I wrote about some of the wines tasted at London’s Dirty Dozen Tasting in Part 1, here. Those importers covered were The Wine Treasury, Roberson Wine, Howard Ripley Wines, Raymond Reynolds, H2Vin and Flint Wines. Follow the link above to see what I liked most on their tables, and for any introductory comments. This second part covers wines from Astrum Wine Cellars, Clark Foyster, FortyFive10°, Indigo Wine, Maltby & Greek and Swig.
ASTRUM WINE CELLARS
Astrum typically seeks out artisan producers, not exclusively from Italy but that’s where much of their focus lies. Two of the wines below are made from Piemontese Nebbiolo, fine wines providing a nice contrast with the 2013 Barolo I chose (from Flint Wines) at the end of Part 1. The other two wines were Austrian and Northern Italian. I’m a long-standing fan of the first wine, below.
Kerner 2018, Abbazia di Novacella, Alto-Adige By a coincidence some friends have been in Northern Italy and whilst they were near to Trento I tried to persuade them they should visit the Abbey, up at Novacella/Neustift, or at least look out for this wine in particular. Why? Well you don’t find the Kerner variety very often, and great Kerner is a rarity. The Abbey is by no means the only good producer, but who doesn’t like a beautiful old abbey that also makes lovely wines? The scents of Alpine meadow flowers and wild grasses are palpable (if you let your mind wander on a dull London day). But it’s fruity too, with stone fruits to the fore. You also get texture and length, and it must be said, 14% alcohol. Don’t let that put you off.
Barbaresco Gallina 2016, Oddero (Piemonte) Oddero is, of course, based in the Barolo zone (La Morra) but this Barbaresco is a fine addition to their portfolio. A 25-day fermentation at 28° is followed by ageing in 40-hectolitre French oak. The elegant bouquet is lovely, and it even has that elusive hint of rose petals. Is there tar? For me, it does have spice but my nose rarely detects any deep tar these days. It’s certainly savoury and firmly structured. In good 2016 fashion it has more acidity than most 2015, and probably more tannin as well, a wine to age, certainly.
Barolo 2015, Francesco Rinaldi (Piemonte) We are with one of the greats here, a traditional producer from the town of Barolo itself. Paola Rinaldi runs things today, pretty much along the same lines as in the past. There is a clutch of famous sites, producing wines of genuine class, but here we are taking a look at the straight DOCG Barolo. It’s paler than the Oddero, undergoing a slightly shorter (20-day) fermentation, then spending three years in older Slavonian oak. It’s a wine to age, whatever its designation. It has real depth despite the tannins (prominent for the vintage), and as I suggested, it truly needs time to show its class. Impressive now, but not for drinking for well over a decade, I’d say.
Cuvée Auslese 2017, Weingut Tschida Angerhof, Neusiedlersee This is “the other Tschida” estate in Illmitz, on the eastern shore of the Neusidlersee. It’s flat land and reed beds, along with the shallow lake (hardly more than a metre deep at any point, despite its size) have always made for excellent sweet wines. This cuvée is harvested in late October and consists of 35% Sauvignon Blanc, 35% Rhine Riesling and 30% Welschriesling. Some of the fruit will have differing degrees of botrytis. The result here is very sweet, not over complex but with rich honey and apricot flavours. The same is mirrored on the nose, with added florality. It has some acidity, not as much as you expect from German Auslese made from Riesling, but it’s there. Who doesn’t like a sticky?
CLARK FOYSTER WINES
Clark Foyster is another of the importers here who I don’t know all that well, and they don’t really specialise in one country or region. But they have some nice wines. I’ve reproduced notes from five, but I could have easily chosen Cretan Vidiano, Georgian wine from the Kakheti Region, Kamptal classics from Schloss Gobelsburg, Vinho Verde and more.
Grüner Veltliner “Rotes Tor” Federspiel 2017, Franz Hirtzberger, Wachau This wine is from Spitz, one of the villages you can reach for lunch on the Wachau cycle trail, if you start from Krems (after an early train from Vienna). It has a castle on a hill, beneath which is a good traditional Weinstube (Gasthaus Prankl), and an even better wine shop by the jetty (Föhringer). And this wine is from one of the Wachau’s finest producers. Although the Smaragd wines from here are rightly lauded, it is the more fruity Federspiel designated wines which are more approachable young, as intended. Don’t dismiss them. This has depth of fruit and lovely balance, plus enough age to show a touch of complexity in what is basically a drinking wine from the producer of some of Austria’s finest wines.
Assyrtiko Cuvée Monsignori 2017, Argyros Estate, Santorini (Greece) As we know, Assyrtiko is the speciality of Santorini, although it also does well elsewhere in Greece. The volcanic soils and windy location (vines trained into a kind of basket shape to protect them from the wind), plus the fact that the phylloxera louse never reached the island (I don’t think it ever established itself on volcanic terrain) gives unmistakable qualities to Santorini Assyrtiko. Straw, lemon, dark textured minerality, fresh salinity and a long finish, is what you get here. Under rated as one of the world’s fine white wines. It ages well, too, but it’s also undoubtedly thrilling in youth.
Riesling Loibenberg Reserve 2015, Rainer Wess, Wachau I drank a Neuburger from Rainer Wess last night, bottled by Somm in the Must, whose Rescued Zweigelt I tasted in Part 1 (at Flint Wines), a nice coincidence. The Loibenberg vineyard is a famous site at the beginning of the Wachau Gorge. Many famous names have vines here. Although Wess is traditionally described as an Unterloiben (therefore Wachau) producer, he now has an ultra-modern winery at Krems (Kremstal), just to the east. At just 12.5% and really very fruity, it seems to have a touch of richness without too much weight. It’s very much the Wess style, clean, pure and with a touch of the intensity you expect here. It would prefer to be left in peace for a few years, but probably won’t be.
“Hidden Treasures – a Moric Project” Riesling/Furmint, Moric, Balaton (Hungary) Roland Velich is famous in Austria, making wine in Burgenland. This particular part of the “Moric Project” is a collaboration with Villa Tolnay near Lake Balaton, in Hungary. It’s a 50:50 blend of the two varieties, aged in a mix of Stainless Steel and Austrian and Hungarian oak. The fruit is smoothed out, rounded, and doesn’t taste wholly dissimilar in profile to the Ress, above. This wine, though approachable, will also take some ageing.
Riesling RS3 2019, Mac Forbes, Victoria Nice to meet Mac and taste his wines. If I’m honest I could have chosen his Yarra Valley Chardonnay, or the Yarra Junction Pinot Noir, but I picked the Riesling to highlight because it screams out from the glass. It’s made in a very refreshing style, low alcohol (12%) and it is unbelievably bright on both nose and palate. The grapes come from a single site, Antcliffe Chase Vineyard, high up on the southeast side of the Strathbogies, a granite plateau uplifted by ancient volcanic activity northeast of Melbourne and near Mac’s Yarra home. In fact there are granite boulders so big here that they had to plant around them. The vines were planted here in 1982/83 and have always been dry farmed. The wine is made with minimal intervention, de-stemmed, crushed, and aged on lees in wood. A joyful wine.
Here we have an Italian specialist, so much so that I think I was the only one not speaking Italian (reminds me of my wonderful local Greek bakery where I’m sure I get special treatment because I sadly can’t speak Greek). They aim to import “artisan” wines with “distinct personality”. Hopefully the four wines below provide a snapshot which demonstrates that.
Nosiola 2018, Pojer e Sandri, Trentino Based at Faedo, in Trentino, we are right in the north of the Province, just to the east of the Adige river. Nosiola is one of the autochthonous grapes of the region, and Pojer e Sandri make their version with minimal interventions, not exactly a natural wine but certainly with low sulphur etc. Pale in colour, the bouquet is fragrant and has depth, floral, herbal and grassy. The wine is reasonably light, certainly elegant, but it also has a bit of texture. A very fine example, which would probably age for five years, though I’m sure very little gets to last that long.
Friulano “Skin Contact” 2016, Primosic, Friuli This is made from the variety previously called Tocai Friulano, one of the great native varieties of Northeast Italy and the border regions with Slovenia. It is bottled under the Oslavia DOC. It has a lovely colour, which in a certain light almost looks ivory with a pink tinge. This is from skin contact – eight hours is sufficient. More and we’d be straying into orange wine territory with Friulano. This wine is clean, lightish in body, and with a bouquet and palate that hints at honey and apricot without quite delineating it strongly. So you get personality and a degree of elegance (despite 13.5% alcohol) which suggests a very fine wine. The texture is a little chalky, which should help its gastronomic potential.
Morellino di Scansano 2017, Castello Romitorio, Tuscany Romitorio is owned by acclaimed artist Sandro Chia, and his son. I know their wines from Montalcino (and indeed Sandro Chia’s art from an exhibition long ago in Paris) but I was unaware they had an estate down near the coast at Scansano (purchased in 1999). I liked the smooth bitter cherry of this wine. There’s plenty of body, and alcohol (14.5%), grippy tannins too. What I liked was that under all this there’s such pure fruit, and it’s not a horribly expensive wine, maybe £20 retail.
Valtellina Superiore Pietrisco 2015, Boffaloro, Valtellina (Lombardy) So I have a thing for Nebbiolo made outside of the two “B”s. Valtellina Nebbiolo (called Chiavannasca here), grown on steep slopes close to Sondrio, seems to improve all the time, and I keep coming across new names (at least to me). Giuseppe Guglielmo founded Boffaloro in 2002, with four hectares of vines between 400m and 700m ASL. This single vineyard wine is actually a traditional brick red colour (extra points) and the scent is so beautiful it would get a mention here for that alone. The fruit is quite prominent, and there’s less tannin than you’d expect perhaps from a Piemontese Nebbiolo. This is the epitome of hand crafted, artisan wine. For a first try I was very impressed.
I apologise to the other importers that I strayed here, and have ten wines to mention. I can’t explain why. I’ll just have to be less wordy. Indigo is what I’d call a non-specialist specialist. They began with a Spanish focus and then grew…and grew. Needless to say, I think they have an impressive range. The disconnect here is that I love the wines but rarely find an opportunity to buy them. Maybe that’s why.
Heavy Petting and Astro Bunny Petnat, 2018, Wildman Wine (from Riverland, Australia) These two pétillant naturel wines are bottled by Tim Wildman MW, who imports them into the UK. Heavy Petting, which is not aimed at animal lovers, is a glowing cherry red colour, and is made from Nero d’Avola (mostly) with some Zibibbo (Muscat of Alexandria) from fruit grown in the Riverland region of South Australia. I happen to have a bottle in my fridge, awaiting a rescheduled drinks session with neighbours. It’s a fun wine with refreshing simple fruit. Invert the bottle to gently shake up the sediment. 10% abv.
Astro Bunny is a pink petnat made from Vermentino with Zibibbo and Nero d’Avola. It’s also cloudy, with soft ripe fruit, creamy and peachy. Both are great fun. Tim has moved his fruit source to McLaren Vale for the 2019s.
Jijiji Chenin Blanc 2018, Gen de Alma, Uco Valley (Argentina) This superb Chenin, always a favourite with me, is made by one of the famous Michelini brothers (Gerardo), and his wife Andrea Mufatto (actually, I think this is really Andrea’s baby). It is made from old vines grown up around 1,000 metres ASL. It gets 20 days on skins and is quite unusual, with plenty of fresh sour apple flavour. Great value.
Fino Balbaína Alta, Bodegas Riva, Jerez Chalky Albariza soils from a famous site make for a glorious, and characteristically super fresh, Fino made from Palomino fruit. It has had ten years under flor so it has a nutty side, but that freshness dominates. Just one saca made per year. Very Fine indeed. Contrast with…
El Muelle De Olaso, Luis Pérez, Cadiz Here is an unfortified Palomino table wine made as a VdT Cadiz. It’s a single Pago wine from Carrascal. The grapes are 80% fermented in stainless steel, with 20% being sun dried and then fermented in American oak. It’s a deliciously mineral wine. It is unfortified because Luis believes in the great character of the different terroirs he farms (Balbaína Alta, Macharnudo, Añina and Carrascal), which come through when the wine has no grape spirit added and no biological ageing under flor. Palomino table wine seems to be taking off, somewhat, and this is a very fine example indeed.
Texture Like Sun 2017, Ochota Barrels, Adelaide Hills (S. Australia) If you know Taras Ochota you’ll know that he names many cuvées after favourite bands/songs. This one is named after The Stranglers’ homage to a certain resinous substance (Fugazi must be his coolest choice of name). The grape blend is long: Mourvedre, Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, Gamay, Chardonnay and, er, Fragola. It comes off clay soils over limestone deposits at about 550 metres ASL. The mash is given a cold soak for five days, and is then allowed to ferment and age in stainless steel. Oh…So…Fruity! Any Ochota Barrels wine will do, if you see one on a wine list.
Pepe Le Pinot 2018, Jamsheed, Upper Goulburn Valley, Victoria We’re in Northern Victoria here, getting up towards the NSW border. Gary Mills makes a wonderful range of wines, and most are for glugging pleasure, true glouglou wines. This is one. It’s from Yarra fruit, 75% whole bunch pressed, fermented in steel (three weeks on skins) then eight months in new hoggsheads and old barriques. 12% abv gives it that “down like fruit juice” quality (just). There is a tad of concentration which edges it towards proper wine.
Benje Tinto 2017, Envinate, Tenerife (Spain) The wines Envinate labels as Benje are made from tiny plots at, in this case, some of the highest altitudes they farm at (up to 1,000 metres with this red cuvée). The main grape here (though there is, of course, co-plantation in these vineyards) is Listán Prieto (aka Païs), with around 5% Tintilla. The soils are naturally volcanic on all of the Canary Islands, and the freshness the soils give the wines is accentuated here by fermentation in concrete with 20 days on skins, followed by eight months in old French oak. The standout quality with this wine is amazing purity, coupled with unusual but scintillating fruit flavours. The DO is the impossible to spell (for me) Ycoden-Daute-Isora (I think they made a typo in the Tasting booklet).
Barossa Dry Red 2018, Frederik Stevenson, South Australia I’ve no idea why Steve Crawford goes under the wine name of Frederik Stevenson (I do know someone who knows him really well…I must ask), but I do know that I rate him as one of the best, if most under rated, winemakers in South Australia today. He’s based in Adelaide, and maybe that’s how he gets away with stamping his own style (Elegance and then more elegance) on Barossa fruit, which let’s face it, doesn’t usually do elegant! The blend is Mourvedre, Cinsault, Syrah and Grenache. Winemaking is simple and low intervention, whole bunch fermentation, ageing in used oak and just a tiny addition of sulphur at bottling. A complete wine, and easy to drink. Katie Shriner has produced lovely artwork for the label. I want the Benje but I also want this one really badly!!!
MALTBY & GREEK
This importer brings in both food and wine from Greece (check out their web site), specialising in usually small, artisan, quality producers. One of them (Kalathas) is one of my two favourite Greek producers.
“Alargo” Assyrtiko 2017, Douloufakis Winery, Crete This new wine is from Dafnes, on Crete. The vines are grown at 350 metres altitude, and are turned into wine by simple fermentation and ageing in stainless steel, but spending three months on lees. Not quite like a typical Santorini Assyrtiko, it has lemon with slightly herby flavours and a chalky texture on the tongue, rather than a mineral spine. Crete is increasingly getting its act together and producing lovely wines if you are prepared to pay artisan, as opposed to bulk wine, prices. In this case about £20.
Aa Assyrtiko-Athiri 2017, Domaine Sigalas, Santorini One of Assyrtiko’s finest exponents here blends Santorini’s signature variety with 25% Athiri. The vines on Santorini, like all of the volcanic islands off mainland Europe’s shores, were never struck by phylloxera, and so are ungrafted. Most observers do accept that such vines are capable of extra depth, particularly if they are also very old, as they are here. It’s all down to the producer. This is a wine of quite intense minerality, with citrus and peach running right through, the latter adding a bit of flesh to a taut frame. The fatter fruit is sensuous and the finish is like velvet.
“O Zontanos” Aspro Potamisi 2016, Domaine Kalathas, Tinos Jérôme Charles Binda established this wonderful domaine on Tinos, in the Cyclades, in 2011. He bottles a number of mainly autochthonous varieties under the Vin de Pays designation, but Aspro Potamisi has to be one of the rarest. I’ve never seen this cuvée before. It’s an orangey-pink wine with 14% abv, a bouquet of ethereal tangerine, with smooth and rounded, almost sweet (the alcohol?), apricot fruit satisfying the palate. Despite that alcohol I’m completely seduced.
Goumenissa 2015, Chatzivaritis Estate, Macedonia (Greece) Goumenissa is the slightly less well known alternative to neighbouring Naoussa in Northern Greece. The main grape variety is Xinomavro, and here it is blended with Negoska by winemaker Chloe Chatzivariti. Xinomavro is often called the Greek Nebbiolo and there can be similarities, as here. The aromas, however, are for me like tomatoes and olives with a touch of spice, very savoury, very gourmande. There’s a bit of cherry in there to add fruitiness, and certainly a coffee twist on the finish. This is really good, though the 15% alcohol is likely to creep up on you…I didn’t notice it, but I was spitting.
Swig Wine has been around for twenty-two years now and they have a massive reputation among wine obsessives for their well-honed buying prowess. They know their way around South Africa, and I’ve always been an enormous fan of Blank Bottle. I wasn’t going to include them, then I went and found a wine I’d never tried. But I’m no less passionate about Vignoble du Rêveur.
Vibrations Riesling 2017, Vignoble du Rêveur, Alsace Mathieu Deiss set up with his partner Emmanuelle Milan to farm seven hectares from his maternal grandfather, as a separate project from the famous family firm. This dry Riesling comes from alluvial soils at Bennwihr, with old vines approaching 50 years of age. It is fermented and aged in foudre with 12 months on lees. There is around 40m/g of sulphur added at bottling. Dry and easy to drink, you get genuine Riesling purity. I will buy any “Rêveur” wine I see on the shelf.
Blanc 2016, Domaine de L’Horizon, Roussillon (France) L’Horizon is based at Calce, on the edge of the Pyrenees. It doesn’t have a great concentration of fine winemakers for nothing (Gauby, Matassa, Pithon and Roc des Anges to name four) – the soils around this village are some of the most complex and exciting in France (it would take a page to list the soil types). Thomas Tiebert used to sell barrels and he came to Calce to set up his wine estate after meeting Gérard Gauby and falling for the place. This white is a blend of 70% Macabeu, 25% Grenache Gris and 5% Grenache Blanc, all biodynamic, much of the fruit off mainly chalk (unusual down here). Ageing is in old foudres. It’s very mineral with a honey and lemon strand, plus your usual garrigue herbs adding interest. Real mineral purity. Only 12% abv, not your usual southern sunshine scorcher at all.
Morgon Vielles Vignes 2017, Guy Breton, Beaujolais We had a wonderful 2017 Morgon from Julien Sunier in Part 1, and now we have another. “Petit Max”, as Guy is known, has a mere three hectares around Morgon, with the VV cuvée taking fruit from 80-y-o vines in the lieu-dits of Saint-Joseph and Le Grand Cras. There’s glorious depth of fruit with a tiny bit of funk (not the whole funk of Funkadelic…the cherries dominate). The granite gives the wine a bit of structure. Different from the Sunier but equally good Gamay.
Red Claw Pinot Noir 2017, Yabby Lake, Mornington Peninsula I’ll be right near Mornington soon but it doesn’t look as if my schedule will take me down there again, unless I’m remarkably lucky. It’s my favourite Australian region for Pinot Noir, and Yabby Lake makes very fine Pinot, the Red Claw coming from Teurong. All the “Red Claw” cuvées come from estate grown fruit, and this is pale and delicious with vibrant cool climate freshness made more complex by the wine’s savoury side. The overall picture is of a bright wine with a silky smooth texture. Classy is a good description.
Little William 2018, Blank Bottle Winery, South Africa Apparently this is Little William’s fourth vintage, I think, but in the time I’ve been regularly tasting Pieter Walser’s wines I’ve never seen it. We have Swartland Syrah from high up a pass on the Ceres Plateau (at 750 metres ASL). The region is very remote. This is an unusually pale, pure, Syrah at only 12.5% abv (a low record, eh, Pieter?). It’s just such a lovely wine, and though I give Pieter far too many plugs (he deserves them), I can’t help really bigging up this wine. One of the very best Blank Bottles I’ve tasted this year. For those who know Pieter, yes, there is a rather long story to this wine, involving a little boy by the roadside, and a snaking mountain pass (on the label). But now isn’t the time, and anyway, it’s the way he tells ’em. Damien, if you can persuade Henry/Cassie to get some in, I’d be grateful.
That’s the end of Part 2, a few more wines than in Part 1, but if you enjoyed the wines here then do go and follow the link at the top of the page.