a chalky texture.
Burja Reddo Vipavska Dolina 2016 is a Slovenian marvel, the label of which you might well have seen plastered on Instagram recently. Purple-hued, concentrated bitter cherry, with the bite and zip of a white wine, but unquestionably a red.
JUICE & JUICIER
Apologies for hitting the 5,000 word mark already, but bear with me, just two sections to go, and ten more wines. Nicolas Carmarans features again, with a Carmarans classic, Maximus Rouge 2016. Fer Servadou, the speciality of Marcillac and the Aveyron region generally, is grown at around 450 metres. It is pale and fresh, but quite ferrous, with a finish that nips at your palate. Twisted.
We have to mention Domaine de Botheland Brouilly 2017 because it is indeed juicy, and juicier. Vibrant purple, deep cherry, with a bit of grip right now. 2017’s looking good.
Alex Craighead Kindeli Tinto 2017 is a fun blend of Pinot Noir and Syrah made by carbonic maceration. If you don’t mind cloudy you’ll enjoy the fruit with a little texture you get here. It’s from Nelson in New Zealand, which, considering it’s pretty adventurous for that spot on South Island, you should give it a try…if you don’t, as I said, mind cloudy.
Jauma “Audrey” Clarendon Shiraz 2016 is classic natural wine shizza from James Erskine and the team in McLaren Vale. Lifted, vibrant yet graceful nose, a little plum, really fruity. Named after James’s daughter, it is released young and should be enjoyed as such.
Ruth Lewandowski Wines Feints Red 2017 could just be from the most unusual location to find a great wine in the whole of this tasting – Utah. Evan Lewandowski is the man behind the wine. Ruth is the book in the Bible (though I’ve also been told the name comes from Evan’s grandmother). This wine blends four Italian varieties – Arneis, Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo, an unlikely combo that sure makes for an interesting wine of just 11.5% alcohol. Really marvellous stuff.
We end with some complex wines which truly needed a carafe, but really need the privacy of your own home. Il Paradiso di Manfredi “Trentennale” 2011 is an IGT Sangiovese Grosso from Montalcino, yet not labelled as a Brunello for the kind of reasons you can guess. The estate is tiny, just 2.5 ha, the wine sees four years in Slavonian oak. It has a haunting nose, not so typical of “Brunello”. The fruit begins concentrated and lively even, but the wine tails off with much more complex notes of tea leaf. Age has really brought complexity. An estate I’ve long admired, though cannot really afford any longer.
Kmetija Mlecnik Cuvée Ana, Vipavska Dolina 2010 is another interesting Slovenian wine blending Malvazija, Chardonnay, Sauvignonasse and Rebula, which ought (if you really have read this far) to be of interest just for the grape mix.
Arianna Occhipinti Siccagno Rosso 2015 is Nero d’Avola. So often turgid and stewed, this Nero d’Avola is like gorgeous fruit juice, with an unexpected Lucozade factor. Big flavour combined with great glugging potential.
Sepp & Maria Muster Sgaminegg 2015 is another of the wines of the day. Another wine that combines gluggability with almost impossible complexity. The fruit is apricot or peach and the undertone is nutty and mineral-textured. Anything from Sepp Muster is a must try, and this beauty is one of the best. The name? Haven’t a clue. I think the grapes are Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, but I may be wrong. It doesn’t really matter.
Finally we reach the end. As I said the other day, Beechworth Rocks. There are a few great producers in this out of the way corner of Victoria. Julian Castagna is one of the best. Castagna Sangiovese “La Chiave” 2014 is biodynamic, slightly tannic right now, and spicy, from a lick of French oak. Fruits include blackberries, cherries and raspberries, with a coffee or dark chocolate note creeping into the finish. You’ll probably not taste another Sangiovese quite like this. I’d buy some…but for the price…but it’s worth it, for sure.
Such a long article. I apologise, but such a tasting deserved some proper consideration. I guess two parts might have worked, but at least I managed to finish it. Thank you Les Caves for all the truly amazing wines you’ve given me these past couple of decades, and for all you have achieved for adventurous British wine lovers. Happy 30th Anniversary.
Oh wow, you lucky man. That is a tasting I would have loved to attend, so many favourites in there too many to single out. The Fantines perhaps they have had a wretched year with mildew ravaging their wines, like their neighbours including Barral. I like their white a lot and as they are such lovely people I hope they get any good luck going. And so sad about Bellotti, I have always enjoyed his wines.
You’re so right about CdP, definitely the game changers in the UK.
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A lot of hard work went into the write up?! Effort appreciated – there’s a couple of wines I to track down.
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