Recent Wines March 2023 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

After a bulkier eight-wine Part 1 we have a slightly lighter Part 2 encompassing wines from Alsace (2), The English Midlands, The Loire, The Mosel and Burgenland. I guess in drinking so much more Alsace than I was a year ago, I am at least backing my assertion that the region is the most exciting in France right now. But our producer from Leicestershire, seemingly obscure six months ago, is getting a lot of attention too. As a treat at the end, there’s a vinegar! Take a look.

Alsace 2019, La Grange de l’Oncle Charles (Alsace, France)

Some years ago, I chanced upon these wines at a tasting at Winemakers Club in London, and they stood out. Others in the world of wine having also taken note, they have recently gained a larger profile (and generally increased in price, but I guess so has everything these past few years).

Jérôme François took over his family’s 0.2-ha of vines (belonging to Uncle Charles) in 2014, at the age of just 23. His winemaking has matured over the ensuing nine years, and so has his vine holding, which I think has now reached 5.5-ha. These are around Ostheim, directly just north of Colmar, from where he works the vines biodynamically, at first with his former with business partner Yann Bury (now parted company), and now with his horse, Sirius. The professed farming philosophy is total respect for nature and the environment. Some of the newer vine holdings originally came via Yann, some are old parcels owned by Christian Binner.

This wine is at the entry level to Jérôme’s range, a traditional field blend which is made from eleven varieties including Riesling, Pinots Blanc and Gris, Gewurztraminer, Chasselas, Auxerrois and others (which include a few rarities). The vines range between 30 and 60 years old, impressive. The vinification includes lees ageing in used barrique for a year without racking, but there is minimal skin contact during fermentation so any texture comes purely from the lees. Pressing is very slow, sometimes over nine hours. You get a little bit of oxygenation and zero added sulphur.

First thoughts on sniffing are a floral bouquet with summer meadows and a touch of lemon. The palate shows quite a bit of depth, and there’s breadth too. It doesn’t have the linearity of some mineral-driven Alsace natural wines. The abv is up at 13%, which makes it very much a food-friendly cuvée. In summary a textured wine with lots of dry extract and a genuine stature. Lovely stuff.

Bought at Winekraft Edinburgh, but imported by Winemakers Club. Retail is around £26 but it may currently be out of stock right now. Still, a producer well worth seeking out.

The Ancestral Red 2021, Matt Gregory (Leicestershire, England)

As I said in my intro, Matt Gregory was unknown to me seven or eight months ago, and then I picked up on him via Instagram. In fact, I was aware of Matt’s Piemontese wines before I had a chance to buy his English ones. How a few months changes things. Matt didn’t make the cut for Ed Dallimore’s “The Vineyards of Britain” last year. Reading Abbie Moulton and photographer Maria Bell’s “New British Wine” (Hoxton Mini Press, See Review on this blog, 20 March 2023), not only is Matt featured but his wines somehow get into a lot of photos (as well as three in the section on him, I counted another five from various bars, shops, or restaurants featured in the book).

Matt worked, inter alia, with Theo Coles (The Hermit Ram) in North Canterbury, New Zealand. That is enough to make him a mate of mine, except that he is also seemingly foolhardy enough to make wine from a vineyard called Walton Brook, which is in the north of the county of my birth, close to Loughborough. The vineyard does at least roll down a south-facing slope, which Matt has insisted on converting to organics, despite the fact that certification, with all the neighbouring intensive farming, would be an unlikely dream. It was planted back in 2009 so the vines at least had a decade of growth in them before Matt began to restore the site to health and equilibrium in 2020.

This far north hybrid vines play a role in making wine without synthetic chemical inputs. Matt has Solaris, Madeline Angevine and Seyval Blanc, and others. The Ancestral Red is, of course, a red “petnat” style made by the Ancestral Method. It is a quite gently sparkling blend of, in this case, vinifera varieties, 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Gris. The strata here is Jurassic limestone, well suited to these grapes. Both were destemmed and crushed, and a pied de cuve started the fermentation. This method uses a grape starter to get the fermentation going as a support for indigenous yeasts where the winemaker wishes to avoid adding commercial yeasts.

A basket press is used to gently crush the grapes, and the only “manipulation” is the addition of some unfermented juice to start the second fermentation in bottle. There’s no fining, filtration, nor addition of sulphites. This is all rather impressive, not just for the northerly location, but for the vintage. If 2020 was a wonderful wine year for English wine, 2021 was pretty difficult, even in the South let alone the East Midlands, which can be very wet, I can tell you.

The end result is superb. A zingy petnat with nice concentrated cherry fruit which the bubbles help inject onto the palate and across the tongue. Very easy to swig, but you can show decorum by sipping it if you wish. Dry rosehips and sloes come to mind as the finish fades into the sunset. Matt’s experiments are placing him among a half-dozen-or-so British winemakers who are pushing the boundaries to the ultimate benefit of our winemaking industry. One day I must try to visit him.

A great coup by Uncharted Wines, who seem to have got Matt’s wines into all the right places, if the photos from Abbie’s book are anything to go by.

Chinon “Le Clos du Guillot” 2020, Bernard Baudry (Loire, France)

From super-natural wine to a classic wine from a classic region, but one which nevertheless follows a regime that makes it almost a natural wine in all but name. This is Cabernet Franc from the Chinon appellation in Touraine. Many of you will know Chinon as an attractive medieval town and imposing castle on the Loire tributary, the Vienne. The single vineyard “clos” where the grapes for this cuvée come from are planted on the exceptional terroir of the slopes at Cravant-les-Coteaux, a village approximately five kilometres along the D23 route to the east of Chinon.

Bernard Baudry is, of course, one of the great, classic, producers of Chinon and is based in the village. Bernard’s son, Matthieu, joined his father in 2000 and is now pretty much running the winemaking here, but the family tradition continues. Around 30-ha are farmed without synthetic inputs (herbicides, pesticides). The cellars are very traditional for the region, hewn out of the tufa (tuffeau) rock which, as well as making perfect winemaking and storing facilities, has also served for troglodyte dwellings in large parts of Touraine. Tufa, a type of limestone formed when carbonate minerals precipitate out of water in unheated rivers or lakes, is very easy to work.

The soils in the Clos are tufa limestone, made more complex by additional silica and clay. The cuvée’s mark of individuality is mineral tension, making it a wine with structure that needs time to age. I’m not even sure that my bottle, over twelve years old, was given sufficient time? Ageing is traditionally in used oak for a year before transfer to cement tanks for a further nine months, where, I’m sure, additional texture is picked up.

The fruit seems dark at first, and the wine’s colour doesn’t dispel that. We have blackberries and a definite blueberry note. The smokiness which comes in is like blackcurrant leaf, but I think some red fruits develop over the top as well. It still shows tannins, structure and intense minerality, but complexity too.

Where did I get this? Possibly on a visit to Cravant/Chinon, although The Solent Cellar comes to mind. They don’t list any right now, although they do list a good case deal from Baudry, a six-bottle mixed case which includes a couple of bottles of their quite hard to find Chinon Blanc (£166.50, just two left). Baudry also makes one of the best Rosé wines in the region, in my very humble opinion. The Clos Guillot 2020 should be available from Lea & Sandeman for just under £28/btl (£25 by the case). If you are prepared to age this, it’s a bargain, I think. Dressner and Lynch both have Baudry in the US.

Red Aquarius [2021], Jan-Philipp Bleeke (Mosel, Germany)

JPB is another of my most interesting discoveries of 2023 so far, I think. I say “I think” because this is the first (hopefully not the last) of his wines I’ve tried. Jan-Philipp studied marketing in the northwest of Germany, far away from any vineyards, but he fell in love with wine whilst working in a wine shop. Wine naturally seemed a lot more interesting than what he was studying, especially as he was developing as an environmentalist with a social conscience.

After a few jobs in the vineyard he began to work with Jan Matthias Klein at the Staffelterhof, on the Mosel (also I believe introducing Jas Swan to the team). He’s since set up on his own, as JPB Winemaking, now citing Thorsten Melsheimer as a continuing mentor. His vines are, like many young winemakers in the Mosel, situated in places which no one wanted to farm until recently, but those two hectares are close to Traben-Trabach, hardly the unknown reaches of the river. I remember Rudolf Trossen, of the same village, telling me a few years ago that there were perfectly excellent sites on the Mosel which people couldn’t give away, ideal for youngsters (like Jan-Philipp) to get started.

Red Aquarius is made from Dornfelder, one of Germany’s undoubted underrated grape varieties. It is perfect for easy to drink natural wine. Jan-Philipp uses biodynamic methods, though is not certified. Hand-picked, destemmed grapes are macerated for 12 days with a light hand-pigeage. Fermentation is in stainless steel and ageing is in old barrels for about four months. No sulphur is added.

We have a genuine fruit bomb here. Dark and concentrated brambly glouglou making this a lip-smacking thirst quencher of a wine which slips down more easily than you might imagine, given 12% of alcohol. Drink lightly chilled, it has some CO2 to preserve the wine and the tiny bubbles add real zip.

Only 999 bottles made, £25 from Made from Grapes (Glasgow), imported by Sevslo Wine. I think there are others on the trail of JPB, so don’t be slow.

I mentioned this guy’s social perspective and it is worth noting that he has set up the Mosel’s first Community Supported Agriculture Scheme (CSA). It’s a partnership between farmers and consumers, where each party shares in responsibilities, rights and rewards. Another man I’d love to meet.

“Mariage Plus Vieux” 2020, Lambert Spielmann (Alsace, France)

Lambert Spielmann, based at Saint-Pierre now, has established himself as one of my very favourite Alsace producers in the two or three years since I first bought a couple of his bottles. The whole package just seems exciting. Wines with strong music references (such as “Red Z’Epfig), a cork with the punning motto “Partisan Vigneron”, a music recommendation (printed on the back label) to listen to whilst drinking the wine, and a domaine name, “Domaine in Black”, which is surely a reference to The Stranglers? This is all calculated to hook me. But, as they say, if the wine ain’t no good…so far it has been more than good.

“Mariage” is a skin contact Sylvaner and Gewurztraminer blend, made from a 60-year-old parcel of vines at nearby Obernai. The Gewurztraminer is destemmed and then macerates in the pressed juice of the Sylvaner for six months, in vat.

In the glass the colour is very definitely orange, and it smells of orange marmalade. Really, how do they do this? The palate is dry with some dusty tannins, but with smooth overlying fruit, along with plenty of zippy acidity accentuated by a little protective CO2 in place of added sulphur. The finish is spicy, like ginger with a faint hint of chilli.

The wine is innovative, very tasty and if you like natural wine, a must buy. The music recommendation here is a track from 2013 (but relevant today) called “Etat des Lieux” by French punk band Heyoka. It is “very French” but combines the snarl of The Pogues with a sound which reminds me of Pirate Metal (Alestorm comes to mind).

Lambert Spielmann’s UK importer is Tutto Wines. Contact for stockists. Right now, they only appear to have one of Lambert’s wines on their online “Tutto a Casa” shop, but it’s always worth asking them.

My bottle came from Noble Fine Liquor, but I heard only a week ago that this excellent wine retailer, along with the irreplaceable P Franco, and Bright from within the same group, have all shockingly closed. I know nothing yet of the details and I can only hope their suppliers are not in too deep. I mention it here because it’s the saddest news on the restaurant scene since London’s original natural wine bar/restaurant, Terroirs, closed in 2021.

Perspektive Weiss 2020, Alex & Maria Koppitsch (Burgenland, Austria)

We end, as far as March’s wines go, with a producer I know personally, a family I feel a great deal of warmth toward. I may appear biased therefore. I met Maria first and I don’t deny I tried hard after tasting their wines at a London Raw Wine many years ago to get them a wider UK exposure. Finally, after a couple of false starts they seem to have national distribution and a deservedly bigger profile. I’m thrilled that my new friends at Cork & Cask in Edinburgh are massive fans because it hopefully means a regular supply.

Alex and Maria are based in Neusiedl-am-See, at the top of the lake. The town’s railway station links with Vienna and a handy cycle hire place next door to it makes the lake’s most popular land-based leisure activity easily accessible (it’s quite flat, but the wind does gust up over the Pannonian Plain). The wind does help keep vines here disease free, and the Koppitsch vines are farmed biodynamically and without synthetic inputs.

Perspektive Weiss is a blend, comprising equal parts Chardonnay and Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc). The grapes are from three plots ranging from 1960s and 2017 plantings of Chardonnay and something like 2005 for the Weissburgunder. They all grow on a rocky limestone hill called Neuburg. The grapes are treated in various different ways as regards destemming etc, but the important bits are that just a quarter of the juice sees skin contact (eight days), but it is all aged on gross lees for ten months. As well as no fining/filtration, no sulphites were added at any stage.

The result is two elements, fruit, and mineral. The fruit leaps out and is quite tropical, yet restrained by the acidity and texture. It’s lime, guava, peach, and a hint of pineapple. The lime is carried on the zippy acids and all is underpinned by a mildly abrasive texture, just enough to apply a gentle brake on the palate. The 2020 has just 11% alcohol, though I think the 2021 may be a touch higher. It has a real freshness, in a wine capable of ageing but one that brings masses of sensual and almost bracing pleasure just as it is.

Just under £28 from Cork & Cask Edinburgh. As of yesterday, they only had one left but I’m pretty sure they will be restocking Koppitsch. Their current UK importer now is Roland Wines.

And now for something completely different…

Ocet Na Pití Jabklo, Cabernet Franc/Frankovka/Černý Bez, Utopia (Czechia)

The name might give this away, at least the “Ocet” part, which has a similar word in Italian, aceto. Utopia is a Czech cider producer whose bottles I’ve shown a bit of enthusiasm for over recent years. Well, Ivo and Eva also make vinegar and I first got to taste these fantastic products at Moravia’s Autentikfest wine fair last August. Now they are available in the UK in several forms under the name “Utopia Drinking Vinegars”.

They are cider apple vinegars made via a slow, 20-month, process. The product begins as a cider, which sees a year in cask. At this point Utopia usually bottles its ciders, but this liquid is aged a further seven or eight months following the traditional Orléans method for vinegar production (barrel-fermentation at between 21-31 Degrees Celsius, rather than the quicker and more commercial method of artificially heating the must).

For some of the vinegars Eva searches for wild berries or herbs for the maceration, but this is made with grapes (Cabernet Franc and Blaufränkisch/Frankovka, with Elderflower). It’s a concentrated, but light on the palate, artisan vinegar. I always get my best vinegar from Philippe Gonet in Arbois (the Vin Jaune vinegar is exceptional, as is the Poulsard), but these are in the same class, very fine.

What to use them for? It is suggested they be used to enhance cocktails, added to water (ratio one part vinegar to 5-10 parts sparkling water, they say), used in baking etc. We do use high quality vinegars in cooking and the bottle we bought has been used to add a table spoon to dishes after taking off the heat (as a wine vinegar it works well) or to add to sauces. A little makes a difference. As the nights get longer and warmer, we shall get through our 25cl bottle for salad dressings. It contains no ingredients other than 75% apple cider vinegar macerated with the grape skins and elderflower, with a little organic sugar and water. Definitely no sulphites added, and equally these products are unpasteurised. Keeping in the fridge prolongs its life.

£15 for 250ml from Basket Press Wines. They have a number of other versions, including one macerated with raspberry, wild thyme and jalapeño, which looks exciting.

About dccrossley

Writing here and elsewhere mainly about the outer reaches of the wine universe and the availability of wonderful, characterful, wines from all over the globe. Very wide interests but a soft spot for Jura, Austria and Champagne, with a general preference for low intervention in vineyard and winery. Other passions include music (equally wide tastes) and travel. Co-organiser of the Oddities wine lunches.
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