September signalled our first month in Scotland. It has been wonderful, although after a week here I managed to catch Covid. As that took out thirteen drinking days (it was a long dose), I think we did okay on the consumption front, and here I give you the eight most delicious wines from last month. We have two wines from different ends of Hungary, one from California, one from Moravia, one from the Languedoc, two from Australia, and one Champagne.
Somló 2019, Hidden Treasures Project, Moric (Somló, Hungary)
I know the wines of Moric reasonably well, if not as well as some Austrian producers. Roland Velich broke away from the family winery and set up the Moric label in the early 2000s, producing, initially, Blaufränkisch from Burgenland. This wine is from a relatively new project, “hidden treasures” forming collaborations with lesser known or younger producers.
It is made from grapes grown on the Somló Massif, a remarkable ancient volcanic plug in Western Hungary, lying almost between Lake Balaton and Sopron on the Austrian border. Here, Velich is working with Kis Tamás, one of the new young winemakers in the region. There is a fine tradition of Austrian winemakers working in Hungary, especially from Burgenland, which used to be part of Hungary in the early days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Incidentally, it’s also why Burgenland produces some fine examples of the Hungarian variety, Furmint, which is undergoing a bit of a renaissance there. I have one ready to drink tonight.
The blend here is 60% Furmint from the southern and western sides of the Somló hill. The other 40% is comprised of 35% Welschriesling from the cone’s Northern side and 5% Harslevelü from the southern slopes. The soils are a mix of mainly volcanic basalt with sand, clay and even some chalk.
The wine was fermented a mix of stainless steel and old Hungarian oak. The bouquet is lovely, expressing gentle tree blossom with a herbal touch adding to the floral notes. The palate shows lively apple zip and a mineral/saline texture. Indeed, this is a lovely savoury white wine with a fair bit of depth.
This cost only £26 from Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton’s Kemp Town. Various Moric wines are available via Berry Brothers, Lay & Wheeler and Clark Foyster. I suspect this may have come from the latter.
Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Failla (California, USA)
This full-bodied Pinot comes from fruit grown in the Anderson Valley. This sits in Mendocino County between the coastal range (Mendocino Ridge) and Mendocino itself, over more mountains. The valley is noted for its cool ripening conditions for the most part, with Roederer growing grapes for its sparkling wine there, and a healthy amount of Riesling and Gewurztraminer is produced for other labels. But closer to the Sonoma border there’s a lot more Pinot Noir grown in warmer conditions.
The Failla label belongs to Ehren Jordan and his wife. Ehren trained in the Rhöne Valley with Jean-Luc Colombo, so unsurprisingly he became well known first for high class Syrah. Nowadays the focus here seems to have shifted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The fruit he sources comes from all over this part of California’s Northern Coast, but his cellars, mostly populated with old oak and a liberal smattering of concrete eggs, is (I believe) still down south, near Calistoga.
The Savoy Vineyard Pinot may not be Failla’s best known, but the site has pedigree. Ted Lemon, whose Littorai label perhaps did more than any to make the name of Anderson Valley, established his first long-term contract for fruit with Richard Savoy, choosing to pay by the acre rather than weight, thus establishing a quality over quantity ethos followed thereafter by any winemaker keen to produce the best wine he or she can.
This wine is more plums than cherry, rich and smooth, indicative of its very Californian 14% abv. The fruit is mature but remains vibrant and retains a mineral texture and even a touch of tannin. At a decade old this wine shows its class. Although there is power here, it doesn’t lack elegance, nor complexity. You are not going to get a gentle, ethereal, Burgundy look-alike, though. Despite its ripeness, and oddly the faintest of a nod to a Pinot-esque Côte-Rôtie, it remains unmistakeably Pinot Noir. Just a unique and different rendering.
This wine was a gift some years ago and although they have good US distribution, I’m not sure who brings them into the UK. I have seen their Sonoma Coast Pinot at Fortnum & Mason in London but at £42 that must make this single vineyard wine expensive. Sorry I can’t be more helpful.
“Miya” 2021, Krásna Horá (Moravia, Czechia)
This is one of the wineries we visited in Moravia this summer (see my article of 21 August for more information on the producer). The winery name means “beautiful hill”, and it is beautiful, extending as it does gently upwards behind the modern, family-run, winery in Stary Poddvorov.
They have a modern outlook here, and as they get along well with Milán Nesterec I can sense some similarities of approach. Krásna Horá has certainly developed a similarly colourful range of labels, like Milán, although with their own very individual stamp and personality.
“Miya” is named after a young niece of the family and is made from 100% Zweigelt (or Zeigeltreibe as they call it). The vineyard is a five-hectare site on loess soils. Production is biodynamic and the juice is partly fermented on the skins after whole bunches go into tank (no wood), and bottled slightly sparkling.
The colour is very much pale, as in strawberry or raspberry, so the crunchy berry fruit and the wine’s lightness is no surprise, though as it is so frivolous and easy to glug, the 12.5% alcohol perhaps is. It drinks like a wine with more like 11%, that is, extremely easily. Not that 12.5% is high, it just tastes lighter. This was one of the most refreshing two-or-three wines we drank on our trip and it was equally delicious on a sunny day in Scotland. It’s probably up there in the top half-dozen glouglou wines of the year so far. It’s a gently fizzy fruit bomb. It does have a bright label too.
Around £22 from Basket Press Wines.
“Couleurs Réunies” 2020, Mas Coutelou (Languedoc, France)
Jeff (as Jean-François likes to be known) Coutelou is currently my favourite producer in the Languedoc. His artisan domaine is at Puimiusson, near Béziers. To say he makes natural wines is to greatly undervalue what he does. His commitment to not only his wines but the whole environment goes beyond almost all of his fellow producers in the region. You’ll find around 13-ha here planted to vines, with the remaining seven planted mostly to trees, not always popular with his napalm-reliant neighbours..
The soils at Coutelou are chalky clay, worked manually. Cellar work is equally hands off, with a diverse team working the harvest, including mine and Jeff’s friend, Alan March as a regular. That suggests I am not wholly unbiased here, but that might be unfair. Although I love all the wines, some are a little too potent for my ageing liver, and no matter how genuinely stunning some of the wines are, I am often quite likely to pick out those with lower alcoholic strength.
“Couleurs” only packs 12.5% alcohol. It is a field blend, mostly sourced from the site known as and for “Flower Power”. The vineyard is planted to an assortment of varieties, including Terret Noir, Terret Blanc, Castets, Morastel, Riveyranc Gris and others, hence the name (both red and white varieties are co-planted).
The result here is a wine majoring on red fruits with a hint of rhubarb adding considerable interest. More savoury elements come through next, including tobacco and leather. It’s a nice, spicy red with some complexity. I call it “simple complexity”, the different elements which can, as here, come together from a field blend where grapes are picked at different stages of ripeness. It’s fresh and not remotely heavy. It is without doubt a wine which has a sense of place, especially if you have been lucky enough to experience this part of France in summer.
We drank this with a fairly spicy couscous dish and they went together perfectly. I think some writers might favour other Coutelou cuvées, but I can’t recommend this more highly as a nicely spiced, natural, wine for drinking.
Imported by both Gergovie Wines and Leon Stolarski Fine Wines (check out both sources for different Coutelou offerings), my bottle came from Cork & Cask in Edinburgh.
“Tolone” Riesling 2018, Nikau Farm (Victoria, Australia)
Nikau Farm might not be too familiar to lovers of Australian wines, even natural ones, but if I say it is the family home and vineyard of Dane Johns, then the label “Momento Mori” might come to mind. Dane is an ex-barrista who began his winemaking career with William Downie. He began his Momento Mori label out of a garage, as far as I can tell, buying in low intervention fruit from around Southern Victoria.
Now, Dane has some land of his own in the Baw Baw sub-region of Gippsland, a large viticultural region in Victoria’s south eastern corner which kind of pokes its nose well into New South Wales. It is, by all accounts, a beautiful farm, where Dane also grows the family’s vegetables with his wife, Hannah. They have ninety-five acres in all, which suits their total commitment to biodiversity (like Jeff Coutelou above), and this is including a twenty-five-year-old olive grove. Currently the area planted to vines is less than 2-ha, but there’s plenty of room for expansion.
Dane follows a totally natural regime. The vines have never been sprayed with any synthetic chemical treatments, and the wines are totally what we call zero-zero. Not only are there no interventions in the winery either, but Dane doesn’t add sulphur at any stage. He likes the discipline of working without the safety net of sulphur. It keeps him focused on his aim to make the cleanest wines he can.
Tolone is a small block of Riesling, not that there are any large blocks of vines here. There’s a little Chardonnay planted and mixed in here if truth be known. The terroir is on a base of sandstone and silica, the latter which adds a lot to the wine’s character. Equally important is the prevailing weather, which here comprises especially the winds blowing in directly off the Bass Strait to the south.
The grapes are macerated for 48 hours on skins and the result is a low alcohol (just 9.3% abv) wine with a mineral structure and texture, and relatively high acidity. It is a wine for acid hounds, for sure, but at the same time there is something infinitely pure about this Riesling. It’s as if everything is stripped back to the bones. If that doesn’t appeal, it should. This is frankly an astonishing wine for the adventurous traveller, quite unique, and beautiful in a way that is perhaps highly unconventional. Only 500 bottles made though.
This, like Dane’s Momento Mori wines, are brought to the UK by Les Caves de Pyrene, whenever they can get some. I bought mine direct from them. It did feel like a privilege to drink this. I spotted that Solent Cellar has several Nikau cuvées currently in stock, presumably in tiny quantities, so be quick. The prices are not cheap (£65 for Tolone, two vintages, though there are cheaper cuvées, slightly) but if you share my taste, and those of Doug Wregg, who I know is a big fan, then jump in and check them out whilst Dane remains ever so slightly, and only just, below the radar of the unicorn hunters.
Freiluftkino 2019, Annamária Réka-Koncz (Eastern Hungary)
I’m not sure regular readers want to keep reading about this producer, from Barabas on the Hungarian border with Ukraine. I certainly appear to drink more of her wines than pretty much anyone else’s at the moment. However, not everyone reads every article, and there will certainly be those who don’t know them.
Freiluftkino is a bottle-fermented sparkling wine, the name translating (in German) as “open air cinema”. I’m not sure which one Annamária had in mind, although there’s a very famous one in Berlin. This bottling is made from 2019 fruit, but used unfermented must from the 2020 vintage as the liqueur for tirage. The wine was given a further one year on lees/yeast after this, before disgorging by hand.
It is very much an artisan wine but made by the classic method, rather like a Grower Champagne. Except of course the relatively short spell on lees makes for a young-tasting wine, but in this case a wholly natural one. I last tasted this vintage of Freiluftkino in February this year and it has certainly gained in stature since that enjoyable bottle. I think the shorter lees ageing and second fermentation probably suits the grape blend, which is Királyleányka, Furmint, Rhine Riesling and Hárslevelü.
The wine’s character certainly comes from, and expresses, the complex soil structure the grapes are grown on. It’s a quite unique mix of rhyolite (a tight-grained, silica-rich, volcanic rock), andesite, dacite and tufa. It is steely and focused with a spicy, pronounced, minerality. The wine’s depth is echoed in a fairly deep straw colour with the faintest hints of green-gold. This bottle, unlike the previous, showed hints of freshly baked bread.
This is as appealing as it is cheap (maybe around £26), at least for a wine of this method. However, that doesn’t help because the 2019 vintage only consisted of 1,228 bottles, so it is consequently also rare. I bagged three in total and have one left. I think importer Basket Press Wines may have sold through the 2019, but I may be wrong and I do know that they have been slow updating their web site with new arrivals this month. But contact them directly for availability of Annamária’s wines. They are becoming quite sought after, especially as a few noted restaurants have taken them up.
Contact Basket Press Wines for availability.
Cuvée de Réserve Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs NV, Champagne Pierre Péters (Champagne, France)
Rodolph Péters blends this rather amazing NV from 50% fruit from the village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger on the Côte de Blancs. When I say fruit, I mean some of the finest Chardonnay on the planet. Well, that’s my opinion. The remaining half comes from Chouilly and Cramant further north. The Mesnil fruit has monumental salinity and Cramant is of course noted for its rapier thrust and filigree backbone. All of the grapes are from sites designated Grand Cru.
In many ways this is what we would like all non-vintage cuvées to taste like, especially in terms of quality. But they don’t! The fruit has precision, but the wine is not merely an assemblage of these sites. It is bolstered by a generous helping from a perpetual reserve which dates right back to 1988. It adds the kind of complexity which is rare at entry level in Champagne.
This bottle shows some youthful, mineral, freshness, but it was also starting to develop some nuts and bready notes. If you are looking for fruit you will find it, but perhaps unusually it was apricot in my glass. Nevertheless, at this stage I did think it quite Chablis-like, which for me is always a plus point with Champagne (just so you know where I stand). It’s that poise, I think.
This is simply a majestic Grower Champagne which will only get better. I can’t always be drinking Cuvée Chétillons after all. £50 is not cheap for a NV but the quality definitely matches the price, and you can now pay £398 for a 2014 Chéti at Mayfair’s Hedonism Wines if you wish, though trust me, it’s too young to drink (almost tempted to sell my last 2002, but not quite).
This came from Lockett Brothers in East Lothian, but I think it’s quite widely available. Liberty Wines managed the enviable coup of winning the Péters agency for the UK last year. I hope I can find a spare wad of notes to get some more whilst its still on the shelf. We drank it on my dad’s 90th birthday and it was very much appreciated as Champagne is the only alcohol he will drink now.
ZBO 2019, Brash Higgins (South Australia)
Brash Higgins is the label of Brad Hickey, who originated from Chicago the United States before exchanging a city-type career there for a vineyard in Australia’s McLaren Vale (as you do). I got to know him because his best mate from back home worked with my wife. Brad is one of the best under-the-radar producers in Australia in my opinion, and a few of the wines he makes are not just good but really interesting too. Not least of these is his Chardonnay made under flor in the fashion of a Vin Jaune (called Bloom and usually available by the single, clavelin-lookalike, bottle only).
Another wine I love, and find supremely interesting, is ZBO. Brad has a way of naming most of his wines using three letters of the grape variety, which in this case is Zibibbo. The fruit source is a long way from McLaren Vale, up in the vast Riverland. Okay, you will tell me from your WSET studies that this is a large irrigation region, noted for high yields and not for quality fruit. Well, Brad isn’t the only guy I know to source some good fruit up here on the lower part of the upper reaches of the Murray River (Murray-Darling is the corresponding wine region just on the other side of the Victoria border, in NSW, and has a similarly negative reputation).
The bush vines providing this Muscat variant (Zibibbo is a synonym for Muscat of Alexandria) are around seventy years old or more. They come from Ricca Terra Farms. Brad takes this fruit and drops it (gently) into Aussie-made amphora, where it sees 150 (not a typo) days on skins.
The result is a dry, textured, wine with all sorts of complexity – from wax, to honey, confit lemon, apricot, and even a little mint or eucalyptus. Unfined and unfiltered, there were 288 cases from this vintage, so it has an element of rarity despite its genial £25/26 price tag.
About the vintage…2019. Muscat is for drinking early, surely, you say? This wine, with its long ferment and maceration in terracotta, is built to age. I would guess that 95% of the ZBO which comes over to the UK gets drunk soon after purchase. I assure you it ages well. For me this is a hidden gem of a wine, and it is way, way, cheaper than the impossible to find “Bloom”.
ZBO is one of the half-dozen (I believe) Brash Higgins wines imported by Berkmann Wine Cellars, and this particular bottle came, via them, from The Solent Cellar. It can be found in a wide variety of independent retailers. Lovely label too.