April arrived swiftly, May even more quickly, but as I begin my roundup of last month’s bottles, with reference to my previous article, I can pretty confidently assure you that no “Roundup” was used on any of these wines. They all fall, most of them firmly, into the natural wine camp. We begin with a serious “score” from the Mosel, a producer I had been craving to try for a while. Next, a Champagne I wanted to try so much but couldn’t afford. A friend for whom I did a small favour sent me a bottle and he cannot imagine the thrill I felt both on opening and drinking it.
That accounts for two of the eight wines in Part One, but those which follow are no mere pedestrians, as we shall see. Alice Bouvot, Vino Magula, La Soeur Cadette, Jan Matthias Klein, Pieter Walser and Meinklang make for some spectacularly varied and “different” drinking in the first half of last month.
“SIF” 2019, KATLA WINES (JAS SWAN) (Mosel, Germany)
I’d picked up on what Jas Swan was doing, working mostly as a micro-negociant out of Jan Matthias Klein’s Staffelter-Hof premises at Kröv, some time ago. Then when Trink Magazine launched, I read an article about Jas and the “Alternative Mosel” movement, written by Valerie Kathawala (trinkmag.com), one of my favourite writers on wine. This cemented my desire to try her wines, yet she has no major UK importer. Then I found a source which had literally a handful of bottles of “Sif” and I was in like a shot.
When I chatted with Rudolf Trossen at an event put on by Vine Trail and Newcomer Wines in London a couple of years ago, he told me that all the young winemakers should come to the Mosel because they can get hold of vineyards pretty much for free. Well, I think a few did and they make up a group which Swan calls “Alt-Mosel”. They tend to be young, farm abandoned vineyards in less famous villages or sites, and use whatever grape varieties they feel like. Whilst Trossen may be a guiding light, Jan Matthias Klein (who we shall meet later) has been a true mentor, whilst putting his own beliefs into practice as well. Valerie Kathawala calls ex-sommelier Swan the spokesperson for this group. She only founded Katla Wines in 2019.
Although Jas tries to farm the vines for her negoce label herself, she purchases fruit from Nahe and Rheinhessen as well as the Mosel. She works in a very traditional way, hands on but minimum intervention. Sif is a Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) grown on slate and clay soils. It is fermented with indigenous yeasts, 50% destemmed, in füder with a five-day maceration. Then, with 50% direct pressed fruit, it is moved to stainless steel after winter, and is bottled after a year.
Bottled with carbon dioxide dissolved in the wine, it is slightly pétillant on opening. It is dry and textured, having that minerality that I like from Pinot Blanc. It’s also light and refreshing (just 11% abv). No sulphur is added. It’s certainly not a complex wine, but it’s not meant to be. Fun, fresh and savoury, glad I have another bottle. I look forward to trying more of Jas’s wines, and I’m sure we shall be hearing a lot more from this young talent.
The only source I found for Jas’s wines was the retailer Bin Two Wines in Padstow, Cornwall. I’m grateful to them for allowing me to purchase two whole bottles, to give me the chance to try one and, in due course, spread the word a little more with the second.
“HÉRACLITE” BRUT NATURE 2014, TIMOTHÉE STROEBEL (Champagne, France)
Timothée Stroebel is based on the Montagne de Rheims at a village few will have heard of, Villers Allerand (which sits between the main D951 route to Épernay to the west and Rilly-la-Montagne to the east). Although the family vines go back to Timothée’s grandfather’s generation here, he is the first to really carve a niche as a top-quality Grower. He describes himself as a practitioner of “agriculture paysanne” making non-interventionist wines from Premier Cru fruit. “Héraclite” is 100% Meunier, planted in 1964 on mostly clay soils. In fact, Timothée is incredibly focused on soil health, using a couple of horses to plough and working organically. All the finished wine sees is a tiny bit of added sulphur. The name of this cuvée was inspired by a quote from Heraclitus: “The only constant in life is change”.
The wine, which sees three years on lees before disgorging, sings of red fruits on the bouquet but the palate is quite savoury. It’s actually pretty unique among Champagnes in terms of flavour, and one Champagne specialist I know, who also likes this wine, said “but it is different”. It certainly has its own personality, but that personality is not necessarily assertive. The wine sings with purity. It was a touch tight initially because I served it too cold, but it soon opened up into something beautiful. Some have said “poetic”. I agree. I could drink this every week. Only 2,005 bottles made.
Although this was a gift it was sent to me via Littlewine (littlewine.co), which on last look had a few Stroebel cuvées on the site.
“COMMENDATORE” , DOMAINE L’OCTAVIN (Jura, France)
Always getting told off for naming my favourites (I can see why a wine writer shouldn’t really do that), I really cannot deny the passion I have for this producer’s ever-increasing range of wines. Many of the bottles I have bought since Covid struck have been the “gnome label” négoce bottles, but I try whenever I can to source the immaculate domaine wines. This one is one of Alice’s originals, the name reflecting her love of Mozart operas (in this case, Don Giovanni).
Commendatore is a Trousseau made from over 50-year-old vines in the well known Arbois vineyard called “Les Corvées”, which lies just to the northeast of the town, below the road to Montigny-les-Arsures. The fruit is macerated for eight months in tank with no plunging of the cap or pumping over. The result is at seven-and-a-half years of age a stately wine, mellow with smooth fruit. Contemplative, but in no way “old”. There are soft red fruits to the fore and just a nice savoury edge to add interest. It is one of the finest bottles of L’Octavin I’ve drunk for a couple of years.
Although I buy, and continue to buy, Alice Bouvot’s wines wherever I can find them, both in London and Arbois (the UK importer is Tutto Wines) I’m sure this bottle was cellared from a visit to the winery some years ago.
VELTLÍN 2018, VINO MAGULA (Lower Carpathians, Slovakia)
This is Grüner Veltliner, known as Veltlín in Slovakia, and it comes from a biodynamic producer whose wines I seem to be drinking with increased frequency as I get to know them better. Magula is a biodynamic family farm at Suchá nad Parnou in the Lower (aka Lesser) Carpathians, northeast of Bratislava. They have 10 hectares of vines on deep loess soils which are rich in minerals, especially calcium. The climate is sunny and dry, and their labels depict a vine delving deep underground to find nutrients.
I think you’ll find this is a wine which sort of hits you and makes you sit up. Dry on the palate, yet with quite exotic fruit (lime, mango and pineapple for me), but with a touch of, almost, chilli spice, on the front of the tongue. This is accompanied by some zesty acidity, so that you might think the wine is a year younger. The balance comes from an initially deceptive 13% abv. Delicious. A nicely different take on the old Grüner variety.
Magula has, since 2018, upped their label game (as you will begin discover next month, and as indeed has Jas Swan since “Sif” was released). Of course, we don’t buy a wine for its label (though I can think of a few whose labels put me off), but we all love a nice wine that is well packaged.
Magula is part of the Basket Press Wines portfolio in the UK.
MELON 2018, VIN DE FRANCE, LA SŒUR CADETTE (Burgundy, France)
Melon is, of course, Melon de Bourgogne. It’s the grape of Muscadet, so there’s a kind of neatness to see it grown in Northern Burgundy. Domaine de la Cadette was created by Jean and Catherine Montanet when they planted just short of 14 hectares of vines, beginning in the late 1980s, to the southeast of the beautiful abbey town of Vézélay (way west of Chablis). The soils, on the edge of the granite Morvan Hills, are complex, blue, red and grey clay marls with limestone outcrops.
Of course, the vines are now reasonably old and despite this being a little-known corner of the greater Burgundian vignoble, they have made something of a name for themselves. By 2010 they even warranted inclusion in Jasper Morris’s Burgundy Bible, Inside Burgundy. Although Vézélay has been AOC/AOP since the late 1990s, this interloper variety (but is it?) is bottled as a Vin de France. Jean and Catherine’s son, Valentin, has been in day-to-day charge for the past decade.
Most would drink this wine young and fresh, but I left this resting over the winter and so we are drinking 2018 here. Age has softened it a little but what it lacks in the kind of freshness you might associate with this grape variety, it gains in interest in other areas. Despite being a cheap bottle, it has some subtlety. It hints at Chardonnay in a strange way, just a tiny bit, though I am assured it is 100% Melon de Bourgogne. It does show an innate minerality from the limestone content in the soil, which adds a touch of steeliness. In its third year, it may be relatively simple but it is a lovely wine.
Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene, and in light of my recent article about the man, it is imported by Kermit Lynch in the USA.
PAPA PANDA’S RISING , JAN MATTHIAS KLEIN (Mosel, Germany)
We already mentioned JMK in relation to Jas Swan earlier in this article. Jan runs the family winery, Staffelter-Hof, at Kröv. Although his family have long tenure here, since the early 1800s, the estate is claimed to have been mentioned in 862 (sic), as part of the property of a Belgian Benedictine Abbey. Some say it may be the oldest still existing wine estate in the world.
That’s all very traditional, as (more or less) are the Rieslings JMK produces under the estate label. However, Jan is a man on a mission and he also makes a large and ever-increasing number of natural wines, many with the most unusual grape varieties for the Mosel, and some under a label he calls “Pandamonium” (sic, hence the panda references). These specific wines are collaborative ventures. In fact, there’s a rumour he’s doing one with Jas Swan, but this petnat wine was a joint venture with a Polish neighbour, Andrzej Grestza.
Each of them, Jan and Andrjez, fermented a 1,000-litre füder of Riesling grown on slate, and allowed malolactic to take place. The two barrels were blended together before bottling. It makes a lovely petnat wine showing a herbal bouquet with a slatey edge (you can definitely smell wet slate). The palate is mineral, citrus and with plenty of texture derived from the lees in bottle (if you prefer not to drink it cloudy, then it needs to be stood up for 24-hours at least).
Simon Woolf (The Morning Claret) tasted this 2018 vintage in October 2019 and found it a little tight. His suggestion, to leave it a year, has certainly worked in this case. It’s a lovely bottle, and I’m sure some of you noticed it appeared in my article on “petnats” recently, as one to look out for.
Imported into the UK by Modal Wines. They usually sell a good selection of JMK’s wonderfully different cuvées which challenge the whole conservative ideal of what Mosel Wine should be.
“A RARE MOMENT” 2019, BLANK BOTTLE WINERY (Western Cape, South Africa)
This is the red brother to “The Trip”, which was a Grenache Blanc I drank back in December last year, one of the latest pair of wines Pieter Walser made exclusively for Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton.
This cuvée is mostly old bush vine Pinotage with a dollop of Syrah, all from a single small grower at Darling, Western Cape. It’s the same source for the Pinotage of the previous red Pieter made for Butlers, “Gothus”. Some stems were left on in the fermentation and the wine was aged in casks of some age.
You get rich, smoky, fruit on the nose with a dusting of cracked black pepper. There’s a beautiful freshness which belies the 14% abv on the label. Pieter’s wines often tend to look ripe and rich from the declared alcohol level, but they always tread lightly with an elevated freshness making them seem a couple of degrees lighter…unless you drink the bottle solo. Right now, we get some tannic structure which suggests it will age well, but you weren’t going to see me keeping my hands off it for long. Bursting with vitality now, you could go either way, drink or keep. Or buy two or three, especially if you reckon you don’t like Pinotage.
Blank Bottle Winery is imported by Swig Wines, who can supply the very wide range of small batch wines Pieter makes. His labels, many designed by his children, are some of the most exciting in South Africa. This wine is, of course, exclusively available through Butlers Wine Cellar, Brighton. It seems like they will be doing an exclusive pair every year and at a little over £20, they are brilliant value.
KONKRET ROT 2012, MEINKLANG (Burgenland, Austria)
Meinklang Farms is a large mixed biodynamic operation at Pamhagen, at the southern end of Burgenland’s Neusiedlersee, close to the Hungarian border. Aside from their cereals and beef cattle they make beer from ancient grains, remarkable ciders, wine from the Somló Massif in Hungary, and a wide range of everyday wines in Burgenland. Then there are the premium quality bottlings from “graupert” vines (unpruned, left wild more or less) and at the top of the tree, perhaps, some red and orange/white wines called “Konkret”, vinified for twelve months in 9-hectolitre concrete eggs.
The red version in 2012 is 100% Saint-Laurent. Although the wine has a darker hue, it’s not remotely heavy. The permeability of the concrete in the eggs allows for in effect some micro-oxygenation. This gentle ageing allows the wine to stabilise and to continue ageing slowly in bottle. Despite this being nine years old, it still has clear and defined, and fairly concentrated, raspberry and cranberry fruit on the bouquet. The palate goes on to pick out some darker blackcurrant flavours as the wine opens in the glass (Zalto Universal, to concentrate that fruit). You might then find some nettles prickling the back palate slightly and, certainly, an iron-rich texture characteristic of the vinification vessel.
This is, I would say, one of the most under rated wines I habitually buy (though Meinklang hasn’t arrived here since the first Lockdown and I’m now clean out of them for the first time in many years). The care that goes in at the front end allows the wine to age beautifully and what you get is both intellectually stimulating, and thrilling at the same time. Most of my Meinklang, including this Konkret Rot, came from Winemakers Club in London.