I had intended to write an article combining the wines from Uncharted Wines and Swig that I tasted last week at Out the Box with those I tasted at their joint portfolio tasting at The China Exchange in Soho yesterday. Looking at the number of wines I want to include (let’s face it, a good sign), I’ve decided I need to split these two importers. This article will therefore cover just Uncharted Wines. You can look forward to reading about Swig after the weekend.
Rupert Taylor set up Uncharted Wines to revolutionise the way we consume wine in bars and restaurants. We had already been seeing different packaging formats for wine evolve in the past few years, the main step forward being, in my view, when people like Le Grappin and others began to put wine of genuine quality into bags. The bag-in-box wines of old were generally very ordinary. The fruity Beaujolais and Macon wines released in “bagnums” by Andrew and Emma Nielsen were pure glouglou and were perfect for the time.
Uncharted Wines’ Rupert Taylor
Rupert, who despite his youthful appearance has a history on both sides of the trade (sommelier through to account manager with Enotria and OW Loeb), took things one step further by introducing the wine on tap concept. If people are drinking wine in bars like they used to drink beer in pubs, it figures that wine on tap should be convenient and popular. Thirty-, and twenty-litre kegs keep the wine fresh and drinkers can try a good selection of wines.
The genius part of the idea is to fill those kegs with special cuvées made by some of the most exciting producers in the world. Well, almost the world. Getting kegs from South Africa has proved do-able, but Rupert is having to work on the logistics and costs for New Zealand.
The vast majority of the business conducted by Uncharted Wines is the kegs, and this has been an incredible success story, but the strange thing is that quietly, with no fanfare, Rupert and his team have put together a quite astonishing portfolio of producers and wines in bottle, quite aside from the kegs. I shall begin with a few of the keg wines, but I really want to highlight the other side of the business as well. Go into an establishment that has some of Uncharted’s kegs and you can be sure of glugging a fun wine, with personality and excitement. But the rest of the list…wow, some crazy stuff they’ve discovered.
You wouldn’t really expect to find Burgundy in a keg, would you? I’ll rephrase that, you wouldn’t expect to find really decent Burgundy in a keg…? Olivier Morin is based in Northern Burgundy, at Chitry, near Saint-Bris and not too far from Chablis. He provided two keg samples, Bourgogne Blanc “Circonstance” 2016 and Bourgogne Rouge “Circonstance 2016. The white is relatively lean for Chardonnay, perhaps erring towards Petit Chablis in style, but it has great freshness. The red is just lovely and fruity, just what you want. It reminded me of the juicy Pinot Noir that I first tasted from Jean-Paul Brun (Beaujolais) in the 1990s.
Somewhat more serious, and pretty classy, is Le Grappin Bourgogne Aligoté “Skin” 2017, which I’ve written about from bottle. The fact that Andrew is so generous in sending this wine to keg is why there’s so little to go round the rest of us. There’s great texture, richness, and less acidity than in the Aligotés of old, though again, it is fresh. I would love to wander into a bar where this is on tap.
Raphael Saint-Cyr farms the largest organic domaine in the far south of the Beaujolais Region, at Anse. He is therefore well placed to provide a juicy Beaujolais for keg. Domaine St-Cyr Beaujolais “Kanon Keg” 2017 is purest cherry fruit in a glass, and lovely. It’s the first wine here to come in the larger 30-litre format, just as well because I bet this flies.
I tried a few other keg samples, many of which I’d happily drink, such as Domaine de Séailles “Presto” 2016, (a Gascogne white made from Sauvignons Gris and Blanc), but I’m going to move on to some fantastic South Africans. Adi Badenhorst has provided kegs of AA Badenhorst Family Wines Secateurs 2017 Chenin and Secateurs 2016 Red (Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Cinsault) which taste no less good than from bottle. The white has pear, quince and mineral freshness, the red is grippy but concentrated.
Pieter Walser’s Blank Bottle Winery has likewise provided two cracking wines. White KegWyn 2017 blends 50% Fernão Pires with Chenin and Roussanne, whilst the red, from a wider blend of Cinsaut, Grenache Noir, Shiraz, Roussanne and Pinot Noir, is lovely, and it does show a bit of structure.
Another vibrant South African is a Sauvignon Blanc from the 2018 vintage, from Duncan Savage. It was just a tank sample, Western Cape fruit, but I loved the soft lemon on the nose, coupled with a grassy note. Such a fruity Sauvignon Blanc is hard to find. Two wines (white and red) produced by Craven in Stellenbosch were also 2018 tank samples, but look very promising, and will appear under the Yellow Belly by Craven label.
THE BOTTLES (fizz first)
First in the lineup at China Exchange, as at Out The Box, were some Sparklers. Last week I’d been most impressed by Maison Nicolas Morin “Intrabulleuse” 2016, a petnat from Chardonnay. Although this particular Morin is based in Nuits, on the Côte d’Or, the fruit is sourced in the Jura and it has a real focus and spine.
Vigna San Lorenzo “Col Tamarie” 2016 is a Col Fondo wine from the Veneto. It comes off high altitude limestone soils, a blend of biodynamically, and “homeopathically” farmed Glera, Boschera, Perera, Biancetta, Grapariol, Verdiso and Marzemina. No wonder they call Italy Enotria! If you love a leesy col fondo, this takes the style to another level. Yet it does not lack focus.
One of the star fizz’s yesterday was Huis Van Chevallerie Filia Brut 2014, a Kap Klassiek from Swartland. This is astonishing Chenin, which has a touch of old Loire about it (anyone tried any old Huet Vouvray Mousseux?). Golden colour, zero dosage, a bit of fat, dry.
Also full and fruity, in fact mouthfillingly so, was the brilliant Westwell Wines “Pelegrim” NV, a traditional method wine based mainly on the two Pinots (Noir and Meunier), with 15% Chardonnay. Just 11% alcohol, but a big impact. Fresh apple dominates, with red fruits playing a supporting role, a touch of chalky minerality finishes things off. More of Westwell later.
Check out those lees in the Tamarie!
I remember when OW Loeb began importing Château Yvonne, a producer in Parnay, overlooking the Loire half way between Saumur and where that river is joined by the Vienne, to the southeast. They produce stunning Chenin, and their Saumur Blanc 2016 has concentrated pear and quince flavour. Saumur-Champigny “La Folie” 2015 is quite purple, and has a concentrated cherry nose. The fruit on the palate is more brambly with a bit of bite, an excellent drinker.
Saumur-Champigny 2015 tout-court is more tannic. It’s a vin de garde with the richness of the vintage. In a period where there are now some star estates in the region whose wines have become hard to source, let alone afford, names like Yvonne (and indeed Antoine Sanzay) merit immediate attention.
MAISON NICOLAS MORIN, Côte d’Or (Burgundy)
I mentioned the petnat of Nicolas Morin earlier, which I tasted last week. Yesterday I had the chance to try his negoce range. Morin is an ex-cooper, turned negociant, in Nuits-St-Georges. There are negoces aplenty these days, but Morin has carved a name for himself among aficionados for the obsessive nature of his winemaking philosophy. He lacks his own vines, so he can’t make the same wines every year, but there is a stylistic thread running through what he does produce.
Bourgogne Blanc 2016 has colour and richness not always found at this level, yet the finish has minerality as a nice contrast. It is a wine of ambition for a mere BB. The next three wines are reds, and all of them show more class than their appellation might suggest.
Santenay 2014 is fairly pale, and the fruit is smooth, but there’s grip on the finish. About 20-30% of the fruit is destemmed and it goes into 40% new oak. Hautes-Côtes de Nuits 2015 is darker, is all destemmed, and all sees new oak, not all that common to say the least for wines from the hills above the Côte. Bottled with minimal sulphur, the fruit is sweet on the nose, quite rich, but you can taste that it has had a little bit of whole berry fermentation to round it out.
The top red on show came from less fashionable Monthélie, too often forgotten by the Burgundy buffs (well, has anyone tasted Roulot’s Mothélie Blanc?). Monthélie 1er Cru “Les Riottes” 2016 is not cheap (£46), but it’s serious and becoming more complex. The fruit is great, but there’s a bit of added spice as well. One to keep a while, I think, but impressive…and I’d say that about all these wines. A genuine discovery in a region where you don’t expect to find a lot of new blood. The micro-negociants continue to come up with the goods.
There was one more wine from Nicolas Morin, a Vin de France sourced from the Rhône, Intrépide 2016. This has very plump Syrah and Grenache fruit, from Ventoux, with whole bunch vinification and bottled with low sulphur. It has a gorgeous bouquet and a savoury finish. Richer than you’d expect and quite big (14%). I preferred the Burgundy bottles, and loved the petnat, but I am still impressed by this red.
DAVID CHAPEL, Régnié
David Chapel is another coup for Uncharted, a man whose star has risen faster than anyone’s in the Beaujolais I can recall for a while, and we all know it’s a region packed with rising stars. I got to try the Juliènas Côte de Bessay 2017 twice in nine days and both times I was super impressed. It has a savoury side to it, and is a genuine terroir-defined parcel wine (from vines on pink granite, close to Saint-Amour). It is just the second vintage of the first wine David and partner Michele Smith-Chapel made. This also comes in magnums and double-magnums, for those after an impressive bottle.
Beaujolais-Villages 2016 is lighter, of course, but shows the fresh, smooth, fruit of the vintage, and it’s a few quid cheaper. David Chapel’s dad knew all the greats, and this is why David ended up working at Domaine Lapierre. The domaine is actually based in Régnié, and lucky for us, since 2017 they have managed to add three hectares in Chiroubles and Fleurie.
Although everyone is talking about Domaine Chapel, Rupert has also got hold of more Beaujolais domaines: Thillardon, Saint-Cyr (as we saw in the keg section), Château Grand Pré, and Damien Coquelet, whose wines I also like. He was represented by another nice Beaujolais-Villages 2016 and a classic Morgon Côte du Py 2014. This is from a beautifully fresh and classic vintage. The Coquelet Py has a touch of the funkadelics, but it’s a biggish wine with fresh acidity. You could drink it now with food, thanks to this freshness, but it’s not going anywhere soon.
Moving South, the next truly impressive producer was Jean-Baptiste Souillard. I’d never tried his wines, though I was just beginning to see them on my radar. Seven wines were shown, starting with some single varietal Marsanne and Roussanne, but at the top of the range the class here became evident. Côte Rotie “Coteaux de Bassenon” 2016 was deep purple, dense, tannic, but the bouquet of violets was elegant and ethereal, pointing perhaps to this wine’s future. Cornas “Les Côtes” 2016 was once more very tannin-dominated, and needs a lot of time. But the rich fruit underneath was very impressive and will come out, with complexity, when the mask of oaky tannin slips. Not as difficult to taste as some young Cornas.
A quick diversion is required before we leave France. I’ve seen bottles of Domaine du Petit Août before, but I can’t recall where [thank you Wink Lorch for reminding me when I tried this producer’s rare Espanenc]. Yann de Agostini started this domaine with two hectares of old vines in 2009, and in nearly a decade has increased his vines to six hectares, at Théüs, which overlooks the River Durance southeast of Gap, near the large Lac de Serre-Ponçon, in the southern region of the Hautes-Alpes.
“Sous le Fil” 2016 is a gorgeous, simple, white from Roussanne and Clairette, made with the freshness of vines grown at 600 metres altitude. “Le Poids du Superflu” 2016 is 100% Roussanne. The nose is exotic, the palate mineral and stony. Just 11.5% abv. Not fine wines but well worth trying if you see one on a wine list or on the shelf. I was quite taken with this pair.
WESTWELL WINES, Kent
Westwell Wines is on chalk terroir on the south side of the North Downs, just north of Ashford in Kent, and close to the old Pilgrim’s Way to Canterbury. There are around nine acres planted to the three classic Champagne varieties, along with four acres of Ortega. I’ve had a good taste already of some of that Ortega, because part of it went to Ben Walgate, for the Tillingham “Artego” cuvées.
Around 18 months ago the estate was taken over by former record company owner and music business figure, Adrian Pike, perhaps best known for founding the successful record label Moshi Moshi (that’s until you see him modelling a Throbbing Gristle t-shirt in the photo below…respect!).
I’ve already mentioned the “Pelegrim” English Sparkling Wine earlier in this article. I started off here with Adrian pouring me Westwell Ortega Classic Ferment 2016, a very nice wine with excellent freshness, but then Adrian was able to grab me a glass from keg of the 2017 Ortega, of which more is also about to go into bottle. This was very lively and vibrant, all aged in stainless steel. There are tropical notes, but grapefruit comes through on the finish. I must say I felt the 2017 is a step up.
Westwell Amphora 2017 was a sample, the wine will be available in November. It was fun to contrast this amphora-aged Ortega with Ben’s Tillingham Qvevri version. This is a bigger and more textured wine than the keg sample, but it is fresher, with less deep texture, than the qvevri wine from Tillingham. Adrian destemmed the grapes into steel vats but it unexpectedly began fermenting, so he left it on skins there for three weeks before pressing into amphora, where it spent eight months. It was bottled with just a tiny bit of sulphur. I’m certainly going to head out to visit Adrian some time. The wines are a great addition to the English artisan winemaking fraternity.
Adrian Pike sporting his fabulous TG t-shirt
SYBILLE KUNTZ, Lieser, Mosel
There are two women winemakers I really admire in Germany, Theresa Breuer and Sybille Kuntz. Sybille farms from the village of Lieser, and in fact shares the great Grand Cru Niederberg with Thomas Haag, of the Schloss.
An indication of the steely determination Sybille has to succeed lies in the story of how she opened a wine shop to help finance her studies in business administration. She effectively tasted half the stuff she was selling and thought “I can do better than this”. She can, but she is blessed with parcels on one of my favourite Mosel sites, the Niederberg, and some old vines to boot. She is certified fully biodynamic (since 2016) and has vegan certification too.
I tasted half-a-dozen wines, the Riesling QbA Trocken 2016 last week (off quartz and slate), and the following five wines yesterday. We begin at Kabinett Trocken 2015, a wine off blue slate which is richer than a Kab Trocken often appears, and it is lovely and long. Spätlese Trocken 2012 shows the soil really coming through, as does the intensity of 80-to-100-year-old vines from Niederberg. It has Spätlese richness without sweetness. It also comes, in this case, out of one of the world’s most elegant magnums.
Dreistern Goldkapsel 2003 from Niederberg Helden is bottled with 14.5g r/s and 14% alcohol, and has genuine richness, but also a slatey mineral intensity. Fresh for a 2003 too, it oozes class. If that were not spectacular enough, Scharz 2007, is a parcel wine from that part of the Niederberg (Scharz is an old German word for slate), from 80-y-o vines. It is bottled with 25g/l residual sugar, but it also has a very definite savoury side. Auslese Feinherb 2011 is from the Helden parcel of the Niederberg, also farmed by Thomas Haag. It’s a steep slope (a 70% incline) requiring hard manual labour. Bottled with 50g/l residial sugar, it rewards the work with a deep richness, fabulous.
These are magnificent wines, and Sybille Kuntz is not sufficiently recognised as one of the great winemakers on the Mosel. Her wines are truly expressive of a special site, reflecting the terroir, but they also show great intensity and presence. They are among my personal favourites from the region.
Sybille’s husband, Markus Kuntz-Riedlin, took over his parents’ vines near Laufen, in Baden, in 2009, where he specialises in Spätburgunder. Sybille was showing his rosé (2016) and red (2014). The pink is very fruity with lively acidity, the red sees 15 months in old oak. It’s not as structured or big as some Baden reds, but it is savoury and has bite. These wines are not, for me, as truly exciting as Sybille’s wines, but they are still pretty good. The labels show a 1950s chalk crayon sketch by Adolf Riedlin.
We now reach the last two producers who I must mention in more than just passing from yesterday’s tasting.
SUCCÉS VINICOLA, Conca de Barbera
This is a new estate in Conca de Barbera, the hard work of Albert Canela and Mariona Vendrell, who met at wine school and formed the domaine (and a more romantic partnership) from vines owned by Albert’s family in 2011, at only twenty years of age. It’s hard to believe this obviously still young, but highly engaging, couple (Mariona is the most chatty, perhaps with the best English) are making such super wines. They have since unearthed some very old and neglected parcels in the hills.
Experiència 2017 is 100% Parellada, a lovely sappy and juicy white, 50% direct press and 50% skin contact, but the real gems here come from a local grape I have written about elsewhere, Trepat. This was once a workhorse variety, and as I mentioned last week (Out The Box) in relation to Lectores Vini’s Pomagrana (from Modal Wines), around 1,500 hectares of Trepat are still planted, for fairly ordinary rosado wines. The grape, when handled carefully, can actually make a brilliant glouglou red in the old clarette style. La Cuca 2016 is just such a wine, deliciously fruity, crunchy, and just 12% abv.
What I didn’t expect was El Mentider 2016. This is a darker, more serious Trepat from a single vineyard, and vines aged between 80 to 118 years of age. Darker, with 14% alcohol, it has body and depth, and no rusticity at all. I was astonished by the quality, although I lost my heart to the lighter version, for sure. I truly wish these lovely young people every “Succés”.
Albert and Mariona and their wines
THE HERMIT RAM, Canterbury, New Zealand
Talking of losing one’s heart, I had waited a long time to try these wines, and only broke my duck last week. Everything that has been said about Theo Coles’ South Island estate is true. These are the most exciting wines from NZ I’ve tried since I tasted Kusuda and Bell Hill some many years ago now.
Yet again, I’m about to shoot myself in the foot. I never, ever, ask for free wine, but I do sometimes wish some importers would just keep aside the odd bottle for me to buy. If everyone who reads this buys just one bottle of Hermit Ram, there will be none left in the UK well before you are all done, and it would not be the first time I’ve plugged a wine/producer only to leave myself empty handed.
Field Blend Skin Fermented Rosé 2017 does what it says on the bottle, then more. Half the blend is Riesling, picked at spätlese ripeness. The rest is 35% Pinot Noir and 15% made up from Gewurztraminer and Cabernet Sauvignon. Old oak, no sulphur, a textured and savoury pink with genuine personality.
Sauvignon Blanc 2017 also sees skin contact, and this really exemplifies why so many forward thinking producers are giving this technique a go with a grape that seems to turn off so many wine obsessives, or at least did until Abe Schoener gave us his cave-dwelling prince. It’s a gravel and limestone parcel which gives a wine that’s grassy-fresh and saline. The nose is unlike any NZSB you’ve smelt before. If I buy some of this it will be a NZSB first for well over a decade (though to be fair I did enjoy someone else’s Seresin SB last Christmas).
You know I love a wine which pokes people in the eye, and the next wine does just that. Before we saw the first acclaimed Sauvignons from New Zealand in the 1980s, the country was famous, or rather infamous, or maybe just not very well known at all, for dull Müller-Thurgau, vinified in their stainless steel dairy vats. Europe, mainly Germany and Austria, has seen something of a minor M-T revival, but this is the first NZer I’ve seen with the balls to highlight this grape. And you know what? It may just be my favourite wine from yesterday’s Hermit Ram offering for that reason.
Müller-Thurgau 2017 comes in at a low 9% alcohol, and sees three weeks on skins. No sulphur is added. The vines are a very old parcel. The skin contact seems to have given the wine an odd colour, almost pale caramel, which is immediately appealing to me, doubtless not to more conservative palates. The fruit smells sweet, with lovely high floral notes, but it’s another of those wines where you think you begin to pick up the texture through your sense of smell, even before sipping. There is a certain sour nature to the palate, which is not uncommon as a result of skin contact, but there’s characteristic freshness to balance it. Lovely juice.
Whole Bunch Pinot Noir 2017 is truly lovely. 70% whole bunch fermentation, six weeks on skins, gentle handling into old oak, and just 20 ppm sulphur added to finish. 12.5% alcohol, great legs, a fragrant and fruity Pinot nose, what more do you need? I forgot “concentrated”. It’s very concentrated. And long.
Apparently Theo is sending us two single vineyard Pinots soon, which he describes as “more graceful and delicate”. How good will they be, for god’s sake, because this Whole Bunch job is good enough! Now I know who I’d like to spend my winter holiday working for. Shame all the NZ family is way up in Auckland.
Theo Coles of Hermit Ram
One final quick shout for Celler Frisach in Spain’s Terra Alta. Three producers get together to make some delicious wines, here represented by a 2017 rosado, made from skin contact Garnacha, Garnacha Blanca and Garnacha Gris, plus 3 Porcs, a golden Parellada, savoury, bready and really unusual (in a good way). Both were poured out of magnum, and although Louise Holstein of Uncharted got me to try them right at the end, they were really interesting and I hope to taste them at leisure another time.
I’ve been going through my notes, and there are a few more wines I’d love to write about. But I think I’ve exhausted myself, and very probably my readers. This won’t be the last time I get excited about Uncharted Wines, I am certain. Rupert, Louise, Angus and the team have made such a big splash and a spectacular start in the wine trade that I only hope they can continue with their current success.