September has been a strange month. After feeling we had pretty much no summer it turned out to be mostly warm and sunny. It doesn’t quite feel like time to raid the Nebbiolo and Syrah really. So, the reds have been on the lighter side…in theory, alcohol levels not always low, but at least not too noticeable. The whites haven’t been too light either, but any alcohol has been magically balanced to perfection. I’ve chosen seven wines for this first part of September’s wines drunk at home, originating from Alsace, Jura, Rheinhessen, Burgenland, Liguria, the far north of Burgundy and Switzerland’s Valais. So, a nice varied selection. Some were cheaper than others, but all merit exploration if you come across them.
“LE BLEU” PINOT NOIR 2020, PHILIPPE BRAND (Alsace, France)
Philippe made this particular wine, bottled in litres, from grapes cultivated by a young winemaker friend, Guillaume Edel. It’s organic Pinot Noir off argilo-calcaire soils at Ergersheim. The village is of great interest, first because it is situated on the new frontier of exciting Alsace wine, directly east of Strasbourg (and just north of Molsheim). Secondly, Philippe Brand is, of course, one of the most exciting vignerons in the whole of Alsace right now, and is helping lead the charge up there.
This cuvée is just pure and total fruit which underwent a ten-day maceration before eight months in tank. Blackberry fruit makes a nice change in Pinot Noir, in a wine which is remarkably drinkable from the off. Very highly recommended.
This was purchased from a pop-up shop in Brighton’s Lanes area, Brazen. The guys behind it, Jon and James, are looking out for new premises soon, and I hope they find some. Their all-natural wine range is small but very well chosen. In the meantime, until they find more bricks and mortar, check out brazenwine.co online.
“THREE VIEWS OF A SECRET” 2019, PATRICE BEGUET (Jura, France)
Patrice is one of a handful of my favourite producers in Arbois, although technically he’s in the hamlet of Mesnay, around three minutes at most by car once you leave Arbois on the road towards Les Planches. The wider Jura region seems increasingly hit by climate change events now, mostly hail, and frost, and as in other regions, producers (especially small ones) have been forced to start a negoce label for bought in fruit. Patrice has followed Alice Bouvot’s well-established natural wine lead in this respect.
This wine, then, is an equal blend of Pinot Gris, Muscat and Gewurztraminer from Marc Humbrecht in Alsace. It’s interesting that those Jura growers who have gone down the negociant route often favour Alsace varieties for their aromatics.
The result here is an amber/orange wine which saw around four weeks on skins to produce a deep colour. I’m always struck how these wines really do seem to have scents of orange. The palate strikes me as peachy, initially, with clementine to follow. The acidity is fresh and there’s a good amount of texture (though I’d not call it tannic). This was my first bottle of this and I was extremely taken with it. In the past, Patrice has been a master of experimentation for his own wines, and this is frankly as good as anything I’ve tasted from the domaine (and trust me, I’ve tasted a lot). Superb stuff.
Patrice Beguet is imported by Les Caves de Pyrene, from whom I bought this direct.
“FREI, KÖRPER, KULTUR” 2018, WEINGUT SCHMITT (Rheinhessen, Germany)
Free (be brave to be free), Body (we are all of the same kind), Culture (cultivate your nature cleverly, consume with culture)! Not a bad philosophy. This is a red Landwein, bottled in litres, from Daniel and Bianka Schmitt who are based in the famous Rheinhessen village of Florsheim-Dalsheim, in the Wonnegau sub-district. Both Daniel and Bianka have an unimpeachable CV in terms of natural wine stages but they are lucky to be able to farm 16 hectares of vineyards now which have been in the family for two-hundred years.
This red is a blend of the unsung varieties Dornfelder and Portugieser. The fruit is all destemmed and the skins separated from the free-run juice. Maceration on the skins lasts four weeks and then the wine goes into very large, old, oak füder for ageing. The result is a very dark and deep purple wine which is mirrored in dark bramble fruit on nose and palate, exactly as you’d expect. It’s another wine with great fruit acids (like the Brand Pinot, above), which just add biodynamic “brilliance” (in both senses, really). It’s a genuinely delicious wine, and a litre is just right for glugging purposes.
Purchased from The Solent Cellar.
“FOGOSCH” GRÜNER VELTLINER 2016, JOISEPH (Burgenland, Austria)
Luka Zeichmann is the winemaker in this partnership, based in Jois at the top end of the Neusiedlersee, just south of Vienna. For the past few years I’ve been calling him a star in the making, but it takes time to see whether the wines will age well. On the evidence of this 2016, one of my favourite Joiseph cuvées, it ages magnificently.
This was only the second vintage Luka made here. Fogosch is Grüner grown on the typical limestone mixture you find here, which suits the variety (and Blaufränkisch) so well. The vines are old so benefit from roots which go down deep through the limestone’s small crevices seeking water and nutrients.
Twenty-four hours is all the grapes are macerated for and ageing is one year in old chestnut barrels. The result is a bouquet of orange marmalade, with quince and peach appearing on the palate. The wine’s savoury side is enhanced by a saline minerality. I’d say it’s rich but with restraint, not at all a flabby richness. The spine is taut. It sees minimal added sulphur. Aside from that, it’s damned gorgeous, but note, also cloudy. The sediment definitely adds to the textural quality so don’t be afraid to agitate the bottle.
I drank the 2019 Fogosch at Plateau down in Brighton this summer and it was delicious, but the extra age of this bottle from 2016 gave it another dimension. Brilliant, but definitely be wary if you are not a fan of natural wines. If you are, you really must try it. Imported by Modal Wines. Only 600 bottles made.
ROSSESE DI DOLCEACQUA 2019, TERRE BIANCHE (Liguria, Italy)
I bought a couple of bottles from this producer, a Pigato (a Vermentino clone) and this red made on Western Liguria’s rocky coast not far from the border with France. Filippo Rondinelli and Nicola Laconi are behind the Terre Bianche label. It’s not strictly a natural wine, but they do employ a minimal intervention approach to their vines (many over a hundred years old) and wines.
Destemmed Rossese grapes are fermented with indigenous yeasts to give a bright crimson red wine with an edgy bouquet of red fruits and spice. The palate has smooth fruit but the finish has bite. The wine is pretty good value at £22.50 and is one of those wines you don’t come across very often, which perhaps adds an extra level of interest. It might not match the wines which both precede and follow it here, but definitely makes the cut on its merits, and it is at the cheaper end of my monthly drinking.
This bottle came from Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton.
“CARAVAN” 2019, LE VENDANGEUR MASQUÉ (Chablis, France)
Le Vendangeur Masqué is, of course, the negociant label of Alice and Olivier De Moor, based in Courgis in France’s Chablis region. As with Patrice Beguet (above), the De Moors have been forced by the weather to spread their search for grapes. They’ve been doing this successfully for a few years now, and I get the impression they revel in the experimentation it allows. Caravan has become almost iconic amongst such wines.
We have 40% Riesling sourced from Luc Faller in Alsace, with 40% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Chardonnay from vineyards closer to home, in the Yonne. These are topped up with Aligoté from their own vineyards. Blending these varieties together is, at least in their capable hands, a genius idea. Each variety adds to the blend. The result is unusual, but in a good way.
The wine is aromatic and has a bit of gras which, in this case, results in a wine with lower alcohol (12.5%) than you might perceive from the medium weight. The balance comes from perfectly judged, sleek, green apple acidity. The whole is rounded out by twelve months in foudre with only a tiny amount of sulphur added at bottling. Mightily impressive but even more enjoyable. It has that characteristic De Moor vivacity…know what I mean?
The name “Caravan”, by the way, comes from the inspiration afforded by listening to the Duke Ellington track of the same name. The label, as with many of the De Moor wines, is as exquisite as the contents, at least for my aesthetic.
From The Solent Cellar via Les Caves de Pyrene.
DÔLE « LA LIAUDISAZ » 2017, MARIE-THÉRÈSE CHAPPAZ (Valais, Switzerland)
Some readers will know that Marie-Thérèse is one of my very favourite Swiss producers, based at Fully near Martigny, the bit of the Valais just before the Rhône turns abruptly north, towards Lac Léman. The vineyards are steep and benefit from the sun’s reflected warmth and biodynamic viticulture thrives in this lady’s experienced hands.
To many who know Swiss wine, Dôle can be a disappointment, perhaps an understatement. However, this talented producer makes more than one version of this once-derided blend, which is the same (Pinot Noir and Gamay) as Bourgogne Passetoutgrains, and despite appreciating such wines from Burgundy made by the likes of Lafarge and, in the past, Arnaud Ente, this is my favourite.
La Liaudisaz is mostly Pinot Noir (between 85-90%), topped-up with Gamay. Its crunchy fruit is balanced by a certain richness making a wine that is both smooth and savoury. Aged in old wood after a whole berry fermentation and a low sulphur regime, it’s simply gorgeous. It’s kind of a bit serious, as befits a top domaine, but then not too much. It’s after all not meant for big occasions, and all the better for it. Someone, perhaps knowing Dôle, wondered whether this 2017 might be past its best. LOL! It’s Chappaz!
I’ve bought this over the past few years from both Dynamic Vines in Bermondsey and from Alpine Wines online, and I can’t tell you which one of them sold me this bottle. As these wines are hard to come by, take a look at both importers.
Alsace grapes being vinified across Northern France!
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