Straight from my Wines of the Year we move swiftly on to the wines I drank at home during December 2022. I say wines, but of the eight bottles which form Part 1 (lots consumed in December), one is a Sake (but from London!). The seven wines are from Rheinhessen, Champagne, Moravia, Sanlúcar, Leicestershire, Savoie and Eastern Hungary. It doesn’t get any less eclectic in Part 2, I must warn you. And yes, you did read Leicestershire correctly, a very interesting producer I’m just beginning to get to know.
Weisser Burgunder Trocken 2018, Weingut Wittmann (Rheinhessen, Germany)
The Brilliant Philipp Wittmann (Stephan Reinhardt’s description) heads up the family winery, now a leading VDP member, which goes back to the mid-1600s in the famous village of Westhofen, in the Rheinhessen sub-region of Wonnegau. Wittmann is best known for the fabulous Riesling Grand Cru bottlings, including Morstein and Kirchspiel, but Weisser Burgunder (aka Weissburgunder or Pinot Blanc) is close to Philipp’s heart. If you want proof that this variety can produce genuine class, try this relatively inexpensive version.
The whole estate has been biodynamic since 2004. The grapes for this cuvée come from predominantly chalky soils on classic sites. You’ll find this lemony, waxy and stony, with a pebble-like texture. In the glass, initial apple acidity is replaced with pear and apricot as it opens out, all the while backed by a ground bass of mineral texture.
Although most would drink this on release, my experience of buying a bottle or two every year is that it will benefit from 12-24 months in bottle. It’s a hidden gem of a wine for, I think, around £15 for this 2018. Wholesale stockists are Howard Ripley and Roberson. I usually pick mine up from The Solent Cellar, though it is only periodically in stock.
Campania Remensis Extra Brut Rosé 2010, Champagne Bérêche (Champagne, France)
Whether Bérêche remains a “grower” or now qualifies as a micro-negoce as well remains a moot point among those I speak to, but for the many years I have idolised these wines made at Craon de Ludes on the Montagne, I have always concentrated mostly on the estate-grown fruit. I have long considered Raphaël and Vincent’s wines among the absolute finest in the region, and this, their Rosé, would rank amongst my top four pink Champagnes.
The grapes come from a specific 0.7ha site at Ormes, west of the Montagne, and the blend comprises 60% PN, 30% Ch and 5% PM (=95%) with the addition of 5% “Coteaux” rouge. This all undergoes spontaneous fermentation in both oak and small vats with lengthy (36 month) lees ageing. Fruit picked in 2010 was disgorged in May 2014, dosed at just 3g/l.
A darkish salmon pink, the bouquet is redolent of fresh ripe strawberries but there’s a savoury spiciness alongside the fruit on the palate. Like all Bérêche wines, it has a nice spine of well-focused acidity and great length. Also, plenty of post-disgorgement development but it retains freshness. My last bottle of the Rosé, sadly. From Vine Trail.
“Kumo” Cloudy Premium Sake, Kanpai (London, England)
Kanpai is one of two sake producers I know of in the UK (the other being in Cambridgeshire). They are based in Southeast London, at Peckham. Lucy and Tom Wilson set it up in 2016/17. Their product is all what one would call “Premium Sake”, vegan-friendly and like natural wine, without any added sulphur.
Kumo is a cloudy (kumo is Japanese for cloud) nigori junmai, nigori indicating cloudy (using a wide-mesh filter) and junmai meaning pure rice sake without added alcohol spirit. The rice is polished to 70%, which may mean little to the uninitiated, and to be frank matters not one bit for the enjoyment of this sake, but polishing ratio talk is the ultimate geekiness for sake aficionados. You get a lovely pure taste alongside a leesy texture, a touch of acidity and a milky/yoghurt-like finish. Very smooth and deceptive (15% abv). You can either drink this style cool (circa 10 degrees as we did) or heated warm to 40 degrees. Be sure to invert the bottle before opening to distribute the sediment.
If you haven’t tried sake this is a fairly traditional style to begin with. Kanpai’s products are mostly found in London. You can visit the brewery or buy direct from the web site. This bottle came from Cork & Cask in Edinburgh. I can highly recommend further research via “Sake and the Wines of Japan” by Anthony Rose (Infinite Ideas, 2018).
Ex Opere Operato I 2017, Dva Duby (Moravia, Czechia)
Jiři Šebela farms in the valleys around Dolni Kounice, close the the Austrian border in Southern Moravia. This is rocky, volcanic, terroir and the red wines from these biodynamically-produced hillside vines are remarkably intense. They have that characteristic mix of iron and blood which is common among volcanic wines.
The grape variety here is St-Laurent, farmed and made as a natural wine with only a little sulphur added at bottling. Lowish alcohol and the terroir make this an overtly fresh wine, in some ways not overly complex yet brimming with personality. You get a rare combination of intensity and lightness. Dva Duby was partly founded by Moravian guru Jaroslav Ošicka, so you know we have a producer worth checking out. I’m a big fan of these wines.
Imported into the UK by Basket Press Wines.
La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada « Bota Punta » 80, Equipo Navazos (Sanlúcar, Spain)
This Manzanilla Pasada comes from a long line of fine releases including Bota’s 20, 40 and 60 before it. This is a saca of December 2017, a thousand 50cl bottles taken from a single cask at the very end of this solera at Hijos Rainera Peréz Marín. The butt was filled to the “tocadedos” level, ie well over 5/6ths of the cask. The flor is therefore only a very thin layer, kept alive only through sporadic topping-up. The average age of the Sherry in this rather singular cask was fifteen years old.
The thinner flor means this pasada has more oxidative notes than is usual for a biologically aged wine. There is also 16.5% alcohol. The result has a little more weight but it hasn’t sacrificed elegance and finesse. The bouquet reflects the chalky texture layered on the palate, along with nuts, lime, quince and a tiny balsamic note. This is a complex wine and it needs air. Also, not one to serve chilled, but just cool. A direct purchase, but EN’s UK agent is Alliance Wine.
Field Blend 2021, Matt Gregory Wines (Leicestershire, UK)
I’d been hearing about this crazy guy making wine up near Loughborough, in the East Midlands, long before I got to try any. Late last year I heard he was about to get a deal with an importer I buy from when I can, so I was finally able to get my hands on some of these. I had spotted that Matt had worked in North Canterbury with my favourite NZ producer, Theo Coles (The Hermit Ram), which frankly only piqued my interest more. Matt also makes wine in Piemonte, but I’m yet to get hold of any of his Italian bottles. Jamie Goode has (he met Matt in NZ with Theo as far back as 2019).
Field Blend is what it says on the label, a more-or-less co-planted blend of Seyval Blanc, Bacchus, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Regent and Solaris. It calls itself a pink more than a light red, but it’s kind of somewhere around the darker Rosé spectrum. It has the fruit of a red wine and the refreshing qualities of a white and clocks in at just 10% abv. Although most people would call this a summer wine, I am not averse to wines like this in winter. I may not be able to match my wife in sea-swimming in the North Sea throughout the year, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do “bracing”, and this wine’s fruitiness keeps its head above the waves. I’ve a couple more from Matt to try. This was pretty exciting stuff. Good luck to Matt with the weather around there.
£18.65 from Uncharted Wines.
Monfarina 2020, Domaine Giachino (Savoie, France)
This estate is based in the hamlet of La Palud, above Chapareillan near the famous Col du Granier and to the west of the Isère river. Run by David and Frédéric Giachino, the brothers are now assisted by Frédéric’s son, Clément, who I met in London a couple of years ago. I’ve purchased their wines for some time, including their “Prieuré Saint-Christophe” label, the vines for which they were selected to take over, via a rental agreement, from the region’s most famous vigneron, Michel Grisard, when he retired a few years ago.
Monfarina is Giachino’s entry level white wine, made from what is usually considered the region’s workhorse variety, Jacquère. The vines for this cuvée grow on the scree slope of Mont Granier, which collapsed in 1248 with significant loss of life locally. The legacy of this tragic event, a very fine terroir for viticulture.
If the wine is relatively simple, it is classy. Biodynamics are practised at the domaine. The wine has great texture from the limestone scree and you get apple blossom, apples, gooseberry and more. Wink Lorch (Wines of the French Alps, 2019, p192) suggests there might be small amounts of Mondeuse Blanche and Verdesse in the mix, two autochthonous varieties which are seeing a glimmer of a revival.
£24 from Cork & Cask Edinburgh, the importer is Dynamic Vines.
A Change of Heart 2020, Annamária Réka-Koncz (Eastern Hungary)
Who would have thought a few years ago that one of the producers I drink most often would be a complete unknown making wine in Eastern Hungary, right up on the border with Ukraine. Maybe you get fed up with reading about these wines, but I like them so much for a number of reasons. Firstly, of course, they are very good. Secondly, they are affordable, and thirdly, this is a producer I discovered near the beginning of their journey into export markets and have travelled along an increasingly confident path with her. This is pertinent because her new vintage will be arriving in the UK fairly soon and there will be a window of availability once more.
This red wine is made from Kékfrankos (aka Blaufränkisch), and I first drank this vintage almost exactly a year ago. Has it matured? Well, it retains that freshness typical of the variety (when not over-extracted), and it has not lost any fruit. The bouquet is still vibrant cherry and the palate also has some dark fruit lurking beneath. Perhaps the acidity has toned down a little. It feels just a touch more bedded-in.
Only 1,750 bottles made, of which I snaffled three. Imported by Basket Press Wines.