You’ve probably noticed how frantically I have been writing recently, with so many of September’s round of tastings to get through. Now is the time to reflect what I’ve been drinking at home in the past month, but I really am going to limit myself to one dozen bottles this time, tempting as it is to include a few more. Below you can read about wines from The Loire and The Ardèche in France, three different Austrian Regions, Australia, mainland and island Spain, England, Switzerland, The Czech Republic and Nepal. Remember, these are the most interesting wines I drank during September, the wines I think most of my readers will be interested in reading about. They are not necessarily the objective best. The wine from Nepal is a case in point, but it earns its place.
GROS PLANT DU PAYS NANTAIS SUR LIE “FOLLE BLANCHE 11º” 2018, HUTEAU & BOULANGER (Loire, France)
This is one of the most enigmatic wines I’ve drunk in a while, wholly unlike most wine made from Folle Blanche and almost impossible to find much information on. Folle Blanche is well known in the Brandy regions, Armagnac and Cognac, where its low alcohol and tartness are much prized. Why anyone thought that Gros Plant would be a good idea in a region which also had Muscadet’s Melon de Bourgogne, I’m not sure. I used to use it in my youth as a cheaper way to make a Kir rather than using Aligoté, but that’s about it.
Huteau & Boulanger are the family names of a couple who run the Domaine du Moulin Camus at Vallet. François Boulanger also runs FB Vins Diffusion, which distributes other Loire wines, but it looks as if this is probably a negoce wine sold under François’s label. The acids are still prominent, but tamed, and the wine has a wholly different profile to what you might expect. It has herbal notes with a restrained streak of lemon citrus flavour, which reminds me more of a good Muscadet, in fact. It is probably assisted by 2018 being a good, warm, vintage in the Pays Nantais, and on the shelf by a rather attractive label. At £10.99 retail it’s also very much a bargain.
Importer – Dreyfus Ashby. Try Solent Cellar for retail.
WAITING FOR TOM 2015, RENNERSISTAS (Burgenland, Austria)
I had decided to save one of Stefanie and Susanne’s earliest wines to see how it would age. I was frankly very happy indeed. The blend here is Blaufränkisch, Pinot Noir and St-Laurent, from the Renner vineyards which slope towards the Neusiedlersee around Gols. It’s reasonably well known that the sisters make some of my favourite wines in the whole of Austria, and I’ve been trying to follow their careers since they cajoled their father into letting them loose on his vines. Their rise has been quite meteoric, helped no doubt by their bubbly and friendly personalities as much as by wines which began as an exciting new expression of Gols terroir, and have become more assured with each and every vintage. I think the wines are as good communicators as their makers.
With a few years under its belt in bottle, following ageing in large 500-litre neutral oak, this 2015 vintage of the “Tom” blend is smooth and svelte, and still full of biodynamic life. The bouquet is of gentle blackberry, the palate adding cherry and a little spice. Not over complex but still vibrant and lovely. Patience can be such a virtue with natural wine. I wouldn’t say it has developed a lot of tertiary elements, but it has remained fresh and vital. Equally vital that I replenish my stocks soon.
Imported by Newcomer Wines, Dalston (London).
NEUBURGER 2016, SOMM IN THE MUST/RAINER WESS (Krems, Austria)
Nicolas Pierron and Pierrick Gorrichon are sommelier friends who have got together to source some interesting natural wines. Their first products are a couple of wines from Austria. Neuburger is a natural cross between Roter Veltliner and Sylvaner, originating in The Wachau, a variety which is seeing its star decline, partly because of the rise in popularity at home and abroad of Grüner Veltliner, and the fact that it is prone to disease. It’s a shame because the much less well known Neuburger is capable of making very good wine, and no one wants to see a loss of diversity.
Rainer Wess is a fairly well known producer at home, whose main vineyards are in the Wachau, but he also has vines around Krems, to where he has moved his winery. He is the source for the fruit. The bouquet is perhaps a little less overt than peppery Grüner, but it has touches of spice, florality and a certain lifted steeliness. On the palate it has presence, body (more than the nose might suggest, but it does come out with 13% abv) and some texture. You get a little apple and a little stone fruit. It’s not a “wow!” wine, but one that is interesting and food-friendly, and a very good example of one of the many lesser known varieties of Austria we all should try. Somm in the Must is a label worth following.
Purchased from Solent Cellar, Lymington, but it may be out of stock. It is currently listed by Stannery Street Wine Company, London.
RAKETE 2017, JUTTA AMBROSITSCH (Vienna, Austria)
Jutta is one of the smaller producers with vines around Austria’s capital. This wine comes from the Kahlenberg, a 500-metre hill which many keen walkers will know well, in Vienna’s outlying 19th District. Jutta specialises in Wiener Gemischter Satz, the city’s traditional field blend of complanted grapes, co-fermented to make what are often eye-opening wines for the uninitiated. They are usually white, but this “Landwein” is exactly the same concept, but for red wine, effectively a Roter Gemischter Satz.
The blend is Zweigelt, St-Laurent, Blauburger and Merlot all from the same vineyard, off compressed sandstone. Fermentation is in stainless steel, from a desire to keep this natural wine vibrant and fruit-driven. What we get is a pale red wine which tastes just like a white, except for its juicy red berry fruit. It definitely needs chilling like a white wine. I’ve drunk this a few times now, both here and in Vienna, and for me it’s thrilling stuff from a young winemaker making so many thrilling wines. Jutta is always well represented at Mast Weinbistro, for many the first place to head for food in Vienna.
Imported by Newcomer Wines, Dalston (London).
HEAVY PETTING PETNAT 2018, WILDMAN WINES (Riverland, South Australia)
Tim Wildman MW is a kind of neighbour of mine. Well, he lives just a few miles away when he’s in the UK, though we’ve only met once. He’s built a reputation as one of the experts on The New Australia, and he spends much of his time putting together eclectic wines which represent that new energy, especially via refreshing petnats.
Wildman Wines is based at Tanunda, in the Barossa Valley, but the fruit for Heavy Petting comes from Riverland, that part of the Murray River from where it crosses into South Australia from Victoria, up to the point where it ceases to flow west, turning south towards the South Atlantic at Morgan. That fruit is a blend of Nero d’Avola and Zibibbo. It’s a bright ruby red, full of sediment (a gentle shake is encouraged), gently sparkling and bottled with zero dosage. What you get are lively red fruit flavours, texture to add interest, and bags of fun. It’s only 10% abv and this makes it a perfect picnic wine for any time between 8am and 4pm, though there are no rules.
For the 2019 vintage Tim has moved his fruit source to McLaren Vale, but expect similar. There’s also a white semi-sparkling petnat called Astro Bunny, which uses these two varieties plus Vermentino, and at least one new wine on the way.
This bottle came from Seven Cellars in Brighton.
LA DEHESA TEMPRANILLO , VINOS AMBIZ (Sierra de Gredos, Spain)
The Fabius Maximus, Fabio Bartolomei, is someone who I’ve written about a little bit, and of all the new wave Spanish wine producers, he may well be my favourite. Except that “Spanish” and “producer” are perhaps not the right terms. Fabio sounds Italian, and indeed his parents were, but they emigrated from a village near Lucca to Scotland, and it is there that he was born and grew up. He’s been in Spain twenty years, but it was only in 2013 that he moved to the Gredos, taking over the vast, derelict, co-operative cellars at El Tiemblo.
The difficulty with “producer” is that Fabio is as far from being a manipulator of grape juice as you can get. His front label states “made from chemical free grapes; no adulterations with unnecessary substances or processing in the winery”. The legendary back labels list dozens of things Fabio does not do to his wine that others may. Needless to say, this is a table wine with no appellation.
The grapes undergo a carbonic maceration/fermentation and the strawberry fruit on the bouquet is the freshest you can imagine. The palate shows a striking purity, not just the fruit, but also the refreshing “fruit acidity”. It’s a wine which livens the palate in a way that no other wine carrying 14% alcohol possibly could. It has no right to be this refreshing, but what the alcohol does is add presence. It’s not ephemeral, despite its briskness. In fact it is harmonious, but something more than a kind of gentle harmony. There’s some fine sediment in the bottle, because of course it sees no fining or filtration, and this adds a bit of texture on the finish at whatever point you allow the sediment into your glass.
This wine came directly from Fabio. I’ve met him quite a few times and he asked if he could send me this after I’d written about his 2017 in my July article. Vinos Ambiz wines are imported by Otros Vinos, who sell a range of ground-breaking and boundary-pushing wines from small, naturally inclined, Spanish producers.
KOSHU ROSÉ 2016, PATALEBAN VINEYARD WINERY (Baad Bhanjyang, Near Kathmandu, Nepal)
Pataleban Winery Resort is located about sixteen miles west of Kathmandu, at around 1,600 masl. It sits above the Kathmandu Valley close to the point where those of you who have travelled on the lorry-clogged road to Pokhara will recall it drops steeply to the valley floor, by way of a number of big hairpin bends. This can be at anything between half and hour to an hour’s drive out of the capital, depending on traffic, but at least if you are crawling along you are unlikely to miss the signs.
The vineyards, established in 2006 with help and finance from Japan (hence the Koshu variety), sit surrounded by beautiful forest. This is the first time I’ve ever described a vineyard’s extent by using the ropani, a Nepalese unit of land measurement. Pataleban boasts 42 ropanis, and as there are almost 20 ropani to one hectare, you can see that its a fairly small project, but one with big hopes.
I visited Pataleban in 2016 (see here). The buildings had sustained some damage during the 2015 Nepal Earthquake, but the vines were fine. They began by planting mostly hybrid varieties more suitable to the climate, which frankly would be perfect were it not for the monsoon. But they are also working with European varieties, and seem to be having some luck with Chardonnay. If you want to read more about this unique estate, then visit their own web site here.
So what of the Koshu? Rather like Musar’s pink, it doesn’t seem to have been affected by age, but it does have a bit of astringency. In Japan it is common to leave a little residual sugar in Koshu to avoid or lessen this known trait in the variety. This wine has obviously been in enough contact with the skins to make it pink, so that may be another cause for that astringency. In Japan, Koshu is usually made as a white wine, but the variety is pink-skinned. It also lacks the delicacy of the best from Japan. I also have to mention that the bottle is sealed with a fairly poor cork. But it does have personality, and I would rather drink this than some of the European and Indian wines which sit in the sun in Kathmandu bottle shop windows.
This bottle came from the stall which the vineyard often has at the farmer’s market off the major Lazimpat Road, Kathmandu (north of the prime tourist hangouts of Thamel, and south of Baluwatar, where many of the great and the good of Nepal’s ruling elite are said to live). If you visit the city the market is a nice thing to do on a Saturday morning. There’s a lovely modern cafe and nice shops (including The Local Project for great gifts), and it has a very different ex-pat vibe to Thamel. I hope to be purchasing some more red and white wines shortly. Exact directions can be found online quite easily, or equally look for Le Sherpa Restaurant, which is on site.
VINO DE LA MESA 2017, VICTORIA TORRES PECIS (La Palma, Canary Is., Spain)
We all crave the wines of Tenerife, but did you know that there’s also a thriving winemaking tradition on the tiny Canary Island of La Palma, to the northwest? Viki Torres took over the former Bodega Matías I Torres from her father when he passed away in 2014 (the labels no longer state the bodega name because Torres in Penedès apparently took exception). He already had a fine reputation, but somehow his daughter has become something of a star name in just a few short years. Maybe that’s why the big boys took notice?
If you would like to read more about Victoria then you can link to the article I wrote back in August following a tasting of her wines in London here. This particular cuvée is the only one from which a reasonable number of bottles have come into the UK, somewhere around 300. Quantities of the other wines are miniscule. It is made from ungrafted Negramoll vines grown in various plots and at various altitudes on the island’s volcanic terroir. It came from the 600-litre tank which the local restaurants in the south of this small island habitually came to top-up from.
It has intense fruit flavours, dark but not weighty. There’s a bit of texture and somewhat more acidity. You need to like reds with acidity, which I’d prefer to characterise as freshness and zip. There is also a touch of volatility, but only enough to add interest. It would not hurt to carafe it, and I will say that it will develop over time in the glass. All Viki’s wines take time to reveal themselves as you drink the bottle. It’s yet another wine which tastes much less alcoholic than the stated 13%. Lovely, but equally importantly, just so interesting.
Imported by Modal Wines.
WILD ROSE 2015, BLACK CHALK WINES (Hampshire, England)
I tasted the 2016 Wild Rose, along with the 2015 Classic Cuvée, at the recent Out The Box young importer tasting last week, so you’ve very possibly seen what I wrote, including my assertion that Jacob Leadley’s Black Chalk is the most exciting new English sparkling wine label on the market. Excuse my repetition here. Jacob buys fruit from grape growers with whom he has close ties in and around the Test Valley near, Winchester. He currently makes just the two wines, and although I like both very much the 2015 rosé is my favourite so far.
The 2015 vintage has yielded a wine which seems to combine both elegance and a touch of richness. Whether it is the vintage, or the ripe Meunier Jacob has used (along with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), there’s a lovely ripeness which is almost fleshy and which combines perfectly with the light and elegant strawberry and raspberry fruit which haunts the bouquet and is driven along by the fine bubbles on the palate. The 2016 tasted last week is very fine indeed, but if you can still find a 2015 then grab some. It’s in a very good place right now.
Black Chalk is available direct from the producer by mail order. This bottle was another purchase from Seven Cellars (Seven Dials, Brighton). It generally retails for £40-£42.
PETITE SELVE VIN DE FRANCE 2018, CHÂTEAU DE LA SELVE (Ardèche, France)
This property, at Grospièrres in the Southern Ardèche, is a genuine 13th Century fortified house with a pepper pot roof-topped round turret at each corner. It was purchased by Jean-Régis and Magdeleine Chazallon in 1990, and it is their son, Benoît, who with his wife Florence has transformed the estate into a considerable wine producer, along with several gîtes where guests can holiday.
Petite Selve, sub-titled “Vin de Copain”, is from the entry level “Classiques” range. The blend is 40% Cinsault, 40% Grenache and 20% Syrah, grown on and near the banks of the River Chassezac, a tributary of the Ardèche. The vines are at around 120-to-135 metres asl and this allows them to benefit from the cool night time temperatures during the growing season here. Farming is biodynamic and the grapes see a 20-day cuvaison. Around 30% of the press juice from the rosé is added. The result is a wine which truly lives up to that “Vin de Copain” name. That’s why it is included here. They make a fairly hefty 50k bottles of this, but for a reasonable £15 you get a really good fruity wine, delicious and full of glou.
Imported by Dreyfus Ashby.
PETITE ARVINE TRADITION 2013, DOMAINE DES MUSES (Sierre, Switzerland)
Having recently reviewed Sue Style’s wonderful new book on Swiss Wine, it felt like a good idea to drink one of the wines she enjoys, from a prominent Valais producer, one which has in recent years developed a real reputation on export markets. Robert Tamaracaz worked with the legendary Denis Mercier, and undertook a stage at Sacred Hill in New Zealand, before he took over the family domaine, when his parents considered selling up, in 2002. He farms 9ha of steep vineyards, including a unique amphitheatre at nearby Saillon. The Petite Arvine is grown on the Rhône’s cooler left bank and this allows Robert to preserve all the freshness of an Alpine wine, not always the norm in this surprisingly hot and sunny climate (the vineyards between Sierre and Grange are said to be the driest in Switzerland).
Proving itself the most interesting, and surely the finest, of Switzerland’s autochthonous white grape varieties, the bouquet is both intense but also gently floral.The palate brings in more breadth, with pear fruit cut by lemon citrus. The 13% alcohol adds a bit of weight. It’s a wine that can develop a serious side, as the six years bottle age of this example has done, but it doesn’t taste that old. All of the Muses wines I’ve ever tried over the years have been of very high quality, from the cheapest to the most expensive. It is the Petite Arvine which I’ve drunk the most, ever since I was introduced to it by Geneva friends a good many years ago, and it is my favourite. A beautiful expression of a wonderful grape variety.
Purchased from Alpine Wines (mail order), around £40/bottle.
CHARDONNAY 2012, JAROSLAV OSIČKA (Moravia, Czech Republic)
Jaroslav Osička farms three hectares at Belké Bílovice in Moravia, in the southeast of the Czech Republic, near the borders with Austria and Slovakia. He taught for thirty years at the local wine school and during that time became a leading light in Moravian natural wine. He may appear a traditionalist, but his knowledge is wide, citing the wines of France’s Jura region as highly influential. More than a “natural wine” maker, Jaroslav is deeply in touch with nature, and sees working the vines as a task which must rest alongside preserving the local ecology, man and nature working together.
This, like the previous wine, has a bit of bottle age to it, which you don’t see very often. It could not be more instructive. The shock awaiting me was a wine of almost profound freshness. That was a surprise not just because of its age, but also because I’d spotted 14% abv on the label. That freshness is carried through the wine by a firm spine of mineral texture, quite linear. If you appreciate a cleaner and leaner style of Chardonnay I think you will adore this, as I did. I could not believe how good this was.
Basket Press Wines, the excellent Czech Wine specialist, imports Osička. I think they may have some 2014 left (according to their web site). This 2012 came off the take away list at Plateau Brighton. I have no idea whether it was their last bottle. I’m also quite a fan of this producer’s Modry Portugal (aka Blauer Portugieser), among others.