August’s “recent wines” will be a little shorter than usual, still two parts, but with a focus on just six wines in each part. This is partly because of spending time away and partly because we drank some bottles I’ve written about fairly recently. I don’t think I can resist a brief mention of a couple of additional bottles we drank on the road though. For Part One we have Dorset, Anjou and Bio Bio alongside Jura, Sanlúcar and the Eastern Languedoc. The bonus wines are a fabulous New Zealand petnat and a smart Champagne which drew attention to the dangers of writing off a less favoured vintage.
“CORALLIAN CLASSIC CUVÉE” EXTRA BRUT, LANGHAM WINERY (Dorset, UK)
Made from 75% Chardonnay with 15% Pinot Noir and 10% Meunier (that’s much more Chardonnay than the 2017 base), 83% of this cuvée is from the 2018 vintage and 17% from reserves. Bottling was in August 2019 and disgorgement February 2021, dosed at 1.5g/l.
John Langham first planted vines near to his new home close to Dorchester, which he purchased in 1980, a manor house dating from the time of Edward VI. In 2009 his son, Justin, commercialised the operation, planting the 30-acre Crawthorne vineyard. The Langham cuvées are effectively single vineyard wines, all made from fruit grown on the estate, using what the team term “low intervention” methods in the vines and the winery.
This is the second recent bottle, the first being around seven or eight weeks before this one and the difference was marked. The first bottle was nice but very young, but for some reason this one was a big step up in terms of flavour and complexity. This is curious, considering it’s a fairly young wine in which I’d have expected less autolytic character. It could possibly mean that this 2018 base may age more quickly, or it could be bottle variation. That said, most people will buy this to consume almost immediately.
Nevertheless, it really was very good indeed. Brioche notes on the nose, a slightly rounder mouthfeel despite the low dosage, and pretty good length. A nice bit of chalky texture lingers on the finish, which seems a little softer than many Extra Brut cuvées.
In any event, this is shaping up to be one of my favourite “classic cuvées”, helped perhaps by the fact that it’s a bit cheaper than some of the others which would make my list. This cost £30 from The Solent Cellar. The Langham Blanc de Blancs leaps to £39.
“EGLANTINE” VIN DE FRANCE PÉTILLANT , BENOÎT COURAULT (Anjou, France)
The Courault domaine is at Faye D’Anjou in the Western Loire Valley, south of Angers and west of Saumur. The vines here are grown on a fairly flat plateau comprised of clay over blue slate and schist. Benoît took over 6.5ha of vines around fifteen years ago and farms with the sensitivity to the environment and ecology that he learnt from one of his mentors, the great Eric Pfifferling, at L’Anglore in Tavel.
“Eglantine” is a delightful pink petnat. Delightful as a descriptor could be taken as damning with faint praise, yet it fits so perfectly here. The wine isn’t in the slightest bit demonstrative, but it’s lovely. It’s a blend of Cabernet Franc and Grolleau, with in 2019 a dash of Pineau d’Aunis. The wine’s makeup changes each year, as does the pressure in the bottle. The 2019 has turned out more frizzante than fully sparkling, and I think this is what gives the wine its charm. Just a touch of sulphur is added at bottling, which is in the spring after harvest. This petnat is disgorged.
The bouquet is initially of rose petals, which come across in a gentle, ethereal stream. This is followed by red fruits (raspberry aromatics), which also dominate the palate, but the finish is unexpectedly redolent of spice, perhaps pepper. The gentle nose gives way to a firmer palate, which is built around some nice fresh acidity with just enough steeliness.
Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.
PAÍS 2019, DARREN SMITH & ROBERTO HENRÍQUES (Bio-Bio, Chile)
This is another of Darren Smith’s collaborations under his “The Finest Wines Available to Humanity” label. Roberto Henríques worked as an agronomist and this was how he discovered plots of old vine País in Bio Bio’s Itata Valley. País is probably the same variety as Listán Prieto, which originated in Spain’s Gredos Mountains. A “peasant” workhorse grape, it probably made the communion wines of the first Christian monks and priests who went to Chile during the conquest by Spain in the sixteenth century.
I recall being pointed towards Roberto’s wines when they were first imported into the UK by Wines Under the Bonnet several years ago, and I remember being particularly impressed with his País. Having drunk a few of Darren’s collaborations from Portugal and the Canary Islands, I was rather looking forward to my bottle of this.
The grapes are from 200-year-old, dry-farmed, vines near the tiny village of Millapoa, right up at around 350 masl. The soil here, not that there’s much, is eroded black basalt sand.
The colour is a dark ruby with glints of deep purple. The legs are notably thick, but the wine only registers 13.5% abv. The bouquet is all concentrated bramble fruit and cherry with notes of violet and lavender. The palate has a nice line in rusticity but certainly with a modern twist. In sum, textured, fruity and with bright acidity. Remarkably, it’s easy to slurp this, despite the alcohol level. I was very taken with it and Darren seems to be putting out some very exciting wines. I guess his choice of collaborator here has been spot on.
Purchased direct from Darren but you can read more about his wines and other avenues to purchase them in my article from June, Here.
“ENTRE-DEUX” CÔTES DU JURA 2016, PEGGY & JEAN-PASCAL BURONFOSSE (Jura, France)
I have been a fairly regular small-scale purchaser of the Buronfosse wines, on and off, when in the Jura region, but they had previously appeared absent from the UK market. It was a shame. I know there are so many fashionable small growers in the region, but Peggy is up there with the very best. Thankfully, I’ve now discovered they are in the UK, thanks to the ever Jura-vigilant Solent Cellar in Lymington.
Peggy fell on her feet really when Raymond Pageault rented his old vines to her and husband Jean-Pascal on his retirement. It helped that Peggy had become friends with her neighbour, Jean-François Ganevat, because these vines were in La Combe, Rotalier, one of Jura’s most famed locations. A “grand cru” if ever there was one.
The couple’s 4ha of vineyards are on steep slopes of limestone, marl and schist at both Rotalier and St-Laurent Grandvaux. “Entre-Deux” is Savagnin, a selection wine presumably made from vines in both locations. It is made in the ouillé style (topped-up, not oxidative). It’s lime-fresh, gorgeously so, with a very lengthy finish. The 12% alcohol seems perfectly judged in a lovely, impressive, bottle. It’s one of those wines you don’t see very often on Instagram but one which those who know, know.
Imported by Raeburn Fine Wines.
LA BOTA DE FLORPOWER 99, « ANTES DE LA FLOR », EQUIPO NAVAZOS (Sanlúcar, Spain)
I decided I needed to check up on one of my most recent EN purchases, although the weather this August hasn’t really induced me to drink a lot of Palomino Fino, whether fortified or not. It’s a shame because I don’t normally need an excuse.
This Palomino comes from the Pago de Miraflores La Baja at Sanlúcar, a very special terroir. The idea behind this bottling “before the flor” is indeed to create a table wine, without fortification, which is the purest expression of that terroir. So, no cask ageing, just tank. The vintage is 2019 and ageing was 12 months in stainless steel, without the appearance of a veil of yeast. Then bottling, which took place last year.
The result is, as always with these “Florpower” wines, pretty amazing. It’s certainly youthful, but that’s a good time to broach one. The salinity and chalky terroir texture are perhaps at their peak, along with freshness, which will mellow into greater complexity with time. The vines are very old and the yields are naturally low, which assists the winemaker to get that tell-tale EN concentration, and the potential to age impressively is definitely there for anyone who cares to do so. That potential for this wine is significant, which is why a few bottles, not merely one, would be essential if you can get some. At least these delicious Florpowers are cheaper than the fortified Sherries they bottle at EN.
The UK agent for Equipo Navazos is Alliance Wine.
MAS LASTA PÉTNAT ROSÉ, ANNE-LAURE SICARD (Languedoc, France)
Anne-Laure is a vigneronne on the Terroir de Larzac, the vineyards near the Causses of the same name in Western Languedoc. She has farmed 8.5ha of vines, all up at around 400 masl, at St-Privat since 2015, using non-intervention approaches in the vineyard and winery. Initially she trained as an agricultural engineer before enology studies. Subsequent to that she has worked over several continents and is very widely travelled for a young winemaker.
From what I can tell, Anne-Laure is something of a red wine specialist, certainly getting excellent reviews for her Grenache, Carignan and Syrah. Her vines are old, and scattered in small parcels around the village, but growing on the now famous schist and sandstone of the sub-region.
This simple petnat is delicious. It’s a darker shade of rosé, made from Grenache. It’s fruity, light and clean, in fact not remotely scary for anyone new to natural wine. It’s just what you want from summer fizz, although this is a petnat which contains sediment, easily avoided by standing the bottle up for a while if the idea of cloudy wine doesn’t appeal. I prefer a little texture, which the sediment adds. At 12.5% this is still very easy to guzzle down.
This was a recommendation from Solent Cellar.
Now to the two wines I didn’t drink at home. The first was shared with a couple of friends on the beach and it was as perfect as you could imagine a beach-time petnat could be. So, you might be shocked to discover the grape variety is Müller-Thurgau. If anyone makes a brilliant version of this old workhorse variety, once widely planted in New Zealand before Savvy Blanc became fashionable, it is Theo Coles.
Theo farms at North Canterbury on NZ’s South Island, and I’d be hard pushed to name a New Zealand winemaker whose wines thrill me as much as his do. This was his Ancestral Method Müller-Thurgau 2019. Who would have thought the old variety of German sugar water fame could give us this little gem! To be fair, a few German winemakers are re-evaluating the variety and we are seeing a few excellent natural wines made from the grape in Germany now.
What we have here is just pure fruity fizz, zero complications, for times when you have a thirst (post-swim, perhaps). The 2019 is almost certainly all gone, but maybe you can grab a bottle of the 2020? Uncharted Wines is the agent, and my previous source, but this one came from Littlewine.
The second wine I want to mention is a classic, and in many ways it’s not a wine I would expect to drink often. Yet “Comtes” is and has always been one of my favourite Prestige Cuvée Champagnes. That said, I can’t see myself buying any more because this has pushed over £150 now. I’m not sure what this 2005 (yes) cost because it would have been purchased with a discount, but the 2006s I have remaining are my last, I’m guessing.
So it goes with a lot of Champagne. I used to have a reasonable amount of the stuff, but it’s disappearing way too quickly and however much I claim there’s plenty of wine out there, Champagne is something I just cannot replace. It hurts.
This Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2005 was delicious and I mention it primarily because it highlights that truth, obvious to any real wine lover, that a top producer’s top wine will be worth buying whatever the vintage. People talk some generalised rubbish about vintages. Someone I know drank a very tasty Haut-Brion 1984 the other day and it reminded me that a friend’s father had opened one for our anniversary, over in France, a few years ago, with a similar result.
Are the 2004 and 2006 vintages of Comtes better than the 2005? Probably, if you ask an expert. The 2005 is just different. We drank it with close friends, one of whom has a special love and connection with Comtes, which is why I took it for our Glyndebourne picnic and we were lucky…this bottle was glorious, drinking perfectly but I don’t think anyone need panic if they have a case or two. Complex and majestic.
I know there’s no God-given right for any of us to be able to drink any given wine, whether that be fine Champagne or a Jura Unicorn. But that doesn’t stop me wishing.
This is, of course, very widely available in whatever is the current vintage (the excellent 2008 vintage is available at some retailers if you have £160 to splash). If Waitrose is having one of their 25% off weeks, it’s always worth popping into their Oxford Street or Canary Wharf branches. But even so, wines costing more that £100, even with discount, cost more than I care to pay these days.