Being away for a couple of weeks in January, and ill for more than a week in February, I’ve decided that my regular “wines drunk at home” column will cover the first two months of the year. It’s a bumper edition, but not too bumper – I’ve cut out a few wines to keep it to fifteen bottles, but there’s quite a bit of variety here with one or two classic wines sneaking in with the natural stuff.
Sauvignon Blanc “Buxus” 2004, Villette, Louis Bovard (13.5%)
That’s not a typo, this really is fourteen years old. It came in a mixed case from Alpine Wines chosen by Joelle and the team there to highlight some of their more unusual offerings (a Christmas present from my wife). Louis Bovard may be familiar to some readers, one of the producers seen occasionally outside of Switzerland, of those who farm the spectacular steep terraces which border the north side of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman). Bovard is based at Cully, between Lausanne and Vevey, and owns 17 hectares, quite a holding in terms of the region.
The “Buxus” is one of two very special Sauvignon Blancs, around 2,000 bottles produced, and I understand they are highly sought after in Switzerland. It’s aged in oak, which may at least in part be why it has lasted so well, and it is quite astonishing. There’s definitely Sauvignon Blanc character, yet it has the fatness and weight you might expect of a Chardonnay, and it’s remarkably rich. What you don’t expect is the grapefruit acidity, which may be far from searing but it is easily sufficient to lift the wine. It was perplexingly good. Whether this is a lucky, well stored, bottle or whether every one would be as good as this, I have no idea.
Spätburgunder “S” 2012, Klaus Peter Keller, Rheinhessen (13%)
This is often described as Keller’s entry level Spätburgunder, although I believe there is a cheaper cuvée. The fruit comes from what one might call youngish vines, 25-years-old, planted in the famous Morstein vineyard. It’s quite dark in colour and the bouquet has a lovely, fragrant, spiciness and a smoky quality. The fruit is fairly concentrated cherry with a hint of richness and a hint of restraint. Not at all simple, this is indeed classy.
I’d been keeping this for a couple of years, and I’d recommend doing that if you buy a more recent vintage. It may be only a £30 wine, but it does have the same capacity to age as a good village wine from Burgundy. I believe Keller’s top Spätburgunder is way out of the league of normal people, but this “S” does merit regular purchase. But Burgundy it is not. The special Morstein site sees to that, and Klaus Peter calls Pinot Noir here “red Riesling”. When you try this you can see what he means.
The Spätburgunder “S” has fairly good, if intermittent, distribution. This bottle came from Winemakers Club, although if you want a case, contact Howard Ripley.
Saperavi 2017, Kakheti, Georgia, Zurab Topuridze (13.5%)
Saperavi is Georgia’s best known red variety. What many don’t know is that it is a teinturier. This means that along with its red skin it has red flesh. Like Alicante Bouschet, France’s best known teinturier, it makes deeply coloured wines which stain the glass red.
Although you’ll notice this has a fairly high alcohol content, it actually seems much more light on its feet. It’s fresh and lively despite not having masses of acidity. It scores on really delicious cherry and bramble fruit with a slightly dusty texture, and a fruit bomb richness. This is a wonderful natural wine from a very good producer which oozes pure juiciness. It’s one of the ever brilliant range of Georgian wines from Les Caves de Pyrene.
Champagne Bérêche “Les Beaux Regards” 2013 (12%)
This is pure Chardonnay from Ludes’ 1er Cru fruit (so off the Montagne). Just 3,791 bottles were made from this site in 2013 and it was disgorged in March 2017 (Extra Brut, dosed at 3g/l). Even as a relatively young wine this is quite complex. First you get quite a lot of citrus, especially lime, which is counterbalanced by just a hint of ginger. Then you sense a bready note over the top.
The wine comes primarily from vines planted in the very early 1900s, on a very chalky site, although there were further plantings by massale selection in the 1970s. Beaux Regards always starts out as a fairly linear wine with a firm acidity running down its spine. With time it broadens out. It’s one of my favourite wines from Bérêche, so I’m terrible at giving it the time it deserves, but even in January it was a classy bottle, thrilling as always.
Purchased on a visit in 2017. Vinetrail is Bérêche’s UK agent.
Crémant d’Alsace Extra Brut 2014, Jean-Pierre Rietsch, Mittelbergheim
Rietsch blends Auxerrois and Chardonnay for his Crémant, with a dash of Pinot Gris, which could account for what I call the extra half percent of alcohol (12.5%). Jean-Pierre is one of several top producers in what is arguably the most exciting village in Alsace these days. Although his still wines are rightly renowned, his Crémant should not be ignored.
Fermented with native yeasts, the prise de mousse is also achieved with a liqueur from the same yeasts, with a little 2015 juice. This was disgorged in July 2017 with zero dosage and no added sulphur. It is a clean, fresh, sparkler with a steely dryness. It’s bracing but it exudes class in a way that very few Alsace Crémants do. There are few Alsace producers I currently rate higher than Jean-Pierre Rietsch.
This bottle came from a visit in 2017, but Wines Under The Bonnet are the very astute importers for Rietsch in the UK now.
Riesling “Clos Windsbuhl” 2008, Zind-Humbrecht (Turckheim) (12.5%)
Before my passion for Alsace was reinvigorated by a plethora of new producers, largely (but not by any means exclusively) from the northern villages of the region, I used to purchase a steady amount of more classic Alsace, under which category this certainly falls.
Z-H needs no introduction, being one of the region’s three or four most famous producers. Although they are based at Turckheim, the Clos is at Hunawihr, in sight of the famous fortified church, but at altitude on rocky, chalky, soils. It would rank as one of Zind-Humbrecht’s drier wines (Indice 1 on their scale, for those familiar), yet it is still a rich and concentrated wine.
When you get a fully mature Alsace Riesling like this, it almost becomes facile to describe it. There are petrol notes, but it retains a lovely elegant florality too. Ginger and lime seemed to dominate. We matched it with New Forest pannage pork, which I thought worked really well. A wine of world class and undoubted Grand Cru quality in any system of classification.
Originally purchased from Berry Bros & Rudd, then cellared at home.
Pommard “Les Pézerolles” 1er Cru 2001, Domaine de Montille (12%)
Ah, De Montille. I will never learn to keep these wines as long as they deserve, although I’m not sure our guests thought this lacked maturity. Pézerolles lies on the Beaune side of Pommard, just up the slope from Les Petits Epenots. It’s a very traditional wine, with intense fruit (Pommard escaped the hail of 2001), but a certain earthiness.
The fruit is wrapped in a firmish structure, so that whilst it is not a terrible error to drink it now, I think it suggests further development. There’s still plenty of fresh acidity here, as well. As you’d expect from a De Montille of this period, it’s a fine, classic, old school red Burgundy that flourished as it opened in the glass. Give it plenty of air.
Another purchase from Berry Bros.
Ruster Ausbruch 2002, Heidi Schröck, Rust (11%).
Ausbruch is a dessert wine style made from nobly-rotten grapes around the Burgenland town of Rust. Whilst Illmitz, on Neusiedlersee’s eastern shore, is more famous for its sweet wines, Ausbruch is a designation and a style unique to Rust, on the western shore. Some suggest it is, in terms of sweetness and concentration, between a beerenauslese and a trockenbeerenauslese. Ausbruch was regulated here even as far back as the early seventeenth century, making it one of the oldest wine appellations in Europe.
Heidi Schöck is, as regular readers will know, a long time favourite producer here, one whose UK profile is far too low in my opinion. But of all the producers of Ausbruch wines, Heidi is objectively one of the best. Here, she has blended Pinots Gris and Blanc with tiny amounts of Welschriesling and Gelbermuskateller (Muscat).
I think that only around 150 half-bottles were produced by Heidi in 2002 (and Ausbruch isn’t made every year). Yields are low, and only berries with botrytis are harvested. It’s a very complex style where you get lemon citrus, ginger spice, honey and wild flowers which give way to later dominant concentrated orange citrus on a very long, rich, finish, with obvious botrytis notes as well. Good acids stop the wine being cloying. Not a well known style, but fantastic.
This wine was purchased on a visit in 2015. I have no idea what I paid, but it was nothing near the £75 quoted by Winesearcher. Alpine Wines imports Heidi Schröck into the UK and they list three of her different Ausbruchs, ranging between £40 to a little over £50. Worth seeking out.
In a Hell Mood 2017, Rennersistas, Gols (Burgenland) (11%)
This 2017 is a cracking petnat which I’d place firmly in my favourite half-dozen of the style. It comprises 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay made by the ancestral method (bottle fermented but not disgorged), with around seven months on lees. It’s usually categorised as “red”, but to be honest you can hardly tell, so pale is the colour, which is often a more orange-pink.
Harvested early and made without the addition of sulphur, this may be quite simple, but it is incredibly pure. The wine has a gentle texture, but there’s vibrant fruit. Refreshing, uncomplicated, satisfying, as all the best petnats are. And to be honest, this wine (not my description of it) does seem to perfectly mirror the personality of Stefanie Renner. My last 2017, I can’t wait for the 2018 which I tasted from the press in August.
Purchased from Newcomer Wines in Dalston.
Rotwein 2012, Maria and Sepp Muster, Steirerland (12%)
This is probably one of Sepp and Maria Muster’s most underrated wines. Styria has not perhaps been noted much for its red wine production, with the exception of the local speciality variety, Blauer Wildbacher, which is the grape variety used in Schilcher Sekt. This still red is a blend of Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch with a little of that variety.
There’s real acidity and freshness which led my daughter to describe it as “boisterous”, which I think suits it well. The accompanying fruit is straight from the hedgerow, and has bite. It’s not a complicated wine, but in some ways that just makes it perfect for so many simple dishes. From one of the most philosophical winemaking couples in Austria (and Styria seems to breed philosophers).
I can’t quite recall where I bought this, although Newcomer Wines (again) is a good bet.
La Bota de Florpower 67 “Más Acá”, Equipo Navazos, Jerez (12.5%)
This wine is from the 2014 vintage, bottled in 2016, 100% Palomino Fino from the Pago Miraflores site on Sanlúcar’s albariza soils. Following fermentation in stainless steel, it saw 20 months under flor. Seven months of this was in old Sherry casks and a further 13 months in vat, where the flor influence was reduced. There’s prickly acidity which reflects the texture given by the terroir (both the soils and the Atlantic Ocean’s influence). Long, lively and fresh.
The name, Más Acá, is interesting. Acá means “below” (broadly speaking), whereas La Bota de Florpower 53 was named “Más Allá” (beyond) because it saw extended time in wood, with more flor influence. This is relevant as the intention here was to produce a fresher and less flor-influenced “Florpower” than had previously been the case. This series of unfortified wines continues to astonish in their variety.
Purchased direct, but Equipo Navazos is available via Alliance Wine on the UK market. Solent Cellar is a regular retail stockist of Florpower.
Gewurztraminer 2009, AOC Wallis (Valais), Chanton Weine (13.4%)
Mario Chanton, based in Visp, is one of the bigger names in the Swiss Valais. Mario’s father, Josef-Marie, pioneered rare and unusual grape varieties in the high altitude vineyards of the Swiss Valais, especially up in the Val d’Anniviers where Vin de Glacier is a speciality. Out of Laftetscha, Himbertscha, Eyholzer, Plantscher, Resi and Gwäss, it is only the latter two which I have knowingly tried. Gewurztraminer may not be among these varieties which few have heard of, but it is still very rare in this part of the world.
At nearly a decade old, this wine is reasonably dark in colour and the style is rich and off-dry, with Alsace levels of alcohol. Despite the altitude, the valley’s sunshine hours ensure summer heat and ripe grapes. The bouquet is pure, unmistakable Gewurztraminer and the rich palate has pronounced spice.
This was another lovely old wine from Alpine Wines.
Côtes du Marmandais “Le Vin Est une Fête” 2016, Elian da Ros (12.5%)
I go a long way back with Elian da Ros. Before natural wine was really a thing for me, I used to buy quite a lot of wine from Southwest France from Les Caves de Pyrene (who import Elian’s wines). Wines from the Plageoles, Tour des Gendres, Domaine du Pech, Domaine du Cros, Clos du Gamot and the wines of Irouléguy in particular, were all favourites, although I’d come across Da Ros years before, via Adnams in Suffolk.
This is what one might describe as Elian’s easy drinker. Simple, sappy, brambly dark fruited wines with moderate alcohol, like this, are just the kind of wines you need in the cellar for simple suppers and lunches. It’s the sort of soulful simplicity you yearn for in more commercial wines but never find.
Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene, this was a great value £15.99 retail from Solent Cellar.
Traminer “Natural” 2016, Hajszan Neumann, Vienna (14.5%)
Hajszan Neumann is technically based in Grinzing, just outside Vienna at the foot of the Nussberg, and if you are catching the bus to or from Mayer-am-Pfarrplatz you will see their warehouse. They have, however, been taken over by Wieninger, and the wines are made at the Wieninger winery near Bissamberg, on the other side of the Danube.
Wieninger uses the much smaller production of Hajszan Neumann to experiment. They still make a highly regarded Gemischter Satz under this label, but it is the “Natural” range which I find most interesting here.
This 2016 Traminer was awarded 94 points by the usually quite conservative Falstaff Wine Guide. The wine is both natural and biodynamic. Skin contact is five months after fermentation in concrete egg. The wine is so fragrant, beautifully floral on the nose, yet on the palate there’s texture and for an orange wine, it tastes pretty much of oranges too (why is this so often the case?). It is also unfiltered, the sediment adding to the texture. Really delicious. Don’t be put off by the alcohol. I really didn’t notice. So many natural wines use their freshness to hide their alcohol.
I’m not sure the Hajszan Neumann “Natural” range is imported into the UK. This was purchased on a visit to Wieninger in August 2017.
Petite Arvine 2016, Les Crêtes, Valle d’Aosta (13%)
Les Crêtes, in its current incarnation as perhaps the Val d’Aosta’s premier wine producer, was created by Costantino Charrère, and his three daughters are following in his footsteps. The wines are both traditional and modern, perhaps encapsulated in the beautiful modern architecture of their tasting room, which reflects the shape of a traditional mountain hut updated to the twenty-first century.
Les Crêtes might be better known, especially in the Gambero Rosso Wine Guide, for their Chardonnay “Cuvée Bois”, a regular three glass winner, and their rendition of the region’s finest red variety, Fumin. But equally special, in my view, is their Petite Arvine.
We are only a drive over the St-Bernard Pass to Petite Arvine’s home territory in the Swiss Valais. Here at Aymavilles, the grape thrives. You get the weight of a Chardonnay with a bouquet of acacia, passion fruit and mountain herbs. The palate has quite explosive exotic fruits plus grapefruit acidity, all wrapped up in a mineral salinity which gives texture. It’s a cracking wine from one of my favourite wine regions to visit. Almost unknown in the UK, the vines grow in some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in Europe.
This is another wine imported for many years by Les Caves de Pyrene.