This follow-on from Part 1 (last week) highlights another eight wines drunk at home during September. It’s an eclectic mix which, as always, pays scant attention to the vagaries of the weather, as it does to the norms of civilised wine snobbery. We start in Switzerland before travelling through the French Alps, Rheinhessen, Slovakia, Canberra District in Australia, the Pfalz, and a walled garden in Hampshire, before finally heading to Alsace, which is frankly where I rather wish I was right now. But I can’t complain. I have wine to drink and food to accompany it. More than many.
PINOT NOIR 2014, DOMAINE DE BEUDON (Valais, Switzerland)
Switzerland’s Valais is one of the most stunning vignobles in the world. It is also blessed with an extraordinary amount of sunshine, so that vines don’t just cling on, climatically, but thrive at quite high altitude. Domaine de Beudon is at Fully, close to where the Rhône hits a barrier and swings northwest towards Lake Geneva, at Martigny. Jacques Grange-Faiss (Jacky Grange) was the man who was synonymous with Beudon and he called his domaine “les vignes dans le ciel”.
You can read about the precarious old wooden cable car by which you access most of the Beudon vines (unless you prefer serious trekking) in the early pages of Jason Wilson’s “Godforsaken Grapes” (Abrams Press 2018, but now in p/b). Sadly Jacky died in a tragic vineyard accident back in 2016, but from 1971 he had created a wonderful, if until recently fairly secret, biodynamic domaine. His work is being continued by his wife and two daughters, one of whom I was lucky enough to meet (along with a very switched on young granddaughter) in February this year.
This Pinot is typically biodynamic. By which I mean that the fruit sings through so clearly. Vibrant cherry is the order of the day, but there is equally some maturity here. A little brick colour to the rim and a bit of funkiness (not too much but it could worry the traditionalists). The wine is unfiltered so you get a little lees-induced texture, but there’s no tannin. Despite the fruit, the wine finishes with a savoury flavour. It comes in at just 12.6% abv, so there’s a lightness, without the wine being insubstantial. Lovely stuff.
Domaine de Beudon is brought in to the UK by Dynamic Vines.
CHIGNIN “CUVÉE CLÉMENCE” 2016, DOMAINE DU CELLIER DES CRAY (Savoie, France)
Adrien Berlioz is the man behind this domaine, which he started in 2006. He’s distantly related to the famous Gilles Berlioz, and Berlioz is one of two or three family names you will see frequently on wine labels from this part of the Combe de Savoie (as the area southeast of Chambéry, with south facing slopes above the River Isère, is known). Wink Lorch (Wines of the French Alps, 2019) informs us that he dropped the “Cellier” name in 2018 in favour of merely Domaine Adrien Berlioz.
The variety here is the classic from this part of the region, Roussette de Savoie (Altesse), grown organically around the village of Chignin, where Adrien has his winery. This is most definitely a mountain wine, no mistake. It is mineral and dry with a little texture, but also a little unexpected gras. The bouquet has honeyed hazelnuts, a touch of quince, pear and bergamot for me, more than the herby notes some people find. With a few years in bottle this 2016 has retained its mountain freshness, yet it has put on a few grams of weight, which adds a bit more interest on the palate, and gives it a wider repertoire of potential food matches.
Sourced from The Solent Cellar. They import direct.
GRÜNER SILVANER 2018, KELLER (Rheinhessen, Germany)
If Klaus Peter Keller is one of Germany’s most famous winemakers, it is often forgotten that his interests extend far beyond eye-wateringly expensive, world famous, Rieslings. For one thing, he has a genuine passion for Spätburgunder, but he’s also fascinated by some of the so-called obscure varieties he has planted and wouldn’t dream of ripping them out. Despite the fame of Keller’s Rieslings only 75% of his 16 ha of vineyard is planted to it. Of all the varieties found in small parcels on the Keller estate around Flörsheim-Dalsheim, the Grüner Silvaner has in the past been one of the most difficult to track down for me.
As far as I can tell, Grüner Silvaner is merely the official name for Silvaner in Germany, not some odd mutation. Dry and mineral is pretty much all you need to sum up how this wine smells and tastes…just so long as you remember that this is a Keller wine, no matter that it costs under £20. It has the clean bite of a frosty February morning, and then, after a pause, the fruit slips in, like the sun rising above a vine clad slope, slightly warming the palate. Although you’d be tempted to call this a summer wine, I’ve been lucky enough to eat sorbet outdoors in winter in Russia and China (indeed, the Russian one was laced with warming vodka) and this might have a similar effect (though only at 11.5% abv).
Although Justerini’s import some posh Kellers, this Silvaner comes from the Howard Ripley list, which does also have KP’s top Silvaner “Feuervogel” (£156/6 IB). It came from Solent Cellar (and I think is still on their web site).
FRANKOVKA MODRÁ “UNPLUGGED” 2015, MAGULA (Slovakia)
Vladimir and Lucia Magula farm at Suchá nad Parnou, close to Trnava, northeast of the Slovakian capital, Bratislava. They have around ten hectares of vineyard, on fairly dry terroir, which has been biodynamically farmed for many decades now. The lack of rainfall encourages the vines to throw down deep roots, and it is those roots which are depicted on the domaine’s eye-catching labels. The variety is that which we know as Blaufränkisch in Austria, and “Unplugged” refers to the fact that this wine has seen no machinery in its making. The grapes are foot-trodden and the only additive is a tiny 10mg/l of sulphur added at bottling, after a couple of years ageing in older oak.
The bouquet smells of cherries with a hint of spicy green pepper, slightly wild, herbal and smoky. The fruit was picked quite late, in November, so there’s a richness and ripeness, and the overlain spice is perhaps the varietal character and the terroir coming through. It also has a nice sappy juiciness which makes it slip down well, along with a perfect balance of 12.5% alcohol. It’s one of my favourite wines from this variety, not just from Magula. It’s superb.
Imported by Basket Press Wines.
CANBERRA DISTRICT VIOGNIER 2017, CLONAKILLA (Canberra, Australia)
The Kirk family were not the first to begin making wine in the Canberra District, close to Lake George, but they have surpassed all the others in fame. Clonakilla is deservedly one of the icons of the Australian wine industry, but it is generally for their astonishing Syrahs (with a little added Viognier in a nod to Guigal’s Côte-Roties) that they are known. But when you go to visit (they are at Murrumbateman, 40km north of Canberra) as I was lucky enough to do last year, you will see a far wider list of varieties available.
I began my Viognier journey in Condrieu, of course, buying Georges Vernay’s wines from Yapp Brothers in Mere, having been entranced by this great saviour of the grape one morning at the end of the 1980s, beside the Rhône. But young vine Viognier has less complexity (and, for me, appeal) than when made from mature vines, and mature vines seem to add on a degree-or-two of alcohol with every passing decade. I know there is vibrant Viognier made on the Rhône (Mark Haisma, Stéphane Ogier etc), but Clonakilla makes a similarly dynamic and electric version in Australia, which is hard to beat.
The Clonakilla signature with white wine is “steely” (as a prematurely opened Riesling showed back in Australia in 2019). The Viognier, made since 1998, is also textured too, and it certainly benefits from time in bottle, after which it begins to take on more savoury elements. The cool climate of the Southern Table Lands’ granite terroir is the reason for the pleasant shiver you can get from a Clonakilla white. But 2017 was also an unusual vintage. Winter was unusually wet, as was early spring, but summer and harvest were warm, in the end giving a ripe crop of good size.
The bouquet here is defined by stone fruits and fresh ginger, but the palate has fresh acids and steely minerality. If you gaze on the granite up there you can almost taste the terrain (although when we were up there it was extremely windy and bush fires were raging rather closer than we might have liked, necessitating constant recourse to the essential “Fires Near Me” app on our phones). It’s one of those wines which will certainly age, and certainly add some complexity, yet at three years it had what seemed to my own palate to be a good balance between tingle and taste. It was actually so nice to drink this wine again after not having done so for two or three years.
I always buy Clonakilla Viognier from Fortnum & Mason, the Piccadilly department store, which does have a remarkable wine department. In the more distant past I bought it directly from Liberty Wines, Clonakilla’s UK agent.
RIESLING KASTANIENBUSCH GG 2007, ÖKONOMIERAT REBHOLZ (Pfalz, Germany)
Hansjörg Rebholz makes wines which don’t always quite conform to what some see as the norm from what can often be Germany’s warmest and sunniest wine region. He farms a healthy twenty hectares of vines on the Südliche Weinstrasse (which Stephan Reinhardt once pointed out is rather disparagingly sometimes called the Süssliche Weinstrasse) from his family’s base at Siebeldingen, about thirty kilometres (or a half-hour drive) north of the French/Alsace border at Wissembourg.
Kastanienbusch is the Rebholz flagship, a Grösses Gewachs “Grand Cru” facing steeply south. The 3 ha of vines Rebholz farms on this site are on complex soils of granite, slate and a porphyritic volcanic composite rock containing feldspar, called melaphyre. The vines are farmed organically and clover is sown between rows to help slow erosion on the steep slope. Kastanienbusch is one of the last vineyards Hansjörg harvests, but the wine is bone dry (coming in here at 13% abv). There’s about a 24-hour maceration before fermentation in stainless steel, and then it is kept on lees until bottling in the following spring.
I’m so glad I kept this a good long time in the cellar. It had benefitted in exactly the same way as the 2007 Domaine Weinbach, from Alsace, which I wrote about last week. The bouquet is faintly herbal, reflecting its gentle green-gold colour. The acidity has softened somewhat and the wine is now quite mellow, but it is still dry and rich. The bouquet has a touch of lemon/lime and petrol. The mouthfeel is rich enough that it almost hints of sweetness yet the texture grounds it in the firmly dry camp. In other words, it expresses so well the vintage year (warmer) without losing any of its dry GG poise and class, Gorgeous, and quite a little sophisticated.
This was purchased (don’t be shocked) from the Laithwaite’s shop in Stoney Street (near London’s Borough Market). It’s actually the only wine I’ve ever bought from there, but on the basis of this wine, more fool me. If indeed they are still open there?
“A FERMAMENT” SAUVIGNON BLANC 2017 (SKIN CONTACT), CHARLIE HERRING WINES (Hampshire, England)
Back in June I wrote about an exceptional wine from Tim Phillips made from Sauvignon Blanc in 2018. It’s one which I would stick away for a year (as I have done with my remaining bottles). Some of the Sauvignon Blanc Tim harvested in the previous vintage went to make a very different experimental cuvée with skin contact. I bought a few 50cl bottles, in which some of it appeared.
The regime seems simple – three months on skins, fourteen months in barrel, bottling in September 2019 and not released until July this year. Tim is an obsessive perfectionist when it comes to his wines and he tastes them constantly. This is how he knows exactly when his wines are ready to move to their next stage and when they are ready to release. His imperative is the wine, not commercial considerations, which is why the words “cult English winemaker” increasingly precede his name when he’s written about.
Colour-wise, it’s a classic “orange wine” which smells, oddly enough, just like COS’s amphora white, Pithos. There’s deep, deep, orange peel and bergamot, slightly dusty on the nose and certainly textured on the palate. It has an autumnal hue and an autumnal demeanour. First taste is redolent of a mist rolling in around sunset on a dry and unseasonably warm October day. And like that perfect sunset, it lingers just long enough before fading. It has its wild side, but one which is somehow constrained…very Tim (if he isn’t offended by that, it’s a compliment Tim). It may actually be the best wine Tim has made, although I personally long to get hold of his next sparkling Riesling release (and more of it than the last one!).
Charlie Herring Wines are available in tiny quantity from Les Caves de Pyrene and selected independent wine shops (including some fairly local to his walled vineyard near Sway…I know Solent Cellar had some a week ago). I purchased my bottles direct from Tim. It’s about £26 for 500 ml.
PINOT NOIR “NATURE” 2018, LUCAS RIEFFEL (Alsace, France)
One of the leading lights of the Mittelbergheim School, a group of winemakers (including one from next village south, Andlau) who follow biodynamic and/or natural wine principles. Rieffel is literally a short stone’s throw down the village’s main street from Jean-Pierre Rietsch. He shares Rietsch’s passion for labels designed by local artists, and you can’t fail to spot the Rieffel bottles in the window of Lucas’s tasting room as you walk past.
Mittelbergheim’s vineyards produce glorious wines, proving that the old distinctions between the more southerly “Haut Rhin” and the more northerly “Bas Rhin” are long outdated. Mittelbergheim is without question one of the most exciting wine villages in Alsace, and as the vineyards even further north begin to get a reputation, it should be seen as firmly established. Its best producers (there are twenty or so winemakers in the village in total) are amongst the very best Alsace now has to offer. They also, to a man and woman, make cracking Pinot Noir for which Mittelbergheim is equally famed.
This “Nature” cuvée (I think Lucas makes three Pinot Noir bottlings) comes from various village sites and is aged in old oak. It undergoes no manipulations, nor additives, including sulphur. Lucas does use carbon dioxide to shield the wine from oxidation, and you will find that a little remains dissolved in the bottle. There are no bubbles, but there is a prickle on the palate on first sips. The result is a lively, zippy, fruit-packed red, with medium weight and glouglou-like concentration. It’s a lovely wine, it really is, which I will certainly buy again.
This was a recent purchase from Littlewine (littlewine.co) which I was unable to keep my hands off for long.