I’m not going to lie to you, this third Lockdown in the UK is pretty hard. First time around we at least had the sunshine, and no idea really that things would go quite the way they did (well, we may have had an inkling but I’m not sure that it was a fully formed prophesy). Now, looking out on a cold, grey, day in Southern England there’s far less to look forward to. Certainly no winter tastings like those I wrote about enthusiastically in my Review of 2020. I’m sure we all hold out hope for wine travel, but there’s a certain defence mechanism now which is constructed to avoid disappointment.
Yet there is still wine, and I’m sure that right now every bottle drunk is chosen with a little more care, and the act of drinking it is perhaps a tiny bit more focused. The ten bottles here take us over Christmas up to New Year. You will note that the selection chosen is not full of boastful bottles, partly because the few of those I own are always saved to enjoy with similarly wine obsessive friends (generosity breeds generosity). There was no partying in the Crossley household over the festive season. However, there are undoubtedly some remarkable choices amongst the bottles of Burgundy, Alsace, Franken, South African, Champagne, Australian, Loire, Jura, Canary Island and Austrian wines. That’s how they wind up here.
GEVREY-CHAMBERTIN « CLOS DES CHÉZEAUX » 2011, DOMAINE DENIS BERTHAUT (Burgundy, France)
You have to bear in mind that this is a selection of the most interesting bottles sampled at home. It’s not that this wine was faulty, merely that it was way too young, so I place it here in some ways as a warning. I have been well tutored in the art of avoiding wasting money by opening bottles of Burgundy too soon, so this rookie error was unforgivable, really.
Denis has now handed over to his daughter, who indeed was manning the tasting room at the domaine in Fixin when I last visited them, and where this bottle was purchased. Back then, Denis was working with his brother, Vincent, farming 14 hectares of vines around the village, and in Gevrey. In the latter there are tiny parcels in 1er Crus of Les Cazetiers and Lavaux-St-Jacques, but also the village wine, Clos des Chézeaux, represented here.
The Berthaut wines under Denis were always fairly structured (perhaps less so under Amélie, who now makes wine under the domaine name “Berthaut-Gerbet”, encompassing all Denis’ vines and those of François Gerbet). Well, this is not an exception. Even with time to breath (though not decanted) it remained firm and structured. What got me fooled was the vintage, or rather my recollection of the vintage at the time of purchase. I bought some 2010s to lay down and some 2011s to try after a decade. I’d say this wine will go a further decade itself.
There is nice dark cherry with a smoky note, and the tannins are not harsh. It’s just a little bit “strict” right now, slightly closed. Lesson learned.
As mentioned above, this wine was purchased from the domaine.
“SINGULIER” 2017, VIGNOBLE DU RÊVEUR (Alsace, France)
Vignoble du Rêveur is, of course, the personal domaine of Matthieu Deiss and his partner, Emmanuelle Milan, based in Bennwihr, north of Colmar. The wines are both biodynamic and “natural” with nothing added except for a little sulphur in some (not all) cuvées. Everything is done here in a very considered way, by hand, a mixture of the skills learnt both at college and from the couple’s respective famous fathers (in Alsace and Provence), and a wonderful degree of intuition.
Singulier is a carbonic maceration of Riesling and Pinot Blanc. The grapes spend ten days fermenting in large oak, giving colour, after which the wine ages for a year on its fine lees, adding texture. With this cuvée minimal sulphur is added. The attack is dry, bright and citrus flavoured, with acids and mineral notes providing tension. Beneath this is a lick of richness wound around that fine mineral core. A balanced 12% abv makes this both refreshing but also a good food pairing (I’m sure you know the kind of dishes…the “lightly-spiced” cliché etc). Definitely a producer to follow throughout the whole of their range.
The Deiss/Milan wines are imported by Swig Wines, this bottle purchased from Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton.
“TRIO SAUVAGE” 2019, MAX SEIN WEIN (Franken, Germany)
Max farms 3.5 ha at Dertingen in Franken (Franconia). His passion is for Silvaner and Pinot Meunier (Schwarzriesling), although he also has some Müller-Thurgau, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir, all grown on mostly limestone with patches of red sandstone. Although he’s a third generation winzer, he has worked around Europe (including in Austria with Judith Beck and Gut Oggau), and in New Zealand. That’s interesting because I see a certain affinity there. The wines are pretty natural though, and on the evidence of this one, my first, they are very good.
Trio Sauvage blends 50% Silvaner with Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, all the vines being at least 60 years old. The Silvaner is direct pressed fruit, whereas the remainder is fermented on skins together for ten days. Zero manipulation takes place, including no added sulphur. The colour is almost a very pale salmon pink, presumably deriving from the macerated Pinot Gris skins. The flavours are initially fresh and a little fruity but a savoury note kicks in, a little bitterness and texture from the period on skins. With low alcohol (11.5%) and zippy acids, it’s a very easy wine to drink. I will definitely be trying more of Max’s wines and I can see why Jiri and Zainab made their first German addition to their Central European portfolio.
This is imported by Basket Press Wines.
“THE TRIP” 2019, BLANK BOTTLE WINERY (Western Cape, South Africa)
Regular readers will be aware not only that I’m pretty keen on the wines of Pieter Walser’s Blank Bottle Winery, but that he regularly bottles a pair of exclusive cuvées for his mates Henry and Cassie at Butlers Wine Cellar down in Brighton. This year’s pair were released just before Christmas, and I got my order in to receive them on the day of release.
I think I can safely say that “The Trip” is the best white bottling for Butlers so far. It’s mainly Grenache Blanc with a few other bits and pieces (I do like this variety, it has to be said). Ageing is on lees in old oak. Lovely fresh acidity rides like Pieter’s surfboard over oceans (almost, okay, getting carried away with my metaphors here) of tropical fruit, rather like the man himself making his escape from a shark in one of his enthralling stories. This is not a complex wine, but POW! It hits you. I don’t mean the alcohol, which although listed at 13%, doesn’t seem as high as stated. It just slaps you with fruit and freshness. At a tad over £20 this is pretty good value. Nice label too, riffing again on Brighton Pier.
Imported by Swig Wines, one of two new cuvées exclusive to Butlers Wine Cellar, Brighton.
“FIDÈLE” CHAMPAGNE BRUT NATURE, VOUETTE & SORBÉE (Champagne, France)
Champagne Vouette & Sorbée is named, perhaps self-effacingly, after the single sites Bertrand Gautherot farms above Buxières-sur-Arce, in the Côte des Bar. Bertrand is often cited in the list of disciples of Anselme Selosse, and it is true that Selosse has been an influence. They know each other well. The wines are nevertheless distinctive, and Gautherot is definitely a star in his own right. He’s certainly always cited as one of the region’s foremost producers of biodynamic wines, and although Bertrand had a career in design before he became a vigneron, he’s no newcomer, having farmed at Buxières since the mid-80s.
Fidèle is the entry level at V&S, and also the largest of the cuvées produced. It follows the house style, which means oak vinification with natural yeasts. The cuvée is 100% Pinot Noir, which we know thrives on the south-facing Kimmeridgian clay of the Vouette site (Sorbée is Portlandian limestone). The vintage here is 2016, the wine being disgorged in November 2018, giving it two years post-disgorgement ageing before I popped the cork.
For me, this is a gourmet Champagne. The juice is handled with care, using a traditional Coquard press. Ageing is in old fûts, there’s very little sulphur added and bottling is with zero dosage. The colour is pale gold, and the palate can best be described as mineral and vinous. This is small scale Grower Champagne (Bertrand farms just 5.5 ha) at the highest level, just as inspirational as any of the top names working in Champagne today.
Bertrand Gautherot’s wines (and I mean “wines”) are imported by Vine Trail.
“GENESIS SYRAH” 2002, CASTAGNA (Beechworth, Victoria, Australia)
Beechworth is a fascinating region. It’s well away from most of the well-known vineyard regions in Victoria (west of King Valley and South of Rutherglen), and it isn’t often listed when discussing the top wine regions of Australia, yet there are several very well-known producers here (well, I can think of three) who make wines to match anything in the country. Julian Castagna is one of them, and he’s also one of Australia’s most outspoken winemakers, especially on the topic of judging wines and the show circuit. That said, having met him two or three times, I can also say that he’s one of the very warmest guys in Oz wine I’ve ever had the pleasure to spend a small amount of time with.
Australian Wine visionary Max Allen described Castagna’s physical appearance as “wombat-like” which fits a man who needed to be stubborn to do his own thing when he and his wife started out. His Beechworth vineyard is planted on a north-facing hillside on granite and clay, and it was when faced with the chemical treatments he’d been sold to prepare the land for planting his vines that he realised that there was another way. He’s since become a loud advocate of biodynamics, an approach to farming which now thrives throughout the region, largely on the back of the Beechworth Biodynamic Forum Julian began in 2004. He’s notable for being one of the quartet of members of Nicolas Joly’s “Return to Terroir” group (information in this para from Max Allen’s seminal The Future Makers, Hardie Grant, 2010).
Genesis is a Syrah to age par excellence. It comes from a single site on the estate, off that great granite terroir which we know the Syrah variety loves. Julian, working now with his equally uncompromising son, Adam, follows a minimum intervention route. “Genesis” sees 18 months in French oak, 50% new, to make a wine that will keep as well as any fine Northern Rhône. A touch of Viognier (of course) adds elegant lift, but the fruit is smooth and refined, the length exceptional. Stately, magical, call it what you like but a year after my last trip to Australia it felt like a perfect reward for my longing to be back. This is a wine which confounds expectations of what Australian fine wine can be.
This bottle came from The Solent Cellar in Lymington, where I first met Julian. It may be possible for them to source small quantities of this 2002 from a private cellar (sadly not mine).
MELON JAUNE “VALLET” 2002, PHILIPPE GUÉRIN (Muscadet, Loire, France)
Philippe Guérin is a Muscadet producer based in Vallet, in the east of the Sèvre-et-Maine part of the wider region. The family estate is of a reasonable size, 30 hectares, yet the vines are really old. Those used for this wine are over ninety years of age. Perhaps he’s one of the forgotten names in a largely forgotten region, that is forgotten outside of a few serious aficionados. But this is not Muscadet, or certainly not Muscadet as we know it. The term “unicorn wine” is undoubtedly over used, especially for wines which are not produced in tiny quantities but are rare because those who sell them hide them under the counter for whoever they deem worthy. This has always been the bane of people like me when touring the bars of Paris. Much as I love that beautiful city…
Occasionally a wine comes along that is genuinely special and genuinely rare at the same time. This is such a wine. The variety is the Melon de Bourgogne, the grape of Muscadet. What Guérin did was to age it under a voile of yeast (ie flor), in fact just like a Vin Jaune. Vins de voile are not restricted to Jura, and I’ve drunk such wines from elsewhere, in Franche-Comté, from Gaillac (where they were once very traditional) and Savoie. This is my first Loire “vin jaune” so to speak.
At Vallet, in the far east of the region, limestone predominates. This adds a mineral edge to the wine which is in some ways similar to the mineral edge of the Savagnin variety used in Jura Vin Jaune, but without the degree of nuttiness. Its importer managed to snaffle a single case for the UK. He put six bottles into the favoured retailer below and told me recently that he’d kept the other six for himself. Mean as that might initially sound, I can fully understand why, and absolve him from guilt. It may cost a little more than an average Vin Jaune from the Jura (£65), but its quality and rarity make it surely worth that. But be aware that if the retailer has kept one for himself (I presume he has), then the most which is available in the UK is four bottles, at least of this 2002. It’s still on their web site! Let me know if you get one. I’ll be round…
Imported by Dreyfus Ashby, retailed by The Solent Cellar.
CHARDONNAY “LE MONTCEAU” 2014, CÔTES DU JURA, J-F GANEVAT (Jura, France)
This is one of Jean-François’ estate cuvées made from a single old vine parcel near Rotalier, in Jura’s Sud Revermont. Jean-François farms something over ten hectares now, with an addition of an increasing number of négoce bottlings with his sister, Anne. He has had two pieces of luck in his career. The first is that despite being from a long line of winemakers, he had the good fortune to be one of the first to leave the region and gain a wine education at Beaune. After this followed a period as Cellar Master for Domaine Morey (Jean-Marc Morey) in Chassagne-Montrachet. He returned home in 1999. His second bit of luck were the vineyards his family had planted at the beginning of the 20th century, some dating back to 1902 and some planted either side of the First World War.
The Jura Region is famous for its “marnes” soils. This wine is grown on “marne du lias”, a type of Jurassic Limestone. Whole bunches go into used large tronconic (cone-shaped) vats to ferment, then into used oak foudres to age for twelve months. This cuvée is what is called ouillé (topped-up), not in the traditional oxidised style of the region, like all of Jean-François’ father’s wines were made. No sulphur is added.
This truly is glorious Chardonnay, with such depth already for a young wine. It has body, but is neither fat nor alcoholic (it registers only 12% abv), more a wine with delicious fruit set on a sturdy frame. The great length here is just one long journey of mineral purity, a wine which surely combines the best of fine Burgundy with the deliberate rustic touch on its very edges of great Jura. Sometimes the hype is real. Ganevat’s wines are expensive, but they are not impossible to find, which makes them attainable classics despite the price. Equally, expensive wine can still be good value, and despite the hype, these wines remain decent value.
I can’t say where I bought this. The Solent Cellar generally has a good but ever-changing selection of Ganevat, procured through Les Caves de Pyrene, but equally I always bring back a few Ganevat on my trips to the region.
MALVASIA AROMÁTICA 2017, VICTORIA TORRES PECIS (La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain)
As I said in my review of the past year, the most read article on my site in 2020 was that which I wrote on Vicky Torres Pecis back in August 2019, “The New Star of The Canaries”. Since I first wrote about her, she seems to have grown in fame and it’s not really a surprise that said article was popular. If you want to know my 2020 tips (if you’ve not read the Review), we have two more ladies, Veronica Ortega (just this week described by someone online as “The Queen of Bierzo”) and Annamária Réka-Koncz, from Eastern Hungary.
Victoria inherited extremely old bush vines (many now 130 years old) dotted around La Palma, one of the smallest of Spain’s Canary Isles. Tenerife has, of course, become extremely famous and fashionable, but vines are central to the traditional economy on several of the islands. Victoria’s base is in Fuencaliente, on the southern end of La Palma, and her bodega still retains the old stone lagar where grapes continue to be trodden, although some new stainless steel vats and slightly newer barrels have made an appearance since she was thrown in at the deep end when her father passed away in 2015. These inherited vines, on old volcanic terroir known locally as picón, just like her friends’ vines on Tenerife, have the distinction of being pie franco, or on their own roots. Phylloxera has not reached La Palma so the vines were never replanted on American rootstocks.
This Malvasia is a tiny cuvée of just 1,300 bottles, the old vines giving miniscule yields. When you smell and taste it you know you are in the presence of a wine fashioned by wind and sun. It’s fragrant, saline and mineral. It’s not a wine which suggests its fruit had an easy life, but it has gained genuine character from its hard upbringing…so to speak. Its backbone is sharp and chiselled and the palate is also textured, but there is not remotely any excess of acidity. This creates a gentle side to temper the austerity. A mineral austerity rather than an austerity of acids. This means you have a great deal of length over which to savour the juice as it tails off into a salty distance.
It’s a remarkable wine. It probably needs to be remarkable to tempt you to pay £44 for a bottle. Not that you can get any because the current vintage (2018) is, as expected, sold out (so says the web site). But importer Modal Wines will have some other wines from Vicky, so long as you are quick, and some are less expensive. She is a true star, though.
Imported into the UK by Modal Wines.
“DOPE”  (PETNAT), CLAUS PREISINGER (Burgenland, Austria)
We all need some dopamine at the moment, and in many ways this wine felt more appropriate to see out 2020 than anything posh or fancy. That’s not to say that it was in any way inferior at all. We drank this for dinner on New Year’s Eve, and we would not have seen in 2021 at all had it not been for the loud explosions and raucous cheering of crowds of happy Lockdown party-goers around midnight.
Claus is the King of Gols in many ways. He’s assured and confident both as a man and as a winemaker, as he surveys his neighbourhood from the surf board table on the lakeview balcony of his standout modern winery on the slope above the village. He explores different styles, some serious and some wonderfully frivolous. This is the latter. From its simple label, where the information is on a neck strip, to the cuvée name, made by printing “Dope” onto a tiny black plastic strip (the brand was Dymo back in my day, when every child owned one), it’s look is very minimalist.
The wine itself is made from lightly macerated Blaufränkisch, giving the wine a salmon pink hue. The vines are on a mix of limestone and slate, and the grapes macerate in amphora. The pressed juice spends eight months on lees in bottle (the Ancestral Method) and the resulting petnat has zero added sulphur, and of course is not disgorged, leaving a fine sediment to add texture if shaken. Red fruits dominate, but there’s a dark side lurking beneath. Maybe some garrigue herbs and white pepper on the finish. It gives an edge, accentuated by the terroir’s minerality, which takes it beyond simple fruit. So, a simple looking petnat becomes something more interesting in the glass. Then, with more time, you catch sight of the beauty beyond the surface austerity…which is so often the best kind of beauty.
So maybe that’s a metaphor for 2021, with which to end 2020. As I write this, we have already drunk seven bottles this year. Were they, and the bottles included here, really as good as I remember them, or is it merely that there’s more time to focus on what is in the glass? If so, then that’s one positive out of the Lockdown, albeit a very small one. But let us hope that 2021 does bring some joy to all of us, not just wonderful bottles.
The wines of Claus Preisinger are available both from Newcomer Wines and Littlewine (littlewine.com).