If Part 1 got January off to a strong start, Part 2 goes down equally different paths. We begin with a well known Blaufränkisch from Burgenland before veering right across Europe to Alentejo. Then back we go to cooler climes for a more traditional Hungarian wine than those I’ve been drinking of late. A rather beautiful Jura Chardonnay follows, and then that Wiener Gemischter Satz I promised in Part 1. We finish with a very unusual Swiss sparkling wine before ending on a classical note, a 2013 Burgundy from a producer I’ve tried to follow since their inception and who I shall be able to try another wine from the previous vintage at one decade old later this year.
BLAUFRÄNKISCH JOHANNESHÖHE 2018, PRIELER (Burgenland, Austria)
Johanneshöhe is a site made up of iron-rich loams on the western side of the Neusiedlersee, near the family’s base at Schützen. Georg Prieler represents the current generation in charge here. The vines are on the lower slopes of the Leithaberg, which is classic Blaufränkisch terroir. Yet these loams don’t give the wine as much mineral or ferrous bite as the slopes slightly higher up the hillsides, especially when on slate and Musselkalk (the fossil-bearing limestones). What the loams do impart is a bit more weight.
The result here is a wine which is a touch fatter than some…well, not fat as such, just a little flesh on the frame. The fruit is velvet smooth, rich (almost a kind of fruitcake richness) and spicy, although as they use large format older oak you don’t get that “step too far” thing going on which some misguided producers, more often in other regions, end up with. Plums and darker fruits are the order of the day. It isn’t really tannic but as I suggested, it does have structure. The abv, 13%, is well balanced and the wine is big and spicy enough for winter food without any heaviness.
Although this is a single site wine, it is towards entry level for Prieler. For the ultimate expression of the grape at Prieler, try their Goldberg Cru. However, I would say that at £18.99 from The Solent Cellar this is excellent value. Especially when it’s a Christmas present from your brother-in-law. Clark Foyster is the importer.
PROCURA NA ÂNFORA 2018, SUSANA ESTEBAN (Alentejo, Portugal)
In the second half of last month, we spent several days down in Lymington, helping out a family member who had been in hospital. Finding ourselves short on wine I needed to grab an extra bottle and was recommended this Portuguese wine. It’s a Vinho Regional Alentejo, a traditional field blend, with vines around eighty-five years old, planted high up at 700 masl.
Susana Esteban comes from Northern Spain, but she is perhaps best known in her role as winemaker at Quinta do Crasto between 2002 and 2007, as that Douro estate became pretty well known outside of Portugal. She then started work as a consultant, and spent two years searching Alentejo for suitable vineyards of her own before finding two plots near Portalegre in 2011.
The winemaking definitely has a nod to the past, with the wine made in Talhas, the traditional clay vessels of the region. The wider revival of their use is only hampered by the difficulty in finding them, as it has become clear that they give the region’s wines a good deal more soul than some of Southern Portugal’s more “international-style” efforts. They must surely impart the mineral texture and slight earthiness in the wine, which combines nicely with the stone fruit aromas and flesh. Acidity is zippy and the alcohol, only 12.5% (perhaps the altitude of the vines helps here) makes the result rather attractive. There is weight but it’s subtle. The Talhas also give that slightly dusty finish which is not obtrusive but grounds the wine and adds interest. It’s not one of these “international” whites the region seems to enjoy offering up.
Turned out to be an excellent recommendation from Simon Smith at The Solent Cellar.
TOKAJI FURMINT 2017, SZEPSY (Tokaj, Hungary)
I have several Furmints in the cellar, from both Hungary and Austria. I’d happily have more. I’m afraid I don’t agree with the person on Twitter who was putting the grape down a week ago. I think when done well, it manifests exciting flavours and is seriously under rated. Even by members of the wine trade, though I’m pleased I’m not alone in appreciating its virtues.
Istvàn Szepsy is the eighteenth generation of his family making wine in Tokay/Tokaj, but the wine made by all those previous generations was likely to have been the sweet wine for which the region was (at some times justly, but in the later 20th Century perhaps unjustly on occasion) famous. After the fall of communism and the redistribution of land back into private hands, the opportunity to restore the name of Tokaji wine was firmly grasped. Yet did the world, which had moved on, really want another sweet wine? Even fine Sauternes was a hard sell, let alone an expensive to produce sticky from Central Europe.
The answer for families like the Szepsys was to make a dry table wine alongside the sweet wines, from the same grape varieties. This is pretty much the same idea as that which has taken off in Jerez/Sanlúcar, with the Palomino grape, in recent years. This wine is 100% Furmint taken from a range of different terroirs, aged in (mostly) used oak.
The scent is like pure quince with a whiff of something almost flinty. If you were under the impression this wine might be sweet, the bouquet would disabuse you of any such notion. The palate has rounder stone fruit flesh and texture, with added pear and quince lingering on the finish. It is perhaps a more classical rendition of the variety than I’m currently drinking but it’s a lovely wine which will age further, yet is nice (and indeed impressive) now. Despite being over four years old it doesn’t taste aged, no doubt down to the mineral freshness. Extremely well made.
You can find this for £30 at The Solent Cellar, but feel free to pay £55.80 for exactly the same wine at a Central London wine shop if you prefer!
CHARDONNAY “LA PERCENETTE” 2016, DOMAINE PIGNIER (Jura, France)
The Pignier family farms around 15 hectares at Montaigu, a little to the south of Lons-Le-Saunier. Lons is a sleepy town, famous for just two things. The first is that it was the birthplace of Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle, the man who wrote La Marseillaise (although he wrote it in Strasbourg, of course, he is commemorated by a statue in the town made by Bartholdi, the man who also designed the Statue of Liberty). The second claim to fame is that this is where I purchased my first wine, a Vin Jaune, made by Alain and Josie Labet…another story from a different time.
The domaine has been in the family since the late eighteenth century, but very much as a mixed farm. Viticulture became the main preoccupation in the 1970s. Their heritage is maintained in some of their winemaking and storing facilities, including their ageing cellar, housed in the 13th century Cellier des Chartreux.
François Pignier bought Les Percenettes in 1990, and it is the largest of their single sites. They decided to use the Chardonnay from it to make their first ouillé wine, previously having made their white wines oxidatively (without topping up the barrels). Another change brought about by the current generation of siblings was biodynamics, with Demeter Certification coming in 2006. There are many more fashionable young natural winemakers working in the region, but hidden out here in one of Jura’s less densely planted sectors, the current generation of Pigniers have been quietly making delicious low-intervention wines for close to thirty years.
This cuvée sees twelve months in used oak pièces, and is structured like an old stone tower, yet is equally bright and floral. The fresh acids cling to a saline spine which is extremely refreshing, though which at the same time makes you sit up. On the finish there’s a hint of honey and apple, just enough to add another layer of interest. There’s a reason this wine tastes a little different, and I would say exciting, which I haven’t yet revealed. The Chardonnay clone* in question here (*allegedly but debated) is Jura’s rare Melon à Queue Rouge. These golden berries with occasional pink tints, and red stems when ripe, usually make wines of exceptional finesse in the right hands, wines which emphasise the brighter side of Chardonnay.
Okay, I confess this month has been a month where rather a lot of wines have come from the same retailer. Just the way it has worked out. This wine was also from The Solent Cellar. £35, and good value even at that price.
GEMISCHTER SATZ “KRAUT & RÜBEN” 2017, WEINGUT CHRIST (Vienna, Austria)
In Part 1 I made a rare foray into a single varietal wine from Vienna’s vineyards. Here, we are back to the traditional field blend of the region, known as Wiener Gemischter Satz. The Christ family has a four-century history of winemaking at Jedlersdorf, in the capital’s 21st District. Like most of the winemakers here, they operate a heuriger inn, where you can sample the wines with good home cooking, always a treat if you ever get the opportunity.
The operation is run today by Rainer Christ. He looks after a fairly significant 25-hectares of vines. The sources of this cuvée are the two named sites, Kraut and Rüben, which are on the Bisamberg hill, on the right bank of the Danube, on the northeast edge of the city. The soils here are a complex mix including glacial deposits and the vines are old, up to eighty years of age. Production is low intervention and this cuvée could be termed a natural wine (it’s certainly vegan), with no synthetic chemicals used in its biodynamic production.
Christ makes several Gemischter Satz blends but this one, containing Grüner Veltliner, Muscat, Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, grown and picked together and co-fermented, sees extended skin contact during fermentation before maturing on its gross lees. It is, therefore, effectively an orange wine.
The colour, in truth, is more burnished gold than orange. It is savoury, mineral, and shows a hint of lime on the finish. It’s something a little different to the lighter and slightly spritzig GS wines many will have tried. That said, it is lifted by a little dissolved CO2 on opening, but the miniscule bubbles do dissipate. The tingle on the tongue is refreshing, before the more complex flavours and textures of skin contact take over as it grows in the glass.
This cost just over £35 from Alpine Wines. They only get a small allocation of this particular cuvée from Rainer Christ, but it’s well worth grabbing a bottle, to try a quite different interpretation of the Austrian capital’s traditional field blend.
BLANC DE BLANCS DEMI-SEC 2016, LA MAISON BLANCHE (Vaud, Switzerland)
La Maison Blanche was originally part of a 15th century estate in the appellation of Mont-sur-Rolle, one of the better-known wine villages in that lesser-known part of the Vaud Canton, on the north shore of Lac Léman, between Geneva and Lausanne. The same family has been there since being given the property for military services rendered in 1528. The vineyards here are not terraced, like those in the UNESCO Heritage Site of Lavaux, to the east, but are gently sloping, rising from the lake shore, mostly south facing.
This is an unusual sparkling wine on several levels. The basic fabrication method is not one of them, being a straightforward traditional bottle-fermentation with disgorgement. What makes this wine pretty unique are grape variety and finishing. The variety, as you might possibly guess given the region, is Chasselas. More unique is what they used as the dosage. Chasselas is very dry, but a liqueur made from elderflower (fleur de sureau) helps turn this into a demi-sec (they do make a Brut version as well). The wine was fermented in stainless steel before lees ageing in bottle but I’m not sure of the disgorgement date.
Nevertheless, at over five years old this bottle had kept its freshness whilst attaining a little depth. Perhaps depth isn’t the point here, though. Demi-sec it may be but it has acidity enough to tame the sweetness. Although some may recommend it as an aperitif, it would go very well with fruit desserts. For those who don’t like their sparkling wine too dry, it has enough presence for wider application…adventure calls (we drank it with my elderly parents, with a typical potato and cold cuts meal).
I think the resulting wine is a little less sweet than you might expect. There’s a bit of that Chasselas herbal thing going on, but you can definitely smell and taste the elderflower. It’s not really powerful, but it does add a lifted florality. It is a truly singular wine. This is the second bottle I’ve drunk, the first being served as an aperitif at a barbecue last summer. Everyone I know who has tried it was both impressed and pleasantly surprised, though of course there would be people who can’t abide sweetness in sparkling wine. If you like wines like Bugey-Cerdon, try this.
Available for around £42 from The Solent Cellar and imported by Alpine Wines.
BEAUNE BOUCHEROTTES 1ER CRU 2013, LE GRAPPIN (Burgundy, France)
I can’t remember whether 2013 was the second or third vintage of Le Grappin, but this was the second vintage I bought from Andrew and Emma Nielsen. I bought my first Boucherottes from Le Grappin’s cellars in the subterranean powder store located within the walls of Beaune’s old town. I’d never come across this particular Premier Cru before, though it must be said that there are many to choose from under Beaune’s own AOC. It’s not one of the better-known sites. It sits on the slope just below the larger and better-known Clos des Mouches, and yet it has furnished me with some beautiful wines since I discovered it.
Of course, Le Grappin began as a négociant, although they had significant input into the viticulture of this plot from the beginning. The grapes, after hand harvesting with careful selection in the vineyard, made their way swiftly inside the town walls and went into wooden vat to ferment. Then, after very gentle pressing, maturation took place in seven oak barrels.
Out of the several 2013s from this site I’ve already drunk, this was the best bottle. I should add that I do recall Andrew suggested I should drink the 2013s before the 2012s, and I took him at his word. This bottle was singing beautifully, despite it being a less-well regarded year for the Côte de Beaune. Yields were small, partly as a result of hail damage for many producers here, but the fruit Andrew, Emma and the team were able to bring in was carefully sorted for healthy grapes.
Any tannins the wine held have smoothed out by now. The fruit is characteristically raspberry dominated, but with strawberry and some cherry in the mix as well. That fruit is still remarkably bright without any tertiary notes dominating. The texture is silky smooth, like any good Beaune, and it lingers long on the palate. A well-made, feel good, Red Burgundy with soul.
Purchased direct. Although costs and, to a degree, the market, have put these wines beyond my price range, I don’t begrudge Andrew and Emma from making a living. Outside of Covid times at least I get to taste the range in London, along with the wines of Mark Haisma and Jane Eyre. I would scontinue to argue that all three make glorious wines which are, in the context of fine Burgundy today, still good value.