I was overloaded with lovely bottles at home last month. Here are the fourteen I couldn’t leave out, wines from Catalonia, Jura, Côte-Rôtie, Burgenland, New Zealand, Alsace, McLaren Vale, Piemonte and Vienna, so let’s not hang about.
Sumoll Ferèstec Clos Lentiscus 2010, Bodegas Can Ramon (Catalonia, Spain)
The vineyard of Clos Lentiscus produces what for me are certainly the best Spanish sparkling wines I know, from Can Ramon’s base at Sant Pere de Ribes, inland from Sitges and southwest of Barcelona. Sumoll Ferèstec is made from the red Sumoll variety, grown biodynamically and vinified as a blanc de noirs. This bottle fermented wine spent thirty months on lees and was disgorged in April 2016 (just 720 bottles were made of this very special cuvée.).
The colour is something between pale pink and light bronze. It’s bottled as an extra-brut, so is dry, but local honey is used as a dosage at disgorgement. The red fruits are concentrated with a lifted iron-rich note on the bouquet. I last drank this same wine in April 2017, and it only seemed slightly more mature here than that previous bottle. I’m sure that this is because it has retained an elegant structure. Despite some notes of maturity, it equally remains very fresh. This proves that Sumoll is a remarkably versatile, and top quality, variety. This was stunning.
I’ve seen some Clos Lentiscus wines at Furanxo on Dalston Lane, although this cuvée came from Barcelona.
Metamorphika Moscat Brisat 2015, Costador Terroirs Mediterranis (Catalonia, Spain)
Costador is Joan Franquet’s umbrella for a host of magical wines, including the Metamorphika range in their distinctive flagons. “Brisat” denotes a skin fermented wine in Catalan, and this one was a beautiful luminous yellow (not orange) colour. The bouquet has that obvious Muscat/Moscatel florality, but with an earthy, herby note as well. For me, beautifully scented. It’s dry, and has the firm structure of a wine which spent eight weeks on skins and then seven months in barrique, and the texture gives a solidity to a very smooth palate, surprisingly long for the variety. Adorable stuff.
This is available, along with a large range of Costador wines, via importer Otros Vinos.
Mont D’Alicante Vin de France, Domaine L’Octavin (Jura, France)
I can usually find out where Alice Bouvot sources her grapes for her negoce wines, but in this case I’m stumped. The blend is Alicante Bouschet (I know Alice sourced Muscat in Roussillon for Betty Bulles but there is a bull on the label), and the last time I saw her was the day after collecting some grapes from Savoie…the other variety here is Mondeuse.
This moderately alcoholic wine (12.5%) is just so alive it almost sets your mouth alight. Zippy-fresh, there was an initial volatile note but nothing scary, and it went with a shake. This wine is basically a pure fruit bomb, easy drinking but a tour de force of juicy simplicity. Wish I’d bought a six pack.
I’ve not see Mont d’Alicante in the UK, and I purchased this in Arbois in December last year.
Côte-Rôtie 2003, Michel & Stéphane Ogier (N. Rhône, France)
I have quite a few of the vintages of this wine from the 2000s. I was advised that I should drink the 2003 pretty soon, and as I recall it being a plump vintage (even a magnum of 2003 from Jasmin being ready a few years ago), I thought I should pop it open before the weather gets too summery. I was pleasantly surprised.
This is Stéphane’s blend of Côte Brune and Côte Blonde fruit, and hails from the period when he was taking over from his father and beginning to make a real name for himself. The wine is quite rich, with ripe plummy Syrah fruit. Perhaps the fact that this bottle hasn’t moved since purchase helped, as other drinkers suggest this peaked at the latest last year. It certainly has depth, though only a little meatiness. Intense, fragrant (violet top note) and long, not the best Ogier by any means but a very good bottle. Best to drink soon, though.
I bought pretty much all my Ogiers from Waitrose during 25%-off promos.
[Wiener] Gemischter Satz 2017, Weinbau Sackl (Vienna, Austria)
This is the first of two Wiener Gemischter Satz in this month’s selection, but they are very different. What they do have in common is their derivation, from the Bisamberg hillside on the left bank of the Danube, just before it flows through Vienna. Patricia Sackl is the oenologist here, husband Florian (a trained geologist) generally looking after their biodynamic vineyard. The wines are made with minimal intervention at all stages.
This field blend has a slight initial spritz which dissipates quickly. It was also slightly reductive, and a carafing might be worth contemplating. Straw coloured, it has a straw-like bouquet too, also herby, and then a floral strand comes in. The palate is fresh and flowery as well. It’s a simple kind of Gemischter Satz, in what many call the “classic” style, with elderflower and apples combining nicely in a very glugable wine.
This came from Vinifero, one of Vienna’s “natural wine” shops.
Müller-Thurgau “Skin Fermented” 2017, The Hermit Ram (Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand)
Another orange wine, and very orange this time (actually, more the colour of pale caramel when the lees are all shook up, but please don’t let that put you off). Someone described it to me as “brutal” but I’m massively impressed by everything Theo Coles is doing, and everything he does is “skin contact”. He takes a variety here that used to be New Zealand’s mainstay before Sauvignon Blanc was planted. I’d say he strips it of varietal character, but Müller-Thurgau never has a lot of that. Theo can therefore use it to express terroir. The vines are one of the oldest plantings of MT in NZ.
It’s a rugged wine, all apples and oranges with a bit of that terracotta whiff, slightly dusty (though it isn’t made in amphora but a mix of vessels including a concrete egg). Wine in an open top fermenter had six weeks on skins, after which it went into very old oak for malo, whilst that in the egg remained in contact with the skins for 168 days. There’s a good bit of zip, assisted by its cloudy lees, some texture and structure. At the same time it’s incredibly fresh, and surprisingly refreshing. It is ferociously cloudy, and here the lees certainly add to its character. It comes in at a mere 9.5% abv and is bottled under crown cap.
The Hermit Ram is easily one of my top dozen new (to me) producers of last year. Imported by Uncharted Wines. I’m not sure of retail outlets, but I know Vino Vero in Leigh-on-Sea (Essex) has some Hermit Ram. Pinot Noir is a speciality (several cuvées), and Theo makes a Sauvignon Blanc like no other in NZ. These are astonishing wines. Astonishingly different, to be sure, but astonishing!
Pinot Blanc 2017 “Cuvée Nature”, Anna, André and Yann Durrmann (Alsace, France)
The Durrmann family occupies a winery on the edge of Andlau, in the less well know Bas Rhin, but Andlau is next door to the most vibrant village for Alsace natural wine, Mittelbergheim. The Durrmanns, with son Yann now taking over, have always been ecologically minded. If you read about my visit there in 2017 you would recall their electric cars, their use of sheep and encouraging bird life in the vineyard. But not all of their wines yet fit a stricter interpretation of the category “natural wine”. Those that do, and which are bottled with no added sulphur, are labelled “Cuvée Nature”.
That fact is interesting because a few people have suggested that this no added sulphur version of their Pinot Blanc is better than the other (which I have never bought). This is another wine that showed a little reduction on opening, but it blew off without need for a vigorous swirl. The acidity is quite high, but the wine is zippy and mineral, so it is very refreshing. Definitely more a summer wine than one for March, except that we did open it during a spell of very warm weather. You need to enjoy acidity to like this, and it is one of the lighter Pinot Blancs you will buy (just 11.5% alcohol), but obviously as I felt it worthy of making the cut for March, I enjoyed it very much.
This bottle came from the take away wine list at Plateau in Brighton, but the importer is Wines Under The Bonnet. Restaurant take away lists can be an excellent source for even more hard to find wines. Some wines are pretty much only distributed to restaurants, but the take away list often allows a few lucky punters to carry something exciting home with them after lunch or dinner. Always remember, as I said in my last article (on lunch at Silo), to take a long peek at the list if take away is an option. Plateau prices are, in my opinion, particularly generous (and intentionally so).
NDV 2016, Brash Higgins (McLaren Vale, South Australia)
Brad Hickey continues to make some relatively undiscovered wines (on the UK market). Several are as exciting as any of those made by the younger guns of the Adelaide hinterland, if perhaps slightly less wild than some. NDV is the Brash Higgins acronym for Nero D’Avola, here sourced from Brad’s Omensetter Vineyard where it was grafted on to existing root stocks in 2009.
NDV is an amphora wine (a nod to COS, perhaps). It is kept on skins for 180 days in 200-litre, beeswax-lined, amphora which are made locally. Just as well when it comes to accidents – I remember seeing a photo a year or so ago after Brad had driven the fork lift into one. There’s bags of fruit here, which is dark and dense, but the amphora gives the wine an amazing freshness. Imagine a fruit smoothie with lavender, ginger and half a teaspoon of coffee grounds, but all blended together and lifted by nice acidity. At 13.5% abv it nevertheless, perhaps surprisingly, doesn’t taste remotely heavy or jammy.
It’s in my top three Brash Higgins wines. I just need to get near enough to a branch of Vagabond Wines in London to buy some more. All of Brad’s Amphora Project wines should definitely be on anyone’s list to try.
Barbera d’Alba “Reis” 2014, Marchesi di Barolo (Piemonte, Italy)
I had a phase in the 1990s and 2000s of going to Piemonte quite a few times. It’s one of Italy’s most beautiful wine regions, and completely overshadowed in terms of general tourism by Tuscany, unfairly I think. Those Piemonte lovers I know tend to think mainly of Barolo and Nebbiolo, but Barbera has long provided excellent food matching potential, as you will discover in any restaurant in the region.
Barbera tends to get second rate sites in the Langhe, where Barolo/Nebbiolo reigns. The material for Reis does come from the Barolo and Barbaresco zones, but it is a well thought out wine, quite commercial but well made, and that’s why I’ve included it here. Ripe grapes are aged in small French oak. I said “material” above because, in full conformity with the DOC rules, this wine is 85% Barbera and contains 15% Nebbiolo.
Reis is quite full-bodied for a Barbera, the oak filling it out, but it does have the grape’s characteristic lifted acidity. The dark fruits are crunchy and the finish bites. I’m not sure how the Nebbiolo contributes but perhaps it softens that finish a little.
I’m not sure whether this is available in the UK. I can only see German retailers online. This bottle came as a gift from a Norwegian visitor a couple of years ago, doubtless via Vinmonopolet. Retail in Europe is probably just sub-€15. For that price I thought it was pretty decent.
Josephine Rot 2012, Gut Oggau (Burgenland, Austria)
I tried the new vintage of Josephine at Raw Wine London, and it was so good it made me crack open this 2012 from my stash of Gut Oggau in the cellar. I say it often enough, but this biodynamic estate in the village of Oggau, a kilometre or two north of Rust on the Neusiedlersee’s western shore, is one of my favourite in the whole world. This is one of the freshest and most alive reds you will find in Burgenland. The blend is Blaufränkisch with Roesler (a 1970 cross between Zweigelt x (Seyve Villard 18-402 x Blaufränkisch)).
Josephine’s vines are 35-to-40-years-old, off gravel. The grapes are simply fermented and then aged in large oak, and after around eight months are bottled with no sulphur added. Low intervention is the key, with not even any batonnage/lees stirring. Josephine is dark-hued and the fruit is super concentrated, mainly blackcurrant. The wine is, however, light on its toes whilst also pleasantly grippy. I find it the most refreshing of Gut Oggau’s red wines.
There are many biodynamic estates which provide solid evidence that the renewed life of the vines comes through loud and clear in their wines. There are a handful where this “life” is seemingly enhanced even further, somewhat fancifully perhaps, as if the obvious passion of the farmer, in this case Eduard and Stephanie Tscheppe, glows in the glass. This is one of those estates. I find drinking their wines life-enhancing. And if you think I’m on something (only caffeine, I assure you), then I can tell you, I’m not alone.
Bought from Dynamic Vines.
Côtes du Jura Ploussard “Point Barre” 2016, Philippe Bornard (Jura, France)
Bottled as a Côtes du Jura, you can probably locate the Bornard winery to Pupillin by the choice of Ploussard rather than Poulsard on the label. The Bornards farm around 7 hectares, with a little under a hectare outside of the Arbois-Pupillin appellation, and therefore labelled Côtes du Jura, at Buvilly, down the road. Philippe has retired now, and winemaking is in the very capable hands of his son, Tony, but in 2016 they were a team. The quality of the Bornard wines has been up towards the top rank in the region for some years, evidenced by the rather elegant and fine 2011 Vin Jaune I drank a couple of weeks ago (see my “Sportsman” article of 2 April).
This is one of those Ploussards that are unimaginably attractive just to look at, a vibrant palish red-pink, verging on luminous, rather like looking through a cardinal’s cloak in the stained glass of a French abbey church on a sunny day. Of course, there is undeniable reduction on first sniff, but that is frequently the case with modern “natural” Ploussard. Whether you splash or merely swirl, the most lovely, almost exotic, fruit does come through. The mouthfeel is smooth but the “fruit acidity ” balances the wine perfectly. This is unashamedly a natural wine, but I’m just so glad I have more of this.
This came from Solent Cellar in Lymington.
“Les Dentelles” 2017, Anne & Jean-François Ganevat (Jura, France)
As if J-F didn’t have enough to keep him busy farming his famous ten hectares at La Combe de Rotalier, way down south of Lons-le-Saunier in Jura’s Sud Revermont, he, and sister Anne, produce an astonishing array of different negociant cuvées based in some cases on Jura’s ancient grape varieties, and in others, on grapes from outside the region.
Les Dentelles is an equal blend of Syrah and Grenache. Ganevat has a strange knack of disguising alcohol, and although this bottle had 14%, it tasted remarkably fresh, nimble and even light(ish). The grapes spent twelve months in amphora, which is always the perfect vessel if freshness is at the top of your list of requirements, because if properly lined the terracotta has a degree of contact with the wine, allowing in air (micro-oxygenation), but also imparting an edge to the juice. No sulphur is added, which most of those who eschew its use feel mutes the wine somewhat. The fruit is massive, and that’s what shines here, mainly red fruits with violets and a bit of added spice.
Friends brought this when stopping over, actually before a trip to Arbois, this year. They seem to have censored the label. Maybe this isn’t the place to join the debate on Fanfan’s rude ones, but this one in the flesh is mild (and there’s minimal flesh).
I’ve mentioned before that Solent Cellar almost always has a selection of Ganevat. The importer is Les Caves de Pyrene.
J12, Meinklang (Burgenland, Austria)
The “J” here stands for the Juhfark grape (and “12”, the vintage). Meinklang is a famous biodynamic mixed farm at Pamhagen to the south of Neusiedlersee, but Juhfark is a native variety of the small volcanic plug known as the Somló Massif, situated in Northwest Hungary pretty much between the Austrian border near Pamhagen and Tokaj. I’ve told the story (more than once, I’m sure) of how the Michlits family owned vines there before the Iron Curtain came down, and how the current generation bought land there to continue that tradition after the fall of communism.
The Meinklang holdings in this smallest (just over 800 hectares) of Hungary’s wine regions sit below towering lava columns. They have both Hárslevelű and Juhfark varieties planted. This was a bottle I’d owned for maybe three years and had forgotten about. I’m glad I had. This poured golden with a beautiful bouquet of lime and nuts. It had the mouthfeel of a Chardonnay and the acid bite of a Savagnin, with a bit of skin contact texture to ground it. The underlying fruit was quite rich. The variety seems perfectly suited to Somló’s volcanic soils, and on this evidence seems to age well too, perhaps age softening the grape variety’s innate acidity (Meinklang call Juhfark “fiercely masculine”). Stunningly different.
Wiener Gemischter Satz “Bisamberg” DAC 2015, Wieninger (Vienna, Austria)
Whilst the Gemischter Satz made by Patricia Sackl (see above) is a reflection of the old heuriger tradition of serving a simple field blend wine in the local inns, a wine of vivacity and simplicity, this is altogether different. Like Nussberg on the opposite side of the Danube, Bisamberg has a DAC. Wieninger is known for making the most serious of the wines from these two sites, wines with a fuller body than the “classic” version (which they also produce in greater quantity).
This is a wine to age at least a few years, as this 2015 shows. It blends Chardonnay (20%), Weissburgunder (40%) and Grauburgunder (40%). Bisamberg is covered in sandy loess on a base of chalky limestone, and the Wieninger vines, planted on a site called Ried Hochfeld here, have been farmed biodynamically since acquisition in 2012. As for all Gemischter Satz, the grapes are all harvested and vinified together.
The 2015 has delicate grapefruit aromas with a smoky note. The palate has stone fruits and herbs, with a soft mineral texture which may derive from the chalk content, the limestone giving brightness and lift. At 13% abv, higher than the “classic” Gemischter Satz wines, it is better suited to accompany food rather than as a summer thirst quencher. It’s a classic old vine cuvée, showing complexity, and also if you sample the other site-specific bottlings from Wieninger (Ried Rosengartel and Ried Ulm, for example, both off Nussberg) you will see very clear terroir differentiation. These are very fine wines, as well as the purest expression of a modern interpretation of the long Wiener Gemischter Satz tradition.
Wieninger’s UK agent is Liberty Wines.
If you’d like to read my longer article about my visit to Wieninger in August 2018, follow the link here.