Dry January…I write about wine, so that’s not going to happen, is it! I can’t even make you roll around on the floor laughing at the tired old joke about sticking to dry wine, because in the dozen most interesting wines drunk at home during the first month of the year profiled below, I think you will find some residual sugar in one or two. As for Veganuary, I have to come clean and admit to eating a bar of milk chocolate, all in one go, with the kind of gluttony reserved normally for those who need a serious sugar hit after a long tasting without a lunch break. Come to think of it…
GEWURZTRAMINER “DEMOISELLE” 2016, DOMAINE RIETSCH (Alsace, France)
I’m hoping to get to Alsace this summer, and as if to reinforce that wish in my mind I began 2020, on 1 January, with a wine from probably my favourite producer in that beautiful region, Jean-Pierre Rietsch of Mittelbergheim. This Gewurztraminer was from Jean-Pierre’s vines on the argilo-calcaire soils of the Zotzenberg at nearby Heiligenstein (that village is the source of several Rietsch wines).
The key element in this wine’s vinification is the sixteen days it sees on skins, which add colour and a rich mouthfeel. This is followed by six months ageing in cuve. You notice immediately that this is a dry rendition of the variety. In fact it contains 1g/litre of residual sugar. It is a lovely burnt orange colour with a bouquet of a complex fruit mix – both tropical and orchard fruits combine, I think the latter enhancing the dryness and the former, the richness. In other words a slightly voluptuous body but with an acid tingling spine. After all that I could easily have written a one word TN…”Wow!”. A truly magical wine to begin the new decade.
This came from the domaine, but Wines Under The Bonnet imports Rietsch into the UK. I’m not sure they import “Demoiselle”, but any of J-PR’s wines are worth the punt.
“LILLIES” GRENACHE 2017, MCLAREN FLAT, JAUMA WINES (South Australia)
The Erskine family source the fruit for this absolutely wonderful Grenache from a single vineyard in McLaren Flat. This is a lesser known corner of the Vale, over on its eastern edge, up against the Sellicks Range. Farmed by the Cahill family, the site was originally planted almost eighty years ago. The fruit has a vibrancy surpassing even the freshest South Australian Grenache (let alone the gloupy ones). The bouquet blends strawberry and rose scent, with a cherry accent coming in with the palate. You won’t guess 13% alcohol, which has its dangers with a wine so fresh and gluggable. There is no added sulphur. Delicious.
In a rare case of forgetfulness I cannot remember where I bought this. Maybe someone will remind me. Was it Solent Cellar? It was so good. The UK importer is Les Caves de Pyrene.
LA BOTA DE FLORPOWER 77 (LMMXV), EQUIPO NAVAZOS (Jerez, Spain)
You wouldn’t expect me to get too far into the new year before popping a bottle of EN, but sometimes a dish calls not for a Fino or Manzanilla but for the team’s Palomino table wine. This was my last bottle of Bota 77. Whilst I quite like newer cuvées for fresh summer drinking (I shall be onto Bota 84 next, the 2016 bottling), this 2015 shows that a little bottle age works well too. In fact these unfortified wines do have the depth to age for considerably longer.
The grape source was the Pago Miraflores La Baja at Sanlúcar. Vinification begins old school with the fermentation in 600-litre casks, after which the wine remains there under flor for eight months. In a bid to retain freshness and vitality it then goes into stainless steel for a further year. It is still under flor, but its influence wains over that twelve month period. Bottling took place in July 2017. This fourth edition of Florpower is perhaps the freshest yet, and I am sorry to see this one leave my life. The aim was to balance biological ageing, terroir and the vibrancy of Palomino in its unfortified form. Even more than usual, I can say that this aim has been achieved, one hundred percent.
Another wine imported directly from Spain. The the UK agent for Equipo Navazos is Alliance Wine.
VIBRATIONS RIESLING 2016, VIGNOBLE DU RÊVEUR (Alsace, France)
Mathieu Deiss, along with Emmanuelle Milan, created Vignoble du Rêveur in 2013. The seven hectares of vineyards they tend in Bennwihr (between Colmar and Riquewihr) come through Mathieu’s mother’s family, and it strikes me that this talented young winemaker wanted a project to put his own stamp on, aside from his work with his famous father. Mathieu and Emmanuelle produce six wines, all given fantasy names which are expressive of terroir and winemaking rather than just grape variety.
Vibrations is a pure (in both senses) Riesling from forty-year-old vines on Quarternary alluvial deposits, farmed biodynamically (Demeter). After spontaneous fermentation in old wood without any temperature control, the wine is aged in the same medium, ten months in foudre. There is a 10% part of the must which underwent carbonic maceration, the rest was direct pressed. Minimal sulphur is added to all Mathieu’s wines.
There’s a good colour here, it isn’t pale. The fresh citrus acids are redolent of both lemon and lime, but beneath that lies depth. There’s even the tiniest hint of petrol, but not a lot. Dry, long, vibrant and “vital”, again in more than one sense.
I believe both Swig and Roberson import Vignoble du Rêveur. My bottle came from Butlers, Brighton.
“STRAIGHT NO CHASER” 2015, DOMAINE HUGHES-BEGUET (Jura, France)
Patrice Béguet is next to the church in Mesnay, on the edge or Arbois (certainly walkable from the town centre, perhaps 25 minutes). He was in that first batch of young vignerons, many of whom had no previous experience as winemakers, who came to the Jura Region lured by cheaper land and one or two old timers whom they could tap for knowledge of pre-industrial winemaking, not that much of Jura was ever very industrial. People like Jacques Puffeney and Pierre Overnoy followed a more natural path to winemaking. Patrice gained very early success by gaining the respect, in particular, of Overnoy and the Pupillin faction. His vineyards are split between that village and vines closer to home, near Arbois and Mesnay.
“Straight No Chaser” was described in a Caves de Pyrene blog post as a Chardonnay-Savagnin blend, although when I tasted the wine at Patrice’s back in 2016 he made no mention of Savagnin. Nevertheless, this is a fresh, topped-up, wine with a tiny bit of CO2. The acidity lifts it nicely, though it could be extreme for some used to fatter Chardonnay, and the nose and palate are full of apple scents and flavours. It’s a fresh and lively bottle, just 12% abv. Perhaps it would have been better attuned to summer drinking, but who doesn’t enjoy a bracing Chardonnay in winter?
The name? Thelonious Monk’s jazz standard.
A small number of Patrice’s wines are imported by Les Caves de Pyrene. This wine came from the domaine but if you want to visit please phone ahead. Patrice may well be in his vines.
“HELTER SKELTER” 2019, BLANK BOTTLE WINERY (Stellenbosch, South Africa)
This Viognier from Stellenbosch fruit is one part of the latest pair of wines Peter Walser has made for Brighton’s longest established wine merchant, Butlers Wine Cellar. Its companion is “Gotho”, a 2018 Darling Pinotage which I profiled in my corresponding December Wines article.
As usual, Peter disguises the alcohol content very well (14% abv), but with Viognier one is always particularly grateful for that trick. When it loses acidity it loses interest for me, which is almost certainly why my early enthusiasm for Condrieu in the 1980s waned somewhat as the Northern Rhône began to get warmer. It has varietal character for sure, which comes through on a bouquet of stone fruit (peach), a little pear and a floral element. It is usually the bouquet that suffers when the alcohol gets too big in Viognier, but the Walser winemaking wizardry has avoided that particular pitfall. It’s a bright wine, which could easily convert some Viognier dislikers, if not haters. Probably best not to drink the whole bottle yourself, though.
This wine, and its companion Pinotage (I don’t normally like Pinotage John, but this one’s delicious) are available exclusively through Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton (two shops, but they do a lot of mail order and sell a wide selection of Blank Bottle wines). The UK importer for Blank Bottle Winery is Swig Wines.
“IF LIFE GIVES YOU LAGREIN” 2017, VINTELOPER (Adelaide Hills, South Australia)
Vinteloper used to make wine exclusively from bought in fruit, then they went and bought a vineyard, and as many of you know, lost it rather too quickly as the latest round of Australian bush fires swept through the Adelaide Hills. I’m very sad for Australia, especially as I have family that has suffered loss of farm land in NSW, but I have followed Vinteloper for several years, loving their wines but never buying quite as many as I wanted to. I’ve been trying to rectify that a little as one small, perhaps insignificant but well meant, nod of support.
Lagrein really is a “vinteloper” in Australia, and is hardly well known in Europe either. The issue I have with a lot of Northeastern Italian Lagrein is a sort of green streak, but it can make lovely dark juice with a little bite and grip. This Aussie version does have a nice bit of a bite to it, but it comes with a dollop of sunshine as well, a lovely combo. Not complex but gorgeously sappy. I loved it, as did my wife, so I went straight out and bought some more. It comes in at 12.7% abv, which I think sums up the freshness/weight of fruit balance. Cheers to David Bowley and his team, and good luck in replanting the Hills vineyard.
Vinteloper is imported by Graft Wine (formerly Red Squirrel). I’m not sure that this cuvée was made in 2018, but the agent may still have some of the ’17.
PERSPEKTIVE WEISS , WEINGUT KOPPITSCH (Burgenland, Austria)
I know I’m a regular drinker of Alex and Maria’s wines, and they have never failed to make the cut for my monthly roundups, but perhaps this is my first profile of one of the “Perspektive” wines. Most Koppitsch cuvées, the ones with the cheerful labels, are just a sheer joy to drink. The Perspektive wines are perhaps just a little more serious. They focus on terroir, in particular the limestone soils on the northern side of the Neusiedlersee and in the Leithaberg Mountains. This particular cuvée comes from their site called Neuberg, which is relatively close to the shallow lake. The vineyard forms a very rocky hill with limestone fragments and even some schist clearly visible. The rocky terrain is auto-suggestive of the resulting wine.
This is a blend of Chardonnay (20%) and Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc)(80%). The Chardonnay is genuine old vine stock (planted 1965), the Weissburgunder being planted in 1985. The family has been tending these vineyards for 500 years. The grapes get a short four hour contact with the skins before direct pressing into 225-litre barriques. The wine then sits, unmanipulated, on gross lees for ten months. A minimal 5mg/l sulphur is added at bottling. Everything here is thoughtfully done, even down to recycled cardboard boxes which are sealed without tape. And Alex and Maria are super nice people, but I must say it is infectious because the Neusiedlersee seems to attract the nicest people in the whole of wine (very much including Tscheppes, Schröcks, Becks, Braunsteins, Renners, Zeichmanns, Michlits’ and Preisingers to name a few).
All that matters little if the wine isn’t good, but no worries here. Apple, honey and lemon hit the nasal passages, with more citrus on the palate (no rough edges). It will age further, but right now it is long and refreshing with a little texture and salinity. The limestone freshness comes right through. This is only labelled as a table wine, hence the vintage in square brackets, but it’s as enjoyable as any DAC wine, more so than many. Drinkability coupled with a bit more intensity than the Koppitsch’s more “fun” bottlings. As it is unfiltered, expect it to be a little cloudy.
Just £23 (if I recall correctly) direct from Fresh Wines, a tiny importer in Kinross (Scotland). They currently list five Koppitsch wines but this one seems to be out of stock. New wines will probably arrive in spring.
TROSSEN ROT 2018, RITA & RUDOLF TROSSEN (Mosel, Germany)
There are many interesting things you can say about Rita and Rudolf Trossen, but surely the most significant for most readers here is that this was the first estate in the whole of Germany to become biodynamic. Their influence therefore outstrips their production from the slate of the Middle Mosel at Kinheim.
The Trossens are best known for their Rieslings, including those in the “Purus” range, which are fully natural wines with no added sulphur, always pushing the boundaries. This is my first ever bottle of red wine from the Trossens, and to be honest I didn’t know they made one until I spotted it a few weeks ago. It is a blend of Dornfelder and Pinot Noir/Spätburgunder, made under the same biodynamic regime as the whites.
The colour is dark, not quite purple, and the wine is full of dark crunchy fruit and a little undergrowth edginess. It’s a wine to drink cool in summer for a sappy 11.5% thirst quencher, but in January, drunk less cool, it went really well with my dish of the year so far, pickled New Forest hedgehog mushrooms (a wonderful Christmas present) in a cream sauce (vegan, of course) with chestnuts, spinach, thyme and lashings of garlic. The brisk acidity cut through the cream and the weight of fruit balanced what was a very rich dish.
Trossen wines are usually available at Newcomer Wines (Dalston), which is where I bought this. Roberson also stocks it, currently bin-ended with a few pounds off. I want to get some more, though I don’t fancy my chances.
PIESPORTER SCHUBERTSLAY SPÄTLESE 2011, JULIAN HAART (Mosel, Germany)
Another Mosel wine, but altogether different. Julian Haart is one of the rising stars of the Mosel, having made wine for a little under a decade now. He’s blessed with some fine sites, 4 hectares in Piesport and another single hectare nearby in Wintrich, just downstream, around the giant bend in the river, on the best site there, the Ohligsberg. He sits just under the radar in the UK for now, but hopefully not for long.
This Spätlese has a good bit of bottle age, and at over eight years old manages to balance a degree of sweetness with acidity in a wine which errs towards the richer end of the Spätlese spectrum whilst retaining a degree of delicacy. In a sense it is therefore a wine of the vintage, where great harvest conditions in 2011 enabled producers to make fairly rich, even plumpish, wines which were quite fruity. The best were balanced, as is this, but if I had drunk it a year sooner it might have had a touch more acidity, if not tension. Still a lovely wine, though, and certainly not a wine you need to finish up soon.
Howard Ripley Wines stocks Julian Haart, although not this cuvée, which was purchased at Weinhaus Porn in Bernkastel. It’s an unmissable wine shop if you are down that way, and bringing us back to Julian Haart, you might find his “WinePorn” cuvée there too. I can equally recommend the excellent Indian Restaurant opposite, Taj Mahal, which also has another restaurant in Trier.
GIALLO 2016, TOM SHOBBROOK (Vine Vale, South Australia)
Tom Shobbrook is a native of the Barossa Valley, but he went abroad to work with Sean O’Callaghan at Riecine in Chianti. He became one of that very happy band of brothers who have spread around the world making fabulous wines based on the practical biodynamics taught by Sean. Shobbrook returned to Seppeltsfield to make a range of rather tasty, exciting wines, many of them highly experimental.
Giallo is certainly unique. It used to be made from Sauvignon Blanc, but this 2016 blends Muscat, Riesling and Semillon. The individual musts were macerated on skins separately, for between just twelve hours and twelve days, depending on variety. The juice then went into concrete egg for seven months.
In many ways this is known as Tom’s signature wine. It’s very complex, with its yellow (giallo) colour and heady mix of saffron, beeswax, apricot, sour peach and more. It is well textured, but I’d not go as far as “tannic”, and it does have a lot of sediment. Some of the particulate matter is big enough to qualify as “crud”, so I’d advise standing it up for a couple of days before drinking. Stand it in the fridge for a while – it can take chilling but you don’t want to drink it cold. It will cut off the full aromatic experience. It’s a gorgeous, long and complex wine full of sunshine and genius. Rather annoyed it is gone now.
Tom Shobbrook’s wines can usually be found at Winemakers Club (Farringdon, under Holborn Viaduct), but be aware that they do sell out rather easily.
“SANG DE GAILLARDON” [NV], ALEXANDRA MOSSU (Jura, France)
Alexandra’s father, François, has for many years been known as “the Pope of Vin de Paille”, and throughout his long career (he replanted vines on his grandfather’s land aged eighteen) he specialised in both Vin de Paille and Château-Chalon. His three hectare domaine is based at Voiteur, on the River Seille, in the valley below Château-Chalon itself.
François had quite a reputation for being not too forthcoming. He sold his wine from the domaine, mainly to locals and local restaurants, and perhaps grudgingly to the occasional wine writer. But in the past couple of years his daughter, Alexandra, has been (wo)manning the tasting room with her name on the labels, at least the table wines, as winemaker.
Gaillardon is one of the vineyards within the Château-Chalon appellation. It forms the western sweep of the hill opposite that on which the village of Château-Chalon perches precariously, over on the other side of the River Chambon (which joins the Seille near Voiteur). The wine is a field blend, allegedly, of fourteen different varieties. The mainstay (50%) is Trousseau (you can certainly identify it), along with (inter alia) Poulsard, Enfariné Noir, Cabernet Jura, Gallotta, Gamaret, Garanoir, Diolinoir and Isabelle (sic). Notice several Swiss varieties in there. Is the last variety listed perhaps the vitis labrusca Isabella, planted around France after phylloxera, but now technically banned?
As an aside, there is a lovely small, gated and walled, vineyard off a steep path down the left side of the church in the village of Château-Chalon which acts as a vine conservatory for a host of the Jura Region’s autochthonous varieties. It’s well worth a visit if you are in the village and have an interest in viticultural heritage and ampelography.
The wine is quite youthful but probably ready to drink. It’s smooth-fruited, concentrated, and quite long. It lives up to its name (“blood”) in having a slightly meaty and iron-rich element, nothing that dominates, rather a hint and an edge. It is drinking beautifully. I think it’s the first wine I’ve drunk made by Alexandra (maybe the second, but I did have one of François’s Savagnins a couple of years ago, still made by him). I have not tasted the Vin de Paille for several years now, more’s the pity. A visit is in order.
This wine was a gift from friends who visited a year ago. The Mossus do advertise that you can visit the Papal Palace by appointment (Mon-Sat, open until 6pm, English and German spoken). It is one of the last old fashioned Jura domaines, in the true sense. I don’t believe there is a UK importer, heaven forbid.
The eagle-eyed will have noticed that we are still in January. February is a busy month, both for tastings and other activities, so I thought I would slip this in now, whilst I have time. I’m pretty sure at least one late January wine will sneak into the February roundup, whatever the competition.