We’ve had Zoom and we’ve had Crowdcast, but by far the most popular form of wine communication during the lockdown is the Instagram broadcast. Some are just random with no scheduled time or content, whilst other originators are trying to keep to a schedule or theme. Even those who are following this better (well, more helpful to we viewers) course are not necessarily doing as much as they could to publicise in advance their plans and schedule.
So a plea from the viewer: we want to see your stuff but contrary to what you might think we are not sitting here watching our phones for something to appear. So please give us some warning. Maybe even put a schedule on your web site, as Newcomer Wines has done for their Kiffe my Wines collaboration Crowdcasts. Heck, they even put up accompanying photos etc to go with the chats.
Last Tuesday afternoon Basket Press Wines broadcast what I hope will be the first in a regular series called “A Glass With…” (now renamed wine banter, I’m informed, because another wine pro has nabbed the “glass with” moniker). The first one to share a glass with Zainab (one half of Basket Press Wines) was Alexandre Freguin, whose main claim to fame, I guess, is that he won the Taittinger UK Sommelier of the Year in 2018. Alex is a very knowledgeable guy, a delight to listen to, and I think he was chosen because he’s actually visited Moravia (lucky bloke).
Billed as “a glass with…”, but actually we got two for the price of one. Alex was sipping on Zdenek Vykoukal’s Cabernet Moravia and Jaroslav Osička’s P.A.N. Both wines are made in part, or wholly, from varieties peculiar to Moravia, and both of the varieties involved make highly creditable wines in the hands of the best producers. The importance of heritage varieties was central to the Newcomer Wines talk on Furmint last week, and although the two varieties involved here don’t have the history of Furmint, they nevertheless deserve to find their place in Moravian viticulture.
Cabernet Moravia is a crossing between Zweigelt and Cabernet Franc, both seriously under rated varieties in their own right. Vykoukal is a station master by day, but tends a small 1.5 hectare vineyard, growing Grüner, Chardonnay, Neuberger, Riesling, St Laurent, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Moravia. The soils are almost pure limestone, which comes through magnificently as brightness and salinity. Add to this a flavour profile which is fleshy and juicy and you have a genuinely lovely wine adding a point of difference to the better known varieties in the region.
The vineyard’s site is pretty close to the location of Austerlitz, that bloody battle in the Napoleonic Wars where France’s Grande Armée defeated Russia and Austria (a battle cited as a tactical masterpiece by Napoleon, glossing over the fact that more than 100,000 men died in a day).
Next up we had one from the master. Jaroslav Osička is the godfather of modern Moravian low intervention viticulture and winemaking, having taught for thirty years at the local wine college. He’s one of the region’s mavericks, but in a good way, and his intuitive experiments have only taken the region forward. “P.A.N.” is a blend of Pinot Noir with André. This latter variety is so unknown, so rare, that it doesn’t even get its own Wikipedia entry, but it’s a 1960 crossing between Blaufränkisch and St Laurent…and it has a lot of potential. It takes a winemaker as intuitive as Jaroslav to recognise this.
Zainab called this wine a dance between Syrah and Pinot Noir, an interesting combination in itself, which I have, albeit rarely, seen in Victoria, Australia. Such a crossing is hardly that unusual, considering that we have Austria’s Weinviertel region just south, across the border. The wine itself is imprinted with cherry-like concentration which makes it an ideal bridge between preprandial glugging and food.
These are relatively inexpensive wines, which retail direct from Basket Press for £21.50 and £16.50 respectively, and both would sit nicely in a selection from this Czech Wine specialist who is currently selling direct to private customers with a free delivery offer during the pandemic lockdown. Everyone who knows these wines I think sees them as Central Europe’s hidden gems. They show how far Czechia’s winemaking has come since the Communist era. This must primarily be down to the respect for the soil (ecology), and the vine (Moravia is a beacon for high quality grafting) which seems in-bred into these low intervention producers.
If Basket Press is to keep up the high quality of their broadcasts they will have to work hard to match this excellent chat, but on Thursday they went on a different tack, taking us to the beautiful home, the 14th/15th Century fortified farm of Sudkuv Dul, in the Josafat Valley in the north of Czechia, and Utopia Ciders. The spiel goes along the lines of “ciders like you have never known before – undisguised by forced carbonation and sweetening, addition of enzymes or additives”, and for once the hype is accurate.
Ivo Laurin and wife, Eva, don’t only make small batch artisan ciders, they live the dream in an idyll where they have geese, carp and sheep as well as their orchards. Their apples are mostly Czech heritage cider varieties, although they have planted some English seedlings as an experiment. I’ve written about Utopia recently, so I won’t repeat much of what I’ve said. There are four ciders, each retailing for £16.50, of which thus far I’ve tried only one (“Johanna”). I think the best way to describe these is to suggest that you approach them as if they had more in common with a natural wine rather than a traditional cider. They also make an ice cider (apple icewine), which I haven’t tasted, although I’ve tasted these from Quebec and they can be stunningly concentrated.
What this kind of Insta broadcast hopefully brings to the table is to enable us to be transported to somewhere beautiful. Indeed, this would have proved a perfect bit of escapism had not my internet kept dropping out (all of a sudden dozens of people working from home in my road), plus being on cooking duty (when the screen looks so beautiful you do have to be careful with the Henckels, you don’t want a trip to the emergency department right now). But I saw enough to enjoy a different kind of “wine online”, a little bit of vicarious travel.
On Tuesday 7 April (tomorrow, 5.00pm) Zainab will be having a glass with, oops, I mean some “Wine Banter” with one of the UK’s most dynamic sommeliers, Ania Smelskaya. Ania transformed the list (both wine and cider) at the UK’s most cutting edge restaurant, Silo, first at their original home in Brighton and then at Silo’s new home in East London. Can’t wait, despite the inconvenient time slot for busy home chefs. I’d probably say that if you might consider tuning in to any of Basket Press’s broadcasts, then choose this one. Ania has known these wines for even longer than I have.
Last Friday Nekter Wines continued with their series of tastathons on Zoom with Keep Wines’ Jack Roberts and his wife JJ (Johanna Jensen). Jack was until recently Assistant Winemaker for the Matthiassons and JJ was with Broc Cellars and Abe Schoener’s Scholium Project. Everyone was tasting their Keep Wines Vermentino, but I’d opened their gorgeous Counoise 2018 (not just to be perverse, it was a far better match for the exquisite cottage pie my wife was cooking). I’ll give you a tip. Keep Wines, and indeed Benevolent Neglect, make amazing Counoise and they are both rather tasty. This new vintage 2018 Counoise from Keep is just so good and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Wednesday afternoon at 3pm sees the return of the Newcomer/Kiffe Crowdcasts with Jutta Ambrositsch et al explaining what it’s like to make a career change to winemaking. For me personally, unmissable.