Part 2 of the Cork & Cask Wine Fair notes follows on from where we left off in Part 1. It is back there that you will find my introduction if you haven’t already read it. You’ll find some nice bottles from Modal Wines and Wines Under the Bonnet if you take a look.
I promised a look at the fine Sherries from Diatomists. This will follow, but it will take at least a week to publish if anyone is waiting for that.
Theodora 2021, Gut Oggau (Burgenland, Austria)
I suppose regular readers would expect me to re-iterate my enormous enthusiasm and passion for Gut Oggau, especially if you happen to have read my article about my visit to the estate in August this year. I had an exceptional tasting over dinner back then, but among the many wines tasted I didn’t get to try the new vintage (2021) of Theodora. The last time I drank this Grüner Veltliner and Welschriesling blend from the Western shores of the Neusiedlersee was the 2020 vintage, back in April. With just a couple of hours on skins you get a vibrant white with flavours of melon and spice. This latest vintage is sensationally good. The only downside is that even as one of the less expensive Gut Oggau cuvées, it will still cost around £40. It’s certainly worth the money for me, but a tough ask for many impoverished Brits. All I can say is please try to taste it.
Cahors “Le Combal” 2017, Cosse Maisonneuve (Cahors, France)
Matthieu Cosse and Catherine Maisonneuve have been farming around Prayssac, within the Cahors AOC, since 1999, specialising in the Cot variety (aka Malbec) for which the appellation is famous. “Le Combal” comes from the chalky gravels of the Lot Valley’s river-terraces, fermentation in stainless steel, subsequent ageing for a year in used barrels. It’s a fruit-forward wine but with some complexity. A wine to drink on the lovely fruit that is still there after its extra time in bottle, but yet a wine which will certainly age further. It’s too long since I’ve bought this producer’s wines, which is why I recommend this. For £24 you get something with a touch of seriousness, yet that lovely natural wine zip as well. And a more savoury side to Malbec is most welcome.
Graue Freiheit 2020, Heinrich (Burgenland, Austria)
Heinrich is one of many excellent natural wine producers in Gols, on the northern shore of the Neusiedlersee. There’s definitely something in the water here, when you run through the names in the village (and nearby) who uphold a non-interventionist approach in the vines and cellar. Gernot and Heike Heinrich have been doing their own thing since 1985, long before some of the new stars appeared (or in some cases were even born). They converted to biodynamics in 2006 and helped found “Respekt”, the Austrian certifying body.
Bottled in a terracotta flask, this is a very interesting, unique style, blend of Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Neuburger, and Chardonnay. The soils are crystal-laden schist and calcerous clay, with fermentation on skins in amphora. Ageing is for 17 months in large old oak. No sulphur is added. Unfiltered, shake before serving, and see what you taste. It’s a complex whirl, for sure. Around £40/bottle. Well, I have some…
Cathedral Pinot Noir, William Downie (Victoria, Australia)
Downie makes this Pinot by blending fruit from the Mornington Peninsula (70%) with 30% grapes from the more inland (but cool-ish climate with cold night temperatures) King Valley. All the fruit is destemmed and goes into a mix of stainless steel and wooden open-top fermenters. Ageing is for a relatively short two-months in stainless steel. The fruit is all red berry with a spicy twist. Acids are fresh and I think it speaks of the Mornington’s maritime climate. There’s even a touch of sea salt (well, salinity, minerality, whatever you wish to call it). It certainly has that definition which you get from coastal fruit in Victoria. Very nice, though it costs around £30. Aussie wine prices are not all bargain basement as you find in the bulk imports. This isn’t natural wine, but it is finely crafted artisan wine.
Rioja Reserva 2014, Remelluri (Rioja, Spain)
Indigo has always been “the” great Spanish specialist for me. I know there are others, but Indigo has a finger on the pulse. Much of their Spanish range is incredibly forward looking, and in terms of their own list, Remelluri seems slightly conservative, despite being one of the great forward thinking, experimental producers in the Rioja region.
The estate’s flagship wine is the Reserva. The vinification is not really out of the ordinary, but the grapes (mostly Tempranillo with small additions of Garnacha, Viura and Malvasia, grown between 500-to-700 masl) are immaculate (farmed organically). It sees 17 months ageing in oak and then three years in bottle before release. This means the oak influence is there but not dominant. It will, of course, enjoy further bottle age if you allow it. I must add that I’m a massive fan of their Blanco as well. This red Reserva will cost around £30, which does again show great value for a serious wine.
THE CIDER TABLE
This table represented a trio of artisan/natural cider makers but was staffed by Robbie Fleming, who makes cider over the water from me, in Fife, and whose products I’m yet to try (sadly not being shown). My first desire was to try a couple by Little Pomona, which was launched in 2017 by Susanna and James Forbes towards the start of what I see as the British craft cider revival. Their original Thornbury farm in classic Herefordshire cider country has 120 trees split between four varieties of apple. They have since moved their operation to Brook House Farm, just south of Bromyard (in time for the 2019 harvest), where they have opened a tasting room.
Bright Lights is new from 2021, mostly made from Bramleys, but there’s a secret added ingredient, a little locally grown pear. It is exactly as the label says, a cider with very bright acids, a real palate cleanser, with a great deal of purity. The Bramley “cattle prod” (they say) acidity was toned down by adding a touch of 2020 Dabinett and Michelin from barrel, followed by bottle conditioning (as they call it in the cider world) to add a little sparkle. Exceptional. £15.
At least as good was Hard Rain Hot Pink, made from Kingston Black apples, but by a unique and almost lost method. The second pressing is used, in other words a pressing of the pomace. The result used to be known as Ciderkin. This version adds in Chinook hops from the field next door, owned by Brook House Hops. The result is then bottle conditioned with local organic blackcurrant cordial. You get a 4.5% drink which is the perfect summer refresher. The hops bring grapefruit notes, the apples, acidity, and the cordial adds a riot of dark fruit. £10 makes it what some might call a no-brainer.
“In Touch” is a “keeved” cider made by Pilton Cider at Shepton Mallet in the heart of England’s other famous cider county, Somerset. Keeving is an artisanal way to make sweet, or semi-sweet, cider with just apples. The method prevents all the sugar being converted into alcohol. The fermented keeved cider here, made from Egremont Russet apples, is soaked with the skins of Regent red grapes. The result is a low-alcohol cider (4.5%) with light apple flavours and a definite hint of wine (Tim Phillips does a similar trick in Hampshire with his version of “A Fermament” macerated on his Pinot Noir skins). Off-dry, smooth, quite lovely in fact. £9.95.
I always have so many wines I want to buy at Cork & Cask that I rather neglect the ciders. I must put that right. I am, as you know, a great lover of petnats, and these ciders are pretty much interchangeable for social slurping.
Bergkloster Riesling 2020 (Rheinhessen, Germany)
This is made from mostly direct press fruit with a little time on skins. The bottle I tasted was slightly reductive, and a taster next to me wasn’t impressed (“farmyard”, she said). I don’t mind reduction, it usually blows away. The grapefruit-like fruit here was plumpish in a wine of 12% abv, and once the nose cleared of slightly off odours it had a quite exotic bouquet of kiwi and peach. £19. Don’t be put off.
Kovidinka, Oszkàr Maurer (Serbia)
If you haven’t yet tried Serbian wine, Maurer is a name to look out for. The first offering is his delicious orange wine. It comes from vines approaching a hundred years old near the Croatian border, on mostly loess and limestone. Kovidinka is the autochthonous grape variety. All methods are natural in terms of inputs, and these old bush vines are also cultivated by horse. Skin contact lasts for six days, with eight months in large format oak for ageing. Zero sulphur is added.
The bouquet hints of apricot, peach and lemon, the colour being very peach-like. The palate reflects stone fruit, citrus and oranges, with a textured finish and a herbal twist. £19.
Crazy Lud 2021, Oszkàr Maurer (Serbia)
The second wine from Maurer is another old vine blend, this time of Blaufränkisch, Kadarka, Cabernet Sauvignon and Prokupac, here off mostly volcanic soils in the Szerèmsèg Region. Once again, old bush vines produce very low yields and the grapes undergo a seven-day cold soak to leech out colour before fermentation in 350-litre old Hungarian oak casks. All varieties are fermented separately and blended at the end. There is no fining/filtration but a little sulphur is added here at bottling. The result, from a cool vintage, is a refreshing fruity red with zippy acids. Possibly not quite as “different” as the orange wine, but still very good. Around £20.
Zweigelt, Martin Obenaus (Weinviertel, Austria)
Back into Austria now, and the region, in the northeast of Lower Austria, which stretches from close to Vienna as far as the Czech border with Moravia. Weinviertel is still quite underrated as a region, but the profile of top producers like Ebner-Ebenauer (Falstaff Magazine Winemaker of the Year 2022) is changing this. Here we have a fairly simple red made from a variety which is also underrated, but when vinified concentrating on the fruit can produce some of the best glugging wine in Austria. Bright cherry fruit combines with fruit acidity to give us a 10.5% abv light red for easy drinking. Simple yet super-tasty. Around £18.
Strekov 1075 “Fred” #9 (Strekov, Slovakia)
Strekov 1075 is the label of one of Central Europe’s great characters, fellow drummer Zsolt Sütö. The region itself is Strekov, with vineyards at around 150 masl on clay and loam soils over a bedrock of limestone and marine sediments. I’ve often seen people say this is a Blauer Portugieser wine, but there is actually more Alibernet (a Cabernet Sauvignon x Alicante Bouschet cross) at a ratio of 30% to 50%. The remaining 20% is the local Dunaj variety.
Half the Portugieser was foot-trodden, but all the rest was destemmed, and fermented in open top vats. Then, the Portugieser (fermented separately) went into 300 and 500-litre Zemplén oak whilst the rest was aged in 2,500-litre Austrian oak. After six months the wine was bottled without fining and filtration, and without any added sulphur. Zsolt uses a number to denote vintage and I think (??) #9 is from 2020. It has ripe cherry fruit and an earthy touch. Personally, I think this wine is brilliant, love it. For me, one of the best two producers on Roland’s list. £25.
Rét 2021, Alex & Maria Koppitsch (Burgenland, Austria)
This is my other favourite producer on Roland’s list, one I go back a little way with, even before they had their first British importer (they since changed to Roland Wines and it’s fair to say they now have a wider retail distribution). This is a lovely family operation making natural wine in the town of Neusiedl-am-See (accessible on the train from Vienna and the local station has a cycle hire shop right next to it. You can easily get to Gols and beyond if your legs are good and the wind off the Pannonian Plain isn’t too strong).
Rét is the entry level red wine, the name expressing the region’s Hungarian heritage. It’s a blend of 80% Zweigelt and 20% St Laurent off gravel, farmed biodynamically. The vines have a very reasonable age of thirty years. It sees eight days on skins, the varieties being fermented apart, and then six months on lees, varietal blending occurring at bottling. No sulphur is added. I drank one recently and to describe it perfectly I must borrow a great term from one of our best tasters, Jamie Goode: “smashable”. Especially at £23.
Kadarka, Bott Frigyes (Garam Valley, Slovakia)
Frigyes was possibly the first name in Slovakian wine I came across. This is another biodynamic producer making wines in relatively small batches off complex volcanic soils with Andesite, Chalk and clay on rolling countryside at around 250 masl. The Kadarka is harvested last of the varieties and half was fermented on skins and half destemmed. Each part was fermented separately before being blended together into 500-litre oak for nine months.
Red fruits (raspberry, strawberry) dominate, along with something a touch darker. The palate has a more complex nuttiness, with tobacco and a little cherry fruit. The colour is magnificent, the bouquet deeply fruity and the palate really interesting, not simple. Around the £26 mark.
THE CORK & CASK TABLE
Here we have a few wines presented by the Cork & Cask team because the importers couldn’t be present. It was a good mix, but I want to highlight four wines, the first of which was very possibly my WOTD.
Vulkàn Nr 2, Meinklang (Austria, Hungary)
I’m not sure how this works, but you probably know that Meinklang is based in Austria’s Burgenland, at Pamhagen, but have some parcels on the Somlό Massif, an ancient volcanic plug in Central Hungary. The grapes here are from Somlό. Nevertheless, this is bottled as an Austrian Table Wine. It’s the second release of this “still wine” version of Vulkàn (there’s a fizzy “Foam”), Nr2 being from, presumably, 2021. The two varieties here are Hárslevelű and Juhfark. A zippy but soulful wine with a touch of CO2 and a whole backbone of tense minerality. Refreshing, yet savoury more than fruity. Definitely my kind of wine (I bought one because Meinklang’s UK agent Stone Vine & Son don’t usually import this, but Cork & Cask went out there, fell in love, and got a few cases added to their pallet). Be swift! c £27.
Rosso di Montalcino 2020, Casanova di Neri (Tuscany, Italy)
Affording decent Brunello these days is almost impossible, but a good “Rosso” can be a perfectly acceptable alternative, and may even be more to our liking, with less (if any) new oak. This Sangiovese has had only 12 months ageing and I think benefits from it because it keeps the freshness I so like in the variety. The nose has great typicity and you can identify the grape, a pleasant experience for me because I drink far less Tuscan wine than I used to. Classy, and probably ought to see a bit more bottle age. £32.
Beerenauslese “Terrassen” 2020, Domäne Wachau (Wachau, Austria) (37.5cl)
I saw a very interesting article recently, asking (inter alia) whether Austria’s most famous wine region is falling behind, stuck in a conservative past and, rather like Bordeaux, is resting on that fame and the prices its top wines still command with the older generation. This Domäne (sic) has, to some extent, moved with the times more than a number of the bigger private estates, despite its very long history (est 1774). I should add that the terraces from which this wine comes are some of, for me, the most attractive vineyards in the world. The region also boasts one of the best cycle routes through vineyards in Europe.
This wine is quite traditional, a sweet, botrytis, Riesling with Pinot Blanc, Grüner Veltliner and Muskateller added, grapes harvested in November, with just 9.5% alcohol and sold in half-bottle. Farming is organic and the wine is certified vegan. Honey, lemon and good acidity, not at all cloying, qualities which make Austrian Beerenauslese good to drink from the off. There’s an open quality to the harmonious fruit and acidity. You’ll get complexity if you cellar it, but ageing will not follow the same profile as a Mosel Beerenauslese, which usually starts with way higher acids and needs age to balance that. Mind you, the producer says drink after 6-8 years. Whatever you do, you get a good deal, a proper dessert wine, for a touch over £20 for 37.5cl. It’s expensive to make.
Rivesaltes Grenat 2018, Immortelle (Roussillon, France) (50cl)
Rivesaltes Grenat is an appellation for Vin Doux Naturel made from the region’s old bush vines. Fermentation starts in a 500-litre open-top barrel. Fortification takes place after five days, arresting the fermentation, leaving plenty of sugar in the resulting wine. The combination of the sweet, ripe, fruit that has not fully fermented and the bite of the fortifying spirit makes this a unique sweet red, with 18% alcohol.
After 12 months ageing you get concentrated red fruits with cherry and clove. The received wisdom is that these are the perfect wines to accompany chocolate desserts, and this is true, but they also go extremely well on their own. As a smooth and sweet after dinner drink, it replaces a liqueur pretty well, and it will indeed last forever. There used to be a fair bit of VdN knocking around from 90-100 years ago at one time.
*NB Some retailer sites will tell you this is made from Grenache, as “Grenat” would suggest. However, the Immortelle web site confirms this as 100% Mourvèdre. £24 or thereabouts.