I am slowly getting to know the wine retailers up here in Edinburgh, and the first one I got to meet, thanks to a recommendation and introduction, was India Parry-Williams. India, along with Jamie Dawson and Chris Mitchell, the original founder, run Cork & Cask, a neighbourhood craft beer and wine shop in the Marchmont area of South Edinburgh. The shop has been going since 2013, in a part of the city, south of the Meadows, which looks pretty smart, but has a nice mixed population of families, young people and students. The kind of place with lots of great cafés and a good vibe. Cork & Cask is especially interesting for me because along with conventional wines they sell a very good range of natural wines, all sourced from some of the most interesting small importers I already know.
I was down there on Saturday for the Cork & Cask Winter Wine Fair. Well over a hundred wines were on taste in the local church hall, along with local independent spirits and some fine craft ciders. The Fair seemed a massive success, judging by the number of people there and the smiles of contentment as people sampled the wines. It’s probably too much of a well-kept secret that these wine fairs are the alcohol equivalent of an “all you can eat” buffet. £10 gets you a glass, a tasting booklet and a pour of every wine, cider or spirit you care to sample. These can be boozy affairs, especially when the office boys turn up in London, but this one was just happy and chilled, at least when I left mid-afternoon. Still, I was one of the few taking copious notes.
I met and sampled the Sherries of a new producer for me, Diatomists. Founder and Sales Director Antonio Morenés Bertrán was pouring samples of the five wines available, and I thought that these were interesting enough to merit an article on its own. I drank the Manzanilla on Sunday, and frankly I’d like to drink them all at some point. They are, I would say, quite “different”. Fruit driven expressions of (the PX excepted, of course) the Miraflores terroir at Sanlúcar. So, you’ll have to wait for Diatomists.
Below I shall run through my favourite wines brought to the fair by Modal Wines, Wines Under the Bonnet, Dynamic Vines, Indigo Wines, and Roland Wines along with a few ciders and an assortment presented by the Cork & Cask team where the importer was not present.
We’ll begin with Modal Wines. Nic brought ten wines with him and this presented a dilemma. I know Nic quite well and I like his wines, but he’d gone and brought wines I don’t know at all. So, with apologies, I shall comment on them all. The notes will be shorter as a consequence. He didn’t bring any Joiseph, from Burgenland, and I have been blatantly advocating for Cork & Cask to restock some of these.
Because my original article came in at over 5,000 words, I’m going to have to split it into two parts if you are going to have any chance of getting through all the wines (I promise it’s worth it). So Modal and Wines Under the Bonnet make up Part 1, with Dynamic, Indigo, Roland, the ciders and the rest in Part 2. Diatomists to follow after that.
Also note, the prices are just a guide. They were listed in the booklet but some appear possibly to be ex-VAT and others inclusive of tax. I’m sorry if a few may cost more in the shop.
Folias de Baco Petnat Curtido (Douro, Portugal)
This was an excellent wine to begin with, especially as I’d just tasted the Sherries and a real palate cleanser was just what was required. This is a 10.5% abv orange petnat, lightly sparkling and made from Moscatel with 5-6 days on skins. It comes from deep in the Douro Valley, on a small plateau at 700 masl. It’s not the baking Douro we all think about. The vines are blessed with an altitude which allows the grapes to get cool at night. The larger diurnal range helps keep the acidity which the red grapes lower down don’t see. Pale orange, refreshing but the floral bouquet of the Muscat is contrasted by a little bite and structure on the palate. Just a little. £23.95, a lot of glugging for your money. Loved it.
Mas d’Agalis Le Grand Carré (Languedoc, France)
60% Terret Blanc with Chenin, Vermentino, Clairette and others from Lionel Maurel. Maurel favours a gentle “infusion” method with light extractions. The result is a more lifted and elegant kind of Languedoc white made in stainless steel with no additions (incl zero added sulphur). Clean, mineral, saline and £22.95.
L’Archetipo Litrotto Bianco (Puglia, Italy)(1 Litre)
As it says on the label, a litre of lovely skin contact glouglou wine from a producer of otherwise largely single varietal wines from Salento, made from autochthonous grape varieties. Viticulture here is, according to Nic of Modal Wines, one of the most extreme forms of regenerative farming he’s seen. Varieties include Falanghina, Fiano, Verdeca and Marchione. Excellent easy drinking for under £25.
Little Bastard 2021, Staffelter Hof (Mosel, Germany)
Jan Matthias Klein blends 55% Riesling with Sauvignon Blanc, Müller-Thurgau, Muscat and a splash of Bacchus. A little cloudy, like apple juice, the bouquet is floral but the palate lives up to its name unless you like a bit of acidity (which of course I do). Super-refreshing, but potentially challenging for those new to natural wine. Needless to say, I generally buy it when I see it (as I did recently). £25.95.
L’Equinox Wines “To Maike and the Rest” (Swartland, South Africa)
This is the first time Modal Wines has ventured outside Europe, and it’s a wine from a young South African producer. Swartland Chenin with seven days on skins and then aged in barrel. Drinkable citrus-tinged fruit with a dry herbal finish. The Modal blurb mentions “clarity”, very apt. A new wine which I think will do really well. £32.
Folias de Baco Renegado (Douro, Portugal)
Another super-good value light wine from Portugal. Whether it’s a Rosé or light red I don’t know but it’s a typical field blend of twenty-plus co-planted varieties, half red grapes and half white. Everything gets picked and macerated together and what you get is juicy fruit with vibrant acidity, and just 11.5% abv. Easy going but not simple, chill it down a little and smell it develop in the glass. At £18.95 that’s just ridiculous.
Clos Sauvage “Fauve” 2021 (Beaujolais, France)
This is labelled Beaujolais-Leynes, Leynes being a village in the very north of the region, close to, but north of, the Beaujolais Crus (Macon is almost as close as northerly Juliénas). David and Sophie Devijnck harvest their white grapes in St-Véran and their red in the Beaujolais-Villages AOP on the regional border, at around 450 masl. This is 70% whole bunch fermented, but 30% of the Gamay is destemmed, giving a bit more texture and perhaps adding the spiciness you get along with the cherry fruit. The couple aim to incorporate their vines into a completely mixed farm, creating one whole ecosystem. The wine is lovely. About £30.
Majer Red, Slobodne (Hlohovec, Slovakia)
Slobodne’s “Majer” wines (a red and white) are entry level, but more than that because this top Slovakian producer is trying to create multi-vessel blends to best express the terroir they farm. This red blend consists mainly of Blaufränkisch, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Alibernet, the latter a crossing of Cabernet Sauvignon and Alicante Bouschet. The fermentation vessels include tank, barrel, amphora and concrete eggs. It isn’t complex but it’s really drinkable. I hope to grab some next visit to Cork & Cask, assuming it doesn’t sell out. £26.50.
Barbera del Monferrato 2019 (Piemonte, Italy)
Barbera often excels in the Monferrato Hills, where it may get the best sites (rather than Nebbiolo). The soils are Terra Rossa, great for this variety and you get more depth and better balance than with many versions of the Barbera variety from elsewhere. It’s fruity and savoury. The elephant in the room is 15% abv. You may shy away from that, but I can say the wine is certainly in perfect balance and very attractive. It’s only around £25 too.
Aglianico 2014, L’Archetipo (Puglia, Italy)
This second wine from L’Archetipo is made from a vastly underrated variety, Aglianico. It’s capable of great age, and note that this one is from 2014. Valentino Dibenedetto has created a wine where the tannins have softened yet the wine, remember, made via a strong focus on regenerative farming, has energy and vitality in abundance. Aged in stainless steel, then 18 months in old oak, it was bottled in 2021. You will find cherry fruit with hints of violets on the nose, and the cherry palate has a touch of liquorice. I know why this is one of Modal’s best sellers – it costs just £26. This wine is fittingly dedicated to Masanobu Fukuoka and Rudolf Steiner. If you want to compare a genuine natural wine with ones made from conventional farming and viniculture, then this would be a good choice.
WINES UNDER THE BONNET
Domaine Hugo Sparkling Wine (Wiltshire, England)
Hugo Stewart’s association with winemaking genius Daniel Ham has yielded amazing results (Daniel now makes his own “Offbeat Wines” from Domaine Hugo’s new winemaking facility near Salisbury as well as Hugo’s two cuvées). This is one of the most high-profile “natural wine” estates making English Sparkling Wine, and 2021 is only the first release, based on 2018 fruit. This is also very much a wine which relishes vintage variation and will not taste the same every year. The blend is Chardonnay, plus three Pinots (Noir and Meunier plus some Gris), creating a wine which is elegant, erring towards delicate, certainly classy. I tasted these at Real Wine in London earlier in the year. They were very good then but an extra six months in bottle has worked its magic. Okay, at £50/bottle it’s not cheap but then again, have you seen the price of some ESW nowadays! Top tip for Christmas.
Brand “Rot” (Pfalz, Germany)
The latest release of the red Landwein from the Brand brothers (Daniel and Jonas) is described by them as a “not-nouveau”. Foot-trodden Portugieser grapes make up the lion’s share, with some carbonic maceration Cabernet Franc (maybe 15%). The reason there’s no vintage on this is that some older Cab Franc may go in as well. Originally bottled last November, the guys decided it needed more time, so didn’t release it as a “Nouveau”. They recommend drinking it chilled, in the park, which is fine if you live on the sunny East Lothian coast as I do, but maybe indoors is better in wet and windy England. Still, nothing is added here, a great easy-going natural wine. As the label says, “shake and wait”. 10% abv, around £25.
Amélia Barbier Cabanes Rouge (Languedoc, France)
The cheapest wine I tasted at the fair is from the foot of the coastal massif of La Clape, close to Narbonne, near the salt pans. It’s a simple blend of Grenache, Syrah and Merlot, fruity with a little spice and a touch of tannin. Added interest comes from a salinity which could be because the proximity of salt pans and the sea is auto-suggestive…or I might really be able to taste that minerality. It’s not going to set the house on fire among a group of wine “buff(er)s”, but for only £14.50 you really cannot go wrong. It’s not a natural wine as such (lutte-raisonnée) but it does have low sulphur addition.
Château Barouillet “Monbazar” 2019 (Bergerac, Southwest France)
It is certainly true that I do not drink enough sweet and off-dry Chenin Blanc anymore, and this wine signals just how stupid I am. This 45-hectare estate at Pomport has been run by Vincent Alexis since 2010, when he persuaded his father that they should bottle their own wines. Around 60% of their production is red and white dry wine under the Bergerac AOC, but this cuvée blends Chenin (50%) with Muscadelle, Semillon and a little Ondenc. It’s an old school blend reminiscent, in flavour, of Monbazillac more than the Loire, a little lighter, more floral and a bit less intense than much purely varietal Chenin. It has sweet, raisiny, fruit but nice acids and lifted florality. I’ve enjoyed this producer’s petnat, Splash, several times, and this is at least as good. £23, another bargain.