This is the last part of my resume of interesting wines drunk during October. This half-dozen bottles, all gems in their own way, travels around a fairly small part of Europe, with one exception, but they are all from different countries. We travel to Alsace (one of the coolest wines of the year), Slovenia, Tenerife (Spain’s Canary Isles), Burgenland (don’t I always), Baden and Piemonte.
RED Z’EPFIG VIN DE FRANCE , LAMBERT SPIELMANN (Alsace, France)
My first ever trip to Alsace was rather a long time ago, but we stayed in Itterswiller, only just up the road from Epfig. It’s a beautiful part of Alsace, and the villages here and to the north (Andlau and Mittelbergheim, to which we walked on that trip) are now the location for some of the whole region’s most exciting wine. Epfig was a bit of a backwater, except that it was, and is, the home of the Ostertag family.
Now, Epfig has a new wine name. Lambert is not from a wine family, so he didn’t inherit vines. He’s put together around two-and-a-half-hectares whilst at the same time doing what most young people do in the region, picking up work with more established names who can pay him a wage whilst teaching him along the way. As a musician as well as vigneron, he not only makes superb wines which are already garnering plaudits, he’s adorning the bottles with striking labels which reflect his wide musical tastes (see “This is Muska”, Recent Wines January 2021, Part 1).
Lambert was lucky to purchase vines which had already been farmed organically for two decades. This allows him to follow his Slow Wine and biodynamic methods using zero intervention where possible. Having vines over a large number of sites and different terrains does allow him both diversity of fruit, and a hedge against climatic threats like frost, hail and rot.
Red Z’Epfig is a homage to Led Zeppelin. I think, however, what goes for the label does not necessarily go for the wine, because although this red weighs in at 13.5% abv, it isn’t “heavy”. Unusually, for red wine from Alsace, this is only 50% Pinot Noir (off limestone), the other half of the blend being made up from the pink-skinned Pinot Gris, off clay. The grapes all see a two-week whole bunch fermentation followed by nine months in old wood.
The wine is gorgeously scented with red fruits. The palate echoes red fruits with a spicy finish and a mineral texture despite the richness (and alcohol). That alcohol is well hidden by this evidently very good winemaker’s lightness of touch. It’s more “fruity and zippy” than heavy metal and Zeppy.
Imported by Tutto Wines. They generally place a few of the Spielmann wines in their online public shop, Tutto a Casa. It can be hit and miss as to what’s there (rarely the whole range), but I’m pretty sure I didn’t see this one when looking the other day. However, it’s always worth contacting Tutto. This merchant has some stunningly good producers in their portfolio.
RENSKI RIZLING “DOLIUM”, ZORJAN (Tinjka Gora, Slovenia)
Božidar Zorjan is perhaps one of the great mystics of wine. His whole philosophy and the way this interacts with his farming (not just winemaking) is fascinating. A lot of cosmology is involved but that’s not the half of it. There’s an excellent post on the Les Caves de Pyrene web site from 13 August 2018 which is far too long to paraphrase or quote from here, but I would recommend it if you have time (the link is here). He is one of the few producers I know, for example, to ban mobile phones in the winery. He farms with his wife, Marija, in the Stajerska region of the part of Styria which lies within Northern Slovenia (the greater part of Styria/Steiermark being within Southern Austria).
Božidar uses a whole selection of different vessels in which to ferment and age his wines, but those under the Dolium label all see clay qvevri for fermentation. These clay vessels used to be outside, under the stars, buried in the vineyard, although it might have been Simon Woolf who told me he’s since brought them indoors (?).
This is the second “Dolium” I’ve drunk. The first, way back in December 2019, was made from Muscat Ottonel. This wine is made from Renski Rizling. The name kind of gives it away that this is classic Rhine Riesling, as opposed to Laski-Rizling, or Welschriesling as it is better known in Austria.
The bouquet unfurls slowly on opening but it’s worth waiting for the herbs, orange and grapefruit citrus and apricot which follow. The colour is a rather spectacular orange-bronze in the glass. The palate is orange and apricot, smooth and rich. Long, complex, remarkable (it truly is special). I don’t know the vintage, but there’s a Lot Number, L01/900. Perhaps someone out there knows?
Les Caves de Pyrene is the lucky importer.
TÁGANAN TINTO 2018, ENVÍNATE (Tenerife, Canary Is., Spain)
The four young people who formed Envínate after graduating from university together have joint projects in several parts of Spain, but I think their work on Tenerife is what they are currently best known for. One of the four, Roberto Santana, is from the Canary Isles and in fact made wine for the other great producer on the island, Suertes del Marqués, so perhaps it was natural that they explored the viticulture there. They did so at just the right time, with the wines of Tenerife literally bursting onto the Spanish, and international, wine scene on the back of the natural wine movement.
Envínate make a number of wines on Tenerife, but Táganan comes from one of the wildest and most inaccessible parts of the island. Anaga is a small region up in the northeast, and Táganana is a small village up in the mountains, very difficult to get to. The great thing about the vines here is that phylloxera didn’t even get a sniff of the place, so all the vines are ancient, and on their own roots. The slopes, at over 300 masl, are steep but the soils are sandy volcanic bassalt, which the louse doesn’t like in any case. Some vines are over 300 years old, but none are said to be younger than seventy.
The first Táganan wines were produced from the 2012 harvest but they have quickly made a great name for themselves. Intervention is minimal, the Listán Negro and Malvasia Negro (with other assorted varieties popping up in the field mix) grapes are placed in open fermenters as whole clusters. Ageing is for a little under a year in 500-litre oak.
The result is soft, haunting, fruit. The wine has a ghostly lightness on the palate via red fruits, but a little bite comes in by way of developing herbal notes and the faintest whiff of espresso. Sort of elegantly light on the palate but ever so slightly raw.
Envínate is imported into the UK by Indigo Wine. See also, perhaps, thesourcingtable.com.
“INTERGALACTIC” 2020, RENNER UND SISTAS (Burgenland, Austria)
I don’t plan to re-introduce the Renners of Gols here, Rennersistas Stefanie and Susanne, along with brother Georg now on the team. I drink their wines as often as any, and write about them frequently. This is one of those wine producers whose wines really mean a lot to me. I’ve been with them, so to speak, from the start and I truly believe in what they are doing. I won’t pretend I can be very objective when describing the wines. I’m afraid you’ll have to accept that. But they have become well known enough that my voice is now just one among many, and of course their place among some very influential women winemakers in Camilla Gjerde’s new book can only cement that position.
Intergalactic is one of the new cuvées from the Renners, a kind of white brother or sista to the red “Superglitzer”. Susanne and Stefanie planted this vineyard as a field blend in 2017, after they took over from their father. Their early wines were made as single varietals in the main, as they wanted to get to know their varieties, but blends are what have always interested them most.
We have Welschriesling, Grüner Veltliner, Gewüuztraminer and Muskat Ottonel, plus a tiny bit of Chardonnay. Four days on skins and then ageing on lees in old oak. Carbon dioxide protects the biodynamic fruit in place of sulphur. The cuvée is well named. It’s like a blast through the universe on the tongue and feels like you are colliding with the stars. Vibrantly fresh and soulful. Simple in some ways, yet like a good Gemischter Satz, it is deceptively beguiling.
This will cost £22 at Littlewine, or you could try importer Newcomer Wines.
GUTEDEL 2019, BÄDISCHER LANDWEIN, WASENHAUS (Baden, Germany)
Wasenhaus is the project of Alex Götze and Christoph Wolber who met not in Germany but in Meursault. They got together to make wine in Baden, in Southwestern Germany, at Staufen-im-Breisgau. We are in a land bounded to the west by the Rhine and Alsace, and to the east by the protective mass of the Black Forest, southwest of Freiburg (im Breisgau) and the Kaiserstuhl.
Gutedel is, of course, known as Chasselas in the francophone world, but the wine I consider to be possibly the best Chasselas I know is made under its German name, a little further south in the same region by Hanspeter Ziereisen.
Alex and Christoph, like the Ziereisens, have some very old vines. Two-thirds of the grapes for this entry level bottling are direct pressed to ferment in old wood whilst the remaining third are allowed eight days skin contact. Everything then goes into old wood for just six months before bottling fresh.
The wine is very savoury and it has just a touch more weight than the 10% abv on the label might suggest. It’s very different to the zippy and light, prickly Chasselas of the closest regions in Switzerland to plant it. It’s not rich as such, but the old vines and skin contact give it a bit of complexity, an extra dimension perhaps. It shares the savouriness of Chasselas from Switzerland. There is a tiny citrus element, perhaps distant lime, like a pinprick, but the overall impression is herbal and slightly biscuity.
This wine can also be had from both Littlewine and Newcomer Wines.
BOCA 2013, VALLANA (Piemonte, Italy)
Okay, this one sneaked into November’s drinking, you only saw a picture of it on Instagram this morning, but it makes up a neat half-dozen wines for Part 3, so a bit of cheating is fine, okay? It means you get a glimpse of Alison Bolton’s lovely cornflowers twice in one day.
Say “Piemonte” and most wine lovers will think of Barolo and Barbaresco and then move on from Nebbiolo to Barbera and Dolcetto. But Piemonte covers a vast area, most of Northwest Italy, and as Nebbiolo from those two famous regions becomes as expensive as fine Burgundy, so people have begun to look further afield. Some ripe pickings can be found in Roero but one doesn’t have to travel far from the Nebbiolo heartland to get there.
It’s quite a drive to the northern appellations of Piemonte, and I think perhaps the northernmost of all of these is Boca. Boca sits just to the north of Gattinara and Ghemme in an area known locally as the Colline Novaresi, but the Boca DOC sits within a UNESCO Biosphere Park based around an ancient volcano.
This is the region of Alto Piemonte which you will hear more and more of as small importers like Ultravino discover the hidden gems away from most (not all) of the prying eyes of Barolo producers eager for inexpensive but promising vineyards. As Jancis et al point out in the current World Atlas of Wine (8th edn, Mitchell Beazley), Alto Piemonte was once, albeit a long time ago, “more highly regarded than the then-emergent Barolo” (p156).
Antonio Vallana’s company is famous among lovers of Piemontese wines. His bottles from decades old vintages were still available until quite recently, and in the good old days (1990s) his “Spanna”, sold with decent bottle age, was a regular in your local Majestic Wine Warehouse.
Spanna is the name up in the north for Nebbiolo, but this Boca pairs that variety with 30% Vespolina, a variety also known as Croattina. It has a parent or offspring relationship with Nebbiolo and is thought to be autochthonous to the wider regions of Piemonte and Lombardy. The grapes see 18 months in large oak, but it is usual for Vallana to give the wine good bottle age before release. I think the current vintage, at least the one I bought most recently, is 2016.
The colour is brick red, unmistakably that of Nebbiolo. The scents mix quite strident red fruit with an ethereal rose petal bouquet. Deeper and darker scents follow, perhaps coffee. The texture is tannic, that of a still youthful wine, but the tannins are not abrasive. In fact, with food (including some nicely roasted assorted vegetables with a nice bit of browning) it went splendidly. I’d call it a delicious, mouth-filling, winter wine.
The back label quite rightly claims that this wine will age for decades. But do we want to keep our Boca as long as a famous producer’s Barolo? I think we should, as a rule, but I’m now too old to buy any wine which is going to sit beneath the ground for thirty years. For me, this is a wine to savour and enjoy in its primary state, with good hearty food.
There may be a little 2013 around, and probably more of 2016. I bought mine from The Solent Cellar, but I think they only have some left as part of one of the excellent mixed cases they do (a Vallana six-pack for just under £160, which includes a bottle of their excellent Nebbiolo Metodo Classico, well worth a sniff, I promise). No luck there, then try Butlers Wine Cellar (which has always been hot on Piemonte). I’m sure that the Vallana wines are also available in many other independents.