I am hoping that March will see me capable of easing myself into wine life with a few well-judged trips to London in March, and perhaps even elsewhere, but until that happens, I can only give you another round of “Recent Wines” to entertain you with.
With seven wines in each part for February, Part 1 will cover Northern Italy (two wines), Sanlúcar in Spain, the Mosel, Southwest France, a very different wine (kind of, but not technically, wine) from South Africa and my first Georgian wine of the year (although I’m hoping to have tripled the number of Georgian wines in my cellar by the time you read this).
“UVAGGIO 2017, COSTE DELLA SESIA DOC, PROPRIETÀ SPERINO (Piemonte, Italy)
When I was considerably younger one of the first wine tastings I went to at Winecellars (the original firm run by David Gleave and Nicolas Belfrage, in Wandsworth, London) was given by Tuscan star Paolo De Marchi. Paolo inherited the 8.5-hectare Sperino estate at Lessona in Northern Piemonte and has now installed his eldest son, Luca, to make the wine there. He’s doing a remarkable job, and perhaps in some ways the wines are even more interesting today than those now made on the family’s Tuscan estate, Isole e Olena, at Castellina in Chianti.
Uvaggio is something of a traditional local blend of Nebbiolo with Vespolina and Croatina (made up as 65%, 25% and 10% respectively). The wine has a lovely pale ruby hue. The bouquet is spicy, and this is mirrored on the palate alongside red fruits and a certain lick of concentrated fruit acidity. There’s a tiny hint of earthy texture that some might call “mineral”, which centres the wine. Despite 13.5% abv it doesn’t taste alcoholic, retaining a lightness. Although not a natural wine it does claim to be vegan.
I’d say that this 2017 is youthful, and could certainly develop, but it came into its own after time in the glass and with food. I’ve not drunk this wine for a number of years but I definitely plan to grab some more soon when back in stock.
I purchased this from Butlers Wine Cellar. The importer is David Gleave’s Liberty Wines.
“A DEMÛA” 2015, CASCINA DEGLI ULIVI (Piemonte, Italy)
Our second wine, also from Piemonte (somewhere I have been trying to retrieve my focus on) was the last wine I had which was made by one of the greatest natural winemakers I’ve had the privilege to meet a few times. Sadly, he died in 2018, but this magnificent wine showed what a genius he was.
Stefano Bellotti ran a mixed farm in the Gavi region, believing that polyculture enhanced a whole ecosystem. As well as vines, he grew the plants used for his biodynamic vine treatments, alongside food crops and animal husbandry on what I’d guess you would call an old-style contadino holding of around 22-hectares.
The key to enjoying Stefano’s unique wines is to realise that they are wines to keep. They develop remarkable nuance over time, and they are wines of subtlety, not power. A Demùa is a blend of Timorasso with Verdea, Bosco, Riesling Italico and Chasselas. It has a very dark orange colour, the result of a long 90-day maceration on skins (and presumably the bottle age here).
The voluminous bouquet is redolent of candied orange peel with a touch of bitterness too, something in the “Italian herb seasoning” ballpark. The palate is very zesty with a degree of richness, which builds over time. This shouldn’t be served too cold, for sure. The gorgeous aromatics would be too clipped.
I would argue that the result here is something profound. Although I can be pretty complimentary about wines I like on a fairly regular basis (they have to be pretty interesting to make the cut in these articles), I’d like to think that I don’t argue profundity too often.
It’s also a unique wine on many levels…including that remarkable colour. It’s enough to sort the wine lovers from the gluggers, for sure.
This wine came from Les Caves de Pyrene (£32 at the time). Stefano’s family are continuing his work, though it may still be possible to find wines he made himself. He was no less a superstar than those well-known names from Jura, Burgundy, Savoie etc.
LA BOTA DE FLORPOWER 84 (MMXVI), EQUIPO NAVAZOS (Jerez, Spain)
In our house we try to hold back the odd bottle of Florpower. It is all too easy to guzzle it on release, though perhaps many would say that’s the way to go. I find the wines age in an interesting way, but then I feel no different about the Finos and Manzanillas made by this exemplary bottler. Whilst the region is now producing a firework display of exemplary Palomino wines, especially in this unfortified category, I think Florpower still manages to demonstrate exactly why the idea of making table wine from the Palomino Fino variety has taken off.
The Palomino grapes were harvested from the “La Baja” sector of the famous Pago Miraflores at Sanlúcar and the wine was aged nineteen months under flor. This comprised eight months in 600-litre casks and then eleven months in vat. The longer period in stainless steel makes for a gentler result.
Bottled in June 2018, the wine was still remarkably fresh three years and eight months later, although the colour has deepened, for sure. The bouquet is redolent of limes and, oddly, reminded me also of Chablis. Perhaps rather than a grape variety comparison, it is the terroir which creates such a similarity? It certainly has what I can’t avoid calling a fantastic mineral texture topped with a slightly creamy citrus note. Any obvious influence of the flor is now quite mild.
Purchased direct. The UK agent is Alliance Wine.
GRAACHER DOMPROBST RIESLING KABINETT 2018, WILLI SCHAEFER (Mosel, Germany)
It is said that Christoph Schaefer aims for light and elegant wines. This is true, but whatever he aims for, he is now making some of the best wines on this stretch of the Mosel, at Graach and Wehlen, and consistently so. He harvests relatively early to preserve freshness, but this also preserves acids so that the sugar levels of the Prädikat wines, especially at Kabinett level, are never too sweet-tasting. This is an estate where detail is important. These are, in reality, natural wines. Native yeasts, no additives, ageing in old füder and minimal sulphur, is the regime.
Domprobst is a vineyard which sits on the steep slope above the village of Graach on the Mosel’s right bank. The tiny Schaefer holding produces wines which, perhaps first and foremost, are wines of focus. The 2018 is 8% abv, and certainly has a lightness to it, but that’s not to deny the fruit its sweetness. Of course, the wine has acidity too, the kind of acidity which lets you know that this is a young wine and one you should perhaps have aged longer. Domprobst is a rocky, slate site, making wines noted for their ability to age, and Schaefer’s vines here are around 60-years-old and 70% ungrafted. A friend recommended carafing it, wise words. Five years more in bottle would be good, or possibly longer, although in reality this vintage will not be quite as good as the 2019.
However, this is indeed a lovely wine and one which, for me, is what great Kabinett is all about. Precision, focus, an ethereal lightness and a balance between acids and sugar. How can this style be so ignored by the public as a whole, and how can such quality remain such remarkable value?
Purchased from The Solent Cellar in Lymington.
PETIT MANSENG SEC 2018, IGT COMTÉ TOLOSAN, DOMAINE D’AUDAUX (Southwest France)
Domaine D’Audaux is an estate created by Jamie Hutchinson and his wife, Jess. Jamie was co-founder of London’s Sampler wine shops whilst Jess worked for Charles Taylor Wines. Audaux is a small village close to Navarrenx, which in wine terms is in the old region of Béarn/Jurançon, although Jamie has classified his wine as IGT. The couple moved their family out to this part of France because, in Jamie’s words, he wanted to make wine, fish and eat pig and duck.
This cuvée is made from Petit Manseng, a variety which in nearby Jurançon is reserved for the sweet wines, for which that region is famous. This is also Jamie and Jess’s first vintage. I had this time taken the advice given to age it at least a touch after purchase, although having known Jamie a little over many years (and wine lunches) before he left our shores, I had been having difficulty holding back on the cork.
I’m by no means therefore the first to praise this wine, and some far greater wine royalty has beaten me to that honour. Yet I can only repeat that, especially at three-and-a-half years old, this wine is superb. It’s actually hard to believe that it was made as a first vintage, by an Englishman with no formal winemaking qualification.
The fruit is from three sites, all hand harvested and rigorously hand sorted. The wine was made in 3-to-5-year-old barrels which had previously been used for White Bordeaux. Ageing on lees has given the wine remarkable depth, and a little age has given it a serious side. You get freshness but a sort of creamy fruit as well. The Petit Manseng is very fragrant too. An unqualified success.
Alas, you will be very lucky to find any 2018 on the market retail. The Sampler has the 2019 for just under £27, and although I’ve not tasted it yet, it does claim to have 30% less added sulphur than the 2018.
WANDERLUST PIQUETTE , RESTLESS RIVER (Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa)
Restless River is something of a cult winery launched by Craig Wessels and his wife Anne in 2012, situated in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, north of Hermanus on Walker Bay. Despite the proliferation of famous names around Walker Bay, the region still has its feeling of remoteness in places, and most certainly a cool climate. It has become, of course, a by-word for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
“Wanderlust” is a label Craig and his wife have created to feed their creative side. It carries principally one-off cuvées, always distinctive. Nothing could perhaps be more distinctive than this one, which is not strictly a wine at all. Piquette was, by tradition, a beverage fed to the vineyard workers, made by running water over the marc of pressed grape skins, producing a second fermented beverage of lower concentration and alcohol.
In this case the skins in question are those of the Restless River Premium Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and the water is direct from the “pure” mountain springs nearby (so hopefully not sheep country). The result of this second pressing is bottled with its lees sediment, a little like a petnat, and with low (7%) alcohol.
We get a pale red beverage with some nice “frizzante-style” bubbles, the colour being somewhere between strawberry and rhubarb. Imagine a sparkling mineral water infused with concentrated red berry fruits with an added herbal edge. Water into wine, so to speak and totally smashable, as Jamie would say (and it really is). Being me, I opened this absolutely perfect hot summer aperitivo in February. I shall be trying to find some more because I cannot think of a better wine (sic) to drink late morning on an August (or hopefully sooner) weekend.
This bottle, number 326 of 2,450, came from Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton. £13.95 (shhh!).
“ANNA” 2019, NIKA WINERY (Kakheti, Georgia)
In 2006 Nika Bakhia bought some vines near the abandoned village of Anaga in the wine region of Kakheti in Eastern Georgia, and in fact Anaga is not too far from being the furthest point east where vines are grown commercially in the country. In very general terms, Kakheti is seen as the cradle of Qvevri winemaking in Georgia.
The family now owns eight vineyards in the Alazani Valley and follow a regime which does not use any synthetic chemical treatments. Pruning is minimal, and the grass between rows just gets an occasional trim. This particular cuvée, named after Nika’s wife Anna, is from their Tsaraphi vineyard, which contains deep rooted old vines on rocky soils. The field blend consists of five varieties: Saperavi, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane and Khikhvi, so I’m sure a few readers will realise that there are white grapes as well as red in this bottle.
The wine starts out with a lovely, soft and gentle bouquet of cherry and red fruits, with a floral element riding over the top as if blown gently on a breeze. The palate is a slight contrast, dry and grippy as you would expect from a red wine made on its skins in qvevri. It is textured and what I tend to call a little ferrous. It will age, for sure, but it is quite lovely now, combining a little earthiness with a feel that is unique to the vessel in which it was made. It seems somehow “sprightly” too, despite 13.5% abv on the label.
This estate is new to the Basket Press Wines portfolio. There are three wines imported and I grabbed a bottle of each to try, although I hope to try the two orange/whites sooner, at their upcoming trade tasting. £25 seems a good price.