Moving on to Part 2 of the wines we drank here at home during April, you might wonder that we are drinking all our favourite wines like there’s no tomorrow! Well, it’s true that you don’t want to leave all your best wines to posterity, but it’s also a question of balance. Cellar stocking chez-moi may have slowed beyond a trickle but it’s all a matter of balance. Nevertheless, there’s no denying that this selection of wines does contain several of my favourite producers.
We begin with two Burgenlanders, then a secret star of the South Downs not far from my home, and then an example of the kind of quality you can find down the range at some Rheinhessen producers of note. The Montagne de Reims provides a twenty-year-old favourite before we end with two contrasting wines, both as good as the other in their own way. A mere 2018 from La Palma, one of the smaller Canary Islands, and an almost twenty-one-year-old Barolo. The last wine reinforced what I already know, which is that when it comes to wine, I sometimes think I know nothing.
THEODORA WEISS 2020, GUT OGGAU (Burgenland, Austria)
I saw just this past weekend that they are gearing up to begin the season at Gut Oggau, by which I mean opening the Inn which serves as a beacon for lovers of their beautiful biodynamic wines from far and wide, as well as the locals. If I were to be allowed to visit, say, just four wine regions in Europe then Burgenland would be one of them. Memories of this wine certainly made me pine for Oggau, Rust and Gols etc.
As I’m sure you will know, the Gut Oggau “family” consists of three generations. Theodora is one of the younger members of that family. This is apt because when I first came to try the wines of this producer, on the western shore of the Neusiedlersee, I kind of thought of her as the future. A natural wine stripped of artifice and absolutely resonant with joie-de-vivre.
Theodora 2020 is a blend of Grüner Veltliner and Welschriesling which saw two hours of skin contact before pressing into old oak for both fermentation and ageing. She may be a young one, but she is far from simple. On the surface you have a vibrant, refreshing, white wine. Beneath the surface there’s plenty going on. Melon for one thing (Galia or watermelon, who cares) and something very definitely spicy. The acidity and low alcohol (11.5% abv) suggest lightness but there’s depth too. An uplifting wine, and advantageously less expensive than the older generations have become in our inflation-hit, post-brexit, world.
Gut Oggau is imported by Dynamic Vines in the UK. The wines are also available at Antidote, off Carnaby Street in Central London.
“IN A HELL MOOD” 2019, RENNER & RENNERSISTAS (Burgenland, Austria)
Stefanie, Susanne and Georg are another bright shining beacon of Burgenland natural winemaking, this time working from Gols, which may well be the Neusiedlersee village best endowed with natural winemaking stars. The winery is an imposingly simple one on the edge of the village where the siblings’ father created the Renner profile as a well-regarded member of the region’s Pannobile group (nine Gols producers formed Pannobile in 1994 to raise the quality profile of the region’s wines) before (initially) his daughters made their own take on production. Now joined by their younger brother, they have updated the image to appeal to a voracious younger clientele whilst establishing their brand through some of the most innovative labels in Austria.
“In A Hell Mood” could not be further from the more classical wines which appear under the Pannobile label. This pétnat is named after Stefanie’s Instagram moniker. The varietal composition in this 2019, like the vintage before it, is Pinot Noir, the first grapes picked in the harvest going into this cuvée. I might be misinformed, but I believe the 2020 was made from Saint-Laurent (according to Littlewine’s web site).
The ’19 is pale and frothy with scents of red fruits. Less wild than some previous bottles/vintages, it was still super-fresh with a tight twister of fine bubbles rising in the glass, coating the palate with a creamy texture. Whilst red fruits dominate, I even sensed hints of apricot and maybe even pear. Delicious.
At just 10% abv this is a vivacious pétnat which has never come remotely close to putting me in a hell mood. £29 from Littlewine before the hopefully temporary closure of their shop, but imported by Newcomer Wines in any event.
CUVÉE MICHELLE MOREAU 2014, BREAKY BOTTOM (Sussex Downs, England)
This Breaky Bottom Cuvée was, I think, the one with which I began my love affair with Peter Hall’s wines. It’s not merely the wine. It’s also the man…and the location (the most beautiful vineyard I’ve ever visited in England, for sure). But then, it IS the wine.
In 1974 Peter planted vines on free-draining chalk in a natural bowl (“bottom”) on, or in, the South Downs near Rodmell. As he says himself, “near enough to the sea to offer a sheltered microclimate against frost”, though over the years he’s had much else to contend with. Somehow, through everything, his total focus on quality has created some near-perfect wines, all benefiting from time on lees and bottle age. In an age when a lot of money has been thrown at English Sparkling Wine (and I’m not knocking those producers), it’s nice to look to see what our few artisans are doing, and Peter has really few, if any, peers when it comes to experience in that realm.
Named after the sister of the famous French actress, Jeanne Moreau (all BB cuvées are named after family friends), the base is 70% Chardonnay, blended with 15% Pinot Noir and the same quantity of Meunier. This bottle was really beginning to come into its own, being slightly more developed than the bottle I drank last year. The acids are still bright and refreshing but perfectly balanced with the soft, sensuous and enthralling fruit. In comes a little more brioche, something of a mere hint a year ago. Like everything from this address, if you want me to reduce it to one word, elegance.
Londoners and others can find these wines at Corney & Barrow, but Brighton family-owned independent merchant Butlers Wine Cellar (friends of the Halls) stocks a near comprehensive range of Breaky Bottom (when individual cuvées are not sold out), and they ship them. They will charge you what, with the current cost of Champagne rising, is surely a bargain £35.
WESTHOFENER RIESLING TROCKEN 2018, WEINGUT WITTMANN (Rheinhessen, Germany)
Much as I love Keller, of course I do, I do not think I like the wines of Philipp Wittmann any less. This Wonnegau estate, working out of the famous village of Westhofen, is famous for many things, including its old cellars (built 1829, but the family has made wine here since 1663) and its use exclusively of large, traditional, wooden casks for winemaking. Yet this is in no way an estate looking to the past. They have been fully biodynamic since as early as 2004, and as well as their wines from the famous sites, classified “Grand Cru” vineyards under their VDP membership, they show equal pride in the wines they make from lesser sites (and from grapes other than Riesling). When I say “equal” I mean literally that.
This Riesling Trocken is the estate’s “village wine”, though it still comes from fine hillside sites, most in fact from the giddy metaphorical heights of the GG of Morstein, plus a little fruit from Brunnenhaüschen. It is modern in style, being dry, but is certainly classical in tone.
There is a surprising level of intensity here in a wine labelled with the village name. That intensity comes from, and is built around, the wine’s mineral core, but in parallel there is also a degree of richness. That said, minerality rules. The quite tropical lime and grapefruit is there to balance the rock, expressed through a line of salinity any German producer would be content with. It hits way above its QbA status.
Most of my Wittmanns come from The Solent Cellar in Lymington. They are pretty widely available in the UK, however.
COEUR DE CUVÉE 2002, CHAMPAGNE VILMART (Champagne, France)
Champagne Vilmart is hidden away atop the Montagne de Reims in the village of Rilly-la-Montagne. In charge of the house’s eleven hectares of vineyard since 1989 here is Laurent Champs, whose father before him has created the wonderful stained glass which adorns the barrel cellar, is recreated on some of the metal caps beneath each cuvée’s wire muselet, and on the label of the regrettably no longer produced “Cuvée Création”.
Vilmart is unusual in several respects. First, all their vineyards are concentrated in just a dozen plots close to Rilly on the Montagne. Secondly, their vines are around 60% Chardonnay in a sub-region where we know Pinot Noir to be the dominant variety. Finally, Vilmart’s sites are all classified Premier Cru. They don’t own any Grand Cru vines. This might mean that their range has to be structured to allow for this, but at the top (by which I mean the Grand Cellier d’Or, their exemplary Rosé (Cuvée Rubis) and the star Coeur de Cuvée, they have few equals among the smaller houses.
The key to excellence at this level (Coeur) is very old vines, of 40-50 years of age. The wines are all fermented in oak, mostly in majestic large foudres. This can lead to them being misinterpreted when young. This 2002 Coeur saw ten months in oak before bottle fermentation. Depending on vintage they need I would suggest a minimum of a dozen years to begin to show their true value. I will say here that few producers make wine as good as Coeur de Cuvée in so-called poor vintages, and this cuvée was one of the few I bought at all in the previous vintage, 2001 (and I bought more than a bottle).
Of course, 2002 was no poor vintage, on the contrary. Even at twenty years old this is a full and opulent prestige cuvée where richness has developed with maturity, simply replacing the oak influence with something wholly integrated and balanced. Whilst the nose is initially like opening the bakery door, you soon sense apple skin, lemon, ginger and cinnamon, plus a tiny hint of caramel. I do appreciate maturity in Champagne, but others might think this is at its peak. I am tempted to give my one remaining bottle another year, but let’s see.
I’m unsure where I purchased this bottle. It was either from a couple of mixed cases I bought on a visit there, or from The Solent Cellar a few years later. I think the bottles from Lymington’s finest wine store are long gone from their fine wine section.
LISTAN NEGRO “LAS ROSAS” 2018, VICTORIA TORRES PECIS (Canary Islands, Spain)
Based at Fuencaliente in the south of the small island of La Palma, Viki Torres runs the old Matías i Torres winery, taking over from her father, Juan, and bringing a passion for artisan natural wines which have, among aficionados of the Canary Islands, brought her fame far in excess of her small production.
She farms up to centenarian vines scattered over La Palma, autochthonous varieties which she fashions into unique wines with an infinite sense of place and truly individual personalities. Viki is undoubtedly one of a group of women winemakers whose skill goes way beyond college learning. “Inherited knowledge and intuition are our guides” she explained to John Szabo (Volcanic Wines, 2016, p130).
This wine is made from 100% Listán Negro, 80-year-old vines grown on the east of La Palma. It may be a small island but the microclimates are remarkably different, especially between the dry black volcanic soils of the south and the lush green of the north. But, of course, all of the soils here were spewed forth from the Cumbre Vieja volcano, which has been so active lately. The east is buffeted by strong winds so the vines, all growing between 550-650 masl, are lucky to be well-established, hunkering low to the ground, and of course the wind keeps the vines more or less disease free, perfect for Viki’s low-intervention approach.
The wine is made in concrete and has all the slightly dusty textural hallmarks of this medium. Mid-coloured red, light, fresh acids, the bouquet is all smoky red fruits. Zippy and clean it may be, to a degree, but it has a wild side as well. It’s a little bit edgy, in a good way. It’s a wine which refuses to make a big impact upfront, preferring to linger long on the palate to make its undeniable impression. I’m afraid you won’t get much in the way of total objectivity from me. I’m very much at home with all Viki’s wines.
Victoria Torres Pecis is imported by Modal Wines in the UK. Chambers Street Wines in the USA, I believe.
BAROLO CLASSICO RISERVA 2001, GIACOMO BORGOGNO (Piemonte, Italy)
Founded in 1761, though today with quite a modern outlook, this 20-hectare estate in the village of Barolo itself has, in the past, taken a classical, traditional approach. There is no hesitation here in calling this wine “old school” so long as it is taken in the right way…because this wine was something of a revelation.
I didn’t read anything about the wine before drinking it. When one particular Barolo lover came to dinner I remembered it had her name on it. I can’t even be certain where I bought it, though I think it was most likely at the Harvey’s brewery shop in Lewes (or possibly at Berry Brothers, who still stock Borgogno). Wherever, it was back in the mists of time.
If I had done my research properly, I’d have considered keeping this at least five years longer, if not a decade more. This doesn’t mean it was way too young. In fact, it was that all too rare classic Barolo dominated by liquorice and tar with a lifted bouquet of rose petal and dark fruits. A long way from shy and retiring, but it had more than enough charm. The tannins have smoothed away but unlike many old Barolos, it hasn’t lost its fruit.
Long and substantial, Robert Parker’s site suggested a window of 2021-2041. No wonder I’m reluctant to buy Barolo any more. But it was a joy to drink a wine like this. They don’t come around all that often. I am happy to report than it certainly cost significantly less than the £70 I’ve seen quoted today. That might even be a bargain for a wine that may have another decade of life in it.