I’m cutting any introductory waffle this month. You probably know the score by now. There are twelve wines, and something a little different (a cider) to make up a baker’s dozen. These are the most interesting wines I drank at home in April, and their interest is accentuated by their origins on this occasion. We have wines from Germany’s Mosel, Georgia, Switzerland (Geneva, Ticino and Neuchâtel), Burgenland in Austria, Goumenissa in Greece, Slovakia, Sicily (well, Lipari to be more accurate, a very good new discovery) and (of course) Jura. Here we go now…
DHRONER HOFBERG RIESLING KABINETT 2013, AJ ADAM (MOSEL, GERMANY)
Dhron isn’t one of the famous villages on the Mosel, situated as it is, half way between Trittenheim and Piesport, which get a little more attention. The Hofberg vineyard is unusual in that it does not face the Mosel itself, but is oriented towards the southwest, following the right bank of the river Dhron, an eastern tributary of the larger river.
Andreas Adam managed to take back his family vines which had previously been rented out, and has now established himself as a successful winemaker, if perhaps still a little under the radar in the UK. This 2013 is a product of a vintage hit by poor flowering, which led to a very small crop (50% in some cases). It was, nevertheless, lauded as an exceptional year and this Kabinett has aged very well.
There’s a richness, almost a sweetness, which suggests ripe fruit, but it is matched by an intensity. The scorers have not gone overboard about this wine, but I think Adam’s wines are always good, and this is no exception. It has just 8% alcohol and is very elegant for a ripe wine. The bouquet is lime and grapefruit citrus, with grapefruit and a touch of exotic pineapple on the palate. It finishes with a wet stone, slate, texture, but just a hint, which grounds it nicely.
You can often find the wines of AJ Adam at branches of The Sampler.
MTSVANE 2016, OKRO’S WINES (KAKHETI, GEORGIA)
John Okruashvili has around five-and-a-half hectares of vines near Sighnaghi in the Kakheti Region, in Eastern Georgia. He returned to his native country after a career in telecoms and IT, presumably with some cash to sink his qvevris beneath the floor of his new tasting room in the centre of town. But this is not a slick marketing operation. John is making wonderful traditional wines with a rather old fashioned feel.
This 2016 saw a long skin maceration, being bottled in April 2018, and I purchased this one from Les Caves de Pyrene soon after it arrived in the UK. The colour is deep orange, as one would expect from the long skin contact in qvevri. It is dry and you notice the tannins, but I love its earthy nose, and deep citrus palate. In fact you get the orange flavours, but there’s apricot too. It actually starts off bitter but opens out (don’t chill it much, if at all). It’s already complex and changed a lot by the second day, so it might be a bit young. If I’ve drunk a more interesting Mtsvane I don’t remember it.
INFINI “LES PASSIONNÉS” 2014, LA CAVE DE GENÈVE (GENEVA, SWITZERLAND)
The first of three Swiss wines this month, not only prompted by the recent Swiss tasting I went to (See Time for More Swiss Wine, 11 April) but also because I got some Swiss wines for Christmas. This wine came to me, via friends who live in Geneva, a few years ago, since when it has been resting in my cellar. I’m not going to claim greatness for this wine, but it is a good example of the work the Geneva wine Cooperative is doing.
This is a fairly standard Bordeaux blend we have here, Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc with Merlot, grown on the gently hilly terrain to the west of the city. If you are staying in Geneva and can get the use of a car, it’s really worthwhile getting out to the vineyard villages, particularly around Dardagny and Satigny (the coop is in Satigny), and especially to taste at the Portes Ouvertes events.
This barrique-aged wine has dark fruits running through it (blueberry and blackberry especially, with cherry), is smooth now with just a little tannin and still decent acidity. It’s not complex but is well judged, I suspect more so for having allowed the wood to integrate. As someone who does not seek out Bordeaux blends from outside Bordeaux, I found this enjoyable, both for its flavour, and for being something a little different.
As far as I’m aware this wine is not imported into the UK but it can be purchased in Satigny for a little under CHF23 (approx £17). Although Swiss wine tends to be pretty expensive, especially after sterling’s recent falls, the wines of the Cave de Genève remain decent value. Last time I visited they didn’t take credit card payments, but that may have changed.
MALAGOUZIA “ORANGE” 2015, KTIMA TATSIS (GOUMENISSA, GREECE)
I tasted some of Stergios Tatsis’ wines at Raw Wine 2019 and was impressed, by the wines and by the man. Although the region here is Goumenissa, close to the slightly better known Naoussa in Northern Greece, this wine is labelled PGI Macedonia. Malagouzia is the grape variety, grown here biodynamically, on gravelly clay. As it says in English on the label, it’s an orange wine, its skin maceration taking place in old oak, not amphora. It is bottled without any added sulphur.
When I tasted this at Raw I called it “flawless” (hence Jamie’s book in the photo). It has texture and tannin, as you’d expect, but if you don’t serve it too cool (which will accentuate the tannins) then a smoothness comes through with lovely fruit as well. Its journey is from citrus to marmalade in the glass, though without sweetness, of course…it’s bone dry. Its fragrant bouquet is in perfect harmony with the palate.
The importer for the UK is Southern Wine Roads, but I couldn’t find it on their web site on checking. Give them a call. My bottle came from the Burgess and Hall shop at Raw Wine.
ARBOIS-PUPILLIN “JURASSIQUE” 2016, DOMAINE DE LA RENARDIÈRE (JURA, FRANCE)
Jean-Michel Petit and wife Laurence farm seven-and-a-half hectares in and near Pupillin, working organically but using some biodynamic preps. Sulphur is added to the Renardière wines, but in relatively low quantities. Everything is done by hand where possible at the domaine, and Jean-Michel’s own hand on the label is a reminder of that.
Their winery is on Pupillin’s Rue du Chardonnay, apt for this cuvée which is made from Chardonnay grown on Jurassic limestone. Aged in older barrels, it is clean and very mineral, with classic limestone brightness. There’s another Chardonnay, “Les Vianderies”, which is off the local marnes with gravel, which has greater depth but less “zing”. I like this leaner wine. The fruit is still svelte, not chubby, which gives it a frame and a little structure. For me it drinks nicely with a touch of age but not too much, and this 2016 highlights the terroir very well.
I purchased this from Solent Cellar in Lymington. I believe the importer is Thorman Hunt.
PERFECT STRANGERS, CHARLIE HERRING WINES (HAMPSHIRE, ENGLAND)
This isn’t a wine, although in some respects it’s not exactly a cider. Tim Phillips makes this artisan cider from his dessert apple orchard right next to his walled vineyard, just outside of Lymington. The twist is that he adds a little red wine. This gives colour and acidity which the dessert apples lack. The only other similar cider I know is that which Tom Shobbrook makes from pear cider and a splash of Mourvèdre in South Australia.
I’ve written before about how Tom and Tim know each other via Sean O’Callaghan in Tuscany, and I’ve also written at greater length about this cider. But I have to include it again here because, well, it’s pretty sensational for cider. This newest vintage is so fresh but fine and elegant. It shares more than just a Champagne bottle with that great sparkling wine in that respect, though I personally love it young, and I’m not sure autolysis and time will have the same effect as it can on Champagne.
This is pretty difficult to track down and Tim always sells out, but a little persistence can pay off. It costs around the price of a fairly average bottle of wine, and I reckon it provides at least three times the pleasure. Not to mention the imaginative labels. Brilliant stuff that (I hardly dare say it) would challenge most petnats and at perhaps a third of their price.
BIANCO DI MERLOT “RUNCHET” 2010, CARLO TAMBORINI (TICINO, ITALY)
Okay, I won’t argue that this is the finest wine in this roundup, but white wine from Merlot grapes is a bit of a speciality in Ticino, and if you don’t try these things then unwarranted prejudice may well linger.
Tamborini is not a small artisan producer, but a fairly large company for Switzerland, with 25 hectares in various locations in Ticino, where Merlot is, of course, ubiquitous. This bianco is made in a modern way with a gentle extraction to avoid tannins, but at least as important, to avoid colour.
The result is really interesting in two respects. First, the wine is very fruity, but I can’t quite put my finger on the slightly exotic fruit that’s there on the nose. The palate is easier – stone fruit, pear and quince. It’s slightly plump but it does have some respectable acidity left.
That brings me to the second point. This is a 2010 vintage, and the recommendation on the Tamborini web site is that it should be drunk young. But it seems to be showing few signs of age. It’s still a palish yellow-straw colour, smells fruity not oxidative, and as I said, retains decent acidity. I won’t suggest it is complex, and I won’t suggest it’s a sensational wine, but it’s remarkably good for its age, and I’m glad I became acquainted with it.
This came from Alpine Wines. They don’t have it on their web site any more, but they do have other Ticino producers.
ROSÉ AUTHENTISCH 2017, ALEXANDER KOPPITSCH (BURGENLAND, AUSTRIA)
I’ve known Alexander and Maria for a few years but this is the first bottle (from a mixed half-dozen) I’ve been able to purchase here in the UK, as opposed to in Austria, or at tastings such as Raw Wine. The Koppitsch family farms just over six hectares on the north shores of the Neusiedlersee, from their winery in the small town of Neusiedl-am-See (a short train ride from Vienna). They took over Alex’s parents’ vines in 2011. Although the family has a very long history of winemaking, this couple are the first generation to bottle and sell their own wines. Alex works long hours in the vineyard, another farmer who likes to do everything by hand, whilst Maria (wo)mans the office and is a lively and warm advertisement for these lovely natural wines.
People ask me what I see as special in the Koppitsch wines, and that’s not too hard to answer. We are not dealing with “greatness” in any traditional sense. The wines are in some ways humble, like their maker, although they also have a youthful zest for life. The winemaker is very much a part of the “terroir” equation here. Truly lovely people doing their best to make tasty wine. In the past year or so they have gained a little celebrity, and earlier this year at an event in Vienna (see here) Maria told me, surrounded by young admirers with their bottles lined along the side of the bar at O Boufés, that they had never looked for any degree of fame. They just wanted to make a nice life for their children, free from stress and free from chemicals.
Authentisch Rosé blends Pinot Noir, Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt and St-Laurent. It’s unfiltered, but otherwise tastes like many other fruity Austrian pink wines. But you can detect that extra life and zest, although I’d challenge anyone to pick it out as a natural wine in terms of unusual odours or flavours. It’s just a well made and deliciously refreshing wine that brings joy.
Alexander Koppitsch has two UK importers. The discounted mixed six-bottle case I purchased came from Fresh Wines in Kinross, Scotland.
L’UVA ARBOSIANA 2016, DOMAINE DE LA TOURNELLE (JURA, FRANCE)
Close to the centre of Arbois this wonderful producer has a small bistro right on the river, where you can enjoy simple food and the Tournelle wines, along with those of some of their friends. Pascal and Evelyne Clairet have a lot of friends, in truth, because since the 1990s they have given a great deal of help to so many young Arbois vignerons starting out on the winemaking road. It’s a long time since I first bought wine from them, and when I did, some Uva Arbosiana Ploussard was in the mix. It was one of the first natural wines I drank.
As for this bottle, to be fair it wasn’t the best I’ve had over several years. I’ve had them with a few years age on them before and they can age nicely. They take on tea leaf aromas which remind me of wines like Horiot’s Rosé des Riceys and Cédric Bouchard’s Creux d’Enfer Champagne. But the colour was just turning from pale red to an orangey, brownish tinge. The Clairets do counsel keeping L’Uva under fourteen degrees because this wine receives no added sulphur, although I think they are playing it safe.
But if you have carried on reading this far I’m going to get positive. If you didn’t know this wine, I’m sure you’d have preferred it on its primary fruit. If you do know it, you’d be fascinated by the development of more savoury tea and soy notes, with the added spice of ginger and nutmeg, which I’ve never really tasted in L’Uva before. And I don’t want you to think the fruit has gone as the cranberry is still there as well. As we are interested in what’s in the glass here, not what isn’t, this provided an insight into a different side to a wine I know pretty well. It remains one of my favourite Ploussards.
Domaine de la Tournelle wines are available from importer Dynamic Vines, and from Antidote Restaurant off Carnaby Street, in which the Clairets have an interest. Antidote has just opened a new retail shop upstairs from the bar/restaurant at Newburgh Street. Dynamic Vines is usually open to the public on a Saturday morning at the Discovery Business Park, Bermondsey.
DEVIN 2016, MAGULA (LITTLE CARPATHIANS, SLOVAKIA)
Whilst the revolution in Czech Moravian viticulture has reached the UK and the USA, Slovakia’s slower rise as a worthwhile wine producer has been taking longer to get out, but two or three importers are onto it. This is one of the country’s top producers with ten biodynamic hectares near Sucha Nad Parnou in the Lower Carpathians.
The Devin grape variety is a cross between Traminer and Roter Veltliner. This version has a straw colour and a bright attack (Riesling-like). It was initially served a bit too chilled, but on warming it came into its own. The acidity gives the wine focus, but underneath there’s a lot of spice. After that initial hit, the wine fades slowly and majestically, with a long finish.
The variety is clearly a bit of a discovery, as I’ve also drunk it in Slobodne‘s Deviner blend (Devin blended with Traminer, Modal Wines). I noticed that Magula’s 2015 Devin had 14% abv on its technical sheet, but this 2016 is only 12%, and is perfectly judged. A lovely wine, and definitely one to seek out.
The 2016 is still available, via Basket Press Wines. This small importer, based in West London, has an exciting portfolio of Czech wines, and Vina Magula is their first Slovakian import.
BIANCO POMICE 2017 IGT TERRE SICILIANA, TENUTA DI CASTELLARO (LIPARI, ITALY)
Lipari lies off the coast of Sicily, but it is closer to the North African coast than the Italian. It’s one of the seven volcanic Aeolian Islands which come, administratively, within the wider wine region of Sicily. Lipari is most famous, perhaps, for Carlo Hauner‘s Malvasia delle Lipari passito wine, which I remember buying from Liberty Wines decades ago.
Bianco Pomice is a dry white which is a blend of 60% of the Malvasia delle Lipari clone with 40% Carricante. The soils are of course volcanic, with plenty of sand. Direct pressing of the grapes allows the wine to stay fresh and fruity, and after fermentation it goes into barrels, where the lees are stirred, for just six months.
This 2017 is pale and fresh, elegant, lively, as its mere 12.5% alcohol might suggest (an achievement for this location). The palate has stone fruits, white peach and apricot, plus some orange citrus which, right at the finish, hints at marmalade (which I also remember from that Hauner wine). You know I hate “points” but I was surprised to see Parker’s team give it 92.
This wine was recommended to me by Simon Smith at Solent Cellar, and it is a brilliant example of how you should trust your wine merchant. This was just a bottle tacked on to an order, and only £26, but it turned out to be a brilliant choice. There’s also a red, Nero Ossidiana, which I intend to try because several people said how good it is after I mentioned drinking the Pomice.
BLAUFRÄNKISCH KULM 2012, HEIDI SCHRÖCK (BURGENLAND, AUSTRIA)
The main reason I first visited Rust on the Neusiedlersee’s western shore a few years ago was to see Heidi Schröck. Heidi was one of the first Austrian producers beyond the Danube whose wines I grew to love, and I think she acted as a spur to get to know so many more producers around the lake. It’s perhaps a coincidence (perhaps not) that Burgenland has so many able women winemakers (Birgit Braunstein, Stefanie and Susanne Renner and Judith Beck being my favourites). Both Heidi and Birgit, who are friends, seem to make soulful wines which have really struck a chord with me.
The Kulm site is on the amphitheatre of vines to the west of Rust, a sun trap which is helped by the lake’s ameliorating effect on temperature. The vines are fairly old, planted in the mid-1950s, long before Heidi took over the family estate in 1983. The grapes are fermented on skins for a couple of weeks and then go into large old Austrian oak for fourteen months (for this 2012).
The colour is fairly dark ruby red, and the bouquet is lovely intense cherry with a whiff of Sichuan Pepper brightness and intensity. The palate is smooth and rich and that peppery bite comes back on the finish. It’s in a really good place right now, especially with food, mature but not losing that lovely freshness Heidi’s wines so often show.
Heidi Schröck is imported by Alpine Wines.
BLANC AUVERNIER NON-FILTRÉ, DOMAINE DE MONTMOLLIN (NEUCHÂTEL, SWITZERLAND)
Montmollin is a long established domaine (since the 1600s) in one of Switzerland’s less well known regions for wine. For those who don’t know it, we are in the northwest of the country, on the shores of the Lac de Neuchâtel and the Bielersee. The speciality here is the palest of pale oeil de perdrix Pinot Noir, but Chasselas is also grown alongside other varieties of minor importance. Many producers, as in this case, have begun to release their Chasselas early and unfiltered, which gives them a point of difference with some other Chasselas-growing parts of Switzerland.
Auvernier is a lovely medieval lakeside village just southwest of Neuchâtel itself, on the northern shore of the lake of the same name. It is said to be the most beautiful village in the Neuchâtel region, and it certainly produces some of the best Chasselas, off clay/limestone soils. This zippy 2017, aged on lees and bottled unfiltered, is crisp and mineral-textured, a blend of herbs and citrus on the palate with the addition of slightly more exotic fruit on the nose.
This is usually recommended as an aperitif, and at a mere 11% abv it does make a delicious vin de soif, but equally it would match Asian cuisine that is mildly spicy, and will definitely cut through cheese in a fondue or raclette. I’m a fan of Chasselas in the right circumstances and on the right occasion, so the more cynical among you might want to be wary of my enthusiasm. It comes from many years of drinking these wines in Switzerland. But if I’ve encouraged you to try and enjoy Viennese Gemischter Satz, then this style of white might also be for you.
This is another from my Alpine Wines Christmas case. Although everyone complains that Swiss wines are expensive, you might catch this on special offer if you are quick, £16.24, down from £19. The 2018 will be fresher, but this 2017 isn’t lacking freshness right now.