The tasting round seems to be getting back in full swing now and I think for most people writing about wine there are just too many to write about. On Monday 14th March Basket Press Wines held theirs, at The Mulwray, above the Blue Posts on Soho’s Rupert Street. It afforded an opportunity to explore this exciting portfolio which I have only been able to taste during the past two years through the bottles I’ve been purchasing.
There were a lot of new wines (and other beverages) on show, either new producers or new wines from producers I know and love. In this respect there are notable omissions. Annamária Réka-Koncz was absent on account of her wholly deserved emerging star status leading to selling through quickly. The new estate Basket Press has started to import from Georgia, Nika Winery, wasn’t tasted because I’m working my way through those at home. Equally, some favourites from Max Sein, Petr Koráb and Magula were left out simply because, much as I adore their wines, I usually have a few bottles in the cellar, though Koráb does sneak one in.
We are so lucky to have such an array of principally Moravian, Czech, wines on show in London. The Basket Press stars are not all Czech, of course. They have expanded astutely from their original core. Nevertheless, I’d challenge anyone to taste these and disagree that there are not some very exciting wines being made in this small part of Central Europe.
My dilemma was how many to taste from an array of fifty bottles. Would it be extensive notes on ten or a dozen, or briefer notes on more wines? In the end this was answered by the fact that I somehow managed seventeen samples. Each is worthy of trying so if I appear to single any out it means these were my favourites.
Euforia Birch Sap, Blackcurrant 2021, Bohemian Highlands (Czechia)
This is an altogether new product which Jiří and Zainab are bringing in, the bottles having arrived in the last fortnight. Birch sap is considered a health-enhancing drink in much of Central Europe and the sap for the three products made by Jan Klimeš is collected in the forests of Bohemia. Fruit is macerated with the sap and a malolactic fermentation takes place which produces no alcohol. These drinks contain zero alcohol.
I tried the Blackcurrant, but there are also Blackthorn and Earl Grey versions. It was dry, with a pebble-like texture and very pure but not dominant blackcurrant fruit. You also get some pieces of fruit in the bottle it seems. Firmly dry, sappy and mineral, very refreshing when chilled down. This one was pleasantly ever so slightly petillant. I hope there’s some left to add a bottle to my next order.
Utopia Cider “PLAY” 2020, Bohemian Highlands (Czechia)
I’ve really enjoyed the Utopia Ciders. Excellent artisanal drinks somewhat less expensive than some noted European ciders. PLAY is an apple cider-based petnat made with the addition of the skins of Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer, which macerate with the apple for one week. The skins come from a collaboration with Jaroslav Tesarik (of Dlúhé Grefty, another relatively new Basket Press agency).
The result is winey, similar in concept but not in method to ciders from Charlie Herring or Tom Shobbrook (one uses a red wine top-up and the other adds wine to the blend). What you get is therefore a bit more extracted and petnat lovers would really recognise similarities. That especially goes for the great refreshing acidity and focus. Very nice.
Krásná Hora Blanc de Noir Sekt 2020, South Moravia (Czechia)
This producer is based in Dolni Poddvarov, close to the border with Slovakia. The sites they farm were part of the Cistercian legacy in Central Europe. They use no synthetic chemicals and have recently embraced biodynamics. As well as minimal intervention winemaking, old vine yields here are kept very low, as is the use of sulphur. All the fruit comes from the family’s own vineyards.
This wine is their Méthode Traditionelle, made from 100% Pinot Noir. Moravia has some wonderful Pinot Noir, much used in red wine production. Here we have a very cool Blanc de Noirs sparkler. It has a gentle bouquet, with hints of red fruit. The palate is more forward, full and red-fruited. It’s not a wine which tastes of lees ageing, rather one where the fruit is more prominent. It is very appealing, especially for summer drinking.
Sziegl Pince “Jonás” 2020, Hajos-Baja (Hungary)
This is a new agency and the first time I’ve tried any of their wines (I tried this and a red later on). The couple who run the estate were given an eighty-year-old vineyard in 2012 (chance would be a fine thing, you say). As this very young couple got going, in a village with little commercial winemaking, they impressed so much that they were given a cellar and press from the same source.
By investing all profits in purchasing more vines they have grown their holding to 8.5 hectares. They work organically with minimum intervention in the cellar. “Jonás” is made from 60% Welschriesling, 20% Hárslevelü and 20% Riesling, though there’s purportedly a dollop of Traminer in there too. Mostly whole bunches with some semi-carbonic. It’s a lovely soft white wine with a chalkiness which hints at pears with a touch of quince. A producer I shall explore further.
As far as I can work out, it’s pronounced seagull pinchay! Don’t take my word for it.
Jaroslav Osička, Akácia 2020, South Moravia (Czechia)
Jaroslav is one of my favourite three or four Czech producers, always making exciting and interesting wines. He farms a mere three hectares at Velké Bílovice in the south of Moravia. Jaroslav is one of the pioneers of natural wine in the region, and has taken much inspiration from France’s Jura in this respect. As well as 30 years teaching at the local wine college, he was one of the first Moravians to understand the positive role oxygen can play in winemaking.
Akácia blends 80% (Rhine) Riesling with 20% Pinot Gris, something you might possibly deduce from tasting blind. The bouquet begins as almost classic Riesling (quite floral with citrus), and then some Pinot Gris spice kicks in. The same variety adds richness to a really glorious nose. The palate doesn’t disappoint either. Pear and peach, matching the wine’s lovely yellow-gold colour. The texture on the finish puts a bit of structure there without putting the breaks on. Probably shooting myself in the foot to say I shall buy some.
Jaroslav Osička Pinot Gris 2018, South Moravia (Czechia)
Here’s a chance to try Jaroslav’s 100% Pinot Gris, but with a couple more years in bottle. Slightly more golden in colour than the slightly cheaper Akácia, he also adds in some whole berry clusters after the fermentation is finished. This starts off a kind of second, carbonic, fermentation. He already does this with his more expensive wines, with the aim of adding freshness to wines which he admits can require a few years in bottle. It works well here.
This is definitely a wine with a degree of complexity, but it certainly has a genuine freshness as well, so this master winemaker has succeeded on two levels. Freshness and depth.
Richard Stávek Ryzlink Vlašsky 2019, South Moravia (Czechia)
Richard is another of Moravia’s natural wine pioneers, working from Němčičky since the mid-1990s. He has a mixed farm and is certain a holistic approach to farming has enhanced his wines, even using acacia from his own trees to make his barrels. These wines come from 4.5 ha planted on a 15-hectare farm, most of which are co-planted, making many of his cuvées traditional field blends.
However, this wine is made from pure Welschriesling (to give the variety its more common name). This is definitely an orange/amber wine by its colour. Two weeks on skins (whole bunches with stems) doesn’t seem long but the earthy nose shouts skins at first. The grapes are foot trodden here. That earthy note is replaced by a sweeter perfumed high note, which carries the taster into the deep palate. A nice lick of acidity, not too prominent, underpins the whole. As far as amber wines go, I’d call it gentle and contemplative.
Richard Stávek “Odmery” 2019, South Moravia (Czechia)
Next, we have a single vineyard wine from Richard. Odmery is the vineyard name, which apparently relates to the time when the peasants would be granted a small share of the vineyard by their lord, in order to make their own wine.
We have predominantly Pinot Blanc in this blend (85%), the remaining 15% being Chardonnay, and a rather good combination it can make (seeing as I drank a Keller blend of the same varieties only a few days ago). This time there’s three weeks on skins with a whole bunch maceration. Its colour is pretty full-on orange. We are hitting a greater level of complexity than the previous wine, with dried fruit and nuts on the nose. It already has signs of a bit of maturity (in a good way), a rich and textural wine with a little tannin, but already approachable now, I think.
Dlúhé Grefty Alba Rosales 2019, South Moravia (Czechia)
Last autumn I enjoyed a pink petnat from this new to Basket Press producer, but up until now that was the only wine I’d tried. The Tesarik family farms 2.5 ha at Mutěnice, with several different plots on this small holding.
Here we have a blend of Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer, half of each, made as a skin contact amber wine. Bronze-coloured, very bronze in fact, you first pick up the Gewurz’ aromatics on the bouquet. Then in comes the Pinot Gris spiciness. The palate has stone fruits with a bit of peach or apricot stone texture. There’s a touch of bitterness but it is balanced well by acid freshness and a touch of round richness. A complex wine but one assisted very much by its restrained 12% abv. This takes it away from the territory occasionally occupied by the same blend in Alsace, and makes for a rather fascinating bottle. Wine shouldn’t always be easy, right?
Jaroslav Osička “Ryšák” 2020, South Moravia (Czechia)
Osička’s last wine here is a 50/50 blend of Pinots Noir and Gris. Coming in at 12.5% abv, this has a pale strawberry colour, enhanced in my view by a tiny touch of cloudiness. The red fruits bouquet is packed with concentration and complements the nicely round, plump, red fruits on the palate. The acids are fruit acids and are concentrated too. You know what, it reminds me of the same blend Lambert Spielmann makes at Epfig, Alsace (Red Z’Epfig). I want to see more PN/PG blends, please.
Sziegl Pince “Bábel” 2020, Hajos-Baja (Hungary)
For the second SP wine tasted we look to a red blend of Blaufränkisch (60%), with Merlot (30%) and Kadarka (10%). The colour is immediately attractive, a vibrant magenta. It almost glows in the relative dark of The Mulwray at midday on a dull March morning. The bouquet is enough to brighten anyone up more than half way through the tasting. Strawberry and raspberry initially, then giving way to cherries. The palate is all cherry, quite rich cherry at that, blended with a clean, textured, finish. It’s a lovely wine, and I’d also say something a little bit different. One to drink at any time.
Petr Kočarik Pinot Noir 2019, South Moravia (Czechia)
Petr is another small grower. He owns just two hectares of vines at Čejkovice which, by total contrast, is one of the region’s biggest wine growing villages. Wine is Petr’s part time occupation, so his production usually peaks at 10,000 bottles and is more often closer to 5,000. It does allow for a meticulous approach to natural wine making, using some of his own natural vine treatments (algae powder, orange oil).
Petr typically allows his wines to rest on their lees for a year before bottling. There’s no fining, nor filtration, and if sulphur is used then it’s as little as possible. He is, nevertheless, something of a Pinot Noir specialist and he was originally recommended to Basket Press by Moravia’s other great maker of Pinot Noir, Jaroslav Springer.
This is a wine where the purity strikes you. The colour is classic Pinot Noir, not too dark. The bouquet is dominated again by classic cherry aromas. No problems so far for the WSET student. The ripe fruit is red cherry with something a bit darker just hinted at. It has the fruit placed forward, but also shows just enough restraint. This is a talented artisan, but his wines are never available in sufficient quantity to really make his name.
Kmetija Štekar Merlot 2020 (Slovenia)
Janko Štekar makes wine at Kojsko, not far from Goriška Brda, midway between the Pre-Julian Alps and the Adriatic. Janko and his wife Tamara have 7-ha of vines on a 14.5-ha farm. This wine has a dark colour and quite plummy fruit, but it doesn’t have the weight of much Merlot planted in France. The wine seems much brighter for it, a long way from Saint-Émilion. Biodynamic, and no added sulphur.
The wine actually has 13% printed on the label, which I probably wouldn’t have guessed. The bottle I tasted did have a slightly hard finish, but Zainab did say it had been open quite some time. My main negative, if I’m honest, is that I’m not all that keen on the label. Without the hard finish it would make a very unusually refreshing version of the variety.
Petr Kočařik “Novosady” Pinot Noir 2019, South Moravia (Czechia)
Kočařik here steps up to give us, this time, a single site Pinot Noir. The bouquet is slightly darker than his Pinot tasted above, and by darker I don’t just mean darker fruit. It has a slightly smoky complexity but is clearly young. It is aged in large old wood of 250-litre capacity. I say “old” wood. This is a wine where I was compelled to ask whether it was aged in wood. It also has noticeably more spice than the straight Pinot. It comes off soils a mix of clay and limestone. The clay does seem to add weight, and perhaps the limestone adds the wine’s nice edge. An elegant wine developing real depth. Impressive.
Dva Duby “Ex Opere Operato” 2017, South Moravia (Czechia)
Dva Duby is run by Jiri Šibela from the small town of Dolni Kounice, close to the border with Austria. The vineyards here have quite a name, and have had such a reputation locally for many centuries. They are based on granodiorite, a stone created by erupted magma from the pre-Cambrian age, seven hundred million years ago. In some places the base rock is only 40cm from the surface.
As you might imagine, the most planted variety here is Austria’s Blaufränkisch (Frankovka), which fares well on these volcanic soils. “Vox Silentium”, a Dva Duby wine I have in my cellar, is made from that variety. “Ex Opere Operato” uses a different, often unsung, variety of Austrian origin, Saint-Laurent. I think I need a bottle of this too.
The nose is lifted, shimmering almost. The palate has real mineral precision and frankly I love how the wine’s acidity and slightly sour fruit blends together, all fruit yet with a savoury rim. And that fruit is so concentrated. That may be typical of volcanic wines, but it is certainly enhanced by the wholly natural winemaking, with the only additive being a pinch of sulphur at bottling if required. Yet the wine is clean and pure. An excellent wine, and a producer I may have neglected a little.
Petr Koráb “Neronet” 2016, South Moravia (Czechia)
I’m sure some of you will have read about plenty of Koráb petnats I drink. Petr is something of a bubbles-specialist, and they tend to be both refreshing and exciting, if sometimes offbeat and challenging in a good way. They are also adorned with increasingly modern labels. However, his still wines should never be forgotten, even if their labels can sometimes seem somewhat less out there.
What is Neronet? It is a rare crossing of the teinturier (ie pink-fleshed) variety, Alicante Bouschet, with Cabernet Sauvignon. Alicante Bouschet is more commonly called Blauer Portugieser in Northern and Central Europe, but perhaps not by Petr.
The wine is a very dark purple-red, befitting a glass-staining teinturier. The bouquet is interesting too, and those who know that particular variety would be more likely to name it than Alicante’s partner in the crossing.
The wine has body and tannic structure, but this is balanced by the fact that the wine is exceptionally juicy, and so alive. It’s not complex at all, yet it is rather satisfying.
Utopia Cider “Patience” Ice Cider 2019, Bohemian Highlands (Czechia)
We will finish this wonderful tasting with an expensive treat. Ice cider is a speciality of North Eastern Canada, but this version is as sensational, probably more so, than any I’ve tried from there. I say tried because certainly in the case of “Patience” I haven’t drunk a whole bottle, but I was poured some to taste at Silo back in their Brighton incarnation, when Ania Smelskaya was introducing them to the world of natural wine (and cider).
When I say “a bottle”, well a 75cl bottle will cost you over £50, but it does come in halves. Please, if you are reading this, J or Z, could you reserve me one.
Exotic fruit in abundance leaps out of the glass here. Apples, Pineapple, mango and peach, with caramel notes…intense bruised apple or tarte-tatin. Where this may score over some wines is the linear acidity which lifts the palate on (angel’s) wings and which focus’s the fruit on the front and edge of the tongue. Hmm! A marvel. Find it in among the dessert wines on the Basket Press web site.
All wines tasted are now in the UK but the most recently arrived may not yet have made it onto the Basket Press Wines web site (www.basketpresswines.com ). If the wine’s not there I suggest you contact Jiri or Zainab for details.