Following on from Part One, we have another pretty eclectic mix of wines. For those who think I drink too much from Austria and Jura, or even Czech wine, well, there aren’t any here. Instead, I give you a Portuguese white wine from Alentejo, one of the finest wines being made in Alsace (well, a minority view, perhaps, but I’m not alone in this assertion), a South Australian Nero d’Avola, a Grower Champagne whose producer’s reputation is growing rapidly, a still English Rosé in its first vintage, a classic English Sparkling Wine and a Manzanilla from my old friend Jesùs and amigos at Equipo Navazos.
“FITAPRETA BRANCO” ANCESTRAL 2019, ANTÓNIO MAÇANITA & DAVE BOOTH (Alentejo, Portugal)
In the couple of years before Covid I began to explore António Maçanita’s wines from the Azores Wine Company. They are so good that I found the style of his “Fitapreta” red from Alentejo (Recent Wines, May Part 2) a little too modern for my palate, or indeed should I say “old school” in a modern context of big and shiny…and 14.5% abv? The red was unquestionably very good, but just not really the kind of wine I drink too often nowadays. However, I did really enjoy the corresponding white.
The Branco is a complex blend comprising Roupeiro, Rabo de Ovelha, Antão Vaz, Tamarez, Alicante Branco and Arinto. Around 7% of the wine saw oak, the rest stainless steel, but I don’t know a lot about its fermentation (ie separate or co-fermented?). Reasonably low sulphur regime noted.
However it may have been made, you get a lovely dry wine with fresh lemon acidity, made much more interesting by a savoury edge. The vines are old, between 30-to-47-years of age. The alcohol is perfectly balanced at 12.5%, yet there’s still a little weight, even gras, or perhaps sinew, in a wine that has zero flab. Very much a food wine as a result of the savoury element. As with a lot of Portuguese white wines, it may well age into something interesting, but if I had another bottle, I’d still drink it now. I just loved the freshness.
What makes this more enticing is the UK price of £15. It’s somewhat cheaper still in Portugal. However, I don’t know about you but last time I imported wine from the EU I decided to avoid doing so again. The shipping cost was stupid. Better to phone up Butlers Wine Cellar (Brighton).
SI ROSE 16-17, CHRISTIAN BINNER (Alsace, France)
Binner’s “Si Rose” (that’s Rose, not Rosé) is legend. It is made from old vine Pinot Gris (35%) and Gewurztraminer (65%) from diverse parcels of oolitic limestone near the family’s home village of Ammerschwihr. Farming is wholly biodynamic. The cuvée is made up from equal parts of both vintages (2016 and 2017) with the 2016 seeing a long, eight-month, maceration whilst the 2017 part of the cuvée received just 8 days on skins. Aged in 100-year-old oak foudre, it was bottled in spring 2018. I’ve aged it further, beyond the release of subsequent blends.
It’s a remarkable wine, really complex. The primary notes on both nose and palate are within the “orange” family of citrus, with herbal touches and a hint of yellow peach moving to apricot. As the wine warms it expresses complex umami notes. It’s a powerful wine, both in terms of abv and also in terms of its affect on the drinker. I find this one of the most profound wines I buy, frankly. This is why I chose to age this bottle, and it was a good call.
The name, Si Rose, hints at the “rose petal” nuances which, you will note, I haven’t mentioned (on past experience age has replaced them here). I was also surprised to learn recently (I didn’t know) that “Si Rose”sounds like “cirrhose” in reference to the wine’s liver colour. It has darkened just a touch in my cellar. But I still love it.
Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene although I think this particular bottle came from Littlewine.
NDV NERO D’AVOLA 2016, BRASH HIGGINS (South Australia)
Brad Hickey makes most of his wine using home-sourced fruit from McLaren Vale, and this Sicilian variety comes from the well-known Omensetter vineyard there. The wine has more in common with Sicily than just the variety because it’s part of Brad’s amphora project.
NDV saw a whopping 180 days on skins in 2016, in 200-litre, beeswax-lined, amphorae which are made locally, not imported. Fermentation is with wild yeasts and sulphur is minimal. Only 300 cases were made of this vintage.
It’s a beautiful wine, my favourite of Brad’s reds (though almost a close call with, perhaps, his Cabernet Franc). It has the typical “ferrous” and earthy freshness from the amphora and a certain richness (alcohol is a perfectly balanced 13.5%). It feels more restrained than the bigger wines from the Vale, doubtless downto the amphora-freshness. Its long stay in the clay hasn’t dulled the fruit one bit.
I have met Brad because, as I’ve said before, he’s originally a Chicago native and his best buddy at school ended up working with my wife. So, that contact aside, I still believe Brad makes some remarkable wines (including an impossible to source marvel of a nod to Vin Jaune, but made from Chardonnay, called “Bloom”, and a lovely amphora Zibibbo). They really do merit exploration. Including “NDV”.
I think this was one of the last two bottles which I snaffled from Bin Two Wines (Padstow), although Berkmann Wine Cellars now imports Brash Higgins and I think they may have added “NDV” to an initially smaller selection of Brad’s Wines.
FOSSE GRELY BRUT NATURE 2015, CHAMPAGNE RUPPERT-LEROY (Champagne, France)
Gérard and his daughter, Bénédicte, originally set up this domaine, based just outside Essoyes. This is almost as close to Burgundy as you can get in Champagne. Bénédicte converted the domaine to biodynamics under the mentorship of Pierre Overnoy in Pupillin, and Bernard Gautherot (Vouette & Sorbet) in her own region. She also follows a regime whereby she adds no dosage and no sulphur to the wine. It’s very much “natural wine” here.
The blend of this cuvée is equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the 2015 vintage, off argile-rouge terroir. There is more clay in the Aube than the chalk of further north. It may make the region more suitable for Pinot, but Chardonnay excels in the right places. Fosse Grely was disgorged in January 2018, so saw a decent time on lees. It’s a very classy Champagne, initially floral but then opening to rich fruit (citrus and peachy tones) with more complex classic hazelnut developing as the wine warms and the bubbles soften.
I think there are many Growers who are gaining a very high reputation now (not least the aforementioned Bernard Gautherot), but Ruppert-Leroy is definitely up there with all of them. They are on a roll and worth checking out.
Sometimes I’m not sure where a particular bottle came from. I’ve bought this at Papilles in Paris and The Good Wine Shop in Kew, but I’m reasonably sure this bottle was from my last order with Vine Trail, whose list of Grower Champagnes is enviable, if wallet-damaging.
“DANCER IN PINK” 2020, BLACK CHALK WINES (Hampshire, UK)
This is the newly released, first still wine, from the new star in English Sparkling Wine, Black Chalk, based in Hampshire’s Test Valley, not far from Winchester. If you are a regular reader, you will know that I think Jacob Leadley and his assistant, Zoë Driver, have had a massive impact since launching Black Chalk around five or so years ago. Their sparkling wines are becoming established amongst the very finest in England.
The very ripe fruit of the 2020 vintage enabled Jacob to experiment and release a still wine made from a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Précose (aka Frühburgunder) and Pinot Gris. The wine is a lovely salmon-pink in colour. The ripe fruit is immediately apparent on the bouquet, with rich scents of strawberry with cherry. The mid-palate becomes creamy, adding peachy notes and the finish adds a little grippy bite, which grounds the wine. Fresh acidity tops off a lovely bottle, which others before me have rightly praised.
I’ve been unable to get hold of a tech sheet as yet, so I can’t really say a lot more about this, suffice to say that it’s very good. I don’t know whether it will make a regular appearance now, or only when the vintage provides ripe fruit. I believe most of it has sold out from this inaugural vintage. My bottle (sadly only one) came from The Solent Cellar (Lymington). I do believe that the winery has a little left. At least it is still up on the web site (£19/btl). Worth adding a couple or more into your sparkling wine order.
CUVÉE OLIVER MINKLEY BRUT 2011, BREAKY BOTTOM (Sussex, UK)
As many of you will realise, I’m drinking my way through various cuvées of Breaky Bottom. This is one of England’s, and the South Downs’s, earliest artisan producers, founded by Peter Hall and his wife in (I think) 1974, in a stunningly beautiful “bottom” of chalky loam, between Rodmell and the sea. Each year cuvées are named after friends of the family.
We have a blend of 60% Chardonnay, 30% Seyval Blanc and 5% each of Pinot Noir and Meunier. The wine is, take it from me, stunning. What makes it so good is first and foremost the ageing: six years on lees. I would also add that I don’t know of any English producer who grows better Seyval Blanc. Try the 100% Seyval cuvée, “Jack Pike” (the 2015 may still be available).
This particular cuvée is developed and evolved but retains amazing freshness too. The citrus acidity has morphed into lemon peel, a deeper lemon. The red fruits seem more autumnal and there is just that miniscule hint of “forest floor” you can get with aged Pinot (despite it being such a tiny part of this cuvée). There’s more brioche the more you let it warm up, but it doesn’t overwhelm. It’s drinking so well.
Vintage 2011, six years on lees…hard to find this degree of depth in English Sparkling Wine without cellaring it yourself. Yet I bought this wine only this summer from Butlers Wine Cellar. Despite production being small (2,604 bottles of this), Butlers, in Brighton, is usually a good source for Breaky Bottom. They have a close relationship with Peter and family, and usually stock any cuvées they can get hold of.
LA BOTA DE MANZANILLA 82, FLORPOWER MMXV, EQUIPO NAVAZOS (Jerez, Spain)
Florpower as a concept began as a Palomino Fino table wine, but recently the Navazos team has begun to bottle it also as a fortified Manzanilla. The grapes come from the “La Baja” part of the famous Pago Miraflores at Sanlúcar, south of Jerez. Single vineyard/vintage Manzanillas are still quite rare, but are starting to become popular as an expression of the region’s great terroirs. The expression of time and place is the whole reason for creating this wine.
This Bota 82 differs in the intensity of the flor influence in a wine which still, in its lightness and freshness, resembles the unfortified Florpowers. In fact, whereas the unfortified versions I’ve kept to age have definitely matured, this bottle still has a remarkable freshness. It is aged under flor in the same butts as it was fermented in, fortified from a 12% table wine to a 15% Manzanilla.
Delicate, a wine of finesse, would be its hallmarks. It’s by no means simple, though. First, take the salinity! There’s also a depth which strangely, on the bouquet, reminds me of a fine Meursault. Odd, I know, but that’s what it smells like, somewhere deep in its core. Either that or it was making me hallucinate. Either way, amazing!
The 82 might be hard to find now, but if you want to try a “Florpower Manzanilla” then Bota 101 is a similar wine, but from 2016 rather than 2015. Although made in small batches, the Equipo Navazos wines are quite widely available. I certainly see a reasonable number in small independents like Solent Cellar. For more stockist info, contact importer, Alliance Wine.