Part 2 of June’s “Recent Wines” is, as a half-dozen, perhaps, almost as diverse as it can be, although I’m sure someone will be there to shoot down that statement with regard to origin (no Americans, Africans or Antipodeans). I mean in regard to grape varieties and flavour. There are wines from Hampshire, Alsace, Roussillon, Yamanashi, Eger and the Vaud. That’s quite diverse!
WILD ROSE 2017, BLACK CHALK (Hampshire, UK)
Jacob Leadley and Zoë Driver continue to take Black Chalk forward in leaps and bounds. Having established this estate as a boutique winery to be reckoned with from the off, they continue to improve, year-on-year, from an impressive beginning. Their base, including a new winery and tasting room, is close to Hampshire’s Test Valley, near Andover and not far from Winchester. It’s a part of the county which is proving exceptional for English Sparkling Wine.
Of the two wines from this vintage, Wild Rose is my favourite, which is not in any way to disparage the white version, Classic Cuvée. As a sparkling Rosé it contains all three classic “Champagne” varieties, including Chardonnay, but it majors on red fruits: elegant, perfumed raspberry and strawberry with a vibrancy rarely surpassed by rivals. The palate tastes clean and zippy, fresh and fine. An extra year in bottle hasn’t taken away the fruit-driven element which appeals so much to my palate, but one might say it seems more assured.
Winner of a Gold Medal at the Champagne and Sparkling Wine Awards 2019, it is one of the best English sparkling rosé wines currently on the market, but it is increasingly hard to source as most retailers have sold out of the 2017. Mine came from The Solent Cellar. UK agent is Graft Wine. The 2018 Wild Rose is available via Black Chalk’s web site (£40). The “Classic” is £35.
SI ROSE 18-19-20, CHRISTIAN BINNER (Alsace, France)
“Rose” not “Rosé”, this bottle from Christian Binner of Ammerschwihr is a skin contact wine blended from three vintage (above). The blend is complex. The grapes are Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris in the proportion 65:35. The Bildstoeklé lieu-dit provides much of the blend along with some of Binner’s Grand Cru sites. The 2020 Bildstoeklé element saw an eight-day maceration on skins, whilst the 10% added from the Grand Crus saw a longer two-months on skins. These together made up around 70% of the final blend, the remaining 30% coming from a perpetual reserve of the 2018 and 2019 vintages. There were zero additives, which includes no sulphur, and the seal is a glass stopper.
Bottling was in May 2021, so this has rested for a year before opening. Some expressed surprise at this, but skin contact wines tend to age well in my experience, and my cellar seems cool enough for zero sulphur bottles as far as I can tell. On opening you notice this wine is slightly cloudy and a lovely colour evoking both cherry wood and bronze. It smells unmistakably of rose petals, peach and apricot. The palate is initially so smooth you could confuse it with fruit juice, though best not to (the abv is 14%). The wine is rich, but there is a textured dryness to the finish.
I need to choose my words carefully, because I plan to limit myself to three in order to describe this. Sensational, profound and unique fit well. I can’t recall what I paid for this, nor whether it came from Les Caves de Pyrene (Binner’s UK agent) or Littlewine. I can only say that if you haven’t tried it, track some down. As far as Alsace is concerned, if you are not yet on board, jump up.
LE SOULA BLANC 2016, IGT CÔTES CATALANES (Roussillon, France)
Le Soula was founded in 2001, a partnership between Roy Richards and Mark Walford, already working in the region, and Gérard Gauby, whose wines made near Calce in the Agly Valley, headed by his famous “Muntada”, were already vying to be top of the pile for the emerging Roussillon new wave since the early 1990s. The trio were joined in 2008 by Gérald Stanley, who now manages the vineyard.
Le Soula Blanc is one of the most interesting wines from this wild and rugged part of France, namely the Fenouillèdes, above the Agly Valley on the edge of the Pyrenees. A little over twenty hectares are under vine, on rocky granite between 350 and 600 masl. The climate switches from hot sun to cold rain in a moment, as any similar mountain region can.
The grape variety making up most of the blend (49%) is, most unusually for the region, Sauvignon Blanc. But this is a terroir wine, and it seems to express so perfectly this wild landscape despite Saivignon Blanc’s cool climate credentials. The remainder of the blend is made up of Vermentino (23%), Grenache Blanc (14%), Macabeu (12%) plus 2% others (allegedly a little Chardonnay, Marsanne, Roussanne and Malvoisie).
This 2016 vintage was the first made by new winemaker, Wendy Paillé. Farming and winemaking are both biodynamic. The wine, as one would expect, is herb-scented, I think clearly fennel, with honey and quite intense minerality on the palate, along with yellow fruits and pear. This natural wine is refreshing, but at the same time highly nuanced and increasingly complex as it is allowed to warm in the glass (don’t be tempted to serve it too cold). Exceptional.
£35 is actually a bit of a bargain for a wine of this quality with a bit of bottle age. My wife got me this as a present from the Berry Brothers & Rudd shop on Pall Mall. A brilliant choice.
KOSHU GRIS DE GRIS 2020, FUEFUKI DISTRICT, CHATEAU MERCIAN (Yamanashi, Japan)
Château Mercian is one of a couple of Japanese wine producers who first exported to the UK. Yamanashi is around an hour west of Tokyo and just north of Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji. It is far from being the only place making quality wine in the country, but it is certainly the best-known outside of Japan, and few would argue it is the most developed for viticulture. Exactly the same might be said of Mercian itself, Japan’s oldest commercial wine company, now (since 2007) part of the Kirin group (see Anthony Rose, Sake and the Wines of Japan, Infinite Ideas 2018, pp274ff).
Koshu is Japan’s best known autochthonous grape variety. It has a pink bloom to the skin but can be made in a number of styles, from white wine to a kind of white/rosé hybrid. The grape’s thick skin acts as protection in the Japanese climate, as do the wonderful paper “hats” growers use to protect the bunches from the inevitable harvest rains. The vines are also usually grown on pergolas to raise them above the humidity of the soil and to allow breezes to help keep the grapes disease free.
Apparently (Rose, p263) Jancis Robinson used the phrase “zen-like purity” in describing Koshu. Whether this was genuine praise, or faint praise for a variety which can produce quite dilute wines, I don’t know? I would still argue that you really should try it. Koshu is rarely dilute now, or at least those which are selected by overseas buyers aren’t, and it has become more than a mere novelty.
The wine in question here is a Koshu “Gris de Gris”, faintly pink in colour, though more yellow-gold in some lights, because it has seen some skin contact. This also gives the wine a bit of tannic structure. The aromatics are soft apple compote with a kind of candyfloss texture. I did say it is unique. What to drink it with? Anthony Rose attended a pairing event in London where it went well with fish cake, langoustine and suckling pig. I have paired it with sushi and, on this occasion, with a vegan version of Katsu Curry (using crumbed seitan with sweet potato and edamame). I’m guessing a variety of fish and seafood would also work well.
I should add that this cuvée is one of Mercian’s entry-level wines. The more expensive cuvées are a step up in quality, but this is the perfect place to dip your toe in. £21.50 from The Good Wine Shop (Kew).
CSERESZNYEÉRÉS 2018, HEGYI-KALÓ (Eger, Hungary)
I’ve known the wines made by this young couple in Hungary’s once famous Eger region for quite a number of years and my positive feelings for their wines are no doubt in part down to how much I liked them when many of us met Julia at a tasting at Winemakers Club in 2017. Julia has a wine PhD and Adam is head of wine research at Eger University. They have a mixed farm, with pigs and sheep alongside the vines, making wine very much according to natural principles. They use only free-run juice and no skin contact.
This is their Rosé, which I had not drunk for a long time (since the 2014 vintage) but remembered equally fondly. The grape variety is one you don’t come across often, Medina. It is apparently more commonly planted in Poland, where it is noted for its thick, disease-resistant, red skin. The deep pigment allows for a pink wine to be made without extra maceration. Only old barrels and older wooden casks are used for ageing/fermentation. The terroir is volcanic, which adds a ferrous edge to what is a subtly-flavoured wine. Back in 2017 I described it as tasting a little like a red fruit tea. This bottle was definitely floral and fruity.
I’d recommend this for anyone seeking out Rosé wines made a little differently. It has a beautiful orange-tinged pink colour and the edge you’d expect to find in volcanic wines. I bought this bottle from Solent Cellar (no longer in stock). Julia and Adam still export through Winemakers Club in the UK, but whilst they have other wines of theirs, I can’t see this Rosé currently listed. But do look out for it.
MONT-SUR-ROLLE GRAND CRU 2020, DOMAINE DE MAISON BLANCHE (Vaud, Switzerland)
I’ve written about this wine before, and indeed this producer’s sparkling demi-sec, but I think I can get away with plugging the 2020 vintage of the still wine because it illustrates the fact that Swiss wine is not always as expensive as you imagine.
Mont-sur-Rolle is an appellation in Switzerland’s Vaud region, in the part of the vignoble close to Geneva known as La Côte. To the east of Lausanne, we have Lavaux, with its steep, terraced, UNESCO designated vineyards. La Côte is west of that city, and forms one almost contiguous slope down to Lac Léman. Generally, these wines have been ignored outside of Switzerland, especially as the main local variety, Chasselas, is seemingly forever denigrated by Anglo-Saxons. Mind you, calling a wine like this by the misnomer of “Grand Cru” doesn’t help.
Yves and Antoine de Mestral are in charge of this historic estate dating back to the 13th Century (1258), and in the same family since the 1520s. They are adept at making something interesting out of Chasselas, as their sparkling wine (reviewed 07/02/2022) attests. They work on heavier topsoils, which help give this wine just a touch more weight and body than some examples. The variety retains some of its best traits on these terroirs: verve and herbal essence. It is made cleanly, without oak, aiming for freshness above all.
The result is a light-ish white wine (12% abv) which tingles on the tongue with a little tension. Herbal, for sure, there’s also a floral element (camomile) and pear. It might not be the finest Chasselas in Switzerland but there’s a reason it is well distributed among retailers who take stock from specialist importer Alpine Wines. This is, aside from its attractive, old-fashioned style of label, because it’s a good, accessible, version of a unique Swiss wine style, one made for cheese and lighter fish dishes along with many vegetarian possibilities, and it only costs £22.99. Don’t dismiss it. Approach it on its own terms. In my case, I find well made Chasselas has a certain understated appeal…rather like La Côte when you get to know its villages.