March already seems an age away. I’m late with my “Recent Wines” articles, in part because of the Vineyards of Hampshire piece, but we’ve also got builders in so we’re a bit upside down. There are only a dozen wines to write about but even that is perhaps a bit much for one sitting, so I’ll still publish two articles as usual this month, just six wines in each.
We shall go to Burgundy for Aligoté to start Part 1, then Piemonte, Kakheti, Rheinhessen, Bonnezeaux and North Canterbury. That includes famous names (De Moor, Rinaldi and Keller), an unknown (Nika Winery) plus two stunning wines, one a dry Loire Chenin and the other, a five-variety blend from my favourite producer in NZ.
BOURGOGNE ALIGOTÉ 2019, ALICE & OLIVIER DE MOOR (Burgundy, France)
I don’t buy a great deal of Burgundy these days on account of the prices but I have not yet gone a vintage without buying a few bottles of Alice and Olivier De Moor’s wines, whether that be Chablis or their Aligotés, which I think count among the best in the wider region. Of course, the De Moors make their exceptionally rare “Plantation 1902”, which of necessity must be saved for a special occasion, but this, their “straight” Aligoté, is usually available, at least a bottle or three, for a month or two after release.
Aligoté is not what it was…for which we can be thankful. It was often pretty acidic. This meant that from lesser producers it was consigned to making Kir. From the top producers it generally needed long ageing so that the acid levels, somewhat similar to those found in my home made Frühburgunder on bottling, could soften just a little. Burgundy has seen something of an Aligoté revival, about which I have written in the past, and some growers have proved the variety is capable of so much more than a base for blackcurrant liqueur.
There is 13.5% alcohol in this wine, which helps give it both weight and presence, although we do have perfect balance because Aligoté will always have a degree of acidity. At approaching three years old it is in a nice place. If you believe that terroir trumps variety, then this wine will help prove that point. It tastes like a prehistoric seabed of marine fossils, and it smells almost chalky too, like oyster shell (washed, of course) with a twist of lemon. It also has a touch of viscosity which you don’t often get with Aligoté. But if one descriptor leaps out, you guessed it, salinity! It coats the whole palate. The salinity and fruit come together in something actually quite sensual. A beguiling wine, as always.
Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.
DOLCETTO D’ALBA “ROUSSOT” 2020, FRANCESCO RINALDI (Piemonte, Italy)
This Alba producer is naturally famed for their Barolo wines, but they have a fairly good distribution for wines made from the so-called lesser varieties of the Langhe. I say “so-called” because as any lover of the region knows, you buy your Barolo to drink in the next life and your Barbera and Dolcetto to drink in this one. Although there is some nice wine labelled as Nebbiolo d’Alba, you can often get more satisfaction from the other traditional varieties, especially with food.
“Roussot” is a traditional wine from a traditional producer, but having the Rinaldi name attached, it is no mere afterthought to fill a gap in the range. It is fermented in stainless steel to retain the fruit freshness that the best Dolcetto has. No pimping-up with wood or anything. It goes through its malolactic whilst there, and then into bottle. The fruit is indeed fresh, and crunchy, balanced with violet and other floral notes on the nose. The finish is that classic mix of bitter-sweet red and dark fruits.
This 2020 might actually improve in bottle but I’d say don’t bother, it’s not the point. Enjoy it now. It’s delicious, and £18 isn’t too much to pay for a versatile wine like this. Fusilli with pesto, chopped tomatoes, garlic, salad onions and some baby spinach and we’re away.
This was purchased at Butlers Wine Cellar, Brighton.
“DATO NOAH” 2020, NIKA WINERY (Kakheti, Georgia)
In February we drank a red wine from Nika Winery, my first from this little-known producer in Georgia’s eastern province of Kakheti. This wine also comes from the same stony Tsaraphi vineyard as that red. It’s in the Alazani Valley and is one of eight smallish plots farmed by artist and sculptor Nika Bakhia and his wife. They have all been farmed organically from the start (2006) and it is doubtful these old vines had ever seen chemical inputs. Winemaking uses the traditional qvevri vessels for fermentation and ageing.
Dato Noah references Nika’s nephews, David and Noah. It’s a single varietal Rkatsiteli. Out of the qvevri it is a glistening bronze colour, certainly darker than many skin contact wines. The bouquet is at first sweet apricot and (yes) rust. It has an earthy nose and texture which immediately reminded me of my first taste of COS Frappato all those years ago.
The palate adds honey but also tannin from the skins. Unfiltered, it’s a wine that is broad-shouldered, carried by its 14.5% alcohol. It’s a complex wine, not at first easy to understand on tasting on its own, I think, but it excels with food. It does evolve, both the bouquet and on the palate, over time in a nice big glass, and not too chilled.
Nika Winery is a recent addition to the Basket Press Wines portfolio. Credit to those guys for being adventurous. There was a time when Georgia was left to Les Caves, so it’s good to see others joining the party.
WEIßER BURGUNDER & CHARDONNAY 2019, KELLER (Rheinhessen, Germany)
This is another wine from a famous, classic, producer which deviates from their most expensive and sought-after wines. In this case, Klaus Peter Keller is well known for making wines towards the bottom of his range which are almost every bit as good as the top wines. Well, if that’s a slight exaggeration, it’s not that far off the mark. They certainly represent amazing value. The demand for the top wines of Rheinhessen’s most famous son is such that even those who can afford them can’t always purchase them. But if you want Keller Silvaners, Weisserburgunder, or indeed this blend, you can usually get hold of them and astute drinkers do just that.
Weißer Burgunder is a bit of a speciality at this Florsheim-Dalsheim address anyway, and KP has always been adept at getting the best from it, but I think many people are surprised to find Chardonnay here. They go well together. Felix Keller has coaxed orchard fruits (apple and pear) from grapes vinified swiftly after picking. The terroir is, I’m told, what adds the lick of salinity. At the moment the wine has a very appealing zippy freshness, but if kept a while it will evolve a more creamy texture and will last at least five years. Not that I could ever buy enough to keep any that long.
Purchased from The Solent Cellar (£28), according to their web site they have just half-a-dozen left. You could also try Howard Ripley.
“FRIMAS” 2019, CHÂTEAU DE BONNEZEAUX (Loire, France)
The grape variety we all complain no one drinks enough of is Riesling. Well, it’s probably my favourite variety and I drink plenty. What I don’t drink enough of, a variety equally capable of greatness, is Chenin Blanc. This is a wine which has emphatically reminded me of that fact.
I do remember the old sweet wines of the Château de Bonnezeaux from back when I had just begun to appreciate wine. It appears that the vineyards fell out of production for about three decades until a younger member of the family, Guyonne Saclier de la Bâtie, along with her uncle, revived them. But with one big difference. Bonnezeaux, the appellation, is for sweet wines, and Guyonne is making biodynamic dry Chenin Blanc, so this is labelled Vin de France.
Frimas comes from parcels close to the château itself, but some purchased fruit was used in this 2019 because the frost-affected crop was tiny. It is therefore technically a negociant wine. The vines are on schist slopes and were hand-harvested. Fermentation used natural indigenous yeasts and the grapes were basket-pressed very gently. After spending 12 months in oak the wine was, however, lightly filtered before bottling, with a small addition of sulphur.
The bouquet is classic Chenin, certainly identifiable by those who know the variety. The confit lemon and honey of the bouquet is replicated on the palate along with a touch of pear. The wine is dry, but there’s a definite richness, accentuated by the lovely balanced 13.5% alcohol, and seen in the notable legs on the side of the glass. It’s a lovely honey colour too. This wine has so much. It’s fairly rare but it was only £30, again at The Solent Cellar, and came as a recommendation from Simon Smith. Of all the wines so far drunk in 2022, this one surprised me the most. I’d never heard of it. Now it’s all over social media. I’m very glad I once again trusted his recommendation. A lovely wine. Must…drink…more…Chenin!
FIELD BLEND 2018 “SKIN FERMENTATION”, THE HERMIT RAM (North Canterbury, New Zealand)
Theo Coles makes quite remarkable wines from the Limestone Hills Vineyard in North Canterbury, on New Zealand’s South Island. They are so far removed from what most people experience as New Zealand wines, and yet they are full of excitement, even if that sometimes takes them close to the edge. I’ve only met Theo a couple of times and can’t say I know him, and yet through his wines he seems to come closest to a couple of other producers I revere, Julie Balagny and Alice Bouvot.
Since he began making wine here in 2012, Theo has used zero additives and the wines are all gently matured in old oak. The field blend here contains Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Gewurztraminer, all old vines within the North Canterbury context. The (red) juice sees six weeks on skins after which it is pressed into very old barrels where it goes through its malolactic. Then it’s bottled with no fining, no filtration and no additions of sulphur.
The aromatics are lovely, quite exotic (maybe a touch of the Gewurz coming through?) but mostly of bright red fruits. I don’t know the percentages, but on the palate this does have a bit of Pinot Noir character. If the nose is intoxicating then the palate escapes like a jack-in-the-box with fresh red fruits riding on a wave of concentrated fruit acids. Delicious.
Uncharted Wines imports Hermit Ram, but you will also possibly find their wines at Littlewine, where I grabbed this. The 2020 vintage is currently on special offer on their web site, priced at £22 (£3 off). If you want to try an edgy NZ natural wine, it’s a bargain, though approach with caution if you like your NZ reds in a more classical style.