Part one of my roundup of the wines drunk at home in August is pretty diverse. This first eight (eight more in Part 2 to follow) includes two from France (Jura and Bordeaux), plus bottles from England, Hungary, Germany, South Africa, Austria and Spain. The diversity was helped by the fact that I drank quite a few wines I’ve written about before during August, and I do like to avoid repetition. Most are in my usual “natural” camp, but I’m continuing to drink a few of the slightly more classical wines I have squirrelled away (if you would call white Bordeaux “classical”).
ORTEGA AMPHORA 2018, WESTWELL WINES (Kent, UK)
This is another bottle from a recent small purchase of Westwell Wines, who are undoubtedly one of the most exciting of the new wave of small, artisan, wine estates pushing boundaries on the UK wine scene. They are, perhaps, to Kent what Tillingham is to Sussex, although county borders aside these two producers are not far apart at all. Westwell is just below the Pilgrim’s Way walking path and just off the M20 between Maidstone and Ashford.
We are on North Downs chalk here, good terroir for Ortega, enhanced in this case by skin contact in amphora, both for fermentation and ageing. These are Italian vessels made in Florence by the renowned maker, Artenova.
It’s a really beautiful wine with a bouquet showing clear notes of apricot and honeysuckle with a little beeswax, perhaps. The palate has gentle orange citrus but finishng with herbs and spice. It’s a wine that’s soft and nuanced, and exceptionally good. Lovely label too.
The agent is Uncharted Wines.
PRETTY COLD 2018, RÉKA-KONCZ (Eastern Hungary)
This is my monthly fix of Annamária Réka’s wines, and as I type I’m about to drink another (they will soon be all gone). I’m trying to ration them but I could easily guzzle them far quicker. You probably know by now that Annamária is on Hungary’s eastern border with Ukraine, though not all that far from Tokaji, and that her vines cross into Ukraine in places as well.
This bottle is a petnat made from a field blend based on Királyléanyka, a local grape Annamária is keen to keep alive. It’s an ancestral method, bottle fermented but undisgorged, sparkler made from organic grapes. It has plenty of small bubbles, a lovely ethereal nose and a palate which is dry, mineral-textured and extremely refreshing. It does have a firm backbone but it slips down pretty easily, all too easily at 12% abv. Only 800 bottles of this were produced in 2018, so I feel lucky to have got one. It’s simply as good as all the rest of Annamária Réka’s wines I have tried. Certainly one of the best half-dozen petnats of the so-called summer of 2020.
Imported by Basket Press Wines.
PLOUSSARD 2016, ARBOIS-PUPILLIN, DOMAINE DE LA RENARDIÈRE (Jura, France)
Laurence and Jean-Michel Petit are well established now with around seven hectares in the village of Pupillin, just south of Arbois. Jean-Michel has run this traditional domaine whilst fulfilling several roles within the local wine community, but in recent years he’s been able to step back a little and to think through his own approach, which is now organic whilst using some biodynamic preps.
There are a little over 1.5 ha of Ploussard vines here, all on the local “marnes bleus” soils which suit the variety perfectly. Pupillin does, after all, style itself quite justifiably as the “World Capital” of the variety. Although Jean-Michel still adds sulphur to most of his wines, albeit in ever decreasing quantity, the Ploussard is a fully natural wine, made with no added sulphur. It sees 18 months ageing in large oak and is otherwise simply made.
In some ways it’s a simple wine in the end result, but that is not a disparaging remark at all. It’s very successful, tasting of pure raspberry, with perhaps the smallest hint of liquorice and cherry bite on the finish. This makes it smooth and a little bit chewy without tannin. It’s just a tasty bottle which seems perfectly judged, easy going and drinking well now.
I’ve not tracked down who imports this but it came from The Solent Cellar (though they currently only list this producer’s Vin Jaune).
LORCHÄUSER SELIGMACHER 2011, EVA FRICKE (Rheingau, Germany)
Eva doesn’t come from a winemaking family, both her parents being doctors in Northern Germany. It was on a gap year job in South Africa that she caught the wine bug and after studies at Geisenheim she found work experience at Cissac, Pingus, Schloss Johannisberg, and in Australia and Piemonte. She returned to Australia after graduating (Tatachilla, McLaren Vale) before returning to Germany as vineyard manager for JB Becker.
Her first solo vintage in the Rheingau at Eltville was 2006, her range based around three single site Lorch wines, from Schlossberg, the GG Krone, and Seligmacher. But 2011 was the first vintage where she was working full time for herself, previously holding down a day job at Josef Leitz. All of her vines, covering thirteen hectares (of which only a couple are owned outright), are Riesling. This 2011 vintage was the first I bought and this was my first bottle of Seligmacher I opened.
At nine years old this Riesling is simply gorgeous, almost shockingly good, confirming Fricke for me as one of the new young stars of the rejuvenated Rheingau region. These are old vines off slate with quartz deposits. The wine tastes assured, with posture. Lime and petrol make for a classic nose, and the smooth palate is almost regal. It has Riesling fruit but bags of mineral acidity. Giving it the chance to mature a little has really illuminated for me Eva’s gifts as a winemaker. The problem will be whether to swiftly enjoy the remaining bottles or to keep one for a good while longer? The latter course will be difficult. This was so good.
Eva’s wines appear to be available both via Berry Bros & Rudd and Lay & Wheeler.
SPOTSWOOD SHIRAZ 2010, CHARLIE HERRING WINES (Stellenbosch, South Africa)
We had a couple of very carnivorous family members to lunch on about the hottest day of the year, and I might have wondered why I was serving a wine with 15.5% alcohol, but it worked remarkably well (served at cellar temperature). A bit like drinking Port up the Douro, if you have ever done that.
You’ll have seen me drinking the wines and ciders made in Hampshire by Tim Phillips under his Charlie Herring label. Before he came home he made a range of very different wines in South Africa, but I think they show a similar degree of subtlety (you read that correctly), despite the high alcohol.
What we have is very low yield Shiraz destemmed and fermented in open-topped vats using wild yeasts, pumpovers and punching down, and then into a basket press before transfer to used French oak in both small and large formats. Ageing was 24 months, and this wine was bottled in February 2012, just over 3,700 bottles being filled.
The 2010 is really hitting its stride and seems to me in a wonderful place. Naturally it’s rich and smooth, with a degree of power for sure, but how can a wine with such high alcohol be so balanced? Well, it is. It balances fruit and alcohol on the palate, and also fruit and tertiary aromas on the nose. I’d call it a little gem, in the sense that it is almost unknown, but of course there is nothing “little” about it.
This wine, and others like it, are available at some independent retailers, but you can just contact Tim at http://www.charlieherring.com/contact/ if you want to see which older vintages he has in the UK. There’s also a telephone number on the contact form, though he’s a busy man and would doubtless prefer an email. The Durif is pretty popular among a few people I know too. I may save that until the first snows of winter.
BLANC DE LYNCH-BAGES 2013, CHÂTEAU LYNCH-BAGES (Bordeaux, France)
We all know Château Lynch-Bages, the seriously overperforming “fifth growth” in the hamlet of Bages, in the Pauillac appellation. Its red wines are long-lived, renowned and justly praised. I’ve drunk a fair bit of it in the past, before its price caught up with and overtook its fame. A visit here was one of the highlights of a trip in 2015 when I had been a guest down the road at Pichon-Longueville (Baron).
Despite its eminent position now in the Haut-Médoc firmament, this estate is geared up much better than most for wine tourism. For a start, the hamlet of Bages itself has a nice bar/restaurant in the tiny square, and no visit to Lynch-Bages is complete without, in true Banksy style, exiting through the gift shop, which sits nicely opposite the restaurant on the other side of the square, the “Bages Bazaar”. There’s also a nice butcher and an outlet of a somewhat famous Parisian baker, but you can discover Bages’s epicurean life for yourself. This is all to say that I purchased this fairly rare wine in said gift shop.
There are about 36,000 bottles of Blanc every year, which sounds a lot but it’s small compared to the region’s red wines from the classified châteaux. It tastes principally like a Sauvignon Blanc, so it’s surprising to discover that this variety only makes up around 60% of the blend, along with Semillon (circa 27%) and rather less (circa 13%) Muscadelle. The Sauvignon comes through perhaps because the aim is to pick the grapes a little earlier than in the past, in order to emphasise freshness, but the other varieties do add depth, for sure.
I drink very little white Bordeaux, and I’m sure this is partly why I enjoyed this very well executed version so much. The gooseberry fruit is there, but not over-stated, as one would expect from such a classy producer. It has a fresh leafy aroma too. The wine is refreshing, even at nine years old, subtle but not simple. The palate is vibrant and balanced and I was surprised how much I liked it. It was really just bought as an oddity because, after all, it seemed a little pointless trying to bring bottles of the Grand Vin I could buy very easily in London home on Easyjet. I’d happily buy more of this.
WEINBERGSCHNECKE PINOT NOIR ROSÉ 2017, ANDREAS & ELISABETH TSCHEPPE (Südsteiermark, Austria)
Andreas Tscheppe began farming in Southern Styria in 2004, based at Leutschach an der Weinstraße. His philosophy is outright biodynamics, venturing into territory which remains peripheral for many otherwise biodynamic producers. He’s also a proponent of sulphur-free winemaking where possible. He fashions a range of quite remarkable wines, acknowledged as such by a great many commentators, yet he also has his detractors amongst the “glass half empty” group of wine critics (sic). They don’t seem to like his “unfiltered” methods, but this is not their only cause for complaint. More fool their outdated conservatism, in my humble opinion.
This wine, take it from me, is a wonderful pink Pinot Noir petnat known to most of us as “The Vineyard Snail” (see label). It’s pale, and certainly cloudy (but that is in the nature of the “ancient method” of making undisgorged sparkling wine, comes with the territory). It is the colour of gloriously ripe raspberries, which oddly enough, lo and behold, it smells and tastes of too. It’s as simple as that, aside from a bit of dry extract texture and bright pointy acidity on the tongue as the wine finishes. It is also just off-dry and combined with its overt fruitiness, that small touch of residual sugar alongside a mere 10.5% alcohol made it perfect on a thirty-degree day. Yet another wine where its joyfulness outweighs any need for complexity.
Andreas and Elisabeth’s wines are imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.
PENAPEDRE 2015, ZARATE (Ribeira Sacra, Spain)
Zarate is located in the Val do Salnes, one of Galicia’s five Rias Baixas sub-zones, but this is a wine from the stunningly beautiful Ribeira Sacra DO, a way inland in the province. The influence here is still from the Atlantic Ocean, and this is one of a bunch of typical Atlantic reds gaining recognition for their chiselled textures but general lightness.
Penapedre is a collaboration between current Zarate family winemaker, Eulogio Pomares, and Alberto Nanclares. Both made wines from the weathered granite and slate of the Penapedre vineyard and they were blended together. We have a field blend of Palomino, Mencia and Garnacha farmed without pesticides at around 500 metres elevation. The result, after fermenting in open chestnut vats for two weeks on lees, followed by 12 months in French oak, is very much a wine showing the influence of ocean winds and rain, yet with a warmth and ripeness from the steep-sided valley with rocks warmed by the summer sunshine.
It somehow combines a sort of racy verve with elegance. A pale wine which floats in the glass like the music of Nils Frahm, but with the underlying textures of the granite from which the vines struggle to derive nutrients. For some, perhaps, an unusual red wine. For you and I, a thrilling adventure.
The rather remarkable Zarate range is available from Indigo Wines.
That ends Part 1, but I’m pretty excited about Part 2, where we shall have some more very interesting and outstanding wines. It will follow, I hope, in a few days.