After an absence of a year the Real Wine Fair returned to London’s Tobacco Dock, and visiting yesterday, I overheard so much ecstatic praise for the event. The venue is spacious and airy, and especially the large hall enables tasters to feel less crowded out than at some large events. The food court offers a wide range of food and (essential for post-tasting palate refreshing) beer, and there are also spaces to retreat into for a few moments of quiet relief and programme consultation.
One of the best additional attractions at the Fair (mirroring Raw Wine) is the shop, where it would be rude not to pick up a few bottles to take home. Many readers probably saw on Instagram the Kelley Fox, De Moor and Joiseph bottles I managed to nab for takeaway. I think a massive round of applause is due to Doug Wregg and the Les Caves de Pyrene team for organising the Fair, and indeed bringing it back for such an enthusiastic audience.
I was only able to manage one of the two days this year, yesterday’s Trade and Press Day. It was probably slightly less crowded, though still busy, but arriving at ten o’clock on the dot enabled me to crack on with the work (I suppose you think it’s easy). I was so busy tasting that it was past one-thirty before I realised I needed lunch. I think I tasted through the wines of twenty-three producers, and I can honestly say I wish I could have tasted at least four times as many. I’m going to split my coverage into three parts perhaps, I’ll see how I go.
I tried to visit people whose wines I don’t know well, and where I did visit favourites I tried to taste wines I’ve not reviewed before. That said, with new vintages it’s still a lot of wines, and one thing to bear in mind is that by the end of the day some wines had run out, some wines were a bit tired, and one or two producers seemed somewhat tired as well (perfectly natural in the circumstances – I’d been tasting for seven hours with a twenty minute break and they’d been on their feet for just as long).
I probably should also mention that whilst most winemakers were there to take us all through their wines with enthusiasm, a few had gone AWOL for long periods leaving visitors to pour the wines themselves and come to their own conclusions. If there’s no photo of a producer with their wines, you can assume that in almost all cases I was unable to talk to them. In one case, a winery whose wines were right up near the top of my list to try (Momento Mori) did not even appear to have turned up on the second day, leaving an empty table.
But that must not detract from the fact that this was a brilliant day’s wine tasting, at what for me is an unrivalled opportunity to taste through the Les Caves portfolio plus the wines of a range of smaller natural wine importers. I hope you enjoy my notes, which I will try very hard to keep reasonably succinct.
Weingut Andreas Tscheppe (Sudsteiererland, Austria)
Like Franz and Christine Strohmeier from the same part of Austria, I didn’t see Andreas Tscheppe on his table at any time when I passed by. I really adore the Strohmeier wines, but I’ve drunk those of Andreas Tscheppe fewer times, so I decided to take myself through the wines on the table. A good decision.
Andreas and Elizabeth cultivate their vineyards biodynamically, with a focus on sustainability and biodiversity, as mirrored in the insects which adorn their beautiful labels. These insects are drawn to the grasses and wild flowers which fill the rows of vines in what is effectively a meadow up at 500 metres altitude in Southern Styria (a region I ache to visit). The fermentation and ageing here is all in older oak, with up to two years spent there before bottling. When bottling comes around, some wines have no sulphur added, others just a little. There are no rules, it’s all based on their analysis of the wine’s needs.
Blue Dragonfly Sauvignon Blanc 2017 is very floral and fruity too. There’s a lovely range of unusual notes, like fresh mint, pear and hawthorn. A bright wine, one to bring joy and pleasure. It was my own favourite of the two Sauvignon Blancs on show (the other being Green Dragonfly 2017, which is a bit more intense, structured even).
Stagbeetle Earthbarrel Sauvignon Chardonnay 2017 is both lovely and also very interesting. The blend, of which Sauvignon is the larger component, is fermented in wood on skins, then racked to another barrel, which is buried in the vineyard, under the stars, for six months (effectively over winter). The the barrel is brought into the winery for a further 18 months before bottling. The Chardonnay contributes a roundness, as no doubt does the long ageing. Yet the wine is still bright and fresh on the palate, before the smooth fruit gives way to a bit of bite on the back of the tongue. A brilliant wine, both concentrated yet also thought provoking.
All the wines here were really singing, but I’m going to select Snail Pinot Noir Rosé 2017 to finish. I’m not sure that Les Caves has this in stock but it is a perfect wine for summer. 10.5% alcohol, pale, bottled under crown cap (although the expected fizz had largely dissipated when I tried some). It has a touch of sweetness and nicely ripe fruit and was just lovely. I’d have liked to discuss this wine and find out more. Preferably among all those wild flowers that I can almost smell every time I read about this estate.
Joiseph, Luka Zeichmann (Burgenland, Austria)
So you’ve probably begun to hear about Luka by now? I, for one, have been raving about this small producer with vines around Jois at the top end of the Neusiedlersee, and I was thrilled to be able to meet him for the first time at Real Wine. This project is in fact a collaborative effort, but Luka is the talented young winemaker. Their initial hectare of vines has grown to 3 ha for the 2017s and they tease a miraculous eight cuvées out of them. The only thing holding them back from superstardom might just be their tiny production, but these wines are beginning to be sought out. If you saw the Joiseph “BFF” I grabbed from the shop (photo on Instagram yesterday), it was the very last bottle.
Tasting just the wines that were new to me (Nick Rizzi of importer Modal Wines has taken me through many of these a couple of times already this year) I began with Mischkultur 2017. This is Luka’s entry level white wine. It’s a field blend with the grapes all picked together (from different sites) and co-fermented, effectively a gemischter satz. It’s fresh, tongue-prickling and simple, yet full of energy and zip.
Rosatant 2018 is Blaufränkisch from the same vineyard as BFF and we were tasting a tank sample as none of the 2018s have been bottled yet. It has a remarkably peppery nose, very fruity, although Luka says the fruit will tone down a bit. It is strikingly pale and as the wine has no label, you get a photo of how pale it is in the glass, below. Delicious. Look out for it soon.
Tannenberg 2016 is the top red at Joiseph. The hill it is named after has the profile which appears on the anonymous front label of all the Joiseph wines. I will nail my colours to the mast and say that this is one of the two, perhaps three, best Zweigelts I know, or at least one of my two favourites. It comes from an island of schist over limestone, a very rocky, dry, terroir with poor soils. The colour is so vibrant and deeper than many varietals from this grape. It has stunning fruit and real depth, all with just 12.5% abv.
I finished with another new wine, Muscat Ottonel 2018. This sees two weeks on skins. The bouquet is beautifully aromatic enough to get a physical exclamation from me, wow! It’s a lively wine with nicely balanced acids, but the skin maceration adds noticeable texture, adding depth. I think this particular cuvée might not be for everyone, but that would merely make it easier to obtain for people like us.
Claus Preisinger (Burgenland, Austria)
It does seem like a long time since I visited Claus, and indeed Stefanie Renner, in Gols last summer on the first day of harvest. It was gloriously hot, but the wind from over the Pannonian Plain, across the shallow waters of the Neusiedlersee, into which we were cycling most of the morning, was doing its bit to cool the grapes. Funny what you can learn about a particular terroir from the saddle.
If Claus has been deprived of sleep with his new(ish) baby, it wasn’t showing. Even towards the end of the day he had the energy to take me through the range, so the wines all deserve a note, even if cursory. The first bottle of wine I bought from Newcomer Wines’ old shipping container at Shoreditch Boxpark was one of Claus’, and since then his stature has risen even further. This is one of the best producers in Burgenland.
Kalk und Kiesel Weiss 2017 is a four grape blend (Weissburgunder, Grüner Veltliner, Welschriesling and a little Muscat Ottonel) off chalk and pebbles. It is part fermented in wood and part in amphora, and it retains a texture and slightly bitter (or savoury) feeling, without any loss of freshness. That texture comes from its vinification, ageing on lees, and bottling without fining, nor filtration. Lovely.
Kalk und Kiesel Rot 2017 blends (mostly) Pinot Noir and Blaufränkisch. The grapes are vinified in several different ways before ageing in 500-litre oak. Lightness, texture, fruit and acidity make this a complete and harmonious red with, again, a lick of texture making it food-friendly.
Grüner Veltliner ErDELuftGRAsundreBEN 2017 is not my keyboard rebelling (though it often does that, with the pounding I give it), but is a clue to the vineyard which Claus is not allowed to put on his non-DAC label, Edelgraben. It is pure schist, giving the wines intense character, whether red or white. The Grüner has an unexpected softness, like you would imagine a soft mineral rock would taste, rather than hard schist. The texture is to the fore. This is accounted for by the limestone that appears with the schist, the fermentation in amphora, and the extended skin contact of around five months.
The Weissburgunder 2017 of the same name (which can also be read as “grapes, earth, air, grass and vines” is similarly textured, dry and vivant. They are not so much varietal wines as wines which, despite long skin macerations, elaborate the terroir/site beautifully. They are not wines to select if you are after varietal typicity, more wines to choose for a journey into the poetry of wine. “Intense” is a good word to describe them, yet they don’t impose rudely on the conversation with them.
Blaufränkisch ErDELuftGRAsundreBEN 2017 has very strong cherry notes. It’s interesting that this is an easier variety to guess, or easier than the two white (orange) versions from the same site. The variety has its common brightness and spice, but the cherries really dominate, and you can also imagine you are sucking the last flesh from a cherry stone on the finish.
As for finishing, there was no Puszta Libre on show (I forgot to ask Claus whether he made any in 2018), but I was able to cleanse my palate with the ever beautiful Ancestral, in this case the 2018. It’s a pale salmon pink petnat (around 6-bar of pressure) made using St-Laurent from the gravelly Goldberg site, just 10.5% alcohol and hauntingly fruity. Gorgeous stuff.
Rennersistas (Burgenland, Austria)
I feel a little sorry for Susanne at home, presumably with her young one, whilst husband Claus and sister Stefanie enjoy the beautiful sunshine and exquisite bonhomie of the Real Wine Fair in London (also read “work their ankles off”). But it was good to see Stefanie again, and this time to taste a few wines off-list which I had not yet seen in the flesh.
As you will surely know by now, the wines the Renner sisters have fashioned from some of their father’s vineyards at Gols have created something of a sensation. The wines seem to remarkably reflect (excuse the split infinitive here) the personality of these two young women who, however tired, bring a smile to any occasion. They learnt their trade not in the conservative environment (at the time) of Northern Burgenland, but with Tom Lubbe (Matassa) and Tom Shobbrook (South Australia). 2017 is just their third vintage, and every year their winemaking grows more assured. They are one of the most sought after producers on the shelves at Newcomer Wines. It’s in no small part due to the ever generous nature, and innovation, of their makers.
Waiting For Tom White 2017 is a blend of Weissburgunder and Chardonnay. It’s a lovely savoury wine, and I assume the Chardonnay is picked quite early (?). I think the texture here probably comes from the Pinot Blanc. Overall it’s quite simple, yet it has presence. I can’t wait to get some.
Chardonnay 2018 saw two weeks on skins with whole bunches. It’s a fresh and mineral Chardonnay with some savoury and umami notes, very much emblematic of the Rennersistas style. Oh dear, another for the list.
Superglitzer 2017 is what I’d been waiting to taste ever since I saw the buzz around it from Austria these past weeks. It’s a blend of all the red varieties they have planted (Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch, St Laurent, Pinot Noir and Roessler – that last variety you may have come across at Gut Oggau). What I didn’t know was that it was originally intended as a rosé, but it turned out darker, despite whole bunch fermentation and direct pressing. It’s a massively attractive, fruity, blend and I can see why people have been excited by it. Nice version of the Rennersistas label too.
Zweigelt 2017 brings out the fruitiness of the variety, and is another of my favourite Zweigelts, which I have now tried in each of its three vintages. There’s that savoury touch beneath the fruit, a little density, and a bitter finish, but the fruit remains dominant in a wine perfectly balanced at 12.5% abv.
Iago Bitarishvili (Kartli, Georgia)
The keen-eyed regulars will know I drank one of Iago’s wines at Silo two weekends ago, and I was keen to taste further and meet the great man himself. It was no disappointment. The wines were great, and Iago lived up to his reputation as a super-friendly guy. He’s based in Chardakhi in the Mtskheta part of Kartli, in Eastern Georgia. His 50-y-o, two-hectare, vineyard gives him good base material. He harvests ripe, and that means stems too. He uses the traditional qvevri method for the skin contact wines, where whole bunches and stems go in without pressing. The stems naturally filter the wine as it settles and no sulphur is added. There’s only about 5,000 bottles made each vintage, so grab one if you see it.
Iago Chinuri 2018 (without skin contact, Green Label) shows a wonderful grape in all its glory. Chinuri here gives a very refreshing wine with quite exotic fruit, but there’s also what I have discovered is a real Chinuri trait, softness. Even with the Iago Chinuri 2018 (with skin contact, Yellow Label) the softness is still there despite the texture which extended skin contact brings (mostly a little less than a year macerating). As I said of the 2016 I drank at Silo, it is “smooth and gentle” rather than “tannic and textured”. There had been a 2017 on show, but it was all gone by the afternoon. A pity as I’d have made it a hat-trick of vintages.
Marina Mtsvane 2018 had a very lovely bouquet that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, a little like a smoky grapefruit. Made with skins and stems in qvevri again, it has a nice texture but is alive and fresh with good grip and bite. I finished on a Marina Mtsvane 2017 with an extra year in bottle. There’s greater depth, as much texture, and a palate of pineapple and stone fruits now (a peachiness, perhaps). This has 13.5% alcohol.
Slobodne (Zemianske Sady, Slovakia)
Slobodne is based at Hlohovek in Slovakia’s western hills about an hour’s drive out of Bratislava. As I said recently, the country’s wines are just beginning to truly establish themselves after we have seen a natural wine revolution in neighbouring Czech Moravia. The family here began a new era after recovering their vineyards following the fall of communism, their first vintage being in 2010. This estate is more than just about wine. As with many producers here at Real Wine, they care about biodiversity and the ecosystem, and spent twenty-five years preparing their land before launching their wines.
Veltlina 2017 is a nice wine to kick off with. It’s a simple wine, soft and with a bitter textured finish for food accompaniment. Then I moved on to a couple of very interesting whites. Interval 103 is a Riesling from the 2015 vintage. It has a Riesling steeliness which is just starting to soften. Interval 104 is the same wine from 2016. It has more structure and needs more time to age, but 103 gives a hint at the trajectory it will follow. Both are exceptional Rieslings from a lesser known wine region.
Malý Majer 2015 is a blend of Blaufränkisch and Cabernet Sauvignon which is a soft and plump red. Rebela Rosa 2018 with its attractive label is also a blend of the same grapes (Blaufränkisch is known as Frankovka here) which sees no manipulation and no added sulphur. The idea behind it is to get as close as possible to the taste of the fresh new wine in the cellar. This makes the wine interesting and different, very natural, not for everyone but chilled down, a refreshing alternative. Bottled before all the sugar is subsumed, it has a faint spritz and a pale pink colour, with haunting strawberry fruit. Annoyingly I failed to note the alcohol. Sources online suggest 13%, quite a bit higher than I’d imagined.
pArtisan Cru 2015 (sic) is a premium red and is largely a blend of Blaufränisch and Cabernet again, given a few days skin contact. It’s another soft wine with good concentration and length. Alternativa 2015 is another wine which shows the benefit of a bit of bottle age. It’s a pure Frankovka (Blaufränkisch) off the loess and clay soils of the Trnava Region. Fermentation is in open clay tanks, prolonged over six weeks, before it goes into old oak to age for a couple of years before bottling. It’s a very peppery wine with vibrant cherry fruit and, as expected, a good turn of fruit acids on the palate to keep the flavour going long after swallowing (well, spitting in my case).
It’s an over used cliché, but the Slobodne wines are quite unique. Their experimentation with skin contact styles, and the variety of wines they produce, puts them right at the forefront of Slovakian wine, not just natural wine. Some have suggested that there are no wines like these in Europe. That might err towards hyperbole, but they are certainly following an interestingly different path to most. Well worth exploring, via importer Modal Wines. You can search for other Slobodne wines I’ve drunk over the past year or so.
Tillingham Wines (East Sussex, England)
Ben Walgate is no stranger to these pages. His promising winery at Peasmarsh, near Rye in East Sussex, not only has fields of newly planted vines, but he makes cider, and looks after a range of livestock (some goats having been introduced recently to go with the sheep and cows). There are rooms being built in which visitors will be able to stay overnight, and an on-site restaurant and shop will make this a unique English wine and gastronomic venue by the end (hopefully) of summer 2019. Ben, as a former director of Gusbourne Wines, was described by Doug Wregg a year ago (the-buyer.net) as “on a steep learning curve”. Well, he’s learning, and the number of exciting wines coming out of Tillingham in small batches is quite astonishing.
I’d say that any adventurous wine lover could (and should) take any of Ben’s wines in the knowledge that they will be fun to drink and mind expanding in terms of what English Wine has the potential to be, outside of the commercial vineyards producing wines using chemical treatments. Ben is using biodynamic methods and minimal sulphur, although at the moment it is from bought in grapes (whilst his own vineyards come on tap). This is an artisan operation, but with high end goals.
I want to concentrate on two new wines here, because I’m most interested in what Ben is doing in Georgian qvevri. He began with two buried vessels, from which he made a qvevri cider and his Qvevri Artego (shh, Ortega). Now he has (I believe) fourteen of them. We have a Qvevri Pinot Blanc bottled recently but not yet on sale. It is massively fresh and fruity. I think Ben is great at coaxing freshness from his cuvées, a freshness which goes above and beyond acidity and only seems present in the wines of a handful of English (and Welsh!) producers. None of that confected acidity from under ripe but chaptalised grapes.
Then we have Qvevri Rülem. This is Müller Thurgau with a 21-day maceration on skins. Ben’s getting braver and this wine is just desserts for his efforts. It’s cloudy and leesy, still fresh but something really different. I wonder whether he’s tasted Hermit Ram Müller Thurgau from New Zealand? This is not the same but there’s a resemblance, for me, although the Tillingham is lighter, and very fragrant.
Kmetija Mlečnik (Bukovica, Slovenia)
There really should be more Slovenian wine here in my Real Wine review, and indeed in the UK too. For decades Slovenia has been producing world class wines without most of the UK wine trade taking any notice, except for Les Caves, and a few others. Valter Mlečnik farms nine hectares at the western end of the Vipava Valley, tight up to the Italian border, with mainly local varieties plus Chardonnay and some Merlot. As is traditional in the region, the whites are made with skin contact. Just two (white-ish) wines were on show, though, with Valter’s son, Klemen, on hand to pour and explain.
Ana Cuvée 2012 is a blend of Rebula (Ribolla Gialla), Chardonnay, (Istrian) Malvasia and Friulano. It has a five day maceration on skins in open vats before two years in large oak for ageing. After time in bottle, this 2012 is quite smooth, very concentrated, with a little richness. There’s fruit there, but that’s not what the wine is primarily about. We have secondary and emerging tertiary notes, complexity and a lovely presence which I promise in most people will encourage you to ponder what’s in the glass long and hard.
Rebula 2013 is a 100% varietal wine from this regional speciality grape. This cuvée has three days skin contact and two years in barrel (and a mere 11.5% abv). Both wines have a lovely bright golden colour and real concentration. There’s tannin and texture, but not as much as in many orange wines, as the short maceration times might corroborate. Both are exceptionally long.
I learnt from Simon Woolf’s Amber Revolution that Valter Mlečnik was one of the group of winemakers originally mentored by Joško Gravner in the late 80s/early 90’s, but as Simon points out, and as we see from his son Klemen’s explanations here, the tradition in Vipava Valley has always been for a relatively short maceration on skins, and that is what they stick to. Any way you want to look at it, these are beautiful, elegant, orange wines of world class.