Quite a lot of wines were consumed at home in December, no surprises there, then. I’ve managed to cull it down to fifteen bottles by chopping out those I’ve written about fairly recently, and those that didn’t quite manage to give of their potential. This selection is a little Jura-heavy, on account of pre-trip homework before we headed out to Arbois in the middle of the month, a couple of bottles drunk in the apartment there (which sort of counts under the “drunk at home” banner), and one or two since we got back. But there’s plenty of variety here as well.
Grüner Veltliner “Esper” 2015, Matthias Warnung, Kamptal, Austria
Matthias Warnung has been making the wines at the ten-hectare family estate in Austria’s northerly Kamptal region (just east of Wachau) since 2010. The soils, sited near Etsdorf-am-Kamp, are a typical mix of loess and gravel, making for wines of texture and mineral mouthfeel. Esper is from reasonably old vines, a cuvée of around only 1,300 bottles. The must is fermented in large old oak and then sees a further two years in the same before bottling.
There’s a definite richness to this, and a hint of some skin contact (especially in its golden colour). But it is certainly dry, and has a lovely mineral freshness which livens the palate. Daniel at Les Caves de Pyrene recommended it to me, and it was an excellent call.
Bourgogne Aligoté 2015, Alice & Olivier De Moor, Chablis, France
The De Moors have long made a delicious Aligoté, indeed long before this variety became super trendy. In fact it could probably be said that Alice and the Goisots in nearby Saint-Bris, have done more than most to bring this grape’s qualities to the attention of a younger audience. This 2015 was a bit of a unicorn wine on release, tiny quantities being snapped up and people desperate to secure two-or-three bottles.
You’d probably not expect this kind of freshness and acidity from a 2015, but it is all carefully judged. In any event, 2015 was actually a bit cold and rainy in Chablis, until a very fine September brought the grapes on. The other thing you notice in this wine is the relatively low, 12.5%, alcohol. It must be a contributing factor to how light on its feet this is. It’s a wonderful, fresh, wine (though lacking the acidity levels of old fashioned Aligoté) which definitely did live up to the hype.
En Passant Devant le Château 2015, Les Vignes de Paradis, Burgundy, France
This is another of the incredible wines Dominique Lucas makes, not from his vineyards in the old AOC of Crépy, to the south of Lac Léman and east of Geneva this time, but from the 2.5 hectares he farms in his family’s home region of Burgundy. To be specific, this cuvée comes from a small block right outside the Château de Pommard, hence its name. The biodynamically farmed vines here are over fifty years of age. This cuvée consists of a mere 835 bottles.
What we have, in actual fact, is essentially not very Burgundian. In fact you might easily miss its origin because it’s bottled as a Vin de France, and gives Lucas’s address at Balaison, in Savoie. The grapes undergo a rigorous sorting and this is why the fruit tastes super clean despite the natural winemaking at play here. When you look at the juice in the glass, I’m not sure you’d believe it is Pinot Noir, it’s so purple. It also has an almost gritty texture, but clearly in the fruit. Think smoky cherry with the kind of grippy tannins that are softened by food. It’s a wine of amazing concentration and length. So classy, but not at all snooty.
Côtes du Jura Chardonnay “La Chaux” 2015, François Rousset-Martin, Jura, France
François farms at Nevy-sur-Seille, just outside Château-Chalon. I’ll admit I didn’t know anything about him before this wine was recommended to me. He speciallises in wines from individual parcels. Les Chaux is a 0.4 ha block of 65-year-old vines close to Château-Chalon and this cuvée is made ouillé, in a non-oxidative style. Nevertheless, it gets its lovely mouthfeel and tingly texture from 14 months ageing on fine lees.
Somehow what we have here is a wine that tastes both modern and old fashioned. I remember Chardonnay wines in the past from Jura which tasted a little like Savagnin, quite nutty. The general conclusion was that it was a factor of terroir. The geology of La Chaux is complex, with both limestone and at least two types of marl present in a tiny area. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere there?
I chose to include this wine because it is a little unusual in that respect. The nuttiness gives it something similar to slight oxidation (remember, it’s not made oxidatively), but at the same time it has a freshness which suggests complexity, not a fault. But the friend who recommended it did later tell me they had drank a bottle that was less beautiful than the first. But on a score of a 2-1 Home Win, it gets a mention, with the suggestion that you explore further for yourselves.
Beaujolais 2016, Pierre Cotton, Beaujolais, France
Pierre Cotton is a young grower in Brouilly who took over fully from his father in 2014. Most of his recently enlarged estate is in fact inside the two Brouilly crus, but he also has some vines classified as Beaujolais, further south.
Full carbonic vinification is Cotton’s preferred winemaking method, and he also prefers to use concrete tanks for vinification, but after that it goes into previously-used oak for ageing. The resulting wine is quite dark in colour, so that the juice, tasting of purest cherry, is quite a surprise. There’s a faint prickle of CO2, which lifts it even further. Although you’d certainly describe this wine as fairly light, it does open out to reveal a darker fruit side. It also has a little bit of a bite, well, perhaps just a nibble, on the finish.
It’s really nice, and not totally unlike the pure and juicy Beaujolais-Villages we had from Jean-Claude Lapalu last Monday night (see previous article), a near neighbour of Pierre. I’ve got some of the up-range cuvées from this producer, and I’m very much looking forward to trying them.
The Liberator Episode 16 “Perfectly Flawed”, Swartland, South Africa
The Liberator series of wines is a project of Richard Kelly MW, who owns the UK importer Dreyfus-Ashby, but is also something of a South Africa expert. Episode 16 is made from 2015 Chenin Blanc, found in Tulbagh and made at Table Mountain Vineyards. This wine was aged in concrete and for some reason developed a layer of flor. It must surely be mere coincidence that at 33º of latitude, nearby Cape Town is on the same latitude as Jerez!
Only 353 cases were made. Initially you get a slightly nutty, flor, note, but next a delicious Chenin richness builds and takes over. The flor gives it an added freshness, as with a Fino Sherry, but the qualities of the Chenin Blanc make it a very different beast. It’s light and refreshing, but with depth.
I was really pleased to be introduced to these wines, which all sound very interesting. Episode 17 is a tiny production Pinot Noir (less than a thousand bottles) from the Western Cape, Episode 18 is a somewhat more plentiful (650 cases) Petite Syrah from Stellenbosch. These are well priced wines with good labels, and thankfully they seem to have a pretty wide distribution here in London and the South of England.
Champagne Legras & Haas “Les Sillons” Derrière les Partelaines, Chouilly, France
Legras & Haas has been around for a few decades but I think it is fair to say that only now have they begun to make waves, at least in the UK. This particular cuvée is a blanc de blancs Chardonnay of which a mere 3,600 bottles were made of this 2012 (disgorged April 2017).
Aged for eight months in oak, there are clear hints of it both in the structure and the flavour. It is rich and smooth, and extremely moreish. Fruit flavours range from ripe pear to peach, but these are carried on a stream of fine acidity. A touch of breadiness suggests it is evolving, but it’s basically pretty fresh right now, still youthful with lots more to give. This gift seems to retail for around £70, quite a lot for a relative unknown, but worth it.
A Demûa 2014, Cascina Degli Ulivi, Piemonte, Italy
Okay, I’ve written about this wine from Stefano Bellotti before, but I opened this, my last from this particular vintage, to toast the man whose departure from our world brought a genuine sadness to so many people I know. It’s one thing to make great wine, another to make it within the context of so much stress and opposition from the authorities in Gavi and the wider region, all because you want to respect nature.
To do so whilst suffering from serious illness, an illness which ultimately killed him, does rather cloud my feelings towards those who did not appreciate what Stefano was doing and sought to thwart him. I was lucky enough to meet the man two or three times, and there is no doubt that he was a special spirit, if wholly unassuming and modest. Thankfully it looks as if his work will be continued.
A Demûa is a blend of one of the local varieties rediscovered of late (and known commercially via Walter Massa), Timorasso, along with Chasselas, Riesling Italico, Verdea and Bosco. It’s very much a skin contact wine, a ninety day maceration giving quite a tannic structure, albeit definitely softened with age. There are effectively two elements.
Orange wines often taste of orange, I have no idea why, but they do. In this wine it is unmistakable, that first element being orange citrus and orange peel. Added to this, you get a second element, garrigue-type herbs, which add a different twist of bitterness. I kind of think if you love drinking negronis you’ll adore this, but then my wife doesn’t really drink negroni and she enjoys this as much as I do.
If you don’t know these wines, you have to try them (Caves de Pyrene import), and this wine is quintessential Bellotti. If you didn’t ever meet Stefano, you can do so in Jonathan Nossiter’s film, “Natural Resistance”. His appearances are poignant.
Côtes du Jura Chardonnay “La Chaux” 2015, Les Dolomies, Jura, France
Les Dolomies is the wonderful four hectare estate created by Céline Gormally, working with husband Steve, near Passenans, in the Côtes du Jura southwest of Poligny. The wines are beginning to be sold in shops in the region, but Céline has built an enviable reputation overseas, where much of her small production is exported (Copenhagen’s Noma lists them, a fact that is highlighted every time I read about them, so let’s not stop here).
Winemaking at Les Dolomies is biodynamic and natural. Céline is a former organiser of the Nez dans le Vert organic, biodynamic and natural wine tastings held each year in the Jura region. The soils here, in this enclave south of Poligny, are mainly limestone, coincidentally similar to those at Vadans, where Céline formerly worked at Domaine Saint-Pierre.
This cuvée is very easy to drink and it slips down so well you don’t notice that it shows 13.5% abv on the label (tastes more like 12% to me). The limestone gives wines of pronounced minerality, but it isn’t what you’d call highly acidic. But there is a gentle citrus flavour with just a hint of nuts as well. The overall ambience is one of freshness. It’s just a lovely wine, approachable, slipping down rather easily.
Ploussard “Oeuvre L’Esprit” 2016, Tony Bornard, Jura, France
Tony has taken over the Bornard Domaine in Pupillin from his father, Philippe, but I think he plans to keep his own label going. These are very individual wines which, as a range, display a particular lightness which distinguishes them from Bornard Père’s bottles.
This Ploussard is flavoured with strawberry, raspberry and cherry freshness, which you’d call the epitome of glou. There’s not an awful lot more to say because it’s a simple wine, with only 11.2% alcohol. It’s a wine of rare purity, so delicious. A perfect summer Ploussard which did not disappoint in mid-December. One left, can I manage to hold off until summer?
Arbois Tradition 2016, Fumey-Chatelain, Jura, France
I’m technically cheating here, because I drank this wine in a restaurant, and these monthly roundups are supposed to be for wines I drank at home. I’ve even mentioned this wine before, in the last of my recent Jura articles. But I was very much taken with it, so I am giving it another plug.
Raphaël Fumey and Adeline Chatelain farm 15 hectares at their home village of Montigny-lès-Arsures (about ten minutes’ drive from Arbois) and around Arbois itself. At Montigny they have converted an old farmhouse for their cellars and since the end of the 1990s have been steadily making wines with fewer and fewer inputs.
“Tradition” is an opportunity to taste what is self-evidently the traditional blend of white grapes around Arbois, Chardonnay and Savagnin. In this particular cuvée it is 70% Chardonnay to 30% Savagnin. The Chardonnay is topped-up as it ages, coming off limestone with some clay, whilst the Savagnin is planted on marls and is aged sous voile, in an oxidative style.
The first thing to notice is how subtle this wine is. Both grapes in the blend can be identified. The Chardonnay is fruity and floral, but with a buttery note just creeping in, whereas the Savagnin brings definite hazelnuts and a sharp lick of lime citrus. Acidity is nicely balanced but not pronounced.
Visiting Arbois each year seems like devotion to duty, but I can tell you that there is never enough time and I hope to visit this domaine for the first time at some point in the future.
Arbois “Les Moulins” 2016, Domaine de la Touraize, Jura, France
This is another domaine I’ve yet to visit, although their wines have been on my radar for around three years now. Ever since some friends brought me André-Jean Morin’s petnat to try (really good) I’ve drunk and or purchased a few bottles from local wine shops on each subsequent visit.
This wine is another blend of Chardonnay and Savagnin, around two thirds Chardonnay, but blended at harvest and co-fermented after whole bunch pressing. It comes from a single 0.75ha plot on gravel over marl. Ageing is for one year on fine lees, but topped up (ouillé).
It’s another pleasantly understated wine which has plenty of citrus, but equally a nice savoury note. It’s quite light on the palate and fresh without having pronounced acidity, but it is labelled as 13% abv. It has a slightly lighter feel than the Fumey (not a qualitative comment), perhaps ever so slightly fresher.
André-Jean and his wife, Héléana (eighth generation winemakers here), are in the process of converting their vines to biodynamic farming. They do use sulphur, but only in small amounts, mainly for the whites. Their vineyards in springtime look a riot of wild flowers between the rows. Along with Fumey-Chatelain, if I’d had an extra couple of days in December I’d certainly have tried to pay them a visit (the domaine is on the edge of Arbois, but they also have a small shop in the town, open in summer, not far from the Pasteur Museum, if you are in the neighbourhood).
“Artisan” 2016, Vignoble du Rêveur, Alsace, France
This domaine is run by Mathieu Deiss (son of Jean-Michel Deiss) and Emmanuelle Milan, using grapes from parcels left to Mathieu by his grandfather at Bennwihr (near Kaysersberg). All the grapes are farmed biodynamically. Artisan is a blend of Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris, given ten days on skins.
So this is truly an orange wine in all respects – colour and an abundance of texture, but not harsh tannins. The overall impression is one of gentle richness. Both of the grape varieties here generally react well to skin contact. The wine is rich but dry, and the three elements you notice on the palate are tropical fruits (especially orange and mango), peppery spice, and a zip of citrus acidity (soft grapefruit). This cuvée is also bursting with energy. I definitely plan to buy more of this, one of my wines of the month. Nice label too (shame about the photo, sorry).
Champagne Val Frison Blanc de Noirs Brut Nature “Goustan”, Côte des Bar, France
Valerie Frison is an exciting new name to me. I tried her Blanc de Blancs “Lalore” for the first time back in June last year. I think I slightly preferred Lalore to this Pinot Noir cuvée, but that is only a slight personal preference. Goustan is still very good. She farms around six hectares of vines around Ville-sur-Arce, just east of the Seine, with just around one-and-a-quarter of those hectares being Chardonnay and the rest, Pinot Noir.
Goustan is a blend of grapes from several small Pinot parcels which are fermented in used oak (in this case, barrels from nearby Chablis). This wine spent six months in wood, on lees, and then 19 months, following its second fermentation, in bottle, before being disgorged in March 2016 (so it has also had a couple of years post-disgorgement ageing before I bought this in the summer of 2018). I am guessing that this is therefore from the 2014 vintage (how’s my maths?).
Initially served too cold, this was dry and firm, the zero dosage showing its teeth. On warming it became rounder, less angular, showing a little brioche, and when the red fruits revealed themselves, they were fresh, pretty and elegant. That initial hardness translated, as it warmed a little, into what many would term a fresh minerality.
I have another bottle of this, which I shall look forward to opening this year, perhaps making sure not to over chill it. I shall also look out for some more of the Lalore, and perhaps some other cuvées from Val Frison. The rosé, “Elion”, made with minimal sulphur, sounds very interesting when described by Peter Liem in his recent “Champagne” tome.
“Trenzado” 2016, Val de la Orotava, Suertes del Marqués, Tenerife (Canary Is)
There are many occasions when a producer you drank quite regularly a few years ago slips out of your cellar purely because so much interesting new stuff comes along. As far as the Canary Isles are concerned, Suertes was my first discovery. Then came Envinate, and before long the volcanic islands theme had taken me further afield, to the Azores, and the fabulous wines of António Maçanita from Pico. I really should not forget Suertes del Marqués.
So what can we say about Trenzado? It is a white blend of mainly Listán Blanco (aka Palomino), with Vidueño and other ungrafted indigenous varieties, grown in the Orotava Valley on the island’s volcanic soils at altitude (300 to 700 metres), in a climate which is partly sub-tropical. Fermentation is 60% in stainless steel, but the other 40% of the must is fermented in concrete tanks, on skins. Ageing is eight months in concrete and eight months in old 500 litre oak casks.
The name “Trenzado” is worth explaining. The cordon trenzado is unique, and spectacular to see (the label doesn’t really do it justice, but photographs abound). A vine is trained to throw out tendrils from the trunk both up and down the slope. They almost hug the ground, twisted around one another in a line, supported by stakes. They are pruned so that fruit forms only at the end of these branches. From a distance a row of vines looks like an enormous millipede crawling across the landscape.
This is not a wine where you would jump to use fruit descriptors. It’s both mineral and herby. It has a fine edge to it, couterbalanced by a massive flavour profile, and I know this wine ages well. Now, in relative youth, however, it is also just so refreshing. Superb drinking now.
December is always a time for drinking lovely wines, but it seems that I enjoyed a lot of really good music as well. So you’ll notice a few CDs and LPs in one or two of the photos. They all come as highly recommended as the wines. As to the photos, some are less good, less in focus, than I would have hoped (if you are viewing them on a computer screen rather than a phone). I shall try harder, but hopefully it’s the text that counts.