July has been an unusually quiet month on the blog in terms of articles published, with relatively few exciting tastings, but I’ve still been drinking interesting wines at home, and that’s what this monthly roundup is all about. There are a few truly stunning bottles here, but equally valid are the wines which, although they may not set all of your pulses racing, are nevertheless worth reading about. Okay, there’s a relatively obscure bottle from Bugey-Cerdon, and red “cider”, but the bottle that perhaps exemplifies most the emphasis on “interesting” is the red Bordeaux you’ll find two-thirds of the way through this summer dozen.
TEMPRANILLO, VINOS AMBIZ (SIERRA DE GREDOS, SPAIN)
Fabio Bartolomei is no stranger to these pages. The Italian, whose restaurant owning parents came originally from near Lucca, in Tuscany, moved to Scotland where he grew up before winding up in Spain twenty years or so ago. In 2013 he took over the derelict co-operative, strewn with terracotta Tinajas, in the High Grédos village of El Tiemblo. Fabio makes very pure, and wild, natural wines from whatever grapes he has to hand.
The back label spends several dozen lines telling you what is not found in his wine and what has not been done to it. It may just be the finest wine manifesto there is. To enjoy his wines you need to open your heart, but it’s worth the effort. I won’t lie…I have a very soft spot for Fabio’s wines, and I’m full of admiration for this man.
You’ll see from the photo that the front label gives nothing away, so you need to take my word for it that this is carbonic maceration Tempranillo. It’s as far from DO as you can get. As for vintage, who knows. But this is fruity (strawberries and some dark fruit notes), and also a little spritzy. I’d suggest that more than half of you would think it faulty. What exactly is “faulty”? It’s certainly refreshingly tasty and unbelievably hits 14% abv. It’s also certainly thrilling, and the wildest wine I’ve drunk this year. So approach with caution if you are of a nervous disposition, and embrace it if you are not.
Available in the UK via Otros Vinos.
CÔTE DE NUITS-VILLAGES 2012, DOMAINE DAVID CLARK (BURGUNDY, FRANCE)
For many of you, the name David Clark will mean nothing, but for others a tear of nostalgia will linger as you read this. David Clark is a lovely, gentle, Scotsman who used to work, once-upon-a-time, for the Williams Formula One team. He caught the wine bug in California and eventually set up a very small domaine based in Morey-St-Denis, on the Côte de Nuits. From tiny beginnings with a few rows of “Bourgogne Rouge”, he expanded a little to include a Passetoutgrain blend, Morey and Vosne village wines, and this “Villages”.
This 2012 vintage was David’s last. Unfortunately, he decided that ten years of backbreaking solo vineyard work was enough and he moved on. I remember having both lunch and dinner with him soon after that decision, and although the day was one I won’t forget easily for having eaten and drunk far too well, I will equally never forget feeling very sad that this clearly talented individual no longer wanted to make wine. I’m positive I have a few bottles of the Morey…somewhere in that mess of a cellar, but I’m equally sure this was the last of this cuvée.
Regrets? No, drinking a last bottle shouldn’t be a sad occasion. This wine is joyful. The red fruit flavours are intense, combining both crispness and a velvet texture. The key here is very low yields and great care during vinification. I think it’s ready now but not falling off the plateau, so no massive hurry to drink up. I think there was, indeed I’m sure there still is, something of the genius about David. I wish I knew what he is doing now.
David Clark was imported by Berry Bros & Rudd.
CHAMPAGNE GUY CHARLEMAGNE “LES COULMETS” BLANC DE BLANCS 2012 (CHAMPAGNE, FRANCE)
This excellent, if occasionally overlooked, Grower in Le Mesnil has been producing wine since the late nineteenth century, Philippe taking the helm in 1988. He farms 15 hectares, not just on the Côte des Blancs, but in the Vitryat and on the Côte de Sézanne as well, two islands of vines south of Epernay and north of Troyes.
Les Coulmets is a single site in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, with vines approaching fifty years of age. As a BdeB, it is 100% Chardonnay, which has seen nearly four years on lees, and a dosage of just 6g/l. This bottle begins with mineral freshness and citrus flavours (lemon, but with a hint of orange), before developing hazelnut on both nose and palate. It shows the indelible finesse of a wine made from first pressings fruit and only released in the finest vintages.
There’s no doubt that complexity is building here. Right now, its minerality and freshness makes it so drinkable, but there’s no denying that I popped the cork too soon, and failed to give it time to build more complexity. I’d say two years minimum in the cellar, but better five.
This particular bottle came to me via a friend, but I think you can pick one up from Gerrard Seel (Warrington) for a discounted £35.70 (reduced from £42) right now. For the quality it is a bargain.
ROSZA , ALEXANDER KOPPITSCH (BURGENLAND, AUSTRIA)
Alexander and Maria Koppitsch have been one of the producers from the northern shore of the Neusiedlersee who have been inspiring me over the past few years. Based in Neusiedl-am-See (handily placed, less than an hour from Vienna by train), I have watched, and tasted, as their wines have got better and better. It does help that, like Stefanie and Susanne Renner in next door Gols, or Emilie and Alexis Porteret at Domaine des Bodines in Arbois (and countless others), they are such fantastic, and warm, people.
Rosza is part of their new range of wines to drink on release. The new wines don’t just have eye-catching labels but they are intended to reflect both the Hungarian heritage of their region (“Rosza means pink in Hungarian) and the couple’s increasing desire to make gluggable natural wines.
This pink is a blend from all of the family’s 5.5ha of vineyards. The majority is made up of 40% Zweigelt and 40% Blaufränkisch, with the addition of 10% St-Laurent and 5% each of Syrah and Pinot Noir. The grapes are pressed as whole bunches, co-fermented in a mix of stainless steel and fibreglass tanks, and then the wine rests on gross lees for six months before bottling. A tiny amount of sulphur is added at this stage.
It’s probably the most beguiling rosé I’ll drink all summer. It’s light, simple (not a negative in my book, especially when the parasol is up and the sun shining). With soft red fruits and a bit of zip, it goes down like fruit juice (and comes in at just 11% abv). Delicious.
This came in my second Koppitsch order from their new Scottish importer, Fresh Wines (Kinross), at £15.99 (damn the plummeting pound). I know I was lucky to get the last two bottles of their lovely petnat, and I do hope that these wines can get decent distribution via Fresh Wines, something I’m not sure they were achieving here before. Alex’s wines are gaining a very good reputation in Austria and the USA and I don’t want to see us missing out.
LE CHARDO GAI , TONY BORNARD (JURA, FRANCE)
Tony Bornard is, as I expect you know, the son of Philippe Bornard, the now retired Pupillin vigneron whose tasting room is close to Le Grapiot, the village’s excellent restaurant (and both of which you pass on one of my favourite Jura walks as you come down from the hills). Tony has pretty much taken over winemaking at the Philippe Bornard domaine, but at least for now continues to make wine under his own label. I think that’s because those wines I’ve tasted from Tony do have a distinct style. And there’s still a cheeky fox on the label, if you look carefully.
This is hand picked Chardonnay (stating the obvious, perhaps) which undergoes a spontaneous fermentation. Nothing synthetic is added in the vineyard, nor is anything added in the winery. Some of the gasses given off during fermentation are preserved at bottling, and this in turn helps preserve the wine without the addition of sulphur. This means you do really need to let it breathe on opening. There’s no vintage on the label because it’s a Vin de France, but this is a 2016, so not so young.
What you get is glorious, and actually has a touch of Riesling about it. It’s vibrant, fresh and has a spine of acidity you won’t find in much Chardonnay. The citrus which dominates has a nice bitter-savoury twist on the finish. I said Tony’s own wines (this is my third bottle) are distinctive. Although this is firmly in the gluggable camp (and only 12.2% abv), it has the fresh acids to cut through quite rich food. And before I make it sound too much like a freak Riesling, it does have some nice buttery gras that floats in as it sits on the palate.
This came from Les Jardins St-Vincent in Arbois (beware and check limited opening times). I’m not sure whether Tony’s own label has a UK distributor, though the Domaine Philippe Bornard wines are imported into the UK by Les Caves de Pyrene.
PERFECT STRANGERS BRUT NATURE, CHARLIE HERRING WINES (HAMPSHIRE, UK)
Perfect Strangers does perfectly reflect the contents of this red cider made by Tim Phillips with fruit from the orchard beside his walled vineyard near Lymington, on the edge of the New Forest. Tim does remind me just a little of David Clark, and although Tim won’t like me saying this, that does include a sprinkling of genius. Tim has achieved a lot, but he makes wine, cider and beer on such a small scale down in Hampshire that it is frustratingly hard to get hold of the fruits of his labours. It doesn’t help that, in an admirable spirit of perfectionism, Tim tastes and tastes and tastes again, and only releases something when he’s convinced it’s ready…and he takes a lot of convincing.
Anyway, enough waffle. I’ve written about Perfect Strangers before, but if you don’t know, the strangers are apples (actually dessert, not cider, apples), fermented as cider, and then coloured with a splash, if that, of Tim’s South African Syrah. This gives the juice a beautiful glowing red colour. It’s very dry this time round (it isn’t vintage dated but the Lot Number suggests when bottled), and seems to have the finesse of a sparkling wine, more than what you’d expect from an artisan cider. In fact I’d call it the Rolls Royce of artisan ciders, except that bike enthusiast Tim would, I don’t doubt, rather I said Ducati. Well, it’s almost the right colour. 7.5% abv.
Very limited distribution is the issue here. Les Caves gets some, as do a few independents. Locally to Tim, Solent Cellar (Lymington) is a good bet, but as I said, availability for Tim’s efforts is extremely limited (and with the cider, seasonal).
ROT No 6: TRAUBEN, LIEBE UND ZEIT , STROHMEIER (STYRIA, AUSTRIA)
Franz and Christine Strohmeier farm ten hectares of vibrantly bio-diverse land in Styria, mostly on mineral rich gneiss. If there are a handful of producers outside of Burgenland that I’m desperate to visit, this couple make that list. Their region is famed for its Blauer Wildbacher grape variety and the piercing Schilcher wines it makes, wines which appeal more to a select band of lunatics like me than the general wine drinking public (which I think, nevertheless, may just have discovered Schilcher Sekt).
Sustainability and very low intervention has always been the mantra here, and the wines are singular in a number of respects. As well as being some of the most lovely in the region, and being perhaps a little outside the regional norm, they all have very striking individual personalities. “TLZ6” was made in 2015 and blends Zweigelt with around 25% Blauer Wildbacher. You get dark fruits with blackcurrant and blackberry, combining nicely with a softer blueberry strand. Fresh, tingly (like just ripe blackcurrant) and concentrated (yet light at the same time), this is ideal to serve slightly cool. It’s a truly heart-warmingly lovely wine that lifts the spirits as it lifts a tired palate. There are producers I yearn to share with others, and this is one.
Strohmeier is imported by Newcomer Wines (Dalston Junction/Hackney).
DOMAINE DE JULLOUC 2016, BLAYE CÔTES DE BORDEAUX (BORDEAUX, FRANCE)
So here’s the story. My son-in-law begins a tour of France in Bordeaux (you may have seen my Paris article). Flying in after playing a festival in Czech Republic, the band has a day in Bordeaux. They are being entertained by a French group they are touring with, and somehow they end up at a farmer’s market. My son-in-law would not claim to be a wine connoisseur, but he’s unquestionably a man of taste, and after tasting a few samples chose this bottle as a gift for me.
What is remarkable is that this Red Bordeaux, from the sub-regional AOP of Blaye, and made by Didier Eymard at Saint-Ciers-sur-Gironde (a little north of Blaye itself) is listed on the domaine’s web site at around 7€. If I were to pay a tenner in an English supermarket, or a French hypermarket for that matter, I doubt very much I’d get a wine like this.
What this is not is a vin de garde. In fact it is described as being a wine to drink (not keep). They say “plaisir immédiat!”. I’m not wholly sure what the grape blend is, but one can surely taste that it is Merlot-heavy…though not heavy at all. It still has 13% alcohol, but there’s a lightness as well as a plumpness to the fruit, a bit of zing, and a savoury edge. It’s well made (a vin biologique/organic wine) and just smooth and easy to drink.
I think that the vintage is an asset, perhaps, and they do make an oak aged version. But this wine is how all “ordinary” Bordeaux Rouge ought to taste. If more of it did, or we had greater access to such everyday wines of decent quality, then our wider opinion of the region as one for the rich, might change.
Acquaintances in the region are forever telling me that wines like this, at prices like this, do exist, and this proves them right. I’m not saying that we should all rush out and buy it, though if I were at that farmer’s market I’d be in for a case. It’s just that easy drinking, savoury, genuinely tasty, Red Bordeaux at under £10 is so rare to find. Thank you!
MANZANILLA PASADA BOTA NO 83, EQUIPO NAVAZOS (SANLUCAR, SPAIN)
My Equipo Navazos obsession can be unhealthy at times. It means I drink far too narrowly from the Sherry well, and I’m beginning to have to eek out my EN supplies as I’ve not had the opportunity to stock up for a while. This means I’m sipping less Sherry this summer than usual, and I need to put that right before summer flashes by.
Bota 83 comes from a series of butts at Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín which had never been bottled until EN discovered them just over a decade ago. Since then they have raided them several times, but this particular saca, of May 2018, came from a single cask which had aged with such complexity. Labelled as a “Pasada”, the most accurate description would be a Manzanilla Amontillada, a term which although banned from labels now, does tell the purchaser what to expect.
The key character trait with this wine is its almost unique flor character. The butts were topped up more than usual, so the layer of flor remains thin, thus is more easily kept alive, yet it provides less of a barrier than usual with the air chamber. So the result is noticeably more “biologically aged” than many wines of the type. Yet at the same time, the wine’s age, and alcohol (16.5%) make it quite powerful. It’s dark and oxidatively nutty, and deep within it you get a host of spices (especially ginger and nutmeg).
Just 900x50cl bottles were available, and as with all EN bottlings, don’t ask me the price, nor where to buy it (I’ve yet to see 83 in the UK, but that doesn’t mean it’s not out there). It is long, complex and fine, and for my palate it is, even by Equipo Navazos standards, stunning.
Alliance Wine imports Equipo Navazos, although I didn’t spot Bota 83 on their web site.
BUGEY-CERDON MÉTHODE ANCESTRALE, VINCENT & CÉCILE BALIVET (BUGEY, FRANCE)
We have Geneva friends who have a small flat in the city and a house just inside France, and in their village is a restaurant where I was long ago introduced to the wines of Bugey. Maybe twenty years ago I used to play a game of trying to find Bugey wines outside of the region, but I never did very well (although a service station on the Autoroute towards Lyon usually had a bottle or two). I remember foolishly suggesting a couple of years ago that after the rise of Jura wines, Bugey was set to follow.
Okay, to be fair, I did begin to see a few wines from Bugey in London retailers (thank you John at Winemakers Club). The problem is, there just aren’t that many producers. But as some of you out there sit waiting for Wink Lorch’s Wines of the French Alps to drop through your letterboxes, the opportunity to learn more about this most obscure of French wine regions is not far away.
Vincent Balivet is one of the few producers in the region who at least farm organically, and with an environment protecting outlook. The family are in the village of Mérignat, in the Ain Valley, in the Bugey sub-region of Cerdon. The speciality here is for lightly sparkling demi-sec wines with low alcohol, made by the méthode ancestrale. This wine is made from a blend of mostly Gamay with a little Poulsard, which are partly fermented and then bottled with a mushroom cork and cage. There’s usually enough sugar to increase the alcohol by a couple of percent in bottle (in this case to 7%), but not all the sugars are consumed. So you get a demi-sec with the yeast sediments/lees at the bottom.
The fruit is very pure, all strawberries and raspberries. The demi-sec nature of the wine might not be to everyone’s taste, but for me on a warm evening picnic it makes a delicious light aperitif. Fruit salad would be a perfect pairing, especially if it’s dominated by red fruits. It’s a refreshing and slightly unusual wine that only the most pompous of wine aficionados would sneer at. Stylistically, it reminds me a little of Brachetto d’Acqui, though with a different fruit profile.
I usually pick up a bottle or two of Balivet Bugey of one sort or another at Epicurea, the brilliant wine and cheese shop in Poligny (Jura), and that’s where I bought this back last December. As a slightly esoteric wine I reckon it could find a following here. It does have distribution in the USA, and in Austria too. Imagine it with strawberries at Wimbledon…
PINK BULLES XVIII  VIN DE FRANCE, JEAN MAUPERTUIS (AUVERGNE, FRANCE)
Jean Maupertuis makes truly lovely wines in his home village of Saint-Georges-sur-Allier in Central France. He tends under four hectares of vines, mostly Gamay (Gamay d’Auvergne, different to the Beaujolais strain), plus some Pinot Noir, a bit of Chardonnay for white wine and a unique local variety called Noirfleurien. His vines are very old, some over a century in age. The wines are all bottled as Vin de France. As this is co-operative country, anything unfiltered, let alone low in sulphur, is at serious risk of being denied the AOP. Blockheads!
Pink Bulles is a classic petnat, made from Gamay d’Auvergne, all the vines being over 50-years-old. All of the bouquet and flavours are around the red fruits spectrum (red cherry and strawberry), though it’s not just a fruity wine as such. That is perhaps suggested first by the colour, a sort of orange-pink. It has a good firm spine of acidity kept together by very fine bubbles, and there’s plenty of texture. It comes in at 12.5% abv. Pink Bulles has become a wine I’d want to drink every summer now and it would probably find its way into my petnat top-dozen, for sure.
Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene, this bottle coming from Solent Cellar.
CHARDONNAY “LES NORMINS” 2015, CÔTES DU JURA, DOMAINE DES MARNES BLANCHES (JURA, FRANCE)
Pauline and Géraud Fromont are at Saint-Agnès, south of Lons-le-Saunier. They are close to Gilles and Christelle Wicky and situated just a little north of that band of superstars near to Rotalier. In fact after many years avoiding the limelight, except perhaps through J-FG, this southern sector of the elongated Jura region has begun to wake up and scream out quality these past seven or eight years.
Whilst other names down in the Sud-Revermont may be better known outside of the region, the Fromonts, along with Peggy Buronfosse at La Combe, are making wines which easily rival the so-called best of the region, and are among my favourite Jura wines. They have ten hectares of vines, half of which is Chardonnay, which actually makes for a sizeable holding here in this rolling mixed-farm countryside. Most of their vineyard is planted with old vines, with some centenarians, many atop white marl and limestone outcrops rich in marine fossils.
“Les Normins” is a single vineyard wine, and one of the first vineyards they owned (at Cesancey, just northeast of St-Agnès). The vines are all over 75-years-old and after fermenting the wine sees around two years in old, used, oak. It is made in the ouillé style, ie topped-up, although the domaine also makes exquisite biologically aged, oxidative, wines.
This 2015 is a rich Chardonnay and it shows 14% abv on the label. That said, you don’t really notice that level of alcohol. It does have body and smoothness, but it’s floral as well as nutty, and has lime citrus along with the more exotic fruits within. It is all enfolded in super-fresh, bright, fruit acidity, balancing the overall impression perfectly, rather like a confident tightrope walker. The salinity of this wine, doubtless coming from the fossil-encrusted terroir lifts the wine and gives it real vivacity. It’s a wine that’s both impressive, but also genuinely fun to drink. Not always an easy thing to pull off.
I buy all my Marnes Blanches wines from Winemakers Club, under the bridge on Farringdon Street, London.