If Raw Wine has changed over the years, it is no more so than in this respect: whereas once the writer or blogger could identify the best producers with relative ease, now it is much harder. Of course, there are more producers, but there’s no doubt that quality has risen too. I know, speaking to the exhibitors, that many were desperately trying to cool their often sulphur-free wines during Monday afternoon’s session, yet I didn’t taste any signs of spoilage really.
This makes it doubly difficult to choose the best wines for inclusion in this second part (if you missed Part 1 you can link to it here). I don’t claim to have all the best, but I am sure my own selections will add to those of others to form a broader picture of this big event. What I would like to mention are two “Raw” exhibiting producers I don’t cover here. Ancre Hill, you will probably know as a fine producer of Welsh sparkling wine. In recent years they have diversified, and I tasted two genuinely inspired wines from them at Winemakers Club on the same day, which will feature in a future article.
Second, Andi Weigand is (to me) a new and strong voice in the increasingly innovative Franken region in Germany. I had the opportunity on Wednesday this week to taste his wines in slightly calmer circumstances, where I was able to have a nice long chat with him (no one else at the table!). He’s next door to 2Naturkinder, in Iphofen. If you like their wines, then read about Andi in my piece on the Howard Ripley tasting when it eventually appears.
DOMAINE BRAND (Ergersheim, Alsace)
Ergersheim may well be a village you’ve never heard of, but the stretch of outlying vineyards in the north of the Alsace Region, about 20 kilometres west of Strasbourg, and known as the Couronne d’Or, has been getting attention from Alsace lovers for quite a few years. Domaine Brand, with Philippe now the young third generation winemaker following a natural wine philosophy, can probably be regarded as a torch bearer for this increasingly exciting part of the Alsace vignoble.
The 10 ha domaine has been organic since 2001 (Philippe joined his father, Charles, in 2006). The first natural wines were released in 2013, and Demeter Certification came in 2015. All six of the wines on show were excellent, but I will single out three.
Crémant d’Alsace Brut Nature “Flêche Saignante” 2016 is a blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir off clay/limestone soils. The name means “bleeding arrow” which might point to something of the wine’s nature. The second fermentation (prise de mousse) uses the must of the following year’s harvest. Only indigenous yeasts are used, of course, and no dosage is added. What can I say? Jean-Pierre Rietsch makes my benchmark Crémant, but this one is nothing short of brilliant in my opinion. And some Crémant d’Alsace is becoming very good these days, trust me.
Fleurs de Macération 2017 is a pure tasting Pinot Gris (with a little Pinot Noir) off the clay/limestone of the Kefferberg, that spent two weeks on skins and eight months in barrique. It is effectively an orange wine and so is a little tannic, with a bitter or savoury finish. In fact it’s very savoury, with a touch of salinity. But it is also wonderfully aromatic, and you’d be pleasantly surprised to know this comes in at just 12.5% abv. In my humble opinion this is how to do APG, folks.
Apolllinaire “La Dame au Chapeau” 2017 represents the original range of natural wines from this domaine. Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay from the same clay and limestone soils are blended 60:40. The vinification is different here, gentle direct pressing of whole bunches which are fermented, and then aged 15 months in demi-muid. It seems lighter/fresher than the previous wine, yet packs 13% alcohol. It’s also beautifully cloudy (yes, beautifully!). The bouquet is floral, with a touch of woodsmoke. The palate offers apricots and plums, with some of that florality coming through as well. A super contrast.
These are three exceptional wines. Sometimes I cannot believe those three words – “currently seeking representation”.
DOMAINE DE LA TOURAIZE (Arbois, Jura)
I’ve known the wines of André-Jean and Héléana Morin for a few years now, ever since friends brought me back a bottle of their petnat. I’ve been meaning to visit them on each of three subsequent weeks in Arbois but to my shame there has always been too much to do. I promise to put that right next time.
André-Jean only left the Arbois co-operative when he was in his forties, his first solo vintage being 2010. He farms around 12 hectares.
This is another producer who needs good UK distribution. I highlighted Touraize on Instagram and got a lot of feedback saying people agreed that these wines were very good indeed, so I shall give you the full half-dozen.
Dix Bulles 2018 is the new vintage of the Touraize petnat. This is 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Trousseau, quite an unusual combo for Jura fizz, as far as the Trousseau component goes. Direct press after cold settling is the vinification method, with second fermentation in bottle, of course. There’s actually about 18 g/l of sugar left here, but the acidity masks it. One of the better value wines from Arbois in this style as the top producers get more expensive.
Chardonnay “Arces” 2017 is one of two Touraize Chardonnays. This comes off limestone, and from vines over 40 years in age. Whole bunch pressed and aged on fine lees, in old oak for around 18 months, this errs slightly to the lighter side, but it does currently show a bit of structure. Very gourmande.
Savagnin Terre Bleu 2017 is one of the estate’s pair of Savagnins. It comes from two plots (Petit Curoulet and Chenaillotte) totalling 0.7 ha, at 300 metres altitude, where the soils are on the blue marne (marls) so characteristic of Arbois. The vines here aren’t as old as those for the previous wine, but yields are low, at 25 hl/h. This is an ouillé wine (topped up) in a fruity “Traminer” style. A good example of a more refreshing, less overtly nutty, Savagnin.
Poulsard “La Cabane” 2018 is an old vine cuvée with vines between 30 to 50 years, off grey marl here, in two vineyards – the previously mentioned Curoulet, and Touraize itself, which is up above the Arbois cemetary, visible from the marked town circuit walk from the Eglise Saint-Just. It has some tank ageing before three months in demi-muid. It’s lovely and pale with soft red fruits set off by a nice texture. A very “pure” wine, it is made to perfectly accompany cold meats or crudités. I can’t imagine leaving the domaine without a few of these.
Côtes à Côtes 2017 is made of Trousseau and Pinot Noir, which is another blend characteristic of the lovely style the Morins produce – there’s a lightness to the wine without it being in any way insubstantial. There’s lovely fruit, but it doesn’t lack the architecture to hang it off.
Trousseau Corvées 2017 comes from perhaps Arbois’ best known vineyard, a southwest facing hillside just outside of town where gravelly soils sit on top of complex marls. André-Jean gives the grapes a two day cold soak under SO2 before a 30-day vatting (no punchdowns but two or three sprayovers each week). The cuvée is split for ageing between tank and 600 litre demi-muids. Delicious, not too firm so approachable now with its fresh red and dark fruit combination and soft tannins, but it will age.
Where do I rank them? This is hard to say, but what I can say is that they have shot up without UK consumers really having taken notice. The wines are excellent, and like Domaine des Bodines, they represent incredible value. For those who do want to explore further, Domaine de la Touraize has a small shop in Arbois. If you are walking out of town, you will find it near La Balance and the Pasteur Museum, on the same side of the road.
André-Jean, Héléana, and their lovely wines
MÔRELIG/WIGHTMAN & SONS (Swartland, South Africa)
I discovered Môrelig last year and since then they have undergone a name change. The current vintage is labelled Môrelig and the next vintage being shipped is Wightman & Sons. The reason – because Andrew has been joined by his son, Brandon, and he wanted to express that partnership.
The vineyard, at the foot of the Paardeberg Mountain just 90km north of Cape Town, has been owned by the Wightman family since 2011. The vineyard consists of old bush vines grown on decomposed granite, producing low yields. When I last wrote about Môrelig I suggested that this was a great new South African producer, and tasting again at Raw only strengthened that view.
We began with two exceptional Chenins, Môrelig Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2017 (under the old label) and Wightman & Sons Chenin Blanc 2018. The former, picked early with a quick but light pressing is delicious and worth grabbing whilst you can. The 2018 is massively fresh and at least as good, with just a little vintage variation.
Skin Contact 2018 is pretty self-explanatory, a skin contact cuvée. Chenin Blanc had 13 days on skins. Young vines from a hot year with low yields give an intense wine all round, bouquet and palate. Typical Chenin flavours come through the structure of the skin contact. Very successful.
The Gentleman and his Small Brother 2019 was probably my personal favourite on the table here, despite loving all three Chenins. This is gorgeous glouglou Cinsau(l)t weighing in at just 11% abv. It’s what Jamie Goode would call “smashable”, yet there’s a little structure to keep it standing up straight. So good.
Môrelig Syrah 2017 is another bush vine cuvée from granite soils. There’s depth here, and lift as well. It’s that kind of fresh-fruited Syrah that seems to express the soil in the glass, as a certain Rhône Wine expert would say. There’s certainly a European quality to the fruit expression but it has its own South African style (though I’ve tasted many more massive Syrahs from Swartland).
Red Squirrel is the lucky importer of these boys.
Andrew Wightman was on hand to pour his wines
TILLINGHAM (East Sussex, England)
I’ve written plenty about Ben Walgate’s Tillingham Wines, more or less documenting Ben’s journey to becoming one of the UK’s most interesting, and innovative, artisan winemakers. He’s come a long way since leaving Gusbourne. As his vineyards come on stream he is purchasing fruit to make an ever changing array of wines, each one as interesting as the previous.
Tillingham looks south over some stunningly beautiful countryside towards the Romney Marshes and the picturesque town of Rye. This is a large mixed farm, rearing high quality livestock. Ben has big plans. Along with the vineyards, most planted a year ago, a restaurant, tasting centre/shop and eleven rooms will be ready for visitors hopefully by July. As many readers will know, Ben has an ever growing collection of qvevri buried at the winery, and some wonderful ciders too, but on Monday he was just showing his new baby, Tillingham Rosé.
Tillingham Rosé 2018 is a three grape blend of Rondo, Madeleine Angevine and Orion. It’s an aromatic pink with zesty raspberry and strawberry fruit, super fresh and smooth, with just a touch of plushness. Another winner from Ben, and one to drink this summer (and whilst we wait for that almost elusive Tillingham red). Try Les Caves de Pyrene, but be quick: quantities are always tiny.
Ben Walgate and his nicely labelled Rosé
OKANAGAN CRUSH PAD (Okanagan Valley, Canada)
OCP has grown massively in reputation since I first began tasting their wines several years ago. This is in part down to the drive and innovation of owners Christine Coletta and Steve Lornie, and the work of their excellent winemaker, Matt Dumayne. It’s probably also in part down to their two very famous consultants, Alberto Antonini on wines and Pedro Parra on soils (Parra is a genius who seems to know the right variety for every location).
The Crush Pad is another producer I’ve written about a lot, and will no doubt do so again when the Wines of Canada Tasting comes around again in May. Here I only plan to cover one wine, but don’t let that put you off trying absolutely anything from their Haywire, Narrative and Free Form ranges.
Free Form Cabernet Franc 2017 is a wine I’d not tasted before. Listen to this…Cabernet Franc from the Kaleden vineyard (silt with glacial rock and gravel) was fermented in two clay amphora and three large oak vessels on skins for eight months. It was then all pressed-off in June 2018 and blended in tank before bottling mid-August 2018. The bouquet is beautiful, but complex too. There is that Cabernet Franc florality of violets, with an almost metal/mineral, iron-rich, note from the amphorae. The palate has smooth black fruit with a hint of coffee, which adds a pleasant bitter note to the richness. At the moment there’s tannin and texture as well.
This is a very interesting red wine, taking a classic variety and seeing where you can take it. It doesn’t taste as if it has 13.5% alcohol because the richness is balanced by the freshness inherent from the terroir and the winemaking. I like it a lot. Red Squirrel imports.
DOMAINE LIGAS (Macedonia, Greece)
Fame is relative. I was speaking to a friend the other day, suggesting that Ktima Ligas is pretty well known, but she pointed out that they are only really so well known to, and highly sought after by, a very small group of natural wine aficionados. Domaine Ligas is one of my two favourite Greek estates (Kalathas, from Tinos, is the other among quite hot competition), yet it is perfectly true that most wine purchasers will not have heard the name, and are not likely to have seen one of their often distinctive, if hard to track down, bottles.
Ligas (minus Meli, who had flown back to Greece leaving the pouring on Monday afternoon to their importer, Dynamic Vines) showed ten wines. From me you get mention of my favourite five, but on any other occasion I might well choose different wine. There is literally no Ligas wine I would turn down.
Thomas Ligas, with his son Jason, started to follow a unique form of permaculture propounded by Masanobu Fukuoka (who died in 2008). Although it has been called “do nothing farming”, Fukuoka’s methods are intended to create a sustainable ecosystem which will last for generations. This is central to the Ligas wine philosophy.
Assyrtiko 2017 is made from Greece’s most famous white variety, but here of course it is from Macedonia, not Santorini, so stylistically it is different. And, of course, this is Ligas. The vinification is very simple. Vines of around 20 years of age grown on clay and limestone. Fermentation and ageing is in old oak for just six to eight months. The vivacity in this wine is amazing, it just feels alive.
Roditis “Barrique” 2017 is, like the Assyrtiko, labelled PGI (ie IGP) Pella. It’s a more complex wine. Slightly older vines (25-y-o) off sand and clay get a twelve month stint in old barriques. Although the wood isn’t new, the wine does have structure. The fruit is simple but there’s a creamy texture. I bought some and I shall have to think carefully what to pair it with, but I might be thinking in Chardonnay territory. Anyway, lovely wine. The lady on the label is Melina Mercouri, a famous Greek Socialist politician, and before that a singer and actress, who died in the mid-1990s.
Yomatari 2017 is another 100% Roditis, aged in oak, and according to the Dynamic Vines guy pouring, it is infused with “retsina”. The problem sometimes with tastings like this is that it’s often too noisy to take in all people say. Normally you can check facts after, but I can’t find a lot of info on this wine, and certainly no mention of retsina or resin. That said, it’s a more lifted style of Roditis here, whether due to resin or not, I don’t know? A lovely wine with a biting freshness. It was the first time I’d tasted this cuvée.
Spira, after fermentation in stainless steel is made in a solera up and running since 2012. The cuvée tasted this time was extracted in 2017. The variety is 100% Xinomavro and the colour is almost perfect bronze. This is very complex and quite exotic. I’d say there are hints of caramel and toffee, nuts and orange, and plenty of richness. It was one of my wines of the day.
I should just give a quick mention to another favourite from Ktima Ligas, Pata Trava. I didn’t see it on taste, but it’s another Xinomavro which takes a little colour from the skins, so that it becomes a “vin gris”. Definitely one to seek out for the coming months.
You’ll have gathered that Dynamic Vines are the folks to go to for Ligas in the UK.
DOMAINE TATSIS (Macedonia, Greece)
A new domaine to me, run by brothers Stergios and Periklis Tatsis, who farm around 13 hectares in Goumenissa, Macedonia, at the foot of Mount Paiko. Biodynamic since the early 2000s, they also generally use zero sulphur (the exception being the final wine here, which has 35 mg/l).
Roditis 2015 gets 15 days on skins and 13 months in old French oak. The skin contact gives it a nice texture but the fruit and acidity are nicely balanced. A good beginning here. Roditis had a reputation in Macedonia, perhaps in Greece as a whole, for being a second division variety. I think that today, some superb examples are being made. As with so many varieties, quality depends how you treat it.
Resin Flavour Roditis 2015 (not listed in the Raw Wine Catalogue) is fermented in steel, where resin is added in a sack, before the wine is aged in wood. I know that sounds a bit like oak chips, but that’s not the effect. You do notice the pine resin on the nose, but it’s not at all pronounced on the palate. To me this is a top quality wine. In fact I tried to buy a bottle at the Burgess & Hall shop in the hall, but they didn’t have any, so I settled, quite happily, for the next wine.
Malagouzia 2015 sees 34 days on skins. The variety (sometimes “Malagousia”) was nearly extinct but was revived in the 1970s at the famous Domaine Carras, and by Vangelis Gerovassiliou. This is a genuine orange wine with that classic orange citrus bouquet and flavour. Malagouzia is notably aromatic anyway, and so the nose on this wine is complex and so inviting. There’s a softness, but structure too. My only difficulty, now having a bottle of this, is whether I need to keep it a while, just because of the structure. I probably won’t as I’m keen to try it again.
Goumenissa 2017 is a PDO (ie “appellation”) wine, a 50:50 blend of Xinomavro and Negoska. It has a gorgeous, big, bouquet of dark and red fruits, and is savoury, even oaky, on the palate (although the oak used for ageing is not new). Alcohol is 13.5%, and it is reasonably powerful. Their varietal Negoska 2013 is a nicely aged wine, but it doesn’t seem to have lost its freshness. The purple colour suggests a heavier wine than that which appears on the palate, with plum and red fruits, and it only packs 12.5% alcohol. It would be difficult to choose between these two reds.
Domaine Tatsis was yet another excellent Greek discovery. They seem to come thick and fast, which is why I think Greece’s time has come for a genuine breakthrough. Whether it will happen, I’m not sure, but I hope it does. There are so many pure and exciting wines to try from all sorts of new varieties.
The Tatsis wines are imported by Southern Wine Roads, based in Orpington (London Borough of Bromley). Tatsis might be the best producer I’ve tasted so far from them.
Stergios Tatsis with his Negoska, assisted by Ania of SWR gripping the Malagouzia and Resin Roditis