February Part 2 begins with the entry level Champagne from a now established star Grower before heading to a part of the Loire, Cheverny, I’ve not now been to for too long. We have another wein from Max Sein, a natural wine from a region which is less “naturally inclined” than many in Austria (Kamptal), and a Nebbiolo from Valtellina but labelled as an IGT. This second part ends with a great Pinot with a decade on the clock from Martinborough in New Zealand and a Vin Jaune to finish after some friends kindly sent me a Mons Jura selection of Mont D’Or, Morbier and Comté (how else to truly honour such a generous gift).
BRUT RÉSERVE VIEILLES VIGNES CUVÉE NON-FILTRÉ, BÉRÊCHE (Champagne, France)
Bérêche used to be the one producer I would always try to visit no matter how short a time I had in the Champagne region, which would most often be just one night on returning from Eastern France. So I always feel my heart skip a beat of excitement as I crest the Craon de Ludes where their winery sits, surveying the plain towards Reims. Regrettably, due to Covid, it has been a while and my stocks purchased there have dwindled, though supplemented last year from their UK importer.
Raphaël and Vincent have vines on the Montagne and the Marne, which both contribute to this cuvée. The base here is 2014, disgorged September 2017 with a dosage of 7g/litre. The grape blend is 35% Meunier, 30% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay, but the wine contains 35% reserves, quite a high proportion, from 2012 and 2013. It is, however, made from old vines and is not filtered.
As always, the Brut Réserve is pristine with a very clean attack. The bouquet has lovely orange peel (more than lemon) citrus and a touch of bergamot. The palate hints at hazelnut and honey and there’s a saline mineral texture on the finish. Sip it and hold it there in the mouth, this is a beautiful Champagne. I drink many of Raphaël’s Champagnes from a wine glass but for this cuvée I use Zalto Champagne glasses. They enhance the delicacy and minerality of this wine. Personally I do not know of a more crystalline and pure entry level Champagne. With the way Champagne prices are going for the other cuvées, this is just as well.
Bérêche’s UK agent is Vine Trail.
CHEVERNY ROUGE 2019, HERVÉ VILLEMADE (Loire, France)
Cheverny is a small appellation in Touraine, a little to the south of Blois. We are lucky to have friends with a family home in one of the hamlets near to the enormous Renaissance château at Cour-Cheverny, after which this AOP is named, so we know the region and its winemakers, although my early visits were to the tasting room at Jacky Blot’s Domaine de la Taille aux Loups at Husseau, and to the wine shop of François Chidaine on the river just east of Montlouis (highly recommended, they sell much more than merely Chidaine wines).
Cheverny is in fact two appellations. Cour-Cheverny is purely for wines made from the interesting but rare Romorantin variety. As a dry wine it can be acidic, but locally you may find some rare Moelleux versions which can be worth a punt ageing them. Cheverny tout-court makes plenty of white wine. Some authors suggest that the Sauvignon Blancs, often blended with some Chardonnay, are best and there are some interesting wines here made by a few locals. Increasingly, at least as interesting as the Sauvignon-Chardonnay blends, are the reds blending Pinot Noir and Gamay (similar to Passetoutgrains from Burgundy or Dôle from Switzerland’s Valais).
Hervé is perhaps the big name in Cheverny, yet all his grapes are grown organically and he’s been following a natural winemaking philosophy since the 1990s. This is his entry level red, a negoce wine made naturally from bought-in organic Pinot and Gamay fruit. It sees a fifteen day maceration followed by ageing in used oak. It’s a simple wine but absolutely packed with fruit and despite registering 14.5% alcohol you genuinely wouldn’t know, it’s in perfect balance. Concentrated cherry and a strawberry top note, with a liquorice twist on the finish. I think some people might initially place it as “New World”. It’s a versatile wine, so use it for barbecues or winter nights by the fire where it will be equally effective. This is only £19 folks.
Currently available via Littlewine.co .
« LES AUTOCHTONES » 2019, MAX SEIN WEIN (Franken, Germany)
I recently posted a review of Max’s white blend, “Trio Sauvage”, which I enjoyed immensely. This is a single varietal from old vines and a step up the ladder. Max has worked his way around before setting up at Wertheim-Dertingen, west of Würzburg, but for me it’s his stint working at Gut Oggau which piqued my interest. But he’s also worked in New Zealand, and with Judith Beck, also in Burgenland. He returned to take over 3.5ha of vines farmed before him by his father and grandfather.
There are two varieties Max seems to really like. The first is Silvaner, perhaps not a bad choice given that it thrives in Franken. The other is Schwarzriesling, which he prefers to call by its French name, Pinot Meunier. This particular wine is his top Silvaner from vines over sixty years old. The terroir is limestone with around 5% red sandstone and the wine has a racy mineral edge which is so common with these soils. It’s a very focused wine but there’s breadth here too. It has a very attractive savoury side to it, but more than anything, freshness. I suspect this may age well but I wasn’t at all sorry to have opened it. I suspect I shall really begin to learn Sein language over the next few months, unless his wines all sell out.
Max Sein Wein is the first German addition to the Basket Press Wines portfolio.
GRUNDSTEIN BLAUER PORTUGIESER 2018, NIBIRU (Kamptal, Austria)
Nibiru is a collaboration between Julia Nather and Josef Schenter (of Weingut Schenter), who began making wine together at Schönberg-am-Kamp (to the east of Wachau and Kremstal) from the 2015 vintage. The name “Nibiru” reflects their philosophy – it’s a planet named by the Sumerians which apparently enters our galaxy every 3,600 years, travelling in the opposite direction to the planets in our own solar system…there may be little evidence for this planet, but the Nibiru Cataclysm is a predicted collision between Earth and a large planetary body which some believe will take place during the 21st century. Thankfully the lady who predicted this suggested the destructive event would take place in 2003.
But I digress…we have a very tasty natural wine here which is unlikely to wreak the destruction of mankind. Deep purple in colour, it is, like all the tastiest Blauer Portugieser, full of concentrated dark fruits with a bit of an edge, the product of what I call sharp fruit acidity. The alcohol content is a whopping…10%, which makes it qualify as an honorary fruit juice. It’s great fun and chillable for spring and summer. A great wine to pour a big glass on a Sunday afternoon whilst sitting outside with a good book. It won’t send you immediately to sleep.
Imported by Modal Wines.
NEBBIOLO “BOTONERO” 2018, IGT ALPI RETICHE ROSSO, MAMETE PREVOSTINI (Valtellina, Italy)
Alpi Retiche is the IGT label for the wines of Lombardy’s wider Valtellina region, which runs horizontally east of Lake Como, pushing up towards the Swiss border, enveloping the town of Sondrio. I am not wholly sure why this wine is not labelled Valtellina, as it is a 100% Nebbiolo (known here as Chiavennasca, but this producer uses “Nebbiolo”), so I presume it is outside the DOC.
The vines are still grown on steep terraces at altitudes between 300 and 700 masl, so this is a real mountain Nebbiolo. I looked at the Mamete Prevostini Home Page and it does look rather beautiful there. I’ve drunk lots of Valtellina but have never visited. This sees a six day maceration, followed by eight months in stainless steel, and then a further six months in bottle before release.
It’s not really like Piemontese Nebbiolo, nor indeed like most Valtellina I’ve drunk, but it does explode with red fruits to match its ruby red colour. It strikes initially as surprisingly like Beaujolais with cherries, then strawberries. There’s a little texture and tannin on the finish though, which grounds it. As an entry-level wine it doesn’t attempt complexity, just simple but sappy fruit. It’s a fun wine too, not expensive and something a little different. It oozes mountain air and sunshine.
This was £20 from Butlers Wine Cellar. The importer is Alpine Wines.
MARTINBOROUGH PINOT NOIR 2011, KUSUDA (Martinborough, New Zealand)
Hiro Kusuda was born in Tokyo and trained as a lawyer. He eventually became a diplomat working in Sydney before deciding on a dramatic career change…he went off to study winemaking at Giesenheim in Germany. Obviously a very intelligent and capable man, he must also have been very determined, and I believe something of a perfectionist. Why settle on Martinborough? It seems the moment of inspiration was tasting a 1992 Ata Ranghi Pinot Noir. Having drunk my last bottle of Ata Ranghi’s 2010 on New Year’s Day, I know what he means.
The Kusuda web site proclaims a goal “to make Pinot Noir with sheer purity and finesse”, and most people who taste his wines would agree he’s succeeded. Not that too many people get the chance because Hiro has become something of a cult winemaker back in Japan, where most of his bottles head.
The grapes are hand picked and handled gently at every stage of winemaking. The wine is aged 17 months in barrique, of which 22% (very precise) is new. Even at a decade old this shows really bright cherry fruit. In fact it’s all about brightness and lightness, which is lovely, but the abundant finesse floats over a smokiness (perhaps an oak influence?) and just a little remaining tannin. The alcohol level is 13%, which seems just perfect to add an extra dynamic, just a little weight. Wow, it is so long on the palate, lingering for ages. Drink now or don’t be afraid to keep longer.
I had to ponder hard to remember where this came from. I know my 2014 was a gift, but I’m pretty sure that this was purchased from Berry Bros & Rudd.
VIN JAUNE 2005, BENOÎT BADOZ (Jura, France)
Benoît’s family have been making wine around Poligny since 1659, which is very impressive, is it not? It was actually Benoît’s father who began making a name for the domaine, and his work has been carried on by his son. Domaine Badoz actually owns a ten hectare block of vines to the north of the town, unusual in a region parcellated over the centuries into often diverse and smaller plots. The soils are on the traditional Jura Marnes Bleus which make perfect terroir for Savagnin.
All the wines here are pretty low intervention, and historically so, with most vines never having seen pesticides. They make a full range of Jura wines, but I think it’s fair to say that their most famous product is their exemplary Vin Jaune. This 2005 sees the traditional six years plus ageing under a thin layer of flor (sous voile) which makes Vin Jaune so uniquely distinctive. It means that this wine isn’t quite as old, in terms of release, as it might seem, but neither is it a youngster.
I’d put this wine into a traditional, rather than modern, camp. That bouquet…you could sit smelling the glass for an hour and be perfectly satisfied. It has a palate dominated by a delicious nuttiness, with a fresh citrus acidity running through the middle of the palate. That acidity gives a zip to the wine which you might not expect from one of this age, but VJ takes a long time to mellow (we also drank a sample of a 1981 Château-Chalon Vigne-aux-Dames from the legendary Marius Perron the same evening and that had truly mellowed). The finish however became smooth and rounded on the finish. This is another wine of great length, as all good Vin Jaune should be. Classic old school, totally satisfying, especially with that Jura cheese selection (making me hungry as I type).
This bottle was purchased many years ago at The Sampler in London. The current vintage on their shelves is 2013, which at £45 is reasonable for good Vin Jaune these days.