After interrupting my May Wines recap at the start of the week to add to the conversation about the grey market for natural wines (which seemed to go down pretty well) we are back on track for the last nine wines of interest drunk at home last month. But before that I want to mention briefly a fine resource on Alsace natural wine. It may be pertinent because I signed off that last article with a nod towards Alsace as a likely source for a new wave of natural wine icons, unicorns even.
David Neilson is the guy behind the Back in Alsace blog, and although he’s currently in Lockdown in San Francisco he’s very heavily involved in the Alsace region, as an organiser of natural wine events and his wider work with Raisin. He’s also planted a small vineyard up north, the region’s happening, but no longer wild, frontier. The blog is a good source for keeping updated about what’s happening around Alsace, especially the wine fairs. He has also been adding excellent producer profiles, none better than his most recent, of Jean-Pierre Frick. Along with Valerie Kathawala’s site, I think Back in Alsace is one of the most interesting web resources on basically stuff that you and I would want to read about. Check it out here.
Back to May, nine more wines (I’m sure you don’t need me to help you find Part 1). One Jura, two Czech, one Alsace, one Californian, one from Germany, one Savoie, one Beaujolais and one very interesting wine from Navarra in Spain.
CHARDONNAY ROSE 2016, STÉPHANE TISSOT (DOM A&M TISSOT) (Jura, France)
Stéphane and Bénédicte make so many different wines that it is impossible to keep track, and equally impossible to buy them all. I remember Stéphane’s father used to get frustrated at the number of different cuvées he made way back when he first took over at this Montigny-les-Arsures domaine, and now he’s even more prolific. I think it would be too easy with all the well known wines in the range to miss this particular Chardonnay. Don’t.
This is a tiny cuvée of a massale selection Chardonnay which is not a Rosé, but a pink-tinged variant (a little like the Savagnin Rose I have talked about recently in the context of Heiligenstein in Alsace). Chardonnay Rose, interestingly, is said to originate near the village of Chardonnay in Southern Burgundy (where Chardonnay the grape certainly did not).
These are actually fairly young vines planted on argilo-calcaire soils at three sites: La Mailloche, Curon and Valière. This is truly a lovely wine. The bouquet is floral, but with lemon, and aniseed spice. There is almost a hint of Stéphane’s Traminer (ouillé light Savagnin) here. The palate has peachy stone fruit and a touch of hazelnut, but I’m definitely getting some lychee on the finish. I don’t normally list so many adjectives, but I guess I’m trying to convey that whilst this wine is bright and youthful, it is also complex. Let it warm in the glass. Astonishingly good.
Purchased from the domaine’s shop in Central Arbois, on the Place de la Liberté.
MODRY PORTUGAL 2016, JAROSLAV OSICKA (Moravia, Czechia)
Jaroslav is the godfather of Moravian natural wine, and I drink quite a few of his wines, it must be said. I was on an online Insta Live with him recently (with his importer, Basket Press Wines), and I asked him, through his son as translator, how he had squared teaching standard winemaking techniques at the local viticultural college for thirty years with making natural wine himself. He said that he taught the curriculum, and then told his students “but there is another way”. The current success of natural wine in Moravia is a testament to his work, especially as a founder of the Authentiste Group of natural wine proponents.
After thirty years teaching, three hectares at Velké Bílowice is a nice retirement, though he’s been farming them since 1980. Working biodynamically, always with low yields, this is the only red wine (along with three whites and an orange wine) which are imported. It is made from the Blauer Porugieser variety. This grape has nothing to do with Portugal, probably originating in Austria, where Grüner Silvaner is one parent variety. It is probably best known in Germany, and although it reached Moravia in 1880 it is very much on the decline (from almost 17% of the Moravian vineyard in the 1930s to less than 4% by 2010). This is a shame because it’s one of those varieties which I think works well with natural wine methods.
The key to this wine isn’t any great degree of complexity, just masses of drinkability. The fruit for instance is quite intense black berries, giving acidity and bite. It’s what you’d call sappy and zippy, but this doesn’t mean there’s a lack of weight. It has some of that too. Juicy, fruity, then earthy, and a touch of herbs to season the finish. Delicious, and great value at under £20. I’ve drunk this several times over the past three years and I always come back for more.
The UK importer is Basket Press Wines who are operating an online shop during the pandemic. Check out these Czech wines. The prices are pretty reasonable and the quality is surprisingly high, I think you’ll find. If it all looks a bit overwhelmingly new, have a chat with them. A six-pack at the very least is well worth exploring. There are lots of petnats and skin-contact whites are pretty common here. They don’t pay me to say that, and every wine is paid for, but I do want to see these exciting natural wines keep coming to the UK.
“ZEGWUR” 2016 CUVÉE NATURE, DOMAINE DURRMANN (Alsace, France)
I was writing about Anna, André and Yann Durrmann recently in my article on Mittelbergheim and Andlau, the Durrmanns being based in the latter (link here) and I thought at the time I should open something. This particular cuvée had, I admit, been calling out to me from the racks for a while.
The Durrmann family have farmed this land for generations, but André shifted the focus both to wine (from mixed farming), and towards biodynamic winemaking. His one nod to the past, or perhaps to the future, is the herd of sheep he allows into the vines to chomp away at the vegetation. He began to make some cuvées naturally, with no added sulphur, and labelled them “Nature”. Since my original visit in 2017 André’s son, Yann, has taken full charge and will move the domaine even further in this direction.
Zegwur is a natural wine, a Gewurztraminer cuvée made from 900 selected vines. It’s unfiltered, has no added sulphur and certainly has a wild side to it. It comes out of the bottle cloudy for a start, which I guess a few people might find shocking, used as they may be to Alsace wine filtered to within a molecule of flavourless death (on occasion). The colour is towards amber, obviously lees-aged, and thankfully dry. It does have a fairly characteristic Gewurz’ bouquet in its more tropical, rather than floral, dimension (some pineapple, mango, a touch of peach) and the palate has good acidity for the variety, but tempered by structure and texture donated by the lees.
This only comes in at 12.5% abv in the 2016 vintage, so it’s at the lighter end of the spectrum. But that’s good. You don’t necessarily see a lot of Gewurztraminer in this style these days, where it can tend to richness and fat with sweetness and maybe 13.5%-to-14% alcohol. It’s juicy, but for me it’s the overall dryness which appeals.
This bottle was purchased at the domaine (11 rue des Forgerons, Andlau). Wines Under the Bonnet imports Domaine Durrmann, but this is not one of the six cuvées they currently bring to the UK.
ROSÉ 2018, MATTHIASSON FAMILY WINES (Napa, California, USA)
Matthiasson is one of the key names in the sustainability movement in California Wine, and Steve Matthiasson and his wife, Jill, are giants within their world. They make wines in a wide price range, from their easy drinking “Tendu” label up to the famous estate wines. Somewhere in between in terms of price, and often lost when looking at the more serious wines, is this Rosé.
We have a blend of Syrah (44%), Mourvèdre (25%), Grenache (26%), and 5% good old Counoise. Most of the fruit comes off the warm Windmill Hill Vineyard in the Dunnigan Hills, except for the Syrah which is picked off the cooler clay of the Hurley Vineyard along the Napa River. Whole clusters are settled for 24 hours and then fermented on lees in stainless steel barrels, with no stirring nor topping up. The ripe fruit feel comes from Windmill Hill, whilst Steve says that Hurley gives all that fresh acidity (though it’s worth pointing out that blocking the malo helps preserve all that freshness).
This pale salmon pink wine with just a glint of orange seems to combine a clean citrus zip with a ripeness of fruit, but all with just 12% alcohol. It makes for a perfect early summer wine, with a lightness of touch you don’t necessarily expect from Napa. This is in large part down to the low intervention practised in the winery. Steve and Jill, with a background in viticulture consultancy (Steve co-wrote California’s manual on Sustainable Viticulture in 1999), are all about the vineyard, and I think that comes through in this lovely wine. This is, for a change, one Rosé it is well worth paying £30 for.
Since this year (2020) Nekter Wines has become the exclusive UK agent for all the Matthiasson Family wines. Everything neatly in one place.
CREMAUX PINOT NOIR 2017, PETR KORÁB (Moravia, Czechia)
Petr works around four hectares of vines with his brother at Boleradice, some of which they have been able to purchase and some which are rented from retired growers. Everything is done biodynamically, and they use as little added sulphur as they can get away with, under the rules of the Authentiste natural winemaking group in the region. Their vines are between 30 and 80 years old, which certainly helps a fairly young domaine (established 2006).
The domaine is something of a sparkling wine specialist and this is a petnat style made by the méthode ancestrale (bottle fermented without disgorgement). It is also made via skin contact, maturing in acacia barrels before transfer to bottle for the second fermentation. The result is dry with just 0.6 g/litre residual sugar. It’s very orange in colour (Koráb makes another petnat which has the amazing cloudy pink colour of lychee), but the palate definitely shows clean red fruits. There’s maybe just a tiny hint of apple, and I’d say it does have the crisp dry freshness, and perhaps steeliness, of fine cider.
This is a fascinating wine, undoubtedly pushing boundaries and towards the fringes of winemaking even in a petnat context, yet it is clean and fresh so do not be put off. This is definitely a producer to explore, especially if you find bubbles exhilarating.
Basket Press Wines is once more the importer of this Moravian domaine. The Cremaux is currently all gone at the time of writing, but they do have some of the “Orange On Leaves” I believe (£21).
KUPP KABINETT FAß 8 2013, WEINGUT PETER LAUER (Saar, Germany)
Florian Lauer is one of my favourite German producers, certainly top three in the wider Mosel. From the famous VDP Grosslage of Ayler Kupp (at Ayl, on the River Saar), the cold winds which zip up from the east here seem always etched into the wine from this classic site (indeed one of the first single sites I came across when I had my initial instruction in classic German Riesling very many years ago).
The essence of good Kabinett is tension. A tension between fruit and acidity. When young the acids can seem to win out, especially here above the Saar, and in fact so long as you don’t go too young, then the thrill of that acidity is something to adore. But Kabinett, always low in alcohol (a mere 7.5% here), can trick you, through its filigree lightness, into thinking it won’t age. At this level of quality it does, very well indeed.
If you think this bottle will just yield up a nice combination of lemon/lime citrus on the tongue with minerality and taut energy you will be in for an even nicer surprise. There’s more. The energy comes through in a presence which belies the wine’s overall lightness. I think this is done via the flavour of something akin to dessert apple, a variety which has a certain sweetness alongside the crispness. It’s a wonderful wine. These Kabinetts can go twenty years in some vintages. 2013 was a strange year in the region, pretty wet at harvest. But top producers sorted for rot and were, despite the rain, able to make remarkable, wonderful, wines with the acid spine to age well. This is one such wine. Brilliant!
Howard Ripley is Weingut Lauer’s UK importer. This bottle came from Solent Cellar in Lymington, Hampshire.
“LA CUVÉE DES GUEUX” 2018, VIN DE SAVOIE, ADRIEN BERLIOZ (Savoie, France)
Adrien is part of a famous family of winemakers in the region. He’s a second cousin to Gilles Berlioz, who began making wine at Chignin in 1990. Adrien has only been operating since 2006, starting out as a young man in his mid-twenties after studying viticulture and oenology at Beaune. He began small, but has grown his domaine to a little over five hectares today, all mostly around Chignin plus a couple of other villages on the Combe de Savoie, and all farmed biodynamically (with both Demeter and Ecocert certification).
Cuvée des Gueux blanc is an entry level wine made mostly from Jacquère but with a little Altesse. There’s a red “Gueux” as well. This Blanc starts out with clean lemon citrus before a deeper mineral flavour comes in, textured, on the palate. I’d call it pebbly. This accompanies a fairly simple bouquet which has a little citrus, a hint of florality and a herbal note which catches the back of the nose.
It’s less light than you might imagine from the bouquet, though it certainly isn’t too heavy either. In some ways a simple wine, of 12% alcohol, yet it has that satisfying quality which lifts all well made simple wines. £22 seems a lot for simplicity, but if you factor in its individuality, that’s about right.
The name is a more or less literal translation of “beggar” in English, but in local dialect is closer to “rogue”, which perhaps the label depicts quite well.
Adrien Berlioz is still young, well, approaching forty, and he’s ready to think about expanding a little further. As his more famous cousin heads towards retirement, Adrien will certainly keep the Berlioz name alive for fine low intervention Chignin for many years to come.
Another wine from The Solent Cellar, which sells several Adrien Berlioz wines. They currently list a mixed six-pack of three different wines from this producer (2xMondeuse, 2xPersan and 2xChignin Bergeron) reduced from £176 to £149.99. The Cuvée des Gueux is in stock as well.
BEAUJOLAIS-VILLAGES 2018, DOMAINE CHAPEL (Beaujolais, France)
David Chapel and his American wife Michele come from a background of gastronomy. Michele ran a wine programme for a number of New York restaurants, whereas David is the son of Alain (yes, that Alain Chapel). David spent some time working at Domaine Lapierre before setting up in the Lapierre cellar for the 2016 vintage, and then moving into their own winery in Régnié-Durette for the 2017 vintage.
The winemaking philosophy is very much as you’d expect from a Lapierre-mentored vigneron, very hands off, low intervention and with a lightness of touch all round. Low extraction, cool carbonic maceration, no pumping or pigeage, just keep the cap wet and aim for fruity elegance. David originally made a Juliénas which was truly wonderful. Sadly this is no more after the 2018, but there are new wines to come from Fleurie and Chiroubles, both from sites of around one hectare.
However, worry not, this “Villages” is stunningly good. The vines are in Lantignié. There’s great cherry fruit of course, and as a villages wine we are not expecting complexity. What we do get is remarkable poise. It’s elegant, classy even, but boy that poise. I’d go as far as to say that you will be hard pushed to find a more exciting Beaujolais-Villages in this vintage. As well as any Cru could, it illustrates just what a star David Chapel is going to become.
The wines of David Chapel have been expertly snaffled up by the erudite team at Uncharted Wines. This can be yours for £18.55, and if they still have a little of that Juliénas left (they did when I last looked), that will cost a bit less than £24. But as a purchaser of one of my Lockdown cases from Uncharted, I would say that their list makes for thrilling reading.
NATURALEZA SALVAJE TINTO 2018, AZUL Y GARANZA (Navarra, Spain)
Do you buy much from Navarra? I certainly don’t. I suppose I remember it in the past as a cross between a kind of lesser Rioja and a quieter grower of interloper French varieties than Somontano. This would have been an unfair appraisal of the region, but we are talking about a long time ago. I am not sure they even marketed wines like this, if indeed anyone other than a few old guys made them.
The variety here is Garnacha, from a low intervention single vineyard in the Bardeñas Reales Desert, the largest desert in Europe. The team behind Azul y Garanza is based in a restored co-operative winery in Carcastillo, close to the Rio Aragón and near the site of an old Cistercian monastery. All the vines are between forty and a hundred years old, trained as low bushes, and surrounded by scrub land and forest, but all planted on clay/chalk. Night time temperatures get very low, so the aromatics of the Garnacha are retained, and freshness too. The vines were pretty much abandoned and the first task of the team was to sort out the vineyard. This was made easier by the lack of chemical attack that had ever taken place here, pristine material for natural winemaking.
Back in the winery the regime is twelve days on skins, then a year’s ageing, six months in amphora and six more in used 300-litre barrels. 30 mg/l of sulphur is all that is added. Moderate alcohol of 12.5% helps give a wine of purity, pristine red fruit and a nice snap on the finish. It does certainly have that feel of an amphora wine. It’s really lovely, the vibrant fruit hanging off a sturdy frame, like grainy, un-planed, wood, and as a bonus it’s the glowing colour of pure cherry juice. It really is perfectly judged. Serve a little cool, I think.
This is imported by Modal Wines and their online shop currently includes it in one of their selections of “vibrant Spanish reds” described as more easy-drinking and fruit-driven. You get the idea.