Regular readers will note that there is no “Part 1/Part 2” for October’s wines drunk at home. This is because I managed to fracture my ribs. Three weeks on and I’m on the way to recovery, but the painkillers I had to take initially meant no alcohol for a couple of weeks. It did have its positives. First, it wasn’t that hard, so maybe I’m not an alcoholic. Secondly, I don’t have to feel too bad about rejecting “Sober October” and “Dry January” (but let’s face it, that really was not going to concern me one bit). But on the bright side, I probably have a case of wine in the cellar which would not otherwise have been there.
So for October we have our usual eclectic spread of wines, from Spain’s Bierzo, Neuchâtel in Switzerland, The Mosel, Alsace (2), Jura (2), and Czechia (or Czech Republic if you’re old school) plus a lone Piemontese.
GODELLO “VO Cal” 2017, VERONICA ORTEGA (Bierzo, Spain)
I first tried the wines of Veronica Ortega at Viñateros this year, and subsequently put a couple of bottles in a mixed case. Someone I follow on Instagram suggested I leave the red for six months, so this is the first of Veronica’s wines I’ve drunk since the tasting. They made a big impression on me.
She made her first vintage in 2010 after stints in Priorat (Clos Erasmus and Alvaro Palacios), New Zealand (Burn Cottage), Douro (Niepoort), Burgundy (Comte Armand and DRC) and the Rhône Valley (Domaine Combier), but fell in love with Bierzo during a stint with Raúl Perez. As I said in my original review, an impressive CV.
Veronica farms just five hectares near Valtuille de Abajo and the vines for this 100% Godello are around 40-years-old or more. Planted in an old limestone quarry (“Cal” stands for limestone), the wines have a very low ph so require very little sulphur, in this case none was added. The wine, aged partly in used oak and partly in amphora, has a beautiful bouquet of grapefruit and pear with ginger and nutmeg spice. There’s a little texture and salinity on the palate which gives it a freshness enabling us to drink it now, though I am guessing it will age for three or four years. But you don’t need to resist. Gorgeous stuff.
Veronica Ortega is imported by Vine Trail.
AUVERNIER GOUTTE D’OR 2016, DOMAINE DE MONTMOLLIN (Neuchâtel, Switzerland)
The vines of Neuchâtel sit in the lee of the Jura Mountains off the Autoroute which heads north from Lausanne towards Basel, at the point where you would climb eastwards towards Pontarlier if you are taking the scenic route through Eastern France.
Auvernier is an historic village on the western shore of the lake, now administratively part of the municipality of Milivignes. The domaine, of 50-hectares, is currently run by the younger generation, Benoît and his sister, Rachel. It was their father who converted the domaine to biodynamics but the family have been viticulteurs here since the 17th century. There are ten different varieties but they specialise in the local oeil de perdrix rosé (Pinot Noir) and Chasselas, of which there are many cuvées.
This 2016 has an extra touch of bottle age, and the producer does recommend a window of 2-3 years, but it has retained a little petillance, perhaps a touch softer than in its youth. It’s still fruity though and has a kind of stately flavour which young Chasselas rarely exhibits. A floral bouquet precedes lime and mineral texture on the palate. Satisfying but I wouldn’t keep it any longer myself. The various cuvées of Chasselas from this domaine, including their early release unfiltered bottling, are recommended for exploration, along, of course, with the pale oeil de perdrix.
The importer is Alpine Wines.
TROSSEN ROT 2018, RUDOLF & RITA TROSSEN (Mosel, Germany)
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about this wine, but it deserves another plug. The Trossens of Kinheim-Kindel are rightly lauded for their natural “Purus” cuvées, almost cult wines among many aficionados of the region. Yet their other wines fit their natural wine ethos perfectly, and equally hit the flavour spot.
Here we have a blend of Pinot Noir and Dornfelder. The flavours may be quite simple but they are pure concentrated and vibrant, dark fruits as fresh as if they were picked straight off the bush. In the mouth they explode like a party popper. Despite its easy drinking nature, this is, for me, a standout wine. Why? I think some lovers of expensive fine wines just never experience this particular kind of thrill. Too simple they say. Dornfelder, no way, they say. I merely smirk.
Try littlewine.co or Newcomer Wines.
CHASSELAS PUR VIN 2017, PIERRE FRICK (Alsace, France)
Jean-Pierre and Chantal Frick cultivate something like 12-hectares of vines around the village of Pfaffenheim, south of Colmar in Alsace’s Haut-Rhin department. They have long been one of the pre-eminent domaines at the forefront of the Alsacien natural wine movement, as well as exponents of boidynamics (Demeter certification since 1981). As David Neilson, Back in Alsace writer and Raisin App team member writes, they are “activists in many areas of the ecology movement in Alsace” as well as being members of the so-called Alsace “Gang of Four” (original naturalistas, along with Christian Binner, Bruno Schueller and Patrick Meyer).
Jean-Pierre is one of those growers who makes you wonder where he finds time to tend the vines, but the old adage “…ask a busy man” holds true here. The wines remain exemplary. This cuvée is a little unusual in that it is a zero sulphur bottling of a grape hardly seen in Alsace these days, although it seemed a little more prevalent when I first visited the region at the end of the 1980s.
I’m grateful to David again for identifying the exact source of this rare Chasselas, the Carrière site, a tiny half-hectare plot producing sometimes just 1,000 bottles. As I have never had difficulty in sourcing this zero sulphur wine, I had been totally unaware that all of it is exported (London and Quebec, apparently). I feel pretty lucky.
It is pure, mineral and clean, something of real beauty and for me, probably the best Chasselas in France (but feel free to tell me I’m wrong). Forget that it isn’t the “best” wine in the Frick portfolio, nor certainly the most expensive (far from it). Just flip off the cap, forget “points” and enjoy it.
This bottle came from littlewine.co but you can also try Les Caves de Pyrene.
PINOT NOIR 2016, DOMAINE DES BODINES (Jura, France)
I’m sure many of you know that Bodines is close to my heart. I love a tale of a very young family striking out with a small vineyard, slowly growing their vine holding and their reputation at the same time. The reputation is for honesty in their wines and honesty in every aspect of what they do. Their first vintage was 2011 (from which a lovely Vin Jaune was released a couple of years ago), so they now have a little experience under their belts and their wines seem to get better with every vintage.
They seem to excel with the Burgundian varieties (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir). The 2016 Pinot is quite dark in colour with a very spicy bouquet overlaid with sweet scented red and dark fruits. It smells almost autumnal. The palate is also spicy with some tannic structure suggesting it may still be quite young. It was certainly less evolved than the 2015, the last vintage we drank. It was showing strongly, but for those who would wish to keep it, the wine will evolve further. It’s always the big dilemma with natural wine, because when the fruit sings, you want to drink it. No additives, including no added sulphur.
Purchased from the domaine, but try Les Caves de Pyrene for Bodines in the UK.
NEUBURGER “UNFILTERED” 2019, PETR KÓRAB (Moravia, Czechia)
In my recent article on less well known varieties I mentioned the resurgence (albeit slight) of Neuburger, but that was largely directed at Austria, where the natural wine producers have rediscovered its qualities. The Kórab brothers founded their winery in 2006, at Boleradice. Petr, now sole winemaker, is intent on keeping alive the region’s small, old, vineyards, adding diversity via sheep, goats and beehives. Some of the vines are gnarled old 75-year-olds with tiny, almost uneconomic, yields but quality is very high indeed across the whole range. I rarely buy a case from the importer without it containing some Kórab.
The wine is more complex than you would expect from such a so-called “lesser” variety, and it has texture, weight and freshness. The latter comes from its tarte au citron lemon acidity, but it plumps up as it warms in the glass. This was picked on 11 September with 0.5g/l of sugar and 5.2g/l acidity and was aged in robinia (aka false acacia), a medium commonly used for barrels in Moravia’s Velkopavlovická region. Understated yet really rather good, and it went very well with a rice and roasted vegetable/cashew dish we knocked up.
Petr Kórab is imported by Basket Press Wines in the UK and according to their web site this wine is not quite sold out.
“SO TRUE” 2015, ARBOIS, HUGHES-BÉGUET (Jura, France)
I’ve not visited Patrice Béguet for a few years, but lucky for me I went reasonably long on the 2015s. It was, at the time, Patrice’s most successful vintage to date, and one in which he was able to achieve his dream of zero added sulphur across the range. Based slap bang next to the church (with an increasingly precarious bell tower, it must be said – I’m sure that crack is getting bigger) in the village of Mesnay, walking distance from Arbois, he farms vines outside the village, and over on Pupillin’s famous Côte de Feule.
“So True” is obviously (I hope it’s obvious) made from the region’s pre-eminent red variety (Trousseau). This is a gentle, fairly pale, Trousseau exhibiting the true quality of the year. This wine also sports what at the time was one of his new labels, featuring a lithograph designed to adorn his grandfather’s “gentiane” liqueur.
This has that slightly gamey note of maturing Trousseau, along with a tiny bit of tannin and more than a tiny bit of brightness. The grapes come from both the aforementioned Côte de Feule and a little from a small parcel Patrice farms in Les Corvées, on the edge of Arbois. Part of the cuvée is made by carbonic maceration, giving the wine its fruitiness. So pure, so true.
Although this is another bottle purchased at the domaine, Patrice Béguet’s wines can occasionally be found via Les Caves de Pyrene.
“GRANITE” 2018, LUCAS & ANDRÉ RIEFFEL (Alsace, France)
Lucas Rieffel is one of the key members of the Mittelbergheim School (well, to be fair, every member is equally prominent), which in itself is a group of some of the most exciting names in the Bas-Rhin department. This is another of the region’s old domaines, boasting around five hundred years of viticultural history, before it came to prominence in the 1990s. This really is a “school” because the group of five members are continuously tasting and learning together, all striving towards perfection in all they do. You can read more about the Mittelbergheim School elsewhere on my site, or on David Neilson’s “backinalsace.com”.
“Granite” is a biodynamic blend of Pinot Blanc and Pinot d’Auxerrois from the Gebreit lieux-dit, one of several in the vicinity which may ultimately end up as “Alsace Premier Cru” when all the work is done. It sits above the steep Kastelberg on a flatter plateau, weathered granite as opposed to Kastelberg’s slate.
This is, once more, the zero added sulphur cuvée (there’s also one which sees a small dose). The vines are old, up to fifty years, and the wine is aged in barrel, which makes for a serious drop. I often say I choose Pinot Blanc for lunch when dining out in the region, but this is several levels above what I’m expecting on those occasions. Almost bitingly mineral, yet with a rondeur which allows the texture and bite to blend in perfectly. At this age the fresh acids burst to life, and some might like it with a bit more age. Not me though. As a fully signed up acid hound, this is just glorious. It’s easily the best Alsace Pinot Blanc or Auxerrois I’ve drunk in a very long time, from a producer I was slow to get to know, but whose whole range I can’t resist (some may have spotted the Instagram photo of the six-pack which arrived today, including more of Lucas’s Pinot Noir).
Yet another bottle from littlewine.co.
LANGHE FREISA “TOETTO” 2017, GIUSEPPE MASCARELLO (Piemonte, Italy)
This is of course one of Barolo’s most famous producers, based in the village of Castiglione Falletto. Freisa is, however, not a grape which many Barolo drinkers will have seen very often, nor perhaps pursued too vigorously. In the past it frequently made a light red, more often than not frizzante and with no attempt at seriousness. This wine isn’t one of those. The grapes, from Castiglione’s Toetto cru, were harvested late, in early October. The selected fruit was what they call traditionally fermented, with a maceration of twenty days, then aged in Slavonian oak before settling in tank prior to bottling.
A deep ruby red, but on the darker side of that spectrum, the wine is spicy, slightly chewy with some tannins, and very concentrated. It is superbly made, and I reckon I was opening it a little too young. They have made a wine here to age, I would guess, perhaps five years in this vintage. The level of concentration and extraction is exemplary and this is top stuff. The alcohol level did shock me a little (15%), but the wine is balanced, and I must say, it’s a cracker. Maybe split the bottle though.
Purchased from The Solent Cellar.
Glad to see you’re on the road to recovery, David. (In view of Lockdown, road may be stretching it).
Your musical tastes appear to be as eclectic as for wine. LKJ: 😎
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I still love that album after all these years. But I guess I’ll never stop wanting to try new things (though I draw the line at some extreme sports).