Back on 25th September I was at the Out The Box young importers tasting and I promised to put up some notes on what I tried from Swig at the end of last week, following their joint Portfolio tasting with Uncharted Wines. That turned out to be yet another fabulous event, so I had to split the two merchants, and Uncharted won the toss. Finally, with apologies to Swig, we have the final article from that frantic fortnight. Last, in this case, unquestionably means but not least. Swig has a portfolio of wines which stretch the imagination as well as any of the other small importers, and they also have a reputation for excellent customer service. This is just a snapshot, from 25 September and 2 October.
Swig manages, rather like Red Squirrel, who also exhibited at Out The Box, to pull in really interesting producers from all over the world, rather than attempting to specialise. You can understand from stalking them on social media that this is a bunch of enthusiasts who want the excuse to live the dream of constant wine trips (South Africa at present). If they find something good they grab it, and thankfully for sales, they do find plenty of the good stuff.
Whilst Swig is not a specialist, they share with Red Squirrel a great list of those South African wines, especially two producers: Adi Badenhorst and Pieter Walser, or if you like, AA Badenhorst Family Wines and BLANKBottle.
ADI BADENHORST, Swartland, South Africa
AA Badenhorst is one label most people who become interested in South African wine will get around to trying very quickly, very possibly via the Sacateurs pair, the red blend (Syrah, Grenache, Cinsaut) or the Chenin white. The range at AA Badenhorst is wide, but all the wines are great value, not least the Secateurs. Adi used to work with Simon Barlow at Rustenberg, and the great work he did there twenty years ago stood him in good stead for what he’s doing today. He’s no johnny come lately.
The first wine tasted was a Chenin Blanc, a variety which Badenhorst seems intuitively to know with great intimacy. Golden Slopes 2017 is a wine that will be available soon. This is a single site bottling, actually the first vineyard on the property which you see on arrival, planted with old vine stock which Adi found in a pretty poor state and nurtured back to health. This is totally beguiling, mineral, Chenin, with real personality leaping out of the glass. It will age, of course, but boy this is good.
Piet Bok se Bos 2017 is another soon to be available white wine made from Chenin, or “Steen” as it says on the label in this case, the old South African synonym for the variety. The wine itself is named after an old winemaker who lived in an equally old cottage by the side of the vines. The soils here are deeper, with a high silt content, and this is hyper-fresh, with very concentrated fruit and an almost tense, bitter, edge. This 2017 is the first vintage Adi has made of this cuvée.
Papegaai is an incredibly popular wine, and not everyone sipping the white version with pleasure realises it is made, in part, from the Sherry grape, Palomino (there’s also an amazing single varietal Palomino, not shown here, called Sout van die Aarde). But there is also a red Papegaai now, and this is a delicious new 2017 blend (the Swig web site lists it as 100% Cinsaut but I was told otherwise) of 80% Cinsaut with 20% of the Portuguese variety, Tinta Barocca, a grape that has a long history in The Cape. This is another example of the remarkable value Badenhorst provides at the lower end of the range. You get genuine character, and the 14% alcohol just doesn’t show. Crunchy red and darker fruits sum it up nicely.
Yet another wine to look out for soon, which you may not have come across before, is Ramnasgras 2017. This red, as far as I know, is 100% Cinsaut/Cinsault. Although relatively expensive, this is for me a delicious light wine which is best served cellar cool, or even lightly chilled. The colour is a vibrant, palish, red. The nose is quite rich, and fresh. The fruitiness bursts through, strawberry, cranberry and pomegranate, with sweet spice, which gives an all round sweetness to the fruit without the wine actually tasting sweet. Very long, extremely…well, I was going to say impressive, but that sounds too serious. A great wine, but fun as well.
I think there were more than a dozen wines on the Badenhorst table, including several new wines, all well worth exploring, obviously, but I’m going to finish with Geelkapel Muscat de Frontignan 2017. Of course the “Muscat” name refers to the grape variety, not the Languedoc AOP. “Geelkapel” is another name for the highly venomous Cape Cobra, which is able to transform itself into a colour closely resembling the vibrant yellow of the wine.
This is a blend of Muscat (à Petit Grains) and Muskadel (Muscadelle) picked and trodden by foot as whole bunches before a two week fermentation. The wine shows a quite complex bouquet of tropical fruit (mango) overlain with gentle floral notes (rose petal). The palate is smooth with just a little texture and dry extract, and it comes in at 13.5% abv. It combines real freshness, from the new vintage, with impressive length.
BLANK BOTTLE, Western Cape, South Africa
I’ve written quite a bit about Pieter Walser and Blank Bottle. If you’ve not already read my piece written just over a month ago, it may be of interest – follow the link here. Last week I actually got to meet Pieter, and the experience was just as good as tasting his wines (quite a number of which, I should say, I have in my own cellar). He’s a top bloke. The big problem in tasting (and buying) Blank Bottle is that some of the wines only get made once, so there are a lot on the table at any tasting. I’ve tried (not with complete success) to write just about wines I’ve not covered recently.
Moment of Silence 2017 is a white blend of Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc and Viognier (allegedly). It’s not the most complex of Pieter’s wines, but it is super-fruity and quite concentrated, making it a good place to start. It also has possibly the least exciting of the Blank Bottle labels, but I only comment on that because I love Pieter’s labels, some of the most quirky and inventive I know.
Epileptic Inspiration 2016 is a wine with an interesting label, showing a brain scan, and I think it’s a label with very personal connections. The wine is Semillon, fresh and mineral. I think this will also be drinking brilliantly, something I plan to test soon in the comfort of my own dining room.
Rabbitsfoot 2017 is a cuvée I’ve not tried before. The variety is Sauvignon Blanc, and I’d put it right up there with all the best, and most interesting/exciting SBs I’ve drunk this year (which would include the New Zealand example from Hermit Ram that I tried at the same event). Pieter says he hates “green” Sauvignon Blanc, and this wine seems to prove that point. There’s a bit of tropical fruit, and a bit of stone fruit, in a wine that is lush for the variety, but nothing like most tropically fruited New World versions. One for the disciples of Abe, perhaps. Apparently the wine comes from five rows of vines which are more usually eaten by the baboons. Not this time…thankfully.
Kortpad Kaaptoe was the first Blank Bottle wine I ever bought. It’s made from a variety I think Pieter really likes, Fernão Pires (aka Maria Gomes in Portugal’s Bairrada). The grapes for the 2017 come old vines on sandy soils in Swartland’s fringe, from Darling (just inland from Grotto Bay). This is quite unusual stuff, and my notes say it has a savoury lush sweetness. Swig, on their web site, go for “turkish delight and crystallised pineapple bashed with quartzy stones”. I truly love it.
Don’t Look Back 2017 is as yet unavailable, but will be worth the wait. It’s Clairette bottled in a flute (Pieter likes to confuse), nice and fresh with a stone fruit and mineral finish. Manon des Sources 2010 is also yet to arrive in the UK, but note the vintage. After one year in barrel Pieter decided it needed seven years in bottle. Don’t ask me what it’s made from, I’ve no idea (and the whole point behind Blank Bottle is that it doesn’t matter), but it is a stunning wine, really interesting, full and big but with flavours which initially have a hint of Riesling (lime and petrol), but then morph to juniper with a hint of dry apricot.
The first of three reds was Misfit 2017. I do know what this is, Swartland Carignan from old bushvines, of which 30% was whole bunch fermented. It has a fruity freshness to it, very brambly with a little crunch to the vibrant fruit, finishing with a herby twist. Jaa-Bru 2016 is quite a contrast. It’s a rather big Malbec in a little dumpy bottle that really packs a punch and attitude (though it is only 13.5% abv), yet retains what can now clearly be seen as that trait through the whole range, “Blank Bottle freshness”.
Last up here, PH.D 2016, which I tasted back at Out The Box. This blends Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. It does seem quite a philosophical wine, though doubtless the name is auto-suggestive. Equally, it does taste like a Bordeaux blend in terms of fruit profile and structure, but it is also very pure and precise. A brilliant wine, and though it ain’t cheap, it’s great value.
VIGNOBLE DU RÊVEUR, Bergheim, Alsace
This domaine encompasses the vineyards left to Mathieu Deiss (working with Emmanuelle Milan who was pouring the wines for us) by his maternal grandmother. He operates out of his famous father’s, Jean-Michel Deiss’s, Domaine Marcel Deiss, in Bergheim, in the heart of Alsace. Most of Mathieu and Emmanuelle’s seven hectares of vines are in the commune of Bennwihr, near Kaysersberg. Mathieu’s dream has one practical side – to explore and fine-tune the art of skin maceration, and to diminish, and then eradicate, the use of sulphur.
Pierres Sauvages Pinot d’Alsace 2016 is a classic Pinot d’Alsace blend, made from Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and some Pinot Noir vinified en blanc. Straight off you can tell this is a terroir wine, one where the variety and winemaking doesn’t intrude. Vinification is in large neutral oak for fermentation and again for twelve months ageing on lees. Saline and mineral.
Vibrations Riesling 2016 has a deeper minerality and softer fruit which makes it taste quite creamy on the palate, with a nice touch of lees age texture. It is bottled with 30 ppm total sulphur. Vinification as with the Pinot above.
Vibrations Riesling <Nature> 2016 sees a very similar vinification to the previous two wines, but, as the name suggests, this has more of a “natural wine” liveliness about it and is bottled with no added sulphur. That said, the lemon acidity of the Riesling is fresh and the wine is dry (technically 2g/l of r/s). Very precise with a nice clean palate, vivacious.
La Vigne en Rosé Gewurztraminer 2017 is described as a rosé, but the colour comes from the skins of the Gewurztraminer grape, via a touch of skin maceration. The vinification is also carbonic, so the wine is quite fresh and light. None of the heaviness associated with many versions of the variety. The bouquet is of gentle rose petals, elegant and lifted, but the wine is dry, and despite a surprising 13.6%, it tastes light, with an ethereal quality.
Un Instant sur Terre Gewurztraminer 2017 is a brilliant peak to Mathieu’s range. It is an orange wine, although there is a distinct pinkish tinge from the Gewurztraminer skins macerated in amphora. You’d almost buy it for the colour alone. The bouquet is very complex, sweetish and floral but with a distinct savoury edge coming from the vinification vessel. There is no residual sugar so any perception of sweetness comes just from the richness of the fruit on the palate, and 14.5% alcohol, though do not let that put you off. A marvellous wine.
Emmanuelle with “Un Instant”
I’ve tasted Mathieu’s wines three of four times in the past eighteen months or so and they are really impressive. I think he has hit upon a style which accords with his fellow young growers (thinking of those in the north of the region), and there is a clear point of difference with his father’s wonderful wines. A name to follow.
CHAMPAGNE COLLARD-PICARD, Épernay, France
Olivier Collard and Caroline Picard sound as if they may be a new tiny “Grower” making wines from a few hectares, but they are actually a “Maison” (founded 1996). They occupy impressive premises on Épernay’s Avenue de Champagne, although the cellars are actually at Villers-sous-Châtillon, not far from Châtillon and Mareuil in the Marne Valley. They farm 15ha which is spread over the Marne Valley (for the two Pinots) and the Côte des Blancs for Chardonnay.
There are eight cuvées in the range, five of which I tasted last week. The range starts with Selection Brut NV, comprised of 50% Pinot Meunier and 50% Pinot Noir. It’s a fruity NV without great pretence at complexity, with a dosage level that’s quite easy to guess (9g/l…I guessed eight). The thing I liked about it was that Collard-Picard make their Champagnes without malolactic, so that even at this level of dosage you still get a nice acidity and freshness.
Prestige Brut NV has the same dosage, but the grape blend is 50% Chardonnay with equal parts Pinot Noir and Meunier. It has four years extended lees ageing, one year in foudres and the rest under crown cap in bottle. There is definitely more elegance here.
Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut NV is blended from Chardonnay sourced from Oger and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. This is where you noticeably step up to a degree of complexity. The best juice from the first press only is used, and the base vintage in this case is 2014, supplemented with reserve wines. You get some biscuit and brioche, but there’s fresh citrus too. The fruit in this comes through nicely.
Essential Brut Zero NV has the same Chardonnay dominated grape mix as the last wine, but this cuvée only appears in the finest vintages. With a base of 2010, this certainly qualifies under those rules. This wine is given 18 months in barrique, and then four years on lees in bottle, this time under cork, which Raphael Bérêche has convinced me is superior to crown cap, however others may fuss and splutter. It’s a very fine Champagne. Whilst the three previous wines were enjoyable, this is what made me sit up and take notice, and this is the wine that secured the inclusion of Collard-Picard in this article.
Coteaux Champenois Rouge “Terres de Meunier Les Louves” 2014 – Coteaux Champenois used to be a rarity, if not a joke to many, but as with the example of German red wine, the still wines (particularly reds) from Champagne have quietly been improving for some time. Back in June this year I drank Raphael Bérêche’s “Les Montées”, an Ormes red from the same vintage, and it has been one of my reds of the year so far. This Collard-Picard wine, however, is not Pinot Noir, but Pinot Meunier, and a very fine still Meunier it is too.
Les Louves comes from a small individual plot on the right bank of the Marne. This cuvée is only made in very fine vintages, and 2014 yielded only a fraction more than 1,700 bottles. It spent eighteen months in small barriques (both old and new) after very gentle pressing, and there was no filtration. The bouquet is very concentrated, cherry and red fruits, which translates on the palate as very smooth, silky and long.
Many more Swig wines deserve a mention, but there’s only time for a few. BK Wines is a creative outfit making exciting wines from single sites around the Adelaide Hills in South Australia. Everyone knows their One Ball Chardonnay, but of the whites my current favourite is definitely Skin n Bones White 2017. It’s made from Savagnin, you see, though admittedly not Savagnin as I’m used to it, but a truly Aussie interpretation of the variety.
The grapes come from Lobethal, near better known Lenswood, which is over the Basket Range, due east of Adelaide. As the name suggests, there’s skin contact here, one month on skins in fact, then nine months battonage. You get sunshine fruit, but equal amounts of freshness, a twist of lemon on the finish, and a lingering nutty and gingery note. But it’s more fruit than nuts, unlike the standard Jura Savagnin Ouillé. The Skin n Bones Red 2017 is good too, made from Lenswood Pinot Noir which sees 100 days on skins before ageing in mostly older French oak. It’s pale and has an unusual, almost textured, nose. You get the weight of cherry fruit with the zip and bite of more acidic cranberry. Clean but with a wild side.
Everyone seems to be bringing over something interesting from Portugal these days. The Boina range from the Douro fits this category perfectly. The red and white here are relatively inexpensive, but provide genuine interest, especially for those looking for something a bit different on a bar or restaurant list. The white is a co-fermented field blend of several autochthonous varieties which you almost never see on a wine label: Rabigato, Códego, Códego do Larinho (sic) and Malvasia Fina. It seems to combine apple freshness with a nutty, buttery palate.
The red was, for me, the most interesting, made from the somewhat better known Touriga Nacional, although from a vineyard where, in the old Douro fashion, other varieties are co-planted. The nose was fairly muted, but it was all change on the palate with lots going on. It has body, as you’d expect from the variety, but it is really fresh and frisky too, not qualities always associated with Touriga.
I also need to give a shout out for Claus Schneider Spätburgunder “Weiler Schlipf” 2015. As Swig justifiably points out, this wine has all the fruit of the excellent 2015 red wine vintage in Baden, but as well as this touch of fatness you get masses of delicious smooth summer fruit. This is in effect an entry level wine, but as well as the fruit you get more, with a touch of orange citrus and a very slight leafy undergrowth hint. A simple wine with a bit of added interest, but with its lush fruit, definitely a wine to convert a few people to German Pinot. It’s funny but an independent merchant in the Midlands was telling me on Saturday that another German Spätburgunder is currently his biggest selling red. Who’d have thought!
Finally, do take a look at the Guy Breton Beaujolais selection (Régnié, Côte de Brouilly and two Morgons). The wines don’t show on the Swig Web Site at the moment, so perhaps they are new to the list. They are excellent wines, as anyone who has tried them, perhaps in Paris, or perhaps the P’tit Max when Winemakers Club had some, will know full well. Swig also sell one of my very favourite English wine estates, Wiston, from just north of Findon in West Sussex. Their wines need little introduction to aficionados of English fizz, and from June 2018 Swig are their UK agent/distributor for the on-trade.
Contact Swig for further information here.