My coverage of the London Wine Fair 2019 continues here in Part 2. If you did happen to miss Part 1, you will find it (along with any introductory and more general comments) here. This second part covers some wines from Red Squirrel, Modal Wines and The Knotted Vine, along with the new Rhône estate I mentioned in Part 1, and a brief visit to the Nyetimber Bus.
RED SQUIRREL WINE
Although only founded as recently as 2012, Red Squirrel has made a very big impact on the market. Their portfolio, growing all the time, has topped fifty producers. There’s no specialisation of country or region here, but they are pretty good at finding stars that have not yet been discovered, such as their Etna producer below.
Black Chalk Wild Rose 2016 (Hampshire, UK) I’ve got more than a soft spot for Black Chalk, which is why I’ve written about them a few times. It’s hard to believe they only launched at LWF2018, and one year on they are garnering praise as one of England’s best up-and-coming new wine ventures. The inaugural Black Chalk Classic 2015 was on show, but I wanted to try the new vintage Wild Rose 2016.
The grapes for both the Black Chalk wines are selected by Jacob Leadley from local friends, all off Hampshire chalkland sites. The breakdown is 41% Pinot Noir, 38% Meunier and 21% Chardonnay for the 2016 Rosé. Fermentation is in a mix of oak and stainless steel, after which it spends 20 months on lees in bottle. It was dosed at 7g/l after disgorgement in November 2018, so it has a little post-disgorgement bottle age too.
There are gorgeous ripe red fruits on a wave of crisp acidity. Freshness and elegance helps this pink stand out. It’s not remotely clumsy. Retail you should pay around £40. Some may suggest English Sparkling Wine is getting close to Champagne pricing, but we should remember that the costs of making sparkling wine in the UK are at least as high as doing so in France, probably more. And in any case, the quality definitely warrants it. For me, this is worth a premium. A lovely, lovely wine.
Beaujolais Cuvée Kéké 2018, Kewin Descombes (Beaujolais, France) Kewin “Kéké” Descombes is one of the new breed of Beaujolais winemakers (I think he’s still under thirty) who have a family history in the region. In fact few could claim ties as strong as Kewin’s, being the son of Georges Descombes (of Gang of Four fame), and the half-brother of Damien Coquelet, another feted young producer. He farms around six hectares in the vicinity of Morgon.
This Beaujolais cuvée comes off a 1.2 ha site Kewin rents, farmed organically like all his vines. Winemaking is simple, full carbonic and almost no sulphur. The result is a magically fruity and ultra-fresh Beaujolais at a just perfect 12.5% abv. I’ve liked this cuvée since I first tasted it, but this new 2018 is really good. Sells for around £24.
Etna Rosso “Navigabile” 2016, Ayunta (Etna, Sicily, Italy) Filippo Mangione rescued a mere three quarters of a hectare of vines on Etna’s northern slopes above the town of Randazzo. The grapes for this Etna Rosso are mainly the pair of Nerellos, Mascalese and Cappuccio, with other stray varieties in a traditional field blend. Fermented in open topped vats, the wine is then aged 14 months in a mix of oak and cherry casks.
The wine has red fruits, cherry and strawberry to the fore, with herbs and the faintest touch of something more meaty (not volatility). It’s moderately tannic for now, but it has the bright acidity to allow this to age for a year or too, and it’s not jammy as some Etna Rosso can be. Alcohol is a balanced 13.5%. For just over £30 this is really outstanding. I described this producer as my find of the day at the last Red Squirrel portfolio tasting.
PN/16, Adelaide Hills Pinot Noir 2016, Vinteloper (South Australia) David Bowley set up as a winemaker in the Adelaide Hills in 2008. He has around 3.5 hectares to farm and his reputation hit the starry heights when he won the People’s Choice Award of best Pinot Noir in Australia at Pinot Palooza 2016. He was runner up again in 2017. Although a self-confessed Pinot Noir obsessive, David does make other wines, including (I must mention) the brilliant little stubbies called “Park Wine”. David’s wife, Sharon, designs all the beautiful labels.
Looking at PN/16 you would have to call it one of the palest wines of the day, even in an era where pale Pinot is quite the rage. Crushed by both hand and foot, you’d be surprised, I think, to be told this sees eleven months in oak, of which a third is new. So the wine has some structure, but less than you’d expect. The fruit is complex already, mainly in the cherry spectrum, but you get tagine-like spices coming through, and that seems an apt description for a wine which also has something of smokey merguez sausage about it. I hope I’m not putting off the vegans among you. It’s a lovely wine, and at 14% abv it probably needs something substantial to accompany. Mechoui agneau, perhaps?
Modal is another non-specialist when it comes to countries or regions, but Nic Rizzi does specialise in hunting down some quite unique wines. He’s not hung up on winemaking methods, yet because he has an eye for wines of freshness, personality, and above all, drinkability, the wines he imports tend to be low-intervention wines.
Oranzista 2017, Slobodne Vinárstvo (Lesser Carpathians, Slovakia) You might have seen what I’ve written about a number of Slobodne wines from Zemianske Sady in Slovakia over the past couple of years. I drank the Cutis Deviner quite recently, and Slobodne does list a Cutis Deviner orange version, but this one is brand new to me.
Oranzista is made from Pinot Gris. The 2017 vintage saw five weeks on skins during a semi-carbonic fermentation and then one year in tank. The result is not the tannic sandpaper cuvée that some skin contact wines can become. It’s altogether gentler, which makes it an ideal summer wine with a good range of food pairing options that you might eat outdoors. The flavours are an unmistakable mix of peach and tangerine, with zesty fruit and zippy acidity. Alcohol is a restrained-tasting 13%. I’d like some of this.
Funàmbul Cava Brut Nature NV, Entre Vinyes (Catalonia, Spain) Maria Barrena has a new organic Cava project from her family’s vineyards close to Barcelona. The vines are over 50-years-old, some up to 80-years, on deep clay and limestone at around 300 metres altitude. The varieties in the blend are the Catalan classics, Parellada, Viura and Xarel-lo. The wine is bottle fermented with about 20 months on lees, with zero dosage.
A glorious bouquet leaps from the glass here, very pure. The dry palate is layered with apple acidity with nuanced stone fruits (peach and apricot). It’s not massively complex, majoring on freshness and liveliness. The alcohol level is just 12%, but its dryness does mean it will accompany food. This is a really good organic Cava, new to Modal.
Kröv Steffensberg “GeGe” 2015, Staffelter Hof (Mosel, Germany) So, as you will surmise, this is Staffelter Hof’s dry Riesling from the Steffensberg site at Kröv, between Erden and Traben-Trarbach. This is perhaps the most famous stretch of the Mosel, although the site isn’t one of the most famous on the river. Nevertheless, this wine, and those made there by Daniel Vollenweider, are bringing it to the attention of Mosel lovers.
Jan Mattias Klein took over from his father, aged 28, in 2005. He has since moved from the classic Mosel style to a more minimalist, low intervention model, which includes minimal added sulphur in the wines. Why “GeGe”? The wine is bottled as a QbA yet it has the sugar and acidity of an Auslese Trocken. It’s a play on the “GG” (grosses gewächs) classification for dry wines from top sites for members of the German VDP wine association.
This is built like a wine from a top site, and deserves some years in bottle to age. The ripe grapes give the wine a tropical dimension, lots of peach, but also, as it’s more complex than that, salinity, minerality, florality and spice. That said, it is starting to drink now, so opening and drinking it with food would not be a terrible idea. Although I don’t know the producer that well yet, it tastes like a top Riesling.
Naturaleza Salvaje Blanco 2018, Azul Y Garanza (Navarra, Spain) This organic Garnacha Blanca is grown in the foothills of the Pyrenees, in Navarra, at San Isidro del Pinar. The thirty year old vines are planted around 550 metres above sea level on calcareous limestone. It’s very dry here, hot during long summer days, but with contrasting cool nights. The wine is made naturally, with no synthetic additives in the vineyard, a spontaneous fermentation and minimal added sulphur, you know how it goes by now. The fermentation lasted ten days, five days of that on skins. Then the interesting bit…ageing was in amphora for six months.
For White Garnacha, this is very aromatic. The fruit is concentrated but the wine is crisper than you’d imagine for the variety, down presumably to those cool nights. Although you get “fruit” here, greengage and yellow plum perhaps, there are also notes of sweet almond blossom and almond, with a green herbal texture, slightly waxy. It’s a wine that works on two levels, both refreshing and multi-dimensional.
Müller Thurgau “Kids Version” 2016, Nibiru (Kamptal, Austria) Julia Nather and Josef Schenter began collaborating on their Nibiru project in Austria’s Kamptal Region in 2015, working out of Josef’s parents’ winery at Schönberg Am Kamp. Nibiru is, according to Sumerian legend, the name of a planet which appears in our solar sytem every 3,600 years with an orbit around our sun in the opposite direction to all our other planets. That appealed to the philosophy of Julia and Josef.
The cuvée name? The grapes were foot trodden by “the kids”, all five of whose names appear on the label. They love this grape variety here, using skin contact to make a dry and waxy wine which has more than one dimension, and is totally unlike the Müller Thurgau of old. In fact this couple have everything in common with the new breed of MT producers in Germany. Think more “Hermit Ram” than sugar water. It’s clean and crisp and (for the variety) has really nice length and mouthfeel. It helps that we are tasting old vines cropped at low yields and made with “natural wine” methods (including very little sulphur). This is a wine of great purity, and a gastronomic wine as well. Both exciting and interesting.
Safràn 2016, Cascina Zerbetta (Piemonte, Italy) This estate is at Quargnento, in the Monferrato Hills, west of Alessandria. Paolo Antonio Malfatti and Anna Maria Zerbetta farm just three hectares of formerly abandoned vineyard using biodynamic methods. Their main crop is Barbera, for which Monferrato is justly famous, but they also grow Sauvignon Blanc.
From this variety they make a sparkling col fondo wine called Shan Pan, which I’ve both drunk and written about at least twice in the past twelve months. This wine is also a Sauvignon Blanc, but is very different. It’s a late harvest wine, aged in a one year old barrel. It fermented to 15% abv naturally, after which the fermentation stopped of its own accord, leaving some residual sugar.
The colour is darkish red-brown, but bright, like cherry wood. It’s aromatic, with oxidative, nutty, notes on the nose, but also plenty of freshness. A quite unique bouquet. It’s sweet, but not as sweet as you might think. Yes, gently sweet, slightly nutty, with a hint of caramel on the palate, not remotely cloying. Worryingly moreish with that alcohol.
THE KNOTTED VINE
David Knott imports minimal intervention wines which he will happily say are aimed at “wine geeks” obsessed with purity. He’s not especially focused on any one country, although the Australian part of the portfolio always throws up some genuine gems that most people have never heard of.
Druida Branco Encruzado Reserva 2017, Vinos Mira do Ó (Dão, Portugal) The grapes for this wine are grown on a 500-metre high plateau on the right bank of the River Dão. As the name “druid” suggests, there’s an air of mysticism to the project. The grapes are crushed in a stone building in the midst of the vines, something like a traditional Sicilian palmento, I imagine. The rock here is granite, and the wine has a fresh bouquet and a fresh mineral texture on the palate, with a touch of salinity. The overall impression is of a well rounded wine with the textured rough edges of, well, granite.
Ageing is in old oak for nine months, and like a traditional, artisanal, Dão this has a touch of austerity to it. It’s certainly not fruit driven, especially with all that citrus and mineral texture. Yet in being so different, it draws you in. You realise you need to pay attention. You realise pretty soon that this is a wine that has the structure to age and all the components to become more complex over time, as those individual parts spread out into a broader palette of flavours.
Long Gully Road Semillon 2017, David Franz (Barossa, South Australia) Peter Lehmann’s son is making increasingly beautiful wines in South Australia, but they still fly a bit under the radar in the UK. Take this Semillon. The variety has had a tough time on the UK market, the result of all those “South Eastern Australia” Semillon-Chardonnay blends which flooded in during the 1980s and 90s.
This wine is made from 130-year-old, dry farmed, vines grown by Steve and Rebecca Falland in their Long Gully Road Vineyard in the Barossa Hills (Eden Edge). The intention with this wine every year is to pick at exactly the right moment, where ripeness does not diminish acidity.
Here the success of that policy is plain to see. The wine has a brightness. That’s what hits the nostrils first. It’s grassy enough to warn hayfever sufferers, but then the waxy lemon hits, more Mediterranean than Barossa. It has a classic Aussie Semillon profile with lemon on the attack and hints of honey on the finish, with something herbal in between. It’s about textures and depth, with the ancient vine fruit giving the wine some class. And length.
A Veredas Blanco 2016, Bodegas Nestares Eguizàbal (Rioja, Spain) This is not your average White Rioja in that it is a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, not the traditional white varieties of the region. The grapes come from a single vineyard in Rioja’s Ocón Valley, near the village of Galilea. It’s certainly a far cry from the dull and oxidised version of white wine we have known from some of the bigger producers, yet neither is this wine something that comes across as a bland, modern, substitute.
A Veredas was fermented in, and then spent eight months ageing in, new French and American oak before both lots were blended. Bottling was without any added sulphur. The fruit is predominantly textured pear with herbs and a little gentle spice, from the wood. It is oaky, for sure, but the fruit is delicious. I still think it needs time for the fruit and oak to integrate, but I think it will before long.
This is, I have to say, a wine style I don’t normally go for. A relatively oaky white in an equally relatively inexpensive price bracket. What impressed here was the brightness and depth of the fruit, and the proof that very good white Rioja is becoming more widely available from more than a handful of producers now.
A Bright Red Blend 2018, Rasa Wines (Barossa, Australia) Andy Cummins makes small batch wines at Angaston, starting formal training after a long love affair with wine led to a job at Barossa Valley’s famous Rockford Wines, following a couch-surfing tour of Europe’s vineyards. The blend in this 2018 is Cinsault (67%) and Grenache (33%) from Tanunda. The fruit comes from old vines, between 80-years-old for the Grenache and 95 for the Cinsault. I think the blend in 2017 was very different.
This is a pale red with a sweet fruit fragrance smelling of amazing raspberry cream. The fruit on the palate is plump and rounded, with great acids, a little bit of crunch on the finish, plus a lick of savoury salinity. It has a nice restrained 12.3% alcohol, not always common in the region, and it’s an altogether perfect summer refresher of a wine. Looks good, smells even better and tastes fantastic. This should arrive on our shores some time in June. It should be here just in time to establish itself on the pavement tables and in the parks of London, assuming the sun returns.
Grenache 2017, Ministry of Clouds (McLaren Vale, Australia) Ministry of Clouds is a virtual winery, a moveable feast when it comes to sourcing grapes, but their broad focus is on fruit from Clare Valley, Tasmania and McLaren Vale. The “they” here is Julian Forewood and Bernice Ong. If you haven’t heard of them, they have certainly garnered enough top level plaudits in Australia to suggest you should.
Dry farmed Grenache can be very special grown in The Vale, tending to have accentuated fragrance and a succulence of fruit that is synonymous with the region. This wine comes off two blocks of 80-year-old Grenache bush vines, going into old open top fermenters, ageing in three-year-old hogsheads and larger oak tanks. The old vine fruit responds with purity, floral beauty, and a bit of structure, accentuated by nice dusty tannins which turn this into a perfectly balanced wine for the table.
Like every wine I taste from this producer, it is both impressive and highly enjoyable at the same time. There’s just something about this that oozes class, so if you like juicy Grenache, try some. It’s one of those perfect examples of a wine with reasonably high alcohol (13.9% on the label) that nevertheless tastes fresh and if not exactly light, in no way heavy. Grenache done well has that almost magical quality.
Atractylis 2014, Floris Legere (Aragón, Spain) Villaroya de la Sierra is a tiny village near Calatayud, inland from Valencia and Tarragona, and due west of Zaragoza. It’s the unlikely place in which wandering Frenchman Ludovic Vino (this must be the best bit of nominative determinism yet) settled down to farm a small plot of 70-year-old Garnacha and Syrah.
This wine is a pure Syrah, aged 15 months in second- and third-year French oak barrels. The wine has a scented cherry bouquet with darker fruits and a Syrah peppery spice note coming through later. There’s power here, but without compromising real elegance. I think that with the oak regime this will benefit from some age, but I also think the wine has the potential to be quite astonishing after a few years. We shall see.
Famille De Boel (Rhône, France)
In Part 1 I mentioned the “Wines Unearthed” section, up on the gallery floor opposite Esoterica. It was here that I was nudged towards Famille (Nelly and Arnaud) De Boel. Working with other Rhône wineries from 2011, they managed to start their own domaine in 2016, based at Lemps, a little north of Tournon, on the right bank of the Rhône. They own vines at Cornas and Saint-Joseph, and in the Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages Appellation (old vine plots at St-Cécile-des-Vignes).
The vines are farmed biodynamically, and typical of many young winemaking couples who have small children, they are completely focused on not only making low intervention wines but also on encouraging biodiversity in the vineyards. Nelly and Arnaud are also great food lovers, a passion they share, and so they aim to make gastronomic wines at each level. I tasted three wines, a Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages from Uchaux, a Collines Rhodaniennes, and their Saint-Joseph. Their Cornas vines are not yet mature enough to produce wine.
Côtes du Rhône Villages Massif d’Uchaux “Aleph” 2018 comes off silex/slate in hills surrounded by woodland. It’s a blend of Syrah and Grenache. The micro-climate is relatively cool and the wine has nice berry fruit (blackcurrant, mainly) and black olives, with great freshness, plus a little bite. It’s a really nicely made CDR.
Collines Rhodaniennes “Les Voraces” 2018 is pure Syrah off granite, a plot right beside the family home, with its élevage in stainless steel. No oak is used, so this is refreshing Syrah with zip to it. But it still retains a bit of grip. Not complex but vibrant and lively, helped by a sprinkling of black pepper spice.
Saint-Joseph “Rue des Poulies” 2017 and 2016 The 2017 was a sample as the wine is not yet bottled. It comes from a south facing vineyard on the purely granite soils of the best part of the appellation, and after fermentation it is aged half and half in stainless steel and used wood (six to seven years old). The fruit is both red and black, the wine deeply coloured, but the overall impression is of the dominance of crisp minerality with ripe tannins. The 2016 bottle was more of the same, but with a touch greater depth and suppleness around the fruit. There’s plenty of body, so this is a fairly serious St-Jo.
I said in my introduction in Part 1 that I liked everything here – the wines, the people (well, Nelly, at least, who I chatted to), and the overall philosophy. For what it’s worth I also liked the labels too, each of which depicts something specific. The Uchaux for example is called Aleph, which is the first letter of the Phoenician alphabet and means “beef”. That label shows a print which depicts the “Ceremony of Beef” where the butchers paraded their oxen.
It is not easy to asses a range from a brief encounter, but I thought, at least on first acquaintance, that on the basis of what I tasted these wines really deserve some UK representation.
Nyetimber (West Sussex, England)
Nyetimber is a very old estate, named in the Domesday Book as “Nitembreha”. Nine hundred years later it has established itself as probably the most famous wine estate in the UK, producing award winning classic sparkling wines from the rolling green sand and chalk hills of the South Downs. Cherie Spriggs is Chief Winemaker, assisted by her husband Brad Greatrix, and a focus on quality has allowed the brand to go from strength to strength over the past decade or so.
One of the unmissable sights at London Wine Fair now is the famous Nyetimber Bus, a refurbished old double-decker from which samples are dispensed, parked-up in the newish part of the Fair called Drinks Britannia (with its focus on sparkling wines, gin, craft beer and all things artisanal). I don’t envy those working on the bus, as the queues are pretty long for most of the day, and they must get through a fair number of bottles, generously poured for what is, for most people, more a free glass or five than perhaps a serious attempt to taste the wines.
I tasted, and spat (despite the near impossibility of pushing through the throng to find the awkwardly placed spittoon) five wines. The Blanc de Blancs 2013 comes from Chardonnay vineyards in Hampshire and West Sussex and sees four-and-a-half years on lees. The colour is gently golden, from a bit of age, and the initial citrus and floral notes are lovely. That lees ageing results in a toasty brioche finish. The BdeB has consistently been my favourite wine at Nyetimber, although I don’t count the single vineyard wine (below). I’ve only tried it two or three times.
Rosé NV is currently a blend of Pinot Noir (61%) and Chardonnay (49%) which smells of summer pudding with cream and shortbread biscuits. It’s a lovely aperitif wine whose qualities, above all, shout “refreshing”.
The Nyetimber most people know nowadays, the wine poured on Brighton’s i-360 and at Glyndebourne, is the Classic Cuvée. Classic Cuvée is a multi-vintage blend of all three classic “Champagne” varieties, and is very much Nyetimber’s flagship. Bottled with 10g/l residual sugar, it’s an easy drinking wine which has now achieved a high level of consistency. There’s fresh apple fruit, spice notes and honeyed “sweetness” (the wine is obviously dry but the dosage is slightly higher than many passionate wine lovers may be used to these days). The most exciting thing is to taste this from magnum. The magnum effect does work here, so much so that the larger format would be a strong recommendation from me.
Tillington 2013 Nyetimber’s single vineyard wine is produced in small quantity when the vintage warrants it. The 2013 was a run of somewhere between 5,000-to-6,000 bottles, I’m told. This wine blends around three-quarters Pinot Noir with Chardonnay from a fine single site in West Sussex. It sees almost six years on lees, which does explain its price, often grumbled about but perhaps without foundation for one of the finest English wines on the market.
The wine still has a fairly high dosage of around 9.7g/l, but there’s a genuine elegance to the predominantly red fruits with citrus, which overlays vanilla and very gentle caramel. You would definitely say it is Pinot Noir-driven. As the wine lingers on an impressively long finish, you get that autolytic character, with arrowroot biscuits and fresh brioche.
Finally I tasted Cuvée Chérie, Nyetimber’s Demi-Sec multi-vintage, designed originally to accompany “delicate British desserts”, though we are perhaps less wholly patriotic to suggest restricting its use just to home grown fare. It’s 100% Chardonnay and benefits from around 20% reserve wines. From what I know, or have been told, about Nyetimber, it is the building up of reserve wines which has transformed the quality at this producer. Any serious English Sparkling Wine needs the addition of some reserve wines to make a multi-vintage blend which can transcend the ordinary, unless the fruit of a given vintage is really special. The addition of even a small amount of reserve wine adds depth.
Chérie balances its sweetness (38g/l r/s) with its fresh orange and lemon acidity and a nice mineral texture, with even a tiny hint of salinity, which results in just the faintest savoury touch. I can see why they recommend “fragrant and gently spiced dishes” as a food match along with the desserts, although “gentle” and “spiced” are not words which are normally paired in my kitchen. “Generously spiced” is more the order of the day, and I don’t think this wine is meant to go with three or four red chillies.
The Nyetimber Bus is great fun, but I must try to taste some of these wines in circumstances which less resemble the Crush Bar at the ROH during the short interval some time. But that’s not what the bus is really there for. Nyetimber should be noted for their generosity in pouring so much stock into the cuckoo chick mouths of thirsty and expectant UK wine trade stalwarts.
I like to end my LWF coverage with a few pics from the rest of the fair. I may not toil around the main floor very much, but largely that’s because time just doesn’t permit it. I’d love to go for a second day, and maybe one year I’ll manage to. I would have loved to spend a morning at the IWC Sake Pavilion. Next year, perhaps. Regrets…I had a few. Not tasting at the Château Musar stand, and having too little time to hit the New Wave of South Africa tables were my biggest, but when you get home and discover a host of other delights you missed you understand why some people do go for all three days.