I haven’t quite finished my series of articles on Australia, and I certainly hope to write and publish the last of those before the tasting calendar kicks in, which it does in a couple of weeks with Le Grappin in The City (14th) and when Nekter Wines opens their whole Californian range at The 10 Cases in Covent Garden (20th). But first I thought I ought to bash out my regular “recent wines” roundup. The last of these was September’s, as I was away in Nepal and Australia for October/November, so we skip straight to December.
You will have to forgive me again. If my last article was short, I’m not going to be able to keep this one down to my usual dozen wines. If I’m reticent to jump on the “dry January” bandwagon, I’m no different to anyone else when it comes to drinking more in December, though I blame more entertaining than any attempt to get my liver in training for the festivities themselves, which are actually relatively tame here (though we did drink a stunning wine on Christmas Day). I shall just have to try not to waffle on too much about each of the sixteen bottles here. I won’t say “wines” as one is a cider, and I think we shall be reading a lot more about artisan cider in 2020.
BERGWEINGARTEN 2012, PIERRE FRICK (Alsace)
This is a mostly Sylvaner field blend from a lieu-dit near Pfaffenheim, the grapes grown on a mix of brown limestone and sand. The vintage was a warm one, and the rich and ripe fruit (14% abv) was fermented slowly in large old oak. You get a powerful but subtle bouquet with slight oxidative notes, baked apple, cinnamon, and a little orange. It’s less nutty than when I tasted it back in April 2019, with more of the baked apple. The finish is soft and there’s around 16g/litre of residual sugar, though it doesn’t taste “sweet”, just complex. Very much a wine of the maker, and if you like Frick then this is something of a treat.
Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene. I ordered some after the “Ugly Ducklings to Swans” tasting with Doug Wregg at Solent Cellar last year.
NEJEDLIK ORANGE 2011, DOBRA VINICE (Czech Moravia)
You’ll have seen this wine before if you read my Review of the Year, because it was my favourite skin contact wine of 2019. It combined development, quality and also a degree of the unusual. The blend is Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Ryzlinku (Rhine Riesling, I believe) and Sauvignon Blanc, biodynamic and with five months in qvevri in contact with skins. A small amount of sulphur was added. Delicacy, length, complexity but also freshness. It’s the latter quality which, at eight years of age, makes this wine special among the several superb orange wines I drank last year.
The importer is Basket Press Wines. I thought this was perhaps their last bottle but it’s still listed under Dobrá Vinice on their web site.
WEISSER BURGUNDER 2017, WEINGUT WITTMANN (Westhoffen/Rheinhessen)
I’ve long been a fan of Philipp Wittmann, and this lovely bottle proves the golden rule: look to the producer first. Philipp turned the estate fully biodynamic when he took over in the mid-2000s, and his thirty hectares include some of the region’s finest sites, hitting the heights with Kirchspiel and Morstein. Yet 20% of the Wittmann vines are Weisserburgunder, and Philipp loves this variety.
From his Pinot Blanc grapes he makes a hidden gem. It looks like a glistening green Chablis. It has tension and freshness, but a tiny bit of bottle age has added creaminess too. The terroir comes in via a streak of what tastes like typical “Riesling” minerality, but the label puts us right. It’s the influence of the dirt. I think most people will have sold out of the 2017 (Howard Ripley appears to have some left), but I’m assured that the 2018 is stunningly good too, and I plan to buy some.
MONDEUSE CUVEE MARIE CLOTHILDE 2016, ADRIEN BERLIOZ (Savoie)
I always enjoy Berlioz (especially Béatrice & Bénédict right now…but to be serious…). Adrien Berlioz set up his Cellier du Cray at Chignin around thirteen years ago, in his mid-twenties. He’s a distant cousin of the perhaps currently more famous Giles Berlioz, and I think they used to make a joint cuvée together. If you take note of those who know (ie Wink Lorch) you will read that Adrien is becoming one of the most talented winemakers in the region.
This is Mondeuse as I generally (not always) prefer it, ie sappy and grippy with relatively low alcohol (11% here). The fruit is nice, quite dark but lightish. I might have kept this a year longer, but if you like the grippy nature of the wine that won’t bother you. Adrien is sometimes seen as a better white wine producer, and it’s true that some of his whites are genuinely magnificent at their best. But as I said, I like the style of this Mondeuse.
Purchased from Solent Cellar, which usually stocks a selection of Adrien Berlioz.
DOLIUM, ZORJAN (Slovenia)
This is yet another wonderful skin contact wine, from Slovenian Styria in this case. Božidar Zorjan is one of the originators of the skin contact revival in the region, perhaps making such wines from his Pohorje vineyards before some of the more, shall we say, higher profile proponents. Zorjan uses qvevri, perhaps no surprise, but he goes further. As a spiritual man with an interest in cosmology, his vessels are buried outside, “beneath the stars”.
Dolium bears no vintage. I’d like to guess that it is not young, no big deal as I know Zorjan ages his wines before release, sometimes for many years. I do know it is made from Muscat Ottonel, fermented in qvevri on skins before transfer to a 1,200-litre barrel for at least a year. It’s above all a wine of depth. There’s fresh lemon striking through honey and a hint of caramel with spice (perhaps cardamon and aniseed). It’s a strange wine. The freshness (quite youthful in some ways) makes it seem simple, but beneath all that is real complexity. Someone described it as “sacred”. It’s not a word I’d choose, but I can see what they meant. Certainly extraordinary. It’s exactly what you’d drink if you are looking for the most interesting (as opposed to best, or best value) wine on a list.
Another one from Les Caves.
GOTHUS 2018, BLANK BOTTLE WINERY (South Africa)
This is one of a new pair of wines which Pieter Walser has bottled exclusively for Brighton’s oldest wine merchant, Butlers Wine Cellar. It’s a Pinotage, not it has to be said a variety I buy often, due perhaps to disappointments in the more distant past. The fruit was sourced from Darling. I don’t currently have one of Pieter’s stories to relate about this, except that it is aptly named after Henry Butler’s partner, Cassie (whom some of you will know, if not personally then via the Butlers’ Instagram feed).
This is dark fruited, brambly, with a nice bite and enough acidity easily to balance the 13.5% alcohol. It’s not complex but it does have some concentration. I can’t really think of more I need to say, but I like it and will definitely be relieving them of some more on my next visit. For around £20 it’s good value, a perfect versatile red.
Butlers Wine Cellar of course. Blank Bottle Winery is imported by Swig. The white wine in this pair of Butlers exclusives is a Viognier from Stellenbosch fruit. I shall try my bottle soon.
GRAUPERT, MEINKLANG (Burgenland/Austria)
Another wine lacking a vintage date, though this may be more due to it’s designation as a “Landwein” than any multi-vintage stuff going on here. I’ve had it in the cellar for a couple of years so perhaps it was from around 2016 vintage, perhaps 2015? Meinklang Farm is much more than just a vineyard, and they are perhaps more famous for their beef herd in their homeland. The Michlits family has vines at Somló, in Hungary, makes a range of excellent cheapish varietal wines from Burgenland (Pamhagen is where the winery is situated), and (if you can find it) excellent beer from ancient grains (Urkorn-Bier), along with other wonderful cuvées, some fermented in concrete eggs.
Graupert refers to the viticulture. The vines, in this case Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder), are left wild and untended, bar a little shoot repositioning when required. They don’t prune the vines at all for the grapes making this cuvée. You might think the vines will run wild and create an unharvestable tangle of tendrils, but this isn’t the case. As with other vineyards farmed in this way (there are some in both Alsace and Greece you may have come across), the vines find their equilibrium.
Winemaking is simple – biodynamic, ten days on skins. It’s a crazy wine, deep coloured, very natural yet clean and pure. But despite that, like the Dolium above, it also tastes weirdly complex, and nothing like you might expect from the dark colour and bouquet. Perhaps a wine for the adventurous, but yet another unique wine, and who doesn’t want to taste “unique”?
Meinklang’s wines have a varied distribution depending on cuvée and price, but Winemakers Club in Farringdon, London, usually has some of the most interesting of their bottlings.
STARVECROW NATURAL CYDER (Peasmarsh, Sussex)
You may well have seen me post on this particular artisan cider in the past. It’s made from a blend of estate grown eating varieties, fermented with wild yeasts and aged in old whiskey casks in Ben Walgate’s Tillingham winery shed. It’s naturally sparkling and unfiltered, so you get some texture, yet it is so light and fresh. The bubbles dance on the tongue in a way that those in most sparkling wine rarely do, though here you want freshness above all, and you get plenty of it.
Starvecrow is one of a group of producers at the forefront of the nascent English artisan cider/natural cider revolution, which I notice is being supported by Silo now they’ve moved to Hackney Wick.
This bottle came from Seven Cellars in Brighton but can be found in quite a few good regional independents, and from The Fine Cider Company, whose book “Fine Cider…” came out last October (£16.99, Dog and Bone Books, or a fiver less if you’re prepared to go down the large discounter route).
“LES CORVEES” 2015, DOMAINE DE SAINT-PIERRE (Arbois, Jura)
This is a blend made by Fabrice Dodane at Mathenay, just outside Arbois. The name of the cuvée is that of one of the famous sites of Arbois itself, a southwest facing hillside of marls and gravel which you will pass, close to Stéphane Tissot’s Tour de Curon, if you walk from the town through the vines to visit Stéphane at Montigny-les-Arsures. Les Corvées is perhaps more noted as a Trousseau vineyard, but Fabrice has made a cracking mix of Pinot Noir and Ploussard here, vinified wholly without added sulphur.
The fruitiness is off the scale, and I think of all the Saint-Pierre wines this is drinking the best at this moment. The fruit is plump but balanced by lively fruit acidity, like perfectly ripe cherries and raspberries. We are not talking about one of the world’s finest wines here, but in context it would be hard to assert than this is not the most enjoyable wine you could have opened tonight. Pure fun, pure fruit, pure delight.
Once more we have to thank Sir Douglas and the folk at Les Caves de Pyrene for importing this natural beauty. Another wine I’d like some more of for persistent glugging, please.
ARNEIS “ETERNAL RETURN” 2017, ADELINA WINES (Adelaide Hills, Australia)
Adelina is the label of the Gardner family who make wine, appropriately, in the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia. This Piemontese variety is often overlooked by fans of the region’s red wines who might not get further than the occasional Cortese, but I like it. I think it has the purity, at its best, of all the “Alpine” white varieties. This one is characteristically pale but above all, it certainly is fresh. You get some stone fruit and pear, with a tiny hint of apple in the acidity, almost like slaking your thirst with an ice cold mineral water with a squeeze of fruit. What you don’t realise without a glance at the back label is that it packs 13.5% abv, deceptive, although the finish has a degree of tell-tale richness. Arneis translates from dialect as “little rascal”. It lives up to that name.
Imported by Astrum, purchased at Butlers.
BOURGOGNE ALIGOTÉ 2017, DU GRAPPIN (Macon, Burgundy)
This was another wine featured in my wines of the year for 2019, based on its amazing value. A few of us were drinking more Aligoté last year and for me, this was the best on several levels. It’s not easy to find, but one way or another we did manage to drink four bottles and this last, opened just before Christmas, was the best of them, benefiting from that extra touch of age.
It comes from a vineyard called Perelles-le-Haut near Macon-Roche-Vineuse. The vines, on Bathonian Limestone, are over eighty years old, a great find by Andrew Nielsen. The grapes undergo a simple manual vinification in large format old wood with six months on lees. This Aligoté is remarkably Chardonnay-like in some ways. It’s classy, noticeably alive and drinking beautifully. Exceptional and worthy of sitting beside the Le Grappin wines from the Côte d’Or.
Purchased direct from the producer. Le Grappin will show their 2018 vintage, along with Mark Haisma and Jane Eyre, at Vinoteca (City) in London on Tuesday 14 January.
THE BOOKKEEPER BLANC DE BLANCS BRUT NATURE 2013, CHARLIE HERRING WINES (Hampshire, UK)
You might well know by now that this is the label of Tim Phillips, whose “Clos du Paradis” walled vineyard is close to Sway in Hampshire. His wines are perhaps the true unicorns of English Wine, almost impossible to source easily, not helped by Tim’s perfectionist bent which means the wines are only released when he thinks they are good and ready. That perfectionism goes through everything he does, from vineyard management to packaging.
The abv here is just 11% and with no dosage this is very dry, but explosively ripe and fresh. There’s no lack of creamy Chardonnay fruit, it’s just nicely corralled by the dry acidity, as if seeping through a filter, gently. The tension is palpable. I know occasion makes a wine, but this was almost certainly the best bottle of this sparkling Chardonnay I’ve drunk.
I know from talking to people at tastings that a lot of you want to try Tim’s wines. One or two have struck off down to the New Forest to visit and he does usually have an open day every year. There are a few indies which have stocked his wines, including nearby Solent Cellar and Ten Green Bottles in Brighton. To find out more about what he does contact him through his web site, charlieherring.com .
ZILTINGER SONNENUHR SPÄTLESE 2007, JJ PRÜM (Mosel, Germany)
This vineyard is what I suppose you might call “the other sundial”, although there are several carved into the rocks of the steep sided Mosel River Valley. According to Anne Krebiehl (Wines of Germany, Infinite Ideas, 2019) both sundials at Ziltingen and Wehlen were built by Jodocus Prüm, who founded the estate in 1911, though Prüms had been farming in the area since the 12th Century.
The two sundials are not far apart, both on the right bank of the river between Graach and Zeltingen-Rachtig, and conveniently on the Mosel cycle path if you hire your bikes in Kues (opposite Bernkastel) and head for lunch in Traben (thankfully you won’t see the disasterous, tear-inducing, Mosel bridge until you round the river bend towards Ürzig). As with Wehlen’s vineyard of the same name, it is an exceptional site. The 2007 Spätlese has aged wonderfully, but it isn’t old by any means. There’s some richness and some acidity. It accompanied a Mushroom Wellington perfectly, a versatile wine in perfect balance.
JJ Prüm continues resolutely down the path of Prädikat wines whilst others pursue the GG Trocken route. I am certainly a very big fan of Grosses Gewächs, but Prüm has a special place in my heart, and my cellar. These wines are a privilege to drink.
Despite the quality, the ordinary releases (as opposed to rarified auction wines) are fairly easy to find and well priced. For a good range of Prüm contact Howard Ripley Wines. This particular bottle out of my cellar originated from The Sampler.
CHAMPAGNE VINCENT COUCHE CHARDONNAY DE MONTGUEUX (Côte des Bar, Champagne)
Vincent Couche farms around 13 hectares of vines biodynamically, mostly on the Côte des Bar (he’s based at Buxeuil) in the far south of the Champagne Region, but what drew me to this cuvée was its particular source. The vines here are from Montgueux, which is pretty much a solitary hill directly to the west of Troyes. Chardonnay from Montgueux tends to ripen well and early from predominantly south facing chalk, but the terroir seems to help the wines retain freshness and tension as well as ripeness. The result, especially in the wonderful wines produced there by Emmanuel Lassaigne (Champagne Jacques Lassaigne), can be magnificent.
This wine sees 30% oak vinification which gives it a little roundness and gras, I think. Dosage is 6g/litre, so it’s not extremely dry. It’s a fresh, mineral Chardonnay with a savoury touch and a little salinity, very pleasant. The overall quality surprised me from a Grower I’d not previously tasted, nor in fact read about though I had heard the name. It has made me want to try some more of Vincent’s wines. My guess is that he has more of a Pinot focus down south?
Purchased from, and on the recommendation of, Solent Cellar who import it direct. They also stock a Rosé. You may also have tasted the PN/Ch cuvée called Chloé at one of the Raw Wine Events.
PRETTY NATS #1 “PERLWEIN”, ALEXANDER KOPPITSCH (Burgenland, Austria)
The Koppitsch family farms at Neusiedl-am-See at the northern end of the lake, a relatively short cycle from my wine friends in Gols, and usefully where you alight the train from Vienna if heading to this part of Neusiedlersee. I know I’ve told you that before, but obviously I’m hoping it sinks in. It makes a lovely day trip from Vienna. Hire bikes next to the station and head down to Das Fritz on the lake for lunch or dinner by the boats.
This is another producer I’ve drunk plenty from over the past twelve months, and I adore their petnat. The blend is 50% Pinot Noir and 50% St-Laurent, whole bunches into the screwpress and then into fibreglass for fermentation. Bottling is by hand. In spring the bottles are put outside when the nights are still cold, before Alex hand-disgorges them all. You get a fairly simple 11% sparkler, but it’s simply one of the most fun wines I drank last year. This last bottle proves the point that if dogs are not just for Christmas, petnats are not just for summer. I will say one thing, though, it did taste very dry next to a dosed Champagne.
Some of the Koppitsch wines are brought in by the small Scottish importer, Fresh Wines (Kinross). This particular wine is currently out of stock, but you can sign up to get an email when they have the next vintage. Leave some for me.
MOUNT EDELSTONE OLD VINE SHIRAZ 2001, HENSCHKE (Eden Valley, South Australia)
As someone who drinks a lot of “natural wine” it surprises some that I do drink the classics as well. For some years I’ve not been buying many such wines, but when I pull wines out like this I can appreciate them as much as anything I drink. Henschke do not claim to make “natural wines”, but as with Prüm above, they unquestionably make wines with soul.
We drank this 2001 on Christmas Day and it was stunning. Better than I expected, and that’s high praise (you don’t plan to drink average wine on 25 December, after all). At the time of the vintage these Shiraz vines were about ninety years old, ungrafted onto American rootstock, planted by Ronald Angas in 1912. Dry grown ever since, on Mount Edelstone, the grapes are vinified in a mix of French and American oak for 21 months.
The cork looked old and it required a Butler’s Friend opener (which I think you guys in the USA call an “Ah-so”, though I have no idea why?). Like a classic Aussie Shizza, it had a blend of red and darker fruits with a chocolate foil, and so refined for 14% abv. Concentrated and long, mellowing but not ready to slide down the hill for a while yet. For the best producers 2001 was exceptional for red varieties in this part of South Australia, and for Shiraz in particular, despite crops sometimes well above average. At this stage in its development, I’d say it was the best Mount Edelstone I’ve drunk. A great wine with which to finish a roundup of a great month’s drinking.
This bottle was purchased from The Sampler and rested in my cellar for some years.
A little extra…
One final thought and pointer on Australian Wine. I watched, on i-Player, a few days ago an episode of the old Clive James documentary series, “Postcard from Sydney”, filmed in 1990. It’s most interesting for wine lovers because Clive heads up to the Hunter Valley for a tasting at Rothbury. He shows himself to be neither adept at wine tasting, nor knowledgeable, but even more entertaining than the way Clive amiably bumbles along hiding his light under a bushel is that he is tutored by the late, great, Len Evans. If you have heard of Len, but perhaps never seen, let alone met, him it’s well worth a look (and Clive James is always good value in any case). This episode, along with a “Postcard from London” has only been shown very recently, to commemorate Clive’s passing last year, so they should both be up on i-Player for a week or two yet.