In Part 2 of my roundup of the most interesting bottles we drank at home in, effectively, the second half of May, I find a Jura-heavy selection, three wines out of six. The remainder come from Moravia, Alsace and Hungary. Whilst we don’t have as much diversity of location as usual, we do have a real diversity of flavours. Consistency comes in quality, because I doubt that I will drink a better half-dozen wines in succession this year, even if I manage to match them.
L’UVA ARBOSIANA 2020, DOMAINE DE LA TOURNELLE (Jura, France)
Drinking this, we were sending our thoughts, as ever, to Evelyne in Arbois for the tragedy which befell the domaine during Covid. This cuvée has a special place in my heart because it was the first Tournelle I ever brought back to the UK, stopping off on one of our return trips from Geneva, when we would often try to get to Arbois before everything closed for lunch, rushing here and to the A&M Tissot and Domaine de la Pinte shops.
This means I’ve been trying to drink the odd bottle of L’Uva at least once every year for more than twenty years. It’s made from Ploussard (Poulsard) harvested into small baskets, hand-destemmed and pressed gently in order to create a light “vin de copain”. Carbonic maceration, full malo and then bottling after around three months in tank with no added sulphites.
It’s a wine which is recommended, because of the zero sulphur additions, to be transported cool, and we used to use a cool box for the purpose. That said, bottles bought in Central London in the height of summer have never suffered. The cuvée is prone to reduction and often requires a good shake in carafe, but not always (not with this bottle). After a good swirl you will find heavenly scents of redcurrant and strawberry to fill the nostrils. Cherry seems to take over on the palate. It’s a light red which behaves like a hybrid red-rosé on account of the sheer vibrancy of fruit acid balance in the glass. In 20+ years my love for this has never faltered.
This bottle came from Antidote Wine Bar in Central London. Also imported and sold by Dynamic Vines in Bermondsey.
“AMBERO” 2020, PETR KORÁB (Moravia, Czechia)
I finally met Petr and his wife at the Real Wine Fair in London a few weeks ago, and I am very excited that I shall be visiting them in Moravia soon. Since I discovered the wines of Moravia a few years ago I’ve become a big fan of Petr. For a man with a few hectares the diversity of what he makes suggests a man keen to experiment. No one can keep up with him. I have a special fondness for his wild petnats, but here we have a still wine made with skin contact, hence “Ambero”.
The grape is Traminer, a variety which takes well to the macerated style. We are in the Moravian sub-region of Velkopavlovická and the village of Boleradice (which last weekend I discovered I’ve been pronouncing incorrectly, it’s “tze” not “che”). Picked late, on 20th October, the fruit gets extended skin and lees contact, is fermented to dryness (giving 14% abv but don’t be concerned), and is matured in robinia casks. Robinia is also known as “black locust wood” or “false acacia”, and sometimes if you see that a wine was matured in acacia barrels it could be robinia.
This tastes clean and smooth, but with a little texture and grip. It’s very complex. Tarte-tatin, peach, Lucozade and hints of honey or maple syrup leap out. It has zippy acids and plenty of depth. Probably not for those who really dislike amber wines, but a good one to try if you are open to the style and want to experiment. Petr Koráb is imported by Basket Press Wines. They don’t seem to have Ambero on their site, though it may still be available via independent retailers whom they supply (ask them for details). They will always have a good selection of Petr’s current wines.
ARBOIS CHARDONNAY 2015, DOMAINE DES BODINES (Jura, France)
All of the wines I have drunk from this tiny domaine on the edge of Arbois (on the road to Dôle) have been purchased on my visits there. The domaine is run by one of Arbois’ most engaging young couples, Emilie and Alexis Porteret. Their wines, made naturally with both skill and intuition, have impressed from the start, especially the thought given to the viticulture of their tiny holding. Five hectares, which see no synthetic chemicals, nor where possible, ground-compacting tractors, on their blue marl soils. No sulphur is added in the small winery attached to their house at the foot of their vineyard.
This Chardonnay is frankly stunning. How many times do you see an expensive wine that you’ve never tried and wonder whether to spend, in this case for a current vintage, perhaps £44? We all do it…I saw a Jura wine for £72 yesterday. That’s beyond my budget but even I had never heard of the producer. In this case, I can only say I shall jump on the next bottle of Bodines Chardonnay I see.
The wine is a magnificent green-gold colour. The fruit is fresh, even after several years in bottle. It’s quite exotic fruit, with hints of something tropical. This is tempered, perhaps even slightly restrained, by a perfect amount of grip and structure. It’s no fleshy, warm climate, wine but it is made from ripe fruit (it measures a very specific 13.9% abv on the label). Fruit and acid balance seem in a perfect place.
Mouthfilling and very long, it might even be a tiny bit young, still, but I think it’s easily as good a Chardonnay I’ve had in several years, going as far back as Stéphane Tissot’s “Tour du Curon Le Clos” 2005, drunk in December 2018. Note that I’m talking about any Chardonnay, not just Jura Chardonnay!
Bodines is occasionally brought in by Les Caves de Pyrene. I have seen Berry Bros also noted as a source, but they don’t have any on their web site right now. A few enlightened indies will have it from Les Caves. All of their wines are very good, although I’ve only tried their Vin Jaune from cask, my own currently resting in the cellar.
SYLVANER ZOTZENBERG GRAND CRU 2014, JEAN-PIERRE RIETSCH (Alsace, France)
If you like Sylvaner, or maybe if you’ve not tried serious Sylvaner and are prepared to take my word for it, you will love this. Zotzenberg was, in 2005, the first Alsace Grand Cru to be designated for the variety. It’s a site with a southerly exposure of chalk just above Mittelbergheim, where JPR has his base. Chalk is unusual in Alsace, but this cru has been growing exceptional Sylvaner for as long as I’ve known of the village.
This natural wine saw 36-months in demi-muid followed with a year in tank, so you will see it’s no ordinary cuvée, and perhaps you now see why I am extolling a Sylvaner with almost eight years of age. It is, for me, a great expression of both terroir and what the variety can be capable of.
“Mineral” is frankly an understatement, but there’s more to it than chalk. It’s juicy and, if a wine can be, radiant with fruit acids, spice and structure. The freshness speaks of apples and pears, the texture is creamy. For me, this is as good as Sylvaner gets, certainly in Alsace. You’d need to go to Franken for Silvaner to come close(ish). This also takes the food-pairing possibilities of the grape variety to another level. In this instance, Sylvaner is wholly worthy of Grand Cru status on this site.
May I just take a moment to rant? Indie retail wine merchants soon took on board the natural wines of the Jura. They have, almost without fail, neglected to catch on to the fact that Alsace has the biggest buzz in France right now, and this is equally driven by natural wines. I’m especially speaking to those who have bravely begun to offer a few Savoie wines. Alsace is really exciting, particularly in the northern, Bas Rhin, sector, where JPR is based in Mittelbergheim. Wake up! We move on to Bugey soon so don’t be left behind.
This bottle came from the domaine. Wines Under the Bonnet imports Rietsch into the UK. I don’t think they have the Sylvaner Grand Cru, but they do list his 2018 Vieille Vigne Sylvaner, among other cuvées.
“ROBIN” 2020, ANNAMÁRIA RÉKA-KONCZ (Eastern Hungary)
The soils on the Eastern Hungarian border with Ukraine, where Annamária farms around Barabás, are largely volcanic and from this terroir she makes stunning wines which the world is just beginning to get excited over. However, sparkling wine off volcanic soils isn’t the first thing which comes to mind when thinking of the traditional location for a bottle-fermented fizz. Yet the soils are complex, with silica-rich rhyolite, grainy lava-based andesite, dacite (which forms between the previous two rocks) and tufa.
Earlier this year I drank her Traditional Method sparkler, Freiluftkino 2019, and remarkably good it was too. “Robin” is made using the Ancestral Method, which we mostly call petnat. The grapes are a traditional field blend where the main variety is Királyleányka (aka Fetească Regală for those knowledgeable about Romania’s grape varieties). We also have Rhine Riesling, Háslevelū and a little Furmint in the mix.
This cuvée remains undisgorged, so the lees sediments remain in bottle. However, the wine tastes clean with a firm mineral structure running through its spine. The bead is remarkably fine and the tiny bubbles bring elegance and poise. I’d suggest that the wine is more stony-mineral and slightly herby (not herbal), rather than fruity. This is a totally natural wine but only 970 bottles made. It’s definitely one of the best two or three petnats I’ve drunk so far this year.
Réka Koncz wines are imported by Basket Press Wines. It looks like Robin might be sold out, but they do still list the abovementioned Freiluftkino, made effectively from the same grape blend by the traditional method, for £26, pretty inexpensive for quality sparkling wine when you consider the price of a home-grown equivalent or a decent Champagne.
HIP HIP J… , DOMAINE L’OCTAVIN (Jura, France)
Alice Bouvot’s Hip Hip J is probably a quiet nod to Jura, if pronounced Juraah! It’s a Vin de France sourced from grapes grown organically by a friend of the winemaker in Arbois. The “Hip Hip” wines seem to have different coloured “pants” on their labels possibly denoting different varieties, because there is certainly a Chardonnay, alongside this Hip Hip Poulsard Blanc, and possibly others.
So, this is a very unusual Blanc de Noirs. The Poulsard grapes are gently, to avoid colour, direct-pressed into tank for a fairly short fermentation and ageing before being bottled young with just 10% alcohol and, as with all of Alice’s wines, no added sulphur.
Pale straw in colour, the bouquet has fresh citrus. The palate has peach stone and mineral texture. Frankly, if you bought this for the label, and let’s face it Alice’s gnomic negoce labels are wonderful, you might find it on the acid side. I’m an avowed acid hound so I love it, and I know what to expect as any wine I make is lucky to top 10% abv. This is a stripped-back natural wine to slake a summer thirst.
Domaine L’Octavin is imported by Tutto Wines.