I shall tell you my Wines of the Year in my next article, following last year’s popular format of twelve wines, one from each month. First, here, I’ll list the dozen most popular articles of the year on wideworldofwine. A few readers might be tempted to check them out. You’ll also get to discover my books of the year. Although we have a winner, there are most definitely a silver and a bronze as well. I’ll also recap on one or two wine trips or vineyard visits, along with my tasting of the year. If any of that sounds interesting, read on.
Top 12 Most Read Articles
The following are the twelve most read articles between 1 January this year and the time of writing. These stats are only as accurate as the fact that these articles were searched for, or linked to, directly. There were around 9,500 further general site visits where I can’t distinguish what was read, almost certainly whatever was the current new article at the time.
- Tongba, A Study of Emptiness (04-01-2016)
- Tourist Jura – A Brief Guide to Arbois and Beyond (29-07-20)
- Extreme Viticulture in Nepal (27-11-2019)
- Breaky Bottom – A Different Perspective on English Wine (15-03-2022)
- Food for a Change…the Wonderful Cuisine of Nepal (30-11-2021)
- Regenerative Viticulture by Dr Jamie Goode (Book Review) (07-06-2022)
- The One Straw Revolution (Masanobu Fukuoka) (Book Review) (18-08-2021)
- Paradise Lost – A Eulogy for Two Great Natural Winemakers (21-06-2021)
- Pergola Taught (16-02-2021)
- New Wine Leaders 1 – Christina Rasmussen (03-08-2022)
- Appellations – Who Needs Them? (06-12-2021)
- Central Victoria Part 2 – Bindi (15-12-2019)
Tongba is a Tibetan drink brewed from a millet paste. It has very little alcohol but except for at altitude, it seems to have a mildly hallucinatory effect, and induces a strong need to lie horizontally. I say except at altitude because the last time I drank it there was no such effect, and I was on a mountain in Nepal. The article has been a favourite since I wrote it in 2016, and I suppose this is because it gets picked up by a different type of reader, not necessarily a wine lover. It has been read 1,299 times this year.
The Arbois Guide is now more than a couple of years old and may have a few inacuracies. La Balance, my one-time favourite restaurant there, has finally closed, and I know some opening hours have changed. Jean-Paul Genet is now called Maison Genet, I think. I’ve not been back since 2019, though we used to visit pretty much every year before Covid. Hoping to get there soon, though 2023 looks pretty busy already.
As someone lucky enough to have been to Nepal quite a number of times (we have a number of strong connections with the country, including family ties), I’ve written a few popular articles. That in which I wrote about the Pataleban Vineyard, a little way west of Kathmandu, has remained popular and hits the #3 spot, and I’m equally pleased to see the article I wrote about Nepalese food last year up there too at #5 (a surprise). I am a very big fan of this cuisine (or cuisines to be accurate), the glorious Momo being possibly my favourite dish in the world. Britain has some outstanding Nepalese restaurants, Edinburgh having a special concentration. Perhaps a future article.
Momos – they may look simple…
Between those two articles at #4 we have an article about my visit to see Peter Hall at Breaky Bottom this year, in March. More of this later.
Two book reviews made it into my top dozen for popularity. It won’t surprise many to see my review of Jamie Goode’s book on regenerative viticulture there. Perhaps it was more surprising to see the seminal work on this subject appearing beneath Jamie at #7. Masanobu Fukuoka’s small book is not only highly instructive, it’s also a lovely read (in translation).
Finally, we have five very different articles forming the second half of the list. Paradise Lost is a eulogy for the sadly departed natural winemakers Pascal Clairet and Dominique Belluard, both of whom sadly took their own lives during the Covid pandemic. I cherish the bottles of Belluard I own, but Pascal’s death saddened me a great deal. His wines were among the first natural wines I drank. I had only been chatting with him in February 2020 when he came to London for his importer’s winter tasting. He died that May (as indeed did another great Jura vigneron, Lucien Aviet. Lucien was 84, Pascal only 58).
My last photo of Pascal, London, Feb 2020
Pergola Taught was an article I was inspired to write by Trink Magazine, the greatest new wine resource to come out of the pandemic years, and covering what they call “umlaut wines” (Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Alpine Italy). It does what it says on the tin – it looks at the renewed interest in the pergola. Who would have thought an article about a vine training system could be so popular.
For anyone who doesn’t know Christina Rasmussen, well we live in an age of the “influencer” and she is one of the very few who could, if they so wished, truly own that name. Among many achievements she co-founded Little Wine, and she has also now planted a vineyard. The specific title hints at more to follow. There are in fact a number of individuals I’d like to write about. The modesty of some, combined with lack of time, and now distance, has stopped me in my tracks, but I shall try to twist some arms next year.
Christina and Phoebe at the annual Bojo tasting a few years ago. They do love Gamay.
Appellations…who does need them indeed? It began with the “Vin de France” natural wine rebels and spread. If you are creative, experimental and focused on quality then why comply with outdated rules which hold you back and encourage mediocrity, whilst patently not upholding quality?
Finally, Bindi. If there is one “absent” wine producer that I wish I could see imported into my country it would be this one. Michael Dhillon makes some of the very finest wines in Australia from complex but magnificent terroir in Victoria’s Macedon Ranges, within striking distance north of Melbourne. I know a few readers will have tasted these wines, but if you haven’t, I promise you they are up there with the very best that large country has to offer. I visited Michael towards the end of 2019.
BOOKS OF THE YEAR
It will not be a surprise to anyone that my “Book of the Year” was Jamie Goode’s Regenerative Viticulture. Although he’s allegedly writing an in-depth tome on the subject, something with more detailed science, this is the book I felt was the most important of 2022. It’s an easy-to-read paperback/soft cover of just a little over 160pp, the text brightened up by plenty of colour photos. Jamie is a scientist by training, but a gifted communicator above all. So, if you want to get a handle on this buzz phrase, this is your man.
I said that this year there is a Silver and a Bronze, but in truth I can’t split them. Ed Dallimore’s The Vineyards of Britain may not be comprehensive, but he does visit a lot more vineyards than any author before him (somewhere close to 140 appear in this book). The book is greatly enhanced by some superb photos, most of them taken by Ed himself. I’m really turning more and more to English and Welsh Wine, especially as the momentum is building up in the low intervention/natural wine category. I discovered some important new names here.
I have followed Aaron Ayscough for a long time. He was the first person to introduce me, via his blog, to the natural wine scene in Paris. His long-awaited The World of Natural Wine is a large-format hardback which covers just about every angle you can think of on French natural wine, from viticulture and winemaking, the wine regions (with key producers and recommended wines) and final chapters on how to taste, serve and find natural wine. He only dips his toe outside France, into five other European countries plus Georgia, but it is for his unrivalled knowledge and insights into his adopted France, the country which more than any other popularised natural wine, that you will buy this book.
Wine travel can be far-flung or close to home. I made one visit very close to my then home in the first quarter of the year. I’d been drinking the wines of Breaky Bottom for a very long time. After all, Peter Hall had been farming his vines here on the South Downs since the mid-1970s (although I don’t go back quite that far). I’d never visited, but I had walked several times along the South Downs footpath which passes above and along the side of the vineyard, house and winery. Nestled in a chalk hollow (Bottom), this is for me unquestionably the most beautiful vineyard location in England. The wines are its equal.
As always, the most special visits are insightful. I was invited along with friends of the Halls, Henry Butler and his wife, Cassie. We tasted, we chatted, we walked the vines and we chatted some more. Every bottle of Breaky Bottom I have drunk since has been even more meaningful. That’s what the best vineyard visits do for you. It’s as much soaking in the atmosphere as learning the facts. He may hate me for saying this, but Peter Hall is a truly remarkable man, and I do not say that lightly.
I had been invited to Autentikfest, Moravia’s natural wine festival, before Covid struck, but it took until 2022 for me to be able to go. We were invited by the UK’s Czech wine specialist, Basket Press Wines (although it’s always good to make clear that flights and car hire were paid for by ourselves and we stayed in a room belonging to winemaker Petr Koráb). We visited four producers (there’s an article about each of them, all published in August), prefaced with one about the festival itself. Each and every visit was as good as it could have been and there’s no doubt that Czechia’s natural wines are arriving in style.
The main tent at Autentikfest
After the festival I headed over to Rust for a couple of nights in order to fit in a visit to Gut Oggau. This is a Top-5 producer for me. I mean not just in Austria, anywhere. Their wines are magical, as are their creators, one special couple in what they have achieved. Actually, not only their wines but their restaurant in Oggau as well. This article follows the Moravian batch (published 19 Sept).
I did manage a few other visits in 2022, and there’s never time to mention every one of them.
TASTINGS OF THE YEAR
I think for many, the tasting of the year would be the Real Wine Fair at Tobacco Dock, organised by Les Caves de Pyrene. I think it meant even more to people after the Covid break. It wasn’t my first tasting after the Covid pandemic had eased, but it was the first one where literally everyone was there. I could easily have chatted all day on the trade day and tasted no wines. As it was, there was plenty that was new alongside old liquid acquaintances. Very tiring but it could not be bettered. Especially seeing Doug Wregg and Wink Lorch again after a couple of years.
Basket Press Wines also held a portfolio tasting in March, a chance to try their whole range (much more than just Czech wines). I should also give a shout for the Cork & Cask Winter Wine Fair just gone, in Edinburgh. It was my first tasting since moving up here at the very end of August and it was thoroughly enjoyable and very well organised…but massively popular, making it slightly more difficult to taste “professionally” (think I saw only one other person spitting). Thanks India and team for such a warm welcome.
SPECIAL IMPORTER MENTION
I wanted to make one special mention of an importer who has really captured my imagination this year. I’m always wary of doing this because I don’t want to upset others, both those who I have managed to buy wine from and those who I would certainly have bought wine from had I been able to afford to. Of course, throughout the year you can see from my monthly “Recent Wines” articles where I’ve been getting my wine from, with direct purchases from people like Newcomer Wines and Basket Press Wines, and indie wine shops extraordinaire, like The Solent Cellar (Lymington) and Butlers in Brighton. They all provide an excellent online service, and a friendly voice at the end of a telephone when required.
That merchant I’ve singled out for special mention is Tutto Wines. I don’t know the folks who run Tutto very well but I know their wines. I guess my favourite person on their list is Alice Bouvot (L’Octavin), along with Julie Balagny, whose Beaujolais has a special place in my heart too. My most recent discovery from Tutto has been Lambert Spielmann, having been nudged in his direction by David Neilson (Back in Alsace). He’s a rising star with a fascinating selection of music-related labels on exciting wines. I keep telling people that Alsace, especially its northern (Bas Rhin) part, is the most exciting wine region in France right now for low-intervention winemaking. There’s an abundance of new talent, but I’ve taken to Lambert’s wines. We have much in common and visiting him is firmly on my radar.
Lambert’s “Red Z’Epfig
Tutto continues to innovate and have a finger on the pulse, even when it’s a faint pulse. Case in point, The Doubs, that part of France where 99% of experts will tell you they don’t make wine. They do, and there are a few worthwhile producers. One is George Comte in Émagny. This is a producer who the fearless explorer will find more than interesting. Tutto has some older vintages too. If you like the Jura old-timers take a peek at something similar. Burgundy prices though.
I have published 49 articles so far this year before this one makes it a round fifty. That’s one more than last year, though not as productive as the 64 articles written in 2020. We shall have to see what 2023 brings. I shall certainly enjoy bringing you my wines of 2022, but that will most likely have to wait until the first article of the New Year.
“I was born with a heart of Lothian” as the song goes. Well, maybe not born in my case, but I am a fast learner.
Have a great Christmas. Hope to see you all in 2023 for my Wines of the Year. To all of those wine friends I am missing, it’s rather wonderful up here, you know!