April is almost upon us as I write. Usually I am hastily trying to publish my Recent Wines articles before we are half way through the following month, but for March I’m getting in early, giving you the wines from the first half of the month well before the month is over. This is because, fingers very tightly crossed, April is going to be rather busy.
The wines we drank at home in the first half of March came from Moravia, Eastern Hungary, Roussillon, Alsace, Catalonia, Champagne, Hampshire, and Burgenland. Am I becoming predictable?
Karmazín (Frankovka) 2020, Petr Koráb (Moravia, Czechia)
If you were expecting one of Petr’s outrageously colourful labels on this one you might be disappointed. Petr produces so many cuvées that it is easy to forget that some of his wines go out under these more traditional (well a little more) labels. The wine is hardly traditional, though, at least for the grape variety.
Karmazín is a local name for an old clone of Frankovka, which is of course the Czech synonym for Blaufränkisch. Its label is sedate but the juice is as exciting as anything that comes out of this picture postcard Boleradice cellar.
The vines, farmed biodynamically of course, are old, planted in 1934. The terroir is limestone, which we all know the variety loves, as evidenced in Burgenland around the Leithaberg Mountains. The winemaking, as is the rule here, is low intervention and equally low added sulphur.
The bouquet shows lovely concentrated cherries with more than a hint of spice. In the glass, as the wine unfurls, the aromas seem to get deeper, as you follow them down a tunnel of scent. Definite notes of floral violet appear and the cherry gets darker. I love these wine journeys, and we haven’t even tasted it yet. The palate has more cherry in layers, red to dark. I wouldn’t call it complex in a fane wane sense, yet there’s certainly a lot going on here. But maybe I should cut the waffle and just say “it’s so good”!
I think Koráb’s UK importer, Basket Press Wines, is onto the 2021 now, which will cost you all of £25.
Robin 2020, Annamária Réka Koncz (Eastern Hungary)
No introduction for Annamária (aka @nussancs) here because she does feature quite regularly. I was awaiting her new 2021 vintage and as it turned out that my order included two Robins it felt a good time to dispose of this one. Now you all know just how much I like this producer’s wines, and for me Robin yields up pretty much everything I want from a petnat.
However, I took this as a BYOB to one of the brilliant Sri Lankan popups we’ve been going to. This time we were a six-person table, and a couple of friends clearly had never tried a natural wine, let alone a petnat, certainly not one made from 70% Királyleánika and 10% Rhine Riesling, which Annamária farms in her vineyards at Barabás, on Hungary’s eastern border with Ukraine, with an added 30% of Furmint coming from Mád (in Tokaj).
They found the “sourness” (their description) on the finish unusual, and I suppose I should acknowledge that not everyone is used to the savoury texture of many natural petnats. However, those of my acquaintance who are more regular drinkers of Robin are as much fans as I am. To people like me this is, in the importer’s words, “super-drinkable”, and equally refreshing. A fine bead, good acids, a little bite and for me the tartness here enhances the wine, makes it a bottle you take note of, rather than one which merely slips down anonymously.
Only 970 bottles were made of this 2020. The 2021 vintage back label doesn’t state how many bottles were made (nor does it list Riesling in the grape composition this time), but I know it isn’t many. You might still be lucky and find some (£27) via Basket Press Wines, or look out for it on the lists in those super-cool restaurants which sell this kind of thing.
Les Chiens Blanc Vin de France, Alliance Wine (Roussillon, France)
This might seem a departure for me, a cheap (at least by our standards) wine, not “natural” in its making and not (presumably) “artisanal”. But we drank this at the same popup dinner where the previous wine had shocked (perhaps too strong a word) a few friends at the table. I freely admit I bought it because my daughter liked the label, but she is unrivalled at sniffing out a bargain, whether that be in a vintage clothes shop, a charity shop, or an antiques/junk shop. It seems wine shops as well.
This is the white wine in a pair (with a red) from UK agent and importer Alliance Wine. I’m not going to bother searching the code to find out who made it. It’s a blend of (I think) Colombard, Vermentino, Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, quite possibly the most part being Colombard, but you certainly get hints of the two white Rhône varieties and Grenache Blanc, and perhaps Vermentino adds a bit of acidity?
Made in stainless steel, this is very much a straightforward wine, with a nicely floral bouquet, smooth on the palate, peachy fruit with pear, a little texture on the finish. It’s balanced, with gentle acids and a tweak of salinity. I’d say this is pretty well put together for a tenner (£10 for overseas readers). I couldn’t ask for more really, given the price. I’d be very happy to buy this again (especially as the whisky budget is decimating the wine budget). I wouldn’t want anyone who habitually buys the wines I usually write about to think this in the same space, but it is more than just acceptable in my view. Well done.
Spotted in Winekraft Edinburgh via Alliance Wine (so surely widely available, I’d certainly seen the label before).
Phénix 2020, Frederick & Arnaud Geschickt (Alsace, France)
Now, much as I enjoyed the previous wine, this is several levels up. Back to where we usually are, plus more. The Geschickt family have been farming biodynamically since back in 1998, although biodynamics has a long history in and around the village where they are based, Ammerschwihr, northwest of Colmar.
They have holdings on some of the famous sites which are now “Grand Cru”, including Wineck-Schlossberg, and the neighbouring, belatedly but deservedly elevated, Kaefferkopf. Both vineyards sit south of the village. For me, Phénix is one of their most interesting cuvées. It blends Pinot Gris from Kaefferkopf with a little Gewurztraminer.
Both varieties are pink-skinned and this is a maceration, or skin contact, wine. Sometimes a little skin contact yields a kind of “vin gris”, an example being the Italian “ramato” style of Pinot Gris/Grigio, but here we get a full-on Rosé, darker even than Provence’s more pallid examples from red grapes. Here we have vibrant red cherries and wild red fruits in a wine that is also textured and ever so slightly grippy on the finish. It’s as if the fruit riot is being contained by the structure but is nevertheless straining to burst free.
The wine also has another side too, a mellowness which is contemplative. A kind of after the battle feel. Maybe I got carried away, but that’s how it felt. Anyway, it’s a wine that is both extra-tasty and impressive at the same time, one I can’t wait to buy again.
This was another purchase from Winekraft Edinburgh. Made From Grapes in Glasgow were also listing it but it may be currently out of stock.
Brutal!!! 2020, Cellar Vega Aixalà (Catalonia, Spain)
The label sets this wine apart as one produced for the “Brutal Wine Corporation”. It began as an open-source label for producers of strictly natural wine. Not only were they all sulphur-free zones, but they were ideally meant to goad early detractors from natural wine into calling them faulty. Created by a group around Barcelona’s famous Bar Brutal, and French winemaker Anthony Tortul, it came out of Catalan colleagues calling his wine “brutal”. He was wrong to think it an insult. The word is used as a positive slang description much as you will hear “sick” as a super-positive expression in English/American.
It should be said that “Brutal” was a bandwagon rather a lot of people jumped on, and the unwritten rule that any cuvée was limited to a single barrel was being broken as much as any rule regarding winemaking techniques. It is for this reason that the striking label with the yellow writing had to be copyrighted to limit who could use it. As far as I know, these wines are mostly French and Spanish, although Dane Johns (Momento Mori Wines, Australia) bears the distinction, as far as I know, of being the only artisan winemaker outside of Europe to be admitted to the brotherhood.
This is a white blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and the rather less autochthonous Albariño (which must have slipped over from Galicia). Biodynamic in all aspects, from a family winery, founded in 2003, at Vilanova de Prades in Tarragona Province. These were vineyards abandoned two generations ago, but the vines sit upon exceptional black llicorella slate. If the name is familiar, it’s the same slate you find in Priorat. The wine follows the Brutal rules in being a “zero/zero” wine, which means no inputs nor manipulations in vineyard nor cellar.
The vines here are at altitudes over 800masl on terraced slopes. The grapes (obviously hand-picked, hard work) go first into stainless steel to ferment, but then into amphora to age for three months. The result is fresh and fragrant on the nose. The palate has a smoothness which makes it less “brutal” in the regular sense of the word, than the uninitiated might expect. There certainly is acidity, and on account of the altitude of the vines, very much like cool climate acidity too. But beneath this is a dry, chalky, texture (amphora, perhaps) and an almost “gemischter-satzy” prickly, savoury, finish. Challenging for some? You need to stop, ponder, let it wash down over the palate.
Again, from Winekraft, and can also be found in Made from Grapes. Well, you must expect me to try all of the new wines I’m finding up here in Scotland.
Résonance Extra Brut 2019, Champagne Marie-Courtin (Champagne, France)
Marie-Courtin has emerged as one of the great Grower Champagnes producing biodynamic bottles since Dominique Moreau began making Champagnes in 2006. As with many Grower Champagnes, her estate is tiny, one single parcel of vines of less than three hectares on the Côte des Bar at Polisot. Marie was Dominique’s grandmother, after whom the domaine is named. The old vines, tended by Dominique since 2001, are propagated by massale selection.
Résonance is Dominique’s Pinot Noir cuvée made in tank (Efflorescence is made from the same variety but aged in wood). Bottled without dosage, these wines are quite singular, Résonance being a cuvée you might, if feeling lucky, guess in a blind tasting. The soils here are the Kimmeridgean clay and limestone mix, named after Kimmeridge Bay on England’s south coast, in Dorset, but also present as mainly marl (with Portlandian limestone) in Chablis, and in Sancerre.
The lack of dosage, the soils and perhaps the less oxidative vinification in tank, gives this wine certain characteristics, the foremost perhaps being structure, with texture and salinity. The fruit is crisp, fresh apple and whilst there is emerging depth, this wine in its youthful phase is definitely one for those who like their Champagne to be a bracing early spring stroll with a northerly wind whipping across the Forth from Fife. Just like me.
I am rather sad these days that I get to drink very little Champagne compared to years gone by. Once upon a time, lunches at places like Masters in Waterloo, where ten or twelve of us would BYO a bottle each, or dinners with wine trade friends, would invariably involve widening one’s experience. My cellar now contains no more than a dozen Champagnes. However, this is one Champagne which has not become completely unaffordable up until now (staring, as I am, down the barrel of a very large construction bill).
£50 from The Good Wine Shop Kew. You won’t get much from Champagne for less than this these days.
Seyval Blanc 2018, Charlie Herring Wines (Hampshire, England)
I drank a bottle of the 2017 vintage of Tim Phillips’s Seyval Blanc before Christmas. This is the following 2018 vintage, a sort of “just testing” bottle which Tim hopes to release commercially in early summer this year (June has been mooted). Tim knows I’m an evangelist for English sparkling Seyval Blanc, and like me, he knows that as far as this style and variety goes, Breaky Bottom is the Holy Grail. In terms of quality (not necessarily style because we have different terroir here), I think Tim is aiming to match that.
The grapes don’t come out of Tim’s walled clos, but as I’ve said before, from Tim Hurley’s Black Barn Vineyard near Pennington (so not far away). The vines date from the 1960s, so by English standards these are very old vines. Seyval Blanc is, of course, a hybrid variety (a cross between Seibel 5656 and Rayon d’Or, aka Seibel 4986). Although created in France, it is outlawed there, and in the rest of the EU, for its non-vinifera element. However, most planted in Great Britain (though with pockets in broader North America), I think it can make delicious wines, most especially ones with bubbles.
This bottle, disgorged in October 2022, was given a dosage of 8g/l. I thought this as perfectly judged as the smaller 5g/l was for the 2017, but bear in mind that I was tasting it a mere three months after it had been disgorged. The dosage will have melded nicely in three months but the residual sugars of the dosage will have taken the edge off the youthful acids. I think very low dosage with Seyval would be a risk in terms of balance.
The colour is worth commenting on – it had a nice yellowy tinge. The bouquet was fresh and floral (for me, jasmine and white flowers initially). The palate showed a crisp Bramley apple acidity with developing broader flavours of dessert apple. But this zips along on a very wine-like stream, by which I mean “vinous”, and also that with all these apple notes one couldn’t mistake it for one of Tim’s ciders. There’s a degree of the linearity you get with the cider but there’s rather more depth too.
I think this is a marvel of a wine and I’m hoping Tim will save me some on release. However, I know this will be in as short supply as all of Tim’s other micro-cuvées.
“Waiting for Tom” Weiss 2020, Rennersistas (Burgenland, Austria)
Still labelled “Rennersistas” rather than the “Renner und Sistas” which signified brother Georg coming on board (although that’s surely Georg pushing the tractor), this cuvée is perhaps the first icon Stefanie and Susanne made when they took over their father, Helmuth’s estate at Gols. “Tom” here refers to their habitually late famous mentor, though they don’t always like to reveal whether it was Tom Lubbe or Tom Shobbrook (quite convenient).
I suspect that this, in either its white or red form, was my first taste of a Renner wine. It remains a perennial purchase, and currently stands as a blend of 70% Weissburgunder (aka Pinot Blanc) with 30% Chardonnay, both varieties grown biodynamically on the vineyards towards the north end of the Neusiedlersee.
The backbone of this wine is its purity and mineral salinity, a dry wine with a little flesh on the bone but no flab. It’s the kind of wine which begins all prim and proper but as it unfurls it shows just a hint of unruliness. I think this is the velvet quality of the Chardonnay which counters the texture, fruit overlapping a mineral edge.
Some wines show a developing complexity in the glass. Perhaps here the texture changes, but my enthusiasm for the “Tom Weiss” is always that purity. I am tempted to say it is so pure it’s saintly, but that’s just getting subjective, isn’t it. But it is undeniably gorgeous.
Destemmed fruit spent a week on skins and then eight months on lees in a mix of barrique and a Stockinger cask.
Quite widely available via importer Newcomer Wines, this bottle came from Littlewine but I recently bought some from Made From Grapes (Glasgow) too. Around £22.