Finally, I think I have some time to write, post-move, post-Covid and post-family visits. I’m way behind with my “Recent Wines” articles, so in this case you will get some not so recent wines dating back to July. Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll publish two parts for July as I’ve got twelve wines to write about. You’ll just get six for August as I think we drank a fair-few wines then that I’ve already written about this year, plus if I’m honest, a few you wouldn’t want to read about. For September it looks like there are eight wines worth mentioning, despite thirteen days of Covid.
Coming up when I can fit it in will be a review of Ed Dallimore’s excellent “The Vineyards of Britain”. You’ll have to wait to see just how good I think it might be, but in case you are pondering a purchase, well it isn’t quite “comprehensive” in the true sense of the word, but it is certainly by far the most extensive coverage of Britain’s vineyards to date. Ed is also a very decent photographer. This means you don’t need to wait on my review if you are itching to grab a copy.
So, back in the game for July…
“The Trouble with Dreams” 2017, Sugrue South Downs (Sussex and Hampshire, UK)
Dermot Sugrue took the decision to leave Wiston Estate this year and forge ahead full-time, along with his wife, with their own label, now called Sugrue South Downs. Since they launched it with this cuvée in the 2010 vintage, under the label name “Sugrue Pierre”, Dermot has established it as one of the very finest in the country, and before that, during his time at Wiston, he had already made a name for himself as one of the very best winemakers we have as well. I still have one bottle of that 2010 left, awaiting the right opportunity to share it. But I bought some current and recent bottlings this year, including the new Rosé cuvée, and I thought I should pop a 2017 “Dreams”.
The grapes for this 2017 are sourced from three sites. First is the vineyard at Storrington Priory in West Sussex, which Dermot has farmed since the beginning. Second is his own vineyard at Mount Harry, near Lewes (also Sussex, but Lewes is the County Town for East Sussex). He also used some fruit from Hampshire producer Jenkyn Place, with whom he has a longstanding relationship as a contract winemaker.
The vintage suffered from a little frost which reduced yields but may have had a positive effect on quality, although you will understand that Dermot is a perfectionist and is meticulous about fruit selection. We have here a blend of around 60% Chardonnay with 40% Pinot Noir, bottled as a Brut with 8g/litre dosage.
The result, bearing in mind that this is a relatively young wine, is both perfumed and thrilling in its freshness and tension between fruit and acidity. The dosage makes it easier on the palate right now, so despite its ability to age, it seems in no way a crime to drink it. I know that the Sugrue range begins here and goes higher, so to speak, but I have no hesitation in calling this a masterpiece in winemaking in what was a relatively difficult year. It has a thrilling edge to it and a vibrancy rarely found in sparkling wine.
I say rarely, but it’s worth sharing with you my feelings about English and Welsh bottle-fermented sparkling wine. I think 2022 is the year when I’ve begun to question whether I should be buying as much Champagne and switch more towards English producers. Of course, I still have a passion for Grower Champagne, don’t get me wrong. I think some of you will also know that I’m in no way jingoistic about English wine (the producers that are frankly annoy me), especially as I now no longer reside in England. However, I can see myself exploring the wines of my former abode even more from now on. The quality has rocketed.
This was purchased from/delivered by Butlers Wine Cellar (Brighton). They have one of the best selections of local wines I know.
“A Fermament” 2017, Charlie Herring Wines (Hampshire, UK)
Another English wine, you say! Those who read my articles frequently will probably know that Tim Phillips has become a friend over the years. It doesn’t help me get his wines, or certainly his Rieslings. My name goes into the ballot along with everyone else. At least his other wines are merely difficult to source, rather than almost impossible.
As I said, Tim is a friend, but I have no issue with extolling these wines because I’ve not found anyone in the trade who doesn’t rate them highly. Not only does Tim have a beautiful old walled vineyard a mile or two inland from the Hampshire coast (it’s how he ripens the Riesling), but he is also one of the deepest thinking winemakers I know. He’s equally very experienced, having made wine in South Africa, and with Julian Castagna in Australia, from whom I know he learnt an awful lot.
A Fermament is made from Sauvignon Blanc from the walled clos, and this bottling had three months on skins followed by 14 months in barrel before being returned to tank to settle. It was bottled in September 2019, in 50cl glass to help make it go around further. But Tim didn’t release it until July 2020. I let it develop further for two years on advice that it would, unlike much but not all SB, age well. This has been proven to be the case.
The golden colour suggests some skin contact. The bouquet right now is redolent with orange peel, bergamot, nutmeg and a slight dustiness, not at all common-or-garden Sauvignon Blanc. The palate has a touch of texture and real depth. I’d say this has taken on a good bit of complexity since last tasted, but it’s in a really good place, having retained good acidity and freshness. It lingers on the palate for a long time. Nothing Tim makes is short of extraordinary in its own way, and nothing you see on a shelf should be left there after you leave.
I’m not sure that this particular vintage will be available any longer but Tim Phillips’s Charlie Herring wines and ciders are distributed by Les Caves de Pyrene. Tim’s local indie wine shop in Lymington, the excellent Solent Cellar, often has a few bottles as well, although they can sell out very quickly.
Riesling Feinherb “Silbermond” 2018, Rita and Rudolf Trossen (Mosel, Germany)
Rudolf and Rita Trossen have been natural wine pioneers in the Mosel for longer than the term “natural wine” has been in common parlance. Their viticulture and winemaking is merely based on a firm understanding of nature and ecology. They have been based at Kinheim-Kindel for more than forty years.
In many ways this is a classic wine made in a classic wine style which has been overlooked in recent decades. I’m talking about Feinherb. You get low alcohol (11% abv), but not as low as a typical old-school Mosel Kabinett. There’s a little residual sugar which makes the bottle deceptively easy to drink as if it were fruit juice, yet at the same time it is very clearly Riesling.
The grapes come from almost uniformly steep sites in this part of the Mosel, on the stretch between Ürzig and Kröv. You may be pushed to find Silbermond on most maps because it isn’t a famous site, but it is the care which goes into the vines and the winemaking which makes the wine. Producer is key here.
Fruity (lime and mango come to mind), floral, saline and mineral, with a hint of spice. You really cannot stop drinking it once opened, so welcoming it is on the palate. For this style, it is a complete wine, with zero additives.
It came from Littlewine, but now that their online shop has closed you should head to Trossen’s importer, Newcomer Wines.
Mtsvane “Qvevri Traditional” 2018, Anapea Village Winery (Kakheti, Georgia)
This is a traditional qvevri cuvée made from the Mtsvane variety in Georgia’s Eastern region of Kakheti, more specifically in Anapea which is in the sub-region of Kvareli. Well, I can’t say I know Kakheti, let alone Anapea, and neither have I ever come across this winery before.
I’m using the label to tell me that the grapes were harvested in September and placed in underground qvevri for fermentation on natural yeasts. Maceration was for seven months in total with a further three months in bottle before release. It’s a natural wine with no synthetic vineyard inputs and no additions in the winery.
What does it taste like? In the glass it’s an iridescent amber colour. There’s little mistaking that this is a qvevri wine. But it does shine attractively. It almost smells tannic, if you know what I mean, but the hints of apricot and honey build on the bouquet as the wine opens up. The palate is certainly fairly tannic but the texture is balanced by acidity and flavours of yellow peach which carry through a good long finish.
It’s a pretty good way to try out an amber wine if you want to go in, if not quite at the deep end, then certainly with a good example of qvevri winemaking.
From Oxford Wine Company, retailing at £22.50 when I purchased it earlier this year.
Akácia 2020, Jaroslav Osička (Moravia, Czechia)
Jaroslav, now ably assisted by his son Luboš, is based in the important Moravian wine village of Velké Bilovice, and you might realise that I drank this bottle just before visiting him there a few weeks later (see my article of 31/08/2022). You will also know that he has been at the forefront of the Moravian natural wine movement, not only as a producer but as a teacher at the local wine school. As I wrote about that visit I won’t go into much detail here, suffice to say that I personally see him as the sort of “Pierre Overnoy” of Moravia. Of course, it is no coincidence that he took much inspiration from the natural wines of France’s Jura region.
Akácia is a blend of 80% Rhine Riesling with Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. Although these are not considered by outsiders to be native varieties, of course they have been here many years and local clones have developed.
There’s a lovely waft of a floral bouquet gently soaring out of the glass, which after a moment gives off a little spicy note, perhaps from the Pinot Gris? The palate, on swirling the contents, shows a mix of pear and peach, the latter seeming to match the wine’s attractive yellow-gold glow. There’s a little mineral texture and citrus acids but the wine is one harmonious whole. This is very good indeed, and though I’m wont to praise the whole Osička portfolio, this wine is definitely one to try…and it’s not expensive.
Imported into the UK by Basket Press Wines.
Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature 2010, Ebner-Ebenauer (Weinviertel, Austria)
I was rather sad to say goodbye to my last bottle of this traditional method Chardonnay sparkling wine from a producer whose profile is definitely not as great in the UK as it should be, although at least I’ve been able to sample their wines at Noble Rot Restaurant in Lamb’s Conduit Street (London) from time to time. This 2010 won a Gault-Millau Wine of the Year Award and that was well justified because over the years I’ve been drinking it, it has only grown in stature, and is one of the finest sparklers I’ve drunk in the past decade.
Ebner-Ebenauer are based in the Südlandisches Weinviertel, northeast of Vienna up towards the Czech (Moravian) border. More specifically they are in Poysdorf, right on the Hauptstrasse. Marion was barely an adult when she began winemaking, working with Fritz Wieninger in Vienna. I met her a number of years ago and she was a shining beacon of joy at a tasting in the Austrian Embassy in London. Manfred is a calm experimenter who has a passion for Burgundy. They are like opposites, people say, which gives this domaine a certain dynamism.
This Sekt, as I said, made from Chardonnay, has nearly seven years on lees before release. It is above all a wine of elegance. It has broadened since I last drank a bottle (I’ve had four), but it still has a pinpoint focus derived from its acid spine. Very sophisticated. Stephan Reinhardt called it “possibly Austria’s finest sparkling wine”. I’ve certainly not tasted better, not remotely.
When I purchased my bottles (from two sources, one UK and one Austrian) it was retailing for 60€. Looking back now, with the price of good Grower Champagne and the best of English Sparkling Wine, that does look something of a bargain. For confirmation of my own taste, Marion and Manfred were Fallstaff Magazine Winemakers of the Year 2022.
As for obtaining a bottle, the 2010 is presumably long gone. Roberson imports Ebner-Ebenauer into the UK, but I can’t see the Sekt among the eight wines they currently list. It may be worth taking a peek at the wine department in Harvey Nichols in London if you are literally passing. The excellent finger-on-the-pulse merchant in Peckham, The Sorting Table, lists eleven Ebner-Ebenauer wines. This also does not currently include the Sekt but it may be worth messaging them to ask whether it’s on their horizon.