As I said yesterday, I’m publishing October’s “Recent Wines” in three parts, six wines in each. Part 2 here represents six wines, or rather five wines and one bottle of spirits we finished, drunk on one evening in mid-October, with two very good friends whose wine passion mirrors our own. We drink a lot of natural wine with these particular friends, but at the same time we do like to raid the cellar for a few classics, and that is what we did. Four of the wines are French, the other being a rather desirable Austrian. The spirit was rum, a rather special Spanish one.
CAMPANIA REMENSIS 2015, CHAMPAGNE BÉRÊCHE (Champagne, France)
In a world where Champagne is getting more and more expensive by the year, Bérêche has become a rare treat, at least at this level of their portfolio. For a few years after I first discovered this Grower Maison on the crest of the Craon de Ludes at the top of the Montagne de Reims, I was lucky enough to visit them most years, until just before Covid intervened. I was always extended a warm welcome by Raphaël, or occasionally his mother, which makes me genuinely sad that I’ve not been able to return for at least three years. I worry that they will not remember me because in terms of fame, Bérêche has moved on (and up).
Campania is firmly among my half-dozen favourite Rosé Champagnes, as it deserves to be on any list, on merit. Only 5,416 precious bottles were made in 2015, and I had just two. This one was disgorged in May 2019 and dosed Extra Brut, at 4.5g/litre. The grape blend is slightly towards Pinot Noir (60%), with 30% Chardonnay and 10% Meunier. Raphaël and Vincent grow exceptional Pinot Noir, their Coteaux Reds being among the very best in the whole region. Around 5% of the final blend consists of the same Pinot Noir for colour.
That colour is on the pale pink to orange spectrum, elegant and very attractive to the eye. The bouquet is light but concentrated, with notes of pomegranate and raspberry. The bouquet in itself is enough, but the palate has zippy red fruits and lovely salinity, bound together around a stream of fine bubbles which spiral into the space above the elegant liquid. A star of a wine. Stellar, in fact.
The UK agent for Bérêche is Vine Trail.
GLÜCK 2015, WERLITSCH (Südsteiermark, Austria)
Ewald and Brigitte Tscheppe are the dynamic yet thoughtful couple behind Werlitsch. They are star biodynamic winemakers, although they do not appear in the first edition of Stephen Brook’s book on the Wines of Austria (perhaps the second edition rectified that omission?).
Ewald makes biodynamic wine from around Glanz an der Weinstrasse, in South Styria. It’s easy for those of us who love this region to forget that many may not know where it is, let alone have drunk wine from there. Styria (Steiermark) hugs the southern border with Slovenia, west of both Burgenland and Slovenia’s border with Hungary. Eight hectares of Chardonnay (known here as Morillon), Sauvignon Blanc and Welschriesling are planted on the local “opok” marls, and the beautiful wines which result are made with minimal intervention, a path the couple have been following since 2004.
Glück blends Morillon with Sauvignon Blanc, a variety which the region does especially well (Styria is perhaps the hidden gem of Sauvignon Blanc). This cuvée sees serious skin contact. Initial ageing is in large old wood but it is “bottled” in a ceramic flask, which those who use such containers (quite a few Austrians these days, and Metamorphika in Catalonia) do so with great results.
We get a complex mix of yellow fruit with citrus aromas along with a little tannic texture. It’s a wine which gains complexity in the glass, but I still suggest serving it just cool rather than cold. Savour it almost as you would a Vin Jaune, although subtlety in this case is its greatest asset, easily lost if washed down straight from the fridge. Of course, everyone raves about the wonderful “Ex Vero” cuvées from Werlitsch, rightly so, but ignoring Glück would be a terrible shame.
Available on occasion from both Newcomer Wines and Littlewine.
POMMARD CLOS DES EPENEAUX 1er CRU 2002, COMTE ARMAND (Burgundy, France)
This Monopole Clos has been in the family of Comte Armand since 1826, but in 1999 winemaking was taken over by the now very famous Benjamin Leroux, who has taken the domaine into biodynamics from field to bottle. The 5.5-hectare vineyard, which was the only site owned by Comte Armand until more vines were purchased in the mid-1990s, sits on the Beaune side of the village, above the D973, close to where it splits from the D974.
Of the vintage 2002 I’d like to quote Jasper Morris (Inside Burgundy 1st edn 2010, BBR, 2nd edn just published). “This has always been a favourite of Burgundy professionals. The whites are fine and crisp and show their vineyard characteristics. Those comments go for the reds as well, which are pure and precise – without the weight to be considered among the great vintages, but nonetheless a year to give real pleasure.”
How do those comments stack up here? This bottle was magnificent, at least to my palate, one which used to drink fine Burgundy with some regularity until a decade ago, but less now (it’s basically down to the few cases left in the cellar, cost again you see). It had certainly retained a touch of youthfulness by way of structure, yet it developed well until, typically, it really began to hit its stride as the bottle was almost empty.
Very plummy, I’d say, with some darker fruit emerging, followed by winter spices. Another wine which is both concentrated but elegant (more elegant than can sometimes be the Pommard norm). I would argue that it may not be a truly great vintage, but this could be almost a great wine. It’s certainly a wine which will age further, but it gave immense pleasure to the four of us who got to drink this solitary bottle.
Originally purchased from Berry Brothers & Rudd, I believe.
CHÂTEAU LANGOA-BARTON 2001, SAINT-JULIEN (Bordeaux, France)
Langoa was purchased by Hugh Barton in the 1820s just before he became owner of the more famous Léoville estate. I say more famous, because Léoville was classified as a Second Growth in the Médoc’s 1855 Classification and has gone on to be considered a “Super Second”, a member of that elite group of Deuxieme Cru estates which consistently challenge the Premier Grand Cru Classés. Langoa-Barton was classified Third Growth (Troisieme Cru) in 1855 and whilst always being acknowledged to be great value, a firm favourite in Britain, it has never reached the same level as Léoville in popular mythology. Or has it?
This bottle was not decanted, and initially I thought this a sound decision as I’d say that the fruit seemed a little attenuated. However, with time the fruit actually built in the glass, accompanied by some very nice tertiary elements. These I would characterise as classic cedar wood aromas, delicious savoury notes, and a noticeable lick of either mint or eucalyptus (noticeable but not pronounced). My initial thoughts were turned on their head as, instead of declining, the wine flourished when poured (into, unusually, Zalto Universals, the heathen you may say).
I understand that Neal Martin gave this vintage of Langoa 93 Points (FWIW) in September this year, and apparently (I am told) wrote that the 2001 Langoa matches Léoville from the same vintage. It was a very lucky bottle.
I don’t suppose you’ll find a 2001 that easily, though buy it if you do. Justerinis sell Langoa, but I’m pretty sure this bottle came from the “factory outlet” (aka warehouse) of Berry Brothers at Basingstoke. In any event, it had been in my cellar a long time.
VIN JAUNE “EN SPOIS” 2005, STÉPHANE & BÉNÉDICTE TISSOT (Jura, France)
I first met Stéphane Tissot just after he’d returned from overseas to the family domaine, A(ndré) & M(ireille) Tissot at Montigny-les-Arsures, just up the road from Arbois. I watched this talented young man transform the wines of this domaine from very good to great, as well as expanding production into what seems like an almost infinite number of cuvées.
Amid all of these wines there are four things this great winemaker does, in my opinion, better than anything. First, he makes some Chardonnay which wholly merits the description “great”. Second, he makes some of the very finest sweet wines in the whole Jura region, in my opinion only rivalled by three or four other producers. Thirdly, he has been broadly responsible for the introduction of amphora into the region, something he’s maybe not had the credit for. Fourthly, he makes some amazing “sous voile” wines.
In the latter style there are several Vin Jaune plus, in more recent years, wine from a parcel at Château-Chalon. This wine featured here comes from an Arbois vineyard called “En Spois”, one of the first sites Stéphane planted in the early 1990s, whose vines are now nicely mature. Wink Lorch rightly says (Jura Wine, 2014, Wine Travel Media) that the Savagnin turned into Vin Jaune from this vineyard is usually the first of the domaine’s Vin Jaune wines which enters its drinking window.
It’s worth making a few comments on Vin Jaune drinking dates. These wines are aged under a thin veil of flor for between six and seven years before bottling, the wine being released at a ceremony, La Percée, held at the beginning of the February of the seventh year after harvest. This means that when young, just released, Vin Jaune appears on a restaurant wine list the consumer often imagines they are getting an “older” wine with greater bottle age.
As a rule, Vin Jaune needs ageing, and occasionally with top wines, literally the longer the better. Some smaller producers in Arbois are now making Vin Jaune which is remarkably appealing when young. So, whilst this cuvée will drink well younger than, say, Stéphane’s Château-Chalon, or more oak-influenced Vin Jaune “Bruyère”, it’s all relative.
“En Spois”, the site, is made up of clay/marl soils, not easy to farm biodynamically, as Stéphane Tissot does. The result is very elegant, a wine which is medium-weight despite a higher degree of alcohol than some other Vin Jaune (15% here). It is still youthful but also becoming complex with a remarkably long finish. My taste impressions are of walnut and ginger, dry, textured, a little saline. As always, serve at room temperature and sip, so that complexity builds on your tongue. Once opened it will last days, and a good long period to breath beforehand would be a good call too. Many people will open a Vin Jaune in the morning before drinking, occasionally the night before. Nothing goes better with nicely aged Comté.
Purchased at the domaine’s shop in Arbois, on the main square (Place de la Liberté). Note that there are a number of Tissot domaines, also with Arbois shops (as indeed there is more than one Overnoy in Pupillin). I have seen a UK wine merchant calling one of the others by just the Tissot surname, which could at best be confusing to consumers, considering that without dismissing the other Tissots, this one (also known still as Domaine A&M Tissot) is the world class address.
LA BOTA DE RON 65, BOTA NO SINGLE CASK, EQUIPPO NAVAZOS (Jerez, Spain)
This release from Equipo Navazos is one of a line of crafted artisan spirits, of which I managed to obtain, in the end, three bottles, along with a single Gin. This was the last bottle of rum, and indeed the last of the last bottle, as we drained what little there was left at the end of this long evening of food and wine (lots consumed, but I think I was saved by avoiding a cigar to go with it).
The rum was aged in a single Oloroso cask and bottled in Jerez in the spring of 2016. I am not sure of the origin of the sugar cane, but the spirit is “Muy Viejo”, aged between fifteen and twenty years. The whole of the butt was emptied to fill just 800 x 70cl bottles. Alcohol was reduced to 44%, more balanced than the cask strength of 50%.
Complex, smooth and with such depth to it, remarkably elegant aromatics but a punchy palate, which tapers to great length. No additives whatsoever were introduced and unlike most rum, no chilled filtration took place. A very complete product of stratospherically high quality.
A direct purchase, but Alliance Wine is EN’s UK agent. Some of the Equipo Navazos spirits are released from time to time, including from the very latest releases, single cask malt and grain whiskies (Botas 104 and 105).
As all of these wines were consumed over something between four and five hours on one day, it’s worth saying something about the appreciation of multiple fine wines. Occasionally I might go to a dinner or lunch for ten or twelve people, and more often than not these days the rule is to bring two bottles each. Such events can be spectacular, especially at a special restaurant (like the Sportsman, which I’ve had to pull out of this week for family reasons). But I’m frankly more often than not a little inebriated after such events and sometimes the wines can be a blur.
With a dinner such as this one, for four close, wine loving, friends/partners, the wines fall more into focus. There may have been plenty of alcohol consumed, but not too many bottles to blur (in both senses) the distinctions between them. Even if some are drinking less than others, I would still end up drinking less than two bottles. Equally, the pain that is loading the dishwasher and hand washing all the glasses is definitely less onerous than getting a couple of trains, with taxis either end, home again. However, some such meals are still worth it.