The Out The Box “young importers” tasting took place on Tuesday 1 October at what has become its usual venue, The Crypt on the Green, beneath St James’s Church in Clerkenwell (London). The rather flattering name of this tasting event is actually pretty apt, because the importers who show here are reasonably young. The event brings together some of the smaller importers whose ranges are definitely among the most exciting available in the UK. I got absolutely soaked to the skin walking to the station and were it not for the opportunity to taste such interesting wines I’d probably have turned around and headed home for a warm shower. I’m glad I didn’t.
There were six importers showing in Clerkenwell. Part 1, here, will cover 266 Wines, Swig and Uncharted Wines. Part 2, which will follow, will cover Graft Wine Company (the newly amalgamated Red Squirrel Wines and The Knotted Vine), Carte Blanche Wines and Maltby & Greek.
266 Wines has only been going since March 2019. The company is run by Ben Slater (ex The Sampler), and its mission is to import interesting wines made without heavy manipulation. It was my first chance to taste a selection from the “266” portfolio and boy did they have some interesting stuff on show, not least the Georgian wines, including two sparklers, made by an ex-Champenois and his Georgian wife.
Champagne Charles Dufour “Bistrotage B10”, 2010 (Côtes des Bar) Charles Dufour established a 6ha estate at Landreville in 2010 when the family estate he was running was split up. He’s become a bit of a star, especially for his “Bulles de Comptoir”, but this new wine is made from a parcel owned by his mother, Françoise Martinot, at Celles-sur-Ource. The nose is stunning, I mean what a start to a tasting. 100% Pinot Noir aged in a mix of neutral barrel and stainless steel for a year before six years on lees in bottle, it has a slightly oxidised feel, bruised apples and soft autumn leaves under foot. Very vinous and gastronomic, and very likely of slightly lower pressure than some Champagnes. Nothing aggressive about it.
Ori Marani “Nino” Brut Nature NV (Igoeti, Shida Kartli, Georgia) This is the first of several wines, including two sparklers, from the Kartli Region of Central Eastern Georgia. Bastien Warskotte and his wife, Nino Gvantseladze, set up their domaine in 2017 and the wines, which only landed in the UK a week ago, are quite exciting. The limestone soils in Kartli are particularly good for sparkling wines, and Kartli, and Imereti where some fruit is sourced, are cooler than Kakheti to the northeast. The Nino cuvée is a three grape blend of Tsitska, Chinuri, and Goruli Mtsvane, which are all initially aged half in qvevri and half in neutral oak (I think this is the regime for all their wines). The period in bottle on lees was a year and a half and this cuvée was disgorged only at the end of August. There’s a lively bead and mousse, and flavours of frothy peach, nectarine and pear. It finishes dry.
Ori Marani “Areva” NV (Igoeti, Shida Kartli, Georgia) The previous wine might appeal to more traditional palates, and it is remarkably good, but this is the wine to try if you are a vinous adventurer. The blend is currently Takveri, Chinuri and Goruli Mtsvane, gently direct pressed and bottled in the January following harvest to preserve freshness and aromas. The wine is pink, verging on pale red and sealed under crown cap, with lower pressure creating a kind of petnat style. Honey from Imereti (where Bastien sources some fruit) is used for the liqueur to start the second fermentation and this comes through as a touch of richness on the palate. The dominant flavours are pomegranate, cranberry and strawberries. It’s slightly more unusual than it sounds, but I really have to get myself a bottle of this. It’s around £16 to the trade (DPD and ex VAT), ever so slightly cheaper than Nino.
Hiyu Wine Farm “Falcon Box” 2017 (Oregon, USA) This is a truly remarkable wine, though very expensive. It’s a blend of Pinots Noir, Meunier, Blanc and Gris, Aligoté, Chardonnay and Melon de Bourgogne, all from the far north of the Oregon, almost in Washington State. Hiyu is a 30-acre farm with pigs and cows, orchards, a market garden and just two hectares of vines, which are farmed without any synthetic chemical inputs whatsoever, using a mix of biodynamics and permaculture. They use oils and tisanes to combat disease. This wine is a field blend, apparently inspired by what the Corton Hill on the Côte de Beaune might have looked like before phylloxera.
This is so savoury. It has lovely balanced acids with a smoothness that helps it slip down. The problem is that you really want to savour this over time, and a tasting doesn’t allow for that. Mind you, I was lucky to taste it at all. It retails for £90/bottle at The Sampler and much as I would not dispute the price for such a unique wine, it is very much for those above my pay grade.
Ori Marani “Mariam” 2018 and Ori Marani “Nita” 2018 (Kakheti, Georgia) These are two still wines made by Bastien Warskotte at Igeoti (see above), proving he has wider talents than merely those imposed by his Champenois origins. “Mariam” is made with Chinuri sourced from Okami, Lamiskana and Kartli, with three weeks on skins, aged partly in qvevri which keeps the fruit pure and allows the lees to circulate, and partly in neutral oak barrels which add complexity and a different kind of texture. Even the nose is textured here. The wine is broad and rounded, and there’s more texture on the tongue. As with most Chinuri, it makes for a versatile food wine.
“Nita” is a red blend from Chumlaki and Kakheti fruit. The varieties are Saperavi (40%) and Rkatsiteli (20%) plus Cabernet Sauvignon (40%). Only 500 bottles were made of a light and luminous palish red in a “fruit juice” style. Cranberry, strawberry and raspberry fruit and a little grip to ground it. Delicious.
Weingut Schmelzer Zweigelt 2015 (Burgenland, Austria) This is yet another interesting biodynamic and natural producer based in Gols, on the northern shore of the Neusiedlersee. Since 2013 no sulphur has been added to any of the Schmelzer wines. This Zweigelt is off loamy soils and is aged in neutral oak. The style is fresh and pure, which is how I like my Zweigelt, but there is a little bit of grippy texture which adds a degree of structure. This wine scores on great value for money (just under £10 DPD, ex VAT).
Artuke “Artuke” Rioja 2018 and Artuke “Paso Las Mañas” 2017 (Rioja, Spain) This is a new find by Ben, a Rioja producer based in the Alavesa village of Baños de Ebro and I will provide a note on two of the Artuke wines which make for a good contrast. The cuvée named after the producer is a carbonic maceration Rioja from the Alavesa sub-district. It may be a youthful wine with dark and red berry flavours to the fore, but it comes from a single site and biodynamic fruit. It’s like glass-coating, joven, cherry drops. Pretty cheap at around £12 retail.
Paso Las Mañas is quite different and a more serious proposition. It comes from Artuke’s highest altitude vines, is darker (in colour and tone), and is glass-coatingly big and already hinting at complexity. Definitely a terroir wine, with tobacco flavours peeking out behind the fruit, and this is because Artuke avoid negating terroir with oak and over extraction (as can be the case with modern Rioja). This cuvée is one of the “purest” styles of Rioja you are likely to come across but, I think, quite serious stuff.
Although that’s the last wine from 266, I have to admit frustrating embarrassment…there were two wines on a final page of the tasting book which I missed. They were Smokeshop Band Spring Ephemeral Grenache (Oregon) and Scholium Project “1MN” Cinsault. If only I could go back and taste those, but I can’t. They are more than worth looking out for.
Ben Slater of 266 Wines with partner Dawn Mannis of The Sampler
Swig has been going longer than many, but their youthfulness doesn’t lie in the time they’ve been around, but in the energy the folks here put into sourcing some of the most exciting wines in the room. I know Swig’s portfolio pretty well, and the task when tasting here is not to just hit the wines I love and miss new producers. I think I managed partial success.
Badenhorst “Papegaai” 2018 (Swartland, South Africa) The inexpensive Cape Parrot blend from Adi Badenhorst is irresistible. Chenin Blanc dominates (80%), but with a lot more added by the Palomino, Roussanne, Verdelho and Grenache Blanc. At 12.5% abv it majors on freshness, but it has a little weight as well. Classic pear and quince, finishing with a pebbly texture that adds something extra.
Vignoble du Rêveur “Artisan” 2018 (Alsace, France) Of all the lovely wines made by Matthieu Deiss and Emmanuelle Milan, from Bennwihr fruit, this is my favourite, so I was very happy to taste the latest vintage. It was bottled in August and isn’t yet officially released. Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer are harvested together and macerated ten days on skins before gentle pressing into concrete tank for fermentation. The grapes are picked ripe but ensuring no bunches have botrytis. No sulphur is added. It’s an orange wine, but not one with really overt texture. The smooth fruit is redolent of tangerine orange and grapefruit, with perhaps a more tropical side as well. Long and satisfying, I hope I can find some before it’s all gone.
Guy Breton Beaujolais-Villages “Marylou” 2018 (Beaujolais, France) This is one of Guy’s entry level wines, named after his daughter. The key to its appeal lies in very healthy grapes, from young vines (young for Breton at 30-50 years of age), harvested from his plots at 450 metres, above the Côte de Py at Saint-Joseph, just outside the Morgon Appellation. Pure bright cherry results from two-weeks of carbonic fermentation. The juice is super clean, with no lees after gentle pressing. An extra dimension comes from a bit of spice and a little grip. Gorgeous stuff, Beaujolais just as Jules Chauvet would have wanted.
Lourens Family “Howard John” 2017 (Western Cape, South Africa) Franco Lourens, who learnt his trade with Adi Badenhorst and is also an assistant Winemaker with Chris Alheit, has sourced fruit all over Western Cape for this impressive red blend of Cinsaut, Grenache, Syrah and Carignan, and has named it after his father. The wine sees nine months in older oak, is very bright and has a mix of concentrated cherry fruit and a touch of olive and garrigue (or should I say Fynbos?). It has a touch of the Languedoc about it, also enough tannin to suggest it will age a little further, perhaps.
Domaine de Maupertuis Bourgogne “Les Brûlis” 2017 (Burgundy, France) This is not the Auvergne domaine of Jean Maupertuis, but don’t be disappointed. This domaine is based at Saint-Bris, near Chablis, in Burgundy’s far north, and a region from which increasingly interesting wines are coming. The Pinot Noir vines for this cuvée are thirty years old and the wine is given six months on lees (no oak) to give us a wine that has lovely fruit character, quite elegant and not at all lacking ripeness, but with restraint too. It’s a lighter style, and for “Burgundy” is pretty good value (£13.35 to trade, ex VAT). In many ways a much better bet than a cheaper Bourgogne Rouge from the Côte d’Or, I’d suggest.
Domaine L’Horizon Côtes Catalanes “Mar y Muntanya” 2018 (Roussillon, France) This is a long-time favourite Roussillon estate of mine. Based in Calce, up the Agly Valley in the hills northwest of Perpignan, Tomas Teibert (whose father-in-law is Franz Stockinger, of the famous Austrian cooperage) makes increasingly lauded wines from very old vine stock. The region is packed with other great producers (Pithon, Roc des Anges, Matassa and Gauby to name just four) and Tomas was helped very much by Gérard Gauby when he was starting out. “Mar y Muntanya” is made from 45% Syrah, 45% Carignan and 10% Grenache. It’s not perhaps what you might expect of this wild garrigue. Made by semi-carbonic maceration, it has a lightness and elegance, but the fruit is mouthfilling, all the more satisfying after the intense perfumes of the wine’s bouquet. It’s essentially a wine of terroir, but with a lighter, and perhaps more modern, touch.
La Vigne des Pères “Petit Père” 2016 (Saint-Joseph , France) I’m sure some of you have read several reviews of the Champagnes of Bruno Paillard on my site, usually presented in London by his daughter, Alice. Well this estate is run by Bruno’s son/Alice’s brother, Aymeric Paillard. After making some winemaking travels with his wife he worked a while with Delas Frères and Stéphane Ogier, before managing to purchase vines near Tournon, opposite the Hermitage Hill on the Rhône’s right bank. These vines had suffered terribly from rot and other fungal diseases and the vineyard took a lot of work to rejuvenate.
Now in good health, the vines, interplanted with herbs and flowers and worked by a horse called “tartiflette”, produce a gorgeous, and I must say impressive, Syrah. Farming is organic but not advertised as such. There are tannins and structure, as one would expect from a serious attempt at St-Jo, but the wine is so pure, and I thought the fruit was pretty amazing…blackcurrant, pepper, herbs. A new name to follow in the Northern Rhône, for sure.
Rupert Taylor founded one of the most innovative wine companies for many years when he left a famous name importer to concentrate on something he’d been developing for a while – wine on tap (aka keg wine). The idea that quality wine can be purveyed just like beer, from a “tap” in a bar, was quite revolutionary at the time. Now it is commonplace and much of that is down to Rupert and his team. As Uncharted Wines has developed they have also added more wines in bottle, but the sense of adventure which came with the keg wines has filtered through into this more traditional delivery method. Nothing is short of excitement.
Rupert with Miss Wine Car Boot, Ruth Spivey
The keg wine samples were mostly all freshly splashed into clear sparkling wine bottles for tasting. This meant that the wines were all able to show of their best. I began by tasting Domaine Rougeot Bourgogne Aligoté 2018 made in the modern style, ie fresh and fruity without any piercing battery acid. It’s very good, and perhaps the ideal wine bar wine for late summer into autumn. Another cracking white, straight from the keg, was Hans Wimmer-Czerny Grüner Veltliner “House Wine” 2018 from Fels in the Wagram region, which many will know is somewhere that quality has rocketed in recent years. This is a wine normally bottled in litres, so it’s obviously a simple wine for glugging. It adapts really well to the 20-litre keg format. Biodynamic, unfiltered, light and refreshing.
The best of the white wines in keg was probably Westwell Wines Ortega 2018, from Kent in England. The fruity-floral nose characteristic of Ortega but with something else akin to buttered toast haunts the bouquet. On the palate it’s straight and fresh grapefruit with a good lick of refreshing acidity which doesn’t intrude. I’d buy this in a bar if I was thirsty, and it would go nicely as a half-pint. If, as I think is the case, it’s the same wine as the Westwell Ortega that doesn’t go into amphora, then it has 11.5% alcohol.
Sybille Kuntz Riesling Kabinett Trocken 2015 (Mosel, Germany) Sybille Kuntz is an exciting producer based in Lieser, a neighbour of Thomas Haag at the Schloss. I’ve followed her wines for several years and recently some of the big boy (or rather, girl) wine writers have been taking notice. I feel wholly vindicated. Note the vintage here. 2015 was a superb Mosel vintage, one of the best in recent years. Acidities were good and so this Kabinett Trocken has been able to age. It has a big bouquet and an explosive palate, a lovely wine even at this level. 12% abv, but don’t look for the delicacy of its prädikat sibling.
Succés Vinicola “Expériencia” 2018 (Conca de Barberà, Spain) Mariona Vendrell and Albert Canela studied winemaking together at Tarragona and were only 20 years old when they set up their estate from vines owned by Albert’s family in 2011. I met this engaging young couple at a tasting in Soho almost a year ago to this day (3 October 2018). There I tasted “Expériencia” 2017. The 2018 is still 100% Parellada from Conca fruit, coming in at a nicely balanced 12% abv. It has a bit of texture because half the fruit is direct pressed and half has some skin contact. Lovely. Although there’s no photo, Uncharted also had their Cuca du Llum 2017 on taste. This is a light red made in the glouglou style from a very promising local variety, Trépat, with nice crunchy fruit. These inexpensive wines are a real find.
Hermit Ram Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (Canterbury, New Zealand) Theo Coles must make the most interesting wines in New Zealand, surely? This is Sauvignon Blanc so removed from the usual “savalanche” norm that it is unrecognisable. In fact some might think it is unrecognisable as wine. The bouquet is peachy (honestly) at first, before you smell the scent of deep gooseberry. It sees a very long but gentle skin maceration, so it’s not too textured and it is fairly linear. But its cloudy goodness reveals something complex, with a savoury umami element. I love The Hermit Ram, possibly my favourite range of wines that Uncharted sells.
Red from keg…
Domaine Rougeot Bourgogne-Passetoutgrain 2018 (Burgundy, France) This traditional blend of Gamay (30%) and Pinot Noir (70%) is just what you wish all Passetoutgrain could be, “smashable”. Both varieties are harvested together (I believe the co-planted vines are south of Meursault, towards the main D974 road), and co-fermented too, as whole bunches. The result is fruity, no more, no less but from a keg, absolutely on the nail.
Le Grappin Côtes du Rhône 2017 I don’t actually know where the grapes come from, and I ran out of time to email Emma or Andrew today, but if it’s the same fruit as their bottles and bagnums, then it may be from down at Nyons (in the Drôme, close to Vinsobres). Their commitment to keg has been consistent, and their wines, with forward fruit and good acid balance, seem just made for the medium. Rupert did say that this cuvée is best glugged fresh from the keg (it was delivered on tap here). It has a lovely hi-toned fruit bouquet and is just so refreshing. In so many ways this is just what keg wine is all about.
And from bottle…
Westwell Wines “Field” 2018 is another triumph from Adrian Pike, near Ashford in Kent. I hardly ever get so geeky as to give clone numbers, but Adrian feels it’s important to know that the Pinot Noir in this blend is clone 667 and the Chardonnay is 96. I feel as out of my depth on this as Noel Fielding pretends to be on the Bake-Off. The grapes ferment in open top stainless steel and have a tiny bit of sulphur added at bottling, that’s all. The wine is rich in the scents of strawberry and apple with a touch of the old herbs from somewhere deep within. The palate has cherry, strawberry and pepper. Only 1,000 bottles of this lovely wine were made and I like it very much, thank you. The unpressed skins went to Burning Sky Brewery to make a saison beer.