We start out here in Part Two with a trip to Sicily, where I’ve not visited, so to speak, for a while. We then journey vicariously via the Mosel, Beaujolais (but not as we know it), Alsace, Burgenland, Champagne, Jura and back to Burgenland. As you will see, variety is the spice, and fruit, of life. If you haven’t yet managed to catch up on Part One, you only have to scroll down to find it.
ZIBIBBO IN PITHOS 2016, COS (Sicily, Italy)
I’ve drunk this relatively new addition to the COS range a few times, but the last time I wrote about it was from its inaugural 2014 vintage, and that was a rather magnificent magnum. There was no amphora Zibibbo in 2015 so this is the wine’s second vintage. I go back an awfully long way with COS, so much so that these days I forget to buy some very often, but I rather wish I could remember to buy this particular cuvée in every vintage.
Zibibbo is Muscat of Alexandria, and this comes from vines averaging an age of twenty years in the Marsala production zone, so quite a trip from the COS base at Vittoria. The grapes undergo a spontaneous fermentation in amphora, after which they spend a further ten months on skins. The colour is deep orange, and there’s plenty of texture, even in a four year old bottle, but despite that the nose has that lightness of mist drifting away as the sun warms up an autumnal morning (just like today, in fact, although I’m not sure they get autumnal mists around Marsala).
The beeswax and nectarine on the nose is complemented by orange and bergamot on the palate. It’s a dry wine, but initial lemon acidity has mellowed to just a twist. There’s remarkable depth here, it’s a very grown up wine for the grape variety. I’d go as far as saying it’s sophisticated, and it gets more so with age. It will certainly age further but I’m not sure there’s much point, it’s so good now.
Usually available on release in relatively small quantity from Les Caves de Pyrene.
WEINHAUS PETER LAUER DEUTSCHER SEKT BRUT 2016 (Mosel/Saar, Germany)
I am sure I’ve mentioned many times the old museum Sekts made by Peter Lauer in the 1990s, which occasionally crop up a few bottles here and a few more there, in London. These are quite remarkable bottles, worth grabbing even if they cost the same as a bottle of fine and famous Grower Champagne. But what we have here is the same wine made by current winemaker, Florian Lauer, at Ayl on the Saar tributary of the Mosel.
This is a Riesling from great terroir, eminently suitable for sparkling wines, being a little cooler than the slopes of the main river. I’ve read that the majority of the fruit comes from Ayler Kupp itself. It doesn’t lack for body, or maybe I mean structure, but there’s also a lightness which seems to infuse every part of this wine. We have a floral bouquet combining with a very mineral palate. It’s definitely not over acidic, but although balanced I think we could put it on the side of “strict”, perhaps less so than initially, four years post-vintage. But that’s its beauty. It doesn’t have that autolytic complexity found in those older releases, but it does have immediacy and class.
The older wines may be said to prove beyond doubt that Riesling can make complex sparkling wines by the traditional method, but this proves we can thoroughly enjoy Sparkling Riesling every day. Now for the tricky bit. I know this wine is fairly inexpensive and extremely good value, but I just cannot remember where I bought it. Not Howard Ripley, from whom I would usually obtain, indirectly, most of my Lauer wines. Perhaps someone might be kind enough to jog my memory? It’s important because I do want more. Having gone over to the dark side regarding Spätburgunder, Sekt and obscure German grape varieties are both pulling me inexorably over the edge right now.
PETNAT ROSÉ 2918, DOMAINE SAINT-CYR (Beaujolais, France)
Raphael Saint Cyr is the fourth generation working at a domaine previously started by his great grandfather under the name “Domaine Bellevue”. Although the domaine is at Anse, which is right on the southern edge of the region, in the “Beaujolais” appellation, they also have vines in the north, in the Crus of Moulin-à-Vent, Morgon, Chénas and Regnié.
The domaine is currently organic after conversion by Raphael, and this Gamay petnat is from clay and limestone soils and underwent a three day cold soak before fermentation. It’s simple but fruity, light, gently textured with a touch of minerality and incredibly thirst quenching (and 11% abv). The soft cherry fruit with a touch of raspberry is the essence of glou. A lovely summer wine, and summer does seem to be generously giving us a final flourish here in the south. Rather like the pink petnat from Domaine Maupertuis (Auvergne), this is one to buy every summer and not really think about it too much. Just grab for any occasion that takes place outdoors, especially picnics.
My bottle came from The Solent Cellar. Six wines from Domaine Saint Cyr are now available from Uncharted Wines. I don’t think they have this cuvée, but they sell a remarkably similar 2019 pink Gamay petnat called “Galoche”. As Raphael has started to give all his wines “parcel” names, it may be pretty much the same thing from the next vintage. It’s cheap as chips.
“RACINES MÉTISSES” 2018, LAURENT BARTH (Alsace, France)
Laurent Barth is one of the new wave of exciting natural producers in Alsace. He’s fairly typical of these young growers, in that his domaine is small (just four hectares), but he has seven grape varieties planted on twenty-five different sites, from which he produces, depending on the vintage, at least ten, often more, different cuvées. Three of these are usually Pinot Noirs.
This wine is a traditional blend of varieties, once generally known as Edelzwicker. Racines Métisses means, they will tell you, “mixed roots”, although in colloquial French it has a subtler and more contemporary meaning. Laurent has a fascinating label which depicts a vine leaf made up of the phrase “L’esprit du Vin” in Persian, Hindi, Georgian and Arabic script, which may perhaps hint at where this well travelled vigneron is coming from.
The blend here centres on Auxerrois, a Pinot Blanc variant (at around 55%), along with Muscat, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and a small amount of Gewurztraminer. Off light alluvial soils, the wine has a gentle quality and a good amount of vivacity (there’s around 6g/l of residual sugar which adds a little mouthfeel to the general lightness of touch). The 13.5% alcohol listed on the label is virtually invisible on the palate. Its fragrant florality is what you notice, with honey, lemon and lime. Aged partly in large old Vosges oak and partly in stainless steel, with minimal sulphur addition, it has genuine poise. A lovely wine from an excellent producer based at Bennwihr, a little north of Colmar.
Imported by Vine Trail.
PUSZTA LIBRE 2019, CLAUS PREISINGER (Burgenland, Austria)
From the balcony of Claus’s ultra-modern winery above Gols you can survey the stretch of vines which, uninterrupted, eventually reach the shallow Neusiedlersee, probably enveloped in a mid-morning haze as summer tails off and harvest is in full swing. Claus makes such a range of wines, all of them wonderful in their own way. A number of them are just so sophisticated that very few people in the UK know just how good they are. Yet Claus also has a sense of fun and enjoyment. When it comes to sheer drinking pleasure I think no wine better exemplifies this than Puszta Libre.
This is a blend based on Saint Laurent with Zweigelt and Pinot Noir, made in the style of an old Burgenland table wine as Claus’s grandfather might have fashioned. Puszta refers to the Hungarian Plain, and as with so many of the wine producers around here, acknowledges the Hungarian heritage of these vineyards before the Empire was split up.
The style is 100% simple, gluggable, fresh and zippy. You get very concentrated black fruits, as if you’ve overdone your hedgerow browsing. We drank this biodynamic cracker slightly chilled with Moroccan-inspired puff pastry tart of roast vegetables. The label, which emulates one found on lemonade bottles in the 1920s, is simple, classic and apt. This has to be one of the best summer wines you can buy and it is reasonably easy to source from either Newcomer Wines or Littlewine. Suitable both for bright sunshine and for cheering up a dull day.
CHAMPAGNE VINCENT COUCHE CUVÉE CHLOÉ BRUT NATURE (Champagne, France)
I drank a regular cuvée from Vincent Couche earlier this year. It was very nice but not really a wine that stood out, for £42, among those of very good but lesser known growers. This cuvée was a significant step up, I think. Couche grows thirteen hectares on the Côte des Bar, having converted to biodynamics in 2008. It’s clear that there is a real passion for the vineyard in his veins, which he has inherited from his mother (he says). It’s clear that, like all successful growers, he believes in allowing well nurtured fruit to express itself without much intervention in the cellar. To this end, Chloé is actually a zero added sulphur cuvée, not unknown but still relatively unusual in Champagne.
Being made with no added sulphur is not the only thing which is unusual about this wine. It’s actually a solera cuvée too. The grapes come from Buxeuil, and from the island of vines at Montgueux (made famous by Emmanuel Lassaigne). The blend is around two-thirds Pinot Noir and one third Chardonnay and a little over half of the blend was vinified in oak. Bottling was not only with zero sulphur, but zero dosage as well.
The result is a wine (I say “wine” deliberately) of stature with glorious complexity evolving, though you might know that I do love a good réserve perpetuelle, so it’s a style I can appreciate. You need perhaps to be able to tolerate a tiny bit of oxidative ageing, which I know some people can’t stand in their Champagne. But I think it’s lovely. Mature brioche notes dominate, balanced with citrus acidity, the palate being evolved and relatively forward but not too much. Allow it to open out, preferably in a wine glass (certainly not a flute). It will then give pleasure with food if that’s the way you want to go with it.
Again, I don’t know who imports this. It’s another bottle from The Solent Cellar and is listed at £50, only £8 more than the Montgueux and certainly worth every one of them.
CHARDONNAY “LES CORVÉES” 2015, DOMAINE DE LA TOURAIZE (Jura, France)
I’ve met André-Jean Morin and his wife in London, at Raw Wine 2019, having first tasted their wines a couple of years before, thanks to a kind friend who brought some back for me. Their domaine on the edge of Arbois was pencilled in for a definite visit in early July, one of several trips I was unable to make this year. By way of compensation I managed to grab a bottle of this Chardonnay when purchasing a mixed case from their UK importer recently.
André-Jean took over the family vines, now in the region of twelve hectares, from his father, who was a member of the Arbois co-operative. Now approaching fifty, he remembered, when we met, the excitement and fear of leaving the co-op and going it alone at a time when such actions were looked on slightly less favourably by the community than they are today.
The Arbois winery is quite small, but as André-Jean sells more than 60% of his grapes to other producers he is able to concentrate on a few cuvées of his own. This is the first time I’ve drunk a Touraize Chardonnay and I think it’s the best bottle from AJ so far. The vines are in the famous “Les Corvées” site, situated off the road from Arbois to Montigny-les-Arsures, and below the famous Tour de Curon where Stéphane Tissot makes his world class Chardonnay. The vineyard is actually planted more with Trousseau, for which it was originally known (AJ makes Trousseau Les Corvées too), than Chardonnay. Quite a number of very well regarded Arbois producers have vines of both varieties here. You’ll see the name on bottles from Domaine de la Tournelle, L’Octavin and others.
I think the quality of the Touraize wines has rocketed in the past five or six years, as exemplified in this Chardonnay. It’s a truly old vine cuvée (50-to-80-y-o vines) showing complexity with five years age. It’s nutty but not oxidative, fresh and remarkably light yet equally mature. I think both the domaine and this wine are a well kept secret, but they are a new addition to the Vine Trail portfolio. I hope the folks there agree with me that it is an astute addition.
FURMINT “AUS DEM QUARZ” UNFILTRIERT 2018, MICHAEL WENZEL (Burgenland, Austria)
We are back in Burgenland for our final wine, but we have moved round the lake anti-clockwise, from Gols on the northern shore to Rust on the western side. Michael is one of many winemakers with a long family history here, in his case going back to 1647. Back in the day, when Hungary was the dominating presence in this part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Furmint was widely planted. It almost died out around Rust, but in the 1980s some cuttings were smuggled over the border in the communist era (the old “Iron Curtain”, just down the road from Rust) by Michael’s father, Robert. It’s not really all that surprising, therefore, that Michael has made this variety his main focus. There are still less than a dozen hectares of Furmint planted here and he owns a little over a quarter of them.
The grapes are whole bunch fermented in a mix of barrel and tank, with eight months on lees and no fining nor filtration at bottling. The result is “flinty” on the palate (though the terroir is of course quartz with mica) and zippy/fresh. It begins zesty and mineral but finishes with spice. In the glass over time it develops a more fruity bouquet, and quite a bit of complexity despite being, if my memory is correct, the cheapest of Michael’s Furmint bottlings (£24). One of its vendors calls Furmint the “Chenin Blanc of the East”, quite apt as there are allegedly odd pockets of Furmint vines in France’s Loire Valley. The varieties are totally distinct, but they are both good at tapping into the mineral nature of their respective soils. Drinking a bottle of this was a lovely hour-long journey of a wine unfolding.
This bottle came from Littlewine. They do still have some, I think, and if you are putting together a mixed case from them I’d seriously recommend you grab a bottle. As I finish writing about August’s best wines I find myself wondering whether this may perhaps have been the most surprising wine of the month in terms of thrills per pound. Wenzel is also available from Newcomer Wines.