For Part 2 of March’s most interesting wines (I used to say “drunk at home”, but let’s face it, where else am I going to be drinking wine at the moment?) we start off with a little-known (in the UK, but soon to change, I think) Australian estate which I’m particularly fond of, then a rather lovely Bourgogne Aligoté, a petnat from very possibly Czechia’s finest proponent of the style and a very interesting Jura red blend from one of my first loves in Arbois. The final bottles from this roundup feature an Alsace blend from Bennwihr, a stunning new “Florpower” from Equipo Navazos, another natural wine discovery from Bordeaux and, to finish, a brilliant South African Cabernet Franc which amazingly tastes great now but will definitely age very well indeed.
“FRNC” CLOS ANTONIO LAMENTO CABERNET FRANC 2018, BRASH HIGGINS (McLaren Vale, South Australia)
Brash Higgins is the label of Chicago native Brad Hickey, based in McLaren Vale. This Cabernet Franc comes from vines planted in 2001 at Malpas Road in the Vale. Brad makes all his wines with minimal intervention and many are made in innovative ways (for Australia). Some readers will have read my previous reviews of his amphora wines, and his Chardonnay nod to Vin Jaune, Bloom. Here, we have a more conventional approach, but a very Australian take on a classic French grape variety.
We get an extended period of skin contact, around five weeks in open-topped vats, the fruit plunged once a day. Fermentation is, of course, using wild yeasts. Next, the wine goes into French oak hogsheads for eight months, and thereafter is bottled under a Stelvin closure. The result is a deep ruby red colour smelling of both red and dark fruits, hints of violet and a faint smoky note rising above the bouquet as if in whisps. As it opens up it becomes even more nicely aromatic. The palate has a lot going on too, ranging from plump mulberry fruit, with raspberry acidity and a little black pepper adding spice.
The silky-smooth fruit has a medium body and it tastes less weighty than the 13.9% abv on the label suggests, although there’s a little more beef than many Loire versions of the variety. There’s a nice bit of grip on the finish and it would age if you wish to…but the fruit is so good now. Well balanced, delicious, definitely one of my favourite half-dozen wines from Brad (although my list of favourites grows each vintage). There was no FRNC in 2019 so the current vintage is 2020.
The new importer for Brash Higgins is Berkmann Wine Cellars. The wines have a reasonable distribution now, and this bottle came via The Solent Cellar.
BOURGOGNE ALIGOTÉ “L’ALIGATOR” 2018, DOMAINE DES ROUGES QUEUES (Burgundy, France)
This wine is another perfect example where subtlety could so easily get lost on the tasting bench, but where if you have time to sip and savour, then a totally different experience awaits. Isabelle and Jean-Yves Vantey have put together a small domaine at Sampigny-lès-Maranges. We are right at the foot of the Côte de Beaune here, so remote in feel from the famous vineyards fifteen minutes away to the north. I’ve only been down here once. It’s the kind of place you visit if you have more than the standard few days in Burgundy, but this is an attractive corner making increasingly interesting wines, especially from the old and once neglected vines down here.
The Vanteys make this old vine Aligoté from a tiny 0.15 hectare plot planted in 1972 (though the domaine was founded in 1998). It manages to produce on average just 1,300 bottles. Aged on lees in tank, it’s a marvellous wine. It starts out deceptively simple (simple is not a negative here). In the glass you can sense it evolving. Sometimes you think you are drinking a softer version of the Aligoté of old, but next sip you are drinking a relatively fat-free Jura Chardonnay off marnes bleues. When we talk about a soulful wine, I know some people will just switch off. But sometimes a wine affects more than the palate. It makes you both think and feel. A wine definitely best drunk whilst relaxing, not rushing. Mineral flavours, wholly “natural” (free of chemical inputs) except for a little sulphur if necessary. It’s the epitome of an honest wine.
This came from Littlewine. Christina Rasmussen chose it as the wine which most made her sit up during 2020 in an article published here before Christmas. £29, and I can’t believe they still appear to have a little left. I have also discovered that Isabelle Vantey takes beautiful photographs, which she posts to Instagram as @isabellevantey. Worth checking out as well as the wine.
THE MILKMAN PETNAT , PETR KORÁB (Moravia, Czechia)
Petr Koráb has a mixed farm at Boleradice in the heart of Moravia’s vineyards in the Velkopavlovická sub-region. He specialises in autochthonous varieties and Moravian clones, keeping alive the region’s old vines. Like many of the region’s finest producers, he follows the charter of the Authentiste group of winemakers, of which he is a member. But take a look at his portfolio and you will see that he’s far from old fashioned. In fact, Koráb is becoming something of a petnat specialist, and whilst his whole range is top-notch, his ancestral method sparkling wines are very exciting.
The Milkman is a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc from 30-year-old vines, picked in early September 2019. Initial maturation is in robinia (aka false acacia) barrels, before transfer to bottle. The 2019 version is a pale orange colour smelling of delicate red fruits, a twist of citrus and curry powder. But the palate has a creaminess which, having been consistently picked up by tasters, led to the name. The result is both dry and crisp, but with an underlying creamy softness to balance the mineral texture. There’s a certain tension between the two, but they don’t pull apart, if that makes sense. It gives the wine a multi-dimensional feel to it.
Note that the current 2020 vintage is a white petnat made from a blend of Pinot Blanc and Neuburger (Neuburské in local dialect). It’s a different wine. Doubtless as good, but I’ve yet to try it. Petr Koráb is, of course, brought to us by specialist importer Basket Press Wines.
“CUL DE BREY” 2015, DOMAINE DE LA TOURNELLE (Jura, France)
Domaine de la Tournelle is run by Pascal and Evelyne Clairet, with a tasting room and now famous little bistrot beside the River Cuissance in the centre of Arbois (5 Petite Place), though the winery is elsewhere. Pascal started out making wine in 1991, and it became a full-time occupation in 1995. He soon became fully biodynamic and has always followed a low intervention, low (and occasionally zero) sulphur, winemaking methodology. Pascal and Evelyne work together, both having wine science qualifications and experience, Pascal for the regional wine body and Evelyne as a vineyard technician in the Rhône Valley. They own and farm around ten hectares of vines now, both in the vineyards around Arbois itself and out in the villages close to the town.
They have created a pretty unique cuvée in “Cul de Brey”, blending equal parts of Trousseau, the rare autochthonous Petit Béclan and Syrah. The grapes see a light press and a long maceration (up to thirty days) with foot treading twice a day. Then the wine goes into used oak barrels to age, being bottled with no added sulphur. I think I bought this in 2019.
The aromas of red fruits are almost profound, a truly lovely scent as you first approach the glass. Cherry is dominant on the palate, fresh and clean acids melding with the soft, ripe, fruit, and beneath there’s just a little texture in a wine which I’d say is still fruity but drinking beautifully now.
Domaine de la Tournelle is imported by Dynamic Vines, and their wines are also available in the upstairs shop at Antidote Wine Bar in Central London (12A Newburgh Street). Of course, I would strongly recommend a visit to the Bistrot de la Tournelle in Arbois, when it is open during the summer months, and a visit to the tasting room next door, afterwards.
“UN INSTANT SUR TERRE” 2017, VIGNOBLE DU RÊVEUR (Alsace, France)
Mathieu Deiss and Emmanuelle Milan farm seven hectares biodynamically at Bennwihr, vines left to Mathieu by his maternal grandfather and uncle. They do so separately to Mathieu’s family operation, for whom he also works alongside his father, Domaine Marcel Deiss. Vignoble du Rêveur is purely an opportunity for this very talented winemaker to do his own thing, presumably before the full responsibility of one of the region’s famous name estates begins to take most of his time.
Doing his own thing in the case of this particular cuvée means exploring skin contact. It’s a method of winemaking which has become increasingly fashionable, I suppose, in Alsace, but for which a number of varieties, especially Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer, are particularly well suited. “Un Instant…” blends both those varieties with 10% Riesling.
Skin maceration lasts for eight months in amphorae of various types before final ageing of three months in clay amphorae. The Riesling and Gewurztraminer is all fermented as whole clusters, the Pinot Gris being partially destemmed. It’s made fully naturally, including with zero sulphur addition.
The colour of this 2017 looks deep amber, but on pouring into the glass it reveals a hint of pink from the skins. First the bouquet gives out scents of both peach and grapefruit, and then candied orange (for those who know, I’m talking of the wonderful candied orange you can buy in Fortnum & Mason at great expense rather than those confected, sweet, boxes of candied fruit made by Rowntrees in the 1970s, standard issue in my childhood home at Christmas).
The palate is certainly complex. The fruit is quite rich, enhanced by 14.5% alcohol, no doubt. It doesn’t taste boozy though. In fact, the complexity comes through a degree of salinity and skin contact textures which allow the tongue to grip onto the ample fruit. There’s a certain weight to it but the wine avoids being ponderous, perhaps through excellent judgements made in the wine making. Because it does seem well-judged for a fairly big wine. I drink this cuvée usually once every year and it always impresses.
The importer is Swig Wines and I purchased this through my regular, if occasional, source for Mathieu Deiss wines, Butlers Wine Cellar (Brighton).
LA BOTA DE FLORPOWER 99 « ANTES DE LA FLOR », EQUIPO NAVAZOS (Jerez, Spain)
We are getting close to the landmark 100th edition of the Equipo Navazos series. In fact, I own a few of La Bota de Manznilla Pasada 100, but sufficiently few that they will be saved for special occasions. However, the latest in the Florpower series is, I can tell you, a real cracker.
Bottled without fortification and without having been aged under flor, this is a pure Palomino Fino table wine, and I mean pure in both senses. The grapes came off old vines in the La Baja section of the Pago Miraflores at Sanlúcar. 2019 was an exceptional vintage here. The wine was aged only in stainless steel, for twelve months, before bottling under a Stelvin closure, and the result is clean and fresh juice with just a little texture on a filigree spine. It will evolve in bottle, for sure, and I won’t argue with the suggestion that it will improve. Yet right now, it’s just SO good that I don’t regret opening a bottle in the slightest.
It’s hard to better what the Equipo Navazos folks say about this lovely wine: “The exceptional 2019 vintage provides a magnificent opportunity to show wine lovers the raw essence of “florpower”, a pure expression of a vineyard, a grape and a climate. Of a terroir, to express it in one word”.
Imported into the UK by Alliance Wine with reasonably wide availability, whilst it lasts.
CLOSERIE DES MOUSSIS 2016, HAUT-MÉDOC (Bordeaux, France)
Laurence Alias and Pascale Choime are pretty much the epitome of the true garage winemakers. They were the lucky successors to a lease on an exceptional small plot of vines on the Sénéjac gravels, passed on by Michel ands Stéphanie Theron because, apparently, they wanted the vines to be farmed with a similar hands-off philosophy.
The ladies do all the work themselves, having managed to grow their holdings just a little to around two hectares, with help from their Breton draft horse, Jumpa. The wines are made along natural wine lines, just using a little added sulphur as the only manipulation.
The Haut-Médoc here is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon with Cabernet Franc and Merlot. It’s a beautiful wine from vine to glass. Extraction is gentle and the wine undergoes just occasional pigéage before ageing in 400-to-600-litre casks (90% are old casks and 10% new oak). This is truly gluggable Bordeaux, very fruity, packed with blackcurrant flavours. In one respect it seems quite classical, but at the same time you don’t often experience such brightness and vivacity in Red Bordeaux.
I first tasted this domaine at the seminal “Bordeaux – The Risk Takers” Tasting hosted by Vine Trail in 2019, where I also tasted their Merlot-dominated special cuvée, “Baragane”, made from 150-y-o pre-phylloxera vines (pretty stunning but doubtless more expensive). Vine Trail naturally imports them, but Littlewine lists this Haut-Médoc cuvée (£30), and that’s where this bottle came from.
“BRETON” 2018, LUKAS VAN LOGGERENBERG (Stellenbosch, South Africa)
Lukas has been making wine since 2015, but has worked for a few of South Africa’s famous names, which has stood him in good stead when breaking out on his own. He’s definitely been singled out as one of the rising stars of South African wine. A graduate of Elsenburg College, his stints working for others have even included one in North America’s Finger Lakes. He’s now working out of the Devon Valley in Swartland (at least he was when I bought this), but “Breton”, a Loire synonym for Cabernet Franc, comes off the Polkadraai Hills in Stellenbosch.
Although I’d say the style here is more Loire than Bordeaux, there is a very South African angle, through the really concentrated and bright fruit. Breton sees ten months in used French oak and although that fruit fills the mouth, it is at the same time restrained and elegant. It’s a focussed wine and it will certainly age superbly. In this respect, I probably opened it too soon, but it had no hardness to it. Just black fruits joined by a little touch of herbs on the palate, and a little texture and grip. It’s got a nice long finish.
Sometimes you find even with great expectations, a wine still over delivers and Breton is a case in point. The importer is Dreyfus Ashby and the good news is that this vintage still has a pretty good distribution. You should still find the 2018 at Butlers Wine Cellar Brighton and The Sampler in London. The Solent Cellar (source of my bottle) and Handford Wines, among others, have moved on to the 2019 vintage. Last April I drank Lukas’s “Break a Leg” Rosé, made from Cinsaut (sic). That is also highly recommended. If you can, grab a couple of bottles of the Breton and age one. I’m pretty sure it will be worth it. Around £35.