Part 1 of April’s wines began with a new wine from a very new producer, Jas Swan. This Part 2 begins with a new wine from a producer I expect is unknown to most readers as well, but one who more than most points to the remarkable things going down in Czech Moravia at the moment. This lovely Czech wine starts off a run which, even within the context of my usual exploratory drinking, yields some additional wonderful and exciting wines from Greece, California, Alsace, Switzerland, The Canary Islands, and also Cahors and Jura in France.
UNCUT SILLER 2020, PETR KORÁB (Moravia, Czechia)
Siller is a traditional wine style, also called Schiller in Germany, and although there are differences, Schilcher in Austria. It’s a lighter style of red wine (the name translates as “to shimmer”) and it was originally a pale pink. However, all of the modern Siller/Schilcher I’ve drunk has been dark in colour. It was also traditionally a blend of red and white grapes (hence the colour), but as you will know, Austrian Schilcher is made from one very red grape. This Czech Siller is a blend of three, but all red varieties. This one is closer in style to Hungarian Siller, which would often be a darker-coloured light red, but with a tannic crunch.
The Siller blend from this exciting Boleradice domaine is St Laurent, Frankovka (Blaufränkisch) and Zweigelt, from vines over thirty years old and picked in mid-September. It is called “uncut” because the vines are left untrimmed, similar to the “graupert” style of cultivation we see at Meinklang in Burgenland. Far from overproducing grapes or greenery, the vines find an equilibrium, even if they look untidy to those who prefer a lawn to a wildflower meadow.
As you can see from the vintage, this wine is very young and as such, by drinking it now, we capture its almost raw vibrancy. It has a brambly, hedgerow, scent and the palate pricks the tongue with concentrated dark fruit acids. The finish does indeed have a good lick of texture which makes it inhabit a world very different to a lot of easy going young red wines. In a way it reminds me of those refreshing wines from the less well-known grape varieties of Piemonte (Freisa, Grignolino, Ruché…). It’s kind of rustic yet very modern at the same time. At a perfectly judged 12% abv, it’s delicious served a little cool and very gluggable. Indeed, as wines go, it’s very cool indeed. More please.
Petr Koráb is, of course, imported by Basket Press Wines.
“SPIRA” , KTIMA LIGAS (Pella, Greece)
There’s definitely a feeling among most wine professionals that Greece makes wonderful wines, and this is proved beyond doubt at numerous trade tastings. The difficulty is that their retail distribution is relatively poor, and this in my view holds them back in getting the recognition they deserve from consumers. Perhaps retailers think Greece would be a hard sell, the same issue faced by a number of smaller and less-hyped countries. If you taste the wines of this “natural” producer you’ll see how wrong that is.
Domaine Ligas was founded by Thomas Ligas in 1985, based in Northern Macedonia (north of Thessaloniki), up in the mountains at Pella, where he follows the teachings of Masanobu Fukuoka, allowing nature to take its course in vineyards which, from the photos I have seen, look achingly beautiful. Son Jason is now involved, and daughter Meli, who lives in Paris, travels Europe to promote the wines. It is therefore Meli with whom I have tasted on numerous occasions at the natural wine, and importer, fairs in London.
This cuvée is unusual for a couple of reasons. First, it is made from the black Xinomavro variety, vinified as a white wine (although the colour is actually more yellow with a pink/orange tint). Secondly, it’s a solera wine, comprising in this bottling vintages from 2012 to 2018. It has undergone skin contact and the result is unctuous and rich, a little toasty with hints of orange citrus, peach and honey. It is a wine in complete harmony, even at 14% abv, and I would probably say it is my favourite of all the Ligas wines I’ve drunk so far, and from one of my very favourite Greek producers. Zero sulphur is added and, honestly, this is so damned good.
The importer of Ktima Ligas wines is Dynamic Vines.
MONDEUSE ROSÉ 2017, RORICK HERITAGE VINEYARD, JAIMEE MOTLEY (California, USA)
Jaimee is an art graduate who fell in love with wine whilst working under Rajat Parr at the famous restaurant, RN74 in San Francisco, which has rightly been described as revolutionary in introducing West Coast diners both to more unusual grape varieties, and to a more food-friendly style of wine than the Napa norm. She then went on to work as an assistant winemaker for Pax Mahle, another mover and shaker for the New California.
This wine comes from Calaveras County, high in the Sierra Foothills. Jaimee sourced the cuttings in the Santa Maria Valley and Matthew Rorick (of Forlorn Hope) grafted them onto old Graciano roots. Fermented in stainless steel after a long period of gentle foot-treading, the wine was then aged in used oak. Only a tiny addition of sulphur at bottling, no other additives at any stage. This was Jaimee’s first vintage and what she has produced is astonishing. I’ve never drunk a Californian Rosé remotely as good as this.
The colour is more burnt copper than pink. The bouquet is both herbal (it’s the large sage bush outside our back door) and floral, and on the palate it is rich for a wine of just 12% abv, but yet it has that clarity you might expect from grapes grown at 600 masl on mainly limestone rock with a thin layer of schist. Essence of Rocky Mountain Way. I cannot express how much I loved this wine, there’s just so much in there. Inspired.
Jaimee’s wines have recently been brought in by Littlewine (littlewine.co). Uncharted Wines also lists them, but currently has no stock (according to their web site).
RIESLING “LE CHAMP DES ALOUETTES” 2016, CHRISTIAN BINNER (Alsace, France)
I think I may have mentioned fairly recently that Binner was one of the first of the Alsace natural wine domaines I got to know. Most likely for that reason I hadn’t drunk any of late, so I put that right by purchasing a few bottles. Binner is based in Ammerschwihr in the Haut-Rhin, that part of Alsace which used to be rather dominated by some of the bigger producers.
Christian, a mainstay of London’s natural wine fairs, converted to biodynamics way back in 2003 and has ever since been producing a range of exceptional white, and indeed red, wines from his Ammerschwihr winery. This one comes from a vineyard at Katzenthal which is also known in dialect as Lerchenfeld. The soils are pure granite with mica.
Why buy this wine, which retails for just over £20, as opposed to more weighty offerings, such as the Grands Crus? You get the expression of a single site, but if you like a nice taut and mineral Riesling, you don’t need to wait years to enjoy it. The colour is closer to amber than the usual pale Riesling hue. The bouquet is classic Riesling but with orange blossom and beeswax. The palate is quite savoury, with a honey-like finish. Lime and ginger add to the complexity and interest here, which is surely a bonus at this price. Bottled with zero added sulphur and sealed under a glass Vinolok. Don’t try inserting a corkscrew.
Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene and also available from Littlewine (littlewine.co).
OEIL DE PERDRIX 2019, DOMAINE DE MONTMOLLIN (Neuchâtel, Switzerland)
Œil de Perdrix translates as partridge eye, the French term for a particular pale style of Rosé. The style used to be relatively common in the French-speaking parts of Switzerland, with a similar type of wine being made in the German-speaking Cantons under the name of “Federweiss” (which can be white or a pale pink). I used to buy Oeil de Perdrix regularly from one or two small domaines to the west of Geneva, but some years ago the Swiss authorities bowed to the winemakers of Neuchâtel and the Trois Lacs, and reserved the term for their Neuchâtel AOC pink wines.
Although a number of grape varieties can be used for the style here, Domaine de Montmollin, based in the famous wine village of Auvernier, is one of the producers which makes their Oeil de Perdrix from Pinot Noir (which I would also argue makes the best Federweiss). The grapes see a very light direct press, and the juice is relatively pale. I say relatively because by using Pinot Noir (organic at Montmollin) the wines have just a bit more weight to them. The colour can also vary from vintage to vintage, if only slightly. I’ve seen them paler than this 2019 from a domaine whose wines I have bought for several years.
The style isn’t overtly complex. Red fruits and grapefruit acidity dominate. But there is subtlety here, and you don’t want to lose that by serving it too cold. As it warms the Pinot character is amplified and the wine rounds out nicely. The back label had the usually bland suggestion that it goes well with “Asian cuisine”. In this case, well, it did.
Swiss wines are always expensive to we Brits, but at a little less than £30 it’s not too expensive for the adventurous drinker to try a unique style. There is still some up on the Alpine Wines web site, though as one of the only sources of Swiss Oeil de Perdrix in the UK, it does sell out fairly swiftly.
LISTÁN BLANCO 2019, LA PALMA, DARREN SMITH with VICTORIA TORRES PÉCIS (Canary Is, Spain)
Darren used to work at The Sampler in London, but like a few young people who work in the wine trade he wanted more. Wine writing, which he has also since turned his hand to, probably wasn’t enough either, so in 2018, after dabbling at a few harvests, he became an itinerant winemaker. So far, he has made wines in collaboration with local winemakers in Portugal’s Bairrada, Chile’s Bío Bío, and here on La Palma, the smallest of Spain’s Canary Isles. They are all released under his label “The Finest Wines Available to Humanity”, which is a quote from the cult British comedy classic, Withnail and I.
Darren’s collaborator for this Listán Blanco (aka Palomino Fino) is Victoria Torres. As Victoria was one of my highly trumpeted discoveries of 2019, you will understand my desperation to get hold of some of this wine just as much as I was keen to try some wine from Jas Swan (see Part 1 of April’s “Recent Wines”). On the basis of this first bottle, I definitely plan to try more from Darren.
The vines are quite old, grown on the island’s “picón” soils, dark volcanic ash, which cover the vineyards here in both the southeast and southwest of La Palma. Viki’s winery is at Fuencaliente, nearby, and this is where Darren made the wine. That wine is made from organically farmed grapes with very low added sulphur and no other manipulations…and it really is remarkably good. It has the island’s characteristic salinity along with a dry, apple freshness, but it has a gently honeyed centre centre as well, which definitely adds depth. This all creates a wine which lingers a long time, riding the palate in a sedate slalom. Only 400 bottles were made so I am thrilled to get to try it.
Darren has this wine at his former employer’s, The Sampler, along with Lechevalier on Tower Bridge Road, and he seems to have a stall at the famous market in London Fields (Westgate Street) on Saturdays. Maybe check out his Insta (@tfwath) for updates and details. The quantities made of these wines do not suggest a much wider distribution. I purchased mine directly after contacting him via Instagram.
HAUTE CÔT(E) DE FRUIT 2019, FABIEN JOUVES (Cahors, France)
When I was younger, I had a bit of a thing for Cahors. I suppose it was a little different to Bordeaux but in a similar space. The region around the city is very beautiful, as is the cuisine, and although we never stayed there, I was lucky enough to pass through it several times, allowing long enough for an hour or two in the city or nearby. As I got more interested in natural wines, Cahors (with one or two exceptions) didn’t always come to mind.
Fabien Jouves, however, has been a constant in my more enlightened drinking, not least for his cuvée which strikes a deliberately offensive pose, “You F**k My Wine”. It certainly gained him some notoriety, but it makes a point about how some more conservative appellations seek to move in one direction only, which doesn’t always connect with the zeitgeist.
In the case of Cahors, it might be worth noting that there have been some moves to identify the wine with its main grape variety, thus jumping on the bandwagon of the commercial success of Argentinian Malbec in a big and usually quite alcoholic style. Fabien makes something very different, and indeed although the wine does say “Malbec” on the label, this cuvée’s name emphasises the local synonym for Malbec, Côt.
Mas de Périé, Fabien’s domaine, sits up on the plateau above Cahors, where the soils blend limestone and clay with deep-bedded mineral deposits. The vines are currently undergoing biodynamic conversion, but Fabien’s wines are all “natural wines”. Haute Côt(e) de Fruit has a vibrant deep inky purple colour with scents of violets along with mostly red and some darker fruits. It has a delicious freshness which you might call “brisk”, and a general fruity lightness.
Very much glouglou rather than structured and/or tannic. Most certainly not your typical Malbec, certainly not one I’d give to my neighbour who loves the variety. That said, this does sport 13% abv, so any move to glug this down swiftly might result in a surprise wobble on standing up. Still, what its brambly fruit does allow it to share with its distant Argentine cousin is a suitability for the barbecue.
Fabien Jouves is imported by Carte Blanche Wines. My bottle came from Bin Two Wines (Padstow, Cornwall) because I decided to make it worthwhile when I ordered the Jas Swan wines by adding in a further assortment of bottles (as one does).
CHARDONNAY “TERRE DU LIAS” 2018, DOMAINE DE LA BORDE (Jura, France)
The final wine from April is another absolute stunner. Julien Mareschal started out in his early twenties with, originally, no wine background at all. He moved from studying agriculture onto a wine diploma course at Dijon before working for a number of Jura domaines (among other regions). I think it is pertinent to mention that his approach was changed when he was mentored, as so many superb natural wine producers in the region were, by the late Pascal Clairet of Domaine de la Tournelle
Julien now farms around five hectares from his base at Pupillin, just outside Arbois. This particular wine is from a site called “Sous la Roche”, a steep slope rising to 500 masl. The soils are “argiles bleues du lias” (lime-rich blue marls). Although Julien has little Chardonnay, he does make it from two sites. Both are made ouillé (topped-up, not the traditional oxidative style). This wine is both fermented and aged in older foudre with ten months on lees. There are no additives, either in the vineyard or winery, except for very minimal sulphur.
This is an especially fine Chardonnay, from one of the finest of Jura’s new wave of producers. A wine of considerable purity, showing lemon citrus, hints of pear and a little nuttiness. Its great minerality and lees-induced texture suggest it will age rather well, but who cares. If I had a second bottle I’d be no more able to hang on to it to find out just how well. One to seek out before prices go really mad. A decade ago, this young man was almost unknown. Now his reputation is assured.
Domaine de la Borde is imported by Les Caves de Pyrene. This bottle was purchased retail from The Solent Cellar (Lymington).