Part 1 of my Out The Box 2019 article covered three of the importers who were showing their wines in Clerkenwell last Tuesday: 266 Wines, Swig and Uncharted Wines. If you haven’t yet read Part 1 you will find it via the link here. This second part covers wines from Graft Wine Company, Carte Blanche Wines and Maltby & Greek.
GRAFT WINE COMPANY
Graft Wine Co was born from the coming together, in summer 2019, of Red Squirrel and The Knotted Vine, two very highly respected wine importers in their own right. David Knott and Nick Darlington and their respective staff seem to be a good match, and there are plenty of synergies between them and what they had previously been trying to achieve. Red Squirrel in particular has expanded quite a lot in recent years and I hope the future continues to be bright for them.
Black Chalk Classic Cuvée 2015 and Black Chalk Wild Rose 2016 (Hampshire, UK) Black Chalk is the label of Jacob Leadley, who purchases fruit from trusted local growers in and around the Test Valley, not far from Winchester. In a short space of time, Jacob has established Black Chalk as possibly the most exciting new label for English sparkling wine. He makes two cuvées.
Classic Cuvée 2015 is a blend of the three main “Champagne” varieties, whose character I think is determined by four things. Well selected fruit is essential, the judicious use of oak and time on lees are also important. But I would add that the Pinot Meunier he uses with confidence, a variety so misunderstood by casual “Champagne” lovers, adds a lovely ripeness which balances the crisp acidity. It helps create real harmony here.
Mind you, I think that the rosé cuvée, Wild Rose 2016, is even better. I recently drank the Wild Rose 2015 (it will get a full note in an article on recent wines next week). I said I had never drunk a “better” English Sparkling Wine. At the time one or two people suggested that the 2016 is even better. Well it’s a touch less developed right now, and I do love Jacob’s ’15s, but it is glorious. Don’t just believe me, the 2016 won “Gold” at the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships 2019. The raspberry and strawberry fruit is lifted here by that signature crispness. It seems less opulent than the ’15 right now, but it will develop with a little more time in bottle. Still stunning though.
Polperro Chardonnay 2017 (Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia) Mornington Peninsula, on the coast close to Melbourne, has a maritime climate that allows for genuine vintage variation. This single vineyard (near Red Hill) Chardonnay, from the very highly rated 2017 vintage, saw 10% new oak, the rest aged in second year barrels. So you get some vanilla, and 13.7% abv, yet it’s not as big as you’d think. It has the freshness characteristic of the best wines of the Peninsula. There’s smooth lemon and peach fruit with some classy (not too overt) nutty flavours. The wine’s character is influenced by the vineyard, which is up on the ridge at Red Hill at around 280-metres, the highest point on the Peninsula. See below for their Pinot Noir.
Sigurd Chenin Blanc 2018 (Clare Valley, South Australia) Aussie Chenin…you know how I like something different. Dan Graham gave this ten days on skins, then fermented it in ceramic egg. You can tell the variety easily, but as we are in Clare it has that freshness and precision, making it taste modern, and maybe a little unique. As does its restrained 11.7% alcohol content. Lovely and refreshing.
Koerner Rolle 2018 (Clare Valley, South Australia) Now I go back a way with Damon and Jono Koerner’s Vermentino wines (or Pigato as some prefer). They are a unique expression of the grape and, for me, are very Australian, rather than Mediterranean. The bouquet is clean. They use a little oak, plus ceramics, but that oak comes through more on the palate, which has a breadth to it, a decent bit of texture (though the oak softens it a little), all wrapped in nice acidity, a Clare trait (they are based at Leasingham, at the bottom end of the valley, just south of Watervale). This might just be Australia’s best rendition of the variety, though I can’t recall others using the Rolle synonym.
Damian Pinon Vouvray “Clos Tenau” 2014 (Loire, France) Damien Pinon runs the family Domaine de la Poultière at Vernou-sur-Brienne. Clos Tenau is a single vineyard old vine cuvée, 100% Chenin of course, which is vinified half in barrique and half in concrete egg. The wine is aged in their traditional cellars cut into the soft tuffeau rock, and this wine is five years old, showing nice development. It began life with twenty months on lees, and this contributes to a complex nose, with depth. The palate is a little oily in texture, but with nice lemon zip. The lees and the tuffeau terroir add up to a pleasant soft mineral texture which has doubtless softened in bottle and will soften more. A very nice bottle, but worth splashing into a carafe, to give it some air, and serve it not too cold.
Morgado do Quintão Vinhas Velhas Branco 2017 (Algarve, Portugal) Filipe Vasconcellos inherited this estate which was quite rare in modern day Algarve. Why? Filipe’s mother had never pulled up the traditional grape varieties, where so many others had done so to replace them with the international varieties which now appear ubiquitous in southern Portugal. This old vine cuvée is made from Crato Branco (aka Roupeiro, from the Malvasia family), which I’m guessing only a few readers will know. It’s one of those wines which combines fruit and savoury in one mouthful. Aged in traditional old oak, it has tension and vitality, a wine to drink now when fresh or to allow to pick up more complexity with age. The winemaker, incidentally, is Joana Maçanita, sister of Antonio, of Azores Wine Company fame. There’s a nice rosado too, made from a blend of Negra Mole (aka Negramoll) and Crato Branco.
Clos Cibonne Rosé Tradition 2017 and Clos Cibonne Tradition Rouge 2017 The rosé cuvée is legend, especially when served from magnum (as here). There are several pink wines which warrant a very serious appraisal (Tondonia, Musar, Ch. Simone…), and this is certainly on that list. The main variety is Tibouren, a very old autochthonous Provençal grape which is very hard to grow, but was revived back in the 1930s here at Cibonne. To this is added 10% Grenache, largely to allow it to qualify for the Côtes de Provence AOP. Such an elegant wine, with budding complexity, whose ripe fruit masks the fact that this is seriously ageworthy. You should buy some…in mag.
The red cuvée has the same encépagement as the rosé. It has a more savoury, herbal, character and some finely grained tannins, but unlike the rosé, and perhaps counter-intuitively, it is recommended that you drink the red sooner rather than keeping it. I think it’s a lovely red which I know goes well with herby, and mildly spiced, vegetarian dishes (seared aubergines come to mind).
Polperro Pinot Noir 2017 (Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia) Sam Coverdale is the winemaker at Polperro, using biodynamic viticulture and the diversity of the great micro-climates (Polperro has eight sites here on Mornington) of this maritime-influenced strip of land, to fashion complex wines. This Pinot comes in at 13.2% abv which lifts the ripe fruit of the 2017 vintage, but beneath lie savoury depths which make this one impressive red…if you like the Mornington style (I do), which at its best walks a tightrope between richness and restraint (not every winery here gets it consistently right). The fruit is ripe enough to drink now, with food, but the fine grained tannins will allow it to evolve in bottle. If I make it down to the MP soon I shall be paying Sam a visit (and I see they have a well regarded restaurant too).
Koerner La Korse 2018 (Clare Valley, South Australia) If your interest was piqued by the Koerner Vermentino/Rolle, then take a look at this bad boy. Sangiovese (60%), Sciaccarello (20%), Grenache (15%) and Malbec (5%) make up an unusual blend with a nod in the direction of Corsica. I’m not sure I’d place this wine there if tasted blind as it doesn’t have that savoury, herbal, garrigue bite, but it is nevertheless a delicious wine. The grapes get a whole berry ferment and, as is their wont at Koerner, ageing in a mix of half old oak, half ceramic egg. It gives what for me is an early drinking wine in a vibrant fruit-forward style.
CARTE BLANCHE WINES
Carte Blanche celebrates a decade in the wine business this year. It must say something for their standing that they seem to have been around for longer. It must be so difficult for all these smaller importers trying to get their wines into restaurants and wine shops when the larger importers are an all too easy option for their proprietors, but when you see how much more interesting some of these wines are you would hope they take note. If you want to excite your customers then straying into the Out The Box Tasting every year is surely the way to go?
Ancre Hill Blanc de Noirs NV (Monmouthshire, Wales) If you want something different, then Welsh wine, surely? But different isn’t enough, is it. Ancre Hill thankfully makes amazing wines, some of them highly innovative. This is effectively their classic sparkler, made from 100% biodynamic (in Wales!) Pinot Noir by the “traditional method” (ie bottle fermented and disgorged). It has a lovely bouquet, at one moment floral but then with apple peel coming through. There’s a slight touch of brioche but the main sensation right now is of refreshing, thirst quenching fruit, reminding me of crisp mountain apples (for which, especially in Nepal, I have a real fondness). I know that with time it takes on a more honeyed edge. It retails for a reasonably steep £40-ish, but don’t be put off by the price – it’s a very classy bottle.
Vincent Caillé “Fay d’Homme” Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2018 (Loire/Pays Nantais, France) When Vincent took over in 1986 Muscadet was at a low ebb. He was one of a band of producers who could see that the only way forward was the pursuit of uncompromising quality. That is what you get here. Vincent was one of the first to convert all his considerable 25ha to organic farming, and is currently undergoing trials with biodynamics, despite the notoriously wet Atlantic climate here.
The Melon de Bourgogne vines at Monnières are on gneiss. Fermentation lasts around 20 days, after which the wine rests on lees until the following spring. There’s no avoiding the M-word here (minerality), and why should we! But this is also Muscadet with a difference. There’s acidity but it is more softly spoken than many. The lees character also gives it a savoury slant that I really like.
Christelle Guibert Terre de Gabbro Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine 2017 (Loire/Pays Nantais, France) Many readers will know Christelle, a former wine journalist and Tastings Director at Decanter Magazine who now, among other things, makes Muscadet with Vincent Caillé (see above), as well as a gorgeous but elusive Muscat orange wine from Itata in Chile.
This Muscadet is made in a béton ovoïde, a concrete egg which looks rather like a 1950s idea of a Mars Lander (I’ve see red tin models that look just like this grey receptacle). Terre de Gabbro comes from seven tiny parcels which don’t add up to more than a hectare. Biodynamic methods are followed. The wine is frankly superb. The nose is so alive, and the palate has a softness, even softer than the “Fay” above. It’s also impressively long for a Muscadet generally. Just 1,450 bottles made.
Weingut Thörle Saulheimer Kalkstein Riesling 2017 (Rheinhessen, Germany) There’s little about the Thörle labels to draw you to the wine. I drank my first a few years ago, a Spätburgunder on a recommendation, and didn’t stop. Christoph and Johannes Thörle are brothers who introduced biodynamics to the family domaine at Saulheim in Central Rheinhessen, south of Mainz. The vines from the Kalkstein site are up to sixty years old. Vinification is in stainless steel and ageing is in traditional large old oak, but they use some skin maceration and short fermentations to keep the wines fruity, whilst helping them to live up to the textural image a site named “Kalkstein” suggests. The feel here is of two young brothers wanting to forge a new name in quality, in a region where quality seems to have won through over past mediocrity.
Camille Braun Edelzwicker NV (Alsace, France) I attempt to keep on top of Alsace, one of the French regions I’ve long been in love with (the landscape as much as its wines), but Camille Braun is a name I have never come across. The estate is based in Orschwihr, in the south of the Bas-Rhin Department. The village sits in the shadow of the Vosges a little north of Guebwiller and just south of the Grand Cru Zinnkoepflé. The estate was founded by Camille in the 1960s, and is now run by Camille’s son, Christophe. He farms 13ha of vines, made up of thirty-or-so different parcels and what you get here is pretty much a wine per parcel. Today biodynamics is the methodology (Demeter Certified).
The traditional Edelzwicker blend is mainly made in this case from Pinot Blanc (45%) and Sylvaner (35%), with some Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Chasselas. Edelzwicker used to have a bad name but that has been turned on its head as blends become more serious in terms of quality and the care taken in their making. But this still remains a fruity wine to consume within a year or two, and I reckon you can guess the cold dishes from the region which it would accompany to perfection. Camille also suggests it would make a good base for a liqueur (rather like a kir, although Alsace can provide some quite adventurous further fruit options beyond cassis in this department).
Ca di Mat “Valautin” 2017 (Sierra de Gredos, Spain) This is from the same guys, Jesús Olivares and Curro Bareño, who are behind the Fidellos de Couto wines, which another prominent importer of Spanish wines brings into the UK. Apparently the soils here, in the mountains of Central Spain, are not dissimilar to those they work with in Galicia (three types of granite). The vines are at altitudes of between 800 to 850 masl and here the weather is quite wet and windy. Ancient bush vines hug the terrain and yield as few bunches as they can get away with.
The wine begins with a bouquet that has real punch, quite surprising as the juice looks pale. This is how Garnacha should look, of course. Strawberry and other red fruits seem to float over some structure and a little power. There’s grip as well. Don’t be fooled. This pale creature packs 14.5% alcohol and it’s as delicious a wine as you would expect from this talented partnership.
Ca di Mat “Fuente de los Huertos” 2017 (Sierra de Gredos, Spain) This second cuvée is also 100% Garnacha, from a different single vineyard. The colour is slightly deeper, more brick red (or at least in the subdued light of the crypt). However, this cuvée only carries 13.5% alcohol. This perhaps assists the bouquet in delivering a little more elegance, but it is nevertheless not without a certain tannic structure. What makes it for me is the underlying fruit, Gredos Garnacha being capable of something very special, as we know from other more famous sources.
Domaine L’Ecu “Mephisto” Vin de France 2015 (Pays Nantais, France) If you know Guy Bossard, who created this domaine, near Landreau in the Western Loire, you’ll probably know the famous Muscadet cuvées Orthogneiss, Gneiss and Granite. If you are come lately to the domaine, then you may be more likely to recognise the unforgettable label of “Mephisto”, a Cabernet Franc made in oak and amphora by current winemaker and Bossard’s disciple, Fred van Herck, who finally took over the reigns here fully in 2014. There are only around two-hundred-dozen of this biodynamic wonder made every year, and it is probably as good as any Loire Cabernet Franc you can care to mention at its best.
It’s an elegant terroir wine which, after a few years ageing here, has the complexity of both red fruits (pomegranate and cranberry), dark fruits (especially blackberry) along with typical violets on the nose with hints of cloves and tobacco. It’s the combination of violets and more savoury elements on the nose which remind me how Cabernet Franc is capable of matching Pinot Noir in transporting the taster to vinous heaven even before sipping the wine. If you can find a bottle do keep it a few years.
Cancedda O’Connell “G.n. Guerra” 2018 (Sardinia, Italy) I’ve known Mick a while and I can’t say I’m totally objective about his wines, but they are rather marvellous. I recall tasting his first (2015) vintage at Winemakers Club and being a bit nonplussed when John told me the maximum I could buy of this astonishing wine was two bottles. I had no idea he’d only made 350 bottles in total. There are nowadays a few more of this Garnacha (the desired name of the cuvée would be “Garnacha not Guerra”), precisely 1,200. The fruit is grow up at 700 metres asl in the north of the island where Mick has settled with his Sardinian wife.
Whole bunches are foot trodden to make a wine which for the 2018 (it said 2017 in the tasting book…one of several errors and typos) has just 12% abv from early picking in a cooler vintage (which Mick described as being as cool and damp as it gets in Sardinia), but it still has big, almost massive, fruit. I love it. It combines a serious side (definite ageability if required) with something you can knock back for pleasure, not “education”. For 2019 Mick will be releasing a few bottles of a new wine, a Vermentino. Cannot wait.
Avant Garde Wines Smiley NV (Swartland, South Africa) The grapes for this beguiling wine come from all over Swartland. The current blend, which does change with the vintage, is based on Grenache, Cinsaut and Syrah, but we are assured there are others. It’s one of those South Africans which slips easily into the glou category of easy fruit and no harsh edges, but I wouldn’t call it a light wine. You get pretty concentrated fruit, and 13.5% alcohol. The fruit is smooth but it’s not devoid of a little grippy tannin…just a little bit. 7,500 bottles are made, so it’s quite easy to find, and you get a drawing of a dead sheep’s skull on the label. What not to like?
MALTBY & GREEK
I tasted some more wines from Maltby & Greek quite recently, back in September, at the “Dirty Dozen” tasting and I’m slowly getting to know their range better. The “Maltby” part of the name derives from their original location in Bermondsey’s Maltby Street Market. That was back in 2012, from which time this purveyor of Greek food and wine has grown. The focus has remained, for both food and wine, on (mostly) small, certainly artisan, producers. The wines are predominantly made from indigenous grapes and represent the true traditions of both mainland Greece and her diverse island cultures.
I hope you excuse my re-tasting of a couple of wines from that event, two very good wines…not everyone reads every article I write. The remaining wines are not duplicates, and although Greek Wine is not my speciality, I’m very interested and I’d truly like to see it gain more coverage in the UK. The quality, as with Swiss Wine, is definitely there.
Douloufakis Winery (Dafnes, Crete, Greece)
I’ve chosen to highlight this Cretan winery with three wines because, having tasted one in September, I was most impressed. If Greek wine is currently having something of a burst in the spotlight, then wine from Crete is a little way behind. There’s no reason why. The island has some very promising autochthonous grape varieties, and this third generation producer (Nikos Douloufakis), based about 20km from the capital, Heraklion, is one of the best I’ve tried.
“Dafnios” White 2017 – This wine is made from the Vidiano variety, an autochthonous Cretan variety which many people have been (rightly) getting quite excited about. It has the potential to gain the sort of reputation for Crete that Assyrtiko has for Santorini, except that there’s a lot less Vidiano planted around the Aegean. Many think that Vilana is Crete’s star white variety, but if so then Vidiano isn’t far behind. Some call it the Greek Viognier, probably because of its apricot and peachy scent, but here it has much more – a textured mouthfeel, melon and stone fruit flavours, and a creaminess. It’s a medium-bodied wine with restrained acidity, and with a DPD/ex VAT price under £10 represents great value for a wine which would interest a lot of drinkers.
“Alargo White 2017” – Talking of Assyrtiko, if you want a different take on Greece’s most famous white variety, try this. The grapes are grown at around 350 masl, and undergo a simple fermentation, then ageing, in stainless steel, but with three months on lees. You get lemon, herbs and a chalky texture, yet not with quite the texture that Santorini’s volcanic terroir produces. It has a lemon-lime lip-smacking quality but a breadth on the palate too.
“Dafnios” Red 2017 – What I like about the Douloufakis wines, aside from their being fairly inexpensive, is that they are modern wines that retain an air of tradition. This red, from the native Liatiko variety, hits just that spot. It’s fruit forward but with an underlying herb and spice thing going on, that does remind you of the smells of Greek mountains in late spring (though I haven’t visited Crete itself). Quite simple but rather nice. Liatiko, with its own PDO, is a very ancient variety on Crete, and I love the producer’s confidence that it is capable of making a wine worthy of export markets.
Domaine de Kalathas “Notias” 2016 (?) (Tinos, Cyclades, Greece) Tinos is roughly on a line East of Athens before you reach Sámos, or just north of Mykonos. It is where, in 2011, Jérôme Charles Binda established what has become, as I’ve said many times, one of my favourite two Greek domaines. The wine listed for tasting at this event was his wonderful Saint-Obeissance 2017, but as that is currently sold out we had this wine instead. Why the question mark over the vintage? I didn’t note it on the back label at the time and the 2016 is the vintage which is currently listed on the M&G web site.
We have here an extremely interesting orange wine, made from the Aspro Potamisi variety. You’ll notice that it is sub-titled “Vent d’Affrique”. It’s because Jérôme says it reminds him of the warm winds that blow up from Africa. The grapes get a cold soak maceration and are then foot trodden and gently pressed. They go into stainless steel to ferment for about two months.
This is a food wine, and one to serve cool but not chilled. The flavours of orange peel and bitter, fragrant, bergamot, spices and a layer of creaminess combine with a little tannin, so I’m not sure you’ll be opening this at apéritif time. It’s a grown up wine, contemplative and if you sit and ponder over it, very satisfying. But I’m a convert. If you buy one Greek wine from this importer, then be adventurous and try this one.
I’ve been trying to taste more of the reds here, because winter is coming, after all. So here are five more Greek reds to finish…
Chatzivaritis Estate Negoska Carbonic 2018 (Macedonia, Greece) Negoska is another Greek variety you may not have come across, but it is well known in Central Macedonia, where it can be blended with Xinomavro in the Goumenissa PDO, and Chloe Chatzivariti (sic) does produce a Goumenissa red, which I tasted back in September at the Dirty Dozen. Here, Negoska has been treated to carbonic, whole berry, fermentation, which the hi-toned, thrusting, cherry fruit on the nose gives away immediately. This is a more fruit-forward wine for early drinking and is nicely judged.
For those who didn’t read the Dirty Dozen article, that Goumenissa 2015 (said blend of a little Negoska with the main variety, Xinomavro) was showing real depth at this tasting. The bouquet is ripe, but there are more herbal notes here, and more grippy, grainy, tannins. Some bottle age shows in its more savoury tertiary notes, but it seems as if it will develop further. Whenever I drink Macedonian reds like Goumenissa or Náoussa I’m so often transported to an autumnal Piemonte of mists and leaf detritus. Where this wine differs is in the notes of black olive which come through on the finish. This time I didn’t get any “tomato” though! But beware, the alcohol will creep up on you.
Diamantis Winery Xinomavro 2016 (Macedonia, Greece) Diamantis, from the Western (Greek) Macedonian region of Siatista (this must be “Zítsa” in the M&B Wine Atlas, surely), makes this 100% Xinomavro from bush vines planted on a rocky limestone terroir up at 850 to 950 masl, in mountains once famous for their wines (apparently) but relatively unknown today. Well, I’d never heard of the region. This is a “selection”. The wine has a bright ruby colour, medium body and especially vibrant and lively red fruits on the palate. It’s a delicious wine and a lovely example of pure Xinomavro. Don’t be put off by the rather staid and traditional label.
Vourvoukelis Estate “Limnio” 2016 and “Mavroudi ” 2017 (Thrace, Greece) I don’t see a lot of Thracian wine, certainly not from “Greek Thrace” in the country’s northeast (the Turkish part of Thrace also makes wine). Avdira is another once famous wine region, said to be known for its wine in the time of Homer, whose wines almost disappeared. Along with Maronia, these vineyards once supplied the needs of Constantinople (Byzantium). Nick and Flora Vourvoukeli decided to revive them back in 1999, and today their sons run a large organic estate which has grown to 100ha, with wines mainly under the Xanthi PDO. The two wines below are from these named native varieties.
Limnio is one of the native grape varieties revived here. The vines are on chalky limestone, and are fermented in stainless steel with around a week’s skin contact, before short ageing in oak for six months on lees. The wine is packed with raspberry, and pleasantly tart forest fruits which taste of the cool breezes blowing in from the Black Sea. It doesn’t lack tannin, though and is quite spicy on the finish.
Mavroudi is a black skinned variety (not related, I’m told, to the better known Mavrud of Bulgaria) and is generally stated as the most famous variety of Ancient Thrace. This wine is selected fruit from the estate’s best sites. The bouquet is almost sweet, with wisps of darker fruits. The palate shows elegant fruit but firm tannins.
Given time in bottle I think both of these wines could be magnificent, but I don’t claim to have remotely the experience to know for certain, and I have my doubts that many people will give them the time they deserve. This is so often the fate of wines which people don’t know well, or in fact which are relatively inexpensive for their actual quality. Nevertheless, I’d love to try a fully mature bottle of either. I would really recommend trying some of the Greek wines, either from Maltby & Greek, or their fellow purveyors of Greek Wine, Southern Wine Roads. There is a rich seam to be plundered.