October proved to be a month of restored health, post-Covid, which means plenty more wines to write about. Sixteen in fact, so I shall bring you two tranches of eight wines each. The following eight wines hailed from the usual crazily diverse range of terroirs, from England (Sussex and Kent), Western Hungary, Alsace, the Jura, Northern Greece, NE Italy and Czechia. October was almost a last gasp of summer rather than autumn up here in Scotland, both in terms of dry sunny days, and mild temperatures. If the wines seem to reflect this, I’m not surprised. Even today, when the forecast suggests the country will, at some point, be battered by stormy winds, I managed to pop out to the shops without a coat. I’m not sure I’m quite ready to gear up to winter wines quite yet.
Cuvée David Pearson 2015, Breaky Bottom (East Sussex, UK)
Peter Hall had been making wine in the most beautiful location of any vineyard in Britain, six acres set in a fold in the South Downs between Rodmell and the coast, for a remarkable forty years when the grapes for this cuvée were harvested, and he’s fast approaching what I hope will be fifty years at the property. That he makes wine at least as good as any other English producer is an achievement. When you can still find, with persistence, wines from 2010 which retail for half the price of the top cuvées from some other big names in the industry, this is a secret I only share out of fairness to Peter, learning to subdue my own greed (though my eyes and heart are substantially bigger than my wallet).
Peter produces two cuvées each year (one from “Champagne” varieties and one from, or based on, Seyval Blanc, and each is named after a family friend). This wine is from 2015, which in Breaky Bottom terms is relative youth. Named after the man who at first supplied Peter with boxes and later became an integral part of the team at Breaky Bottom, it is comprised of 70% Chardonnay with 15% each of the two Pinots. Just 6,004 bottles were produced.
The result is classic Breaky Bottom. It has a filigree spine of fresh acidity around which clings fragrant fruit. Racy would be a good term. As with most of Peter’s wines, it is built to age and it would be considered youthful in many ways at this current stage in its development. It does have that nascent brioche building from the lees ageing. Excuse the brioche cliché, which I’ve seen come in for criticism elsewhere recently. I don’t know how else to describe it. Well, actually, I did think “croissant” (I eat many more croissants than brioche), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen croissant in a tasting note. That said, citrus aplenty is the main instrument in the orchestra here.
Why drink it young? Well, it’s lovely and fresh, it reminds me how marvellous these wines are, I’m saving my 2010s for company, and to be fair I can’t keep all of my Breaky Bottom stash for years, just to look at. And, of course, it is so damn good.
Try Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton’s Kemp Town for an indie source. Also stocked by Corney & Barrow in London. Both ship wine nationally, so no excuses. And the bonus…this one is only £35.50 at Butlers.
“Jonás” 2020, Sziegl Pince (Western Hungary)
Sziegl Pince is a growing family winery at Hajós-Baja in Western Hungary. The latest generation of the family, Petra and Balázs, were given an 80-year-old vineyard (and a barrel) in 2012. The then twenty-year-olds tended their vines at weekends and in their university holidays. Their hard work earnt them the further gift of a cellar and press, and now they have expanded to a full-time estate of 8.5 ha.
The terroir here comprises mostly loess and clay underneath a mixed topsoil with sand. They work organically, by hand, and see the vineyard’s health as the key to great wines. Having healthy grapes enables them to follow a minimum intervention path in the winery.
Jonás is a white wine made from Welschriesling (called Olaszrizling here), Hungarian stalwart Hárslevelü and Rhine Riesling (Rajnai Rizling). The Welschriesling, 60% of the blend, goes into tank as whole bunches. The Hárslevelü (20% of the blend) goes through a semi-carbonic maceration, and the Rhine Riesling is split 50:50 between pressed whole bunches and grapes receiving skin contact for two days. Fermentation is all in tank, but there’s a little Traminer in the blend as well, which is taken from a 500-litre oak cask. A small amount of sulphur is added, just 15ppm.
The result is very floral and aromatic, but the tiny amount of skin contact is just enough to add a little texture beneath those high notes. This makes a wine with plenty of zip from fresh acidity nicely grounded. The texture helps add weight, almost as if the fruit clings to it in a fresh stream of acids. So, there’s plenty for acid hounds here, but equally it’s a really nice refreshing wine for those for whom “minerality” is a positive tasting note. I loved it.
This is just £23 from Basket Press Wines.
Vin d’Alsace 2020, Domaine de L’Achillée (Alsace, France)
This is a producer completely unknown to me until I tasted their wines at the Real Wine Fair back in the summer. I had been disappointed to see just one exhibitor listed from Alsace but I was very happy once I’d tasted the wines. I would have bought more than the one cuvée had they not sold out at the event’s on-site shop, but I had to make do with this entry-level Vin D’Alsace.
Scherwiller is a village just to the northwest of Sélestat, and just inside the Bas-Rhin boundary. It has no Grand Cru vineyards of its own, but it is where the Dietrich family has farmed for several generations. Yves Dietrich converted to organic viticulture in 1999, and the domaine is suitably named, for a domaine moving to natural wine, after common yarrow in French. Sons Pierre and Jean took over in 2016 and were the first generation to bottle for themselves.
The domaine is quite large, at 18.5-hectares, added to which they have 6 ha of fruit trees from which they make “fruit pétnats” (which I would love to taste). The whole domaine has been biodynamic since 2003.
This simple Vin d’Alsace is constructed from a blend of 50% Sylvaner and 50% made up of Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir (vinified white), and a little Auxerrois, Muscat and Chasselas. In other words, it reflects the traditional Edelzwicker blends for which the region was perhaps infamous in the past. Such blends are undergoing a renaissance, especially at the natural wine estates proliferating in the region, and we are generally much the better for it. Such wines very much reflect their culture, even when some people argue they don’t reflect their place (I’m not one, in fact I often think they better reflect their terroir, but these people can be vocal).
This part of the Bas-Rhin is intersected by several rivers flowing towards the Rhine, and much of the vineyard used for this blend is on clay near the old river quays near the village, used for unloading cargo. The rest is on sandstone and granite. The wine is, as you might expect, floral more than anything else, at least initially. Then we begin to notice more fruit aromas of apricot and plum. The palate is a little more structured than you might expect, with nice citrus acidity refreshing the tongue.
As befits an entry level cuvée, it is simple enough, with a balanced, 12% alcohol. A good drinker is the term I’d use, but in a complimentary way. It points the way towards their wines I tasted back in May, such as the slate-grown Riesling Schieferberg (a lieu-dit giving a wine of great mineral texture and quite exotic fruit), and the 21-day macerated Pinot Noir “Granite”.
Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.
Côte de Feule 2015, Arbois-Pupillin, Patrice Béguet (Jura, France)
Although Patrice has his home and cellar at Mesnay, just south of Arbois, this well-known vineyard is just down the hill from Pupillin. In the early days Patrice had a lot of encouragement from the famous vignerons of that village, including Pierre Overnoy. I think he once told me many years ago that some of his Arbois wine was mistaken by these guys for Pupillin, so he must have been listening.
The vineyard is a well-exposed slope of limestone and marl, one which ripens mostly Ploussard/Poulsard and Trousseau very well. I know as I’ve walked here in hot summer weather. This ripe 2015 also illustrates how well these wines age as well. Although this one sports Patrice’s second-generation label (taken from a fine lithograph used for his grandfather’s gentiane production), it’s not that long ago that I’ve drunk his “Feule” sporting the old, original, label. I can tell you that the new label was a big improvement.
This is darker than I remember, so much so that I had to check the wine’s composition. Retailer notes suggest Ploussard tout-court. I find it hard to believe that there’s no Trousseau, or Pinot Noir, in here. But that doesn’t really matter. The wine is smooth and seductive with glossy red fruits and just enough structure remaining to suggest it is drinking very well indeed. You get cranberry and redcurrant plus a touch of plum, the latter adding depth (but it’s not a traditional Ploussard element). This is a very fine Jura red natural wine, and it shows how Patrice was already maturing into a very accomplished winemaker even back then. Personally, I rank him as a top producer now.
Purchased at the domaine, but Patrice’s wines are selectively imported by Les Caves de Pyrene. They should not be overlooked, including his exciting negoce wines, made in horrifically frost/hail-affected recent vintages which put a heavy financial, and doubtless emotional, strain on many Arbois growers and their bank balances.
Lamda Barrique 2017, Ktima Ligas (Central Macedonia, Greece)
Many people are realising Greece makes very fine wine, wines which have on the whole had far too low a profile on our UK market (though perhaps better known in some other export markets). When people do think of fine Greek table wines perhaps certain reds and whites easily come to mind. Orange or amber wines, perhaps less so.
Domaine Ligas is at Pella in Central Macedonia, in Northern Greece. We are talking north of Thessaloniki, for those who can place that city. Thomas Ligas began farming here in 1985, aiming to work with autochthonous varieties. Assyrtiko is certainly a native of the region, although of course it is far better known as the fine wine grape from the island of Santorini, in the Aegean.
Viticulture here is a very strict (if that is the right word, considering the untouched nature of the vineyard) and successful form of permaculture. There’s a lot of love for Masanobu Fukuoka and his hands-off farming practices here. The farming makes a significant contribution to the profile of all the beautiful wines made by this supremely talented family, but this Assyrtiko sees one day macerating on skins before going into barrique for 18 months.
The result is as different to Santorini’s common iteration of the variety as you could imagine. Fairly dark-hued, this has the weight befitting 50-year-old vines and, when I’ve drunk it younger, a texture slightly more pronounced than you might imagine. As well as the skin maceration we should remember that Assyrtiko is highly mineral as well.
At five years old this is now smooth as honey, a description validated by a certain beeswax texture. The fruit is apricot, and the wine has a nice saline edge. I’m so glad I resisted the temptation to drink this sooner. It definitely shows the value of ageing it. This has blossomed into a truly majestic Vin de Grèce, befitting its iconic Maria Callas label. The label makes the wine stand out, recognisable on any table. The wine itself is outstanding. Only 2,000 bottles made in 2017.
Ktima Ligas is imported by Dynamic Vines. If you can get to one of their tastings, often attended by Ligas daughter, Meli, who lives in Paris, you are in for a treat over the whole range. However, I think this wine may be my favourite.
Pelegrim NV, Westwell Wines (Kent, UK)
Pelegrim is the flagship multi-vintage, traditional method, sparkling wine made by Westwell Wine Estates, who are situated at Charing, on the edge of Kent’s North Downs, not far from Ashford. This cuvée was relaunched, with an exquisite new label by winemaker Adrian Pike’s partner, Galia, in late October. You can find my article of 13 October by searching for Westwell in the search box or clicking on the article “Westwell Wines Pelegrim Relaunch” in the list of top posts to the right. I therefore won’t go into a lot of detail about Westwell, except to say that former record company owner and talent spotter Adrian Pike has taken Westwell into the top rank of quality English wine, both still and sparkling, since he came here in 2017.
Pelegrim is a blend of the three major Champagne varieties, grown on Kentish chalk. We have a ratio of 25% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 35% Meunier. The wine sees a fairly short three years on lees, that is short by the increasingly long ageing of the more expensive cuvées of English sparkling wine. Nevertheless, this is a cracker of a wine, very fruit-forward, dominated by fresh red apple with a little creaminess. Dosage is 8g/litre.
There is a key ingredient which I am yet to mention which makes this the juicy little star it is. Reserve wines. Adrian has been able to build reserves and 20% of the cuvée is made from these wines, stretching back over the past five years. The reserve wines undoubtedly add depth and softness to the very fresh fruit from the base vintage.
The shorter period on lees has a very positive outcome on what you have to pay for the wine. It’s another great value English sparkler which you ought to be able to find retailing for £32.50. I’d be pushed to find another sub-£35 English sparkling wine that is such good value, and it is very much ready to pop the cork now (though it will age should you wish to cellar it). To be honest the fruit is so good on this I see no reason to hold back unless you buy a half case.
This bottle came direct from Westwell, but their wines are available through their exclusive UK agent, Uncharted Wines, in London or UK-wide through their web site. Westwell also sells direct to the trade and the public within Kent (cellar door sales generally by appointment but they are currently opening for tours and tastings Thursday to Saturday, 11am until 5pm…but check before travelling, especially over winter). A list of Kent stockists can be found on the Westwell web site.
Fontanasanta Nosiola 2013, Foradori (Trentino, Italy)
Foradori, and this estate’s shining light, Elizabetta Foradori, probably need little introduction to readers here. Even the most conservative wine writers will be unlikely not to mention this beacon estate when talking about Italy’s northeastern wine region, Trentino-Alto-Adige. The Foradori vineyards are at the intersection of these two, often wrongly stapled together, parts of Italy which rise from north of Lake Garda, up the course of the A22 Autostrada, towards the Austrian border at the Brenner Pass. Foradori are just off this motorway, near Mezzocorona.
Foradori are the pioneers in biodynamic wine in the region, and as far as Trentino goes, one of the few estates of truly world class. However, they are wont to go their own way in pursuit of excellence, for example in amphora vinification. The conservative wine authorities don’t always take to this individuality and so the Foradori wines are labelled as IGT Vigneti delle Dolomiti. They still sell, and for impressive prices.
Foradori is the most impressive name in the production of the region’s autochthonous, and under-rated, red Teroldego grape variety, but here we have one of their equally desirable wines made from a white variety best known in the eastern part of Italy, Nosiola. They are one of several estates which have forced critics to re-evaluate the variety.
Fontanasanta is a 3-ha hillside site overlooking Trento, a little to the south. Nosiola thrives on the chalky clay soils here. It is vinified in amphora, the variety also being especially sympathetic to clay/terracotta. The Foradori family claim this is the traditional vessel for the grape. Skin contact turns it into quite a serious wine here, and when I say skin contact, we are talking an eight-month maceration before the wine is moved into acacia casks. The amphora used are Spanish Tinajas, which are said to be the most porous of this type of vessel, making them especially suitable for very long macerations like this.
If you let this wine age, and I recommend you do so, it will give you a gem of waxy, herbal exoticism. This, coupled with its notable salinity, will render the wine complex with an incredible length. Gorgeous stuff. I know that insiders are well aware of these wines, but I think the fact that these wines don’t come from a region like Piemonte, Tuscany or Friuli makes them slip well under the radar of many wine lovers.
Foradori wines do not come cheap. You will pay at least £46 for this Nosiola, I should think, possibly more (certainly more for an aged version). But there are dozens of white wines made from more fashionable grape varieties, at twice the price, but with half the complexity as this has.
Purchased (but some years ago) from The Solent Cellar, via importer Les Caves de Pyrene. Solent Cellar has, at least according to their web site, the very tempting 2015 in magnum for £85. Beyond my budget, but it would make someone very happy for Christmas.
“Raspberry on Ice” 2021, Petr Koráb (Moravia, Czech Republic)
Petr Koráb is one of the most interesting guys making wine in Czech Moravia. Younger than the old-time masters like Osička and Stávek, he’s every bit as good a natural winemaker. He’s also innovative, and his wines range from serious, through off-the-wall inventive, to wild fun. In Part 2 we shall see another side to Petr, but this wine is in the fun category, and is probably the queen of fun.
I first tasted Raspberry on Ice in extremely pleasant, but tiring, circumstances. We’d flown to Vienna and driven from there to Boleradice in August, where as you probably know we spent a few days visiting some of Moravia’s natural winemakers (and also attended the Autentikfest natural wine fair). We were given dinner almost on arrival by Petr and his wife, at a beautifully set table under the trees outside the Koráb cellars just up the hill, on the edge of the village, before an evening of hard-at-it tasting. It was the perfect pick-me-up. Would it match that experience in that romantic setting when opened back at home?
The blend here is Pinot Noir and St Laurent. It genuinely is like raspberry juice. Effectively, this is all you need to know. It has concentrated raspberry aroma and fruit, with that typical raspberry acidity. Uncanny. It’s all about the fruit, the whole fruit and nothing but the fruit (to misquote Funkadelic). It’s a pale red, frisky, not without a prickly bite, one which embodies all that is meant by “glouglou”. I’m not sure this didn’t all fly out the door in the UK but it is worth checking as another shipment might have arrived. Seemingly a summer wine, it would brighten any autumnal day, for sure. There were some magnums too!
One from Basket Press Wines, of course. I don’t see it on their web site but worth asking whether more is on the way? Otherwise, make a note for next year.
[Enjoying a rather special outdoor dinner chez Koráb, but I promise the wine is as good as I said despite the hospitality]