No diversions this time, straight into the second part of June’s “at home” selection. The first wine is another old school classic but the rest are all contemporary thrillers…to a varying degree, but they all thrill. Two from Alsace, one Californian, one from the Canaries, a Sherry, a Moravian, one from Burgenland and another English wine.
RIESLING VORBOURG GRAND CRU 2004, RENÉ MURÉ (Alsace, France)
This is one of a number of more, shall we say, old school Alsace wines from the cellar. I bought a lot of 2004 and not only have they made for very enjoyable wines, this shows that the vintage is by no means history at this level.
In the case of this wine one might have approached it with caution. At Muré, based at Rouffach, the estate wines from the Vorbourg Grand Cru are from the Clos St-Landelin and are labelled as such. I don’t know if this still pertains today, but the wines labelled as just “Vorbourg Grand Cru” are from bought-in fruit. Nevertheless, Muré has long been synonymous with this site.
This is a lovely example of an aged Alsace Riesling. It’s dry, and mineral, but there is a degree of gras. The bouquet has something of that mineral edge with added mellowness, which on the palate becomes apparent as peach and pineapple. The acidity has diminished, but its still there to help hold the wine together. I think it’s a wine of stature, and is drinking great now.
This wine was purchased on release at the domaine. Muré is currently imported into the UK by Berkmann Wine Cellars.
COUNOISE 2018, BENEVOLENT NEGLECT (California, USA)
I’ve developed a bit of a thing for Cali-Counoise, and it wasn’t that long ago (April) that I was writing here about the Keep Wines version. Both come from the same exciting importer’s Californian portfolio. This isn’t all that surprising because half the fruit for this wine comes from a vineyard north of Napa planted jointly by Steve Matthiasson, Jack Roberts (of Keep Wines, who until this year also worked for Steve), and Ben Brenner and Matt Nagy (who are the team behind Benevolent Neglect).
This minor component of wines from the Southern Rhône, famous (if that’s the right word) in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, seems to come up trumps all over California if it has been planted, but there’s not a lot of it. The other half of this cuvée was made from fruit planted in Mendocino in the 1990s, from some think the first official Counoise vines planted in the state.
The importer described the flavour of this wine perfectly…”little strawberries sprinkled with black pepper…”. Like the Australian Montepulciano I drank last night, this is a wine which tastes so light on its feet, despite (in this case) 13.4% abv on the label. Actually, for me the fruit crosses strawberry and raspberry, with wonderful depth. There sure is a very spicy edge (the pepperiness), but more as a nice seasoning rather than dominant.
I suppose it would be unusual, even for me, to go long on Counoise, but having drunk the two bottles I had at the start of Lockdown, I am rather regretting I don’t have any more. Although these wines look like winter fare, they have an affinity with a warm day, because the fruit hits you where you want it.
Nekter Wines imports Benevolent Neglect…and Keep Wines and Matthiasson.
BENJÉ BLANCO 2018, YCODEN-DAUTE-ISORA, ENVINATE (Canary Islands, Spain)
The story of Alfonso Torrente, José Ángel Martínez, Laura Ramos and Roberto Santana has been told many times, perhaps best in the first chapter of Luis Gitiérrez’s book on Spain’s innovative new winemakers, The New Vignerons. Of course this quartet, who met whilst studying enology at Alicante, do not only make wine on Tenerife, but the mind-blowing wines they make on the largest of the Canary Islands are certainly what they seem to have become best known for.
These are first and foremost “volcanic” wines. It is perhaps Roberto Santana who has had the greatest influence on Tenerife, having previously worked at the island’s pioneer estate, Suertes del Marquès. He is a genius with the ungrafted pre-phylloxera vines which hug the ground, trained like deformed, gnarled, zombie-like bushes, at least until spring time brings some foliage, stalking the barren landscape in the north of the island.
Ycoden-Daute-Isora is the appellation, but the vines are right up at 1,000 masl in Santiago de Tiede. It’s one of the driest zones on Tenerife but with a decidedly cool Atlantic climate. The white Benjé is 100% Listán Blanco (the red is Listán Prieto), which is the Canaries synonym for Palomino, of Jerez fame. Fermentation takes place in concrete, 25% having extended skin contact. Ageing is 60% concrete and 40% old French barrels, both on lees.
This cuvée shows the excitement of volcanic white wine, and the real viability of the formerly ignored Palomino Fino variety for table wines (a reputation equally being restored by Equipo Navazos and others in Jerez). The first thing you note is its impact. Bang, you really sit up. The wine is fresh, but at the same time it has weight and presence. Herby with an olive bitterness, and a real saltiness, it is so appetising. The winemaking gives it a nice texture, definitely there but with restraint. It’s incredibly well judged, a fantastic wine.
Envinate is part of the perhaps unrivalled modern Spanish portfolio of Indigo Wines.
LA BOTA DE MANZANILLA 82 “FLORPOWER” , EQUIPO NAVAZOS (Jerez, Spain)
I must have been craving salt or something. Was this drunk (19 June) during the really hot spell? We stick with Palomino Fino for a Mazanilla from a producer which is well represented in my cellar, perhaps to the detriment of other wines from the region, but I am pretty much addicted.
This is effectively an extension of “Florpower 77”. That wine was released as a Palomino table wine, as is the norm with the Florpower series. Some of the butts of that juice were selected separately and aged biologically, under flor, for three years in Sanlúcar after fortification with fine grape spirit to 15% abv. Other butts of “77” were aged biologically at 12% and fortified later on. Are you still with me? You get two Manzanilla-styles, both created under flor, but fortified at different stages of the process.
Like La Bota 77, this Manzanilla comes totally from 2015 fruit and from a single site, Pago Miraflores La Baja (Sanlúcar), so unusually we have here, take careful note, a single vineyard vintage Manzanilla.
It has a saline palate and the whiff of a very pure Manzanilla, chalky texture and concentration. Yet it is also massively fresh as well. If you find the concentrated hit of a lot of EN wines a shock to the system, I’d definitely recommend this one. It has elegance, and it lingers on the palate, like a mouthful of really good salted almonds, for an age.
The EN team understands that this wine sends out a confusing message, especially as it comes in a standard 75cl wine bottle with a screw cap, so indeed it looks just like your usual Florpower. You need to check the label to discover it’s a Manzanilla. But it is nevertheless a complex wine, and I’d suggest amazing. Any Sherry lover should try to seek out a bottle. I wish my three had been six in this case.
Equipo Navazos wines are pretty widely available in the UK, albeit they are not released in large bottlings. They are imported by Alliance Wine.
“HERR GEWÜRZ” 2019, KRÁSNÁ HORA (Moravia, Czechia)
This is a fun and simple wine, and that goes for the label too, which I bought after seeing author Simon Woolf sipping it on one of his Insta Live broadcasts. The winery’s name means “beautiful mountain”, and refers to the vine clad slopes near the town of Dolni Poddvorov, close to the Slovakian border, vines originally planted by Cistercian monks in the thirteenth century.
The young family who run this 8 hectare estate don’t farm vines quite that old, them being planted during the communist era by one of their grandfathers in the 1960s, but that still gives them plenty of old vine material to work with. Their vineyards are all organic (they do purchase from around 5ha locally as well as their own vines), and unusually for the region are pretty much all planted to French varieties.
Herr Gewürz is, of course, Gewürztraminer. It’s nicely dry and also a little textured, because this is treated to a degree of skin contact. It also has a very attractive orange colour, code for what you are about to drink. But the texture doesn’t dominate, and in fact overall, the wine has a little of the feel of a petnat. In part, its liveliness comes from picking the grapes of a later ripening clone a little early to preserve acids and vibrant fruit, all contained within 12% abv. It definitely has varietal character.
You certainly can’t mistake the variety, so if you are not at all keen on Gewürztraminer this may not be for you. But as it is both dry and fresh, and with a hint of orange wine, you really should try it anyway. Especially if, like me, you think that this particular grape variety does lend itself incredibly well to skin contact treatment. Definitely an orange wine for summer, too. At just under £19 it’s pretty good value, and not at all priced to turn off the mildly adventurous. But my advice is enjoy it now.
Basket Press Wines is the importer, currently selling direct to the public with free UK delivery on orders over £120 (I can’t remember the shipping for smaller orders but I don’t think it’s as much as some people are charging). This is probably a really good time to check out some of these exciting Czech wines, which are generally pretty reasonably priced right now.
ALSACE PINOT NOIR 2016, JEAN-PIERRE RIETSCH (Alsace, France)
You may well have read my recent article on Mittelbergheim and Andlau’s natural wine producers, and it is far from unusual for an article I’m writing to prompt me to open a wine from one of the producers included. In this case the excitement of drinking this was slightly tempered by knowing that this is the last of Jean-Pierre’s red wines in my cellar.
As you have doubtless read that article (20 May, Maybe It’s Time to (Re)Visit Alsace), I won’t say any more about the producer. I will say specifically that this man does make one of the most vibrant Pinot Noirs in the whole region though. I like that it was once called “Pinot d’Alsace” here. In the past such a label meant a very light red, just inching past Rosé status in a good year, but almost always spoilt by an excess of acids. But, of course, back in the day the idea was just to make some decent volume of red wine, mainly for the German tourist market, from a region seen as irrefutably one for white wine in the eyes of the region’s traditionalists.
Natural wine is probably what really changed things, although there had been very good red wine made in Alsace before. One was in fact made by the producer of the first wine in this article, René Muré, which was labelled “V”, telling those who knew that it came from vines in the same Vorbourg Grand Cru as the Riesling described above.
But back to Rietsch. This bottling comes from the argilo-calcaire soils close to the village of Mittelbergheim itself. It is made via semi-carbonic fermentation over 16 days using indigenous yeast etc. Ageing is six months in foudre. It is bottled without any added sulphur. The result has good colour, from the maceration, with real zip. It’s quite light but full of fruit, like an amazing fresh glass of alcoholic raspberry juice. I would suggest this is a great wine to use to illustrate how, when done really well, a zero sulphur wine has a whole new dimension of life in it. A tiny bit of initial reduction will blow, or shake, off.
Most people will drink this cuvée much younger, but drinking this at close to four years old proved to me that in that time this bottle had lost nothing at all. It tasted remarkably fresh and young. Brilliant!
It was purchased at the domaine again, but Wines Under the Bonnet imports Jean-Pierre Rietsch in the UK. They currently list the 2017 “Vieille Vigne” version (vines over 40-years-old), very highly recommended.
“WINIFRED” ROSÉ 2017, GUT OGGAU (Burgenland, Austria)
When you say “been there, got the t-shirt” it means you are a fully signed up member of the fan club. In my case I literally have the t-shirt, one of only two I now own with a producer on it. So don’t expect too much objectivity beneath my enthusiasm. I have actually met someone who professed they were not fans of Gut Oggau, but many dozens of people I know find these wines as infectious as I do.
Eduard and Stephanie Tscheppe-Eselböck run a biodynamic estate, and a tavern in the summer months, in the tiny hamlet of Oggau, which you will reach if travelling from Vienna on the bus, just before you hit Rust, set back a little from the western shore of the Neusiedlersee.
The wines of Gut Oggau, as I’m sure you know, are a family, each member having a distinct personality, and place in that family hierarchy. Winifred is the young and perhaps slightly feisty one. I wonder if there is anything of a younger Stephanie in her, because both Stephanie and indeed her mother are two of the liveliest Austrians I know, although there’s definitely something in the air around this shallow, reed-ringed, lake.
There’s a certain reluctance on the part of the winemakers to divulge grape varieties, but it’s the only thing I kind of disagree with them about. There will not really be a single reader who is not interested in the varietal makeup of the wine, and I personally don’t think knowing will prejudice the kind of open-minded individual who drinks Gut Oggau in any way. So in 2017, as far as my research goes, this is around 60% Zweigelt and 40% Blaufränkisch.
The vines are low yielding and the grapes are gently pressed, but there’s good colour here. Some might call it a pale red, in that “clairet” style almost, that I’ve been drinking quite a bit of, rather than your typical rosé pink. I’d call the colour somewhere around magenta or fuchsia. Equally unusual is the fact that Winifred goes into oak for eight months.
The end result gives a bouquet of cherry and cranberry, with a palate showing lots of raspberry too, and a hint of apple. It hits you like a baby’s first cry, loud and very much alive. Along with the zip there’s a little texture, maybe the inert oak adding a touch of depth. Overwhelmingly beautiful, and perfect for a sunny June evening outside, with the temperature topping thirty degrees, as it was when we drank it. I believe it’s Stephanie’s birthday today, and one of some significance. I shall have to toast you with something else tonight, but I shall raise a glass. Your wines are truly wonderful.
Purchased direct from Gut Oggau’s UK importer, Dynamic Vines, whose Bermondsey shop/warehouse is usually open on a Saturday morning (but check during pandemic). They have one of the best large natural wine portfolios in the country.
QVEVRI ARTEGO 2017, TILLINGHAM WINES (East Sussex, UK)
An English wine to finish with, and in this case one of the country’s most innovative wines at the time. It’s one of the first wines to be released that was made in Ben Walgate’s submerged Georgian qvevris, sitting beneath an oast house next to his winery at Peasemarsh, not far from the beautiful town of Rye, on the Sussex coast.
Back in 2018 Ben planted 10,000 vines, to be farmed biodynamically, but whilst waiting for these plants to yield fruit, he began making a range of cuvées (wine, including plenty of “petnat“-style bottlings, and cider) from bought-in fruit, farmed where possible organically. The wines themselves are made as one would a natural wine, with minimum intervention over and above that which was done by the grape farmer.
“Artego” is an anagram of the grape variety, Ortega, which Ben cannot put on the label because the grapes were not farmed within the confines of the English Vineyard accreditation scheme. The grapes went directly into open vats in Ben’s winery, where they were foot-trodden/macerated twice a day for five days. Then they went straight into the buried qvevris and their oak lids were sealed tightly with clay.
I’m not sure Ben expected the wine to develop flor, but it did. At this age the flor influence is not especially strong, but it’s there, adding a bit of salinity and a savoury side to the floral character of the variety. The third element is texture, from the qvevri. It’s an orange wine, and a qvevri wine, though not quite as full on as many Georgians. It’s not, for example, massively tannic. Age has doubtless softened it a bit and I think it’s drinking really nicely right now.
Only 497 bottles of this were made, although Ben continues to release wine and cider from the qvevris, and I think he’s “planted” some more of these vessels. He has shown himself to be, whether by skill or happy accident, something of a master of a type of vessel which you can now find even at England’s “wine university”, Plumpton College. Tillingham has an on-site and online shop, where I think you get a choice of four qvevri-made wines among an increasing output of most styles.
Check out the Tillingham shop at tillingham.com/wines/ . Les Caves de Pyrene has been a supporter of Tillingham and they may have the odd bottle, or try their network of retailers. Tillingham’s wines often crop up among the independent wine retailers of Sussex.