As we are all doubtless drinking a little more at home during the Lockdown you may recall that last month’s “recent wine” roundup has been split into two parts. Part 1 is a mere short scroll down if you haven’t yet perused it, but in Part 2 we have another eight wines drunk at home (of course) during March. Below we have three wines from Spain, one from Burgundy, two Jura, one Georgian and one from Switzerland. Just trying to keep things fresh.
ARROBA 2018, BODEGAS GRATIAS (Manchuela, Spain)
If we are working our way down a list of the unusual grape varieties we have tried I wonder how many of us would get to Pintaillo? Among Spain’s many obscure autochthonous grapes, Pintaillo (also spelt Pintailla by Bodegas Gratias) is very obscure indeed. It grows not on its own but co-planted among the Bobal in Manchuela, and it isn’t very easy therefore to make a single varietal wine from it, but that’s what Bodegas Gratias does. It turns out that the effort is surprisingly worthwhile. It’s worth explaining that the “@” symbol you see on the label is called an arroba in Spanish.
It also turns out that Pintaillo/Pintailla was planted on Manchuela’s poor chalky soils for a reason. Bobal is quite prone to late frosts, but Pintaillo is a more hardy variety, so it’s an insurance policy. Not much of one because they are only able to make a small number of bottles, 560 of them in 2018. The juice is therefore fermented in small 500-litre containers and then is gently pressed into demijohns. It’s a completely natural wine with no additions.
You may not have come across this variety before, I certainly hadn’t, but it’s quite remarkable. Pale red in colour from minimal skin contact and gentle pressing, it has fresh acidity, and red raspberry fruit to the fore. That raspberry is so amazingly concentrated, though there’s also a herbal element sitting beneath the fruit. Tannin?…well maybe a tiny bit. I was very much taken with it. Sadly it is currently sold out, but it was well worth £30 from Solent Cellar(Lymington). In an order which arrived yesterday I grabbed a bottle of the same producer’s Bobal.
MÂCON-CRUZILLE “CUVÉE 910” 2013, CLOS DES VIGNES DU MAYNES (Burgundy, France)
I suppose one could justifiably call the Cuvée 910 legendary. The Guillot family set out to make this Mâcon red from Gamay and Pinot Noir in an old clos that has reputedly never seen synthetic chemicals, and where the vines have been propagated by massale selection. Julien Guillot’s intention was to vinify this cuvée as it would have been in medieval times, when the wines from this site were made by the monks of the great Benedictine Abbey of Cluny.
Founded in 910 CE but now largely a ruin, albeit a rather large one, Cluny can properly be described as the beating heart of Burgundian, and perhaps even European, viticulture. It was partly as a reaction to the luxurious life of the inhabitants of Cluny that the Cistercian Order was formed indirectly, from one of Cluny’s satellite abbeys (Molesme), by Bernard of Clairvaux in 1098 CE. The Cistercians followed a shall we say more pious regime, where hard agricultural work was central. I think we all know the rest of the story, the monks of that first Cistercian monastery at Cîteaux (near Dijon) spreading the vine around Europe, re-establishing more intensive viticulture following the retreat of Rome and the so-called Dark Ages.
The gimmick perhaps is that not only is this wine made completely without any additions or manipulations, including no added sulphur, but the grapes are transported to the winery on a bullock cart, to mimic the oxen of old. After that they are foot-trodden. But obviously, oxen aside, the important thing is whether the wine’s any good, and it is very good indeed, always. I tend to buy this every few years and it has always been excellent, with the proviso that it does taste more “natural” than some natural wines from Burgundy. I don’t mean volatile, or faulty, but perhaps a little on the edge at times.
Purity is what we concentrate on with Cuvée 910. Purity of fruit. If I say the wine has an edge, it is certainly very much cleaner than when the Cluniac monks made it, so you don’t need to be concerned. Remember too, this is a 2013, but it doesn’t taste at all old. The fruit purity comes through unhindered. That fruit is raspberry and strawberry, light on the palate and tingling with energy. You have that “is it Pinot, is it Gamay?” feeling. Biodynamic brilliance, perhaps.
This bottle was purchased at Fromagerie Vagne in Poligny (Jura).
CÔTES DU JURA CHARDONNAY “LES GAUDRETTES” 2015, DOMAINE PHILIPPE BORNARD (Jura, France)
Philippe Bornard was not all that long ago one of the new names in Pupillin, the village just outside Arbois made famous by Pierre Overnoy and Manu Houillon. Philippe’s father had previously sold his grapes to the local co-operative, but it was Overnoy who mentored Philippe when he decided he wanted to begin bottling himself. Winemaking at the domaine has recently been taken over by Philippe’s son, Tony, who has started to gain a fine reputation in his own right, but his father, Philippe, had certainly established Domaine Bornard as one of the finest domaines, not only in the village but in the region.
Les Gaudrettes is an interesting wine which I’ve had many times from several vintages. I’m also led to believe that this wine has also appeared bottled as a Vin de France, from the same vintage, which I have also drunk under that label. I won’t deny that it has a different effect on different people, very much depending on your reaction to natural wines. It tends to be a “marmite”, or love/hate, reaction. Whilst I am absolutely in the “love” camp, and am a big fan of Philippe’s wines, I can see why some might wonder how it managed to gain the appellation. I have even wondered that myself.
Can you tell it’s Chardonnay? Well, yes, but it is very much in that lighter, fresh apple, spectrum. I say lighter, but it comes with a remarkably well disguised abv of 13% in 2015. Some might think it more reminiscent of cloudy apple and pear juice with maybe a hint of hazelnut forming a base. The limestone and marl soils give it a particular minerality and the lees give it some texture. The acids are are zippy, and the wine is nothing but pure glou. It’s just so refreshing…yet alcoholic. What not to adore, open your heart and soul.
Bornard is imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.
RKATSITELI 2017, ANTADZE WINES (Kakheti, Georgia)
Niki Antadze makes wine at Manavi in Georgia’s eastern region of Kakheti, where qvevri winemaking is at its most traditional, and indeed Niki is one of the people central to both keeping alive this ancient winemaking tradition, and ensuring not only its survival but its journey out into the world. He farms around three hectares of Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane and Saperavi at around 750 metres asl. The vines range between fifty to one hundred years old, all farmed organically, without additives.
Although we read about people like Joško Gravner in Italy, and John Wurdeman’s Pheasant’s Tears in Georgia itself, Niki Antadze along with a handful of others have been equally instrumental in promoting Georgia’s traditions to the outside world. It’s why wine has gained a sixth category after red, white, pink, sparkling and fortified: orange wine. He has also made wine with Laura Seibel from the Jura, who I first met when she worked for Domaine de la Pinte in Arbois. Actually, Laura has a habit of involvement with some really interesting wine producers, and if you see her name it’s well worth exploring the wine.
This is a classic example of Georgia’s best known white variety vinified in qvevri (or “kvevri” as I think Niki likes to spell it). Although it’s a skin contact wine, around 80-to-90% of the grapes are gently pressed and the remainder go in as whole bunches. The result is stone-fruited, with citrus, but majoring on texture. It’s mellow and smooth and I think it would easily age further. I think I probably opened this at the beginning of its drinking window, but it’s already showing depth. It’s certainly one of the finest Georgian wines you will come across, though I should say that the wine is unfiltered and therefore liable to be cloudy. As with many such wines, I think it actually tastes best with the sediment disturbed, but that’s a matter of personal taste.
Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene, who sell the widest range of Georgian wines in the UK.
Major typo alert…see label…
ROZAS 1er 2015 VINO DE PARAJE, VAL DEL TIÉTAR, COMANDO G (Gredos, Spain)
Comando G is one of the projects instigated by friends Daniel Gómez Jiménez-Landi and Fernando Garcia (along with Marc Isart, but he has since gone his own way, though not through any disagreement) in what these amigos have made, more than any other winemakers, one of Spain’s most exciting viticultural regions this century: the Sierra de Gredos.
What the Gredos Mountains have become known for is very fine Grenache. There are several things which make Gredos Grenache special. First the mountains themselves, especially the altitude. Most of these old bush vines begin to grow at the 600 metre line, and go up as far as 1,200 metres. The soils are mostly on hard granite (with some clays and sand). But when the grapes come in they are fermented as whole clusters, so that when you taste these wines you sense altitude, granite and a particular type of winemaking which emphasises freshness and pure fruit. I talk about purity a lot, I know, maybe it gets a little boring, but these are quite without doubt some of the most pure fruited wines you can taste, from anywhere.
Dani and Fernando have adopted a kind of Burgundian heirarchy for their cuvées. At the base of the pyramid you have the regional wine, then the village wine. Above this there’s Premier Cru and the tiny production “Grand Cru” bottlings which are truly out of this world.
This wine, clearly a “1er”, comes from the village of Rozas de Puerto Real in the Valle de Tiétar (one of the two major rivers which have cut their valleys through the Gredos Mountains). The vines for this particular cuvée are planted at around 900 metres asl. The wine combines a smoothness with just a little bright mineral texture. Whilst the palate shows really explosive strawberry fruit, the bouquet is subtly floral with violets. I would say that this really is the Comando G wine to go for in terms of value for money, possibly the closest to the so-called Grand Crus, yet in some cases at almost half the price.
I would recommend looking out for the 2016s from Comando G, which are perhaps even better, and I was also able to taste a range of the 2017s and 2018s at Viñateros in London earlier this year. The Rumbo Al Norte 2017 was sensational, although you will pay near enough £200 for it. The village wine, La Bruja de Rozas, can be had for as little as £22 and I think this 1er Cru was perhaps £30+.
Les Caves de Pyrene imports Comando G, but it is also worth noting that Dani Landi’s own Las Uvas de la Ira project is imported separately by Indigo Wines.
SAINT-SAPHORIN “CHAVONCHIN” 2014, J-F NEYROUD-FONJALLAZ (Lavaux/Vaud, Switzerland)
St-Saphorin is one of the Crus of Lavaux. Situated between Lausanne and Montreux on the northern (mostly) Swiss shore of Lac Léman, these UNESCO World Heritage vineyards are amongst the most stunning in Europe, narrow terraces cascading down steep hillsides into the water below. The lake acts as a big heater, just like the Mosel in Germany or the Douro in Portugal, radiating warmth and reflecting sunlight onto those slopes in what otherwise would be a cold sub-Alpine climate.
The grape variety here is Chasselas. This is neither the first time, nor will it be the last, that I will point out how Chasselas unfairly (in my view) gets a really bad rap. I will accept that quite a bit of Chasselas from Switzerland is over cropped and quite tasteless (it makes around 60% of Swiss white wine), and some of the most guilty wines come from the Canton of Vaud. Yet those who dismiss the variety out of hand really don’t show they have tasted very deeply. If yields are kept lowish by artisan winemakers it has an uncanny knack of reflecting its terroir.
Saint-Saphorin is grandly described as one of the “Premier Grand Cru” villages of Lavaux, and whilst such a description might appear uncharacteristically boastful for the Swiss, it is fine terroir. According to José Vouillamoz it is also likely the variety’s place of birth (there’s a Consevatoire Mondial du Chasselas preserving the variety’s clonal diversity at nearby Rivaz, and as this is Switzerland there’s a well signposted trail through this conservatory).
If there are two kinds of Chasselas, the distinction is between thirst quenching versions to drink as soon as it’s bottled, and wines intended to age. This wine is the latter. The producer, Neyroud-Fonjallaz, is based in the very nearby village of Chardonne. This wine is straw-scented with citrus and herbs. It’s USP is not fruit, but a dry mineral texture. Its mellowness would probably lead some to think it not exciting enough. For those who appreciate subtlety occasionally, this would be of interest. As you know, I’m always keen to proselytise in favour of Swiss wines. If Switzerland’s finest wines come largely from the Valais, Lavaux also has a lot to offer, and you can easily get to these vineyards (including Rivaz, for the Conservatoire and Vinorama, see below), as a day trip from Geneva, including by train if you have no car.
I purchased this at the Lavaux Vinorama, a modern vinoteque tasting room (also at Rivaz, Route du Lac 2) not far from the Conservatoire. They do have a very wide selection of Lavaux wines and various tasting packages. If you like rare grape varieties then try to taste some Plant Robert, a version of which is also made by this producer.
VIÑA BOSCONIA RIOJA GRAN RESERVA 1995, LOPEZ DE HEREDIA (Rioja, Spain)
There’s no doubt in my mind that R Lopez de Heredia in Haro makes my favourite traditional style of Rioja, wines which will age magnificently for decades if stored in perfect conditions. This producer is so old they must be due for their 150th Anniversary before long. However, I have probably drunk eight or nine bottles of their red Viña Tondonia for every bottle of Bosconia, so I was especially looking forward to this, which had been lurking as a single bottle in my cellar for many years.
Bosconia is made both as a Reserva and a Gran Reserva. This GR is a blend of 80% Tempranillo and 15% Garnacha, the remaining 5% a mix of Graciano and Mazuelo, all estate grown. Initially it sees ten years in oak before bottling and then further age before release. Generally it is suggested by the producer that its ageing potential is “more than 10 years”. Not quite as short a period of ageing, I would suggest!
So we begin with the bouquet. The first notes are vanilla, although ageing is in French, not the old Rioja tradition of American, oak barrels. But the oak seems deep within the wine, not top-heavy like an oaky wine in youth, nor indeed like the almost vanilla essence of more commercial Riojas, such as those I remember from the 1980s. There’s fruit here, but that’s not really what this wine is about. It’s cherry fruit, but it’s kind of clafoutis cherry with that hint of alcohol. There’s a tiny woody note too, possibly a well seasoned log, or a roll-up, not that I smoke myself.
This is just so smooth and complex. It has fresh acidity and although the tannins are low, it’s not mature by any means. This will go years if not decades. I wish I had a couple more bottles to be honest. But saying that, it might well be the finest classical wine I shall drink this year, or close. Such an impressive bottle. I genuinely cannot recall where I bought it. Possibly The Sampler?
“RED BULLES” PETNAT, DOMAINE DES BODINES (Jura, France)
I would say I’m one of Alex and Emilie Porteret’s biggest fans and before I had ever drunk any of their other wines it was this delicious Pétnat which had started my journey. Ironically, on the occasions I’ve visited Domaine des Bodines, right on the edge of Arbois, on the road to Dôle, they have never had any Red Bulles to sell. Thankfully one of the shops selling natural wines in Arbois or Poligny generally has had a bottle or two left. This young couple farm a mere three hectares, most of it literally in their backyard.
The first vintage at Bodines was only in 2011. Neither Alexis, nor Emilie, had worked in wine before but Alex had mentored for a couple of vintages with Pascal Clairet at Domaine de la Tournelle, and he was working part-time for Domaine de la Pinte until just before I last saw him in December 2018, before a full-time shift to Bodines. La Pinte was the first biodynamic domaine in Arbois, and Alex would love to be fully biodynamic, but for now he’s content to have fully converted their vines to organics. They have been experimenting with horse power in their home vineyard, though Emilie did tell me it was proving surprisingly expensive. There have certainly been some small harvests here, due to hail and frosts, in recent years but the wines all continue to impress me so much.
The name of the Pétnat is accurate enough, the wine being (pale) red and bubbly! It’s made from Poulsard grapes, which give that almost luminous light red colour which people never fail to remark on before anything else. The bubbles are plentiful, and they hit the nasal passages in a riot of fresh raspberry, pomegranate and cranberry. The palate has a dryness very reminiscent of pomegranate juice, with its slightly firm finish.
Most noticeable is the spine which runs through the wine, like brittle glass that will not shatter. The acidity is quite emphatic, but it is such a refresher. I do wish it was bottled in litres or magnums, and it is after all only 9.5% abv, so you could share a magnum between two without cause for concern. I do love Bodines, and I’m sure that as well as the quality of the wines here, it’s partly because of the warmth I sense in the family too. They remind me somehow of the Koppitsch family at Neusiedl in Burgenland.
This bottle would either have come from Vagne in Poligny or Les Jardins de St-Vincent in Arbois.