February yields just fourteen wines. Partly, I guess, as it’s a shorter month and partly because we drank some wines I wrote about in early winter. We will still go for two parts, seven wines in each. In Part One I offer you an exquisite and quite rare Bourgogne, a Priorat with a difference and a tasty white blend from Burgenland, followed by an unusual red Piemontese, a Savoie which might possibly be my wine of the year so far, another equally fantastic Burgenland, red this time, from one of my most adored producers and, to finish, a classic older South Australian Riesling, hailing from a different period in my wine life.
BOURGOGNE CHITRY 2018, ALICE & OLIVIER DE MOOR (Chablis, France)
The De Moors are based at Courgis, southwest of the town of Chablis, beyond the large Premier Cru of Montmains. It is remarkable to think that they have now been making wine here for more than thirty years, because in this time they have gone from being the first example of truly natural winemaking in the Chablis region to being acknowledged superstars whose wines fetch ever higher prices (as a very recent purchase of Premier Cru “Mont de Milieu” showed me). My first ever bottle of De Moor was their Chablis “Humeur du Temps”, picked up on a whim in a discounted bin at Berry Brothers’ “factory outlet” near Basingstoke well over a decade ago. One bottle and I was hooked. I’d never quite drunk Chablis like it.
Chitry is one of the so-called minor Bourgogne appellations in the general Chablis region, or perhaps I should say the Auxerrois. There is a key difference. The grapes for Chitry are still Chardonnay and still planted on clay/marl soils also prevalent in Chablis. However, without the famous name, few estates have made much effort with these wines. You can count on the fingers of one hand those Chablis producers who do, although a few domaines (such as Goissot) have made a name purely from Auxerrois fruit. But the terroir suggests more is possible, and from De Moor, it is.
The De Moors lavish as much effort here as in Chablis, so this wine, never very easy to source, can be something of a hidden gem. It’s fresh, very mineral, saline, but yet it has that rondeur coming from ageing in older oak (the 2018 was aged in a large foudre). It’s apple-fresh but with the touch of weight and gras that suggests a more “serious” appellation.
Such purity and beauty. As the back label states, “I am only the fruit of a respected and beloved soil…I hope to bring you joy”. You sure did, and the De Moors always do.
If you are lucky you will find this at Les Caves de Pyrene. Tiny quantities.
PRIORAT “CLASSIC” 2018, LECTORES VINI (Priorat, Spain)
Priorat has something of a reputation in my house for very boozy, dense reds. Ever since I first bought a few bottles of Scala Dei back in the 1990s every bottle I have bought has perhaps seemed more impressive than enjoyable, very subjective I know. But on the tasting scene a few years ago I began to encounter Fredi Torres, who with Mark Lecha makes up Lectores Vini. After a long chat with him at Viñateros, one of the last tastings I went to in London in March 2020, I decided I needed to get a bottle to try at home. This was the first Priorat I’ve bought in many years, despite loving the wines of Spain more generally.
What stands Fredi Torres apart, as a Priorat producer, is the fact that he’s actually Galician. He’s also lived in Switzerland, Argentina, South Africa and Burgundy. His cosmopolitan winemaking activities cover Galicia (with Silice Viticultores) as well as Catalonia. What stands his Priorat apart is a much fresher style where acids play an important role. Although this “Classic” is made from only 70% Garnacha (with 25% Carignan and 5% Syrah), it has something in common with the beautiful new wave Grenache of Gredos et al. In fact, there’s even a splash of white Macabeo somewhere in here, and although it is raised in oak (around 15% new), it’s not oaky, even now at just over two years old.
It has an enticing bright colour with a purple rim. The bouquet is fragrant cherries which are translated to the palate where they sit happily with a twist of liquorice and a touch of tannin, both adding bite to the finish. This is a lovely modern Priorat. If these wines normally tire your palate, give this one a try.
Imported by Modal Wines.
INTERGALACTIC 2019, RENNER & RENNERSISTAS (Burgenland, Austria)
A new name for a new era, as the irrepressible Renner sisters have been joined by their younger brother, Georg, in what will be the next exciting phase at this Gols estate already brimming with exciting wines and ideas. The big change here is really the putting into practice of an idea which Stefanie told me about a few years ago, when she stated the aim first to get to know each individual variety and their terroir…but in the long term to focus on blends. It is blends which really hold the greatest interest for the siblings.
Intergalactic is one of the new wines they have developed, in this case a white blend of Chardonnay (well, a little), Gewurztraminer, Grüner Veltliner, Muscat Ottonel and Welschriesling. The grapes all come from one vineyard planted in 2017, as a part of that project. It’s a true field blend, but not one that is co-fermented. The grapes are macerated on skins for three to eight days, depending on variety, which adds texture and a little colour, but not really a significant amount.
Next, the wine sees nine months ageing on gross lees, some in 225-litre barrels and some in 500-litre larger oak. Bottling is, as always here, with as little sulphur as they feel able to get away with. The result smells of slightly floral mango fruit with orange, lime citrus and herbs. There are nice acids, a little texture and a palate which is bone dry despite the rather exotic fruit on the tongue. It’s another Renner beauty, and the label is next level too.
This can be found at both Newcomer Wines and Littlewine.co.
“68” 2019, CASCINA TAVIJN (Piemonte, Italy)
The area known as Alto Piemonte is becoming increasingly popular as prices for Barolo and Barbaresco become ever more Burgundian, but there’s another side to Piemonte, known as Alt-Piemonte. Here, in the Monferrato hills to the northeast of Asti, Alto- and Alt-Piemonte come together in an estate making truly individual wines.
Nadia Verrua may look very youthful, but her family has a century of farming these hills behind them. The estate measures ten hectares, but only half is planted to grapes. Their other main crop is hazelnuts. Things are done naturally, with zero chemical inputs (including no added sulphur). The grapes, in this cuvée a 50-50 blend of Barbera and the wonderful but rarely seen Ruché, are fermented together for a whole two months on skins (no stems) and are then aged in a whole gamut of different vessels, ranging from oak botti to cement and fibreglass.
The result is an absolute riot of red and dark berry fruits with a hint of violet on the nose, all kept bouncing in the glass by some fresh and zippy fruit acidity. It’s a wine for enjoying, not pondering over, and it really does illustrate how under-valued (if I might say so) Ruché has become in the Piemontese mix.
The cuvée is yet another wine named after a road number, which of course in Italy, whether north or far south, means the SP68.
This, and other wines from Cascina Tavijn, are available from Tutto Wines via their online Tutto La Casa.
CÔTILLON DES DAMES 2015 VIN DE FRANCE, JEAN-YVES PÉRON (Savoie, France)
Jean-Yves Péron has farmed at Conflans, close to Albertville, since 2004, right in the heart of the Haut-Savoie. His vineyards are on slopes of mica schist between 350 to 550 masl, and his parcels are tiny. Thankfully he manages to bring in some fruit from other like-minded (read fully organic) growers, including some cuvées in collaboration with growers in Italy’s Piemonte.
Côtillon des Dames is a name for different cuvées with the same characteristic yellow label. They include sometimes a multi-vintage blend, a Reserve and a vintage, and this is a nicely aged 2015 vintage wine. The grapes are Jacquere and Altesse, two of the region’s autochthonous varieties. They see enough skin contact to make this a genuine amber/orange wine.
This is pretty obvious from the colour, which might scare any more conservative readers, but it’s the bouquet which really grabs your attention. It is no less than explosive with orange citrus. I’ve been enjoying the season’s blood oranges right now, and that is exactly what I got here. That almost overpowering scent. The palate is certainly textured but there’s a heap of exotic fruit which is almost like the sweet and sour of a Chinese dish, but with a nice Seville Orange marmalade bitterness on the finish.
An extraordinary wine for the adventurous, contemplative, challenging, difficult for sure, but perhaps this is why this may be my wine of the year so far. Mind you, the next wine’s pretty damned good too…
A reasonable range of Péron wines are usually available via Gergovie Wines, who like Tutto above, specialises in wines made without added sulphur.
JOSCHUARI ROT 2011, GUT OGGAU (Burgenland, Austria)
So, we probably all know by now that Gut Oggau is a family winery and heuriger based in Oggau, a hamlet just a kilometre or two north of Rust, on the western shore of Burgenland’s Neusiedlersee. As Rust is highly recommended (for a host of reasons which I have written about before), the most effective way to visit Gut Oggau, and to be able to taste and drink, is to hire bicycles in Rust itself. Oggau is close enough that you can wobble home.
Joschuari sits in the middle generation of the Gut Oggau family of wines, a “parent”. He is a rather complex Blaufränkisch grown on the superb limestone terroir above the lake, vines being forty years old. That terroir drives the wine, as it does all of the fine examples of this variety from this location. Its signature is a racy mineral edge which is given more of an accent here with 50% of the fruit being fermented in concrete (the rest in oak). It is then aged 12 months in the same blend of the two vessels.
This is, for me, a wine to lay down, perhaps more so than Josephine, the other parent who I perhaps know more intimately. At ten years old this seems as fresh as the day it was bottled. It still has that characteristic dark tinge to the colour. This is reflected in a dark-fruited bouquet, where you can also almost smell the limestone (or is it a touch of that concrete-induced high note, or both?). The palate is beautifully concentrated and very long. It’s a serious wine, but its freshness makes it joyous to drink. Biodynamic, around 20 mg/l sulphur added, a life affirming bottle. I expected no less from the caring genius of Gut Oggau.
Imported by Dynamic Vines, Bermondsey.
SPRINGVALE WATERVALE RIESLING 2010, JEFFREY GROSSET (Clare Valley, South Australia)
Jeffrey Grosset knew he wanted to be a winemaker in his mid-teens, so on leaving school he went straight off to Roseworthy College, and after graduating wound up by his mid-twenties working as senior winemaker for a large-scale Australian wine group. But his future was obvious…that he’d go it alone. That he was able to do so was in large part down to help from his parents, both in helping to fund the purchase of an old dairy at the southern end of the Clare Valley, and from his dad’s physical labour in helping convert the grapes from a mate’s Riesling vines at Polish Hill into 800 cases of wine for his first vintage.
Jeffrey now farms 20 hectares over the valley, making much more than just Riesling. But if a lover of Australian wine thinks of Riesling, it is surely Grosset of whom they will think first. He’s still most famous for his Polish Hill Riesling, and people often therefore think of the Springvale, from fruit at Watervale, as a kind of second label. This most certainly isn’t the case. Springvale is merely different. The Watervale fruit is different, more generous than the Polish Hill, where the fruit comes off very poor soils on hard shale. Instead Watervale is mostly red limestone and loam with shale mixed in. Three different clones are grown organically, hand harvested from a six-hectare block.
As Jeffrey Grosset repeats so often, the idea initially was to blend the two sources but he soon found that didn’t work. He was one of Australia’s first voices in favour of the expression of “place” through wine, something the Clare terroir taught him. He was also, partly at the behest of his importer, David Gleave (Liberty Wines), an early exponent of screwcaps.
Whereas you really wouldn’t want to broach a Polish Hill too young, the Springvale can be drunk early. But even at more than a decade old, as this bottle was, it showed an attractive green-gold colour and on the nose, an expression of pure lime cordial, the palate revealing a firm backbone of acidity you don’t quite expect unless you know these wines fairly well. That palate is crisp, mineral and bone dry and (goes without saying) incredibly long. For a 13% Riesling it’s still very elegant too. I’d say that despite being a decade old it will surely go another seven-to-ten years minimum.
Grosset is usually available fairly widely in the UK, via importer Liberty Wines, but also through The Wine Society and Berry Brothers (among others). I happen to remember that my bottles all came from The Sampler (Islington branch), though nothing is currently listed there.