SITT is the Specialist Importers Trade Tasting which groups together a number of both large and small wine importers who seem mostly to fall outside of the regular London circuit. Just under forty importers were grouped together at the Honorable Artillery Company barracks on City Road in London on Monday. I made this my first port of call simply to taste what Alpine Wines were showing, but I ended up tasting a few Bordeaux as well.
As you know, I count myself lucky to be independent and able to choose what I write about. This doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t take the opportunity to say what I like over and over again. I buy far less wine than I’d like to from Alpine Wines, but I think their range is one of the UK Trade’s best kept secrets. I discovered them for their Swiss wines, and in fact as far as I know they are the only specialist Swiss importer in the country. I also think their Austrian wines are worth exploring, and as the wines shown here prove, they have diversified into other parts of the Alps (and fringes) with some success as well.
Robb Nebbe and Joelle Nebbe-Mornod of Alpine Wines
Ten wines were shown on Monday: five Swiss, two Austrians, two Italians and one from France. This is but a tiny snapshot of the Alpine Wines portfolio and, as this event is often seen mainly as a way in to the restaurant trade, the wines shown were (on the whole) towards the entry level (most of these wines sell to the trade at around £10 or just over, with three exceptions, the last two wines being closer to the £25-£30 price point).
Domaine de Montmollin Chasselas Non-Filtré 2016, Neuchâtel, Switzerland – This is a style of wine that was once just released early as a sort of late primeur, in January, but has been so successful it is now available all year round. It’s in no way a complex wine, but it is fresh and has punch. The palate is lively with a bit of stone fruit and a herby bitterness on the finish.
Cave de la Côte Uvavins Doral Expression 2016, Vaud, Switzerland – Uvavins is the large co-operative which dominates this part of Lake Geneva’s north shore. It’s massive by Swiss standards, but as with other Swiss co-operatives (Cave de Genève, for example), you’d be surprised at the quality of wines at all levels.
Doral is a grape variety which seems to combine the fresh minerality of Chasselas with a more aromatic quality which some liken to Chardonnay, although apricot notes are quite common (Doral can be used for sweet wines to good effect). This wine is on the light and fresh side, with that mineral texture.
Provins Petite Arvine Grand Métral 2016, Valais, Switzerland – Provins is also a co-operative, this time from the Valais Region. Provins is in fact the largest wine producer in the country, based in Sion, and if I say that this was one of my favourite wines tasted you might want me to justify that.
First of all, I think that Petite Arvine is the most interesting of Switzerland’s autochthonous white grape varieties. Secondly, there are thousands of smallholders in the Valais, and Provins takes grapes from 3,300 of them. Their oenological team needs to be very strong to turn the produce of all of these growers, many just weekend farmers, into wine that will satisfy the very exacting standards required by their Swiss customers.
This is actually really lovely entry level Petite Arvine and a good place to come to try the variety. It doesn’t have the genuine complexity of versions produced by the top individual growers, such as the highly ageable wines of Marie-Thérèse Chappaz, but aged in stainless steel on its lees it does show what the variety is made of. Fresh, a little texture, a wine for seafood or oysters. There’s a lovely touch of characteristic salinity on the finish.
Weingut Waldschütz Riesling Classic, Kamptal, Austria – Anton and Elfriede Waldschütz are based in Sachsendorf in Wagram, but also have vines in neighbouring Kamptal. They farm around 16 hectares, mostly on sandy loam and loess. Their son, Ralph has joined the business, and looks like taking the domaine to another level.
The entry level Kamptal Riesling is pale with genuine Riesling character and definition on the nose. There is perhaps a touch of stony pear fruit on the palate, and this is another wine with a bit of a saline lick on the finish. Very clean but not lacking character.
Mamete Prevostini Nebbiolo Botonero 2017, Valtellina, Italy – Alpine Wines describe the Valtellina as the most Swiss valley in Italy, and to an extent they are right. It certainly exudes Alpine charm, although the region’s main grape is the very Italian Nebbiolo. Sales in Switzerland, just over the border, are so high that relatively little Valtellina wine travels outside of the wider region. We get to know the famous producers in the UK, but their wines tend to be for long ageing, whereas the wine tasted here is more accessible in its youth.
Mamete Prevostini began making wine to serve in his restaurant in the early Twentieth Century, and his grandson (also called Mamete) took over here in 1995. This wine is actually made from grapes grown just outside the DOC and is bottled as an IGT wine. It is pretty fruity for Nebbiolo, yet the nose does easily give the variety away. You do get a little tannin here but it merely underpins the fruit. Tasty.
So far so “what’s the big deal”? Well, Mamete’s top Valtellina Cru, Inferno Superiore, won a Platinum Medal/Best in Show Award at the Decanter World wine Awards 2018. So if you want an affordable entry to this up-and-coming producer, try this.
Cave de la Côte Uvavins Pinot Noir Suisse Vin de Pays 2015, Switzerland – This is another wine from Uvavins, one that may not appeal to the private customer so much, but if you want a Swiss wine on your restaurant list, it might. The grapes here are actually sourced from all over Switzerland, depending on the vintage.
This 2015 contains grapes from Pinot specialist Graubunden in Eastern Switzerland, but also from La Côte in the Vaud, and from the Valais. It has a nicely lifted cherry fruit bouquet, rounded and smooth on the palate, finishing with a bit of bite and grip. If you want a handle on Swiss Pinot in its simplest form, this is a good, well made, example.
Kellerei Kurtatsch Lagrein DOC, Alto Adige, Italy – Kellerei Kurtatsch (Cantina Cortaccia in Italian) is one of the smaller Alto Adige co-ops, here with vines between 200 to as high as 900 metres on the sunny plateau and hillsides which overlook the Etsch Valley.
This is a lovely deep purple and the nose is quite intense, a deep and dark scented black and red fruit combination. The palate is densely concentrated, but this is not a heavy wine even with 13% abv. The brambly finish is refreshing, complemented by a little tannin. Very enjoyable, as well as being a grape variety which deserves to be better known.
Domaine de la Croix Barraud Chénas Vieilles Vignes Cuvée Prestige 2014 – Alpine Wines moved into Beaujolais a few years ago. “Alpine” is stretching it a bit, but the region has granite hills and it is sort of in the right direction, so we can allow them a bit of leeway. I’ve never tried the wines from this producer, but I am enjoying the 2014 vintage generally at the moment, a vintage which I find far more typical than the rich, and often alcoholic, 2015s.
This is a lovely mid-purple wine from Franck Bessone, and the cherry nose has obviously mellowed now, but there is a nice floral note which was described to me as peony, not that this is a scent I can readily summon to mind. The palate has a little spice. There is actually a little tannin left as well, and this Beaujolais Cru is definitely a food wine (a plain steak or perhaps with a harder cheese). Old vines off highly decomposed granite suggests that it will last a while, and it does seem to me a genuine terroir wine.
Domaine des Muses Cornalin Tradition 2013, Valais, Switzerland – If Petite Arvine wins out as Switzerland’s finest indigenous white variety, then Cornalin may well fit the bill for her finest red (though some Humagne producers may beg to differ).
Domaine des Muses is based in Sierre, in the heart of the Valais, where the River Rhône passes southwest towards Martigny, before it turns north towards Lac Léman. Robert Taramarcaz (the “az” is not pronounced locally) took over here in 2002 after training in Dijon, and almost immediately became one of the most “awarded” and highly regarded young winemakers in the whole country.
The Cornalin is the product of the special climate here, one either in the grip of the warm Foehn,or the cold Bise, winds. They make for healthy vines and when you add in the passion of the winemaker you have a recipe for something special. The nose has a meaty touch, and also an elegant floral note, and the two combine surprisingly well. The palate is tannic, even for a 2013, but it is beginning to drink well with intense sweet cherry combining with fresh red fruit notes. It comes in with 13.5% abv.
This is a wine of character, and Robert is without doubt a winemaker to watch. As the big names (Chappaz, Gantenbein, Mercier etc) become all too unaffordable, this is a young man to watch.
Gunter and Regina Triebaumer Blaufränkisch Reserve 2014, Burgenland, Austria – These are what some people call “the other Triebaumers”, less famous than Ernst, perhaps, but their reputation is building. They are (like Ernst Triebaumer) based in Rust, on the western shore of the Neusiedlersee. They have around 25 hectares of vines over 45 different parcels, with eight hectares of their signature Blaufränkisch.
This estate produces a lovely cherry scented entry level version of Blaufränkisch, but this is the Reserve wine, which is altogether more serious. The bouquet is lifted spicy cherry, and spice is a theme of this wine. 2014 was not considered the finest year in Burgenland, and so the Triebaumers didn’t make their single vineyard wines (their Oberer Wald off chalk is famous in Austria). All the best fruit (from both chalk and limestone sites) went into the Reserve, and as a consequence this is a very fine wine with some ageing potential. I can say that this is the best Reserve Blaufränkisch of theirs I have tried. Concentrated and savoury with spice to the fore. 14.5% abv, but still with freshness, which I think totally disguises the alcohol here. Very good indeed.
This table focused on Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur, the unsung part of the vast Bordeaux vignoble.
Why here, you may ask, as I’m not known for drinking gallons of Bordeaux. Actually, I do own a small but well formed collection of Bordeaux, and I do wonder whether it doesn’t get drunk so much because I baulk at the price of those bottles of cru classé now.
But Bordeaux isn’t just the 1855 Classification, which is just a tiny part of the region’s production. If Bordeaux is to regain its position in the hearts of younger drinkers, it is these simpler wines, rather than the very fine wine only now available to wealthy collectors, which need to excel.
So what did I try? Four white wines, all Sauvignon/Semillon blends, were attractive and fresh but not simplistic. I remember when there was a vogue for single varietal Sauvignon Blanc in the region, with pretty tasteless wines often coming out of the Entre-Deux-Mers. What they had going for them was a cleanness which was not always there before the mid-1980s. I think Semillon (and indeed Muscadelle, where it is used) adds a little depth and interest.
The first wine was my favourite, but was also the most expensive, at £16.99 (prices to trade), Domaines Martin, Bordeaux de Gloria 2016. It had a bit of colour to it, and although made by the large negociant, SOVEX, it was a nice new direction. Just more presence and fruit along with the freshness.
Château Vircoulon Nektart Bordeaux Supérieur 2015 is a wine that would probably have its appeal enhanced by its attractive label, designed by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac. There is a touch of 2015 richness here. By way of contrast, Château Ballan-Larquette Bordeaux 2017 had the freshness of this most recent vintage. I think that White Bordeaux is ripe for a surge in interest. Finding whites of character here is becoming increasingly less difficult.
I also liked Château Jean Faux “Les Pins Francs” 2016. Its rather traditional label is attractive, but I do wish that Bordeaux would appear less conservative and appeal to a younger audience. Labels don’t make a wine, but they can do a lot to grab our attention, as the label immediately below does. Perhaps. It’s not perfect, but tell me which one your average 25-year-old from a non-wine background would be drawn to.
I also tasted a couple of reds. I don’t need to tell my regular readers what a difficult sell Red Bordeaux at this level is in the more exciting and contemporary part of the London restaurant scene, so this is where we need to see well priced wines, with good fruit, using the classic Bordeaux varieties to best advantage. Past problems would probably best be described by dilute wines (over-cropping) with stalky notes (over-extraction or stalks and pips). Trading on the Bordeaux name may be okay for some markets, but the UK has matured.
The reds I tasted here were free from any such problems. I’d probably single out a couple of wines. From the rich 2015 vintage Château de Beauregard-Ducourt 2015 was straight and juicy with a nice grip, not too hard. I thought it was a good example of what I was looking for, though again, the rather conservative label will appeal less to younger drinkers.
Château de Parenchère Cuvée Raphael 2016 comes from a large 67 hectare vineyard on clay-limestone. This is their top cuvée from older vine plots (from 40-years-old upwards) at Ligueux, north of Duras. The grape blend is 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, so a lower Merlot to Cabernet ratio than most wines in the wider Bordeaux region. Nicely dense, the tannins are smooth and don’t smother the fruit.
This is a more ageable petit-château wine than the previous red. It will probably benefit from a decade in the cellar to reach full maturity. In a way, what Bordeaux needs at this level is more gluggable wine, but nevertheless, you can’t argue with quality, and a wine like this shows that you don’t only find seriously made wines in the Haut- Médoc, Pessac and Saint-Emilion.