In my introduction to Part One of my coverage of RealWine 2022 I mentioned that, wandering around the tables and bumping into friends, I was bombarded with producer recommendations, most of which I had no time to visit. One or two I was able to see. There were also cases where people annoyingly said the next day “oh, did you taste that amazing…”. If only you’d come and dragged me there. We start Part Two with a producer I found for myself, the only one from Greece, but at least five or six people asked me whether I had been to their stand. A stand-out of the fair.
KAMARA ESTATE (Thessaloniki, Greece)
The Kioutsoukis family (Dimitrios, Elefhteria and their children) abandoned the city and planted eleven hectares of vines at Oreokastro, in Thessaloniki on the Northern Greek Mainland. Dimitrios is an advocate of permaculture and regenerative viticulture is central to what he does. Soil health in the vineyard and no interventions in winemaking, including zero added sulphur. The varieties planted are mainly autochthonous, including Malagousia, Roditis, Assyrtiko and Xinomavro. Eleftheria told me that they like to make wines to go with food, but I think these lovely wines are fit for any occasion. They are certainly neither heavy nor clumsy, nor are they insubstantial.
Stalisma 2021 is ablend of 80% Malagousia and 20% Xinomavro with three days on skins, yet still creating a white wine despite the presence of black grapes. This is a fresh and soft wine which sees just three months in used barrels.
Shadow Play White 2021 is 100% Assyrtiko. Although the variety is famous for, in some cases, extreme minerality when grown on its perceived home, the island of Santorini, here we get a different expression of the variety. Harvest takes place in September. There is still a line of minerality here, but it is wrapped in a nice chalky softness. I don’t think it will require the length of time needed for some Santorini Assyrtiko to express themselves.
Petnat Rosé 2020 is a three-variety blend of Malagousia, Assyrtiko and Xinomavro. The Xinomavro grapes are from the following vintage, so in this case from 2021. They start-off the second, bottle fermentation. No disgorgement takes place. It’s a simple wine, but in the most positive sense. It is massively fresh and refreshing and Dimitrios says he absolutely loves to drink it at lunchtime. Exactly my thinking. At 12.5% abv it’s not the lowest alcohol petnat you’ll find, but the zingy red-berry freshness makes it seem lighter.
Shadow Play Red 2020 is produced from young Xinomavro grapes. The result is a wine with pleasant lifted scents of red fruits, with a slightly darker tone (coffee, tobacco, tar?) just coming through. But despite the 13.5% alcohol, well, you’d never guess. It has the kind of lightness of touch which suggests you could serve it cool in summer. I’m pretty sure that having no added sulphur has something to do with it.
Keramos Orange 2020 was a contender for my favourite wine on the table. To 80% Assyrtiko they have added 20% Muscat of Samos, a grape more famous for its dessert wines. The wine is made in small amphora (225-litre), hand made in Crete, with full skins etc. The result isn’t a tannic, grippy, wine but one which lingers on the tongue with flavours which are more redolent of the Greek mainland, with soft fruits and herbs, rather than the scorching summer heat of the islands.
Keramos Red 2020 is the second wine tasted made in amphora. Two varieties are blended, Xinomavro and Limnio. Limnio is an interesting variety. We see very little of it, but hailing originally from the island of Limnios, it dates right back, ampelographers think, to Ancient Greece. It has a fair chance of being the same variety Aristotle called Lemnia. It makes full-bodied, mineral, wines with low tannin, so perhaps it’s ideal as a blending component.
This wine sees 30 days on skins in the amphora and then a further nine months after the skins are removed. Neither variety have made this a tannic wine, even in its youth. Instead, we have a unique wine with lifted aromatics and red berry fruit of some vibrancy. A red which feels alive. I loved it.
Retsina “Nimbus Ritinitis” 2020. I came back to taste the retsina at the end of the day. I thought it might wreck my palate, but it didn’t. I’m sure I’m not alone in having had bad experiences drinking too much retsina. Eleftheria explained how this speciality used to be made by small producers and artisans, but that during the 1970s onwards it was taken over by industrial producers and got such a bad name. Artisan production is coming back, and to be fair I can recall tasting some delicious retsina wines at wine fairs pre-Covid, on the stands of the specialist importers.
Kamara Estate makes its retsina from 100% Assyrtiko with 7-9 days of skin contact. The pine resin is specially selected from a producer on Evia, the large island near to Athens partially connected to the mainland. They add just one kilo per tonne of grapes. Like all the wines, it is unfiltered and no sulphites are added. It’s the most “natural” (in both senses) retsina I’ve tried. So different to the kind which made me ill in the 1980s.
Importer – Les Caves de Pyrene.
LA BIANCARA (Veneto, Italy)
Angiolino and Alessandro Maule run this estate with the help of Emma Bentley, who I’ve known for a number of years. However, if that might make me somewhat subjective about this estate, I don’t think I need worry. Its fame has rightly grown over the years since Angiolino founded it sixteen or so years ago. As a founder of one of Italy’s natural wine groupings, VinNatur, he is a beacon of low intervention viticulture in a region once wholly dominated by very large-scale producers and just a few famous artisans.
Garg ‘n’ Go Sparkling 2020 is a “colfondo” blend of La Biancara’s Masieri white wine (the estate’s entry level), fermented in stainless steel, with 5% of sweet wine must from their passito added the following spring. This gets the second, bottle, fermentation going but, like all the wine here, there is no fining nor filtration, and the lees remain in the bottle without disgorgement. Fresh, frothy but medium-bodied with very good length. Lively wine for food or fun, this is very good indeed. The grape? Garganega, of course. You never knew it could be so good with bubbles, right?
Sassaia 2020 is a step up from the entry level Masieri Bianco, which I didn’t taste this time. It’s a selection of Garganega from a single, favoured, site, very rocky terroir. It’s the original 4-ha vineyard which came with the house. After just one night on skins before fermentation it spends nine months in oak. The result is a delicious blend of fruit and savoury flavours in a wine which is both easy to drink but yet has a distinct personality.
I was able to taste the 2016 Sassaia from magnum and what a treat that was. I hate magnums. I mean, it’s so hard to find occasions to drink too many of them, and at dinner parties it’s often all about trying a range of different wines. But there’s no question that wine ages so well in this larger format and this tasted noble and extraordinary. It’s not as if this wine is especially expensive either.
Pico Bianco 2019 comes from three parcels at around 250-to-300 masl. There are three soil types: volcanic, limestone and soil rich in iron. After four nights on skins the wine goes into used oak for twelve months. A small fraction of the cuvée is left on the skins for four months, which helps add a little structure and, Emma says, helps with ageing. This white has more structure than the others, perhaps being a little more serious. There’s certainly potential to age and for complexity.
Masieri Rosso 2020 blends Merlot with Tai Rosso. Of course, “Tai” is a truncated form of “Tocai”, but you can’t call it Tocai Rosso any more. However, it is merely a synonym for Grenache/Garnacha, although the variety has been here in Veneto for several centuries and has doubtless developed traits which make it very different to those of the Grenache grown in France, Spain or Sardinia. It’s a purple, juicy, wine fermented in stainless steel (destemmed and five days on skins). Lovely vibrant fruit, zippy acids and a touch of tannin on the finish adding bite and crunch.
Passito Monte Sorio 2016. I had a bit of a thing for Recioto di Soave in my younger days. This isn’t the same but it reminds me a lot of those wines and it brings back pleasant memories, including of the region itself. Garganega is harvested in September and the bunches are left to hang, to dry and shrivel in the sun, concentrating the sugars. The grapes are then fermented slowly (left one month in a 500-litre barrel). Sweet, spicy, complex with an absolutely delicious twist on the finish, bitter and sweet. Very slight notes of oxidation and bitter almond. 17% abv but only 50g residual sugar in 2016 (the norm is around 80g). This is the only wine Angiolino adds sulphites to (with all that sugar probably a good call), around 20mg/l.
Note to independent wine retailers – these really are top wines. Distributed via Les Caves.
MAISON YVES DUPORT (Bugey, France)
This ten-hectare estate has been in the Duport family for four generations. They farm the fabled Montagnieu slope, but some of their best vines are ungrafted, on the hillside below the Château at Groslée-St-Benoît, where they have their base (Yves’s daughter having joined her father after starting a career in banking). I’ve known Yves’s wines for many years now, one of the first Bugey producers I bought, having good friends who live not too distant from this bucolic rural idyll of scattered vines and mixed farming, almost lost in modern France.
I am, as many readers will know, something of a fan of Bugey and believe that it has the kind of feel Jura did three or four decades ago. That is, you have a few long-established producers of quality, now joined by a clutch of young people, a good few originating outside of the region, making exciting small production wines. Yves is long established, but this is nevertheless very much a natural wine producer who uses very minimal sulphur. Why Maison? I’m not sure. As far as I can tell they do buy in some extra Chardonnay, but this is hardly a large negociant house.
Originale Crémant 2018 is a good wine to kick off with. Bugey is divided into two sectors, and both are known for their sparkling wines. This is a traditional method sparkler blending Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Aligoté. It sees a gentle direct press and first fermentation takes place in stainless steel. The dosage after second fermentation is low, perhaps 2g/l, and is hard to detect – the wine tastes very dry. In this part of Bugey there’s an unusual, but common, twist to the method. The lees are isolated and heated to 20 degrees before being incorporated back into the wine with bâtonnage. The result is a leesy richness in the wine combined with tension and clarity in the acids. It works well.
L’Intact Pet Nat 2021 is a collaboration with Yves’s UK importer, who was keen on a Rosé Petnat. A single hectare of Gamay (not uncommon in Bugey) was direct pressed, fermented in stainless steel, and bottled with 8g/l of residual sugar remaining in the wine. The wine is chilled and so begins to re-ferment in the spring, as the temperature warms up, until all the sugar is converted to alcohol. No disgorgement takes place. What we get is a fresh, brightly acidic and fruity petnat, on the yeasts, simple but very morish, as they say.
Les Côtes Chardonnay 2019 is from a three-hectare single vineyard on soils rich in limestone. Direct press, again, and both fermented and aged in stainless steel. The vines are not old as such, but at around 20 years of age are old enough to give this wine a composure which complements the freshness preserved by the medium of inox. A fruity Chardonnay with bags of appeal. Neither Burgundy, nor Jura, but with a character all of its own.
Altesse de Montagnieu 2019. I mentioned that Bugey has, broadly speaking, two sectors. The northern sector, where you find the Cerdon wines I occasionally drink, nods towards Jura. The southern sector looks more to Savoie in some respects, and Groslée is only a figurative stone’s throw from Jongieux and the Lac du Bourget. Yves Duport makes some cracking Altesse (and Mondeuse, see below). Both varieties are much better known from Savoie. This wine is from a one-hectare plot of old vines at Montagnieu, on that wonderful steep slope where the limestone rubble heats the vines with its retained warmth, helped by its sunny exposure.
This wine has added complexity from extended lees contact. Stone fruit and nuts on the palate, whilst the bouquet has some exotic passion fruit. It’s a lovely wine. If you’ve ever been disappointed with co-operative produced “ski resort” Altesse, try this.
Pinot Tradition 2021 comes from the same “sous le château” parcel as the Mondeuse below. Hand harvested off clay, macerated fifteen days and aged in small oak, it’s a smoky rendition of the variety, slightly reductive, but with smooth tannins and cherry fruit.
Mondeuse 2020 from the same slope but from the part called “Terre Brune” is, like the Altesse, just a delicious example of a Savoie variety grown in Bugey. Nice tannins, definitely Mondeuse if you know it well, and yet different. It also has, I suggest, good ageing potential.
You could do worse than acquaint yourself with this small region. It was more or less unknown even a decade ago but now it’s very much “watch this space”. Yves Duport exports his lovely natural wines to Japan. Many of you will know that means the region’s profile is rising fast.
UK Distributor- Provisions (www.provisionslondon.co.uk), a wine and cheese importer with shops on Holloway Road and Hackney Road (the latter opening just two months ago).
DOMAINE L’ACHILLÉE (Alsace, France)
You know, I was initially a tiny bit disappointed when, on first perusing the RealWine exhibitors I saw only one Alsace producer listed, and one I didn’t know at that. Les Caves de Pyrene has an excellent list of Alsace estates on its books, in fact one of the best two Alsace lists in the country in my opinion. However, I was thrilled to taste the wines made by Yves, Pierre and Jean Dietrich, whose family have farmed vines at Scherwiller (just north of Sélestat, in the Bas Rhin) since the beginning of the fifteenth century. This was one of my discoveries of the Fair.
Yves converted to organics in 1999, but still sold grapes to the co-operative. Jean and Pierre began bottling their production when they took over from their father in 2016. In the interim Yves had moved to being fully biodynamic for the whole estate, that’s 18.5 ha of vines and 6 ha of fruit trees (from which they also make fruit-based petnats from cherries, damsons and plums). They boast as their cellar the largest building in Europe made from straw.
Crémant d’Alsace Dosage Zero 2018 is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and a little Auxerrois, making a rather good, mouth-filling sparkler. Tightly wound and dry, it has a lovely fine spine of acidity overlain with lean but precise fruit.
Alsace Blanc 2020 blends all their varieties, including Pinot Noir vinified en blanc. It’s one of those blends people are beginning to make once more, after what seems like decades when “Edelzwicker” had a terrible name, occasionally deserved. These blends are not always the expression of specific terroir, unless from a single site, but I sometimes think they are the essence of what Alsace means, and, at least to me, encapsulates its essence. I took a bottle home with me, although I wished the shop had bottles of other cuvées as well.
Pépin Blanc 2020. Pépin is the label used for non-estate fruit. This white blends Sylvaner, Auxerrois, Chardonnay and Riesling. The brothers work with five growers, all organic, to create the wines under this sub-label. This is a tasty, easy to drink blend. Pépin Orange 2020 was my favourite of the Pépin wines, very accessible and not tannic. It’s made from Gewurztraminer and Auxerrois. Pépin Rouge 2020 is only less interesting because it’s not an “Alsace”, blending Syrah, Carignan and Muscat of Alexandria, sourced from Hérault. Nevertheless, it’s light and tasty, if quite simple.
Riesling Schieferberg 2019 is, to be frank, several steps up. It’s Riesling off slate, as it says on the tin. It has an amazingly concentrated minerality with notes of lime, grapefruit, more exotic yellow fruits and a little spice (ginger, cinnamon). It comes from the very top of the vineyard, a site quite exposed. It has terroir written all over it. I think this may only be bottled in magnum, but surely there is no more magnificent sight than a 1.5-litre flute bottle.
Pinot Noir “Granite” 2017 is the sibling red. It comes off two special parcels, and undergoes a 21-day maceration. Ageing is in a mix of stainless steel and oak. Again, only bottled in magnum, it’s a wine with line, breadth and length, and the capacity to age further. As impressive as the Riesling, and it was interesting tasting these in a group and seeing a near even split between which people preferred. My vote was for the Riesling, but only just.
Importer – Les Caves.
LE GRAPPIN (Burgundy, France)
I’ve known Andrew and Emma Nielsen and their wines since their first vintage, 2011, a year after which I visited them in their original cellar within the old walls of Beaune. At that time, they made magnificent Côte d’Or wines which, with the odd tweak in sources, they continue to do. To these cuvées, now fairly expensive Burgundies, they have added wines from Macon and Beaujolais, plus the Rhône. Their aim to produce sustainable wines extends beyond vineyard and cellar to a raft of packaging and supply innovations, the best known of which must be their “bagnums”. This couple were probably the first to change the image of wine in a bag completely, packaging a litre-and-a-half of top-quality wine in a perfect for picnic/beach/bed format.
Macon-Villages 2020 is perfect if you want a lighter, fresher, but quality Chardonnay with great lifted fruit and a little food-friendly body without the butter and nut sandwich effect of the more serious kit from the region.
Monthélie Blanc “Les Tosières” 2019 is a different wine altogether. It’s sourced from a new vineyard just across the road from the Meursault boundary, bordering the D973 just before Auxey-Duresses. Monthélie wines have been something of a secret in the past, and the Monthélie of top grower, Domaine Roulot, has certainly been a well-kept secret as possibly his best value wine until prices went crazy a few years ago. This wine made by Andrew is simply a white Burgundy of extremely high quality, with some gras, but mostly elegance and poise.
Côte de Brouilly 2020. The first of three Beaujolais wines tasted, all being rather delicious. I know we are in Gamay territory here, not Pinot, but Andrew has always made superb wines from the Beaujolais region, and they are half the price of the Côte d’Or wines now. This is young, and also quite different to the 2019, but nevertheless it has really attractive, crunchy, Gamay fruit with a bit of a mineral, stony, quality. The cherry scent is lovely.
Fleurie-Poncié 2019 has equally become a sought-after wine from du Grappin(“du” being the designation for the wines Le Grappin produces outside the main Côte de Beaune appellations, including Macon, Beaujolais, The Rhône and Bourgogne Aligoté, the latter not tried on Monday but always, without exception, worth chasing down). The 2019 vintage produced a lighter style of F-P, with a very pretty haunting cherry bouquet. Juicy and elegant, but with a little structure, it’s a near perfect example and good as the Côte de Brouilly is, this is generally worth trading up for (or buying both).
Saint-Amour 2020 was the third Beaujolais wine to try. Slightly less pretty but with a touch more meat than the 2019 above, you get a nice cherry nose and crunchy Gamay fruit. The base is tannic and youthful but there are already signs of it rounding out nicely.
Savigny-lès-Beaune Rouge 2019. Here we are back on the Côte de Beaune, with a scented cherry and raspberry version of Pinot Noir from another village which seems to be coming into its own these days, but has always been the source of some good red wines for me. It’s a wine which will develop further, but right now it combines a developing nose (very pretty) with a bit of weight and body, but not too much.
Saint-Aubin “En L’Ebaupin” 2014. This was a treat to taste. I own older Le Grappin wines but I’m sure not this one (I do have 2015), and this cuvée has long been a favourite. The vineyard lies round the back of the hill at the southwestern extremity of the village appellation. Just over the hill is La Rochepôt, and I remember walking the tiny road which cuts through it back in the days when we used to visit Burgundy every spring and stay in that village. What I can say about this wine…well to be honest all you need to know is one word: balance. It’s in a good place, too good a place to spit out.
Andrew and Emma distribute their own wines via mail order and selected local markets in and around London.