Although May’s weather wasn’t perfect, it was somewhat better than June has been thus far. That might account for the inspiration to drink once more from the wide brimmed cup. We also drank deeply, I should perhaps say with a degree of shame, so even though I have stuck to fourteen wines here, there were many I hated leaving out. I’d like to mention Champagne Soutiran Blanc de Blancs 2006, Von Buhl Forster Jesuitengarten 2009 (lovely mature trocken GG Riesling from the Pfalz) and Tillingham PN17 (I only omit my last bottle of that because I’ve mentioned it many times before, but the ’17 is still lovely).
ZWEIGELT AUTHENTISCH 2016, ALEXANDER KOPPITSCH (Burgenland, Austria)
Alex and Maria tend vines by the shore of Burgenland’s Neusiedlersee, based in the town of Neusiedl-am-See, which conveniently has a railway station with a bicycle hire place right next door to it. I only mention this because I think that the cycling here, around the lake, is wonderful…as are the Koppitsch family wines. They are not complex and serious, more soulful and fun, and they reflect the energy and kindness of their makers. There really is something in the air around this large, shallow, lake of reed beds, water fowl, and vines.
On opening, this Zweigelt showed slight reduction, which was easily sorted with a bit of air. It developed that lovely dark bramble fruit palate that makes the variety so eminently gluggable when people don’t try to over work it. Because of this, when the bouquet drifts in, the strawberry perfume is irresistible. At a well balanced 12.5% abv, serve this cool and enjoy. Wines like this can, in their enjoyable simplicity, profoundly change the way you look at wine, and at what supposedly makes a wine “fine”.
Purchased from Fresh Wines of Kinross, Scotland.
λ’13 CUVÉE EXPERIMENTALE, DOMAINE LIGAS (Pella, Greece)
Thomas, Jason and Meli Ligas make and sell some of the most profound wines in Greece, on the slopes of Paiko Mountain in the north of the country. Here, their vines grow to their own rhythm without intervention, via permaculture, bar a little shoot repositioning now and again. I’ve never visited, but photos always show a profusion of wild flowers which remind me of how Alpine meadows raise Alpine summer cheeses to unimaginable heights. I wonder whether the flora has a similar effect here.
λ’13 (or Lamda ’13 if you prefer) is cloudy (unfiltered), so although light and fresh, it has texture. That lightness hides 13% alcohol. This is one of Ktima Ligas’ small batches of experimental wines, in this case a blend of pergola trained Assyrtiko and Roditis. The overall impression is of a zesty wine with citrus notes (lemon and grapefruit), the texture (from 3-5 days skin contact) giving an ever so slightly bitter edge to a nice finish. If I were to find a style to compare it to, I might (at a stretch) suggest Swiss Chasselas.
Purchased from the takeaway list at Silo, Brighton. For availability contact Dynamic Vines, Bermondsey.
CHAMPAGNE EXTRA BRUT 2007 “LES PAPILLES CUVÉE”, EMMANUEL LASSAIGNE (Montgueux, France)
Emmanuel Lassaigne, of Champagne Jacques Lassaigne (his father), makes wine in that tiny outpost of the Champagne Region between the Côte des Blancs and the Côte des Bar, close to Troyes. The slopes are all south facing and see more sun than their northern counterparts, but Emmanuel farms with some of the strictest standards in Champagne, he’s fanatical about quality.
He owns 3.5 hectares and buys grapes from a further 2.5 hectares over which he has full control, and I’m presuming it is from those parcels that this cuvée comes. It is made from Chardonnay (90% of the Montgueux vignoble is Chardonnay), for his friends at Paris’ La Cave des Papilles (in the 14th). It’s a nice dark straw colour which gives a hint that there’s lovely depth here. No ordinary “house wine”. It’s actually quite spicy and also vinous…a gastronomic wine if you wish. Lassaigne surely makes some of the best Grower Champagnes around, wines that are seriously under rated among Champagne consumers, but I think not among aficionados. This excellent cuvée is a good way in. Pick one up next time you visit, as I know you surely will.
The current vintage is 2014 (ridiculously inexpensive at €31). Lassaigne also makes Les Papilles Insolites 2016 (€53) for the store, unusually for Montgueux, a Pinot Noir, and the shop lists eleven of his wines in total, right up to La Colline Inspirée (€152).
MINERAL CHARDONNAY 2013, FRIEDRICH BECKER (Pfalz, Germany)
Fritz Becker Junior (Kleine Fritz to his family and friends) farms vineyards which straddle both the German Pfalz at Schweigen and Alsace, in France, where the ancient monastic vineyards slope steeply down to the Abbey of Wissembourg. I’ve written before mainly about Fritz’s Pinot Noirs from those sites, but this Chardonnay, which I picked up on my visit in 2017, comes from the German vines around Schweigen itself.
This is seriously good, honestly. It has an elegant mineral-tinged nose and it tastes not unlike Chablis, although I’m thinking Tasmania too. It has that chalky citrus freshness, and restraint, but there’s firmness and strength too. As it unfurls you get grapefruit, and even a little butter, on the palate. I suspect I was drinking this too soon, although I don’t recall it being too expensive. I bought more Pinot on that visit and just grabbed some odd bottles of his whites. I really wish I had more.
I have an idea someone brings Becker into the UK, but I can’t think who? Perhaps someone will illuminate me. I think I might have bought Becker at Hedonism in Mayfair (London) some years ago.
I WISH I WAS A NINJA 2018, TESTALONGA EL BANDITO (Western Cape, South Africa)
Craig and Linda Hawkins make what for me is probably the most exciting, simply-styled, sparkling wines from The Cape. This is a wine that I’m assuming many of my readers will know, but for those who don’t, this Swartland Colombard petnat fizz is exotically fruity (apple, kiwi fruit, peach), with a palate that is dry but soft. It also tastes more frothy than intensely sparkling. To top it all, it only puts out 9.5% alcohol, so you need a couple of bottles between two…ideally.
Solent Cellar via Les Caves de Pyrene. Around £20.
MONTLOUIS “LES TUFFEAUX” 2009, FRANÇOIS CHIDAINE (Loire, France)
This is the most “classic” of the wines from May’s selection, but I’ve loved Chidaine’s wines for many years, and I never fail to visit his excellent wine shop if I’m in Touraine (it doesn’t just sell Chidaine wines) on the left bank of the Loire at Montlouis.
Chidaine sources this cuvée from some of his oldest plots of Chenin Blanc, off soils dominated by the region’s famous yellow limestone, aka Tuffeaux, and from vines up to almost a hundred years old in some parcels.
This ’09 is almost golden in colour, and at a decade old you still get a piercing whiff of quince on the nose. It’s slightly off-dry, or perhaps “rich” is a far better description, although at 13.5% abv it is in perfect balance. This is because a counterpoint to the richness is a gripping mineral bite and a texture that just reminds you of the terroir, whatever the scientists might claim. So, a classic(al) wine, but one so redolent of place.
Purchased from the domaine.
DIVÝ RYŠÁK 2016, RICHARD STÁVEK (Moravia, Czech Republic)
Richard Stávek makes remarkable wines at Němčičky, in Czech Moravia not too far from the Austrian Border. He has a mixed farm of around 14-15 hectares of which 4.5 ha are devoted to vines. Richard is one of the pioneers of the new bunch of biodynamic and natural winemakers in the region, where he’s been growing grapes since the mid-1990s.
This wine is probably best described as a light red, but even better as a wine which is fairly unique. The blend is complicated. Modry Portugal, Frankovka (aka Blaufränkisch) and St-Laurent are the red varieties, Grüner Veltliner and Welschriesling the white, and Isabella the French-American hybrid which you can find planted as widely as Vermont, British Columbia, the Azores and Southwestern France.
If I were to use one word for the colour it has to be “luminous”. It looks right out of Chernobyl. “Clairet” would be more polite, but you can’t ignore its rather special vibrancy. A red fruits bouquet leads to a palate with fairly zippy acidity. It both drinks like a white wine, and like a wine with 10.5% abv, rather than the 12.5% on the label. It’s just so fruity and refreshing, an exquisite summer red. It’s a wine to enjoy, not to ponder over, but such enjoyment, if that is what you are looking for.
I have a friend who buys very fine wine. I won’t shame him by giving any more details, but I recall him quite recently talking about having received some Czech wine that would probably go “into the cooking”. I said nowt, but I can’t help finding Czech producers in this part of the country every bit as exciting as the other hubs of European natural wine making. Some of the wines may be eccentric, but boy do they deliver some thrills. Serve this one cool or slightly chilled.
Basket Press Wines is the importer, a wonderful small specialist in Czech wines and those of the wider region.
HEIDA RÉSERVE SPÉCIALE 2014 “MAITRE DE CHAIS”, PROVINS (Valais, Switzerland)
Provins is one of the larger and better known producers at Sion in the Swiss Valais. They produce a large range of wines, all of good quality. Heida is one of the traditional grapes of the high mountain slopes here, but it is none other than a synonym for Savagnin (and sometimes known as Païen). This part of the Rhône Valley is very sunny, but whilst the light is bright, the altitude of the vineyards, some of Europe’s highest, ameliorates the temperatures.
The wine which results here is clean-tasting, without the nutty signature of Jura-grown Savagnin. Think of the “Traminer” style some producers in Eastern France come up with, but perhaps with a little more weight (13.5% abv). As it has aged the fruit has become a little more exotic, but for me yellow plum is my overall lasting impression. I’d like to say that you also get a hint of Alpine meadow, and I know you’ll think I’m going off on a flight of fancy. But what is wine for if not to allow you to float away to a beautiful location?
People bang on about how expensive Swiss wine is, and they are right, of course. But this can be had for not much more than thirty quid from Alpine Wines, who sell a wide range from this producer among their fine Swiss range.
PINOT NOIR 2011, DENIS MERCIER (Valais, Switzerland)
Madeleine, Anne-Catherine and Denis Mercier farm at Sierre, just a little further up the Rhône Valley from Sion. Denis and his wife began their 7.5 hectare estate in 1982, and have recently been joined by their daughter, Madeleine, a trained oenologist. They have long had a reputation for producing some of the region’s most harmonious and lovely wines. They fly under the radar in the UK, but I do recall my very old edition of “1001 Wines You Must Try Before You Die” featuring their Cornalin, so someone knew their stuff back then.
The difficulty with cellaring wines like this is that I really don’t know when they will peak. This 2011 is stunning right now. It is a perfect garnet-to-ruby red colour, the bouquet is red-fruited with the additional scent of violets, but it is unquestionably developing tertiary nuance through a savoury element. The palate is just gorgeous, silky and sensual. And yet the current vintage of this wine (2017) could have been picked up at the cellar last summer for CHF20. My bottle came from Lavinia in Geneva, and doubtless will cost you more. You may save on petrol but miss the scenery.
CREMANT DU JURA, A&J-F GANEVAT (Jura, France)
Jean-François Ganevat makes an astonishing array of cuvées these days (someone told me more than 100 now), both from the domaine and with his sister under the A&J-F negoce banner. Some are easier to find than others, and thankfully the Crémant du Jura is one of the former. 100% Chardonnay, the grapes are picked early to preserve acids. The wine is fermented in large old oak demi-muids and then gets a decent 24 months on lees before disgorging. No dosage is added.
It’s one of those wines that is hard to describe in a way that does it justice. It’s not actually my favourite bottle-fermented sparkling wine from Eastern France, not even from the Jura, but I do love it. It’s totally dry, and has a bit more breadth than most Champagne, yet the acidity keeps it in a moderately tight corset. The thing that might give away its producer to better palates than I possess is its salinity, which for me is more important in this wine than any fruit. It also has a certain purity which I guess comes from J-F’s experience and philosophy.
I try to buy the odd bottle of this whenever it’s on the shelf, which I’m not sure it is right now. Another wine from Solent Cellar via Les Caves de Pyrene.
BRUTAL CUVEE 15/16, DOMAINE L’OCTAVIN (Jura, France)
Unlike Ganevat’s Crémant, this cuvée from Alice Bouvot in Arbois is hellishly difficult to source. The unusual blend for the Octavin “Brutal Wine Corp” label consists of whole cluster Gamay from 2015 with fifteen days skin contact, and Chardonnay from 2016.
Is it a pale red or a rosé? It’s another luminous wine, and surely such colour brings joy even before you taste it? The raspberry and strawberry fruit is gorgeous, the acidity is tart (verging on brutal for some), but it’s so refreshing and juicy. Don’t let me forget to warn you it’s going to be a little bit cloudy by the time you reach the final third of the bottle. No added sulphur, no filtration. It won’t likely convert a single conservative drinker, but if you want to find the essence of glou, then look no further. There are two possible reactions to this…tears of joy or tears of despair. I hope most of you are with me and unbridled joy. There are actually far more frightening wines than this, folks.
Purchased in Arbois in 2018.
LES BARRIEUX 2014, JEAN-YVES PÉRON (Savoie, France)
Savoie has come a long way in the past decade, even since I remember nagging Wink Lorch to write a book about the region just as her Jura book was being published. That book is hopefully due to see the light of day later this year, and I’ve been trying to hold back a good stash of wines from that disparate amalgamation of terroirs with which to celebrate its publication. But a friend was finishing a wonderful stint at a wonderful restaurant and I thought I’d open this (and the L’Octavin) to help us mark it.
Jean-Yves farms biodynamically at Conflans, near Albertville, by the confluence of the Arly and Isère rivers. His vines, especially the white varieties, are up to 120-years-old, situated between 300 metres and 600 metres altitude. The estate seems relatively new on the scene, yet is now in its nineteenth year. Jean-Yves specialises in very small production vins parcellaire.
“Les Barrieux” is a skin maceration wine made from white grapes Jacquère, Roussanne and Altesse in the “orange” style. What is most unusual about this singular wine is not the two weeks skin contact, but the fact that it ages under a thin layer of flor. This might shock the unsuspecting. The bouquet is a mixture of orange citrus and rusty metal. The texture is pronounced, and the structure is firmish on the attack, but then you get this extremely long finish which has an entirely unexpected gentleness to it.
In some ways I’d say this is a difficult wine, but for me, genuinely satisfying getting to understand it. I think this came from Gergovie Wines, unless I bought it in France.
HINTERHOFKABUFF 2016, BLANK BOTTLE WINERY (Elgin, South Africa)
Pieter Walser is a Stellenbosch boy, but this is Elgin Riesling from a small block, crafted in Pieter’s inimitable style. It’s obvious what the variety is, and you even get a little bit of petrol on the nose to confirm it. But this weighs in at 14% abv, and although Pieter’s wines never appear as powerful as this would suggest, it does boast a weight and breadth you rarely (if ever) find with Riesling.
It’s so enjoyable that it ought to come with a warning on the bottle. You won’t be doing any work if you drink this for lunch, but you’ll have a warm glow as you snooze it off. Instead you get Pieter’s wonderfully demented rendition of the winery shack (hinterhofkabuff) described by a German journalist in a Stern article, which inspired the cuvée’s name. If you didn’t read my article on a man who is very possibly South Africa’s most interesting winemaker, indeed interesting on so many levels, and one of wine’s finest story tellers, then check it out (Blank Bottle at Butlers – Pieter Walser Fills us In – 3 June 2019).
Blank Bottle is imported by SWiG. This (blank) bottle came from Butlers Wine Cellar down in Brighton.
“SIMONE C’EST MOI” VIN DE FRANCE (2014), JULIE BALAGNY (Beaujolais, France)
Very sadly this was my last bottle of Simone. I only really comment on that because I love Julie’s wines and this was a particularly interesting, as well as enjoyable, bottling at every stage I’ve opened one. It is in effect declassified Fleurie, declassified because it took too long to ferment. It’s pale with the most adorable fragrant cherry bouquet, with additionally raspberry fruit on the palate. Light, fresh, quite acidic and with a tiny whiff of volatility (which I think gives it a racy excitement).
For once I think someone has described Julie’s wines far better than I can, so I hope UK importer Tutto Wines doesn’t mind me quoting them. “Like all great wines, there is something about Julie’s not easy to put into words. They are marked by gorgeous aromatics, their delicacy and an almost ethereal quality…” All three poignant observations take the words right out of my mouth. If an artisan could also be described as a poet you have her here.