Recent Wines May 2020 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

Once more, May’s “Recent Wines” will be brought to you in two parts…because let’s face it we are all drinking more bottles at home during these times, and I have again selected eighteen wines from the last month which I think you’d like to read about. That’s nine here, and nine more to follow in Part 2. As our Lockdown goes on into a fourth month I’m not going to deny that motivation for most things is starting to wane a little. Even so, the wines remain an inspiration and seem, perhaps, to get better and better for their restorative possibilities at the end of the day.

Couple that sense of fatigue with the fact that we have builders in right now, work that was originally due to commence on 6 April but which is perhaps at least better completed now than before the second wave hits, and the words may seem slower to flow from my keyboard, which is in itself apparently starting to die, hopefully slowly. But off we go with the first nine wines of May. I hope you enjoy them. The first is something of a marvel.

PROMISED LAND RIESLING BRUT NATURE 2013, CHARLIE HERRING WINES (Hampshire, England)

Charlie Herring is the label which Tim Phillips began when he made wine in South Africa, and indeed he can still sell you some of those South African wines with a good bit of bottle age if you ask him. He now makes what we can safely call artisan wines from what could possibly be the most idyllic vineyard in the UK, a walled “clos” not far from the picturesque Georgian yacht haven of Lymington.

This is, as far as I know, the only bottle-fermented (Sekt style) Riesling in the country. Riesling has pretty much been written off in England. Those earlier pioneers who planted it failed to get it to ripen, and someone recently told me that the considerable number of Riesling vines planted by one of England’s biggest vineyard investments, Rathfinny (near Alfriston on the South Downs), have been uprooted. But Tim benefits from a number of factors, one of which is the warming microclimate his walled vineyard enjoys (adding warmth and protection from wind)…the other is that his vines are planted on gravels, not chalk.

This is unquestionably an astonishing wine. A perfect bead of bubbles draws in the nose to a bouquet of white flowers and apple, with a freshness you’d probably not expect from a wine of this age. The acidity is as crunchy as a new season’s apple and the wine is dry and with considerable depth. A firm spine runs rapier-sharp through the centre. And the label, which continues Tim’s “Tom Phillips-inspired” theme (from A Humument) is rather special too. Tim thinks about everything…constantly.

This is a rare wine, difficult to get hold of in any vintage. If you are one of those who appreciates fine German Sekt then you really must try to.

Les Caves de Pyrene distributes a little of Tim’s wines, or try local indies like The Solent Cellar, but perhaps with regard to Riesling best to contact Tim himself (charlieherring.com).

FREEDOM HILL VINEYARD PINOT BLANC 2017, KELLEY FOX WINES (Oregon, USA)

The Freedom Hill Vineyard was established in 1981 by the Dusschee family, and from 1982 they planted around 92 acres on a 140 acre property. Whilst Kelley might be better known for her wines from the Willamette Valley’s famed Maresh and Momtazi sites, Freedom Hill (in the Eola Hills of the Oregon Coast Range) produces a little gem. It’s a wine which Kelley herself likes to downplay.

Pinot Blanc loves this terroir. The small (1.75-acre) block it comes from is marine sediment called Bellpine, and sits between 375 and 600 feet asl. Kelley actually makes two cuvées from this less-lauded variety. The “Barbie” is fermented in an acacia puncheon, whereas this bottling sees the inside of neutral Burgundy barrels for fermentation, ageing and malo.

The wine is all about stone fruit, a little peach wafting from the bouquet and its textured counterpart grounding the palate. It has a minerality too, and a citrus dryness, especially on the finish. Pinot Blanc when done well can be a revelation, and I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted one this good (I’ve drunk this cuvée on at least three occasions). There is definitely a hint of the more savoury forms of Burgundy Chardonnay to it, but with less gras. Of course it is a wine in its own right and redolent of its terroir and context. It also has a genuine spark of life. Not to mention the fact that it presents an opportunity to drink Kelley Fox whilst those Pinots are quietly ageing.

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.

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“HOMOK” 2018, WEINGUT ALEXANDER KOPPITSCH (Burgenland, Austria)

I drink something by Alex and Maria Koppitsch most months, as regular readers will have noticed. This cuvée is from their “fun” range, simple wines with bright labels, but always with a twist. Their vineyards lie around Neusiedl-am-See around the northern end of the famous reed-wrapped shallow lake. This blend comes from a vineyard very close to the lake’s famous expanse of reed beds, called Seefeld (self-explanatory) off, well, homok, which is Hungarian for sand. The name reflects the Hungarian heritage of the region in what was once a single empire (the modern day border is right at the bottom end of the lake).

The grape blend here is Grüner Veltliner and Weissburgunder (both 40%) with Sauvignon Blanc making up the rest. The juice is gently screw-pressed and goes into a range of vats (stainless steel, acacia, oak and fibreglass) where the varieties co-ferment and then remain on gross lees for six months. Every vat is blended together right before bottling. At this stage Alex adds a low 5mg/l sulphur, which is the only additive or manipulation used. In fact the Koppitsch family are incredibly conscious about their environmental impact, and this goes even as far as thinking about their packaging (recycled cardboard for boxes, no packaging tape, no printing on boxes etc).

The resulting wine has a creamy texture and is high in aromatics, something Alex explains by the vineyard being so close to the lake and the reed beds, making it a warm site. The wine has a fresh yet fruity acidity, redolent of apples…and yuzu fruit. Yes, definitely yuzu! But when sipping a fun wine like this you don’t need a great deal of explanation. Dry, fruity, refreshing, will suffice.

The agents for the UK are Fresh Wines (Kinross, Scotland for mail order retail) and Jascots (usually restaurant suppliers but currently selling to private customers and offering trade prices during the pandemic on orders of 12 bottles or more). Both unfortunately sell only a very limited number of wines from Weingut Koppitsch.

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RIESLING KABINETT TROCKEN 2015, SYBILLE KUNTZ (Mosel, Germany)

Sybille farms at Lieser with vineyards next to those of the Schloss. If she has less of a reputaion in the UK than her illustrious neighbour (which also happens to be one of my very favourite German estates, I must stress), then she should truly not be too far behind these days, and if exploring this village close the Bernkastel it would be a shame not to include Sybille along with the wines of Thomas Haag at Schloss Lieser.

Unlike that producer, you will not find a plethora of named sites, but a mere explanation of the wine style in the bottle. All the wines are bottled with an elegant but modern (especially for the Mosel) label, each one a different colour. This Kabinett Trocken has a blue label which is intended to reflect the blue Devonian Slate from which it is sourced. Picking throughout the harvest is selective, so the triage for Kabinett quality takes place in one go across the four sites: Lieser Schlossberg, Rosenlay, Niederberg Helden and Pauls Valley. The latter is a very steep-sided lateral valley on pure Devonian Slate with very old vines and a warm microclimate. The juice is extremely mineral.

In fact lime and minerals predominate this fresh bottling, which with 12% abv is certainly trocken. Yet the acidity melds so well with the concentrated fruit that the overall structure is near-perfect. As is balance. It’s gorgeous stuff, as is everything coming out of Moselstraße 25 in Lieser. Every year the wines seem to get even better.

The importer is Uncharted Wines.

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SCHILCHERSEKT, WEINGUT FRIEDRICH (Styria, Austria)

I include this wine largely to highlight one of my personal guilty pleasures, Schilcher, and especially its sparkling form, Schilchersekt. We are in the domaine of the Blauer Wildbacher grape variety here, a native of Styria, or to be even more precise, Weststeiermark. Schilcher is usually a dry (very dry) rosé, but I have developed a taste for the sparkling version, introduced to me by perhaps the most traditionally Austrian of our Austrian friends and acquaintances.

I’d never drunk a wine from Weingut Friedrich (or Schilcherweingut Friedrich, as they proclaim). Just so that you know where to find them they are at the aptly named Langegg-an-der-Schilcherstrasse at St-Stefan ob Stainz, but this bottle was on the shelf in Vienna’s “Wein & Co” chain just before I left the city last visit. Although I can get Schilcher in various forms (including a wonderful frizzante) made by my favourite producer, Strohmeier, from Newcomer Wines in Dalston (London), I am such an acid hound that I find it difficult to come home from any trip to Austria without one, nor from Dalston for that matter.

This bottle boasts 12% abv, with 12g/l of residual sugar, balanced by 8.5g/l total acidity. This means you are tasting a wine which appears quite high in acidity yet it also has a very fruity freshness, like a blend of tart blackcurrants with ripe strawberries. I think Schilcher is a wine some will love and others will pucker their lips at, but if you feel adventurous enough to try it I definitely suggest one of the sparkling versions, and preferably outdoors on a hot day, whether on a picnic or in the garden. I’ve enjoyed it indoors in winter, so weird as I am and so in need of my Schilcher fix, but it is a wine made for sunshine.

This doesn’t get a UK importer, as far as I know, but the abovementioned Newcomer Wines stocks the unrivalled natural wine versions from the Strohmeier family, who farm ten hectares, also at St Stefan ob Stainz.

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“PORTUGEEZER” LANDWEIN, STAFFELTER HOF (Mosel, Germany)

If you thought Sybille Kuntz’s wine labels are not very “Mosel” then you will find Jan Matthias Klein’s even more so (and I know someone of a more traditional bent who was indeed actively turned off the mere idea of this wine by its label). JMK is a younger grower at Kröv, and one might wonder what on earth he’s doing planting grapes like those which go into this “Landwein”. We are talking Arinto (45%) and Ferñao Pires (55%), stalwarts of Portugal’s warm climate.

This is very much a climate change experiment, an attempt to see whether grapes used to warmer and drier conditions might thrive in the, er, warmer and drier Mosel of the 21st Century. Of course Jan wasn’t going to stop there. He’s the latest family member at the helm of an estate which not only dates back to 1805, but has apparently been farmed for grapes since the ninth century. But to hell with tradition when you can have ecological progress. In 2014 Jan began to make some wine without recourse to added sulphur, and they have all turned out not only to be successful, but to become cult classics.

Portugeezer is fizzy, cloudy, dry, quite acid, apple fresh, zippy and alive. It actually tastes quite Portuguese, like a frothy Vinho Verde, certainly not very “Mosel”, yet that’s not the point here because you can buy the estate’s more traditional Rieslings, if you so wish. I know my readers well enough to understand that this experiment will be of great interest…except that this particular bottling sold out very swiftly, but any of the wines with similar labels (Little Bastard white blend, Little Red Riding Wolf Pinot Noir, or maybe Orange Utan from skin contact Riesling and Muscat) will inspire and elate the adventurous among you whilst you await the next shipment.

Seek from Modal Wines.

VINO CLARETE 2018, SORTEVERA (Canary Is, Spain)

Sortevera is a new project, which began with the 2018 vintage, between Jonatan Garcia Lima (of Suertès del Marqués) and viticulturalist Jose Angel Alonso Ramos. The vines are at Taganana on Teneriffe, in the remote northeast of the island. They are extremely old low lying bush vines, more than a hundred years old in fact, all “pie franco” (on their own roots). You may even have seen photos of similar vines in the same location as farmed by the Envinate team in Luis Gutiérrez’s “The New Vignerons” book.

Clarete is traditionally made from a field blend of red and white grapes all co-fermented together, and is undergoing a minor revival as a wine style in Spain, where some producers have spotted the trend towards lighter red wine styles. In this case it is made in old 500-litre French oak and then aged in the same for ten months. Although pale, this isn’t really a rosado, being more of a light red. It certainly has the bouquet of a red wine, very red-fruited,  yet a white wine acidity coats the tongue in a very textured way. It’s a savoury wine yet the exquisite fruit gives almost a hint of sweetness. There is certainly, despite the bright acidity, a certain plumpness or amplitude, and it also finishes with a nice bite. This is definitely a project to follow as they progress, a welcome addition to wonderful Tenerife.

This costs around £26 from The Solent Cellar. You may also find white and red cuvées on the market.

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BARBARESCO “OVELLO” RISERVA 2001, PRODUTTORI DEL BARBARESCO (Barbaresco, Italy)

One of the great, and once unsung, Piemontese producers must be the Barbaresco co-operative cellar. Their wines are always exemplary, but their long list of single site bottlings was always known as one of the region’s bargains. More than 100 hectares of vineyard is farmed by fifty co-operative members, many of whom have small, or not so small, parcels in the DOCG’s top crus.

Ovello is a lesser known site on chalky clay capable of producing wines of great aromatic freshness. In 2001 there was a hot summer tempered by a cooler autumn, which allowed ripening to slow down. It was those who didn’t pick too early, allowing the cooler September temperatures to help develop those aromatics, who made the best wines. You know I’m not a points man but this was well endowed with them by the main critics at the time of release.

Even for a Riserva, this 2001 is well aged, yet I’d not say that on the evidence of this bottle, which had been gathering dust chez nous for a very long time, it was one which needed drinking swiftly. It displayed that gorgeous brick red of aged Nebbiolo, of which one could argue that there is no more beautiful colour in all of wine. There is plenty of structure there but you don’t really notice the 14% abv, perhaps down to a degree of elegance, and certainly savouriness. It’s amazing that a wine approaching twenty years of age still shows some tannins, but let’s not forget the grape variety and the era in which it was made. It did slip down rather nicely with a wild mushroom-based couscous dish, on a Zoom chat with the person for whom I had originally saved it to drink with (I wasn’t intending to be mean, and I still have some nice treats left in the cellar).

This was bought from Butler’s Wine Cellar in Brighton back in the days when a bottle of the single cru would cost around the same as their generic Barbaresco costs today, although these wines still remain amazing value.

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GRAUPERT 2013, MEINKLANG (Burgenland, Austria)

I’ve been trying to drink some of the Meinklang wines I’ve had tucked away in my cellar for a while. It’s always tempting to drink wines like this fairly soon after purchase, but inevitably when I do try to forget about them for a few years they yield interesting and worthwhile results.

Meinklang Farm is at Pamhagen, which is to the south of the Neusiedlersee, close to the Hungarian border. Meinklang also farms vines on the Somló Massif in Hungary, but this wine is made in Austria. Graupert (a dialect word meaning “scruffy”) is the name Meinklang gave to a particular way of farming vines, whereby they are allowed to grow more or less free from human intervention, especially from pruning. Unpruned, the vines naturally climb and they prodvide larger numbers of smaller berries, yet produce yields which, perhaps counter-intuitively, are smaller than those considered normal with traditional vine training methods. In other words, each vine is self-regulating.

These smaller berries produce juice which is more aromatic and with greater extract, due to the smaller pulp to skins ratio. The wines also end up with potentially greater complexity. There’s a Pinot Gris made this way, which is perhaps more often seen on the UK market. This is a red, made from Zweigelt, and it gives really intense red fruits on a bed of plum and a tiny dash of savoury soy as well. It marries an earthy quality with truly explosive brightness, which combines with notable length to give a wine of real impact. I’d forgotten how good this Zweigelt is, though I no longer have any more left.

This originally came from The Winemakers Club in Farringdon, London. This is my past source for Meinklang, although they currently only list four cuvées, perhaps due to the pandemic. A slightly larger selection is currently available from Vintage Roots. Neither importer has this wine, but Vintage Roots does list the Graupert White I mentioned above. Meinklang has pretty good distribution in North America. Although they also make a wide range of inexpensive wines often found in bars and restaurants, they are one of Burgenland’s most innovative producers. No Austrian-focused corner of your cellar should be without some Meinklang.

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About dccrossley

Writing here and elsewhere mainly about the outer reaches of the wine universe and the availability of wonderful, characterful, wines from all over the globe. Very wide interests but a soft spot for Jura, Austria and Champagne, with a general preference for low intervention in vineyard and winery. Other passions include music (equally wide tastes) and travel. Co-organiser of the Oddities wine lunches.
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