Mad March, that time of year when wine importers think we are capable of getting to four or five tastings a day trundles on (no exaggeration, as well as Raw yesterday there were at least four other “unmissable” wine events). I have eight articles waiting to be written since Nebbiolo Day on 5th March. But Raw Wine is an important event, and I know that a lot of people want to read about it, so that’s why I shall give you a couple of pieces first.
Raw Wine seems to have found its place at The Store X on The Strand. No venue is perfect, and this one seems to have found its imperfection in being quite hot when there’s a big crowd, yet it scores on being far more accessible, especially to those of us who live outside London, than some of those outlying events spaces which take a while to get to.
I’m going to focus on far fewer producers this year, only five in Part 1 (more in Part 2). There are plenty of other people who will write about Gravner, Radikon, Cornelissen et al. They make amazing wines, but they are famous already. My featured wine makers are either less well know, or come from less appreciated wine producing countries, certainly the case with the Czech Republic here, and Greece in Part 2.
DOBRÁ VINICE (Moravia, Czech Republic)
Dobrá Vinice should properly be described as one of the top estates in Moravia. As Simon Woolf, in his brilliant Amber Revolution, reminds us, their wines appear on the list at three London Michelin-starred restaurants. They farm a relatively large 15 hectares near Znojmo on the boundary of the Podyjí National Park, close to the Austrian border (maybe 90 to 100 km northwest of Vienna).
Winemaking here is biodynamic, and the wines are made in a mixture of oak and qvevri, with an emphasis (usually) on extended skin macerations. They follow a production method called “Kartuli”. By producing healthy grapes, this Georgian technology (maybe not the right choice of word) uses very long fermentations and ageing on the skins (often for many months) to promote longevity and to give the wine stability without recourse to any chemicals. After all, it’s what the Georgians were doing for around 7,000 years, barring those decades when the Soviet Union held the reins of production.
Narodní Park 2017 – this is a white wine made largely from Müller-Thurgau. It’s one of those wines which kick sand in the face of preconceptions about this variety, one which, perhaps along with Airén, is wine’s most maligned grape. There is plentiful acidity, but the acidity of freshness, not the battery acid kind. Along with acidity there’s a good deal of nice, rounded, almost plumpish, fruit.
Cuvée Kambrium 2015 is a blended wine, combining Veltlín, Ryzlink and Sauvignon Blanc. The first of those varieties should be self-explanatory, but the second, it should be noted, is Rhine Riesling. It’s rounder than the first wine, and pretty chalky (as the name might indicate). The texture is attractive. At 12.5% abv it has a lovely balance.
Blanc de Pinot Noir 2016 was a nice surprise. It’s direct-pressed Pinot Noir, so made without skin contact. The wine is not complex, but it sure is delicious and thirst quenching, though it does kick back 13% abv without you realising it. Pinot Noir made as a still white wine seems not uncommon in Moravia, and I’ve had two or three. This may well be the best yet.
Chardonnay Qvevri Georgia 2013 is self-explanatory. It sees a nine month maceration in qvevri and then a year in oak. It shows from the colour, the nose and the textured tannins on the palate. Iron-rich would sum up the flavours, a lovely “orange” style.
Nejedlík Orange Qvevri Georgia 2011 also sees time in Georgian qvevri, but this time it’s a little different. The wine, a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, is aged a year in old oak, and then moves to qvevri, where it macerates five months on the skins of the following year’s harvest (in this case, 2012). If you like orange wine, it’s a cracker.
VDC 2015 (aka Velké Dobré Červené) is a red, 80% Pinot Noir with 20% Zweigelt (I hope) and a little Frankovka (aka Blaufränkisch). The Pinot Noir gets 9 months in qvevri and the other varieties are aged in oak. Like most of the wines from this producer, it is quite structured, and this red has a firmness to it which suggests it will benefit from a little more age, though I’d hazard that it will match some Central European cooking quite nicely. It doesn’t lack the acidity to cut through fats.
The UK importer here, and for the producer below, is Basket Press Wines, who I must say (and I have no connections here) is importing a raft of these truly exciting Moravian wines. I hope that 2019 will be the year of Greek and Czech wines.
JAROSLAV OSICKA (Moravia, Czech Republic)
Jaroslav Osička is less well known than the previous producer, perhaps because they only farm three hectares of vines at their base at Velké Bilowíce, which is in that corner of the Czech Republic near where the borders of Slovakia and Austria meet, and a little to the north of the town of Břeclav (for those with a map obsession). Wood ageing is the method here, but they use both oak and acacia. Sulphur additions are tiny, between 5-20 mg/litre.
Akácia 2018 is a fairly simple wine, fresh and light with bright acidity. It’s a very nice wine, and introduction to the range, but with Milerka 2018 we get a little more serious. 80% Müller-Thurgau, there are just 800 bottles of this wine from the Velkopavlovická sub-region, where the soils are loess and clay. After ageing in 500 litre oak this wine has complexity combined with drinkability, and versatility.
There’s a variety common to Moravia which I always enjoy. Modry Portugal (2017) is strangely named. Modry means blue, and the vine has no known ampelographical connection to Portugal. It seems reasonably well dispersed along the Danube and surrounding areas, where you may well have come across it under the name of Blauer Portugieser.
This one sees fermentation and ageing in both 228 litre and 500 litre wood. It has a fairly identifiable bright bouquet of dark fruits, with more vibrant fruit on a palate that additionally has a savoury finish. It reminds me a little, in terms of colour, of teinturier varieties like Alicante Bouschet. It is a lot less heavy than its colour might suggest, and its tart finish is actually very pleasing to those of us who enjoy freshness and acidity in our reds. I’ve drunk this variety quite a few times now, and I can recommend seeking one out if you like what you’ve read.
GUT OGGAU (Burgenland, Austria)
Although I’m prone to writing about this favourite producer of mine quite often, I think the last time I did so in detail was on the release of the unusual 2016 vintage, where the different wines were blended into the “family reunion” cuvées, due to tiny yields. At Raw I had the opportunity to sample a few 2017s.
Winifred 2017 is the Gut Oggau rosé. If occasionally it is the simpler wines which can provide pure sensual joy, this is an example. I know that Stephanie and Eduard sometimes give a wry smile at how popular this wine is, but I have to say that in 2017 Winifred is singing like a choir of angels (and that’s as close as you’ll get me to a tasting note that sounds as if it was constructed in a creative writing class for twenty-somethings). The blend is Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt off limestone and slate, the vines being around 35-40 years old, so this is no throwaway pink. Fermentation is in large oak with no punching down. It is pretty close to being the definition of glouglou.
Theodora 2017 is a white wine blending here 60% Grüner Veltliner with 40% Welschriesling. The soils Theodora grows on are limestone and gravel, and the limestone really shines through with the Grüner Veltliner. Timotheus 2017 is from limestone, gravel, and slate. Some of the grapes are fermented on skins in wooden vats, the rest in barrel without skins, and here there is further ageing in oak. There’s a bit more depth as a result. A delicious cuvée in 2017.
I’m quite a fan of the red cuvée, Josephine. Josephine 2015 blends Roesler (a 1970 Austrian cross between Zweigelt and Seyve-Villard 18-402 x Blaufränkisch) with Blaufränkisch. The soils are limestone, so you get absolutely stunning brightness once more, this time through the Blaufränkisch. The fermentation is the same as with Tim, so some skin contact in vat. Although you might not mark this one out as complex, there’s just an incredible vitality to the 2017. Ooh, they do this in magnum, you know!
Dynamic Vines imports Gut Oggau.
MEINKLANG (Burgenland, Austria)
The must try new wines from Meinklang from the 2018 vintage are Mulatschak – there’s a Roter and a Weisser. Take the white, a blend of Pinot Gris and Traminer with 50% Welschriesling from their Austrian vineyards at Pamhagen (southeast of Neusiedlersee). It’s a light wine which is super-fruity, with maybe a touch of spice. As with all Meinklang’s wines, it is vegan-friendly, and just 11.5% abv. The red blends Zweigelt and St-Laurent. Both are made in stainless steel and see a week on skins to add a bit of texture. The white in particular, with a little colour from skins, is brilliant.
The other 2018 wine to look out for is the Graupert Weiss. Pinot Gris (or Grauburgunder) is harvested from Graupert vines, these being vines which are effectively allowed to grow wild and find their own equilibrium. Perhaps there’s less weight than the Konkret cuvées (fermented in egg), but the Grauperts don’t lack complexity and subtlety.
There was also one of the cuvées to taste from Meinklang’s vineyards on the Somló volcanic massif in Hungary. This was J15, the variety being Juhfark. This sees about five days maceration on skins and after a few years in bottle it is wonderfully creamy and fairly exotic. It ages pretty well, or at least I hope so – writing this prompted my discovery of a J12 in the cellar which must have escaped opening some time.
I buy my Meinklang from Winemakers Club. Vintage Roots also has some of the wines. Somehow I managed to avoid taking photos here…and I know who to blame. Sorry!
SALVATORE MARINO (Sicily, Italy)
I always find it’s a good idea to turn up to big events like Raw Wine with a list, in this case pulled from the online catalogue, helpfully available in advance. Without a list your day will be hopeless. It’s all too easy to be swayed from your path because almost every time you look up there’s someone to say hello to, but that does have one advantage – you get a few tips. I’d have never tried this producer without a tip-off from Alan March, who some readers will know from his illumination of viticultural life chez Jeff Coutelou over the past few years.
Salvatore owns a mere 1.5 ha of vines near Pachino, which is right down in the southeastern corner of the island, within the Eloro (Rosso) DOC. He only began this enterprise in 2017, following a regime of dry farming and biodynamic principles (including using the lunar calendar, though Salvo is not certified).
Two wines were on show. My favourite, but perhaps only just, was Turi Bianco 2018. This is 100% Catarrato labelled IGT Terre Siciliane. You get soft, well sanded lemon, grapefruit and a little pineapple with nice acid balance. Turi Rosso 2017 is under the Eloro DOC and is made from a special local clone of (Pachino) Nero d’Avola (we are also pretty close to the town of Avola here). This has a bit more ripeness to the fruit (and 13% abv). The regime is six days skin contact before fermentation in stainless steel. The dark cherry fruit is clean and bright, not at all jammy, as some Nero d’Avola can be.
Salvatore Marino is currently seeking a UK importer. There can’t be a lot to go around from 1.5 hectares, but hopefully he will find one.
The amply stocked shop at Raw was, as always now, provided by Burgess & Hall (Arch 353 Winchelsea Road, London E7). I know they work really hard through the fair, but their offering seems to get better every year. Of course, it’s advisable to grab a few things before they sell out, but it’s also good to go back and grab a bottle which really impressed.