Continuing swiftly into Part 2 of the wines we most enjoyed at home during March, we begin with a gorgeous Crémant du Jura, then a long-time friend from Burgenland, my first taste of a natural wine producer from Alsace, a long-sought Bugey-Cerdon, Tim Phillips’s immaculate Hampshire Cider and a white from a relatively new German producer I’m beginning to like a lot. I think we should jump straight in.
CRÉMANT DU JURA 2016, DOMAINE BURONFOSSE (Jura, France)
Peggy and Jean-Pascal Buronfosse farm just four hectares at La Combe, near the famous Southern Jura village of Rotalier, and at St-Laurent-de-Grandvaux. They had the opportunity to start their domaine when one of Rotalier’s old-timers took a shine to what Peggy wanted to achieve and allowed them to take over his vines. That was more than twenty years ago. They now have an Ecocert accredited domaine, making a lovely range of wines, but I shamefully have to admit that having sought out many of their bottles in the region, this was the first time I’d drunk their Crémant.
Peggy had a lot of encouragement from near neighbour Jean-François Ganevat, and this has influenced the couple to concentrate on white wines, as is common in Jura’s Sud-Revermont…though I must say that in my opinion their reds are no less good. This particular vintage of the Crémant blends a little Savagnin into what was always a pure Chardonnay cuvée (I am told).
Bottle age has matured it into a delicious wine of depth, but one which also seems to mirror the vivacity of its maker. This really is good. It’s not just “drinking the stars”, it’s drinking the whole damned Milky Way. It’s not cheap (for Crémant du Jura) at £39/bottle retail, but I have to admit I’m very tempted to buy some more. Trouble is, production is small and demand is great. It’s one of those domaines you might find more easily in New York or Tokyo, but Buronfosse comes into the UK through Raeburns. My bottle came from The Solent Cellar, one of the most astute purchasers/retailers of Jura wines in the country.
BLAUFRÄNKISCH RIED KULM 2017, HEIDI SCHRÖCK (Burgenland, Austria)
I visited Heidi Schröck when I spent a few days in Rust, back in 2015 (which is way too long ago…definitely would have been back but for Covid). I had appreciated her wines for a few years, but meeting her I realised just what a wonderful human being she is. This always enhances my love of the wines.
Heidi lives and works on the edge of the town’s chocolate box main square, where she will receive visitors by appointment. She’s been in charge of the family’s vines since 1983. Those vines total around ten hectares on the gentle slopes angled towards the shallow reed beds of the Neusiedlersee’s western shore. The domaine produces a wide range of wines, from single varietals, both red and white, up to complex Ruster-Ausbrüch stickies. Her red wines are most often from soils on limestone, which here produce classic Blaufränkisch.
This single vineyard cuvée was aged in wood. We get deep scented cherries on the bouquet and palate too, a little structure, but the tannins have smoothed out just enough to make this 2017 in a nice place for drinking (but it will keep longer if you insist). There is always something mineral about the variety from this location, both on the nose as well as the palate, where it gives an earthy edge here to the quite concentrated fruit.
This bottle came via Lay & Wheeler, though in the past I have bought it several times direct from Alpine Wines.
L’INDIGÈNE 2020, DOMAINE BOHN (Alsace, France)
Bernard and Arthur Bohn, father and son respectively, have nine hectares of vines on Precambrian schist, slate and shale at Reichsfeld and on sandstone and volcanic soils at Nothalten. We are in the Bas Rhin here, just a little to the south of Andlau and Mittelbergheim, in what has become perhaps the golden triangle of Alsace natural winemaking. This is a three-centuries-old family domaine, but it was Arthur’s arrival on the team in 2010 which saw the move to low-input viticulture, including the rejection of any added sulphur, along with a predilection for skin contact.
Arthur is also (far from alone in Alsace in this respect) interested in pursuing the no-till practices of Masanobu Fukuoka (see my article on Fukuoka’s “One Straw Revolution” on this site, August 2021). Both father and son very much see themselves as conservationists as well as farmers.
L’Indigène is made from 70-y-o Sylvaner coming two-thirds off the Reichsfeld schist and a third from that Nothalten sandstone. The skin contact here is a fairly significant five weeks, after which they remove the dry top of the cap before gentle pressing into foudre. The result is an equally gentle bronze colour with a bouquet of apricot and soft apple. The palate is super-refreshing, with more of the apricot plus a little almost peppery spice. There’s a bit of apple skin too and a little bit of tannic texture.
It doesn’t really help when I say that this was exceptional. I grabbed it off the top shelf at Winemakers Club the second I saw it, sitting all lonely on its own. Now it’s all gone. Domaine Bohn is brought to the UK by Vine Trail, who I sadly have to say is one of the very few importers who really get Alsace (pet beef here), certainly the exciting new wines coming out of the region.
BUGEY-CERDON 2019, RENARDÂT-FACHE (Bugey, France)
Bugey is one of those few remaining parts of France viticole that could still truly be described as a sleepy rural idyll. The vineyards sit south of the Jura region, of which those of the Cerdon cru are an extension, on a vague line between Bourg-en-Bresse and Geneva. They are within France’s first department, Ain. The Bugey vineyards are split, north and south. The southern sector includes the crus of Montagnieu and Manicle and many wines are based on traditional Savoie varieties. Bugey-Cerdon sits in the northern section of the appellation, just south of the rather impressive tunnels and vast concrete supports of the aptly named A40 “Autoroute des Titans”, which I have driven along many times, bound for Geneva.
As Wink Lorch points out (Wines of the French Alps, 2019), Renardat-Fâche is the most internationally known producer (exported to 12 countries, she says) of a wine which many, I guess, might think old-fashioned and even obsolete. Yet it isn’t. Not remotely. It is a wine whose time has come. Cerdon is an Ancestral Method light sparkler which ends its fermentation leaving the wine with some residual sugar and low alcohol.
Current winemaker Elie is passionate about Poulsard. These days much Cerdon is made from just Gamay, as in fact is the Renardat-Fâche negociant bottling (they buy in about 20% of grapes used), which also contains fruit from their young vines. This domaine bottling (black label) usually contains around 30% Poulsard. In 2019 I think the Poulsard quota went up to 42%.
Viticulture has always been organic, and Elie is using some elements of biodynamics too. The one thing holding him back from full conversion is the rain they get. Vinification starts with a maceration/soak of some of the grapes, to get the pale colour from the skins. Just a few hours are enough. Local yeasts get the fermentation in bottle started, and unlike in Champagne, the bottles are left standing up, not laid down. A lot of local quality producers swear by this, saying that it starts the fermentation more slowly and leads to finer bubbles. Elie is unusual, however, in that since 2020 (ie the vintage after this) he has begun to blend vintages for consistency.
The wine is light pink in colour, very fresh and fruity, light on the palate and frankly delicious. The red fruit dances on the tongue. It’s hard to think of a better wine to drink at lunch, outdoors in the middle of a hot summer, or with cake for afternoon tea. This is not one of the sweeter versions of Bugey-Cerdon, being more off-dry rather than semi-sweet. The acids set off the sugar remaining from a ferment where just 8% abv is achieved. The received wisdom is to drink these within a year of release, but this is still fresh and rather lovely. I have another bottle, which I’m hoping to add to next week.
Domaine Renardat-Fâche is at Mérignat (115 rue de la Balmette). The village is close to the autoroute, and you will also find there the domaines of Raphaël Bartucci and Balivet (the latter whose wines you may have seen me write about here on a number of occasions). According to Wink Lorch’s book, all three accept visitors by appointment. After trying to track down this particular wine for at least two years Solent Cellar kindly ordered some in for me. Raeburn is, as with Buronfosse above, the UK importer. Perhaps I need to pay them a bit closer attention!
“PERFECT STRANGERS” ARTISAN CIDER BRUT NATURE, CHARLIE HERRING WINES (Hampshire, England)
Charlie Herring is the domaine name for Tim Phillips, who makes tiny quantities of highly sought-after wines from a walled vineyard (Clos du Paradis) in Hampshire, just west of Lymington. To supplement his small grape production Tim is fortunate to own an orchard next door. There is generally more cider to satisfy his expectant customers than wine, so it is fortunate that his cider is excellent as well.
Tim made wine in South Africa before he returned to the UK. He still has mature stocks of his red wines made there (some are available from Littlewine and are well worth checking out). A friend of Tim’s, Tom Shobbrook, makes a cider/red wine blend in Australia near Seppeltfield. I don’t know whether this provided any inspiration for Tim, but his “Perfect Strangers” cider (clue in the name) is made with the addition of a small dose of Tim’s South African Shiraz. It gives the cider both colour and a wine-like flavour. Something different but something special.
The addition of red wine also has the effect of making this fine-bubbled drink quite like a petnat in some respects, as much as it also has the apple-freshness that signals it is cider. There’s vibrant ripe apple fruit, which also adds the acids of a good dry cider. This combines with winey red fruits on the nose to at first confuse before satisfying. Makes you think as well as taste. This bottle is a 2017 vintage, disgorged November 2020. It tastes just made yesterday.
I buy this cider regularly, so I’m sure a good few readers will have seen me write about it before. I make no apology for writing about it again. I usually buy my bottles direct from Tim, but they are sometimes available, until they sell out, from Les Caves de Pyrene, and at Tim’s local indie wine shop, Solent Cellar in Lymington (around £18). Tim will be at Tobacco Dock for The Real Wine Fair in late May. His bottles (especially the wines) are so rare that this may afford the best chance of trying his range. He should have a new still pink cider to show alongside some wines. There’s rarely a bottle left of most of the wines within a week of release in most vintages. The recent release of his famous sparkling Riesling was distributed by single bottle lottery. Tim has a very devoted following.
“BLANC” 2019, MAX SEIN WEIN (Franconia, Germany)
Max Baumann is a talented new name working vines at Wertheim-Dertingen, in Württemberg/Franconia, southeast of Stuttgart. It’s not exactly somewhere you will find on most vineyard maps of Germany. Coming from a winemaking family of several generations, Max travelled to make wine in New Zealand, but slightly closer to home he worked with Judith Beck and Gut Oggau, both in Burgenland, Austria. He has several varieties planted on a small 3.5-ha estate. Some are from vines over sixty years of age, almost all on limestone (around 5% on red sandstone).
“Blanc” blends three of Max’s white varieties, Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner and Gewürztraminer. His methods are described as organic, but he uses no additives and this wine is made without any added sulphur. The MT is 50% fermented on skins for ten days and the rest is direct pressed with the Silvaner. The Gewürztraminer is then added in. Fermentation is mostly in old oak, around 10% in stainless steel.
The nose manages to confuse a little initially, but in a complex way. It starts out quite herbal, savoury, and then the Gewürz spice comes through, and with it a richness of tone and a bit more roundness. The palate is deliciously savoury too, but it’s also very zingy with apple freshness. On the finish I am sure I was getting ginger. I’ve become something of a fan of Max’s wines and I am also impressed with what he manages to do with Pinot Meunier in a still red.
This wine is still available (at the time of looking) at Basket Press Wines, £25.