It seems a little early to be doing a review of the year at the end of November, but I suspect there will be plenty of other things I want to write about before the Christmas hangover has disappeared, so now is as good a time as any. If my local record shop can release their “Top 100 List” this week, then so can I, though contrary to trepidation, I won’t go quite that far.
If I did a straight awards article I think I’d be in danger of repeating myself from last year, so I’ll just run through a few highlights to get us going, before we move on to the wines themselves.
Wine has now become established on a par with the food at plenty of places which blur the line between wine bar and restaurant, and whilst I do enjoy top nosh at a fane dayning establishment once in a while, I find myself increasingly more comfortable when I know that the wine won’t disappoint at the £50-a-bottle price point (still an awful lot of money and beyond the budget of many), as opposed to £100+-a-bottle at a two-star. You can find such places in most of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities nowadays, but a few have stood out in 2018.
Berlin’s JaJa I find particularly welcoming. It’s not the city’s most well known bar, but tucked off the main road through the Neukölln District, you’d be pushed to find a more genuine welcome, even when it’s rammed full and the staff are doing a good impersonation of people trying to sprint a marathon. Simple food done well, and a lot of fingers firmly on the pulse of natural wine. Some of the better known establishments, especially those in Paris (and indeed, Berlin), can be a lot less welcoming of strangers.
In the UK you’d be hard pushed to find somewhere as interesting as Winemakers Club. Interesting on two counts – first, the ambience of a very unusual space. It’s very dark, sometimes very cold (it’s one place you know the wine won’t be ruined by over heating), but second, the wine list. At Winemakers they import a lot themselves, so you’ll find stuff you’ve never heard of. Be adventurous, because John and the team have a lot of friends and very deep knowledge.
Winemakers had two bits of news this year. First off, they actually became a real club. Pay a membership fee (somewhat cheaper than 67 Pall Mall) and enjoy various discounts through the year. Secondly, to the joy of many, Winemakers Deptford tentatively reopened its doors. That is very welcome news.
Outside of London, Plateau in Brighton has gained a reputation as one of the most exciting places to go for lovers of natural wines (and hey, if I can regularly train it up to London and back for an evening of wine, then you guys can get down here!). The bar/restaurant list is amazing, and a good part of it is available on the takeaway list for a discount of around 30% on table prices. The bonus with Plateau is that the food is up to scratch, and quite innovative, though not fussy. The only place I know on the South Coast that could potentially match Plateau is zero waste restaurant Silo, also in Brighton. But they just need to get their wine act together a bit more. If Plateau were in London it would be chokka every night…which, actually, it almost always is.
Many readers probably know how much I love Vienna. It’s not only because it puts me a short train ride from some of my favourite producers, but because it is surprisingly well endowed with brilliant restaurants. If I had to choose my favourite meal of 2018 it would probably be the one we had at Mast back in August. The combination of innovative cooking and possibly the best natural list in Vienna makes it the most popular place to go for all the wine trade people I know. It’s just a short stroll, or tram ride, north of the city centre.
Sadly, when I am next in Vienna Mast will be taking their annual holiday, but I’m hoping Glacis Beisl will be open. Glacis is located conveniently round the back of the Museums Quarter, with an attractive garden (though I doubt I’ll be eating out there in January). Ask for “the red book”, their larger wine list if you have time to browse. Glacis is more traditional than Mast in terms of the cooking, but that is no criticism. Especially if you crave a schnitzel. It has been a favourite of mine since my first visit.
Best meals in the UK? The highlight was what I hope is becoming an annual outing to The Sportsman at Seasalter in Kent. It’s a total pain to get to, for me at least, but totally worth it for the tasting menu. At the other end of the scale, I went back to 40 Maltby Street for the first time in a couple of years in October, and wondered why it had been so long.
Wine dinners and lunches form a big part of my year. If I were writing this article a week from now I’m fairly sure that the next one would feature here. Look in on Wideworldofwine next week to see how we got on drinking a load of old Jura. For the wines alone, then Mark Priestley’s Volcanic Wines dinner at Foxlow in London was probably the standout, although no less exciting was the Sherry lunch at Pizarro in Bermondsey back in February, except that most people left that extravaganza fairly inebriated…it’s a wonder any of us remember it.
Tastings of the Year? That’s fairly easy, despite a crowded field. Newcomer Wines‘ first large scale producer tasting at the RIBA in March was a revelation, with the added bonus of almost all of my favourite Austrian producers under one roof. We missed Real Wine in 2018 (do not fear, it will be back on 12/13 May 2019) but Les Caves de Pyrene celebrated thirty years of business with an extensive tasting in September, showing that they are incapable of standing still. On a smaller scale, tasting the wines of Basket Press Wines at Plateau last February was the beginning of a love affair for the unbelievable secrets Czech Moravia has to offer.
Les Caves’ 30th anniversary (“Restyling Wine”)
On a more classical note, anyone who didn’t get to Howard Ripley‘s Great German Pinot Noir Tasting in March missed out on a cracker. German reds have come of age. Tasting Red Squirrel‘s wines is always a treat, and they showed their portfolio at the increasingly popular China Exchange in Soho in September, as indeed did Uncharted Wines. Both have astonishing lists which anyone not acquainted with them ought to explore.
Wine visits? Nothing compared to visiting Weingut Renner (Rennersistas) in Gols on the first day of their harvest in August. In retrospect, cycling around Burgenland on one of the hottest days of summer was not as bad as I expected, but the warm welcome we had from Stefanie (not remotely “in a hell mood” despite the picking team starting that morning) was something special. Tasting the first pressed juice from the 2018 harvest was a treat you don’t get every day.
A couple of days later Georg Grohs hosted us for a morning, and over lunch, at Wieninger (Vienna). I don’t think any producer has devoted more time to me than Georg did, what a lovely man. I’m so pleased one of Wieninger’s single site Wiener Gemischter Satz won a Best in Show award at the DWWA, helping to put these unique wines a little more prominently on the map internationally.
Book of the Year is easy. Despite brilliant work from Jamie Goode, Peter Liem and Robert Walters (Bursting Bubbles is a great read and a fascinating look at a very different side of Champagne), the accolade must go to Simon Woolf for his Amber Revolution. It’s not just well written, entertaining, informative and well produced (amazing for a self-published work), it is also a book of some importance. Skin contact wine is here to stay, so it’s of benefit to all of us that we have such a knowledgeable guide. There’s something very wrong with wine publishing when something like this doesn’t get snapped up by a major. I’ll be reading it again come the New Year. Read my own review from back in July here.
As for all the above, I won’t link to them all, but you can track them down and read about them via the search box (top right hand corner on my home page).
Okay, 1,300 words in and he’s not got to the wines yet. Bear with me. I never make New Year’s Resolutions, but I think I’ll make a few this year.
- Organise some more wine lunches or dinners. Certainly New Austria needs a plug. Maybe Savoie too (here’s hoping Wink can get the book finished);
- Try to visit Leroy and Brat, plus get along to one of the monthly Wine Pages “Wimps” lunches at La Trompette (didn’t make a single one in 2018);
- Pester the usual suspects for another Sherry extravaganza.
And what would I most like in my Christmas stocking? Not a Coravin, I’m afraid, but despite owning way too much wine, I’d bribe Santa for the following:
- A six-pack of assorted Swiss whites from Alpine Wines;
- A mixed six-pack from Basket Press;
- The same from Newcomer Wines; and
- A six-pack from New Zealand’s new star, Hermit Ram, via Uncharted Wines.
The following wines were some of my highlights, in no particular order.
Ganevat‘s Vin Jaune 2003 was the best yellow/sous voile wine of 2018, and I’ll readily admit it is beyond my pocket now. Such intensity and class, but still a baby. As was an even younger 2006 we drank at the sadly now defunct The Shipyard in Lymington, scene of some pretty amazing dinners over the past couple of years (I truly mourn its loss).
Of the many wines from Jiri and Zainab’s wonderful Basket Press I would probably choose (with great difficulty) Richard Stávek‘s Špigle Bočky 2015 from Moravia. Well, what’s in a name? Check it out.
Sherry…I didn’t drink enough Sherry in 2018, yet I did drink quite a bit! It’s usually the case that some marvel from Equipo Navazos wins out, but among too many fine examples at the aforementioned Sherry lunch at Pizarro, I drank Romate “Old & Plus” Oloroso for the first time. Fascinating, unusual, very good indeed.
From Spain, well, there are big names galore I could extol, but what about Costador Metamorphika Sumoll Blanc Brisat, from one of my favourite producers from Otros Vinos. Red Sumoll continues to thrill, but this rare white is amazing.
Sparkling wines are difficult. If I’m not in Champagne, then I think I can concur with Gault Millau in choosing a remarkable long-aged Chardonnay, Ebner Ebenauer Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature 2010. A quite astonishingly fine “Sekt” made by the méthode traditionelle.
From Champagne we did drink a marvelous Bérêche Campania Remensis in Paris, from my favourite producer so I’m biased. But in that same week I drank my first Champagne from Val Frison. I really enjoyed her Lalore Blanc de Blancs, and I shall be popping her Goustan Blanc de Noirs at some point over Christmas.
Raphaël and Vincent Bérêche get another mention here, but not for a sparkling wine. Some years ago they began serious work on reds, and one of the wines someone brought along to our BYO meal at The Sportsman was the Bérêche Coteaux Champenois Rouge “Les Montées” 2014, from vines at Ormes. Every time I visit the Craon I fail to take home any of this, merely because one bottle of the red equates to a bottle of one of their finest Champagnes, and I am reasonably endowed with fine Pinot Noir. I won’t be making that mistake again.
Somewhat less sparklin’ than the full-on fizz, but still with bubbles, the award for summer fun must go to Strohmeier Schilcher Frizzante, as the tart delights of the Blauer wildbacher grape finally hit UK shores, much to the annoyance of the more serious commentators on Austrian wine, I suspect. If you prefer your summer fun without bubbles, look no further than Domaine de la Tournelle L’Uva Arbosiana, one of the first natural wines from Jura I fell in love with, and that love has not waned one bit.
My discovery of the year was a producer I didn’t know, from a region (Burgenland) I purport to know well. Just shows there’s always something new. The completely anonymous label of the small range from Joiseph does not hint at the wonders within, yet Luka Zeichmann, who has only been making wine at Jois for a couple of years, is a new young star in the ascendant. He’s one of a very strong portfolio at Modal Wines. I tried a few of his wines, most recently at the Out the Box Tasting (always unmissable), but my favourite (I’ve drunk two bottles of this so far) is Fogosch Grüner Veltliner 2016. Frighteningly good.
Keeping the skin contact theme going a while longer, there is no doubt that COS Zibibbo in Pithos 2014 from magnum was a highlight of the year, but what about Brash Higgins? Brad Hickey’s amphora Muscat Zibibbo from Riverland fruit (of all places) was also a wonderful surprise. Bloom, his sous voile Chardonnay, is even better, but none of that rarity passed my lips in 2018 (come on Brad!).
I’m bound to have missed out plenty of delightful wines, like the unusual Betty Rosay from bought in Gamay fruit sourced in Southern Beaujolais by Alice Bouvot of Domaine L’Octavin in Arbois. Surely the best unpretentious wine of the year (pale, delicate, intensely fruity). Then there’s Ben Walgate’s game changing Qvevri Artego (Ortega) from his Tillingham Wines in East Sussex, near Rye. English wines had a strong showing through 2018, but this is different. PN17 seems so long ago, but you know, I think I drank more PN17 than any other single wine this year. Can’t wait to try Col 2017 again.
Oh, then there was this!!!
That’s what it’s all about, trying something a bit different. 2018 was not a year of guzzling up all the finest wines in the cellar (which it becomes increasingly difficult to say goodbye to when they become far too expensive to replace), more one of new discoveries that crept up on me, and thrilled. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading Wideworldofwine throughout the year (nearly 27,000 views so far this year, already up by 5,000 on 2017, which amazes me). I shall try hard to make 2019 just as interesting for us all.
Finally, here are some of the people I really enjoyed spending time with in 2018. Wine really is full of the most amazing, warm, people. Do you recognise any of them? Do you see yourself? If you do, thanks for helping make 2018 so much fun. And all those I’ve missed, especially everyone who lives in Farringdon Street’s Winemakers Club, and those who have cooked such wonderful food, given us a bed, and most likely plied us with several amazing wines in Paris, Vienna and around the UK.