This is the final part of my coverage of the Real Wine Fair 2022. We shall step out of mainland Europe to cover producers from England, South Africa, Georgia and Lebanon. It brings to a close a fantastic event, but I can’t help feel I’ve not quite done it justice compared to previous years, where I think I covered more wines and producers. However, I do think I’ve done justice to the individual winemakers I did include, so maybe my three articles will add in to what everyone else has written about the event.
I’m certainly finding that after a couple of years away from the tasting circuit it appears that I need to get back in training. I gave notes on seventy-seven wines over these three articles, and I won’t say exactly how many I decided not to include, but I guess that in the end I wasn’t too far below the hundred wines I normally decide is my limit. My enthusiasm has returned, but not quite yet the stamina. For those merchants holding tastings as well this week, I apologise for slumping behind my computer rather than hiking back to London for more palate work.
DOMAINE HUGO (Wiltshire, England)
I had been wanting to taste the wines of Domaine Hugo for a while, with several people I know recommending them. Hugo Stewart had spent twenty years farming in France, in the Corbières region at Les Clos Perdus, before heading back home. His philosophy in France was biodynamics, and he didn’t really want to farm grapes in the UK if he had to return to conventional methods, and synthetic inputs. He had feared that he couldn’t grow grapes biodynamically here, at Botleys, the family farm in Wiltshire, but he met Daniel Ham (Offbeat Wines) in 2108, who changed his mind.
Daniel convinced Hugo that his chalk slopes could produce excellent wines using the methods he preferred and so Domaine Hugo was born, with Daniel heading up winemaking and Hugo controlling the viticulture. Domaine Hugo is currently quite small, just three hectares, but another reason to try these wines is that this is yet another of the growing number of small artisan operations adding far more than the size of their production suggests to the wellbeing of English and Welsh wine.
There are currently three wines available from Hugo’s three hectares.
Hugo 2018 is a traditional method blend of the three main Champagne varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier) along with Pinot Gris. This 2018 was made by Daniel Ham at Langhams before the winery was built at Botleys. Hugo intersperses the vines with a tall cover crop. On the thin chalky soils this makes the vines work, but at the same time allows natural nutrients to pass back when the crops die off. Biodynamic, zero dosage and zero sulphur, it’s a classic English sparkling wine with all the summer hedgerow freshness and crystalline acidity you’d expect.
Hugo 2019 is the same blend and underwent the same vinification. It’s interesting tasting this next to the 2018 wine with an extra year in bottle because it does suggest these wines will age well, not that most won’t be consumed pretty much immediately. That’s a shame for a wine which may well be quite expensive. The vineyard is very chalky, and the topsoil is only eight inches thick, max. Less in places. This adds to the terroir-driven feel of the wine, doubtless enhanced by the biodynamic regime. Some might question zero dosage in Wiltshire. I applaud it because it’s yet another way, like zero sulphites, that a wine can be stripped bare to reveal the true terroir.
Botley’s 2020 stemmed from an idea Daniel had to hold back the final pressings from their Coquard press to make a Col Fondo wine. The inspiration actually came from one of my wine super-heroes initially, Jean-Pierre Rietsch, of Mittelbergheim (whose wine by total coincidence I was drinking last night). Dan used some of the fermenting 2020 juice to ignite a second fermentation of the 2019 pressings.
The result, made without disgorging and with zero added sulphur, is another very individual and welcome addition to the Domaine Hugo list. Two sides of the same coin. Brilliant.
They hope to be able to continue this experiment by using next year’s active ferment for the tirage of the 2020 Traditional Method wine as well. Experimenting like this is also to be applauded. Hugo says “…you have to go to the edge to make something special, you need to take risks to make something distinctive. That’s where the beauty lies”. Exactly!
Domaine Hugo is distributed by the excellent (trust me) Wines Under the Bonnet. I am grateful to their web site for some of the vinification info.
CHARLIE HERRING WINES (Hampshire, England)
I know Tim Phillips better than any other English winemaker, and there is no-one I admire more in the industry. Tim has bags of experience making wine in South Africa, but what he’s doing at his walled vineyard on Hampshire gravels, and orchard, near Pennington (just inland from the Isle of Wight) is something else entirely. Tim is genuinely in tune with nature, something which can be seen both in his vineyard (most obviously the hens which follow him around as he works) and in the nature of the land surrounding his small winery. What he has created is magnificent.
Tim makes infinitesimally small quantities of wine, and cider, most of which disappears at his open days, or swiftly from Les Caves de Pyrene, who distribute much of what he has left. Some lucky Fair-goers would have found some bottles in the venue’s pop-up shop. I think I got the last bottle of still Riesling.
A Fermament 2020 is Tim’s Sauvignon Blanc. The name is a play on artist Tom Phillips’ treatment of a Victorian novel, “A Humument”. Many of Tim’s labels reference this magnificent, unusual, work, as those familiar with it will know.
The 2020 is in a place kind of somewhere between the 2018 and 2019 in style. Winemaking was as simple as it gets…whole berry press, stick it in tank and leave it. Tim can be quite obsessive about tasting and tasting his wines and not bottling them until they are good and ready. To see the 2020 in bottle is good, from a purchasing perspective. It will age but has definite varietal character which I would put somewhere between Loire and Bordeaux without too much New Zealand.
Promised Land 2020. This is the name for Tim’s Riesling. In the past he has made a varietal Riesling only when the grapes have been perfect, and it has previously been made into a sparkling wine. Many suggest that’s impossible at our latitude, but the walled vineyard creates a special microclimate which has enabled Tim, at least on occasion, to make one.
In 2020 we have something new, a still Riesling. In many ways this is a remarkable wine. I’ve certainly never tasted English still Riesling before and that the wine is so good I find astonishing. Tim made a still cuvée because the acids were low enough in the hot vintage he had. But low acids are relative. This wine doesn’t lack acidity, although time will change that and ageing is something we all, those of us lucky enough to get hold of a bottle, will need to think about (or in my case, email Tim about). Right now, it has such exciting density and extract, and it will be hard to keep it hidden away.
Perfect Strangers 2021. Tim’s cider has always been vinous. Perfect Strangers has, most often, been cider made from Tim’s orchard of old apple varieties blended with a dash of his South African Syrah, adding colour and vinosity. This 2021 vintage cider was made by putting the dry cake from the Pinot Noir press in tank and adding 600-litres of pressed apple juice. The juice spent 35 days on the skins and then fermented for 2/3 weeks before the cap dropped. He pressed it off just before last Christmas. The result is a winey red still (this time) cider which has delicious acids and could probably fool some people, at least for a moment, if told it is wine. Real cider fanatics might think it’s too much like wine, but like others who use wine with apple juice, Tim is right to continue down this path. The results are always both innovative and exciting.
LOST IN A FIELD (various sites in England)
The guy behind Lost in a Field is the irrepressible Tim Wildman. Tim lives in Brighton but is well known for producing a range of innovative petnats with whacky labels out in Australia (alongside other UK ventures). The origins of this label lie in Tim’s “lost vineyard” project.
Like me, Tim realised that in the 1960s and 70s dozens of small-time amateur winemakers planted vineyards in the UK, using the recommended varieties of the time. In the age before today’s Champagne lookalike blends, people felt that in order to ripen grapes in our mostly cold and damp climate they needed to use either German crossings bred for higher sugar levels, or hybrid vines that are more resistant to some fungal diseases. My first wine was made from seriously over-cropped and under-ripe Seyval Blanc which a friend sort of inherited from an Italian guy in Sussex a number of years ago.
For Tim, as for me, the old German crosses form our viticultural heritage and whilst they don’t generally make wines of the same quality as we drink today (with a few exceptions, Bacchus topping the list), they are deserving of some attention.
Frolic 2021 is a pink petnat which Tim has blended from twenty-one heritage varieties sourced from eight vineyards scattered around seven counties in England and Wales. The bulk of this petnat comes from one variety, Madeleine Angevine (75%), one of those heritage varieties certainly capable of making interesting wine when carefully looked after. There is 10% Reichensteiner, then other bits and pieces including Schönburger, and red grapes (Triomphe, Rondo and Cabernet Noir).
The result is a soft and simple wine with good bubbles and massive summer picnic appeal. Like all of Tim’s wines, the packaging is exceptional, from the bright summery label to the unusual bottle shape. The magnums are magnificent to behold, although with the 75cl bottles retailing for around £33 (if I’m correct) I think that comparing it with petnats I buy from other sources, some may think it expensive. I shall certainly buy a bottle or two, though.
Tim Wildman distributes his own wines. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org .
SCIONS OF SINAI (Lower Hederberg, South Africa)
Scions of Sinai is the project of Bernhard Bredell, who having grown up on a wine farm wanted to return to viticulture and winemaking. The name of the vineyard derives from the upper part of the vine (scion) and the Sinai Hill, that part of the Lower Hederberg where the family farm.
The vineyard is one of those great examples of once neglected bush vines now loved again. Bernhard sees them and his family as the descendants of this unique terroir. As with all the wines at the Real Wine Fair, Bernhard is committed to low-intervention methods and, he says, “varietal authenticity”.
Señor Tallos 2020 was a pretty good start. It’s a blend of half-and-half Chenin Blanc and Grenache Blanc, partial whole bunch fermentation and left on skins for four weeks. As a fan of both varieties, this works really well but there’s also a nice twist to this wine. The two varieties are fermented separately and then blended together, and aged for seven months after a layer of flor forms on the wine. The yeast influence isn’t too strong, so the wine retains pretty vibrant fruit and zip. It’s mouthfilling and I really liked it.
Gramdeolas 2020 is 100% Grenache Blanc, aged in French oak for seven months. If the last wine was good, this is no less so, for me. It has lifted aromatics, a beautiful scent of herbs, exotic fruits and flowers. The palate has this mouthfilling herb and fruit mix with a line of acidity giving out flavours of lime and quince.
Atlantikas Pinotage is what they call a “maritime” wine, the vines growing close to the sea and influenced by their location. This also sees seven months in French oak but the wine is nevertheless really fruity…juicy fruits. Definitely one to open for those whose view of Pinotage may be slightly outdated.
Nomadic Red Blend 2020 is comprised of 84% Cinsaut and 16% Pinotage. It’s a nice fruity red.
Fénilks 2020 is a different take on Pinotage, with a serious side. The vineyard was established in 1976 so the vines have age. 60% of the grapes go in as whole bunches and the remainder are destemmed. Ageing is eleven months in French oak. The colour is a deep, dark, purple. The wine is structured and tannic with darker fruit tones than the previous, lighter, Pinotage. Some tobacco notes are just beginning to emerge, but the wine is definitely still young. But quite impressive.
Swanesang 2020 brings us into new territory, varietal Syrah. Vinification is the same as for the Fénilks with 60% whole bunches into the fermenter and eleven months ageing in French oak. Another young wine where we are just beginning to see deeper notes developing under the plummy/damson fruit. For me, at this stage, it looks more to Europe than the New World, but there’s no doubt the winemaking philosophy here helps…it’s a wine that retains its freshness, so much so that I didn’t feel any compulsion to check the alcohol level.
Indigo Wines imports Scions of Sinai.
IAGO’S WINE/MARINA’S WINE (Kartli, Georgia)
Iago Bitarishvili and his wife, Marina Kurtanidze, have a winery in Chardakhi, in the Mtskheta sub-region of Kartli. Kartli is west of the Capital, Tbilisi, an area less well known in the UK than the wine regions in the east of the country (it isn’t mapped in the current World Atlas of Wine). Nevertheless, it’s an important region, one where the famous Neolithic clay wine vessels were discovered by archeologists, giving Georgia one of several claims to be the cradle of wine. Certainly, the region’s importance is echoed in the famous giant aluminium statue of Kartlis Deda (the Mother of Georgia), on Tiblisi’s Sololaki Hill.
Iago farms a couple of hectares of old vines (around 50-y-o), mostly the white Chinuri variety, the traditional grape of the region. All the wines he makes are made from grapes harvested when both berries and stems are ripe. Everything goes into the qvevris, many of which are very old, without pressing and fermentation is spontaneous. The stems help the wine settle naturally and no sulphites are added.
Iago Chinuri Skin Contact (Lot 520) 2020 is distinctive, with pear and quince flavours. The six months spent in qvevri give this colour and texture but there’s still a lovely balanced mouthfeel, without the raw tannic edge some qvevri wines can show when this young.
Iago Chinuri Skin Contact (Lot 720) 2020 also saw a six-month maceration but Iago always bottles his individual batches as separate lots as they can develop so differently. I’m not massively convinced that the two wines are all that far apart, but that doesn’t detract from them being as good as bottles I’ve tasted and bought in the past.
Marina’s Mtsvane 2020. Iago’s wife also makes wine. This has been pretty unusual in the past, in a country where in some cases women are not even allowed in the winery, shocking as that may seem. Well, I think things have changed quite a bit and there are a number of women now making wine in the country. But when Marina began making wine it was still not that common. Marina has not made wine every vintage, for reasons I can’t quite fathom, but it was really good to taste her excellent bottles once more here at RealWine.
The Mtsvane grapes are from the eastern part of the Kartli Region. It’s a juicy red with nice tight fruit, more acids and a pleasant bitter streak. Tasty, and nicely different.
Marina’s Tavkveri-Chinuri Rosé 2020 was a wine I don’t recall trying before. The red and white varieties are co-fermented to give a pink wine but with five months on skins you wonder why it isn’t fully red. It’s actually really pale in the glass, at least under the venue’s lighting. The blend is 60:40 in favour of the white Chinuri grapes. The wine has concentrated red fruits with spice. It comes in at just 12% abv, but it has a complexity to it and a savoury twist to the fruit which makes me see it more as a food wine, albeit perhaps perfect for outdoor dining. Perhaps it was the novelty but I liked this best of the four wines Iago poured, albeit all of them being really nice. I’d buy every one of them.
Importer – Les Caves.
MERSEL WINES (Lebanon)
The company (rather than merely producer, using bought-in grapes as well as estate grown fruit) makes wines in the region of Maksar Mercel. This is the highest wine region in the country, reputedly with some vines as high as 2,400 masl. They also take grapes from Ainata in the more familiar Bekaa Valley and a few more wine regions in Northern Lebanon. The philosophy they adhere to is the familiar one of no viticultural inputs except for minimal sulphur, and organic farming.
Their marketing is polished but it doesn’t always have the kind of detail a wine writer might wish for. That’s not really a criticism. I’m sure they present themselves in a way they have seen other wine producers do on different continents, to best show what they do to the market. But the wines are really interesting and generally well packaged. Eddie Chami, the man behind Mersel, is a very good advocate for them.
Lebnat Petnat Gold 2020 and Lebnat Petnat Rosé 2021 are the first petnats I’ve tried from Lebanon. The Gold (white) is a blend of Merwah with Viognier and the Rosé is Merwah with around 20% Sangiovese for colour. Ancestral method, first fermentation taking place in bottle, then the bottle is disgorged and the second fermentation occurs naturally in the refilled bottle. This creates light and crisp wines, the pink being redolent with nice red fruits, and the white taking on some more overt Viognier flavours.
Phoenix Merwah Skin Contact 2021 comes from the fruit of the autochthonous Merwah variety harvested from 150-year-old vines growing at around 1,400 masl. Yields are quite low, at 25 hl/h, from grapes picked in mid-October. They are split for fermentation between stainless steel tanks and amphora. Skin contact lasts three weeks, before racking into new stainless steel and used oak. Bottling is in May the following year. This is a very tasty wine, bone dry with interesting combinations of fruit and herb flavours. There’s a pink Phoenix (not tasted) made using similar methods from a field blend.
Lebnani Ahmar 2020 is made from 100% Cinsaut, fairly young vines from the Bekaa Valley. Fermentation is in concrete after destemming. It’s quite a meaty red with 13.5% abv, but although an expression of a warmer terroir than the previous wines, it’s very interesting as a “natural” wine, not at all attenuated by heat and alcohol, retaining freshness. This, and its white sibling (not tasted) are presented in litre bottles.
Red Velvet 2021 is an easy drinking red wine made from whole clusters of Cinsaut grapes. It’s meant to be drunk young and chilled and is a new addition to the Mersel range. That said, I think it still rocks in at a deceptive 13% abv, though it tastes lower in alcohol, for sure. The grapes are grown at around 1,200 metres in the Bekaa Valley.
Cider Piquette 2021 is an example of a beverage which is seemingly becoming quite popular, or at least we are seeing a few Piquettes commercialised. Piquette is usually made by adding water (spring water if making a quality version) to the still wet cake (pomace) from pressed grapes. Here, Eddie has added organic honey from their own bee hives to begin a further fermentation. There’s 2g/l of residual sugar, but the acidity makes it taste dry. The grape blend, not that it really matters I think, is 40% Muscat and 30% each of Sauvignon Blanc and Merwah.
After a week-and-a-half of refermentation the piquette reached, in this case, 9%abv. This is higher than some piquettes I’ve tasted, possibly higher than a producer would want if giving it to his pickers at breakfast, an hour or so into a day’s work among the vines, as is traditional in much of Europe. But it works well here. It’s very appley, acidic but refreshing when well chilled. The advantage of piquette is that you can drink half a bottle with your lunchtime picnic and still make it to the top of the mountain.
Distributed by Les Caves.
Sadly, that brings to an end my RealWine ’22 coverage. It was a great event which the team from Les Caves deserves massive praise for working so hard to prepare and put on. I’m sure they were happy to get the Fair up and running again after Covid lockdowns etc, and as trade members, I know we were thrilled to be back. It’s a shame we need to wait for the next one.