The second part of the most interesting wines drunk at home during February really does contain some crackers. It would be impossible to single out a wine of the month from this part alone, hard enough even to choose a Top 3, although I guess I’m going to have to if we all make it through to the end of the year. Starting strong with a cheeky Bierzo, we then go Mosel, Jura, Hungary, Burgenland, Savoie and Sanlúcar. Every single bottle would thrill fellow wine geeks for sure, although I guess a few people will be slightly nonplussed at one or two. That said, a good friend who has been relatively conservative in her wine tastes up until recently was, I think, rather astonished by the EN Manzanilla. Well, you would be!
“VO” MENCIA 2016, VERONICA ORTEGA (Bierzo, Spain)
Veronica Ortega Camacho makes wines as good as I’ve tasted in Bierzo, and I was an early fan, even visiting the region in 1989. The vines grow around Valtuile de Abajo on limestone, quite rare in Bierzo which is known for its slate. Version Original is 100% Mencia, from vines over fifty years old in a vineyard located near San Juan de la Mata.
The juice rests overnight on skins and maturation is in large oak vat for sixteen months. At most, the wine sees a partial malolactic so that the lively acidity of the grapes is retained. This, for me, is significant. The early freshness of Mencia in Bierzo has been lost, in many cases, to higher alcohol. This wine packs 13.5% abv but it retains a lightness and freshness which is largely a result of the acid balance.
Still, you get good legs on this dark cherry red wine, along with cherry fruit and a high note of mountain herbs. Violets appear later. The finish allows a little spice and pepper to kick in. It goes nicely with the wine’s rather attractive ferrous texture. I’d have guessed part of the wine was made in amphora but although Veronica does use those vessels, I am sure I read that she doesn’t for VO. Only 3,500 bottles were made of this cuvée in 2016. I’d say the wine has years left in it, although its youthful side paired well with a Moroccan-style spicy stew. Love it.
Imported by Vine Trail, but I’ve also seen Veronica’s wine at Littlewine.
SCHMETTERLING 2020, MADAME FLÖCK (Mosel, Germany)
A few readers will have seen that I enjoyed another wine from Madame Flöck quite recently, one called Mad Dog Warwick. That was back in December, and if you want to read a little more about Rob Kane and Derek-Paul Labelle’s project out of Winingen, take a peak there so I don’t have to repeat it all here (Recent Wines December 2021 (Part 2), published 12 January 2022).
Schmetterling is another micro-cuvée, made from vines on the steep slopes of the Terrassen Mosel. Sub-titled “Apollo’s Cruvée” (sic, yes, “cruvée” , for reasons I’ve been completely unable to discover), it is a blend of Müller-Thurgau, Kerner and Riesling. After clambering around on the steep terraces the organic hand-picked fruit from very old vines undergoes a spontaneous fermentation, and is then aged in old barrel (20% of the wine, on full solids) and 80% in stainless steel on lees, all for six months.
The bouquet has surprising depth, majoring on an unusual but exciting vinous spice. The palate explodes with the tiniest micro-bubbles of CO2 you could imagine. They prickle around the mouth carrying the brightest of bright acidity across the tongue. Grapefruit, lemon and pear is my take on the flavour. A fun wine, very offbeat and (I know I must be the millionth idiot to say this) flöcking tasty.
£31.50 at Butlers Wine Cellar. If they get any of the next vintage I shall be straight on it. Even the guys have completely sold out of wine. A few more cuvées in the UK would be nice (hint).
“ELLE AIMÉE” VIN DE FRANCE , DOMAINE L’OCTAVIN (Jura, France)
This is one of Alice Bouvot’s domaine wines from the vineyard called “En Arces”, a site where wines have also been bottled by Domaine de la Touraize and Jean-François Ganevat. Alice, however, blends Chardonnay with Pinot Noir here to create a singular cuvée from red and white grapes. Despite two months of “infusion” as she calls it, the wine shows a very pale strawberry colour on pouring. The bouquet and palate are closer to bitter cherry with red fruits, a touch of citrus in the acids, and a little earthiness as well. Plenty going on, especially as the wine evolves in a nice Zalto Universal.
This isn’t a wine you can really sit on the fence over. For one thing the shimmering acidity might startle a few people, and without added sulphur the fruit is naked and fresh. I simply adore it. It’s vibrancy going off the scale, a wine which genuinely makes you feel alive. It might not be a cure for depression but this sure is going to lift anyone who’s been having a tough day.
Alice is one of the hardest working vigneronnes I’ve met, especially going it alone now. I can only admire her strength of purpose and mission. She knows exactly what she wants her wine to be and to become. What an impressive human being.
Domaine L’Octavin is imported by Tutto Wines, often available via their Tutto a Casa online shop.
FREILUFTKINO 2019, ANNAMÁMIA RÉKA-KONCZ (Barabàs, Eastern Hungary)
The main issue with Annamária’s wines is eeking out the bottles I buy over more than merely two or three months. I generally have to hope their UK importer manages to get another shipment. Buy more, you say. Well, I would, but my tastes are eclectic and wide. But that said, there is a loyalty building for the wines of this young lady, who lives with her husband in a part of Hungary from which you can see (and freely cross, at least for now) the border with Ukraine.
Freiluftkino translates from the German as open-air cinema. I’m sure Annamária will tell me why they chose that name at some point. It’s a bottle-fermented sparkling wine comprised of Királyleányka (which you’d think I could spell without triple checking by now), Rhine Riesling, Furmint and Hárslevelü. The grapes from the 2019 vintage were fermented in stainless steel. The wine saw one year on the lees before being hand disgorged and the liqueur de tirage was made from the must of the 2020 vintage.
The soils here are highly complex with deposits of rhyolite, andesite, dacite and tufa, which give the wine a steely, mineral character and texture. The impression is of a wine with focus. The colour is bronze-gold, the bead very fine. The bouquet is complex, or at least becomes so as the wine warms. The palate changes over time as well. I wouldn’t say it starts out fruity as such, but there’s definitely an element of spice which arrives to make you take notice.
I would say that what this cuvée gives, rather than great complexity at this stage, is something unique, definitely exciting. The importer suggests this would be a celebratory drink, but if you like pairing sparkling wines with food, this will definitely interest you equally as much. I shall try to keep my second bottle to allow it to develop, though I’m not holding out any hope it will remain unopened for as long as I’d like.
I am not sure whether Basket Press Wines has much left, but for £26 you get a very interesting blend, smart bubbles and something delicious to trick and surprise your friends with.
“PERFECT DAY” 2020, PITTNAUER (Burgenland, Austria)
It always comes back to Gols, that singular wine village on the top end of the Neusiedlersee where a profusion of exciting biodynamic producers seem to turn out wines as exciting as any I know – although my bias comes from my love for the region and people just as much as the wines.
Gerhard and his wife, Brigitte, run the 17-hectare Pittnauer estate here, Gerhard having been somewhat thrown in at the deep end age 18. He farms a range of both local and international varieties, with an outlook that is equally international. The Pittnauer wines do have a reasonably high profile outside of Austria, which is never harmed by some very innovative and cool-looking labels.
Perfect day is, like the previous two wines, made from an interesting blend. Chardonnay makes up the larger part (40%), with Muscat Ottonel (30%), Grüner Veltliner (20%) and Traminer (10%). Each variety is treated separately, some seeing skin contact, some seeing some oak, etc. The varieties are only blended together just before bottling, which is done without filtration.
The bouquet is quite unusual, with the Muscat’s floral aromas riding a wave above Grüner and Traminer spice, rounded out with what I presume to be Chardonnay’s fruit. The palate has a linear citrus spine of acidity and some lees-contact richness underpinning. The whole bottle is refreshing in so many ways. I think it’s an excellent summer wine, but every day is summer here when it comes to wine.
This bottle came from Butlers Wine Cellar (£23.50). Perfect Day has been stocked by The Wine Society in the past.
PERSAN 2017, DOMAINE GIACHINO (Savoie, France)
Although Mondeuse is the red grape variety most people will know when thinking Savoie, Persan is in my experience quite capable of being its equal. It originated in the Maurienne Valley, but declined, as did viticulture in general, as the route along the River Arc became more industrialised, the Fréjus Tunnel becoming one of the major transport routes between France and Italy.
According to Wink Lorch (Wines of the French Alps, 2019) Persan fell to a mere 3-hectares, not assisted by the fact that the Maurienne Valley was left out of the appellation for Savoie wines, probably because the authorities thought viticulture was more or less dead and buried there. They were wrong. The vineyards of the Isère are seeing a real revival and Persan is in the vanguard, at least for quality.
Domaine Giachino is located close to Champareilan. Although this is not all that far south of the well-known vineyards of Aprémont, south of Chambéry, it is in fact just outside the departmental border of Savioe, in the department of Isère. Brothers Frédéric and David Giachino are in charge of the domaine, now joined by Frédéric’s son Clément and his wife, a lovely young couple who I was lucky to meet just before Covid hit back in 2020.
The Domaine has grown to around 15-hectares, mostly farmed biodynamically, with some holdings in the aforesaid Aprémont Cru, but they also have developed a nice side-line in the Alps’s more exotic and obscure varieties alongside Persan.
The Giachino Persan is a fairly full-bodied 13% red, yet there’s no hint of heaviness, nor I think rusticity. For me, it’s a lovely smooth red with a bit of tannin and dark berry concentration lifted by delicious fruit acids. The terroir is special, the vines being grown on the limestone scree from the collapsed Mont Granier, which covered the surrounding land when it broke up in 1248. The wine’s liveliness is doubtless also enhanced by the low sulphur regime the Giachinos use to make vibrant natural wines.
As an aside there was another major landslide on the mountain on 9 January 2016. The scree which slid off the mountain, estimated to be around 70,000 cubic metres, was stopped by a barrier of trees only 300 metres from Entremont-le-Vieux.
Again, I was warned that this was a cuvée capable of ageing, and I probably opened it three years too early. That said, it was unquestionably delicious and I shall definitely be buying it again. Not only for its uniqueness.
It’s probably worth mentioning that it is the Giachino family whom Michel Grisard decided to entrust the vineyards of the iconic Prieuré Saint-Christoph to on his retirement. This bottle was purchased in France, but the domaine’s very astute British importer is Dynamic Vines.
LA BOTA DE MANZANILLA 71, EQUIPO NAVAZOS (Jerez, Spain)
Another article, another EN, which hides the fact that I am slowly running out of these wines, and our exit from the EU and the subsequent rocketing price of direct imports is to blame, although at some point I shall head off to one or two retailers for replenished supplies.
This Manzanilla was a bottling of January 2017, 100% Palomino Fino grapes from Sanlúcar, which Edouardo Ojeda nurtured having retrieved casks from a number of different sources in the town. The different wines have an average age in cask of seven years.
Like many EN biologically aged wines it is darker than you might be used to, and obviously the age of my bottle post-bottling is a factor too. You wouldn’t like this if you like your Manzanilla fresh and light, rather than deep and profound. It certainly has Manzanilla salinity though, not quite off the scale levels any more, but salinity-a-plenty nevertheless. It doesn’t lack vibrancy, but it is contemplative, whether sipped with cashews, drunk with a cauliflower and almond soup, or sipped again with the cheeses, all of which service this bottle performed perfectly (I took it to dinner in Oxford).
I’m sure you know by now, Equipo Sherries are much more serious, and perhaps startling, than the commercial offerings from this sacred triangle. I’m beginning to wonder whether, like other fine wines, it is almost a crime to drink these wines too young? I shall have to ask Edouardo’s partner in EN, Jesús Barquin…who happens to be a Professor of Criminology in his spare time.
Once more, purchased direct but the UK agent, Alliance Wine, will have the current Botas.