In the first half of July, I crawled into a corner of European wine which spilt out a little from Trink Magazine’s “umlaut wines” domain, but only just. I think the eight wines I’ve written about here are perfect for summer, not that the weather here in the South of England was always everything one might wish for during these two weeks. For those who crave a little more diversity, you will find that in Part 2, and for those who are with me on this page, so to speak, there will also be a little more of the same.
We begin in Hungary, before travelling to Austria’s Burgenland, Baden in Germany and French-speaking Switzerland. Then we try two more German wines before a return to Burgenland, finally finishing back in Switzerland, but this time in a rarely seen part of Deutschschweiz.
EASTERN ACCENTS 2019, ANNAMÁRIA RÉKA-KONCZ (Eastern Hungary)
This is my last bottle of Annamária’s wine until the 2020 vintage arrives in the UK, hopefully in early autumn (although with the current delays to delivery one cannot be certain). I’m almost certainly shooting myself in the foot to say this, but famed as I am for my drinking diversity, this is one of the few producers I would (indeed will) devote a whole order to when they do arrive.
Eastern Accents blends 70% Hárslevelu with 30% Királyleányka from Annamária’s organic vineyards at Barabás, close to the Ukrainian border, on the Northern Great Plain. The vines average between forty and sixty years of age. The first variety is macerated on skins for five days, whilst the second sees a two-week semi-carbonic maceration.
The result is so fresh and fruity, with good acidity. This is balanced by texture from the maceration on the skins. No wood is used for this cuvée. What you get is an orange or amber wine, but not the ponderous tannic version. This is lively but with bite. It’s a pure joy to drink and at just 12% abv, very easy to drink too. All in all, a remarkable producer who is beginning to find a cult following and not just in the UK.
Imported by Basket Press Wines.
PUSZTA LIBRE 2020, CLAUS PREISINGER (Burgenland, Austria)
Claus sits like a lord surveying his domain from the balcony terrace of his ultra-modern winery above Gols at the northern end of the Neusiedlersee. It’s somewhere I had hoped to be at some point this year…such is Covid life. Claus makes some very serious wines, and some tasty varietals lower down the pecking order, but this cuvée is just a marvel of simplicity, to be drunk by folks with joy in their hearts, not the most serious of wine collector types.
Puszta Libre is a life-affirming, zippy red blend, of Zweigelt and St-Laurent. There’s nothing added here, not even sulphur. You serve it cold as a beer and drink it like fruit juice (and with 11.5% alcohol, that’s not difficult). One of the vendors says “this wine may be finished before you open it”. Well put. It won’t last long, and frankly, with a wine like this, that is all you need to know.
Imported by Newcomer Wines, this bottle purchased from Littlewine. Just £19!
SPÄTBURGUNDER ROSÉ 2018, ENDERLE & MOLL (Baden, Germany)
Florian Moll and Sven Enderle farm at Münchweier, on rich limestone and sandstone soils on the slopes below Baden’s Black Forest. Working together since 2007, they have made a name as two of the rising stars of German Pinot Noir, using a low intervention approach, transforming some of the region’s oldest Pinot vines into quite spectacular wines, if perhaps unfairly under the radar in the UK market.
Whilst many might ignore their Rosé, that would be a big mistake. Pinot Noir can make exceptional pink wines, especially when they are not a mere afterthought. This version is darker in colour than what has become fashionable for Rosé these days. In fact, I’ve seen lighter colour in some reds. It’s also a wine which hits 13% abv, making this very much a gourmand wine, not a “slurp in the sun” effort.
The wine is clearly Pinot, both on nose and palate. The fruit is built around a core of mineral acidity which gives it a “rosé” character, and it’s deceptively easy to drink, despite the alcohol level. Highly recommended for something a little different, especially for those who believe Rosé is not just for summer.
Another wine available via the Newcomer Wines/Littlewine combo.
CHASSELAS 2019 “VIN DE PAYS”, CAVE DE LA CÔTE (Vaud, Switzerland)
The Cave de la Côte is based at Tolochenaz, near Morges, just west of Lausanne on the north shore of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva). They are a large co-operative operation and farm, via their members, vineyards stretching all along this part of the Vaud, towards Geneva. For many Swiss wine snobs, they might say that this comes from the “wrong side” of Lausanne, the steeply terraced vineyards of Lavaux, to the east of the city, having somewhat more kudos. This is not the point.
In 2003 this adventurous large co-operative appointed Chilean winemaker Rodrigo Banto as Chief Winemaker and he has transformed the operation here into almost certainly the best co-op in the Canton of Vaud, and one of the best in the whole of Switzerland. His major contribution was to change the mindset whereby the winemakers worked with whatever fruit came in. By working alongside growers in the vines, quality has been transformed.
I won’t pretend this particular bottle is more than an easy-going co-operative wine, albeit one that has been well made. It’s flinty, pebbly, herbal. It can work as a food wine, but it makes an even better aperitif. Whenever we visit Geneva friends we always sit down before dinner with a civilised bowl of nuts and a bottle of light white wine, which is most often a Chasselas from one of the villages on La Côte. There’s zip, a CO2 prickle and apple freshness, with a touch of peach blossom. The finish has a savoury twist.
Whilst I recommend this as an aperitif wine, it went well on this occasion with a Japanese-style vegetable curry. In some ways it’s the essence of drinkable Swiss wine, updated with modern winemaking methods and without the outrageously high yields of old. It has the rare quality found in so few Swiss wines as well – affordability. Joelle at Alpine Wines says “this is the best entry-level Chasselas we could find” and I don’t doubt her. At £16.20 surely worth a try?
Rodrigo has introduced a range of natural wines, which go under the label “Nu”. These will cost a little more and can be had from the same importer as this wine in the UK for closer to £25. I shall be featuring another very interesting wine from this co-op in Part 2. There’s enough interest in Swiss wine to last a lifetime and I can’t understand why more wine lovers don’t make the effort to explore them.
The Cave de la Côte is imported by Alpine Wines but a few of their wines are increasingly found distributed by Alpine in several small independents who want the odd Swiss wine to enliven their list. I grabbed this from Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton. It may currently be out of stock but Joelle writes that more is expected soon. Equally, try The Solent Cellar or contact Joelle at Alpine for stockists.
SCHIEFERBLUME 2018, RITA AND RUDOLF TROSSEN (Mosel, Germany)
I won’t re-introduce the Trossens. I’ve posted and written about plenty of their wines before. They are as legend in the Mosel as are the likes of Ganevat in Jura, at least among lovers of natural wines. This long-biodynamic estate is based at Kinheim in the Central Mosel. The couple have been farming here without chemical inputs since the 1970s, using no added sulphur for the past decade. Their purest of pure Rieslings have been an inspiration to other producers for a long time, and the other varieties they grow are certainly not inferior in my opinion.
They cultivate their Riesling vines on the grey and blue slate of what were once highly unfashionable slopes, and certainly a terrain which is difficult and back-breaking to work. The key to their success is old vine stock, biodynamic cultivation and pretty much zero intervention in the winery. Perhaps as important to Rudolf is the spiritual side of wine, something I can see he deeply appreciates as a farmer of vines. I have a great deal of admiration for all of his wider philosophical beliefs and I admit that helps me appreciate the wines more.
Schieferblume blends Riesling from three sites, translating the slate terroir into a summer meadow with a solitary peach tree providing aromatic shade in the glass. Just off-dry to my palate, it is vibrant, harmonious and drinking so well. When I placed my last mixed order, it was hard to resist getting more of this, though in the end I opted for something “Trossen” I had not tried. But frankly, Rudi can’t fail!
Predictably another import from Newcomer Wines, but as for availability, it’s possible that only Littlewine has some left at present.
PINOT NOIR 2018, SCHWÄBISCHER LANDWEIN, WEINGUT ROTERFADEN (Württemburg, Germany)
If you want a regular buy Pinot from Germany, this is one to consider. The region of Württemburg is one better known for mixed farming than for vine specialisation, and perhaps it took a couple whose parents were not winemakers to specialise here, at Vaihingen/Roßwag, 30km northwest of Stuttgart. Hannes Hoffmann and Olympia Samara farm four hectares on steep terraced slopes on a bend above the River Enz. They may not have had family working in wine, but Olympia has worked with Claus Preisinger and Hannes with Dirk Niepoort.
The vines are old but they are vinified rather simply. Some destemmed bunches and some whole bunches infuse gently for three-to-four weeks, ensuring minimal leaching of tannins from the skins, but not minimal flavour. Ageing consists of ten months in large old oak before bottling, of course without fining or filtration. Just a minimal amount of sulphur is added at this stage.
The initial impression is of bright cherry and raspberry fruit with a reasonable level of concentrated fruit acids. Of the last bottle I drank (July 2020), I said “sings like a choir of angels”. Okay, that’s quite florid for me (actually, I may have been quoting someone else), but boy this is good. This bottle, a year on, has greater depth, perhaps with slightly less vivacity, but it’s still fabulous.
Newcomer Wines/Littlewine. A mere £26 for a bottle of joy.
WAITING FOR TOM ROSÉ 2017, RENNER & RENNERSISTAS (Burgenland, Austria)
This is another estate in the blessed location of Gols, this time with a winery on the western edge of the village. Stefanie, Susanne and Georg make wines of which I would say their greatest quality, across the range, is excitement. This comes through a lack of fear when it comes to experimentation, but this is backed with a rather quiet meticulous attention to detail. This has been achieved through truly getting to know their vines and terroir before experimenting. For the Renner family, soil health is key and it shows in their wines.
We have here a pink wine which has a little age. To be honest I was surprised when I saw the vintage because I’ve not had the bottle “that long”. The current vintage in the UK appears to be 2019. The wine is something of an old friend. The blend is around 70% Zweigelt and 30% Blaufränkisch, direct-pressed. The juice is aged eight months on lees in used barriques.
Biodynamic farming and minimum intervention create a perfect summer wine. Even now, this older vintage tastes of strawberries and cream with a raspberry acidity peeking through. It’s smooth, dry, has a little lees-induced texture and is the colour of strawberry juice. Still working its magic.
The 2019 will set you back £24 from Littlewine and is also available from Newcomer Wines.
RÄUSCHLING 2018, BECHTEL WEINE (Eglisau, Switzerland)
Eglisau is hardly a famous region for viticulture, even in Switzerland, yet within its fifteen hectares of vines planted north of both Zurich and the Rhine, it is home to two somewhat famous winemakers. One is the retiring Urs Pircher, the other is a rising star of Swiss wine, Mathias Bechtel.
Mathias swept to fame as a member of the influential Junge Schweiz-Neue Winzer movement, before he started to take home the big prizes. His small estate occupies land rising to 470 masl, on mostly marine deposits covered with river sand and gravels, rising above the river and sheltered by forest. Like many young winzer without family vines to inherit, he started out with a rented plot in 2014 and didn’t have a proper winery until the 2019 vintage. Nevertheless, he still managed a “Grand Gold Medal” for his 2015 Pinot Noir in the “Mondial des Pinots 2017”. Much of his wine is currently made from bought-in grapes whilst he is reorganising his small vine holdings, according to Dennis Lapuyade (artisanswiss.com in an excellent article about Räuschling, highly recommended).
Räuschling is an old Swiss-German variety, at one time also common in parts of Alsace, and once very much seen as a workhorse grape for mass produced jug wines. It’s a cross between Gouais Blanc (know as Gwäss in Eastern Switzerland) and the Jura’s Savagnin variety. I may be wrong, but I don’t think you’ll find it, certainly not in commercial quantity, very far from Zurich nowadays.
So how come a rising star is concentrating on a variety not known for making serious wines? The truth is, that as with many other so-called lesser varieties, it’s all down to yields, care in the vineyard, and attention to detail in the winery. When an effort is made, Räuschling can produce aromatic dry white wines with a little more fat on the bone, and with a capacity to age to greater complexity.
This is exactly what Mathias Bechtel achieves here, something considered atypical (although neighbour and mentor Urs Pircher’s Räuschling is of equal fame, but I have sadly never tasted it). There’s a crispness, but allied to something more complex, rounded out via ageing on lees in acacia wood. Do you know arrowroot biscuit? It’s here. There’s also a little stone fruit and pear. Altogether very much my kind of white. It’s just a little different, and for me that adds to the excitement.
We often talk about how beautiful Swiss vineyards can be, focusing on the terraces of Lavaux, or the Alpine slopes of the Valais. I’ve never visited Eglisau but from photographs this tiny enclave above the Rhine looks equally idyllic. I wonder whether I might get there one day?
Whilst Räuschling is undergoing a bit of a revival, the best is not remotely cheap as compared to the wines of old. Alpine Wines is the importer and they list this for £37.45, which is about 25% more expensive than Mathias’s possibly better-known red wines. However, it is very good and quite uniquely so for a wine made from this variety. For the adventurous, perhaps, but only because of the price. You won’t find the wine itself in the least bit disturbing. On the contrary. To all Fall fans, Räuschling Rumble!