That was certainly not the warmest June I can remember in the UK. In fact much of the month was wet and unseasonably cold. That means one thing…that we have not cranked our petnat consumption up to usual summer levels yet, although as we moved into July the vermouth has begun stepping up at aperitif time.
There’s only one Jura wine in June’s selection (oh, but what a wine). Otherwise, there are a couple of South Africans, a couple from Alsace (including the only petnat here, and coming right at the end of June), a couple from wider Burgundy, and also in the mix a rare sighting of a Brunello (yes, it was that chilly at times). I’m already getting very excited about July’s treats, but I hope you enjoy this selection first – the most interesting dozen from the wines I drank at home last month.
GUMPOLDSKIRCHNER TRADITION 2016, JOHANNESHOF REINISCH (Thermenregion, Austria)
Thermenregion is possibly one of Austria’s least known wine regions, but it’s only a half hour drive south of Vienna. Johanneshof Reinisch is a well known family company making wines around the villages of Tattendorf and the much better known Gumpoldskirchen.
The “tradition” here in Gumpoldskirchen is the combination of two rather obscure but nevertheless wonderful grape varieties. In fact these two would merit much wider coverage than Austria currently has planted. There are around 130 hectares of Rotgipfler in Thermenregion and 80 hectares of Zierfandler (50% of it planted in Gumpoldskirchen). Reinisch harvests and ferments the two varieties separately before blending into a large cask for four months.
The aim is for freshness, yet with a little exotic fruit. Apricot, peach and mango come through in a wine that is dry but shows really sweet, ripe, fruitiness. This is balanced by lowish alcohol (12.5%) and a crispness which has a mineral texture and a bit of salinity. It’s not a complex wine, not in the way we usually describe complexity, but it’s in a good place (the producer counsels ageing three years). A wonderful chance to try these two varieties blended together.
It would go with many dishes, but with either a simple schnitzel, or some mild kabuli pulao, would be good and certainly with some Wishbone Ash (Blowin’ Free…in a corn field…). This is occasionally stocked by Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton. Astrum Wine Cellars is the UK importer.
“GIVE & TAKE” 2017, BLANK BOTTLE WINERY (Stellenbosch, South Africa)
I’ve told the story of the grapes for this wine before, but it bears repeating. Pieter Walser always comes up with a name that reflects the wine’s story, and here Pieter wanted to buy some Pinot Blanc from a winemaker at a more wealthy address. For some reason unknown to him, the winemaker told Pieter that the owner had told him not to sell any grapes to the bloke in the shed. However, Pieter had some Semillon going which the winemaker needed, so they managed to do an under the radar swap without the owner’s knowledge.
Give & Take is 100% Pinot Blanc, aged for a year in oak, which adds a certain texture. It’s rich and mellow with nice stone fruits lingering long on the palate. At 14.5% you do need to approach with caution, because like most of the Blank Bottle cuvées, you absolutely don’t notice the alcohol until you attempt to stand up. It’s evil, but I love it. This is one of Pieter Walser’s exclusive bottlings for Butlers Wine Cellar (Brighton), and for the label Pieter has drawn the skeletal ruin of the iconic Brighton West Pier. A mere £22 whilst it lasts.
XINOMAVRO JEUNES VIGNES 2016, THYMIOPOULOS ESTATE (Naoussa, Greece)
This is one of my go-to everyday wines, and many agree with me that it’s one of a handful of top value crackers that Greece seems to produce at a great price alongside her more expensive gems. Naoussa, in the very north of mainland Greece, is normally the source of long-lived, inky, Xinomavro which has earned the region’s wines the epithet of the “Barolo of Greece”. This young vine bottling is nothing of the sort. I reckon it’s closer to a young Burgundy than a Barolo, and drinks like a Beaujolais. But despite all those “B”s, it’s very much a product of its own place, and in possession of its own personality.
Here we have a wine with lightness belying 13% abv, and a faint sense of something more ethereal shimmering above the youthful juicy biodynamic red fruits which make the wine so drinkable. As this is a young vine cuvée, the fruit comes from several vineyards, some at altitude, off schist, granite and limestone. Fermentation of destemmed fruit is in stainless steel with short ageing, a few months, in concrete.
I usually pick this up from Duncan Murray Wines in Market Harborough (Leicestershire), but it’s pretty widely available. I happened to see a news item on the Harpers Wine & Spirits web site that Berkmann Cellars has taken on distribution of Thymiopoulos in the UK (June 2019).
BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO 2004, POGGIO SAN POLO (Tuscany, Italy)
Although I drink mainly more natural wines these days, I’m not a fundamentalist, and I have no intention of jettisoning wines cellared for years. In any case, there’s no way these wines shouldn’t be judged on their merits, by which I mean judged on their organoleptic properties rather than their manifesto. I would imagine that a classic wine like this would appeal to many people I know who would find the next red in this selection a lot more challenging.
San Polo is a 16 hectare vineyard located in the northeastern part of the Brunello zone. It was purchased in 2006 by Marilissa Allegrini, and she has done a lot of work to revive it. Back in 2004 it might not have had the same cachet, but age has done this wine many favours. The Sangiovese Grosso grapes come from fairly young vines, at this stage probably no older than 14 years. They were grown at around 450 metres above sea level, so how did it come across?
It’s a dark wine, but with a luminous, almost golden-bronze, tint. The bouquet is quite rich and there’s very nice development of tertiary elements in a wine whose bouquet suggests it’s close to maturity, if not perhaps there already. The wispy violets on the nose are in contrast to the more plump cherry fruit of the palate. There’s a nice bit of decayed leaf and tobacco, with a hint of soily mushroom and coffee grains. Altogether this is a really nice mature Brunello, lacking the spectacular depth and concentration of the last wine I had from the DOCG, but then that was a Soldera Riserva. This San Polo was very satisfying.
I hadn’t realised that this was quite such a Butlers Wine Cellar month, but I purchased this bottle from them quite a few years ago now. Expect to pay around £40+ for a current vintage. The UK importer is Liberty Wines.
CHAMPAGNE DEHOURS TERRE DE MEUNIER EXTRA BRUT (Champagne, France)
Mareuil-le-Port and its surrounding villages, on the left bank of the Marne, is a source for some lovely Meunier, made all the more so by the age of the vignoble here. It is the source for some of Vincent and Raphaël Bérêche’s best Meunier, and also the source for this excellent varietal wine from Jérôme Dehours. Since Jérôme took over the family estate in 1996 he’s been steadily improving the wines and winemaking, and now his single vineyard wines rate alongside the best growers.
Terre de Meunier is a non-vintage selection, fermented in stainless steel with a small addition of reserve wines kept in oak. It is lightly dosed (I can’t find an exact figure, but I think we are looking at around 2 g/l), having spent a couple of years on lees. It’s a wine which majors on fruit, making it more of an aperitif style than a gastronomic Champagne. But don’t let that put you off. This has extra spicy notes, some freshly baked bread and a little earth as well. It’s a classic Marne Valley Meunier and eminently satisfying. Expect to pay either side of £35 for this, which makes it pretty good value Grower Champagne. If you’d like to buy Prévost but can’t scrape together a loan, then this is worth a try for that varietal Pinot Meunier experience.
I thought this came from Solent Cellar, but I see that their web site currently only lists the Dehours Oeil de Perdrix (also excellent, £40).
“CARAVAN” VIN DE FRANCE , LE VENDANGEUR MASQUÉ (Chablis, France)
Le Vendangeur Masqué is, of course, the label Alice and Olivier De Moor use for the wines they make from bought in grapes, a trend that is the result of catastrophic vintages in recent years in their Chablis vineyards (frost and hail). This wine is a multi-varietal blend of organic grapes, namely Clairette, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Aligoté, hailing from a diverse array of friends in Southeastern France, Burgundy and Alsace. The grapes are all fermented separately and only blended together after a year in older oak barrels.
The wine has a simplicity to it, in a way, but a better description would perhaps be “purity”. It’s very fruity, with a certain richness as well, but balanced by a glowing brightness on the palate. The texture is deftly judged but grounds it nicely. I tasted this at the Real Wine Fair earlier this year, but the bottle drunk last month was even better. A lovely wine which I was happy to share among five of us, though that left a mere glass for me to savour.
Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.
PINOT NOIR D’ALSACE 2016, DOMAINE GÉRARD SCHUELLER (Alsace, France)
Bruno Schueller makes increasingly lauded wines from his base at Husseren-les-Châteaux in the south of the region, close to Eguisheim. Of the ten hectares of vines he’s farmed since the age of eighteen, just one hectare is Pinot Noir, off clay-limestone soils that give a unique freshness.
On the whole, Alsace produced very light Pinot Noir in the past, much of it pale red that could be marred by high acidity and lack of any real concentration, though there were fine exceptions. This was down to fairly industrial methods and very high yields. When the Alsace Grand Cru regulations were originally drawn up this noblest of varieties wasn’t delimited for any of the Grand Cru sites, so that those who did produce a fine Pinot Noir were required to come up with a fantasy name, most often a single letter (as in Muré’s “V” for Vorbourg).
Bruno Schueller is trying to do something different. He’s not trying to ape Red Burgundy, as some Pfalz or Baden producers might do. He wants to retain that Alsace lightness, so he makes a Pinot that’s light and fruity. It’s very much a natural wine, with hints of fresh apple, along with very zippy red fruit acidity. No sulphur is added. It’s a super-refreshing wine that benefits from being served cool, even ever so slightly chilled when it’s hot outside. But do take note of the alcohol level. At 13.5% it may not be as gluggable as it tastes. You may need a snooze after emptying the bottle.
Widely available, this bottle probably came from Plateau (Brighton), but I’ve equally picked it up in Paris (both Verre Volé and Les Papilles).
BOURGOGNE ALIGOTÉ 2017, DU GRAPPIN (Burgundy, France)
Makers of very fine Côte d’Or micro-negoce wines, the Nielsens are building no less of a reputation for some of their wines that come from further south. Top of the list are their Aligotés. The vineyard from where Andrew sources the fruit for this Aligoté is Perelles le Haut in the Macon village of La Roche-Vineuse. These are ancient vines, over 80-years-old, off white Bathonian limestone marl.
The berries are special, orange-tinged grapes from vines producing very tiny yields, unwanted by most producers down here. Andrew’s team hand harvest them and crush by foot back in his cool Beaune cellars under the city walls. It is aged for six months on fine lees (no skin contact at fermentation for this cuvée) and is bottled unfined and unfiltered.
Aligoté always tended to be dry, acidic, and fruitless, that sharp acidity slicing up any fruit like a fine Japanese chef’s knife. Here, we have bags of fruit, mostly gentle lemon and peach. It has a softness, but don’t think that it doesn’t have balancing acidity. It does. Just perhaps not quite the acidity you may expect from an Aligoté. It is one of the most soulful versions of this increasingly popular grape variety you will come across. Possibly atypical but perfectly judged, especially the 11.5% alcohol. This bottle came as a direct purchase from the producer, available via mail order with UK dispatch, but small quantities.
ROCKING HORSE CAPE WHITE 2014, THORNE & DAUGHERS (Elgin, South Africa)
John and Tasha Seccombe set up Thorne & Daughters only in 2012, in South Africa’s Western Cape. They met at Stellenbosch University, but studying computer science and fine art, not wine. After working in London and Edinburgh John decided to learn winemaking at Plumpton College in Sussex. They returned to the Western Cape in 2008, where John worked at Thelema and Iona, before Thorne & Daughters came into being.
The Rocking Horse white blend, named after a rocking horse they made from old barrel staves for their daughters, is their classic estate signature wine. The varieties are Chenin Blanc (from Bottelary and Swartland, off granite), Roussanne (Voor Pardeberg, clay with decomposed granite), Sauvignons Blanc and Gris (Franschhoek, alluvial soils) and, unusually, bush vine Chardonnay (off clay/shale). All the vines are 20-35 years old except the Roussanne, which is about ten.
All the grapes are pressed as whole bunches and fermented in old oak. The result is quite rich but well structured. The bouquet is largely orange citrus, peach and herbs at this stage, the palate kicking in with more stone fruit, more tangerine and a quince finish. That finish is also textured and saline. I think it really needs a couple (or so) more years, but the acidity lifts it and you won’t want to lose that. I really enjoyed this, as I continue to move from admiring to falling in love with Cape white blends.
Richard Kelley MW (Dreyfus Ashby) imports this wine, and that (I think) was the original source for this bottle which came from Solent Cellar (now out of stock). Nevertheless, it is quite widely available (Swig, H2Vin and Lay & Wheeler among others). Priced somewhere between £20-£25, it represents great value, but don’t let the price put you off giving more recent vintages a little bottle age.
ALADASTURI 2017, RAMAZ NIKOLADZE (Nakhshirgele, Georgia)
Ramaz Nikoladze founded what I assume to be the name of his company, Nikoladzeebis Marani, in 2007, in the distant days of our appreciation of Georgian wine. He might be best known for his qvevri wines made from Tsitska and Tsolikouri grape varieties, which he farms at Nakhshirgele, in Western Georgia, but he also farms red grapes from some allegedly old guy called Didimi, some say his father-in-law (the stories in Georgia can become complicated and I’m told its because you are always too drunk/hung over to remember them).
Ramaz is actually a big name in Georgian wine. He co-founded Tblisi’s first natural wine bar, and he’s president of Georgia’s Slow Food Chapter. His winemaking is often portrayed as rustic, but that would be quite misleading. Certainly “traditional”, but Nikoladze clearly knows what he wants to achieve with every cuvée.
This vibrant, pale, Aladasturi red showed a little reduction on opening, but once this protection had blown off the fruit burst through. Its lightness of colour and weight belies the intensity here. It combines red fruits (strawberry) and black fruits (mainly softer blackberry), with a sprig of mint to season. The acidity on the finish makes you think of a slight brambly bitterness.
A truly exciting wine, which I suggest you try as well as his better known orange wines. Every month that passes finds me wanting to visit Georgia/Tblisi more and more, despite what I’m reliably told might happen to my liver. It’s without doubt the wine producing country I’ve not visited that I want to go to most (closely followed by Czech Moravia), though I’m not sure how easy independent wine tourism would be without a guide? Thankfully we can at least find an increasingly wide selection here in the UK., thanks to strong interest and promotion by Nikoladze’s importer.
Les Caves de Pyrene import Ramaz Nikoladze. This bottle came from the same mixed selection of Georgians I picked up late last year, and which I’ve been drinking my way through. Every one so far has made it onto these pages, but this might be the best so far, much as I worship at the altar of the god of skin contact. And look at that 10.5% alcohol. That’s “down in one” territory for some people, but of course I’m far too civilised…
ARBOIS “TERRE DE GRYPHÉES” 2013, DOMAINE DE LA TOURNELLE (Jura, France)
Domaine de la Tournelle remains one of my three or four favourite Jura producers, even though I’ve been unable to visit for a couple of years. Based in the centre of Arbois, they have one of the most lovely bistros I know, outdoors on the bank of the River Cuisance. It was as a sort of celebration for the annual opening of this “summer only” bistro that I popped the cork on this Chardonnay.
It was a mistake. No, it wasn’t corked, nor was it too young. The error I made was that it truly deserved to be shared among more passionate Jura lovers. This beautiful wine was one of my whites of the year so far, and as we are already half way through 2019, that is praise indeed.
Gryphées comes from two separate plots of biodynamic Chardonnay off early Jurassic grey marl. The fruit goes through a gentle pneumatic press, ferments in tank, and is then aged in used 228-litre oak for two years, on lees, and topped up (normal practice elsewhere, but in Jura you need to be clear about this).
The depth of fruit here is what impresses, but also the sheer life in the glass. It has a rich nuttiness, but the counter-balance comes by way of grapefruit freshness, and when you put these together you get balance and length, oh what length. This is outstanding.
Dynamic Vines imports Domaine de la Tournelle, but several of their wines are also available at Antidote Wine Bar, in their new shop (above the bar) near Oxford Circus. Evelyne and Pascal Clairet have a partnership interest in Antidote and they are proud to stock a good selection from the domaine.
PET EN L’AIR 2017, CLÉMENT ELISA AND FRANCINE KLUR (Alsace, France)
Clément Klur’s family has been making wine in Katzenthal (not far from Turckheim, northwest of Colmar) since the Seventeenth Century, but I guess that’s not all that unusual in Alsace. Clément has been at the domaine for twenty years, farming around seven hectares, and he’s been biodynamic for the past fifteen.
I’ve been a regular buyer of the Klur Crémant d’Alsace for a few years, always enjoying it. I couldn’t resist this petnat as an addition to my summer bubbles. It’s a blend of Riesling (70%) and Muscat (30%) off granite. Following very gentle pressing the must goes into bottle after three weeks, so before fermentation is completed, along with its lees, and with no added sulphur.
There’s a floral Muscat bouquet, with a dry and refreshing palate where there’s acidity, but of a softer shade. If Muscat dominates the nose, Riesling perhaps dominates the tongue. It’s a wine of delicate but intense flavours. This was enjoyed around the table outside on our first really late dinner en plein air this year, as the bats swooped above us and the incense burned. It just proves that summer and petnat are made for each other. The Klurs suggest it will drink well from breakfast to bedtime, but unlike many petnats, this one pushes out 13.5% alcohol. Call me a lightweight, but that’s just a bit too much for breakfast in our place.
This came from Solent Cellar (£25), via Alliance Wine.
And my two albums of the month – Gong’s legendary 1973 set, “Live au Bataclan”, and the brilliant Gary Clark Jr’s latest, “This Land”.