On the Monday of Raw London 2019, Winemakers Club hosted a tasting of ten importers. I managed to get to taste a handful of wines from eight of them, before heading thirty minutes down the road to Raw on The Strand. It was brave to hold a tasting on the same day as Raw Wine, but then they did have the advantage that a lot of people were on hand. The tasting appeared to be pretty well attended, meaning a bit of a crush around some of the tables.
The importers I missed out were Roland Wines, who I included in a recent article, and Kiffe My Wines, who I unforgivably missed through a mixture of me running out of time and their table being just too crowded for me to push through (apologies there). I spent a little over two hours here, and these are the best of what I tasted. If this article feels like a fairly quick romp through the wines without the usual detail of background info, it’s because there are plenty of wines to get through. I hope I do the wines justice.
A word on the photos here. Someone said to me the other day that my pics aren’t that good, which I thought was slightly mean, but to be honest I only use my iPhone. I like to show you the wine, but I’m more about the words if I’m honest. I find Winemakers Club continually hits the high notes whenever I go to these multi-agent tastings there, but it must surely be the darkest tasting venue in London. If the photos here fall below my usual moderate standard, I hope you will forgive me. I have tried to edit them a bit, but my hand is just not steady enough in poor light, in some cases.
I tasted quite a few wines here, but then John had organised the tasting so it would have been rude not to.
MicroBio Verdejo 2017, Ismael Gozalo, Rueda was a perfect wine to begin with. This cuvée was both fermented and aged in the same old barrels. With medium weight and rounded fruit, this is a little bit mineral and grippy, but with total fruit purity.
Ammerschwihr 2016, La Grange de l’Oncle Charles is a blend of four white Alsace varieties, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Muscat. It’s a new release from a producer I’ve tasted a few times but frustratingly have not yet bought. This saw a very slow and gentle press and nine hours’ skin contact, and no racking during élèvage. It has structure but is a delicious, mouth-filling blend with building complexity. Lots going on, and I will try to grab a bottle of this for home consumption if they have any left next time I go to Farringdon Street.
Rosé des Riceys “En Valingrain” 2014, Olivier Horiot is one of Olivier’s two single vineyard Pinot Noir rosés from this unique Aube terroir. As with every vintage of this wine, you need to allow them to age properly to understand what the fuss is about. This already shows gorgeous strawberry and cherry fruit, and also some depth of colour, but it has a way to go to achieve maximum value. There was also a touch of reduction, but even when this is mature, it will benefit from air. These wines are not mere oddities. They can become some of the more ethereal Pinots you can find.
Sputnik 1 2017, L’Acino is a new (this vintage) wine from San Marco Argentano, Calabria. Let’s face it, you’d try a wine called Sputnik 1 whatever, but this lives up to the fun label. It’s textured, with a certain bitterness which would lead me to match it with spicy, even robustly so, food. It’s only bottled and available in magnum. You have to admire that, truly.
A couple of wines were open from the wonderful Contra Soarda. The Gottardi family farm 12 hectares of vines in Breganze’s volcanic hills near Bassano del Grappa (Veneto). The highlight was a wine I’d not tried before, Musso Terra 2015. The blend is Marzemino with Pinot Nero and Merlot. The vineyards are at 350 metres altitude and are in the path of cold winds blowing down from the north. The vines enjoy a long growing season and the wine has clean, almost bitter, fruit and a textured mouthfeel. You sense a brambley acidity from the Marzemino, but the other grapes shine through adding a smoothness, and a Pinot noir fragrance. Smoky and spicy. Delicious.
I’ve not tasted a lot of Loire wines this year for some inexplicable reason, but I enjoyed Tête Red NV, Les Têtes from Azay-le-Rideau. Blending Cabernet Franc, Grolleau, Merlot and Braucol (which I normally expect only to see in Southwest France), it was fairly simple (in a good way), majoring on tasty fruit. Another simple but attractive wine was Trebbianno d’Abruzzo “Fortuna” 2017, Caprera, a producer in Pietranico in, of course, the Abruzzo. It is more piquant than most of the Trebbiano you come across (of whatever clone), with a nice texture from what I would say is obvious maceration on skins (?).
Two remarkably brief comments to finish, on Karim Vionnet Beaujolais-Villages 2017 and Meinklang Graupert Rot 2015. Both were as superb as you’d expect from two of Winemakers Club’s finest producers.
John and Galahad
Newcomer had plenty of new stuff on show which was impossible to pass by, despite this table being particularly crowded right from the off.
Weissburgunder 2016, Rennersistas, Burgenland is not strictly a new release, but Newcomer kept some back to give it a little more time. A good move. Dry and stony, it’s a delicious Pinot Blanc. I have a 2015 left which has been waiting for some spring weather, which appears to have arrived.
Newcomer had brought along three wines from the increasingly lauded, fantastic, Styrian producer, Franz Strohmeier. Trauben Liebe und Zeit “Weiss” No 8 is a blend of Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc made via direct pressing with no skin contact. The wine is consequently super fresh, with a little citrus acidity and a nice twist of pear on a long finish.
Trauben Liebe und Zeit “Lysgerön” No 5 is made from the estate’s best Weissburgunder grapes grown on gneiss (with a high iron and silica content). As with everything at Strohmeier, it is made naturally, seeing a year in old 500 litre oak barrels before bottling. More complex than “No 8”, and consequently more expensive, this is a fine white from an often ignored variety.
Blauer Wildbacher “Lyserod” No 29 is one of the Strohmeier cuvées I’d not tried before, although I am a big fan of Strohmeier’s wines made from the Blauer Wildbacher grape, the classic Styrian red variety famous initially through Schilcher Sekt. This wine has the characteristics of the variety in abundance. Grippy, intense but still lightish dark fruit squash with more zip than you can imagine. A bit of a cult, not for the many but for the few…including me.
“Trauben, Liebe + Zeit”, by the way, translates as “grapes, love and time”, which is also exactly what the whole philosophy at this amazing producer stands for.
Stepping out of Austria for a brief foray into Germany, Pinot Noir “Baden Nouveau” 2018, Wasenhaus (photo above, sort of) is exactly what you’d expect. Alexander Götze and Christoph Wolber worked at some posh Burgundian estates (De Montille, Leflaive and Comte Armand) and farm old vines at Staufen and on the Kaiserstuhl, which might lead you to expect wines of a certain style. I don’t yet know what their other wines taste like, but this one does exactly what it says on the label. You only need one word, and that’s “fruity”.
Kalk und Kiesel Rot 2017, Claus Preisinger, Burgenland. This might actually be the first wine from Claus that I’ve sipped since he became a dad, so cheers, Claus and Susanne! Claus first made this experimental red in 2015, from a field blend of Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt, plus lesser quantities of the white varieties Welschriesling, Muskat and Müller-Thurgau. He uses three different methods for fermentation – direct press, carbonic macerations and a three day maceration on skins. Then all three batches are blended together for ageing in 500 litre oak. This has very lively, fresh, fruit but seems just so perfectly balanced.
Martin Nittnaus, like Claus and the Rennersistas, is also from Gols on the northeastern edge of the Neusiedlersee, and he was on hand to show some of his own wines, bottled alongside those of his family (for whom he is also the winemaker).
Grüner Veltliner “Manila” 2017 begins fermenting in tank for two weeks on skins (no stems) and then gets pressed gently into 500 litre oak to finish. It has more structure than the more simple versions of Grüner many may be used to, and it even has some tannins. A wine for food.
Grüner Veltliner “Elektra” 2017 is a new project. The grapes come off limestone, and fermentation is in open vat with no skins. It spends ten months on lees. It has that bright freshness limestone imparts for Grüner (and Blaufränkisch), and it also has a waxed lemon texture. It’s very long, and aptly named, whether you have in mind electricity or the Richard Strauss opera.
Zweigelt “Fux” 2017 is from a single vineyard. Jeez this is interesting. Tank fermented, it is complex even now. Earthy, with forest fruits and a zippy freshness that I found massively attractive.
Blaufränkisch “Manila” 2016 is from a single vineyard on slate, with quite young (15-y-o) vines. This didn’t taste or smell like your standard Burgenland Blau, with almost Provençal notes of lavender, lilac and black olive, which I wasn’t expecting. Martin said that despite the cool and wet 2016 vintage he harvested after the rain had finished. This unusual and fascinating wine is the result.
Altogether, a bunch of brilliant wines, both from Newcomer and from Martin Nittnaus. And I didn’t even try Christian Tschida’s “Kapitel” 2014!
WINES UNDER THE BONNET
Having missed the WUTB guys at Antidote some weeks ago, I was pleased to have the chance to taste half-a-dozen of their wines here, especially as I was getting an opportunity to stray beyond my current UTB favourites.
Château Barouillet made classic, standard, Monbazillac, Bergerac and Pécharment wines until Vincent Alexis took over from his father and grandfather (who still both work in the winery) in 2010. He has injected a sense of fun via “Splash“, a Sémillon petnat. I tried this in its first vintage three years ago, when friends brought some back from a domaine visit. The 2018 vintage has seen production climb to 26,000 bottles on the back of its success. It’s dry, and a bit cloudy if you shake up the lees, which gives a bit more texture, and it’s basically a fun wine. That is all that’s intended. But a very good one.
La Ferme des Sept Lunes is a producer I first came across several years ago in La Buvette de Camille in Paris. They have since found their way to the UK via WUTB, yet another excellent choice by this small setup. Jean Delobre owns ten hectares in the higher reaches of Saint-Joseph. He has all four of the main varieties of the Northern Rhône, plus Gamay.
Lune Rousse 2017 is Roussanne, no added sulphur, brilliantly redolent of fresh peach on a summer’s day. Simple, but gorgeously gluggable. St-Joseph Blanc 2016 blends Roussanne with Marsanne, which are fermented separately and blended together after a year in large old oak. It’s naturally more serious, waxy and mineral, with a dash of salinity on the finish. A St-Joseph Blanc 2012 was produced from behind the table, which was darker in colour and head-turning. It turns out that the wine developed flor as it aged in barrel for twelve months. Nutty and oxidative, but lighter than a Vin Jaune, intriguing, one for the connoisseur.
Finally I tasted the estate’s St-Joseph Rouge “Premier Quartier” 2015, a pure Syrah with nice fruit, but also good structure, built for ageing (I suspect in any event, aside from the vintage). Black fruits with a bit of a peppery finish. This is a blend of different parcels.
Laurent Roger and Melissa Ingrand are producers at Rivesaltes, in Roussillon. I’ve not come across them before and I’m pretty sure they are new to the WUTB portfolio. I was told that 2018 was their first vintage. Three wines were shown, but I particularly liked their Otium 2018, a pure (in both senses) Grenache, pale and bright. It had a lifted scent of sweet strawberry and cherry fruit with good acidity, making it one of those very refreshing Grenaches which the natural wine movement has almost invented. Well priced, this should prove popular.
Roberto Henriquez is a top-knotted genius who left commercial wine production to do his own thing in Chile’s Bio-Bio Valley. He farms just three hectares, but is able to buy in grapes from various different sites in the region to widen his portfolio. Roberto uses a very old and traditional method of winemaking known as pipenos, which involves, inter alia, skin maceration for the white wines.
Pais 2017 is a superb example of this traditional South American red variety (known as Criolla over in Argentina). It has been treated as a third-tier variety, good only for jug wine, but Roberto isn’t the first to recognise its perfect suitability for mimicking the glouglou of French natural wines. He manages somehow to get lovely fresh beetroot acidity from a low acid variety, making a light wine with texture and bite. He manages it via very old vines off alluvial soils, and gentle winemaking (in stainless steel) at every stage. Very successful.
Frédéric Cossard Saint-Romain “Combe Bazin” 2016 is a label known to many by now. Over the years the “lesser” villages of the Côte de Beaune have become better known as Meursault and Puligny have jumped in price, but Saint-Romain, high in the hills above Meursault and La Rochepot has taken longer than most. The climate here has always been that bit more marginal.
Frédéric Cossard began Domaine de Chassorney from scratch, without a background in wine, and now owns ten hectares. In addition, he produces a range of negoce wines under his own name. Combe Bazin is his most iconic wine, a single vineyard Chardonnay from high slopes with an equally high proportion of limestone in the soil. It helps give the wine genuine zip and a liveliness, balanced by the weight of fruit direct-pressed into barrel. Fine Burgundy, but also excellent value.
Skerlj Malvasia 2014 comes from a tiny two-hectare estate hidden in the woods of Friuli’s Carso Region, just two kilometres from the Adriatic. This is a skin contact wine, macerated for five months without pigeage, then pressed into old tonneau for two years. 2014 was a cold and wet vintage, but oddly this wine has magnificent fruit, more so than it has the expected Carso minerality. A subtle, elegant, wine.
Jean-Pierre Robinot Lumière des Sens 2015 comes from the natural wine legend of Jasnières. Here, he demonstrates his magic on that resurgent Loire red variety, Pineau d’Aunis. The wine is whole bunch fermented on skins before pressing into barrel for two years, perhaps a relatively short élèvage chez Robinot. The 2015 is quite spicy with a lovely bitter, sour-cherry, note. It shows freshness and also the nascent complexity of a wine that is just coming out of its shell. Worth putting into a carafe if you plan to serve it now.
ArPePe Grumello “Rocca de Piro” 2015, Valtellina Superiore comes from what is not only my favourite producer in the region, but in my opinion one of the finest producers of Nebbiolo in Italy (yet how many Barolo drinkers have never heard of ArPePe?). The vines here rise to as high as 700 metres on steep granite terraces, which require serious dedication to work them.
Grumello is one of the Valtellina crus, and the vines for Rocca de Piro are situated at a mere 350 to 500 metres above sea level. Maceration on skins took place in 50 hectolitre wooden vats for 110 days in 2015, after which the wine was aged eighteen months in a mix of large oak and concrete. The wine is named after the spectacular fourteenth century castle under which the ArPePe winery is situated, and onto which the vines look down. The Grumellos usually drink sooner than some of their other crus, a softer wine, but still with a little grip. It’s not Gamay, after all.
Gabrio Bini Agricola Serragghia, Fanino 2017, Pantelleria is a magical wine. If this producer’s name is not immediately familiar, then his vibrant “arrow” labels may well be, from social media. Fanino is not one of Pantelleria’s famed Zibibbo dried grape sweet wines, but a blend of red and white varieties, mainly Pignatello and Cattaratto, made in Spanish amphora buried under ground, outside in the vineyard. The soils here are the blackest of black volcanic, and they have a direct mineral spice which must come as a result. But the bouquet is just so exotic, that alone is worth the somewhat significant entry fee (over £40 to the trade). Crazy winemaking, crazy wines, yet unquestionably fabulous if you have joy in your heart.
Who is that naughty man photo-bombing Ruth?
I only tried a couple of wines from Gergovie. Their table was the first one in, manned by just one person, and time was sadly too short on a “Raw” day to queue for long. A shame because I can always recommend this “sulphur free” importer once I know the person I’m talking to has a sense of adventure and an open mind. Just head to 40 Maltby Street where you can try their wines (and take them away) at what I think is currently one of London’s finest kitchens. Gergovie sells the fine natural wines of Andalucia pioneer Barranco Oscuro, along with a remarkable selection from two of France’s hottest regions, Auvergne and Ardèche, just to mention a few.
Michel Guignier Fleurie “Au Bon Grès” 2014 comes from Gamay vines close to the village of Fleurie, and reminds me of the work of one or two of the region’s famous old timers. Michel’s 7 ha farm is also close to forest and his philosophy, based on biodiversity, is well served here. This 2014 is very fruity, light-ish but grippy, more so than many 2014s that I drink at the moment. A lovely iteration of purest Gamay.
Le Petit Gimios “Rouge Fruit” 2016 is the domaine of Anne-Marie Lavaysse and her son, Pierre, at St-Jean-de-Minervois in Languedoc. The limestone soils are rich in fossils, and the yields are incredibly low on this harsh terrain. “Rouge Fruit” is a blend of Aramon, Cinsault, Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Muscat and other co-planted (in 1906) varieties, a field blend. It has bright lifted red fruits, a perfectly refreshing wine, but with a little backbone as well.
These were lovely wines, and it was great to try them, neither being wines I’d necessarily know to order at 40 Maltby Street.
I was at my most pitiful here, trying just one wine from the Totem table, but then what a wine. Didier Grappe Savagnin Ouillé “Longefin” 2016 comes from Didier’s three-and-a-half hectares of vineyards around the Jura village of Saint-Lothian, southwest of Poligny. His wines are largely topped-up, rather than oxidative, and that is the case with this Savagnin from north facing vines on grey and red marl. I don’t see the Grappe wines an awful lot, but I always enjoy them. This 2016 did have a tiny bit of reduction on the nose, but I’m positive that will blow off. The palate shows the zingy, lemony, side of Savagnin amazingly well. All Grappe’s wines are thoughtfully made.
Nik Rizzi’s portfolio is an exciting mixture of Central Europe and Spain, but several of the wines on show I had tasted and written about a few weeks before…there’s no point in repeating myself, no matter how amazing wines like Joiseph Fogosch and Silice’s Mencia may be. The first two wines below are from producers I tasted at that particular event, but wines that were not shown. The following two were from yet another new Kamptal producer.
Slobodne “Eggstasy” 2017 is a Riesling from Hlohovek in the Lower Carpathians region of Slovakia. Some readers will remember that I’m a big fan of this couple’s Cutis Deviner. Here we have a small production cuvée of just 1,400 bottles of Rhine Riesling, which underwent skin contact for ten days followed by nine months in concrete egg. The colour is very orange, with a nose both big and stunningly elegant. There is certainly texture, but also a smoothness, with fruit too. So good, so long, and sulphur free.
Nibiru Alte Reben Blauer Portugieser 2015 is an incredibly small cuvée, just 300 bottles, and is in its first vintage. This old vine bottling from Kamptal (but not bottled under the DAC) was fermented with 30% whole berries before gentle pressing into 300 litre oak. Concentrated, deeply fruited and a tiny bit spiky (in a nice way).
Malinga is a producer whose wines I’ve never tried. Christoph Heiss is a young man based in the Austrian region of Kamptal, but actually in Engabrunn, right on its eastern border with Wagram. He took over the family estate in 2013, and Malinga is his natural wine project, which is growing in success (and volume) every vintage.
Malinga Riesling 2016 is from a single vineyard just inside the Wagram Region, mainly on loess soils. The vines are 45 years old, so there is good fruit to work with. It is given a year-and-a-half in barrel on its lees following a long and slow fermentation, during which it has two rackings. Just a little sulphur is added at the time of the first of these. There’s a lot going on…great acidity, a creamy texture and a little structure, both of the latter from the mouthfeel created by the extended lees contact, no doubt. Some Kamptal Riesling can be a bit too plainly mineral (okay, some can be as complex as the best from Wachau too), but this seems a little different.
Malinga Zweigelt 2017 is made in an early drinking style, which frankly I think suits Zweigelt so much better than any attempt to make hyper-serious wine from the variety. Christoph says this wine is inspired by Beaujolais. It has just 11.8% abv and is totally “glou“. He succeeds in his stated aim magnificently. Both of these Malinga wines impressed me a lot for a first taste.
Carte Blanche had some seriously good kit on show, and the wines I’ve selected are really quite impressive. However, if I may I’d like to draw particular attention to the wines of Ancre Hill, from Monmouth in Wales. Ancre Hill first came to my attention quite a long time ago as a producer of Welsh sparkling wine, and they continue to make excellent wines from the “Champagne” varieties, albeit with a training system suited to their brave project, creating biodynamic wines in the Welsh climate. But over time they have diversified. The two wines below are examples of “out of the box” thinking, wonderful wines for a very different market. In fact the second of these was also a major hit down the road, at Raw.
Ancre Hill Triomphe is what I would call a slightly frizzante wine made from the hybrid vine more accurately called Triomphe d’Alsace. 40% of the grapes see carbonic maceration, the rest a classical fermentation, before bottling with 12 months on gross lees. The fizz is light and gentle but it accentuates the fruit, a blend of an array of sweet red fruits and bitter rhubarb on the finish to give a nice acidic kick. Frivolity like this is absolutely what you need for an English spring and summer, not to mention autumn. Buy some if you can, although I fear they only make around 1,000 bottles. Almost as bad as Ben Walgate!
If you think that sounds good, I assure you this next wine is even better. First, I have to say that the label, depicting a lady’s head in Welsh National Costume in the style of A Clockwork Orange is genius. Ancre Hill Orange Wine is made from Albarino, in this case a blend of 2015 and 2017 vintages. It gets its orange colour from 45 days on skins and is both fermented and aged in oak (as I was told at the tasting), or in Stainless Steel as stated on the Raw Wine web site (I couldn’t find this wine on the Ancre Hill site).
Anyway, what matters is what it tastes like. “Gorgeously sour” would be my answer to that. I’d never tried an English or Welsh Albarino before, although I believe Chapel Down make one. I’m guessing it’s nothing like this little ripper (channelling my inner Adelaide Hills, because tasted blind, that’s where I might have guessed it originated).
Bodegas Fulcro, Rias Baixas – Manuel Moldàs Murana farms around three hectares spread around 22 plots in Rias Baixas. Aliaxe Furtivo 2017 blends 60% Caiño with 20% each of Loureiro and Espadeiro off shale, granite and clay. It is a fresh, acidic and slightly bitter gourmande red, a wine to match with oily fish or even goat. It may not have pretensions but it does have genuine personality, like the best reds of this part of Spain.
Fabien Jouves, Cahors – I didn’t know the Fulcro wines, but I do know the wines of Fabien Jouves pretty well. This young producer has vines on Cahors’ plateau, on a mix of limestone causses and clay with some sand in places. Fabien Jouves Amphore 2017 is a beautiful example of the purity which runs through the full range of his wines, which are all biodynamic. This is full of dark fruits with the texture of amphore expressed through a very slight bitterness, reminding me of coffee grounds, though the grittiness is not really physical texture. These are wines that will age, but Fabien believes wines are for drinking, and his wines do drink superbly from the off, with food. Rather cheekily Fab has put the grape variety on the front label – Malbec, of course.
Manoir de la Tête Rouge, Saumur – this biodynamic estate run by Guillaume Raynouard is in the new Puy-Notre-Dame zone of Saumur, where the family farm 13 hectares of several local Loire grape varieties. Enchantoir is a fine Chenin Blanc from a single site on limestone and tufa, which was really singing, with waxy lime, quince and grapefruit with white flowers on the nose (quite complex but fresh) and a palate where honey and dried fruits come through. Despite its innate freshness, it seems like the type of Chenin Blanc that will age very well. Just 2,400 bottles are made. I’d definitely love to try more of the estate’s wines.
Mouthes le Bihan, Côtes du Duras – We finish with an estate I knew many years ago when they were imported by Adnams. Then Les Caves had them for a while, I think. Duras isn’t really known for great wine. It’s located sort of between Bergerac and the east side of the wider Bordeaux Region (Castillon and Ste-Foy). Nowadays the range is split between cuvées labelled “Apprentices”, made for keeping, and “Pie Colette” for glugging (whilst “Pie” is a magpie in French, “Pie Colette” means to “knock back a few”). The red is 80% Merlot plus Malbec and the white is 50% Sémillon with equal parts Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, quite a pleasant if unusual blend. The red is juicy and fruity but it does show just a little tannin.
If any of these wine importers had a portfolio tasting on their own, I would try to go along, and I was well rewarded for devoting some of the time I could have been at Raw to the arches under Holborn Viaduct. It was particularly worthwhile for the opportunity to try some new wines from familiar, and not so familiar, faces. I know that once again, there’s a lot to read here, but if you made it this far I hope you are inspired to explore some of these lovely and exciting wines.