Part Two of the wines we drank at home in February takes us to ground mostly not covered in Part One. We begin in Austria’s Rust, then Georgia’s Imereti, before we travel back to Alsace. Realising I’d not been drinking much Jura of late I pulled out a real gem from Pupillin. We finish with wines from Slovakia, Bugey and Chablis.
Furmint Aus Dem Quarz Unfiltriert 2018, Weinbau Wenzel (Burgenland, Austria)
The Wenzel family are Rust winemaking stalwarts, which for this chocolate box town on the Neusiedlersee’s western shore means a long time, in this case since 1647. The current incumbent in that long line is Michael Wenzel, and he has transformed the estate into one with a modern outlook, yet which at the same time holds dearly to tradition.
Rust, despite its relative proximity to Vienna, was once in the lands ruled by the Hungarian Monarch, always technically separate from Austria, even under the Hapsburg Empire. It was the Hungarian Crown which gave Rust its Free Town status in 1681. Not only is it Austria’s smallest administrative district, it is also (since 2001) a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It truly is worth visiting, for the buildings, the rather special lake, the storks, and of course the wine.
As a once-Hungarian town (the current border is a relatively short cycle ride down the lakeside) you will guess that Furmint was traditionally planted. It fell from favour from the 20th Century, but Michael Wenzel is one of a handful of winemakers who are re-popularising the variety here (Heidi Schröck is another). From the grey quartz-flecked terroir of the Vogelsang vineyard an amazing expression of the variety emphasises its mineral qualities.
We have a wine in which the minerality gives both texture and an amazing precision. That minerality is really deep, accentuated by eight months on lees. This bottle is as fresh as the one I drank from the same vintage in 2020, there being just more depth. Of course, Furmint is a very fine variety, wholly under appreciated in most Western European markets, so of course it is capable of ageing. Very impressive. A wine for both the mind and the soul.
I bought this bottle from Littlewine when their online shop was operating, but a more recent vintage might be available from Newcomer Wines. They certainly import Wenzel.
Otskhanuri Rosé 2019, Gvantsa’s Wine (Imereti, Georgia)
Otskhanuri is not one of the Georgian grape varieties which is on the tip of most people’s tongues. Not surprising in a country which claims 525 autochthonous vine varieties. In Imereti, at least in the hands of this family, it makes what turns out to be a really beguiling dark-hued Rosé wine.
I think the producer will be known to a number of readers. Gvantsa Abduladze is sister to the perhaps more famous Baia. Baia’s wines have achieved a fairly high profile as one of the new-wave of Georgian winemakers, not least because Georgia has been slow to embrace women in the profession (although to be fair this is changing).
The wine comes from the village of Obcha in Imereti, a lowland region to the northwest of the capital, Tbilisi (and where you might find the local name “churi” used instead of qvevri). It is a region where skin contact is less of a tradition and where the local white varieties Tsitska and Tsolikuri are often blended to make a fresh wine with good acidity.
The grape we have here is a red variety and it makes, as I said, a rather dark Rosé, perhaps reminding me of a Tavel in colour. The palate is very interesting. You get plenty of fruit, with raspberry, strawberry and redcurrant notes (which mirror the bouquet), but the fruit has a creaminess to it. A raspberries and cream touch. There is also a similar acidity to that which those local white varieties exhibit, so although the wine looks dark, it has something of a white wine about it too. It also feels like a terroir wine, even though it’s made in a qvevri/churi (although from free-run juice without skins).
This came from The Oxford Wine Company.
Raoni Riesling 2019, Sons of Wine (Alsace, France)
Sons of Wine is the micro-negociant label of Farid Yahimi, who you will have come across if you read my article on Du Vin aux Liens (27 February). Farid is the partner of Vanessa Letort. He’s one of the winemakers who have benefited from the friendship of Christian Binner, but he now shares a cellar with Vanessa at Beblenheim and is involved with various small or new winemakers in joint collaborations.
Raoni is named after the Chief of an indigenous tribe in Brazil, now a well-known, 93-year-old, ecology activist. The vines are grown by David Koeberlé of the up-and-coming natural wine producing Domaine Muller-Koeberlé. They are based in Saint-Hippolyte, and the vines are situated on the slopes of the Haut-Koenigsbourg.
The soils here are complex with granite containing mica, quartz, and feldspar. The Riesling old vines are farmed organically and made as a natural wine. The grapes are gently pressed as whole bunches and fermentation takes place outdoors until the full moon (in this vintage, 14th October).
The result is a wine which stands out as being a little different to the norm. I might go as far as saying this doesn’t really taste of Riesling, but in no way let that put you off. There are flavours of apple, vanilla pod and peach in there. It has a lees and mineral texture but real depth to it with spice and clove to round off the palate. This is a massively interesting iteration of Riesling from a site perhaps better known for its enormous, imposing, castle with views over to the Black Forest, than for its wines. I liked it a lot.
Purchased from Winekraft Edinburgh (£33), imported by Sevslo (Glasgow).
Ploussard 2017, Renaud Bruyère & Adeline Houillon (Jura, France)
This couple have established themselves as Pupillin royalty in a very short space of time. Although they met whilst studying at the hotel school at Tain L’Hermitage, Adeline later worked until 2011 with her brother, Manu Houillon, at Domaine Overnoy (Houillon-Overnoy), whilst Renaud lived in the village and worked as a chef. He began working the vines for Stéphane Tissot, as so many have, and the couple’s careers began in 2011 when Renaud took on a small plot at Les Tourillons, pretty much up in the hills in the Arbois appellation.
The domaine is somewhat larger now, but still I think under 5 ha. Their first Ploussard was made a decade ago from a rented plot of old vines in the village of Pupillin, and if anything proves the village to be the “World Capital of Ploussard”, then this wine is an exemplar.
This cuvée undergoes a carbonic maceration, with a cuvaison of 32 days. It’s a wholly natural wine with no added sulphites. The natural carbon dioxide created from the fermentation acts as the only preservative. Strawberry, cherry, textured with a lovely lick of fruity acidity, I opened this on a Wednesday, for goodness-sake. I cannot recall a better wine so far this year. I bought my bottle at Epicerie Vagne in Poligny and clearly had no idea whatsovever how much this wine sells for, retail, these days. Astonishingly good.
Fred #8, Strekov 1075 (Strekov, Slovakia)
I’ve drunk Fred in many of its vintages in restaurants or at tastings, but this is the first of Zsolt Sütό’s wines I’ve actually drunk at home, believe it or not. We have a blend of 50% Blauer Portugieser with equal parts Dunaj and Alibernet, all bush vines from the clay-loam soils of the hills above Strekov, a village northwest of Budapest on the other side of the Danube. The wide-flowing river helps warm the air in the vineyards, despite the fact that Strekov is a good way back from the water.
After fermentation for fifteen days a lot of colour was leeched from the three varieties. Blauer Portugieser (known as Modry Portugal over the border in Czechia) adds freshness, Dunaj fruit, and Alibernet structure. The wine is made naturally with ambient yeasts, no temperature control and certainly no added sulphur. Zsolt bottles Fred in a sparkling wine bottle with a crown cap because he believes it better retains the wine’s fresh fruit.
Fermentation takes place in open-top vat before going into a variety of old Austrian oak for only six months. The wine is very dark purple with blackberries and blackcurrant dominating the bouquet, snap for the palate, where you might also find some redcurrant or cranberry in the acids. A simple wine, but one which is fruit-packed and concentrated.
Another bottle from Winekraft Edinburgh, imported by Roland Wines.
“Table” Vin de France , Caroline Ledédenté (Bugey, France)
Many readers will know that I’m a fan of Bugey and there is one producer new to the region who I have been following the career of for a while. In fact she would be my Bugey tip if anyone asked me, not that they do. Bugey is still a secret. Caroline goes by the Instagram nom-de-guerre as @carolinegrainpargrain, but finding out a lot more about her isn’t easy (although you can track down a French radio appearance from a link in her IG profile).
Caroline discovered natural wine in the bars of Paris, then, deciding this was the career for her, went to study wine in the Jura before going to work for Gregoire Perron in Bugey. She settled at Artemare, in Bugey’s southern sector, which is almost in Savoie. Her couple of hectares are farmed with biodiversity in mind. She’s another vigneronne who plants trees, in this case fruit trees, amongst her vines. They create a habitat for insect-eating birds.
This cuvée is made from the rare Molette variety, a grape which if known at all was known as the mainstay of the Savoie sparkling wine, Royal Seyssel. The grapes are planted at Carbonod, which is as geographically close to Savoie as a Bugey wine can get, although Caroline eschews any appellation (of course). Planted in the late 1990s, the vines have a good bit of age and so allow an interesting wine to be crafted from what others might have dismissed as “neutral” in flavour. Apparently, it is the variety’s unfashionability which attracts Caroline (definitely my kind of winemaker).
Naturally, in the hands of this talented lady, the result is not neutral at all. She has created a zippy, citrus-tinged, natural wine with no additives which livens the palate and lingers. It ends on a savoury dry note which might remind you of a good Swiss Chasselas or one under the name of Gutedel from Southern Baden. It’s very “Alpine”, very pure. Or perhaps, in that case, Altesse might come to mind? This was only Caroline’s second vintage as well!
I really need the whole range to be honest. This came from Noble Fine Liquor in East London, and whilst they may not have any of this Molette cuvée left right now, they are definitely listing four others from Caroline Ledédenté. Get in for some Bugey nights (got to keep on dancing).
Chablis “Humeur du Temps” 2018, Alice & Olivier De Moor (Burgundy, France)
The De Moors have become pretty much the only Chablis producer I buy now, since first discovering them in, of all places, Berry Brothers’ Basingstoke “factory outlet” what must be at least a couple of decades ago. Even in 2010 Jasper Morris called them “relative newcomers, with a small domaine in Courgis”. Far from being an established family in Chablis, Alice and Olivier planted their own vines at first, growing mostly Chardonnay within the Chablis appellation and Aligoté of the very highest quality further afield (they allegedly have some Sauvignon Blanc from St-Bris but I have never seen it).
Although they now have some Premier Cru land, they continue to make AOC Chablis of a quality which would challenge many 1er Cru bottles. This wine, possibly the easiest of their Chablis cuvées to find in the UK now, comes from four separate plots close to Courgis, down a valley to the south of the town of Chablis itself. Most of the vines were planted in 1995.
The grapes undergo a very gentle press before spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel. Ageing, for twelve months, is in both old oak and enamel-lined tanks. No bâtonnage, nor racking, is carried out but the malolactic is allowed to take place naturally. Almost no sulphites are added.
The majesty of mature, well looked after, old vines shines through in this magnificent wine. You get real intensity and purity plus personality with a capital P. I’m not sure how this couple manage to do this with such consistency, when others in the appellation are clearly just trotting out a cash cow Chablis? These Are wines with depth and soul, and I guess that’s really all I need to say about them.
The importer now is Les Caves de Pyrene, but I bought mine as part of a De Moor selection from The Solent Cellar (Lymington). Of course, they seem to have sold out, as you would expect, but they are a good place to look for this producer (and of course they are one of England’s finest indie wine retailers outside of London). Berry Brothers does list De Moor’s Bel-Air & Clardy, another of their Chablis cuvées from these two sites. I think it’s a touch more expensive. Les Caves should have the Aligoté cuvées, including the frankly astonishing “Plantation 1902” and the Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu.
I have a bottle of Humeur du Temps ’18 lurking hereabouts. I really don’t de Moor often enough. Particularly like their Aligoté & Bourgogne Chitry, both provide v. good VFM.
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