The idea for this piece grew out of a very brief social media conversation. I happened to mention a particular wine would be in my desert island dozen, and threw in another couple of names. In a sense it seems a bit self-indulgent, putting my own passions out there in one place, but then wine is, or ought to be, about passion, is it not?
Of course, what we have here is not exactly “my favourite wines ever”. Rather, I’ve taken some truly exciting producers, whose wines I adore, and thought about what I might like to drink on a desert island. It will be hot, so I won’t be choosing Amarone, nor Napa Cab, but then you don’t usually find me writing about those wines. Yet don’t take this too seriously. I’m as partial to fine Gevrey and Côte Rôtie as the next person. I just don’t think they’d go with snapper, grilled on a driftwood fire, in a coconut cream sauce.
The selection here does quite neatly allow me to pretty much sum up a selection of the best wines from my monthly roundups of what I drank at home in 2018, under the hashtag #theglouthatbindsus.
I can guarantee that there will be vehement disagreement. There certainly was between me and my other self. I did consider Barolo and Côte Rôtie, and the odd Catalonian wine, and would have liked to squeeze in one more Jura, Alsace, Austrian…if this was a baker’s dozen (13), then Arnold Holzer’s Orange would have duelled with something from South Africa’s Blank Bottle Winery to be the wine most likely to make the cut. Oh well.
Oh, give me one indulgence, because I’ll need it…a small wine fridge and a generator to power it would be a silly request. I just need the island to have a cool, dark, dry, cave above the tide line.
The order below is random.
1. Gut Oggau “Winifred”, Oggau, Burgenland, Austria
Eduard and Stephanie are based in Oggau, just a couple of kilometres north of Rust, on the western side of the Neusiedlersee. Their (literal) family of wines seem to fit together so well that they genuinely almost appear as if they are truly their children. As I said recently, for me these wines are like the music of the spheres, profoundly beautiful.
Winifred is a blend, 60% Zweigelt with 40% Blaufränkisch in 2017 (the current vintage), 35+-y-o vines off limestone and slate. Is it a rosé, is it a pale red? It doesn’t matter. The red fruits have a crunch to them and there’s a bit of spice, but what lingers (if you let it) is a otherworldly quality, a gentle persistence, almost ghostly, and very beautiful. Refreshing, simple, but also a wine that yearns for wistful contemplation.
UK Importer – Dynamic Vines
2. Julie Blalagny Fleurie “Chavot”, Beaujolais, France
Balagny has been my to Bojo choice for a few years, despite a strong field, and I’m sure plenty of readers will wonder why I’ve not gone for more obvious, more famous, names. The answer is excitement. The Balagny wines for me are quite close to the edge at times, and are thus always thrilling to sip.
In any bio of Julie you will probably read “artisan” (true), “reclusive” (hmm, maybe) and “challenging” (almost certainly). Like our previous producer, she works naturally, and biodynamically, without addition of sulphur. En Remont is the old vine cuvée (approaching centenarians) from pure granite, but Chavot is from mere thirty-year-olds on basalt, yet it is so complex with ripe red cherry and pomegranate flavours swathing quite firm tannins in the 2014 I drank. This may be Gamay, but it will last a decade, so here I’d have something to look forward to, a red to share with my rescuers.
UK Importer – Tutto Wines
3. Domaine L’Octavin Betty Rosay, Arbois, Jura, France
This is a Vin de France, and one I only tried (and wrote about) very recently. It’s actually made from bought-in Gamay fruit from Southern Beaujolais, not from Alice and Charles’ own Arbois vines. So why choose this when there are so many “home cuvées” to select from?
I think this wine exemplifies everything that is not just good but great about Alice Bouvot’s winemaking, and her approach. Hit by the usual weather disasters her answer is to call a mate, and get in the van. When she sees the fruit and tastes it, whether it be her own fruit or not, she decides how best she can express it. Betty Rosay was direct pressed, very gently. The wine is pale, so pale that it almost resembles a ramato style, a kind of oeil de perdrix.
So when you sniff, you are taken aback by the rush of very pure fruit. When you taste it, there’s a concentration akin to the hit of a boiled sweet, or perhaps a fruit smoothie. A tiny hint of CO2 adds lift, and protection. This is simple “fruit” juice but it somehow transcends everything, and the hit is thrilling. A kind of wake-up wine, though it only shows 12% abv.
UK Importer – also Tutto Wines
4. Rennersistas “In A Hell Mood”, Gols, Burgenland, Austria
This is Stefanie and Susanne’s pétnat. It is also Stefanie’s moniker on Instagram, although absolutely every time I have met her, even on the first day of harvest this year, she seems to be constantly smiling, with never a hint of any hell mood in sight. I met the girls’ father, Helmuth, this year. I admire the trust he has placed in his daughters, allowing them to go in a dramatically different direction. But together they are such a force of nature that I hardly think resistance would have been an option. For what it’s worth, I believe in them too.
The girls may be young but they have had impeccable mentoring from Toms Shobbrook and Lubbe. Their style is unashamedly “natural”, but Weingut Renner owns some of the best parcels of vines on the northeastern side of the Neusiedlersee. Their father makes a very impressive traditional red as part of the Pannobile group of producers.
You need some bubbles on a dessert island and the competition for a petnat slot is very hot (I can think of two Jura wines that were snapping on the heels here). This wine is 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay, whole bunch pressed and made by the Méthode Ancestrale, seeing around seven months on lees in bottle.
The grapes are picked early (we tasted the Pinot for the 2018 version on that first day of harvest visit this year). The overriding quality is therefore freshness. It’s quite precise. Others have described it as “earthy” and I know what they mean. For me, it has a little bit of a rough edge, which adds to its allure. It isn’t attempting to be a Champagne-lookalike, rather a lively fizz with a bit of guts, the kind of guts the Renner sisters have shown in taking on this project, which mark my words, is changing perceptions in an otherwise conservative part of Burgenland.
UK Importer – Newcomer wines
5. Champagne Bérêche, Reflet D’Antan, Craon de Ludes, Montagne de Reims, France
Reflet is, for me, not just the pinnacle of Raphael and Vincent Bérêche’s range, it also sits in that same position in relation to the wines of the whole region…in my wholly subjective estimation. Boy, there are some very fine wines, at very fine prices, that would wish to challenge it. But this is my selection, and it is true that having got to know Raphael a little over the years, I respect him more than any other Champagne producer I have met.
The grape mix is nothing unusual, normally a broadly equal blend of the region’s three main varieties, taken from the Bérêche vineyards on the Montagne and in the Marne Valley. After fermentation the wine goes into a cuvée perpetuelle (Raphael insisted once that I should not call it a solera, and of course, as always, he is technically correct). In recent years there was a curtailment of production of Reflet in order for the reserve wines to age even more. When the annual bottling has taken place the wine will see another three years on lees, and a dosage of around 6g/l is introduced at disgorgement.
The result is a wine of astonishing complexity, even on release, although it is built to age gently. When showing maturity it is a powerful statement of what can be produced, a world away from most non-vintage Champagne. Some oxidative flavours will combine with rich honey and dried fruits. For me, this wine is personal. I couldn’t be without it on my desert island, and I’m sure I’d keep the empty bottle for water (and use the others to send out my pleas to be rescued).
UK Importer – Vinetrail
6. Jean-Pierre Rietsch, Klevener, Mittelbergheim, Alsace, France
I’d need some Alsace wine to keep me company, but why choose this producer and this wine? Especially why not choose a Riesling? I’ve visited Alsace many times over the years. I’ve met a few producers too. Jean-Pierre is probably the most thoughtful I’ve come across. I’d like to say philosophical, but that would be my interpretation, not his. I’ve also covered almost every corner of this stretched out region (never visited Thann), and Mittelbergheim just seems to buzz with excitement.
Klevener from the village of Heiligenstein is in actual fact Savagnin Rose, here grown on argilo-calcaire soils. The Rietsch version sees eleven months on lees, giving it a yellow colour. It’s zippy but with a nutty edge, and a touch of richness (a tiny 0.4g/l of residual sugar in the 2016). It also comes with great purity. I selected this because not only is it a fantastic wine (J-P makes plenty of those), it is also something uniquely different. There are reasons why many of you will never have heard of Klevener de Heiligenstein, but this is not one of them.
UK Importer – Wines Under The Bonnet
7. Domaine de la Tournelle Vin Jaune, Arbois, Jura, France
Well, I’d have to have a bottle of Vin Jaune, but why La Tournelle? For many years part of my heart has resided at this domaine, not only for the wines, but also for the genuine couple that make them. Arbois is full of nice people, but the Clairets are always first on the lips of younger growers when listing those who have helped them.
Vin Jaune gets its character from the almost seven years it spends under a yeast veil of flor, but things are more nuanced than this. Vin Jaune is aged in lofts, cellars, sheds and almost anywhere a producer can stick it for such a long period. Some are damp, some dry, some well-ventilated and some less so. As a result, some Vin Jaune is nutty and rich, some rather old fashioned, whilst some is surprisingly light on its feet.
What the Clairets have mastered is the ability to produce a Vin Jaune which ages sedately into a beauty of a wine, yet is always approachable and enjoyable young. In many ways it is the essence of what you wish for with the style. It’s also a versatile wine as well, at home equally with the poulet as with the Comté.
UK Importer – Dynamic Vines
8. Claus Preisinger Erdeluftgrasundreben Weissburgunder, Gols, Burgenland, Austria
I was going to select Claus’ juicy, entry-level, Blaufränkisch, or Zweigelt, I think the first Preisinger wines I ever bought, but I’ve had this particular wine three times this year, two bottles being from 2013. It’s a masterpiece of skin contact natural winemaking that will impress far more people than it will frighten.
When you visit Claus’ winery, on the northern edge of Gols, you might be a bit surprised. It looks like the kind of modern architecture you would see on “Grand Designs”, jutting out over the vines, which slope to the distant lake. Yet Claus is an instinctive winemaker. What works best for this variety in this vineyard?
For Pinot Blanc from the Erdelgraben site it is Georgian amphora. Five months here, on skins, with spontaneous fermentation, is followed by a period in old oak. The wine isn’t filtered, and Claus actually recommends you shake it up rather than let it settle, to get that full-on lees action in the mouth. It’s rich and citric, sweet and bitter at the same time. And how many 13.5% wines glug down quite as easily as this? Refreshment and inebriation at the same time…for those moments when the ship on the horizon turns out to be merely a mirage (holds true for life too).
Claus is partner to Susanne Renner, such a wonderful combination of talents.
UK Importer – Newcomer Wines
9. Stéphane & Bénédicte Tissot, Chardonnay La Tour de Curon “Le Clos” 2005, Arbois, Jura, France
I may have written about this specific wine in my previous article, but as I belatedly named it my Wine of the Year 2018 I could not leave it off this list. Guessing that most of you read that previous article, I won’t elaborate too much again here. Stéphane was a young man newly returned from South Africa when I first met him at Domaine André et Mireille Tissot, in Montigny-les-Arsures in the 1990s. I’ve followed his career closely as he has transformed his parents’ domaine into one of the best in France.
This is Chardonnay of a class equal to anything you’ll find anywhere. The vines sit on terraced limestone, tied to single stakes. Great terroir with great exposure. It might be the finest site in the whole Jura region. The wine exudes class, and more than anything, balance. That’s balance between à point fruit, mineral freshness, savoury nuttiness and a line of lemon citrus acidity. It has (this 2005) aged beautifully, though I’m not sure it is quite at its peak.
There’s only one downside to this wine, and that is the conversation I’m going to need to have later this week.
UK Importer – Some of the Domaine A&M/Stéphane Tissot wines are imported via Berry Bros & Rudd, but I don’t think they import the Curon. Enquire at the domaine’s shop on the Place de la Liberté in Arbois
10. Meinklang Konkret Rot, Pamhagen, Burgenland, Austria
Meinklang makes wines around the southern edge of Austria’s Neusiedlersee, as well as further south, in Hungary, with vines on the rather unusual Somló Massif. Their Austrian vineyards are farmed biodynamically, and the winds off the Pannonian plain to the south ensure a relatively disease free environment.
Konkret Rot (there’s also a Weiss) is made from a field blend of varieties, based on Blaufränkisch and Saint-Laurent, from clay soils. The wine is made in concrete egg, a technique which at Meinklang has been expertly refined. Here, you get spiced fruit, a bit of heft (it’s only 13% though), and texture, but that texture is integrated. With a bit of age it can come across as less textured than many orange skin contact wines. The berry flavours are nicely pushed forward by the vinification method.
Meinklang make a lot of different wines, and there are a handful that match this in quality, whether from the wild Graupert vineyards in Austria (where the vines trail free), or the unusual local varieties, like Juhfark, from the volcanic soils of Somló. Or even the Konkret Weiss. But this is unusual enough to make my cut. A fascinating wine. You are never bored drinking it.
UK Importer – Meinklang wines are available through several UK sources. I usually buy mine via Winemakers Club, who import them direct
11. Jutta Ambrositsch, Sieveringer Ringelspiel, Gemischter Satz, Vienna, Austria
Jutta has a tiny vineyard holding on the hills north of Vienna, where her vines (over 60-years-old) grow on chalky loam. Gemischter Satz is the traditional Austrian field blend and a major part of Vienna’s (revived) wine culture. Jutta grows Grüner Veltliner, Neuberger, Sylvaner, Riesling, Gutedel, and other unidentified vines which make up the twelve grape varieties this cuvée.
Gemischter Satz has a uniqueness which comes from a dominance of terroir and tradition over variety. Everything is co-planted, and everything is picked at the same time and co-fermented. This gives wines that may not be complex (although with Wieninger’s single site wines, they certainly are complex with age), but they do have character and personality. Yet more than anything else, this is just fresh and zippy, with a touch of the savoury. When the heat is on, this (at usually around a sedate 12% alcohol) is the wine to reach for.
12. Equipo Navazos Manzanilla Pasada Bota 80, Jerez/Sanlúcar, Spain
Equipo Navazos make, or I should rather say “select”, some of the most expressive wines in the world. I couldn’t go to a desert island without Sherry, and I’d want that Sherry to make an impact. That is why I have chosen their 80th release, and a pasada style of Manzanilla.
The wine here comes out of a solera from Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín at Sanlúcar. As a Bota Punta, it comes from a single cask selected for its particular qualities. The wine is salty and nutty in equal measure, certainly oxidative in character, with pronounced chalkiness. Despite 16.5% alcohol, the wine exhibits genuine finesse and class, and as with all EN wines, quite astounding length. It’s a profound wine, with an impact that lasts on the palate and in the mind. And unlike some of the other wines here, I’d not need to finish it in one go.
UK Importer – Alliance Wine is the agent
Okay, well I apologise at the relatively narrow range of wines here. Twelve wines, only three countries, and rather a lot from just two regions. After all, this is just a bit of fun, but if you ever find yourself on a desert island with any of these bad boys, you won’t be sorry.
As for the rest, well I’m happy to forego The Bible and The Compleat (sic) Works of Shakespeare, if I can just have a copy of the Michelin Road Atlas of France (to transport me in my dreams), Wink Lorch’s Jura Wine to read and The Sons of Kemet’s “Your Queen is a Reptile” to listen to (just pips Idles’ “Joy…” as my album of the year), plus something to play it on.