I always try to emphasise that my “recent wines” articles are meant to highlight the most interesting bottles I’ve been drinking at home. June is a case in point, more so than usual. Part 1 begins with a style of wine I rarely drink, but this example was very fine. Next, wine in a tin. It gets a mention because it is by far the best can of wine I’ve tried. We then move through interesting Bairrada, Rheingau and Alsace Pinot Gris, all marked by points of difference to the norm. Czech wine is always interesting, and the one I drank in mid-June was a dry botrytis wine. We reach the end of Part 1 with a glorious Ribolla from Napa, but in the first half of June we managed a week away and I must finish with a brief mention for just a few of the very many bottles we consumed that week. In their case, I have mostly highlighted the best.
PINTIA 2004, BODEGAS PINTIA (Toro, Spain)
Many readers will have drunk Toro in the past and experienced a big and powerful wine, perhaps not as tannic as Ribera del Duero, but full of very ripe fruit and alcohol. The biggest name in Ribera del Duero is, of course, Vega Sicilia, and Pintia is their wine in Toro, an appellation which lies west of Ribera del Duero, and immediately west of neighbour, Rueda. Toro does at least boast altitude. Vines grow between roughly 600-to-850 masl, so cool nights can stop the wines becoming too unbalanced. In the late 1990s the region underwent significant investment from some of the biggest names in fine wine, both Spanish and French.
The main grape variety is the Tinta de Toro, aka Tempranillo. Its wines seem to become more muscular as they move west, so that the grape’s expression in Toro is quite different to that in Rioja. But this is partly about extraction and oak ageing, influenced by a Duero mindset and the praise of certain wine critics of the era. So, this is indeed a muscular red, which hits 15% abv, somewhere that I generally believe a table wine doesn’t need to go.
Yet what we have here is unquestionably very fine indeed. Garnet with purple legs, doubtless colour derived from its cold maceration and pumping over during fermentation. The wine goes through its malo in new oak before twelve months of oak ageing (70% French oak, 30% American). The result is a blend of dark cherry and a meaty stew, but with top notes of strawberry coming through. At seventeen years of age this is still structured, though not overtly tannic. Unquestionably fine and powerful. Properly aged, one cannot deny this wine’s beauty.
I’ve had this so long I really cannot recall where it was purchased. Guesses would narrow down to The Sampler or Berry Bros & Rudd.
THE LIBERATOR CHENIN No 5 (Swartland, South Africa) (250ml can)
Richard Kelley MW is the man behind both importer Dreyfus Ashby and the Liberator range of South African wines. He’s one of the most knowledgeable people in the UK when it comes to South African wine, with a massive range of contacts built over many years. He’s fashioned this range of good value wines with more than interesting labels from fruit sourced at good addresses. These wines are not your usual commercial fare, despite their reasonable pricing.
This particular wine is available in bottle, Chenin which comes from a rather well known producer, but that name having been mentioned, I was hypnotized to forget it (I genuinely have). We’ve all seen this marketing before. Famous name has some grapes he doesn’t want, so out comes an anonymous bottle supposedly packed with “Grand Cru” fruit. Most of us will run a mile at the merest whiff of such promotion. But I think we can safely assume this is no dodgy ruse because the wine is genuinely damned good.
Wine in a can seems to be a new trend, but most are definitely aiming low, both in terms of consumer and price. Putting a decent wine in a can is an experiment which has worked rather well in this case. This Swartland Chenin is punchy but superbly balanced. You wouldn’t really expect complexity in a tin, and you don’t get it, but this goes a bit beyond refreshing and satisfying. As I said above, in my introduction, the best wine in a tin I’ve tried by quite a long way.
In a bottle this retails widely for around £11. At this price it represents genuine great value. In a tin it’s a bit more expensive, £5 for a third of a bottle, but its convenience for the beach or picnic gives it extra appeal. The size is just right, either for one person desiring those large glasses you get served in a wine bar, or between two who want one of those 125ml glasses the posher places charge the same for. Rick has done especially well here. Take the Riedel “O”s rather than the plastic cups for this one.
Created and imported by Dreyfus Ashby, available in many indies, including The Solent Cellar and Butlers Wine Cellar.
BAGA 2018, THE FINEST WINES AVAILABLE TO HUMANITY (Bairrada, Portugal)
I’m sure many will have already read my piece on Darren Smith’s “TFWATH” label, wines made by this roving winemaker increasingly all over the globe. This collaboration really got Darren Smith’s career going. Working for Dirk Niepoort in the Douro, Dirk sent him off to their Bairrada operation, Quinta de Baixo, where Niepoort makes, among other gems, the accessibly priced Lagar de Baixo from the Baga variety.
Darren, with the help of Niepoort’s manager at Baixo, Sergio Silva, has made a style of Bairrada often found in the past but less so more recently. This means a short fermentation avoiding wood (in this case, updated to stainless steel). Less extraction gives a vibrant, bright, wine without that woody character Bairrada exhibited in the 1980s. With just 12.5% abv it’s an altogether lighter, quite elegant, wine, but it does have a little texture to add a touch of food-friendliness. The fruit is all red cherry and plum, but it has a pleasant savoury edge.
It’s really tasty and very good indeed. As I work my way through the wines Darren has made so far, there is nothing to restrain my determination to try everything he makes. And as my article highlights, there’s plenty more exciting stuff to come. This bottle was bought direct from Darren. You can find his wines at The Sampler, Spring Restaurant at Somerset House, and Lechevalier (Tower Bridge Road), and you can taste at Westgate Street Market by London Fields, where Darren has a stall on a Saturday. Outside of London, contact Darren direct via email@example.com . If your interest has been piqued, you can read my article here.
I heard today that Darren’s Listán Blanco, made with Victoria Torres Pecis on La Palma, and which I praised in a previous article, is down to its last hundred bottles! WIGIG!
TERRA MONTOSA 2018, WEINGUT GEORG BREUER (Rheingau, Germany)
Weingut Georg Breuer, based at Rüdesheim in the Rheingau, has been in the increasingly capable hands of Theresa Breuer since 2004, when her father, Bernhard, passed away. Today she has over thirty hectares split over more than 150 parcels, of which around four fifths are Riesling vines. At the top of the Breuer pyramid are the Cru wines, single sites of great stature such as Rauenthaler Nonnenberg and Rüdesheim Berg Schlossberg. Terra Montosa is a kind of second wine for the Rüdesheim crus, made since 1990 from a combination of sites just below “GG” level. The name, of course, translates as “steep ground”.
The 2018 vintage was excellent here, a hot year, yes, but the vines are on deep phyllite, clay and quartzite slate. The richness of the vintage is therefore balanced by the intense mineral flavour and texture surely derived from this terroir.
Yellow plum fruit and a lemon acidity kick off the palate’s journey. The richness wells up but is kept in check (the wine is dry, of course). It has tension. I appear to have completely ignored the obvious ageing potential of what was my first whole bottle of this delicious 12%er. Next time I buy it, I will try to keep it longer. I am confident it would have got even better, but what a wine at this level shows is just how Theresa Breuer, in almost seventeen years, has built on the work of her father and taken this Rheingau estate to another level.
Imported by Indigo Wines.
PINOT GRIS “M” 2017, MAISON LISSNER (Alsace, France)
Domaine Lissner is at Wolxheim, in what used to be the wild frontier of Alsace winemaking, close to Mutzig and Molsheim (now that frontier of innovation has moved a long way north). Théo Schloegel is the winemaker, though he works in both vineyard and winery with the lightest of touch. The culture is of both biodynamics and biodiversity, with a great deal of interest paid to the teachings of Masanobu Fukuoka (I speak about Fukuoka so often I really should write about him this year).
The vines look wild, but then so is the flora and fauna. There is one winter pruning, but following Fukuoka, the cuttings are left where they fall. In the summer there may be a little shoot repositioning, but that’s about it. After about seven years the team found, as have others, such as those who manage Meinklang’s Graupert vines at Pamhagen in Burgenland, that the supposedly rampant vines find an equilibrium here.
This is Pinot Gris, but very different to the Alsace norm. The “M” stands for maceration, so this wine has colour extracted from the variety’s reddish skins. In fact, this is more of a red wine than a rosé based on colour alone. Whole berries ferment, with zero interventions. After a four-week maceration the juice was pressed into demi-muids and some 500-litre barrels. No sulphur is added to the wine.
The wine indeed tastes like a light red. There’s a little spritzy prickle on opening, the result of carbon dioxide used in lieu of sulphur to protect the wine. It doesn’t initially taste of Pinot Gris, the red fruit spectrum hitting the tongue. Allowing the wine to warm in the glass and mouth, it broadens and the aromatics become more familiar. The fruit then becomes a little spicy. It’s a hidden gem, I love this wine.
The beautiful label is taken from manuscript of the Abbey of Mont St Odile, which I recall visiting many decades ago on a very misty day, high above the vineyards. Sadly, these great illuminated texts, moved to Strasbourg “for safety”, were destroyed when the city was shelled by the Prussians in 1870, but copies remain.
The wine comes from that perhaps unparalleled Alsace portfolio of Vine Trail.
WELSCHRIESLING “BOTRYTIS CINEREA” 2019, PETR KORÁB (Moravia, Czechia)
The man from Boleradice may make some of the best petnats in the Czech Republic, but he can also make some pretty good still wine too. Following the Authentiste Charter of Moravian natural viticulture, he farms biodynamically with minimal intervention. Petr is at the forefront of moves in the area to save Moravia’s old vineyards, and generally the vine age benefits from this. He also has a holistic approach to his work and lifestyle, incorporating viticulture into a mixed farm.
For this cuvée, Koráb uses the variety’s better-known name, Welschriesling (as opposed to Moravia’s “Vlassky Ryzlink”). The cuvée comes from thirty-year-old vines, the grapes picked late, in early October. About 25% of the bunches will be affected by botrytis, and whilst the wine is fermented dry, there’s a botrytis character which accompanies the wine’s richness. The other facet of this wine is its texture, which derives from ageing on lees.
The bouquet is surprisingly rich when swirled in the glass, and this is accompanied by slowly developing honey on the nose. There’s no cloying on the palate, though. In fact, the wine is dry, clean, and refreshing. The texture accentuates this. You certainly don’t notice that it has 13.5% alcohol. This went down particularly well paired, counter-intuitively, with a spicier than usual biryani on a humid day. Delicious.
Of course, Basket Press Wines is the importer.
RIBOLLA GIALLA 2017, BENEVOLENT NEGLECT (Napa, California, USA)
George Vare planted these vines in the Bengier Family Vineyard in Napa’s Oak Knoll, vines which he smuggled in a suitcase, so the story goes, brought from Josko Gravner’s vineyards in Friuli. Whichever way the vines got there, they are a welcome addition to a wine region rather full of more classic French varieties.
Three refugees from America’s East Coast came out west to make wine (including Ben Brenner at Rutherford Wine Co and Matt Nagy at Maybach), achieving success (many 100-pointers in Matt’s case) but not satisfying their joint passion to make interesting, low intervention, wines that express place more than corporate ideologies. The result here is a skin contact wine which saw fifteen days fermenting under a submerged cap and then ageing in old oak for fifteen months with no added sulphur and very little topping-up.
Tasting this wine in January 2020 it was clean, mineral and stony. Good enough to prompt me to buy a bottle. In June 2021, wow, it had really blossomed. There’s almost confit orange, toasted nuts…the palate is quite unique. It still has an innate stoniness but the skin texture has added spice (ginger) and more hazelnut. Fresh on the tongue but broadening on the palate, this is just so good. In fact, I’ve yet to taste a BN wine that doesn’t rate “brilliant” and, at least in Napa terms, this is a total bargain at £38. If, however, you are looking for a 100-pointer, stick with Maybach.
Imported by Nekter Wines. Their exceptional Californian range goes way beyond the usual fare of corporate collector’s wines.
Now we come to the wines drunk whilst away. The first trip to see my family since early November last year coincided, fortuitously, with my brother’s birthday. I chose to take my last bottle of Vilmart Grand Cellier d’Or 2006 from Premier Cru vines at Rilly-la-Montagne, which was on peak form, though the delicious Black Chalk Classic Brut 2016 from close to Winchester in Hampshire was not put to shame. Black Chalk has become a family favourite so I know with whom I have to share most bottles I purchase. Later we drank another English favourite which I would put at a similar level (for both class and interest), Langham “Corallian”, this Dorset producer’s classic cuvée.
However, the finest sparkling wine drunk during that week was sipped and admired outdoors a few days later, with close friends. When I began to become seriously interested in Grower Champagne, the two obvious sources (Selosse and Prévost) were soon joined by a couple more, Bérêche and Ulysse Collin. The latter Collin wines were quite new to the UK at the time, mid-2000s, and could be had for around £50/bottle in Selfridges Department Store, not always noted for keen pricing in its very good wine department. Oh, for those days!
Ulysse Collin “Les Maillons” is a single vineyard at Barbonne-Fayel, from which is produced a « Rosé de Saignée », one of the finest wines in Olivier Collin’s portfolio. He also makes a Blanc de Noirs from the same site. It’s situated in the Coteaux Sezannais, and Olivier owns around 2.5ha of this vineyard (just less than a third of its acreage). Yields are kept low and the vines are now pretty much all over forty years old. No wonder this wine is concentrated. It goes on and on as you savour its brilliance (brilliance in both senses of the word).
The base vintage for this three-grape blend based on Pinot Noir, is 2015, disgorged 2019. It has a dark colour for a pink (sic) Champagne, and has gained some complexity in bottle. Red fruits dominate (we are talking specifically raspberry and pomegranate on a bed of cherry). This wonder of a wine is now not far short of three times the price it was what seems not that long ago, so it was a privilege to share a bottle. You will find Rosé Champagnes of a similar quality, and you will find a few of them for less money, but I don’t think you will find any in this style to beat it.
Another sparkler of real interest was made from a variety you would never suspect of being capable of making such a thing. Vallana Brut Rosé Metodo Classico is made from Nebbiolo, and seriously, it will surprise you.
Going bubble-free, best still wine of the week was surely Jean-Pierre Rietsch Brandluft Riesling 2015 from Mittelbergheim. Jas Swan’s “Sif” Weissburgunder (Katla Wines) from the Mosel gained the approval of another wine nut for being the perfect beach wine. Finally, a stunning classic red from The Cape, Boekenhootskloof Syrah 2007 is surely one of the finest of all South African wines you can buy. I use the itals to emphasise this as something I need to shout about. Buy it, age it, enjoy.
Best fortified? Equipo Navazos La Bota de Fino 68, of course. There were some other stunning wines but space surely forbids their inclusion. The good news is that I went out and bought a few of them, so you’ll get to read about them at a later date.
I think that’s enough enthusiasm for now. Part 2 to follow…