Part Two follows swiftly on from Part One, mostly because I can’t wait to review a rather exciting new wine book as soon as I can get through it. So, taking up where we left off on Wednesday, we begin with a wine made from some very obscure varieties in Czech Moravia, then one of my all-time favourite Viennese field blends and a lovely litre of Corsican Vermentino, which had shamefully been in my fridge for nearly a year. Next, a Crazy fizz from Germany, a beautiful Rosato from Frank Cornelissen on Sicily and, to wind up August’s wines drunk at home, possibly my bargain of the summer, from Northern Spain.
MLADÝ BOCEK 2017, RICHARD STÁVEK (Moravia, Czechia)
Richard has been making natural wines in Moravia for over 25 years on part of his mixed farm (15ha, of which around 4.5ha are planted to vines). Although I am buying probably more Czech wine than most individuals these days, I’ve probably neglected this producer. Checking through my notes I’ve tried far more of his wines at tastings than I have bought over the past three or four years.
This wine has a level of interest which suggests I’ve been a fool. The blend here is enough to get any rare variety hound salivating, Sevar and Rubinet are the grape varieties. They make a powerfully juicy red wine. The concentrated fruit is cherry with other red fruits in a supporting role. The colour is very dark, yet it is lighter on the palate than you would expect…unless you’d spotted the 11.5% abv on the label. The bright acidity makes it remarkably refreshing. You slurp it almost like a fruit juice with a chewy finish.
This makes for a wine which I guess you’d use for the same kind of cuisine as you might pull out a Barbera or Dolcetto for…or any number of Alpine reds for that matter. Don’t be put off by the obscure grape varieties. It’s a lovely, sappy, uncomplicated red wine crying out for a whole platter of rustic delights.
The current vintage has, I think, moved on to 2018, which will cost £30 at Basket Press Wines.
RAKETE , JUTTA AMBROSITSCH (Vienna, Austria)
It is difficult to explain why I love this wine so much without taking you to the vineyards immediately to the north of the Austrian Capital, blending seamlessly into the city suburbs. I love walking among the vines over the wider Nussberg and Kahlenberg hillsides, in summer sipping wine at the pop-up Heurigen, in winter delighting in the crisp air above the Danube. Most Gemischter Satz field blends, from here and elsewhere, tend to be white wines, but there is no reason why they should not contain red varieties, vinified as a Rosé or pale red.
I’ve written a lot about Jutta before, suffice to say that this ex-graphic designer makes the most exciting, edgy, wines in the region, one which should have a bigger international profile than it perhaps does. It might be that most of the winemakers (not all, for sure) are as quiet and undemonstrative about their wines as Jutta is. She remains at the top of her game, yet sadly her output is tiny.
Rakete is a field blend of St Laurent, Rotburger (aka Zweigelt), Blauburger (Blauer Portugieser x Blaufränkisch), Merlot and some assorted white varieties in very tiny quantities. The vines are close to fifty years old, off the limestone of Kahlenberg (a short walk or bus ride from Nussdorf).
The grapes come in and undergo a four-day maceration. The essence of gemischter satz winemaking is that the grapes are all picked together and co-fermented. In this case, whole bunches go into stainless steel. Bottled without fining, nor filtration, with an admonition on the label to shake the bottle and serve chilled. It’s just pure cranberry juice, joyful and life-affirming.
Rakete, and other wines from Jutta Ambrositsch, are usually available via Newcomer Wines and Littlewine (littlewine.com).
“ZINZINU” 2019, VERMENTINU, CANTINA DI TORRA (Corsica, (France))
This is a litre of low alcohol Vermentino (or Vermentinu using the Corsican dialect spelling) from Nicolas Mariotti Bindi on his Cantina di Torra label. The wines are made from around 7.5ha of north-facing slopes on the Golfe de Saint Florent, west of Bastia. This is a part of the island perhaps better known for its appellation wines, Patrimonio and Muscat de Cap Corse.
Although bottled in litre size, this is no plonk. Seventy-year-old vines are hand-harvested off limestone “carcu” and clay before being whole-bunch pressed into stainless steel. Although only labelled as organic, bottling is with minimal added sulphur. This perhaps enhances the freshness which this 10.4% abv beauty had retained in my fridge for nearly eleven months. It’s easy drinking, light but with a saline finish which elevates it from simple to delicious.
We drank this al fresco, first with taboulé, and then cheese and it just did the job perfectly. To be honest I am not sure it would have tasted substantially better if it hadn’t performed the function of emergency backup for longer than I’d normally hope (do you keep wine in the fridge just in case you get unexpected guests?).
This came from The Solent Cellar. I don’t see it currently listed, but they do have a couple of Nicolas Mariotti Bindi’s red wines in stock so perhaps they will get some more next year.
“CRAZY CRAZY” 2020, MARTO WINES (Rheinhessen, Germany)
“Today Rheinhessen rivals The Pfalz as the most innovative and progressive wine region in Germany”. Those, more or less, are the opening words on Rheinhessen in the M&B World Wine Atlas, current edn (Robinson et al). That statement is undoubtedly true, although perhaps the authors were thinking Keller and Wittmann rather than the kind of innovation we have here!
A tome like the Wine Atlas spends its two Rheinhessen pages relating the great concentration of fabulous names in both Wonnegau and the revived Nierstein/Oppenheim axis, but this is Germany’s largest wine region and there are more than 150 wine communes to take in. Not all of them have sites famed for GG Riesling, but that’s by no means to write them off, especially if it is indeed innovation you are seeking.
This wine was described to me as a kind of “German take on Prosecco”, so naturally I was hooked and reeled in. Marto Wines is the label of Martin Wörner, based at the notable wine village of Flonheim, northwest of Wonnegau, that being one of Rheinhessen’s better known sub-regions, in which you will find that other pair of aforementioned innovators. Taking natural wine methodology seriously (Martin did work at Gut Oggau and Matassa, after all), the estate’s five hectares are sown with cover crops and sheep graze the vineyards.
If the wine’s name is a repetition of the word “crazy”, the first crazy must be the blend: Würzer, Huxelrebe and Müller-Thurgau. The latter used to be the mainstay of Rheinhessen in the bad old days, and Huxelrebe? It must be decades since I have drunk a wine containing that variety, and when I last did it might well have been English wine. Würzer? Another one for the rare variety sleuths.
So, to the taste of it. Apple and lemon freshness, quite cidery on the palate yet not volatile, more just sharp apple freshness. It’s a gorgeously thirst-quenching froth monster, real fun in the glass. Well sedimented, though, and definitely the way it tastes is the second “crazy”.
This small winzer, pretty much unknown in the UK, exports to places as diverse as Australia and Japan. Whilst some of the UK wine trade has very possibly taken its finger off the pulse due, no doubt, to our current Covid/Brexit predicament, we can still rely on Les Caves de Pyrene to bring in some of the new names in European wine. Let’s hope they are able to continue to do so. Anyone noticed the rise in cost of importing as an individual!
SUSUCARU ROSATO 2020, FRANK CORNELISSEN (Etna, Sicily (Italy))
Frank is still often portrayed as the wild man of Etna’s natural wine scene, but I’m told he’s changed a lot since I first began to drink his wines, and his wines have changed a little too. As an early enthusiast I kind of stopped drinking them eventually, down to many a volatile disaster and the cost of those fails. In fairness to the winemaker, they were probably caused by shipping and storage, with the sulphur-free instability one saw more often in the early days of natural wine, and it was certainly not the case that every bottle was affected.
Robert Camuto in his 2010 book, “Palmento” (Univ of Nebraska Press), suggests that Cornelissen decided to make wine on the slopes of Etna because he believed it was the only place in Europe where he could make wine free of chemical additives. Thankfully, many more such places have since been discovered. Perhaps the bleak solitude of the mountain appealed to this former mountaineer, and maybe even the danger inherent in living beside an active volcano?
Susucaru is the label for the entry level wines Frank used to call “Contadino”. The name translates as “they stole it”, and grape theft is a real problem in Sicily, as one might imagine. That sort of activity cannot help but make this rosato even more of a supposed unicorn than it already is. Frank blended Malvasia, Moscadella, Inzolia and Nerello Mascalese into this 2020 vintage. It saw ten days on skins before ageing in tank. It also saw a very light filtration, but no added sulfites.
Does it express the terroir, as intended? It certainly expresses real purity of fruit, with clean cranberry flavours plus a saline edge. Definitely a “volcanic wine”. I don’t quite see the similarities with Poulsard which have been touted, but that’s just me. It’s really good, in fact inspiring, and a very clean and fresh, dark pink, wine.
So, this is said to be a unicorn. It’s true that no one in the UK has a lot to sell (although an acquaintance did say she saw three cases of this in a Barcelona wine shop recently). However, it does seem to be shared out fairly widely among the indie merchants, so plenty of folks will have six or twelve to sell. It’s just a question of getting in quickly, either there or at Les Caves de Pyrene. When there’s some around you can get it, but it disappears quickly. What it does not share with most so-called unicorns is price. This is priced around just £30. For now, we are lucky.
TXACOLI ROSÉ 2020, BODEGA REZABAL (Euskadi/Basque Country, (Spain))
I’m going to stick my neck out and say that this wine has probably been my bargain of the summer. The grape variety is one of the Hondarrabis common in the Basque Region, but this one is Hondarrabi Beltza. It is grown on that lush, green, part of Northern Spain which goes from just west of Bilbao to just east of Donostia/San Sebastian, increasingly known for apple-fresh tasting white Txacoli, a wine which is well enough known these days that most people can now pronounce it.
However, this wine is very pale pink, and in fact the producer calls it a Rosé rather than use the Spanish term. It is made by Anders and Mireya Rezabal on their 20ha domaine in the sub-region of Getariako (Guetaria DO), just west of that gastronomic mecca, San Sebastian. The vines are traditionally high-trained, and the vinification is as simple as possible with the aim to retain the same freshness you find in the white wine.
The bouquet gives a lively strawberry scent and the CO2 prickle in the wine is easily sensed on the nose on first sniff. The palate, whilst full of that freshness, also has a rounded, lush, peachy flavour. There’s a little dry extract on the finish to ground things. Simple but most effective, its 11% alcohol being just right to quench a summer thirst. Serve well chilled. I’m thinking of getting some more, although that may well be an easier task than finding some more reliable sunshine.
This wine is quite widely available. My bottle came from Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton, and cost just £13.99. I know that Theatre of Wine sells it in London, as do quite a few of the usual independent suspects.
The following wines are bottles we drank from someone else’s cellar. You just get a peak.