If you have not seen Part 1 of my coverage of the Real Wine Fair 2019 you can check it out here. That is where you will find any introductory blurb, for what it’s worth. This is the second of three articles on the Fair that took place at Tobacco Dock in London on 12 and 13 May. The articles are not structured in a way which separates countries, so here I cover some European and Australian wineries, and in Part 3 I shall include North America and Sicily. It just adds a bit of variety, I hope.
Bodegas Cota 45 (Sanlúcar, Spain)
Ramiro Ibáñez Espinar and Maria Rosa Macías Peña founded Cota 45 in 2012 with the aim of showing the qualities of the white albariza soils of Jerez in a slightly different way. Of course, using the grape variety Palomino Fino for table wine is a trend we have seen over the past decade, the exemplar perhaps being Equipo Navazos’ “Florpower” releases. What this couple are aiming to do is to make wine in the style of the 18th and early 19th centuries, which effectively means without fortification with grape brandy.
The wines here fall into three distinct categories. Those made biologically (ie under flor) are labelled “UBE”. The oxidatively aged wines are labelled “Agostado”, whilst their sweet wines come under the “Pandorga” designation.
UBE Miraflores 2017 Comes from this well known site (or pago) within a short distance from the ocean, near Sanlúcar, whose cooling influence is said to be strong here. This, according to Liem and Barquin, means later ripening and lower alcohol, which seems self-evident perhaps, but they do suggest that the smoothness and harmony of the musts from these sites close to the sea are much prized by winemakers. This wine is dry, with a lovely softness, although it is less like a Fino, or maybe I should say Manzanilla, than you might expect.
UBE Maina 2016 has had an extra year in bottle. The site (which I think is also spelled as Mahina) is 9km inland, further from the ocean. It’s a hill, under threat it appears from the need for wind turbines as it is exceptionally windy. But again citing Liem and Barquin, its pure white but complex albariza soils provide some of the finest grapes around Sanlúcar. This wine has a little more structure (muscular, even) than Miraflores, but also tastes fresher, or maybe more chalky, or “oyster shell”. It’s all those marine fossils.
Agostado Palo Cortado 2016 only contains 10% Palomino, the rest being a blend of old Sherry varieties hardly seen these days, like Mantuó Castellano, Mantuó di Pillas, Beba and Perruno. This is a lovely wine, quite stunning in fact. It has all the elements of a fortified Palo Cortado, yet an amazing lightness as well. Remarkable, although that might be just too many superlatives for one paragraph.
Pandorga PX 2017 comes, like the wine that follows, in a 50cl bottle. The Pedro Ximenez grapes are dried in the sun for ten days, and then get gently pressed for a long fermentation. The 2017 finished up with 310 g/l residual sugar and 8% alcohol. It’s a lovely golden brown colour. It doesn’t have the weight, and perhaps intensity, of fortified PX, but it does major on elegance and, even now, complexity.
Pandorga Tintilla de Rota 2017 This variety is in some ways a real example of what Cota 45 is all about. The variety is native to the town of Rota in Cádiz Province. It gives small berries which ripen late but give a lot of sugar. In the 18th and 19th centuries it had great fame, but almost disappeared until a revival later last century. Several bodegas make wine from Tintilla de Rota, including Lustau and González Byass (certainly Lustau still have casks, not sure about GB), but no one I am aware of makes a wine quite like this.
Here you get a tiny bit less sugar, 300 g/l, although it doesn’t show. There’s also a good touch more alcohol, which maybe you can tell (9.5%). Although it isn’t quite as elegant as the PX, it is smooth, rich and sweet. In Sherry terms it doesn’t taste heavy because it has not been fortified and the alcohol is still relatively low, but it does taste rich. Another genuinely remarkable wine.
Spain produces hundreds of star wines which are well under the radar in so many of her regions. Go to a specialist importer tasting and you will be amazed. It is true that some people were unsure about the wines of Cota 45, perhaps because they confound expectations. Personally, I think they were one of the stars of the Fair. Most of their wines cost more than £30 for a bottle, which is possibly more than most people have traditionally expected to pay for wines from Jerez. But as with Equipo Navazos, these are something special, for the aficionado maybe, but then we should all be aficionados of this region, for sure.
Alice & Olivier de Moor (Chablis, France)
Alice seemed quite subdued on Monday afternoon, and as she has been so lively and friendly on other occasions when I’ve met her it came as a shock. It only matters because these wines are without any doubt my favourites from Chablis, and in the years since Alice and Olivier have been supplementing their frost-hit yields via their Vendangeur Masqué label, I have tried to follow everything they are doing (and their Caravan blend was one of the three wines I purchased in the shop even before I tasted it).
Caravan Vin de France, Le Vendangeur Masqué 2017 blends Clairette, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Aligoté, all organically grown and sourced from several regions and a number of grower friends. I’ve seen other blends listed for the 2017 online, but the back label clearly states the above. I’m not sure whether there are multiple Caravan cuvées? I think this is a lovely wine. It’s fresh and fruity, but I am sure it could age a year or two (unlikely in my case as it’s that gorgeous freshness I want to tap into).
Bourgogne Aligoté 2017 This has been a de Moor staple in my house for several years, one of a handful of the best (and best value) versions of this variety in Burgundy (and there are indeed one or two very good Aligotés in the Auxerrois). As always, there’s real freshness in this 2017. Note that I don’t specifically use “acidity”. Of course there is acidity, but not as in typical Aligoté acidity. The freshness is in the fruit, and that really comes through and makes this wine so delicious.
Chablis 1er Cru Mont de Milieu 2017 There is a Chablis available under the Vendangeur Masqué label, and very nice it was too. But here I want to focus on the Premier Cru. In part this is because a de Moor Chablis from their own frost-prone vineyards is quite rare these days, but at the same time, this particular wine was another one of the undoubted stars of Real Wine 2019. It somehow manages, and remember that this is a young wine, to combine mineral crispness which smacks the lips and palate with refreshment, with a later sensation that it is fulsome and very long. This was astonishingly good, the kind of quality you will have to pull out big notes for, but you’re worth it.
Domaine de L’Achillée (Alsace, France)
Here we reach Alsace, where I shall cover three of the four producers at the Fair. I only miss out Jean-Pierre Frick, whose wines I love, because I tasted them just a few weeks ago (at the Newcomer/Vine Trail Common Ground Tasting at Fare on Old Street). I tasted here at L’Achillée largely because two or three friends recommended them throughout the morning. It’s always great to get tips like this, although there are always too many recommendations to follow them all through. I’m glad I did in this case.
Yves, Pierre and Jean Dietrich have vines around Scherwiller (north of Colmar, just outside Sélestat and, if you like my obscure music references, overlooked by the Château de Ramstein but unfortunately with only one “m”). Pierre and Jean only took over from father Yves in 2016, at which time they decided to stop sending grapes to the cooperative and to bottle everything themselves. Unusually for a cooperateur, however, the vineyards had been farmed biodynamically by Yves since 2003.
Crémant d’Alsace Dosage Zero 2016 is made from 50% Riesling with Chardonnay and Pinots Blanc and Auxerrois comprising the rest of the blend. It’s dry, obviously, having zero dosage, but as well as a steely, crisp, attack which seems to last right down the wine’s spine until it finishes long, there’s nice white peach and orchard fruits. It’s really mouth filling but not heavy. This 2016 was made from the first grapes of the brothers’ new venture.
Alsace Blanc 2017 is a blend of all the white varieties they have planted, from different plots around their 18.5 hectares of vines. This combines fruit and a certain smoky quality, a bit different. Not complex but a great utilitarian white, for me for lunch time drinking.
Riesling 2017 is also a fairly simple version of the variety (none the worse for that), a blend from different soils. Imagine varietal character but in a more easy going, slightly lighter, style. Riesling Hahnenberg 2016 is from a hill with more sandstone, and from a single site on the Hahnenberg where there is rare granite underlying the strata. There’s also, unusually, acacia forest up there, which at least shelters the vines if not directly influencing the Riesling’s florality. A closer influence is the biodiversity the brothers encourage. Up here there are, they claim, 168 different varieties of plants. The wine is plusher than the Riesling blend, and calls for some ageing. Impressive.
Pinot Noir Libre 2017 is bottled with just 1g of sulphur. The 2016 had no sulphur added, hence the name. They decided the ’17 needed a little, but the 2018 will probably have no sulphur added. This is a very tasty red, with plump sour cherry fruit. That’s all you need to know…glou!
**Crémant Quetsches Alors 2018** This is something different, and I might also add, I think, something marvellous. As well as their vineyards, the domaine has six hectares of fruit trees. They decided to experiment, and last year made 4,000 bottles of plum crémant. The plums are macerated and foot trodden, the juice is fermented naturally, and then the second fermentation in bottle is made with a liqueur from grapes used for the Riesling Hahnenberg.
The result is a fruity, sparkling, plum drink bottled in a sparkling wine bottle, with 5.5% abv and great fruit sweetness balanced by nice acidity. What an amazing idea and what an amazing, refreshing, light drink. Not much to go around so far, but with six hectares of fruit perhaps this will take off. It was really popular on the day so I hope Les Caves will stock it. Let me know if you do, Doug, and save me some.
Christian Binner (Alsace, France)
Christian owns eleven hectares of vines around one of Alsace’s famous villages, Ammerschwihr, at the heart of the Haut Rhin. The area around Colmar is famous for one fact – it has the lowest rainfall in France, something known by every WSET wine student. The wines can be quite big, some varieties quite alcoholic in the days of climate change, but Christian’s biodynamic regime keeps the vines in balance, especially helping with water stress.
I bought the Binner wines many years ago when Les Caves de Pyrene first began importing them. Whether down to the low sulphur regime or not, for me the wines have been up and down. The wines tasted on Monday were lovely, and show Binner to be at the top of his game, perhaps producing the best range that he ever has.
Côtes d’Amourschwihr 2014 is a “village wine” made from a co-planted range of varieties fermented together (rather like an Austrian gemischter satz blend). Like many of these Alsace blends which update the old Edelzwicker (or Gentil as some prefer these days) tradition with more of a focus on quality rather than bulk, it is quite light and zippy, with, in this case, some white pepper spice, just a touch. Simple and refreshing is exactly what it sets out to be.
Riesling “Le Champ des Alouettes” 2016 is big on fruit, not necessarily the fruit you expect. White peach and yellow plum for me. A wine that will be enjoyable if you open it now, on its refreshing fruit, but one that will age too.
Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 2016 is clearly a step up and a vin de garde. As the Wiesbach flows eastwards from the Vosges towards the Rhine, the Schlossberg hill faces due south looking down on the road from Kientzheim to Kaysersberg. The slopes are steep, rising to over 400 metres, and this lieu-dit has a great reputation as one of the Grand Crus worthy of that designation. This wine from that site is aged on fine lees for eleven months and that gives it some texture, to go with the body and structure it already possesses. 2016 generally gave quite classic wines in Alsace, wines that are refined and less plump than the previous vintage. That can be said of Binner’s Grand Cru, a fine wine for at least mid-term, if not longer, ageing. Elegance awaits.
Si Rose is, in this case, a blend of 35% Pinot Gris and 65% Gewurztraminer, from both the 2016 and 2017 vintages (half from each). It was bottled in spring 2018. The bouquet has classic Gewurztraminer traits, floral with lychees, but far more rose petals (hence the name, “Rose” not “Rosé”). The wine is not otherwise complex, perhaps more orange than pink, but its beauty (and there is beauty here) lies in that scent. It is otherwise clean and fresh.
Pinot Noir “Béatrice” Non-Filtré 2016 is Pinot from this cooler vintage. It results in a wine which is pale red, cloudy (unfiltered) and extra-fruity. The acidity is zippy but it isn’t as light as you might expect from what I’ve written thus far. It comes in with 13.5% abv! I have thoroughly enjoyed Christian’s Pinot Noir in the past and I’d love to grab a bottle of this to try with food. Despite the alcohol, I think that chilling it a little would work well. It had been in the ice bucket on the table.
Muscat SGN Hinterburg 2003 Sélection des Grains Nobles is, as I’m sure you know, the designation for the sweetest wines of Alsace, where a selection is made of nobly rotten berries. Hinterberg is a site to the south of Ammerschwihr, just outside the village of Katzenthal. It’s not a Grand Cru, but lies between the GC vineyards of Sommerberg and the famous Wineck-Schlossberg. It is quite renowned for producing noble rot and sweet wines in the right vintage.
This Muscat is given 12 months in 100-year-old foudre. The colour is a magnificent green-gold. It has mellowed with age, so that the bouquet is light but heady with muscat florality and the acidity has softened somewhat. There’s concentration here, but the wine is at the same time delicate. It’s sweet, for sure, but not cloying. Not an everyday wine, but who wouldn’t like to be able to produce a half bottle of this at a wine dinner.
Domaine Durrmann (Alsace, France)
I’m sure a good few readers will recall my notes on a visit to the Durrmann estate back in 2017. Two things have happened since then. First, the wines began to come into the UK via Wines Under The Bonnet. Secondly, the name “Yann” has been added to “Anna & André” on the label, their son now effectively being in charge of the domaine.
There used to be a split between the more conventionally made wines and those labelled “Naturé”, but Yann is moving to a completely natural approach, as are most of the better known estates in Andlau, where the domaine is based, and neighbouring Mittelbergheim. Monday was the first time I had met Yann.
Pinot Blanc Nature 2018 This is the Durrmann cuvée that I’ve drunk the most of, though in previous vintages. I bought it at the domaine and since then I’ve both drunk it, and bought it from the takeaway list, at Plateau in Brighton. Of course it’s a simple wine, quite high on acidity, but a summer refresher. Better than the old non-natural version in the eyes of several people I know.
Riesling Grand Cru Kastelberg Nature 2012 hails from a pretty decent vintage in Alsace, warm but not a scorcher, and with reasonably average yields. It also comes from the Grand Cru vineyard whose slope dominates the large village of Andlau. This wine shows how GC Riesling ages at the Durrmann domaine. It is soft, a gentle wine with some depth and length. It tastes possibly slightly more mature than I expected, probably down to the softness (which could be a trait of the more serious wines chez Durrmann).
Zegwur 2018 is Gewurztraminer, which in the article on my visit in 2017 I described as “new old school”. It is lighter and lower in alcohol than the Gewurztraminer wines which climate change has made big and blowsy. It is also floral, and yes, soft. The palate has unusual pear with a quince-like finish. I think a wine to divide opinion. I’ll have to try the 2016 I have soon. That was slightly off-dry when originally tasted and this tasted a bit dryer, perhaps aided by that finish.
Pinot Noir Nature 2018 is just like the Durrmann Pinot I’ve drunk before, plush, juicy and fruity. It comes off sandstone (which is all over the hills and in the walls of the several ruined châteaux you can walk to from Andlau). This red reaches 13% alcohol in 2018. The days of puny Alsace Pinot are probably over. There was also Pinot Noir Sur Schistes 2018, which was pretty rammed with soft red fruits, and Pinot Noir Rosé Nature 2018 which also reaches 13%, so carries a bit of weight unexpected in an Alsace rosé.
Yann is clearly still finding his feet and establishing the direction he wants to take the domaine. André made a good beginning, with his ecologically sensitive beliefs, and his experiments (biodiversity of flora and fauna, using sheep in the vineyards, planting trees and encouraging bird life). I’m sure that in the next few vintages Yann should be able to take Domaine Durrmann to the next level.
Gentle Folk Wines (Adelaide Hills, South Australia)
Gareth and Rainbo Belton farm seven hectares in the Basket Ranges and environs. The grapes are grown organically, and unusually (but increasingly necessary with water rights an issue here) the vines are dry-farmed. Everything in the winemaking process lives up to the name – gentle manipulation. The wines are bottled with no added sulphur. Not only are the wines from this relatively new label interesting, they are also some of the loveliest new expressions of Adelaide Hills fruit to hit our shores.
Clouds Riesling 2018 was picked from one of the highest vineyards in the Hills, Scary Gully Vineyard. It was fermented and aged on lees in barrel and allowed to go through full malo. The acidity is toned down but the flavours are all lemon sherbet, almost frothy (the flavour, not the wine, which is clean).
Schist Sauvignon Blanc 2018 was picked from what Gareth calls the back paddock of the Scary Gully site, and I understand that this will be the last wine from this paddock as the owner has grubbed up the vines to make way for cattle (sad on so many levels). It’s super mineral, fresh and quite steely for an Aussie Sauvignon Blanc.
Rainbow Juice 2018 is a blend in several ways. First, it includes grapes from all of their sites. Second, it blends some rosé, some skin contact orangey white, and some direct press white juice. It is indeed mighty fresh, a light wine, but 12.5% alcohol gives it some presence. A wine to enjoy…a lot.
Vin de Sofa 2018 is also from Scary Gully. It’s mainly a blend of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, co-fermented by carbonic maceration, except that they threw in some Gewurztraminer skins. That is no doubt why the bouquet has a rose petal note alongside the red fruits. The fruit on the palate is so appealing, but there’s a little grip as well. Very successful.
Blossoms 2018 is a pure Pinot Noir from a new vineyard for Gentle Folk at Norton Summit. The vines are aged around 25 years old, farmed organically from the off. A short whole bunch fermentation gives bags of sour cherry fruit, stunningly drinkable and easy to swallow swiftly.
Village Pinot Noir 2018 is another simple Pinot, and we are back at Scary Gully for this, a wine which has seen a few months in old oak. Slightly darker, but still a light wine, Gareth describes it as one “for drinking”, and I would add possibly in pints. Smash…
Tiersman Syrah 2018 There’s a lovely explanation of the name of this wine on the Gentle Folk website. Apparently in the 1830s after the proclamation of the Colony of South Australia the Adelaide Hills were known as the Tiers (I bet you know the Tiers Chardonnay from Petaluma). The Tiersmen were people from society’s fringes, those who’d jumped ship, bush rangers, timber cutters and a slew of escaped convicts from the Eastern States. Erinn Klein grew this Syrah at Ngeringa Farm, Mount Barker.
The vinification could hardly have been more simple. Two weeks of foot treading and then into old puncheons with nothing done over winter. The colour is deep purple (drang!), the juice is glass coating stuff but still just 12.5%. There’s a bit of spice over the fruit on the bouquet, sweet fruit packing the palate, and a nice line of ripe but grippy tannins to add food-friendliness. It’s one of the freshest tasting South Australian Syrahs (not Shiraz) you will find. Hey, Penfolds!
Castagna Wines (Beechworth, Victoria, Australia)
There were several brilliant Australian producers on show, but I had to chat with Julian Castagna. He’s one of the nicest blokes in Australian wine, and he was joined on the stand by his sons this year, but I felt honoured to be given a very personal tasting by the boss, especially as it is a few years since I’ve seen him.
There were, as always, a lot of wines to get through, so I shall try to be more brief in their description, but it is worth saying a little about Beechworth. For some reason it is probably the best terroir for Syrah (in my humble opinion) in Australia. My only real regret is that it is just too far for me to reach by car when I’m in Melbourne later this year.
The soils are on decomposed granite with high quartz content on a base of clay, and many of the vineyards are at an altitude of around 500 metres. No wonder Beeechworth Syrahs always seem to share that fresh quality, though few are fresher than Castagna’s. These soils give the wines great depth too, without question. Julian farmed biodynamically from the beginning (he’s been going over 20 years here) and the wines are effectively “natural”. The aim, with which I think they succeed magnificently, is just to express the terroir. What the land gives is what you get, which for me is what wine should be all about.
Adam’s Cider Adam is Julian’s eldest son, who towers over his father, Julian, like a giant, and he has a great big personality too. This cider is made with pears and is just 6% alcohol. If ever you see any please don’t hesitate to buy some. It’s truly delicious, so refreshing.
Pet Nat Allegro 2017 is sparkling Syrah in the petillant naturel style. Better to use the Syrah name because it is not remotely similar to Sparkling Shiraz. It’s not sweet and it’s not massively alcoholic. Unusual for a petnat, it had four years on lees to develop, and only one gram of sugar in the dosage. It’s fruity and a little herby, but also dry, fresh, ever so slightly bitter and steely…and rather amazing.
Allegro Rosé 2017 has, unusually for a rosé, texture, structure and grip. I drank a 2010 not all that long ago. It confounds by almost requiring ageing, as a Rosé de Riceys does, albeit very different wines. A wine for (excuse the cliché) spicy food. It really is. Allow it to develop from fruit to umami.
Savagnin 2016 This was once though to be Albarino, but as Julian says (I make no apology for being a Jura fanatic myself), “Savagnin is just a lot more interesting”. This is a topped-up wine, of course, so the nose is clean with no oxidative notes. However, it does display that varietal nuttiness and there’s a lot of that depth here (and 14% abv).
Harlequin 2016 is a Chardonnay/Savagnin blend with some Riesling. Those varieties spent 30 days on skins. Additionally there is also Roussanne and Viognier added, which were vinified without skin contact. It’s green-gold, highly aromatic, with “skin contact” texture (on the nose too) and a savoury flavour which fills the mouth. Julian says decant it. I want some!
Growers Selection Quasibianco 2017 (magnum) also sees 30 days skin contact, but is 100% Riesling. You can identify the variety and you can identify the skin contact. A fantastic wine which brought to mind Mathieu Deiss’s “Artisan”, which I drank in December last year. I can tell you, that magnum looked majestic.
Adam’s Rib The Red 2015 is mostly Nebbiolo with around 12% Syrah. The colour and bouquet shout Nebbiolo whilst the palate shows slightly plusher fruit, suggestive of Syrah. Whilst most Aussies refuse to blend Nebbiolo, it is not unknown in Italy, outside the two B’s. The Syrah here works rather like the Viognier in Côte-Rôtie. Usually this wine has around 30% Syrah, but in 2015 the Nebbiolo was just so ripe it didn’t need more. Probably the best Australian Nebbiolo wine I’ve tried (and I have tried a good few).
Un Segreto 2015 is 60% Sangiovese and 40% Syrah. The bouquet is mainly plums and cherries with a little bit of an earthy touch. The Sangiovese hits the front palate and the Syrah comes through on the back. It’s amazing when you realise just how it’s working, and the blend does work really well. I remember when French grapes came into Chianti and I always thought that Syrah was usually a nicer blending grape than Merlot, for complementing the Sangio.
Genesis Syrah 2015 We are now with the real deal. All the Castagna wines range from brilliant to brilliant, none fall below that measure for me. But Genesis has foxtrotted its way into being one of Australia’s finest wines, so I should single it out. There is a little Viognier in the blend, and I think Côte-Rôtie fans will tell. It’s beautifully rich, with notes of aniseed and liquorice as well as the fruit. The tannins are firm but ripe and smooth, but of course this demands long ageing to reach the heights for which it is destined.
Sangiovese La Chiave 2015 This is like a really fine Brunello, but with extra life and freshness. It’s quite pale and the bouquet is quite extraordinary, lifted cherry mainly. My notes call the bouquet “shimmering”. I’ve never said that about the smell of wine before, but maybe you know what I mean. Like heat haze on tarmac. But the wine coats the mouth in grippy tannins which cannot fail to warn you that it wants to be left alone, like Marlene, for ten, possibly more, years. The guys back in Beechworth are currently on the 2002!
Sparkling Genesis Syrah 2009 You might ask why take one of Australia’s finest reds and add bubbles? This is unquestionably the finest Sparkling Shiraz/Syrah in Australia. The fruit has real depth under the fizz, a result of six years lees ageing (how many sparkling red wines get that long?). But it doesn’t taste remotely of massive autolysis, in fact it tastes as fresh as if it were just bottled. Its dryness is a result of having 4g of residual sugar. Most Sparkling Shiraz is in the region of 20-30 grams. Don’t chill it down too much.
Aqua Santa NV There were also two Castagna vermouths on show, which I wanted to try but knew my palate would be shot if I did. I did sip this sweet wine, and I spat less than half. It’s not really a Vin(o) Santo, as it is mostly Viognier and made in a solera which was started in 2006. The fruit is harvested late and dried. The wine is rich but with an elegant lightness. The nose and palate mix such an array of exotic and candied fruits that I couldn’t possibly list them all, but mango and pineapple are there. Right at the finish there’s a lick of mocha coffee.
A long tasting with Julian but not a minute was wasted. Such amazing, brilliantly conceived, wines. I could have done with a coffee myself, but time to press on. I’m at a Canadian Tasting tomorrow, and at the London Wine Fair and more next week, so Part 3 will follow in a few days. The schedule is pretty packed at the moment and it’s impossible to keep up, and I’m glad to get the first two parts finished. But I promise you, Part 3 will have some real treats, not least the extraordinary wines of La Garagista, the classiest Pinots of Kelley Fox, and the equally extraordinary wines of Salvo Foti, among others no less wonderful. Please bear with me whilst I taste some more wine.