I have eighteen wines to tell you about from October’s home drinking, and to help my own logistics I’m going to change the format for this month and split them into three, not the usual two, parts. Short and sharp. We are going to begin with a half-dozen from Czechia, Wales, Northeast Italy, Austria, Slovakia and Germany’s Mosel. Although that’s six wines from six different countries, with the exception of the Welsh offering, they are all in some ways like distant cousins of each other.
“HELENA” 2020, DLÚHÉ GREFTY (Moravia, Czechia)
This is a new producer for me. Jaroslav Tesarik and family farm a small estate of just 2.5 hectares at Mutěnice. The organically farmed vines are split among eight different plots. “Helena” is a pale red pétnat made from the Austrian variety, Saint-Laurent, bottled on its lees so that you get that typical pétnat sediment left in the bottle. Stand it up if you want a clean (sic) wine, lay it down in the fridge for a more textured, cloudy, experience.
Helena is one of the Tesarik daughters, and I wonder whether this wine in any way mirrors her personality? It is slightly wild on the nose, but also floral. The palate bursts with strawberries and other zippy red fruits. The acids are fruity but there’s also a steely backbone here to set them off. That texture I mentioned sort of grounds the wine. It is bottled with no added sulphur. As I said, it does have a wild side without going completely AWOL. Very nice.
A new producer from Basket Press Wines.
“ORANGE WINE” ALBARIÑO 2018, ANCRE HILL (Monmouth, Wales (UK))
Ancre Hill was founded by Richard and Joy Morris in 2006. I have no idea whether they have, wishing to retire, found a buyer for the estate yet, but I keep enjoying their exciting biodynamic wines when I can get hold of a bottle or two. Especially as I presume 2021 will have been a challenging year, even in that sweet dry spot of South Wales.
These 12 hectares of south-facing slopes are planted to an incredible diversity of vines. This cuvée is principally made from the Galician variety, Albariño, vinified as 100% whole bunches. The fruit receives a 30-50-day maceration (long) and the wine is finished off in a mix of oak and stainless steel, on lees with no added sulphur.
The resulting colour is a fairly dark orange-bronze. There is real depth in the bouquet, and complexity, everything from lifted orange citrus to deep and rich butterscotch. The palate is dry and textured. It’s a real “orange wine” but the time spent in bottle has undoubtedly made it smoother, I would guess. It still retains fine acidity. It’s a complex wine, potentially challenging if you don’t like the true orange style, but very rewarding if you do. It was a good accompaniment to one of my curries, a role which for my palate orange wines often enjoy.
Of course, the label has to be a modern classic.
I pounced on this at Butlers Wine Cellar (Brighton) the minute I saw they had some. You might find some via Les Caves de Pyrene. If you fancy owning a Welsh vineyard, contact Savills.
“SONNTALER” VERNATSCH ALTE REBEN 2019, KELLEREI KURTATSCH (Alto-Adige, Italy)
I’ve been trying to put right my drift away from the wines of Italy’s Südtirol over the past couple of years, purely I must stress due to availability, but I must say that it’s a long while since I’ve drunk Schiava. This regional mainstay of Northeast Italy, or at least its Adige Valley, is also known as Trollinger in Germany, but its one-time ubiquity has faded fast. Except that it can make lovely wines which are very much underrated, especially when taken a little more seriously, as with this Alte Reben (old vine) cuvée from the Kurtatsch (aka Cortaccia) co-operative.
The vines are grown on picture postcard slopes, usually basking in sunshine at reasonable altitude (I say usually because I do remember the autostrade running like a river and snow on the Brenner one June). The key to this wine’s success is a mix of clones (including some rare Schiava Grigia) and truly old vines. Vine age in this wine is between sixty and ninety years. The soils are sandy, and prone to erosion up here at around 400 masl.
Fermentation is in stainless steel before five months in 6,000-litre Slavonian oak casks, during which time it undergoes malo. The result is a wine that is a little different to the international norm, and all the better for it. The clean red fruits are vibrant and darker cherry adds a slightly lower note. The more unusual character comes from orange citrus underneath a floral (rose perhaps) note on the bouquet. I’d say it errs towards a leaner rather than fat style, which has a little (but not too much) in common with Touraine Cabernet Franc (in style and weight, not flavour).
Available from several independents, mine came from Butlers Wine Cellar, but if they don’t have any left, Solent Cellar does (£23).
NEUBURGER 2017, WEINGUT KISS, LEITHABERG DAC (Burgenland, Austria)
Neuburger is another variety which has virtually lost even the tiny bit of popularity it may have had until fairly recently, when it has seen a modicum of a renaissance. Those producers who do bottle a varietal Neuburger often charge a decent price for its rarity value, so the chance to drink one for less than £20 is an uncommon experience.
It doesn’t have pretentions to great complexity, undergoing a fairly simple vinification in stainless steel, with no oak. However, it’s far from being a simple wine. It hails from a single vineyard, it has some skin contact to add texture, and you will notice it has some bottle age. It is also from fruit grown on a prime site within the Leithaberg DAC, hilly terrain around the north of the Neusiedlersee, close to the Kiss family’s base at Jois. Of course, the skin contact has allowed them to use minimal added sulphur.
This is what Joelle of importer Alpine Wines said: “We looked for a good Neuburger for three years until we found this…we met Verena Kiss at ProWein…this is how it should be done”.
I’d agree, especially for £19 retail via Solent Cellar, who seem now to be out of stock (and possibly for a little bit less direct from Alpine Wines, currently £16.80 on offer…something to help alleviate the cost of purchasing a few of their superb but rarely cheap Swiss wines).
Joelle calls this an orange wine. It’s not a long way along that spectrum compared, say, to the Ancre Hill, mentioned above. But it does have that medium weight, texture and unoaked complexity which, as Joelle rightly says, makes it a good accompaniment to foods which are difficult to pair with wine (a genuine orange wine trait, which is why I often drink orange wines with my Indian cooking). Layered flavours include both crisp and fresh apple and stewed apple, with a notable mineral salinity.
“BACCARA” 2017, VINO MAGULA (Slovakia)
I seem to drink a lot of different bottles from this Slovakian producer, in the same way that I drink lots of Petr Koráb from next door Czech Moravia. This talented family manages to farm around ten hectares now, all biodynamically, around Sucha Nad Parnou. The soils are deep loess packed with minerals, including a high proportion of calcium. Very low rainfall also stamps its mark on the terroir.
The grape blend in this cuvée contains, as the main component, Rosa (a variety I’d never heard of), with Frankovka (aka Blaufränkisch), Modry Portugal (aka Blauer Portugieser) and another obscure variety, Dunaj. The result is a lovely rose-scented palish red, but the palate has more weight than the colour and scent suggest. You get crisp black fruits, some crunchy tannins and some bite. It’s structured but massively fresh, and a long way from heavy. One of those lighter reds (12.5% abv) which is just gorgeous with food. It has a beautiful, almost ethereal, scent which enhances what’s on the plate, but with the grip to match anything which is not too overpowering.
In some ways this wine is made in a style which has been disappearing, not helped by the passion for thick and soupy wines since the 1980s. Lighter reds are now fighting back in many of the regions of Central Europe, and now almost everywhere else. It is perhaps one of the great legacies of natural wine.
The beautiful label (Magula have been upping their game here, embellishing their vine concept with colour) shows the Black Baccara rose after which the cuvée is named.
Imported by Basket Press Wines.
“LITTLE BASTARD” LANDWEIN , JAN MATTHIAS KLEIN (Mosel, Germany)
Always one of the most interesting wines from Kröv’s great experimenter, Jan makes this provocatively named gem from vines between ten and forty-five years old. It’s a white blend of Riesling (55%), Sauvignon Blanc (30%), Müller-Thurgau (10%) and 5% Muscat (although we need to find room for a splash of Bacchus, apparently).
The fruit is spread around the village, but most comes from Kröv’s Letterlay site. It’s not a vineyard which sits alongside the Mosel’s great names, but the terroir is grey slate. The Sauvignon Blanc comes off Kinheimer Hubertslay. I bet not many of you knew there was Sauvignon Blanc in the Mosel, but you may well know that Jan has been planting all sorts of varieties as a test to see what may work with climate change. This is why his wines, other than those under the Staffelter Hof label, are all Landwein.
The regime here is stainless steel for purity of flavour but a little skin-contact for added complexity. CO2 is added in lieu of sulphur. You don’t need any florid language to describe this wine. It’s just a zingy glass of pure joy, Joy as an Act of Resistance (to coin an album title). I think the label and name tell you enough about what the wine inside the bottle will be like. One look and you’ll pretty much know whether you will like it. Needless to say, I’m a big fan of JMK.
Jan Matthias Klein is imported by Modal Wines.