September sees so many tastings, too many. A top Sommelier told me yesterday that all the importers think that the sommeliers change their wine lists, starting from scratch, in November, but she also added that this is a complete myth. So apart from everyone itching to get going after their August holidays, there’s no real reason why September should be so packed with tastings that you miss some great events. Graft is a case in point, the new amalgamated Red Squirrel and Knotted Vine, whose portfolio was on show yesterday in another part of London. I shall at least be able to taste those wines later, at Out The Box.
For me, the three trade tastings I wouldn’t want to miss right now are Caves de Pyrene (23 Sept), Out The Box (1 Oct) and Dirty Dozen, which took place at Glaziers Hall by London Bridge yesterday (Tuesday 9 September). Dirty Dozen features twelve small-to-medium importers, some of whom I know well and others who I come across rarely throughout the rest of the tasting year. This tasting was an opportunity to catch up with some new wines from people I know, and to sample the ranges of those I don’t. The standard was very high this year, and my desire to keep the numbers down has been a bit of a trial in some cases.
I originally promised myself that I’d only write about what were my favourite four wines at each table, but of course I failed over all. I will, however, try hard to keep my coverage well short of the recent South African opus. To that end I’m going to split this into two parts, two quite manageable bites. Let’s see how we go…in order of appearance…
THE WINE TREASURY
The Wine Treasury has a wide portfolio, although they say they do specialise in wines from North America, and as those wines tend to be some of the most interesting imported into the UK, it’s a few of those I’ve brought to the page here.
L’Ecole #41 Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2017 is a perfect example. We’ve probably all heard of this Columbia Valley (Washington State) producer, but you don’t see Chenin from America all that often. But, founded in 1983, Chenin is one of the varieties upon which the Ecole #41 reputation was built. Pale, stony, waxy with citrus and plump peach, it’s both deliciously fresh and a wine of depth…very long. A very good way to begin a tasting.
Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2017, Schug was equally interesting for a Cali-Chardie. Almost unoaked (10% fermented in neutral oak), and aged five months on lees. The vineyard sites used are mostly influenced by the cool winds entering the Petaluma Gap, so the style is crisp, yet with an underlying richness. Pineapple fruit comes through, with peach and citrus acidity. It holds its 14.2% abv remarkably well.
La Pleiade II NV, Sean Thackrey, California Even the importer doesn’t really know what’s in this, except that we do have Muscat, Viognier, Marsanne and maybe Roussanne. Doubtless there’s more. If you know Sean’s wines, it doesn’t matter. This is so delicious, with almost a sour, certainly savoury, quality. TWT has several other Thackrey cuvées, all worth exploring. Unique wines.
Le P’tit Paysan 2016, Le P’tit Pape, California This is a blend of 53% Grenache, 35% Syrah, with Mourvèdre, Counoise and Cinsault (well, the name gives a lot away). The fruit is sourced from Monterey and San Benito Counties off granite and limestone. It’s bright violet in colour with similar violets and red fruit on the nose, big legs, big smooth fruit and richness. You might be surprised that the alcohol is just 13.2%. That means it’s not over the top, but it’s a lovely plump red, totally approachable.
I truly lament the closing of the Roberson shop in West Kensington. Whilst I made more and more frequent trips there, involving a long walk for me, I seem to buy far less from them now (clue: I have too much wine to be buying cases of it in the UK). Roberson is another USA specialist, in fact at the forefront of the New Wave of California here (see John Bonné’s seminal book The New California Wine, Ten Speed Press, 2013), but there’s so much else they do well, so I only tasted one American wine.
Chalklands Classic Cuvée 2016, Simpson’s Wine Estate, Kent (UK) Roberson lists a number of bottles from this producer in Barham, near Canterbury. Charles and Ruth Simpson have been making wine in Southwest France for approaching two decades, and have now added a 30 hectare vineyard planted with the three classic Champagne varieties on Downland chalk in Southern England. This is the first wine I’ve tried from them and it’s very good. The bouquet is quite biscuity but the palate has broad fruit, with pear and lemon freshness. Not as precise as some, but it’s good to drink a different style. This is well made and expressive, with enough of a point of difference within the genre.
Hermanschachern Grüner Veltliner 2018, Ebner-Ebenauer, Niederösterreich If you know me you know that this estate is on my “to visit” list. Marion Ebner is a wonderful winemaker, perhaps not accorded the praise she deserves in the UK. They are in Weinviertal, the wine region north of Vienna, towards the Czech border. This is a single vineyard wine, a step up from the basic Grüner. You get apple and pear fruit, plus the mineral texture of the limestone terroir. Aged in stainless steel, it has a smoothness which makes it deceptively approachable. It is lovely now, but will age and develop for five years.
Baker Street English Bacchus 2018, London Cru Those who have been with me a long time will remember my visit to London Cru a few years ago, London’s first urban winery. Then winemaker, Gavin Monery, has moved on to make wine with Vagabond, and I was keen to catch up with the London Cru range again, now crafted by Alex Hurley, under Head Winemaker Augustín González Novoa. The bouquet is powerful, gooseberry, elderflower and peach/grapefruit. The palate has a refreshing bitterness, and a little texture is added via 10% barrel fermentation (the rest in stainless steel). It’s a nice summer white (shame to be trying it in autumn), and for under £15 is very good value.
Morgon 2017, Julien Sunier, Beaujolais From three vineyards – Charmes, Py and Courcellette with nine months in oak, this is delicious “natural” (and biodynamic) Morgon. Roberson was an early champion of Julien, and they chose well. This wine is almost luminous. It has a glorious concentrated sweet cherry bouquet, with ripe sour cherry on the tongue. Lip-smacking just came to me, a perfect adjective. The wine is relatively structured, despite being made by carbonic maceration. Highly recommended.
Sonoma Coast Syrah 2016, Arnot Roberts, Sonoma (California) Once more we have cool climate sites to thank for a very pure Syrah from one of my favourite Roberson producers. The prices here are steeper now, but what will you get for your £45? The plum and darker fruits on the nose are concentrated, and there’s an added note. I called it “animal” and they called it “earthy”, but it adds bags of interest. There’s a bit of tannin. You might be tempted to open a bottle now, but it is really a keeper…like a good Northern Rhône, a decade will do it if you want to see how complex it may get.
HOWARD RIPLEY WINES
Okay, I’ve just been to a Ripley tasting, but I would like to think that the wines I tasted here complement those at the Army & Navy Club rather nicely. If you think it’s “The B-Team”, think again. The producers chosen here are ones I tasted last week, but the wines show a different facet of their creativity.
Saar Riesling Crémant Brut NV, Peter Lauer, Saar After praising Florian Lauer as one of my very favourite German producers last week, it was nice to get the opportunity to taste the lovely “Sekts”. I think “Crémant” better describes what Florian is aiming for here. Savoury and very fresh, it must be one of the best contemporary sparkling Rieslings coming out of Germany.
Riesling Brut Natur Reserve 1992, Peter Lauer, Saar If you have a chance to grab a few bottles of these older wines, made by Florian’s father and then left to age for, er, rather a long time, then don’t hesitate. This is exemplary, a perfect example of the depth which Sparkling Riesling can achieve. Not to mention complexity. Very fine sparkling wine.
Weisser Burgunder 2017, Weingut Wittmann, Rheinhessen I mentioned last week that the only Wittmann I currently own is “Pinot Blanc”, and it is this vintage, so excuse me grabbing a quick sip to see how it’s going. It’s a lovely smooth and dry food wine. The stony fruit has a richness (it’s only 12.5% abv though), but it’s also bright and fresh. Complete proof that you are on safe ground with a great producer. You can purchase this with the same confidence you would have for Keller’s Von der Fels Riesling, for example.
We now move to three wines from Ziereisen. I make no apologies…
Steingrüble Gutedel Unfiltriert 2014, Ziereisen, Baden Because you read my notes from last week’s Ripley tasting of German GG and Red wines, you will know exactly where Ziereisen is located in Southern Baden. You will also have read my almost gushing praise for the remarkable (and expensive) “ten to the power of four” (10 hoch 4) cuvée of Gutedel (aka Chasselas). You might be slightly disappointed if you tasted this wine side-by-side with the super-cuvée, but this lovely wine costs a fraction of its price. The fruit gets 48 hours skin contact and six months on lees, and with a few years in bottle it is surprisingly in a very good place. A slightly smoky bouquet, a little citrus, some stone fruit, a creamy heart, and a dollop of texture. Gorgeous, or at least I think so. And only 12% abv. And 2014!
Schmätterling Rosé 2017, Ziereisen, Baden This 2017 has gained, not lost, from its time in bottle. We have 90% Pinot Noir with 10% Regent (shock!), and the wine is a pale pink. When you taste it you will be surprised as there is complexity here. The fruit is both smooth strawberry and cranberry with bite. Again, there’s a creamy texture and surprising length. I’d have no fears about keeping this for next summer.
Spätburgunder Tschuppen 2015, Ziereisen, Baden This is really the entry level Pinot from Ziereisen, cheaper even than the “Talrain” I tasted last week. This is my go-to Ziereisen red, and I was thrilled that the sommelier I mentioned at the beginning of this article said it’s the same for her. The vineyard is clay, and it helps make for a really juicy-fruited wine. Maybe there’s not such concentration as in the Talrain, but it is just so approachable and delicious. At £54/6 in bond for the 2015, it’s almost a stupid price. You won’t get the massive complexity and potential of the up-range reds, but you will get every day drinking enjoyment.
Raymond Reynolds is an importer who I probably only really come across at the Dirty Dozen Tastings. They have built a reputation as a specialist Portuguese importer, with names like Luis Pato, Susana Esteban, Niepoort and various Madeira and Porto producers shining their light. I hope the four wines described here whet a few appetites for Portugal (and Madeira).
Bastardo 2018, Conceito, Douro When I was young I used to joke that Bastardo was the grape variety that would always give you a headache. Of course that was a lie on two counts, first because it never appeared outside of a tiny component in some Port blends, and secondly, Bastardo is a synonym of my beloved Trousseau, from the Jura. Rita Ferreira Marques is the winemaker here. This 5 hectare vineyard of Bastardo was planted by her grandfather fifty years ago. Foot trodden, it produces a pale but almost fluorescent wine with an ethereal scent, light red fruits and a bit of bite. Only a tiny amount of sulphur is added. It has one of the most recognisable labels in Portuguese wine these days. I think the wine is equally marvellous.
Colares Tinto Ramisco 2007, Casal Santa Maria, Colares (Lisbon) These sandy coastal vineyards are legendary in Portugal, and their story is not difficult to find. Historically they produced mostly tannic reds from ungrafted, pre-phylloxera, vines. Today, production is tiny, so much so that they tend to harvest all the grapes together and make the wine in a central facility (but not technically a co-operative), which is then returned to producers for individual ageing and bottling. Ramisco bush vines spread across the sand, bunches propped up with bamboo. This is pale, with hi-toned fruit and a savoury (deliberately slightly oxidative) note. There’s a bit of tannin/texture, but as you’d hope, fourteen years or so ageing has softened it. A museum piece for the adventurous and those who seek learning at the altar of tradition.
Tinto 2012, Quinta do Mouro, Alentejo This estate was an Alentejo pioneer, Luis Louro planting in this arid region in Southern Portugal’s interior from 1989 and releasing wine from the mid-nineties. The varieties for this famous red are Aragonez (aka Tempranillo), the teinturier Alicante Bouschet (which does well here), Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira. I was told there’s some Cabernet Sauvignon in there now, as well. From foot trodden grapes grown on schist, this wine is quite tannic still, and concentrated, but at the same time retains a remarkable elegance. Ageing is in a mixture of French, and unusually, Portuguese, oak. It’s a very traditional estate, but one that’s wine shows a modern side as well.
The Atlantic Rainwater, Barbeito, Madeira Madeira isn’t all about venerable old vintages, or at least not any more. Barbeito has added a bit of excitement to the brand at wholly affordable prices, and this “Rainwater” is just one example. This is surprising, coming from one of the smaller houses, founded only in the mid-20th Century. This is the style of fortified wine once so loved in pre-, and post-Revolution America. The name is said to derive from its dilution, by the rain, when awaiting shipment across the Atlantic. It’s a lighter style, with dried fruits complemented by lemon freshness and almost Sherry-like salinity. It ends with a hint of freshly-sawn timber. Another hint…Christmas is coming and as well as your well aged vintage for sipping at home before you go to bed, this is one to add to someone’s Christmas stocking.
H2Vin does not specialise in any region or country. They do have an excellent French portfolio, and three of the wines reproduced here are French. But they are also lucky to import one of New Zealand’s stars, well represented by their entry here.
Champagne Dehours “Terre de Meunier” Grande Réserve Extra Brut NV It doesn’t seem that long ago that I wrote about this wine in my monthly roundup of wines drunk at home (it was in fact the June selection). This is pure Pinot Meunier, in this case from 2015 with reserves from 2014, mis en cave July 2016 and aged on lees until disgorgement in October 2017, with zero dosage. So it’s not a wine with long lees ageing. Jérôme is aiming for a wine of freshness and fruit, but there’s a bit of spice too. For me it makes a good aperitif style, and a more affordable Meunier than some.
Jurançon Sec “La Part Davant” 2018, Camin Larredya, Jurançon If you want a well priced dry but interesting white wine, Jurançon in Southwest France, close to Pau, is a good place to sniff around. This is one of the top producers, and this cuvée is a blend of 50% Gros Manseng with Petit Manseng (35%) and Petit Courbu (15%). This is not quite typical Jurançon Sec, in that the high proportion of Petit Manseng adds finesse, and it is also richer than many examples of the dry appellation wine. That richness puts it on the verge of sweetness on the nose. It is very good, and it’s not going to cost a lot more than £20.
Old Weka Pass Road Pinot Noir 2016, Bell Hill, North Canterbury (NZ) The Canterbury revolution has seen this South Island Region go from nothing to super fashionable in a short space of time, and Bell Hill was one of the major drivers. The home vineyard is an old limestone quarry on the Weka Pass, which now has a little over two hectares planted. The mantra here is quality above all, and the method is Burgundian. Pale, bright and frankly stunning, this wine has close to the best bouquet of any at the tasting. The cherry fruit is equally floral and very pure. Savoury notes kick in after half a minute. It’s a wine we all should get to try…but quantities are tiny. It is on allocation, price on application (which means if they’d printed the price it would have been upsetting). But I’d love one. It’s that good. So is anything from Bell Hill,
Chinon Rouge 2018, Philippe Alliet, Touraine/Loire My old friend (I mean from a buying point of view) Philippe crafts his complex wines at Cravant-Les-Coteaux, a short drive east of Chinon. He makes some of my favourite Cabernet Francs (something about this village and its south-facing slope to the River Loire because Bernard and Matthieu Baudry are based here too). The key with Alliet, apart from being very much a stickler for how things are done, is generally old vines (and he makes a VV cuvée too). The colour is vibrant cherry red with darker hints. The bouquet is sweet fruited, classic ripe Cabernet Franc, but as with all Alliet wines, there’s genuine personality too. It’s not squeeky clean, neither is it “natural” (forgive my choice of word, friends). And let’s not forget to mention the grip. His wines age well.
Flint Wines has a reputation as one of the UK’s best importers of interesting, occasionally (once) under-the-radar Burgundy growers. Now they offer so much more, but in expanding they have retained an eye for the interesting, and a focus on what is good, with no “fillers”. The first wine below is a good example of this.
Petite Arvine 2017, Elio Ottin, Valle D’Aoste If you have drunk Petite Arvine it is most likely a bottle from Switzerland’s Valais, but the variety actually originated over the Saint-Bernard Pass in Aoste/Aosta (whatever you read to the contrary). The valley is a source for some wonderful wines, only unknown because there is a ready local market. Mirroring their Swiss neighbours, the Aostans are now focused on quality, and several independent winemakers are making news, Ottin being one. This screams out freshness (the slopes are generally less baked than in the arid Valais) but the fruit is plump, with lots of pineapple, grapefruit and grassy herbs. There’s a nice salty edge, just evident.
Bourgogne Rouge “OKA” 2015, Domaine Arlaud, Burgundy Cyprien Arlaud took over a family business, created during WW2, in 2013, which used to be based in ancient cellars in Nuits-Saint-Georges. Winemaking has now moved to more modern premises in Morey-Saint-Denis, with Nuits being retained as an ageing cellar. I’ve always liked the Arlaud wines. They have four Grand Cru sites, but yet they have always made excellent Bourgognes tout-court. I’ve never had OKA, being more familiar with the “Roncevie” cuvée, but this is very good indeed. Fresh, smooth, with a bit of structure and ripe 2015 fruit, yet it only shows 12.5% abv.
Rescued Zweigelt 2005, Somm in the Must, Kremstal (Austria) I can’t find much out about this wine. In the tasting booklet it says it comes from Burgenland, yet I believe the source of the grapes the guys here used is Manfried Felsner, and his vines are, as far as I know, on the north side of the Danube near Krems. I was also wholly unable to discover why this cuvée is “rescued”, though the vintage (2005) must be the key. This wine is dark with nice bass notes, but otherwise oozes the bramble freshness of this under rated variety. Smooth fruit and typical zip. Slightly more alcohol (13%) than you get on the palate. A shame the guys on the table didn’t know more about it, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I thought it was pretty exciting and worthy of mention here.
Barolo Cascina Nuova 2013, Elvio Cogno (Piedmont) I like the style of a lot of 2013 Barolo (doh!). A cooler year, ripeness was harder to achieve without limiting the crop, so some producers (despite the hype…there’s a lot of hype which puts the ’13s up with 2010) did better than others. This wine carries the perfume of the nicest wines of the vintage. That goes with the territory, a 2.5 ha site at 380 metres ASL between Monforte d’Alba and La Morra. The tannic structure of a wine requiring ageing does hide the fruit, but it’s there and this should age beautifully. It is fermented in stainless steel, but aged 24 months in large old Slavonian oak (six months on lees), and given another six months in bottle before release.
This is where I shall end Part 1. Part 2 will feature my selections from Astrum Wine Cellars, Clark Foyster, FortyFiveTen°, Indigo Wine, Maltby & Greek and Swig, and hopefully will follow tomorrow.