September saw Southern England’s summer continue (as it has done up until this weekend, but though I type in glorious sunshine the wind has turned and the Nebbiolo season may be about to start). The wines here are therefore still quite summery, but I’m increasingly enjoying lighter wine styles throughout the year. As I get older, less alcohol and refreshment seem to be preferable to inky wines which come as thick as soup. I’ve been restrained and only selected ten of the wines we drank at home last month, but every one is a genuine cracker.
Shan Pan , Cascina Zerbetta, Piemonte (Italy) – This might just be the most unusual wine here. Paolo Malfatti and Anna-Maria Zerbetta farm just three hectares at Quargnento, just west of Alessandria. This is a col fondo sparkler, but we are not in Prosecco here. Nor, indeed, are we drinking Cortese, Arneis or Moscato, but Sauvignon Blanc.
I first tasted this back in May at Modal Wines’ Plateau event in Brighton. I was impressed enough to include it in a few wines I subsequently ordered, not because I thought it complex or anything, just that it seemed a perfect summer wine, which is exactly what it proved to be.
Definitely worth going for the “shake it up” approach to distribute the lees, making the wine cloudy but (in this case, for sure) infinitely more flavoursome. It’s “frizzante”, light, and zesty with a little mineral texture and mouthfeel. The bubbles are quite fine, and light. There’s acidity but it’s far from rasping. We took this to an open air theatre event (an excellent “The Crucible”) and it was picnic perfection. Just 11.5% abv.
Importer: Modal Wines
Bourgogne Aligoté <<Skin>> 2017, Du Grappin, Maconnais via Beaune (France) – As Andrew and Emma Nielsen stray further from their original “Le Grappin” cuvées, from the Côte d’Or, I get more and more excited. Of course the Beaunes, Santenays and others are as wonderful as ever, but Andrew and Emma Nielsen seem to be saying to their biggest fans “okay, we know a lot of you can’t really afford these wines any more but we’ll give you excitement and innovation to compensate”.
That is certainly the case with their Beaujolais cuvées, but this particular Aligoté is perhaps their most exciting wine under the “Du Grappin” label to date. The straight Aligoté, which I’ve written about before, is really good, but this skin-contact version just takes things a small step further. There is no doubt that Aligoté is getting more and more fashionable, and less and less gratingly acidic, but Andrew has hit upon a vinification here that adds even more to the variety.
The grapes come from Perelles-le-Haut in Macon Roche-Vineuse, from south-facing alluvial Bathonian limestone. The vines are 80-years-old. A ten day carbonic maceration, skin contact and nine months resting on lees in old barrels, and bottling without fining nor filtration, gives a wine that has a touch more colour than the straight Du Grappin Aligoté, but nothing extreme. We are not in “orange wine” territory. The nose is pure Aligoté, gently appley with a little lemon citrus. The palate has a bit of grippy texture, without anything like the acidity levels you found in Aligoté of old. In fact, I’d go as far as to say there’s a little richness to it.
It’s hard to describe how fabulous this wine is, because its qualities come through as being just a little bit under-stated, not at all in your face. The texture, and that tad of richness, make it an ideal food wine, rather than anything in the aperitif style (and, heaven forbid, keep it well away from crème de cassis).
The only negative, from my point of view, is just how little Andrew bottled. Most went into cask for Uncharted Wines, so if you see it in a bar or restaurant which is serving it from keg, grab a few glasses. I tasted it from keg at the recent Uncharted Wines portfolio tasting, and it tasted every bit as good from that format as from bottle.
Availability: almost non-existent. Contact Le Grappin direct, or contact Uncharted Wines to find out who has it from keg.
[Chardonnay] Vin de France 2015, Philippe Bornard, Pupillin (Jura, France) – I have been quite lucky in bagging a few of Philippe’s wines recently, though none as good as his elusive pétnat, which I also drank in September, at Solent Cellar with a slice of Comté tart. It’s not that I don’t try to buy some wine every time I’m in the region, but he’s invariably sold out. Somehow Simon at Solent Cellar managed to get hold of a selection of Bornards, and what I picked up from him included two Chardonnays from 2015. One is labelled as “Côtes du Jura Les Gaudrettes” and the other just “Vin de France”. My understanding is that they are actually the same wine, but I’ve no idea why the different labels in one vintage. Can anyone enlighten me?
Okay, this is a 2015 and shows 13% alcohol. You just don’t expect such a zippy entry on the palate, but the marls of the Jura, and the additional limestone found in Philippe’s Pupillin parcels, often give that freshness even in a warm vintage. In fact this is very much a Jura wine, especially on the bouquet. You get citrus, but it’s also quite (lightly) nutty, and that woodsmoke you immediately notice in the region when you visit somehow comes out in the wine as well…just a hint. It’s also as close to a pure fruit juice as you can get. You really don’t notice that it’s alcoholic on the palate.
Klevener de Heiligenstein 2016, Domaine Rietsch, Mittelbergheim (Alsace, France) – My visit to Jean-Pierre Rietsch was one of my highlights of 2017. Indeed, it was my first visit to the region, which I know very well, for quite a few years and all the feelings I have for Alsace came pouring back. I brought back a mixed case from Rietsch. Jean-Pierre makes many different wines, as is the way in Alsace, so I only brought back single bottles. That has its advantages, you get to try more of the range at your own table, but it’s quite heartbreaking to drink a wine like this and know you don’t have any more. The good news – Wines Under The Bonnet are importing Rietsch since the beginning of this year, so the wines are finally available in the UK again.
Heiligenstein is a village just a little way to the north of Mittelbergheim and Barr, in the lee of Mont-Saint-Odile. The village is unusual because it has its own speciality. Klevener is confusingly not the same as “Klevner”, the latter being a synonym of the Pinot Blanc family. Klevener refers to Savagnin Rose (or Roter Traminer in Austria). It’s a white grape with a reddish-tinged skin which does really well on the argilo-calcaire soils of Heiligenstein.
This is one of Jean-Pierre’s zero sulphur wines, wholly “natural” in every way. Vinification includes eleven months ageing on lees in demi-muid barrels. It comes out sunset yellow in colour, and it is pure, focussed and dry. Its characteristic is a nutty, savoury edge, with a tiny bit of richness. There’s a miniscule 0.4 g/l of residual sugar, which perhaps is too small to notice, but perhaps this is what hints at that latter quality. Amazing! I’d actually put this up there among my wines of the year so far (crazy guy), it’s that good. Philosophical winemaking of a very high order.
Artego , Tillingham Wines, East Sussex (UK) – Ben Walgate is building what is potentially going to be one of the most exciting vineyards in the UK, along with a restaurant, visitor shop and rooms to stay in, at Peasmarsh, near Rye. As his own eclectic vignoble matures, and as his new batch of Georgian qvevri are buried, he’s been sourcing grapes for his initial cuvées.
Artego is, as the name so obviously alludes to, Ortega, which Ben scrounged from Westwell Vineyard, a near neighbour, close to Ashford in Kent. This is the batch which didn’t go into what, at the time, was his only Ortega qvevri. The grapes were lightly crushed into open fermenters and macerated twice-daily by foot for five days. Then the fruit was pressed in small batches in Ben’s basket press. Half of the juice was aged in old Burgundy barrels and half in stainless steel. A tiny bit of sulphur was added, as little as Ben felt he could get away with.
Whereas the qvevri version of Artego has all the texture of an orange wine, with its inherent complexity, this version is quite zippy and fresh. The acidity is reasonably high and the fruit is all apples, with perhaps a tiny lick of grapefruit. Ortega, a Müller-Thurgau x Siegerrebe cross, is generally quite a low acid variety (high must weights make it a sure bet for very sweet wines in some German regions) but I think this fruit was picked reasonably early, preserving a wonderful level of balanced acidity.
It may be that the real geeks among us will find the ever so slightly challenging, certainly complex, Qvevri Artego ultimately more satisfying, and even exciting, but remember, this wine retails for a little more than half the price of the Qvevri version. Only a little over 1,000 bottles were made, so snap it up and enjoy some deliciously fresh Ortega.
Distribution is through Les Caves de Pyrene.
Deviner 2015, Slobodne, Zemianske Sady (Slovakia) – You don’t see many wines from Slovakia’s Carpathian Mountains this good, but I’ve drunk this 2015 Deviner three times this year and I can say quite honestly that it is stunning. Deviner is a blend of Devin (a Traminer/Roter Veltliner cross) with Traminer itself. This wine is grown in Slovakia’s western hills about an hour from Bratislava.
Unlike in some of the former Communist states, when the Wall came down over Europe, in Slovakia agricultural land was redistributed back to its original owners…if you could prove title. Thankfully for sisters Agnes Lovecka and Katarina Kuropkova, they could, from papers that had been hidden away for decades.
Although Slovakia’s reputation currently lags a bit behind that of near neighbour Moravia, in the Czech Republic, there is hardly less of a natural wine movement growing here than in that exciting region. There’s a triangle of concentrated natural wine activity which also takes in Northeastern Austria, though the influences on Slobodne are perhaps primarily more local (in particular from Zsolt Sütó at Strekov 1075).
Six weeks on skins for the destemmed fruit gives this Deviner its flavour, along with what seems like just the right amount of texture. The colour is more straw-gold than orange, and the aromatics combine citrus (grapefruit and lime) with stone fruit (mainly peach). It’s dry and freshly acidic and a real find.
Imported by Modal Wines in the UK (with seemingly good US distribution too).
Côtes du Jura “Balanoz” 2015, Domaine Berthet-Bondet, Château-Chalon (Jura, France) – Another 2015 Jura Chardonnay, this time from further south of Arbois-Pupillin, in the middle of the elongated Jura region, hailing from one of Château-Chalon’s finest producers. I opened this after seeing how well it was drinking at the Jura event I introduced at Solent Cellar in Lymington back in September, from whom I had previously purchased this bottle.
Balanoz is a parcel selection of topped-up (ouillé) Chardonnay. Recommended drinking suggests three-to-five years, but this 2015 has a rounded richness that makes it worth drinking right now in my opinion. It’s a good bit fatter than the Bornard (above), but it does still have acidity to balance it out. It’s more rounded than that leaner wine, and is quite savoury. It also has very good length. Age will mellow it further but personally I think it seems good to go. I hate to use descriptions suggesting this is more “Burgundian” in style than Philippe Bornard’s Vin de France (see above), but I suppose many people would describe it that way.
Gentil de Katz 2015, Clément Klur, Katzenthal (Alsace, France) – Katzenthal is just south of Ammerschwihr, and west of Colmar, in the southern, Haut-Rhin, part of Alsace. It’s a “Gentil”, the modern name for an Alsace blend, with perhaps more of a quality ring than the older “edelzwicker”.
The blend in this case is made up of 50% Pinot Blanc, with 25% each of Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. The bouquet is quite floral and exotic, grounded by a little soft pear aroma. The palate is quite rich and only just dry, and very fruity (peach/apricot perhaps), finishing, well, as the name ironically suggests, gently. This is a wine I come back to from time to time. Klur makes wines that are more sophisticated (he has vines on the Grand Cru Wineck Schlossberg), and he makes a damned good Crémant d’Alsace as well, but somehow this wine just reflects the beautiful scenery from which it comes, whether in springtime or autumn. Soft, gentle, satisfying…and pretty widely available via Alliance Wine (though probably now in a later vintage).
Pink Bulles Vin de France “XVII” , Jean Maupertuis, St-Georges-sur-Allier (Auvergne, France) – The Auvergne is definitely one of the most exciting emerging wine regions in France. Once massively covered in vines, rural depopulation emptied it (as did war) in the 20th Century, and even before that rural poverty made life difficult here. Cheaper vineyard land has made it a destination for young vignerons starting out with little hard cash but plenty of attitude, talent and an aptitude for hard work.
Jean Maupertuis was one of the first, although he’s hardly that young. He worked in computer science, got interested in wine and left. At wine school in Macon he met Eric Macé, who introduced him to the world of natural wine (via Lapierre, Thévenet and others). He was lucky to be able to rent 3.5 ha of vines around fifteen-to-twenty kilometres south of Clermont Ferrand, back in the 1990s from a vigneron who was soon to retire, and it is these vines which form the core of his small estate today.
Pink Bulles is a pétnat made from Gamay vines over fifty years old. It’s a particular strain of Gamay, known as Gamay d’Auvergne. It has the pale colour of pink grapefruit, and a strawberry scent, mirrored on the palate, rather than the cherry characteristics of the grape in Beaujolais to the north. The bubbles are focussed, quite tight, and this complements the lighter fruit. It finishes fruity and just off-dry. Another brilliant summer fizz, “exquisite” seems the most appropriate description I can come up with. Grab the last few bottles if you can whilst the sun lasts. I’m guessing this is so fresh that any bottles left over until next spring will be pretty interesting as well.
Contact Les Caves de Pyrene.
Schieferstern “Purus” 2016, Rita and Rudolf Trossen, Kinheim (Middle Mosel, Germany) – Kinheim is one the less fashionable villages of the Middle Mosel, yet between Urzig and Erden on the one hand and Traben-Trarbach on the other, anyone who has cycled along here will know that these vineyards, on weathered slate, are still part of that same impressive stretch of vines. What is more, the Trossens have the benefit of owning a large proportion of ungrafted vines over a hundred years old.
Rudolf Trossen has the weather-worn face and classic, permanently affixed, felt hat of one of the older Mosel winemakers, and with the history of wine here, it surprises many to learn that the Trossens have been farming biodynamically since the late 1970s. Few people outside of wine have heard of this estate, but Rudolf has become something of a guru for those wishing to follow a more sustainable, and eco-friendly, path on the river.
Winemaking here is by no means static. The Trossens’ “Purus” range of wines, which have no added sulphur, only date from 2010, initiated as an experiment which worked. Rudolf believes that by giving these wines extended ageing on lees, this helps to stabilise them, something a lot of makers of skin contact and lees aged wines the world over are discovering, to our benefit.
This 2016 Riesling is even more stripped back than the norm on the Mosel as a result of this zero sulphur regime, and seems very precise. And as the name is intended to suggest, it tastes very pure indeed. There’s acidity and dryness, held together by a mineral structure and texture. But there’s also another dimension to the wine, something different, which I can best characterise as “vivacity”. It really does taste alive, as all the best biodynamic wines do.
Is this for everyone? I sincerely hope not, because there’s not enough to go around. But my friends who are more into classic Mosel producers do, on the whole, find these wines as fascinating as I do. Kind of Riesling on the edge.
Imported by Newcomer Wines.