My Review of 2021 will be a little different this year. It has been a tough year for many parts of the wine trade, especially so for small and specialist importers, not to mention restaurants and the rest of the hospitality trade. Dealing with smaller harvests from your producers, persuading them to continue to export to the UK with all the added hassle and paperwork now involved, and then the delays in receiving wine due to shipping and Customs problems are all bad enough. Add to that a downturn in restaurant trade and poor importer, you are probably tearing your hair out.
For many wholesalers and retailers their business has changed. Wholesalers have (mostly) embraced selling to the public, whilst many retailers I know have somehow managed to build a successful online presence, enough to offset lost restaurant sales. Equally, with people dining out less, they have been drinking more at home. A small ray of hope, especially as retail customers pay before delivery, not (in some cases) too many months after.
You won’t be surprised that I am not going to offer up any wine merchant of the year awards. Frankly they are all working very hard to keep the UK market almost as vibrant as it was before the pandemic (and Brexit). I must say, though, because I know these folks will be reading this article, that I am nothing but apologetic for my pathetic purchasing. Last year, and it seems in the first part of 2021, I bought quite a bit of wine. Of late I’ve been able to buy almost nothing. If I did buy wine from you in the second half of 2021 you are lucky. If I didn’t, then (you all know who you are, I hope), it is me who is unlucky.
Trends for 2022? I don’t really care. All I know is that there are areas of my cellar which need replenishing badly. These are Grower Champagne, Alsace, Jura, Bugey, and in general Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Northern Italy. However, as with my “want list” of records when I was a teenager, and my travel plans as they stood on the cusp of 2020, many of these wishes have slipped beyond fulfilment now.
I continue to read voraciously, and this year I have been able to read some great wine writing. As those who read my last article will know, every year yields up a few gems from the Infinite Ideas Classic Wine Library. For me, the pick of the bunch would be Anthony Rose’s Fizz (which I reviewed last week) and Matt Walls’ book on The Rhône (reviewed in March). The series isn’t always on the nail, but the sections of my wine library where these books reside grows every few months.
Another couple of books deserve mention, although the second isn’t a wine book. Camilla Gjerde’s self-published book We Don’t Want Any Crap in Our Wine is a focus on a selection of women natural winemakers. It was a joy to read, helped by an excellent selection of subjects (including Alice Bouvot, Elena Pantaleoni, Catherine Hannoun, Jutta Ambrositsch and Ariana Occhipinti), plus some lovely photos. The author is well worth supporting (camillagjerde.com, £26 UK).
My other mention is a book on cheese. I’ve read many books this year but I’m not going to tell you all of those I liked the best in other subject areas. However, cheese kind of goes with wine, and Ned Palmer’s A Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles (reviewed last February) is a story-based paperback which I am pretty sure to read again next year. Trust me, it will make you buy cheese, unless you are vegan.
Whilst we are on the subject, it is frustrating that European readers can’t get a copy of Max Allen’s latest book. “Intoxicating” is a brilliant look at the wider Australian drinks industry, booze culture and its history. You would find it fascinating and, in my opinion, there’s no better writer in the Antipodes writing today when it comes to drinks.
If have to name my Wine Book of the Year, then there is only one real candidate. Already a previous winner for his Amber Revolution (annoyingly now out as an updated second edition with, inter alia, fourteen new producers added, which I will have to find the money for next year), Simon J Woolf has joined with Ryan Opaz to write Foot Trodden, another self-published book, on the wines of Portugal.
First, this work is immaculately produced and special mention must be made of the brilliant photography of Opaz. Woolf is a compelling writer on any subject, able to blend a story with the required facts and analysis. But most of all, this is a wine book which is just right for the time. Always under-appreciated, Portugal seems finally to have gathered a critical mass of younger artisans who have a focus on their country’s traditions, whilst equally having learnt lessons from modern European wine. This is the perfect time for these stories to be told. I am sure that Foot Trodden will do the same for Portugal as Amber Revolution did for “orange” wines. Especially if it persuades more importers and retailers to give the wines a go.
I should perhaps also mention Masanobu Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution. Certainly not new, I wrote about this wonderful little book back in August, yet the review still managed to make it into my top ten most read articles of this year (see below).
At Christmas time you will see every wine writer on the planet listing their wines of the year. Many of them will be boasting of the fabulously expensive bottles they managed to consume, most of these totally out of reach of mere mortals. You will know, because you read my “Recent Wines” articles every month, that I was no less guilty than any in drinking the odd bottle of Dom Pérignon, Langoa-Barton or Clos des Epeneaux. You really don’t want to read about that kind of stuff, do you!
This year I plan to simply list a wine of the month, so twelve in total, and in the spirit of those monthly Recent Wines articles, the wines I choose will not be the most shouty, expensive or boastful bottles, but those which were the most interesting, stimulating and joyful. Don’t worry about December, I’ve already drunk the wine I know I would choose, and anyway, we might open Grand Cru Burgundy on Christmas Day (move along, nothing to see…).
Why the musical pairings? Well, music means no less to me than wine. The pairings are purely an emotional response to the wine, a mood thing, nothing more. Nor are the tracks all new. They are merely pieces I seem to have listened to a lot in 2021.
Just one month in and this is going to be difficult, isn’t it! But no mentions in despatches, one wine only or else we’ll be here all month, so here we go. Actually, it wasn’t too hard. “The Wizard” 2018 by Annamária Réka-Koncz was the last bottle of this wonderful winemaker’s wines I was to drink before her UK importer, Basket Press Wines, was able to bring in the new vintage this autumn. Off volcanic soils in Eastern Hungary, it’s a field blend of local white varieties plus Rhine Riesling with one day on skins in cask, finished in tank. Bitter orange with a mineral tightness. I think I am my own worst enemy because I feel I have contributed to these wines selling out all too quickly. Imported, as I just said (but worth repeating) by the always exciting Basket Press Wines.
Musical Pairing: Sad Waters (Nick Cave, Idiot Prayer)
Joschuari Rot 2011, Gut Oggau. Oggau lies north of Rust, a couple of kilometres as the bicycle pedals. On the Nieusiedlersee’s western shore. This red wine is made from Blaufränkisch on a mix of limestone and slate. Forty-year-old vines give complexity whilst the terroir gives the wine an almost-frightening freshness. Ten years old and life affirming. The vines for the “middle generation” wines are maturing and although the wines are getting correspondingly more expensive, they are increasingly capable of ageing to near perfection, never dulling from their vibrant youth. Dynamic Vines and Antidote Wine Bar fly the flag for Gut Oggau in the UK.
Musical Pairing: Mcdonald Trump (Lowkey, Soundtrack to the Struggle Part 2)
“Cul de Brey” 2015, Domaine de la Tournelle. I have been a passionate advocate for this Arbois domaine for a very long time. My sadness at the loss of Pascal Clairet was palpable, made worse because I saw him not all that long before his passing. However, I don’t select this wine out of sentimentality. It’s a unique blend of Trousseau, Petit Béclan and Syrah which underwent a light press before an extended 30-day maceration. The result (with zero added sulphur) is a pale, red-fruited, cherry bomb of a wine, soft fruit with perfect texture. By coincidence another wine you should find at Dynamic Vines or Antidote.
Musical Pairing: Cold Genius Awakes (the Frost Scene) (Henry Purcell, King Arthur)
“Commendatore” 2013, Domaine de L’Octavin. We drank a good few of Alice’s wines this year, but this one had rested in the cellar since my first visit to her old garage winery in an Arbois backstreet very early in the morning a number of years ago. Remember my article “The Visitor”, from August? Well, this is one wonderful person I desperately want to visit again but whether she will ever have the time to see me, who knows? Commendatore is Trousseau from 50-y-o vines in “Les Corvées”. Eight-month maceration in tank, mellow and stately, very contemplative in its softness. Alice’s UK importer is Tutto Wines.
Musical Pairing: Zombie (Fela Kuti, from the album Zombie)
Grauburgunder 2019, Renner und Sistas. Just over half way through May we opened a new wine from the Renners. Although they have professed an interest in exploring blends more, this Grauburgunder is a new varietal. Four days on skins, my bottle was a bright cherry red but it tasted almost like a white wine. Pure Heaven, for just £24. It was an absolute certainty that I would have been in Gols this year were it not for Covid. At least moments like this can still happen. Purchased from Littlewine, also imported by Newcomer.
Musical Pairing: Damaged Goods (Idles, from The Problem of Leisure, A celebration of Andy Gill & Gang of Four)
Schilcher Frizzante , Österreicher Perlwein, Ströhmeier. In some ways Styria (specifically Südsteiermark) has been a forgotten region within Austria, but lately that has changed…big time. Yet there remains a quintessentially Austrian grape variety grown in tiny quantity there, Blauer Wildbacher. The wine it makes, Schilcher, is an acquired taste for some but I love it and no more so than in this “frizzante” version from Franz and Christine Ströhmeier. Macerated ten hours for a rusty hue, second fermentation in bottle, this gentle sparkler hits you with red fruits and girders. Dry, saline…drink the first glass clear and then agitate for a cloudy second. Periodically available via Newcomer Wines and Littlewine (littlewine.com).
Musical Pairing: Fists of Fury (Kamasi Washington, Heaven and Earth)
Räuschling 2018, Bechtel-Weine. If I went for a Swiss wine in 2021, despite some gems from the Suisse Romande, then it had to be a wine from Deutschschweiz. Its time has surely come. Mathias Bechtel makes wine in Eglisau, one of Switzerland’s smallest appellations (15 hectares) not far from Zürich. This man is one of the country’s rising stars, most well known internationally for his Pinot Noirs, off complex soils at approaching 500 metres above sea level. However, this white variety is Eastern Switzerland’s maligned grape. Bechtel makes something fairly unique out of it, more fruit, more weight, a hint of arrowroot, stone fruit and pear. As usual, taking an unloved variety seriously, treating it with respect, pays dividends. Alpine Wines imports Bechtel.
Musical Pairing: Mushroom (Can, Tago-Mago)
Rakete , Jutta Ambrositsch. Jutta makes wine from a patch of soil which ranks among my favourite four stretches of vineyard on this earth. Of course, I love all her wines but Rakete is one which I would aim to drink every year. It’s a field blend, of course, and it comprises of St-Laurent, Rotburger, Blauburger, Merlot, and assorted white grape varieties. They are all close to 50 years old, on Vienna’s Kahlenberg. A four-day maceration in steel tank, no filtering and the admonition to shake before opening. Pure cranberry juice. Chill it well. Littlewine/Newcomer again. Okay, they are getting a lot of hits but don’t blame me. These genuinely are my WOTM choices.
Musical Pairing: Eleggua (Daymé Arocena from the album Cubafonía)
Si Rose [2016/17], Christian Binner. Most people drink Binner’s two-vintage blend on release. How would this old vine (PG 35%, Gewurz 65%) cuvée age? Christian uses 100-y-o large oak casks and each element is treated differently as to time on skins, from eight days to eight months. The colour is pale orange, fruit is peachy, maybe apricot and citrus, and powerful (I don’t just refer to the 14% alcohol here). Complex, a wine for reflection and surely one of Alsace’s finest? This time we turn to Les Caves de Pyrene for acquisition.
Musical Pairing: Alabama (Neil Young and the Stray Gators from the live album of 2019, Tuscaloosa)
Red Z’Epfig , Lambert Spielmann. Another Alsace wine, but this time from a new rising star, one from the north of the region. He farms a mere 2.5ha around Epfig. The focus is ecology, looking at the terroir as one living ecosystem. In this wine he takes Pinot Noir off limestone and blends it with Pinot Gris off clay. A two-week maceration (whole bunches), then nine months in large old wood results in a gorgeously scented wine, red berries and spice. The lightness of touch in the winemaking in this fruity and zippy red cloaks 13.5% abv. A producer to follow. Another import by Tutto Wines.
Musical Pairing: Wetin Man Go Do (Burna Boy, African Giant)
Khukri Rum XXX. For much of November I was in Nepal. I drank some wine, but not really the kind of wines you want to read about. I did drink a lot of Khukri Rum though, and although they make finer versions with greater age, this standard version is the equivalent of Beaujolais here – something to glug (though I’ve never drunk hot Beaujolais and a hot rum punch really does banish the cold in the hill country). It has quite a hit of vanilla sweetness and 42.8% alcohol. As they say, made with fresh Himalayan spring water, matured in wood “amidst the cool highland climate”. “The original Himalayan dark rum”. Produced in Kathmandu since 1959.
Musical Pairing: 108 Decapitations (Ugrakakarma, Mountain Grinders EP (vinyl only) but also on a Metalhammer Magazine Sampler CD #296)
Is That the Milky Way? 2019, Darren Smith. I’m writing this in the week before Christmas, but with all due respect to what might be opened over the somewhat muted (it seems) festivities, this bottle gets the final nomination for 2021. Darren made this wine at Vikki Torres Pecis’s winery on La Palma (Canary Islands) from fruit he bought from an old timer. The Albillo Criollo grapes were growing in a steep ravine in the south of the island (this variety is usually only found in the north). Released under Darren’s frankly exciting “The Finest Wines Available To Humanity” (TFWATH) label, it is both savoury and just a little exotic too. It begins great (ie not merely good) but then gets even better over the course of the bottle. Sadly, it is all gone, but Mr Smith is doing exciting stuff in some of the wine world’s farthest corners. Watch this space.
Musical Pairing: Pick Up Your Burning (Sons of Kemet, off Black to the Future)
I hope the music wasn’t too obscure to some of you. It’s just a bit of fun. I want to finish with a look at my Blog. Wideworldofwine exceeded my expectations this year. From a fraction under 40,000 views last year my stats have taken an even bigger leap, currently set to top 52,000 today. That is a number I’d never have dreamt of when, in my first full year of writing (2015), I managed 7,188. A little more than half of those visitors are from the UK but I have also built a healthy audience in the USA (a big increase these past 12 months), France, Australia and, of course, Nepal (which is not a country particularly well represented in the drinks writing fraternity).
Fifty-thousand is a milestone, I think. Perhaps I should quit now, whilst I’m on top. The longer Covid continues to impact my own writing, both around events here at home and from a travel perspective, it becomes harder to find inspiration, or at least inspiration of a kind that will equally inspire my readers.
I thought I would finish my Review of 2021 by listing my ten most popular articles over this year. The month/year, in that order, in brackets is when I published the article. I guess that in theory this list should be informative as to why an amateur like me has a readership, and perhaps what makes my articles different to others. A few older articles really are perennial favourites, but equally many here were written in 2021.
- Extreme Viticulture in Nepal (11/19)
- Tongba – A Study in Emptiness (01/16)
- Victoria Torres Pecis – The New Star of the Canaries (08/19)
- Pergola Taught (02/21)
- Paradise Lost – A Eulogy for Two Great Natural Winemakers (06/21)
- Central Victoria Part 2 – Bindi (12/19)
- Field Blends and Gemischter Satz – Why Should We Get to Know Them? (03/21)
- The Collector (05/21)
- Grower Champagne… (01/21)
- The One Straw Revolution – Masanobu Fukuoka (Book Review) (08/21)
Although it didn’t hit the Top Ten in terms of the numbers, the article “Appellations – Who Needs Them?” was only published on 6 December, and has seen the kind of reader hits which, had it been published earlier in the year, would almost certainly have seen it race up the charts.
What I hope, more than anything, is to have entertained you throughout the year, and helped affirm that wine is a joyous thing, food for the heart and the soul. Even more so in the very difficult world in which we seem to live now. One in which, for me, sanity is only retained through sharing the joy of food, wine and music with family and friends, even if it has sometimes only been on a tiny screen. And indeed, sharing these things with so many loyal readers. A very big, genuine THANK YOU! And Cheers!