A somewhat reduced number of wines were consumed at home in January, not, I should stress because of any “Dry January” leanings, but down to the “Not Covid” virus that struck me down for most of the first two weeks of the month. Still, ten wines are here for me to tell you about and it is still worth me splitting them to make them easier to consume. In Part 1 we have a fine white Burgundy, a star from Slovakia, A Languedoc, an Australian Savagnin, and a very interesting find from Alsace which has recently led me on an interesting journey, following a little detective work.
Saint-Aubin “En L’Ebaupin” 2015, Le Grappin (Burgundy, France)
Andrew and Emma Nielsen remain good wine friends, despite my seeing them perhaps once a year nowadays. I joined the Le Grappin story at the beginning, with a six-pack of Beaune Boucherottes purchased at their former winery within the walls of Beaune, located in an old gunpowder store. It was wine bottled from their first vintage, I believe, 2011. I can’t afford to stay on board, but I remain a loyal fan.
The older vintages I’ve managed to cellar are treasures for me. This 2015 is an example of a nicely matured wine from a village I have a special fondness for, because we used to stay in a very cheap Chambre d’Hôte, a short walk over the hill, on our first visits to the Côte de Beaune in the 1980s.
This comes from a small parcel of west-facing vines behind the village, off very chalky soils. The vineyard is described as “late-ripening” (which used to mean difficult to ripen until climate change changed all that, but the grapes still ripen late).
The Nielsen way is to tread by foot, into a basket press, spontaneous fermentation with natural yeasts and élevage in traditional Burgundian used oak barrels, of which five were filled from this vintage and this vineyard.
The scent is a mix of white flowers for the high notes and toasty, buttery, hazelnut for the bass. More than anything this wine shouts place, with a mineral core from the high chalk content of the soils. I would suggest that this is not 100% mature, but it was glorious. Such assured winemaking.
Purchased direct from Le Grappin, this bottle almost certainly from one of their pre-release mixed cases.
“Carboniq” 2020, Magula (Slovakia)
Magula is very much on my list of favourite producers from Central Europe. If you are thinking of exploring what Slovakia has to offer there are certainly a number of fine estates, a few having perhaps a higher profile, but Magula is up there with the best. The wine region known as the Little Carpathians in English is certainly beginning to show its potential, managing to adapt modern winemaking (and marketing) to tradition.
Carboniq is a pale red, a product of this estate’s biodynamic practices. The variety here is Modry Portugal (aka Blauer Portugieser). It’s a variety which you may have tasted from Germany, where it is mostly planted in the Pfalz, but you will increasingly find it in Lower Austria, Czechia, Slovenia and Croatia (it is also permitted in Hungary’s Bull’s Blood), as well as here in Slovakia. In this cuvée it undergoes carbonic maceration and so produces a light red with just 10% abv, quite delicate but packed with flavour.
The whole berry ferment lasts for two weeks before the grapes are gently pressed. A small dose of sulphur is added before bottling. The terroir is deep loess, rich in minerals, and this is very much reflected in the character of the wine. I’d describe it as a mineral-rich cherry bomb with zesty fruit acidity. The low alcohol makes it dangerously gluggable, a splendid adult fruit juice if you like. I’m known for peculiarities such as drinking pink and light red wines in winter, but if you are more conventional with the seasons, I would strongly recommend getting some of this for when the temperatures climb and the sun comes out (though I should say that it seems to be sunny about 75% of the time where I live now).
Imported by Basket Press Wines.
La Buvette à Paulette 2019, Mas Coutelou (Languedoc, France)
Jeff Coutelou (Jean-François if you prefer to be formal) makes probably my favourite Languedoc wines at Puimisson. Not all of the wines suit my mood all of the time, some being pretty alcoholic, but Jeff makes a wide range from which I can choose those which, as I grow older, make me more able to stand up after consuming.
“Paulette” is a blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Merlot, creating a wine with layer upon layer of plush, smooth, fruit. You might think I’m contradicting myself when I say this is an easy drinker despite its 14.5% alcohol, but it’s made very much in the style of a bistro wine. It’s simple in the best sense of that word, satisfying, nourishing even.
It is lifted in every sense by classic dark fruit acidity so that the alcohol actually feels negligible. It’s what Coutelou does so well. You’d never guess a bottle could leave you under the table. I think it’s a wine which actually might benefit from some time in bottle to settle down, at least on the evidence of the bottles I have drunk. This is my third (possibly even fourth) of the 2019 vintage and I’d say it was definitely the best bottle, fully ready to drink. Really good.
Purchased from Winekraft, Edinburgh. It is quite widely available through various indie wine shops in the UK.
Savagnin 2018, Castagna (Beechworth, Australia)
Beechworth is less well known than it ought to be, at least compared to some regions in the State of Victoria (Mornington Peninsula, Yarra, Geelong etc). Way up towards the border with NSW, northeast of Melbourne, it is the home to some of Australia’s finest producers, such as Giaconda, Sorrenberg, and of course Castagna (as well as a host of new stars, not least Dane Johns, of whom more in Part 2).
Julian Castagna’s wines have impressed me a lot since I first came across them, and the man himself, at a tasting in Lymington’s Solent Cellar, what must be almost a decade ago. Since then, I’ve occasionally met up with Julian and his son, Adam, at London’s Real Wine Fairs, and continued to obtain the odd bottle of his wines. This is my first Castagna Savagnin.
This wine is labelled “Growers’ Selection” and it indicates fruit which doesn’t come from the Castagna estate sites, but from local growers with whom they work. The grapes are grown on neighbouring properties, but the wine is made and bottled at Castagna.
Green-gold, such a lovely limpid colour, this initially shows peach and pear richness in the bouquet which almost hints at Chardonnay. After a while the nutty dryness comes into play. It’s another wine with weighty alcohol (14.5%) which you don’t really notice to begin with, on account of the wine’s freshness. Crisp acidity overlays, and complements, the richness. It’s gorgeous, honestly, though not really comparable in flavour to most Jura Savagnin.
This cost £40 from The Solent Cellar, but worth every penny. They don’t show any stock left, but I’d inquire as to whether or when they might get some more. Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.
“Terre” 2019, Du Vin Aux Liens (Alsace, France)
I love discovering new wines, and I bought this on a whim, spotting it on a shelf a couple of months ago. It’s why I like the physical act of shopping, whether that be in a wine, record or book store. You spot things that you may well miss when “browsing” online.
This wine has actually taken me on a voyage of discovery covering Alsace, The Loire and Lorraine’s Côtes de Toul, all based around a winemaker who helped Christian Binner establish “Les Pirouettes”, Vanessa Letort. I have a fascinating (I hope) article to come, later this month, on Vanessa and her partner, which tells a common story for so many young winemakers from a non-wine background establishing themselves in France right now.
Vanessa shared a cellar in Rosheim for a year with Yannick Meckert, and he bottled this wine under Vanessa’s Du Vin aux Liens label, although the pair no longer work together (Vanessa has now relocated to Beblenheim…and Lorraine).
It’s a skin contact Riesling with destemmed fruit seeing a seven-day maceration, followed by ten months in amphora. I like this a lot. It’s zippy with a mineral, skin contact, texture, one of Dr Goode’s “smashable” wines (though it does come in at 12% abv). I mean, how many “orange” wines are truly smashable, and how many Rieslings for that matter?
It’s a bit of a unicorn in that I don’t think this is a wine to be repeated, at least not in this form. I have Winekraft in Edinburgh once more to thank for this discovery, its proprietor I’ve recently discovered being something of an Alsace fan and advocate. We will get on well. £26, cheap, a shame it’s all gone (unless they found a few more bottles).
Castagna’s Savagnin intrigues.
Big fan of Le Grappin & buy Ebaupin most years . Pleasantly surprised to see I have a solitary ’15, yet be be tried.
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