Foot Trodden by Simon J Woolf & Ryan Opaz (Review)

If I ask you to name one country which is most often completely forgotten for its wines, at least on the UK market, I’d put money on many of you saying Portugal. It’s not as if Portugal doesn’t make a range of fantastic wines, from tinglingly fresh Vinho Verde whites (and reds, come to think of it) to long lived, serious, Douro red wine, with rather a lot in between. The Body in charge of promoting Portuguese wine also does a good job here once a year with a Portuguese Wine Week, which rewards independent wine shops which most successfully bring this country’s wines to our attention. I know a few wine shops I use get involved.

It is equally not as if this country on Europe’s Western edge doesn’t have a lot to offer. It has the undoubted expertise of the Port Houses, it has traditions like foot treading in Lagars and fermenting and ageing in traditional clay vessels (Talhas, largely from Alentejo, are the Portuguese equivalent, though very different, to the Georgian qvevri), and it has a string of barely known autochthonous grape varieties to entice the wine geeks and satisfy their curiosity for months.

Perhaps the main issue Portugal has had in popularising its wines would be, in the past, a lack of quality-conscious individual producers with a reputation overseas. They have always existed, of course. Take Luis Pato as an example, who started bottling his own wine back in the 1980s. But overall, Portuguese wine has been dominated by larger producers, whether private companies or co-operatives. They have sometimes been content to produce rather generic examples of traditional wines.

Luis Pato, whose Bairrada was the first quality Portuguese wine from an independent producer I ever tasted, back in the 1980s

Where such wines have been made in a more traditional style, then they have just not been easy to find outside Portugal. Take the wine of Colares as one prime example, or traditional wines favoured by the older generation (or younger football managers in the case of José Mourinho’s professed love of Barca Velha).

Then there is the “flying winemaker”. When I was getting into wine these folks were everywhere, but Portugal had a few high-profile individuals (Peter Bright and his Bright Brothers company is probably the most prominent example of an Aussie flying winemaker who had a massive influence on the more commercial side of Portuguese wine). As in other countries, Antipodean winemakers, university educated in modern winemaking, have had a transformative influence. It’s just that in the quest to “clean up” Portuguese wine, undoubtedly producing wine of good quality at affordable prices, maybe something of its original character and uniqueness was occasionally bypassed.

Another cause for Portugal lagging behind the rest of Europe has probably been the paucity of natural wine producers. The natural wine movement has seen many young people begin to make wine across the continent, often with very little land at their disposal, but they have achieved a profile far greater than their output would usually warrant. Those countries/regions with a hive of natural wine activity (Eastern France, Austria, Loire, South Africa etc) have very quickly become fashionable, especially among younger drinkers. Until quite recently, Portugal was slow off the mark here, although this is changing.

This new side to Portuguese wine I have yet to experience in the flesh. I won’t tell you exactly when my one and only trip to the country was, but we are talking decades. It was restricted, so far as wine went, to the north, with a visit to Vinho Verde country and a journey up the Douro. This was a time when a desire to try a red Vinho Verde in a bar was met with an attempt to dissuade me. I discovered why. It did taste rather similar to the vinegar on the table. It was also a time when in regions like Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro transport was frequently by mule cart, when a 1940s-era bus was more or less the only alternative. It was also happily a time when EU-funding was beginning to change people’s lives here, reducing rural poverty and for better or worse, eroding one of Europe’s last bastions of embedded tradition.

I have just one book on Portuguese wine on my shelves, written by Charles Metcalfe and Kathryn McWhirter, self-published in 2007 (The Wine and Food Lover’s Guide to Portugal, Inn House Publishing). It was an excellent book. Not only did it cover the wine regions, it was also a useful travel guide with places to stay, eat, and buy food and wine. But a decade-and-a-half on we are in need of something new.

Thankfully we have it in Foot Trodden – Portugal and the Wines that Time Forgot by Simon J Woolf and Ryan Opaz. I’m sure you all remember that Simon Woolf’s first book, Amber Revolution was my Book of the Year in 2018. Simon is one of a small number of people I cannot imagine writing anything I would not love. His photographer and fellow contributor is a real talent in his own right and the photography here adds to the mood of the book in ways hard to imagine without seeing for yourself. They “tell the story” alongside the words, the two being inseparable. The photograph taken on Madeira (pp200-201) must rank among the finest wine pics I’ve seen in print.

Ryan Opaz is, of course, based in Portugal so his local knowledge and network of contacts has probably been transformative in terms of what, and who, the authors have been able to gain access to, but Simon Woolf is hardly lacking in expertise himself, having visited Portugal regularly for at least the past decade.

Foot Trodden states its aim to explore the intersections between wine, culture and history. This is essential on several levels: it’s the only way to view Portuguese wine, but at the same time, it is culture and history which both ground the story and furnish us with that true sense of excitement which may have been lacking. Portuguese wine is so much more that some grape varieties we’ve never heard of fermented in stainless steel, aged in oak and sold for £8.99 on the supermarket shelf alongside the Rioja and Rueda from Spain.

After the preliminaries and an Introduction, Foot Trodden is divided into seven further chapters, all thematic. They are as follows:

2. Granito – Vinho Verde

3. Lagar – Douro

4. Serra – Dão

5. Baga – Bairrada

6. Talha – Alentejo and Ribatejo

7. Terra – Colares and Madeira

8. Bom Dia! – Lisboa and Beyond

Each chapter covers wider ground that you might imagine. We meet the wines, and we meet the people who are not only making them, but who are pushing the boundaries and drawing the international spotlight onto their respective regions. These are individuals who are doing so much more than the regional wine bodies, hidebound, perhaps to a degree, by the need to service the larger producers who are paying their wages. This is not a book which ignores larger producers where their wines are sufficiently interesting and, shall we say, any good. But it is a big shout for artisanal winemakers, and for producers who feel a connection to place, tradition and the wider culture, treading increasingly lightly on their often unique terroir (terra).

In the same way that many so-called modern winemakers in Spain are going “back to the future”, making modern wines via an exploration of tradition and forgotten expertise, Portugal’s best winemakers seem to have an interest in what has been forgotten from the past alongside what has been learnt in the present. Authenticity is a much over used word, but perhaps it is relevant for the wines made by this younger generation of winemakers, looking back to a few select mentors from an older generation and to some of the methods their grandfathers may have used, and generations before them.

Do I have any criticisms? It seems a mean one…my own interest in the wines of the Azores is not reciprocated as this distant outpost of Portuguese winemaking is not covered. I can well understand the reasons, being a mix of Covid constraints and the sheer cost of getting boots on the ground there.

I am pleased that due to the success of the Kickstarter campaign, it became possible for the authors to visit Madeira. I grow increasingly intrigued by all the wines produced on this island, despite poor knowledge and all too little experience. Equally, when I was younger Madeira was seen very much as a destination for old people, on cruise ships. This perception has changed, and with its culture, wine and walking (always a bonus for us), I am coming closer to desiring a trip there.

I think that the world of wine today is crying out for a different tack, and I know Simon Woolf is with me on this. The three decades years before this current decade has seen wine writing take an approach based all around scoring wine. It has led to a great deal of technical discussion in relation to viticulture and winemaking. Can you read anything of this ilk which doesn’t talk about clones, about the size of the open-top fermentation vessels and what was the toast level of the oak in which the wine was aged?

This book has a different focus…on the people and their stories rather than only on the wine as an object to analyse. It’s a book of history and culture rather than just wine science (though winemaking has its part to play here). This is why, alongside knowledge, perception and fine writing, I commend this exceptional book to you. It’s one of those rare books which you don’t know you need to read, but when you do you will be enriched by reading it.

This is, as Jamie Goode says on the back cover, “A beautiful creative endeavour that looks set to introduce a new public to Portugal’s remarkable wine scene”. I could not have put it better.

Foot Trodden by Simon J Woolf and Ryan Opaz is published this month, arriving first to those who helped fund the project via a highly successful Kickstarter campaign. It is published in Europe by Woolf’s Morning Claret Productions and in the United States by Interlink Books of Northampton, Massachusetts, priced £25 (UK), €30 (Europe) and $35 (USA).  Contact for sales via (Shop) or Simon Woolf via Instagram ( @themorningclaret ) for further information.

Images © Ryan Opaz 2021, used with permission.

Ryan Opaz and Simon Woolf

Posted in Artisan Wines, Natural Wine, Portuguese wine, Wine, Wine Books, Wine Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recent Wines August 2021 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

Part Two follows swiftly on from Part One, mostly because I can’t wait to review a rather exciting new wine book as soon as I can get through it. So, taking up where we left off on Wednesday, we begin with a wine made from some very obscure varieties in Czech Moravia, then one of my all-time favourite Viennese field blends and a lovely litre of Corsican Vermentino, which had shamefully been in my fridge for nearly a year. Next, a Crazy fizz from Germany, a beautiful Rosato from Frank Cornelissen on Sicily and, to wind up August’s wines drunk at home, possibly my bargain of the summer, from Northern Spain.

MLADÝ BOCEK 2017, RICHARD STÁVEK (Moravia, Czechia)

Richard has been making natural wines in Moravia for over 25 years on part of his mixed farm (15ha, of which around 4.5ha are planted to vines). Although I am buying probably more Czech wine than most individuals these days, I’ve probably neglected this producer. Checking through my notes I’ve tried far more of his wines at tastings than I have bought over the past three or four years.

This wine has a level of interest which suggests I’ve been a fool. The blend here is enough to get any rare variety hound salivating, Sevar and Rubinet are the grape varieties. They make a powerfully juicy red wine. The concentrated fruit is cherry with other red fruits in a supporting role. The colour is very dark, yet it is lighter on the palate than you would expect…unless you’d spotted the 11.5% abv on the label. The bright acidity makes it remarkably refreshing. You slurp it almost like a fruit juice with a chewy finish.

This makes for a wine which I guess you’d use for the same kind of cuisine as you might pull out a Barbera or Dolcetto for…or any number of Alpine reds for that matter. Don’t be put off by the obscure grape varieties. It’s a lovely, sappy, uncomplicated red wine crying out for a whole platter of rustic delights.

The current vintage has, I think, moved on to 2018, which will cost £30 at Basket Press Wines.

RAKETE [2019], JUTTA AMBROSITSCH (Vienna, Austria)

It is difficult to explain why I love this wine so much without taking you to the vineyards immediately to the north of the Austrian Capital, blending seamlessly into the city suburbs. I love walking among the vines over the wider Nussberg and Kahlenberg hillsides, in summer sipping wine at the pop-up Heurigen, in winter delighting in the crisp air above the Danube. Most Gemischter Satz field blends, from here and elsewhere, tend to be white wines, but there is no reason why they should not contain red varieties, vinified as a Rosé or pale red.

I’ve written a lot about Jutta before, suffice to say that this ex-graphic designer makes the most exciting, edgy, wines in the region, one which should have a bigger international profile than it perhaps does. It might be that most of the winemakers (not all, for sure) are as quiet and undemonstrative about their wines as Jutta is. She remains at the top of her game, yet sadly her output is tiny.

Rakete is a field blend of St Laurent, Rotburger (aka Zweigelt), Blauburger (Blauer Portugieser x Blaufränkisch), Merlot and some assorted white varieties in very tiny quantities. The vines are close to fifty years old, off the limestone of Kahlenberg (a short walk or bus ride from Nussdorf).

The grapes come in and undergo a four-day maceration. The essence of gemischter satz winemaking is that the grapes are all picked together and co-fermented. In this case, whole bunches go into stainless steel. Bottled without fining, nor filtration, with an admonition on the label to shake the bottle and serve chilled. It’s just pure cranberry juice, joyful and life-affirming.

Rakete, and other wines from Jutta Ambrositsch, are usually available via Newcomer Wines and Littlewine (


This is a litre of low alcohol Vermentino (or Vermentinu using the Corsican dialect spelling) from Nicolas Mariotti Bindi on his Cantina di Torra label. The wines are made from around 7.5ha of north-facing slopes on the Golfe de Saint Florent, west of Bastia. This is a part of the island perhaps better known for its appellation wines, Patrimonio and Muscat de Cap Corse.

Although bottled in litre size, this is no plonk. Seventy-year-old vines are hand-harvested off limestone “carcu” and clay before being whole-bunch pressed into stainless steel. Although only labelled as organic, bottling is with minimal added sulphur. This perhaps enhances the freshness which this 10.4% abv beauty had retained in my fridge for nearly eleven months. It’s easy drinking, light but with a saline finish which elevates it from simple to delicious.

We drank this al fresco, first with taboulé, and then cheese and it just did the job perfectly. To be honest I am not sure it would have tasted substantially better if it hadn’t performed the function of emergency backup for longer than I’d normally hope (do you keep wine in the fridge just in case you get unexpected guests?).

This came from The Solent Cellar. I don’t see it currently listed, but they do have a couple of Nicolas Mariotti Bindi’s red wines in stock so perhaps they will get some more next year.

“CRAZY CRAZY” 2020, MARTO WINES (Rheinhessen, Germany)

Today Rheinhessen rivals The Pfalz as the most innovative and progressive wine region in Germany”. Those, more or less, are the opening words on Rheinhessen in the M&B World Wine Atlas, current edn (Robinson et al). That statement is undoubtedly true, although perhaps the authors were thinking Keller and Wittmann rather than the kind of innovation we have here!

A tome like the Wine Atlas spends its two Rheinhessen pages relating the great concentration of fabulous names in both Wonnegau and the revived Nierstein/Oppenheim axis, but this is Germany’s largest wine region and there are more than 150 wine communes to take in. Not all of them have sites famed for GG Riesling, but that’s by no means to write them off, especially if it is indeed innovation you are seeking.

This wine was described to me as a kind of “German take on Prosecco”, so naturally I was hooked and reeled in. Marto Wines is the label of Martin Wörner, based at the notable wine village of Flonheim, northwest of Wonnegau, that being one of Rheinhessen’s better known sub-regions, in which you will find that other pair of aforementioned innovators. Taking natural wine methodology seriously (Martin did work at Gut Oggau and Matassa, after all), the estate’s five hectares are sown with cover crops and sheep graze the vineyards.

If the wine’s name is a repetition of the word “crazy”, the first crazy must be the blend: Würzer, Huxelrebe and Müller-Thurgau. The latter used to be the mainstay of Rheinhessen in the bad old days, and Huxelrebe? It must be decades since I have drunk a wine containing that variety, and when I last did it might well have been English wine. Würzer? Another one for the rare variety sleuths.

So, to the taste of it. Apple and lemon freshness, quite cidery on the palate yet not volatile, more just sharp apple freshness. It’s a gorgeously thirst-quenching froth monster, real fun in the glass. Well sedimented, though, and definitely the way it tastes is the second “crazy”.

This small winzer, pretty much unknown in the UK, exports to places as diverse as Australia and Japan. Whilst some of the UK wine trade has very possibly taken its finger off the pulse due, no doubt, to our current Covid/Brexit predicament, we can still rely on Les Caves de Pyrene to bring in some of the new names in European wine. Let’s hope they are able to continue to do so. Anyone noticed the rise in cost of importing as an individual!


Frank is still often portrayed as the wild man of Etna’s natural wine scene, but I’m told he’s changed a lot since I first began to drink his wines, and his wines have changed a little too. As an early enthusiast I kind of stopped drinking them eventually, down to many a volatile disaster and the cost of those fails. In fairness to the winemaker, they were probably caused by shipping and storage, with the sulphur-free instability one saw more often in the early days of natural wine, and it was certainly not the case that every bottle was affected.

Robert Camuto in his 2010 book, “Palmento” (Univ of Nebraska Press), suggests that Cornelissen decided to make wine on the slopes of Etna because he believed it was the only place in Europe where he could make wine free of chemical additives. Thankfully, many more such places have since been discovered. Perhaps the bleak solitude of the mountain appealed to this former mountaineer, and maybe even the danger inherent in living beside an active volcano?

Susucaru is the label for the entry level wines Frank used to call “Contadino”. The name translates as “they stole it”, and grape theft is a real problem in Sicily, as one might imagine. That sort of activity cannot help but make this rosato even more of a supposed unicorn than it already is. Frank blended Malvasia, Moscadella, Inzolia and Nerello Mascalese into this 2020 vintage. It saw ten days on skins before ageing in tank. It also saw a very light filtration, but no added sulfites.

Does it express the terroir, as intended? It certainly expresses real purity of fruit, with clean cranberry flavours plus a saline edge. Definitely a “volcanic wine”. I don’t quite see the similarities with Poulsard which have been touted, but that’s just me. It’s really good, in fact inspiring, and a very clean and fresh, dark pink, wine.

So, this is said to be a unicorn. It’s true that no one in the UK has a lot to sell (although an acquaintance did say she saw three cases of this in a Barcelona wine shop recently). However, it does seem to be shared out fairly widely among the indie merchants, so plenty of folks will have six or twelve to sell. It’s just a question of getting in quickly, either there or at Les Caves de Pyrene. When there’s some around you can get it, but it disappears quickly. What it does not share with most so-called unicorns is price. This is priced around just £30. For now, we are lucky.

TXACOLI ROSÉ 2020, BODEGA REZABAL (Euskadi/Basque Country, (Spain))

I’m going to stick my neck out and say that this wine has probably been my bargain of the summer. The grape variety is one of the Hondarrabis common in the Basque Region, but this one is Hondarrabi Beltza. It is grown on that lush, green, part of Northern Spain which goes from just west of Bilbao to just east of Donostia/San Sebastian, increasingly known for apple-fresh tasting white Txacoli, a wine which is well enough known these days that most people can now pronounce it.

However, this wine is very pale pink, and in fact the producer calls it a Rosé rather than use the Spanish term. It is made by Anders and Mireya Rezabal on their 20ha domaine in the sub-region of Getariako (Guetaria DO), just west of that gastronomic mecca, San Sebastian. The vines are traditionally high-trained, and the vinification is as simple as possible with the aim to retain the same freshness you find in the white wine.

The bouquet gives a lively strawberry scent and the CO2 prickle in the wine is easily sensed on the nose on first sniff. The palate, whilst full of that freshness, also has a rounded, lush, peachy flavour. There’s a little dry extract on the finish to ground things. Simple but most effective, its 11% alcohol being just right to quench a summer thirst. Serve well chilled. I’m thinking of getting some more, although that may well be an easier task than finding some more reliable sunshine.

This wine is quite widely available. My bottle came from Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton, and cost just £13.99. I know that Theatre of Wine sells it in London, as do quite a few of the usual independent suspects.

The following wines are bottles we drank from someone else’s cellar. You just get a peak.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Czech Wine, Natural Wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Recent Wines August 2021 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

August’s “recent wines” will be a little shorter than usual, still two parts, but with a focus on just six wines in each part. This is partly because of spending time away and partly because we drank some bottles I’ve written about fairly recently. I don’t think I can resist a brief mention of a couple of additional bottles we drank on the road though. For Part One we have Dorset, Anjou and Bio Bio alongside Jura, Sanlúcar and the Eastern Languedoc. The bonus wines are a fabulous New Zealand petnat and a smart Champagne which drew attention to the dangers of writing off a less favoured vintage.


Made from 75% Chardonnay with 15% Pinot Noir and 10% Meunier (that’s much more Chardonnay than the 2017 base), 83% of this cuvée is from the 2018 vintage and 17% from reserves. Bottling was in August 2019 and disgorgement February 2021, dosed at 1.5g/l.

John Langham first planted vines near to his new home close to Dorchester, which he purchased in 1980, a manor house dating from the time of Edward VI. In 2009 his son, Justin, commercialised the operation, planting the 30-acre Crawthorne vineyard. The Langham cuvées are effectively single vineyard wines, all made from fruit grown on the estate, using what the team term “low intervention” methods in the vines and the winery.

This is the second recent bottle, the first being around seven or eight weeks before this one and the difference was marked. The first bottle was nice but very young, but for some reason this one was a big step up in terms of flavour and complexity. This is curious, considering it’s a fairly young wine in which I’d have expected less autolytic character. It could possibly mean that this 2018 base may age more quickly, or it could be bottle variation. That said, most people will buy this to consume almost immediately.

Nevertheless, it really was very good indeed. Brioche notes on the nose, a slightly rounder mouthfeel despite the low dosage, and pretty good length. A nice bit of chalky texture lingers on the finish, which seems a little softer than many Extra Brut cuvées.

In any event, this is shaping up to be one of my favourite “classic cuvées”, helped perhaps by the fact that it’s a bit cheaper than some of the others which would make my list. This cost £30 from The Solent Cellar. The Langham Blanc de Blancs leaps to £39.


The Courault domaine is at Faye D’Anjou in the Western Loire Valley, south of Angers and west of Saumur. The vines here are grown on a fairly flat plateau comprised of clay over blue slate and schist. Benoît took over 6.5ha of vines around fifteen years ago and farms with the sensitivity to the environment and ecology that he learnt from one of his mentors, the great Eric Pfifferling, at L’Anglore in Tavel.

“Eglantine” is a delightful pink petnat. Delightful as a descriptor could be taken as damning with faint praise, yet it fits so perfectly here. The wine isn’t in the slightest bit demonstrative, but it’s lovely. It’s a blend of Cabernet Franc and Grolleau, with in 2019 a dash of Pineau d’Aunis. The wine’s makeup changes each year, as does the pressure in the bottle. The 2019 has turned out more frizzante than fully sparkling, and I think this is what gives the wine its charm. Just a touch of sulphur is added at bottling, which is in the spring after harvest. This petnat is disgorged.

The bouquet is initially of rose petals, which come across in a gentle, ethereal stream. This is followed by red fruits (raspberry aromatics), which also dominate the palate, but the finish is unexpectedly redolent of spice, perhaps pepper. The gentle nose gives way to a firmer palate, which is built around some nice fresh acidity with just enough steeliness.

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.


This is another of Darren Smith’s collaborations under his “The Finest Wines Available to Humanity” label. Roberto Henríques worked as an agronomist and this was how he discovered plots of old vine País in Bio Bio’s Itata Valley. País is probably the same variety as Listán Prieto, which originated in Spain’s Gredos Mountains. A “peasant” workhorse grape, it probably made the communion wines of the first Christian monks and priests who went to Chile during the conquest by Spain in the sixteenth century.

I recall being pointed towards Roberto’s wines when they were first imported into the UK by Wines Under the Bonnet several years ago, and I remember being particularly impressed with his País. Having drunk a few of Darren’s collaborations from Portugal and the Canary Islands, I was rather looking forward to my bottle of this.

The grapes are from 200-year-old, dry-farmed, vines near the tiny village of Millapoa, right up at around 350 masl. The soil here, not that there’s much, is eroded black basalt sand.

The colour is a dark ruby with glints of deep purple. The legs are notably thick, but the wine only registers 13.5% abv. The bouquet is all concentrated bramble fruit and cherry with notes of violet and lavender. The palate has a nice line in rusticity but certainly with a modern twist. In sum, textured, fruity and with bright acidity. Remarkably, it’s easy to slurp this, despite the alcohol level. I was very taken with it and Darren seems to be putting out some very exciting wines. I guess his choice of collaborator here has been spot on.

Purchased direct from Darren but you can read more about his wines and other avenues to purchase them in my article from June, Here.


I have been a fairly regular small-scale purchaser of the Buronfosse wines, on and off, when in the Jura region, but they had previously appeared absent from the UK market. It was a shame. I know there are so many fashionable small growers in the region, but Peggy is up there with the very best. Thankfully, I’ve now discovered they are in the UK, thanks to the ever Jura-vigilant Solent Cellar in Lymington.

Peggy fell on her feet really when Raymond Pageault rented his old vines to her and husband Jean-Pascal on his retirement. It helped that Peggy had become friends with her neighbour, Jean-François Ganevat, because these vines were in La Combe, Rotalier, one of Jura’s most famed locations. A “grand cru” if ever there was one.

The couple’s 4ha of vineyards are on steep slopes of limestone, marl and schist at both Rotalier and St-Laurent Grandvaux. “Entre-Deux” is Savagnin, a selection wine presumably made from vines in both locations. It is made in the ouillé style (topped-up, not oxidative). It’s lime-fresh, gorgeously so, with a very lengthy finish. The 12% alcohol seems perfectly judged in a lovely, impressive, bottle. It’s one of those wines you don’t see very often on Instagram but one which those who know, know.

Imported by Raeburn Fine Wines.


I decided I needed to check up on one of my most recent EN purchases, although the weather this August hasn’t really induced me to drink a lot of Palomino Fino, whether fortified or not. It’s a shame because I don’t normally need an excuse.

This Palomino comes from the Pago de Miraflores La Baja at Sanlúcar, a very special terroir. The idea behind this bottling “before the flor” is indeed to create a table wine, without fortification, which is the purest expression of that terroir. So, no cask ageing, just tank. The vintage is 2019 and ageing was 12 months in stainless steel, without the appearance of a veil of yeast. Then bottling, which took place last year.

The result is, as always with these “Florpower” wines, pretty amazing. It’s certainly youthful, but that’s a good time to broach one. The salinity and chalky terroir texture are perhaps at their peak, along with freshness, which will mellow into greater complexity with time. The vines are very old and the yields are naturally low, which assists the winemaker to get that tell-tale EN concentration, and the potential to age impressively is definitely there for anyone who cares to do so. That potential for this wine is significant, which is why a few bottles, not merely one, would be essential if you can get some. At least these delicious Florpowers are cheaper than the fortified Sherries they bottle at EN.

The UK agent for Equipo Navazos is Alliance Wine.


Anne-Laure is a vigneronne on the Terroir de Larzac, the vineyards near the Causses of the same name in Western Languedoc. She has farmed 8.5ha of vines, all up at around 400 masl, at St-Privat since 2015, using non-intervention approaches in the vineyard and winery. Initially she trained as an agricultural engineer before enology studies. Subsequent to that she has worked over several continents and is very widely travelled for a young winemaker.

From what I can tell, Anne-Laure is something of a red wine specialist, certainly getting excellent reviews for her Grenache, Carignan and Syrah. Her vines are old, and scattered in small parcels around the village, but growing on the now famous schist and sandstone of the sub-region.

This simple petnat is delicious. It’s a darker shade of rosé, made from Grenache. It’s fruity, light and clean, in fact not remotely scary for anyone new to natural wine. It’s just what you want from summer fizz, although this is a petnat which contains sediment, easily avoided by standing the bottle up for a while if the idea of cloudy wine doesn’t appeal. I prefer a little texture, which the sediment adds. At 12.5% this is still very easy to guzzle down.

This was a recommendation from Solent Cellar.

Now to the two wines I didn’t drink at home. The first was shared with a couple of friends on the beach and it was as perfect as you could imagine a beach-time petnat could be. So, you might be shocked to discover the grape variety is Müller-Thurgau. If anyone makes a brilliant version of this old workhorse variety, once widely planted in New Zealand before Savvy Blanc became fashionable, it is Theo Coles.

Theo farms at North Canterbury on NZ’s South Island, and I’d be hard pushed to name a New Zealand winemaker whose wines thrill me as much as his do. This was his Ancestral Method Müller-Thurgau 2019. Who would have thought the old variety of German sugar water fame could give us this little gem! To be fair, a few German winemakers are re-evaluating the variety and we are seeing a few excellent natural wines made from the grape in Germany now.

What we have here is just pure fruity fizz, zero complications, for times when you have a thirst (post-swim, perhaps). The 2019 is almost certainly all gone, but maybe you can grab a bottle of the 2020? Uncharted Wines is the agent, and my previous source, but this one came from Littlewine.

The second wine I want to mention is a classic, and in many ways it’s not a wine I would expect to drink often. Yet “Comtes” is and has always been one of my favourite Prestige Cuvée Champagnes. That said, I can’t see myself buying any more because this has pushed over £150 now. I’m not sure what this 2005 (yes) cost because it would have been purchased with a discount, but the 2006s I have remaining are my last, I’m guessing.

So it goes with a lot of Champagne. I used to have a reasonable amount of the stuff, but it’s disappearing way too quickly and however much I claim there’s plenty of wine out there, Champagne is something I just cannot replace. It hurts.

This Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2005 was delicious and I mention it primarily because it highlights that truth, obvious to any real wine lover, that a top producer’s top wine will be worth buying whatever the vintage. People talk some generalised rubbish about vintages. Someone I know drank a very tasty Haut-Brion 1984 the other day and it reminded me that a friend’s father had opened one for our anniversary, over in France, a few years ago, with a similar result.

Are the 2004 and 2006 vintages of Comtes better than the 2005? Probably, if you ask an expert. The 2005 is just different. We drank it with close friends, one of whom has a special love and connection with Comtes, which is why I took it for our Glyndebourne picnic and we were lucky…this bottle was glorious, drinking perfectly but I don’t think anyone need panic if they have a case or two. Complex and majestic.

I know there’s no God-given right for any of us to be able to drink any given wine, whether that be fine Champagne or a Jura Unicorn. But that doesn’t stop me wishing.

This is, of course, very widely available in whatever is the current vintage (the excellent 2008 vintage is available at some retailers if you have £160 to splash). If Waitrose is having one of their 25% off weeks, it’s always worth popping into their Oxford Street or Canary Wharf branches. But even so, wines costing more that £100, even with discount, cost more than I care to pay these days.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Natural Wine, Petnat, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Visitor

It’s what we do, isn’t it? As wine lovers, obsessives even, we visit vineyards and taste the wine, and if we are not the victim of airline baggage restrictions, we probably buy some to bring home. If we are lucky enough to be driving, we bring lots home. Although our partners and children don’t always appreciate our obsession, for those of us who have a wine passion, bringing home bottles from producers we’ve visited on holiday is probably (don’t tell the family) the most exciting part of the trip.

I’m pretty sure that I’m far from being alone here. The fun is partly in obtaining bottles you might not be able to get back home, something the importer thinks won’t sell, but for the self-styled connoisseur it’s just what he or she had hoped to get hold of. Sometimes it’s just bagging new cuvées or vintages which have not yet reached our shores. There’s also the fun of cramming it all in, along with the luggage, and all that paraphernalia you need to give the young ones in the family a sense that it is a holiday for them too, not just a period of automobile incarceration for the length of daddy’s wine trip.

Of course, I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek. Wine regions surely vie with the mountains as the most beautiful places to holiday and the vineyards I love to visit are usually near to mountains, or at least pretty big hills. Can you beat a vineyard walk after breakfast? And on the subject of food, it is probably no coincidence that wine regions also seem to have the best cuisine, at least in Europe.

Such holidays always excite the organisational side of my personality. I like a good puzzle and fitting wine into an already crammed boot is a challenge I’m up for. When the children’s feet didn’t reach the floor in the back of the car, the seat wells could take the odd six-pack for them to rest upon. Odd bottles fit under seats and it is amazing how many small spaces there are in the boot. Mind you, I remember one particular holiday, many years ago now, where we ended up in the mountains near Aosta and I genuinely thought I’d broken the back axle, which had it been true would have been a mean feat for a Volvo estate.

So, if the “wine visit” is the highlight of our holiday, we also assume that it’s part and parcel of a day in the life of your average wine producer. This assumption, or not so much an assumption but something one probably didn’t really think about, has been rocked somewhat over the last eighteen months or so. The issues around visits were first mentioned to me in conversation with Wink Lorch, who highlighted the difficulties even she, as an established authority on Jura and Savoie, was sometimes having in gaining appointments in these regions.

The issue was once more brought to light on social media this month, with some Twitter users apparently declaring their God-given right to rock up at a vigneron’s house, expecting a tasting. The overall opinion went along the lines of “well, they are running a business”. Such a view was somewhat countered in a great piece by Hannah Fuellenkemper, which appeared a week ago on Simon Woolf’s “Morning Claret” site.

It’s a fun read and it puts across the potential point of view of the winemaker very well. In examining all the reasons why someone decided to become a winemaker, she says “but I bet at no point you decided to make wine because you wanted to spend all your time drinking with random people in your kitchen”.

Shall we take a step back. There are many kinds of winemaker and a great number positively encourage visitors. They may be a large commercial operation where coaches are welcome. They may merely be Australian. I jest, but Australian winemakers with almost all sizes of vine holdings will have a tasting room. Those who don’t are highly adept at making their winery very hard to find (even if one has been granted an invitation). Even a star producer like Clonakilla in Canberra District will allow the odd coach by appointment, though.

The finest estates in an Australian wine region like the Hunter Valley, or Mornington Peninsula see the value of wine tourism in helping to establish both their own brand and that of their region. You can expect a tasting room which, these days, will often be modern and light, and there’s a good chance you’ll find a restaurant too. There will be staff employed just to conduct your tasting and the punter will usually be expected to pay a small fee for the samples, albeit usually refunded against a few bottles purchased.

In Europe this kind of experience used to be most common in Champagne. You pay for the “tour” of, if you choose well, some beautiful chalk Crayères in Reims, with a man in period costume, circa 1920, riddling a few rows of bottles by hand (the mechanical gyropalettes which jerk the sediment down the bottles in their millions will be behind closed doors but the keen-eared visitor will hear them clunk every so often). At the end of the tour your fee will include a few sips of the non-vintage.

I’m not knocking this at all. In fact, everyone should pay such a visit. It’s worth it at houses like Taittinger just to see the magnificent cellars. But these tours are not aimed at serious wine lovers. Such tours are now even available in Bordeaux, last bastion of the verb “to exclude”, where the public have generally been excluded in the past and the wines have therefore become even more exclusive.

Today, Bordeaux has opened up. Of the tours available to the general public, perhaps one of the best is to Château Lynch-Bages, in the “wine destination hamlet” of Bages. Bages has a nice place to eat, a top bakery, and on the opposite side of the square, the Lynch-Bages gift shop where, trust me, it’s impossible not to spend some money after the winery tour (the Lynch-Bages Blanc I grabbed on my 2015 visit was actually rather good).

There are many thousands of family producers who fall into the next category, where there’s a tasting room either open at certain times (weekends, open days), or maybe by appointment. If a producer has a tasting-room you can be pretty sure they welcome visitors, though perhaps more at their convenience than yours. Quite often it may be another family member who is on hand to welcome you. A daughter back home from studying English in Boston, or the vigneron(ne)’s partner. You can find such places all over viticultural Europe, from Alsace to Piemonte and from the Rheinpfalz to Burgenland.

Usually, if you’ve called in advance, you will get a welcome, although the article I referred to by Hannah Fuellenkemper is actually titled “Why French Winemakers Never Reply to E-mails”, and the title is apt. They really don’t, and why would they? Don’t imagine you are not one of dozens of people at least who every week crave an audience with the great winemaker him/herself. I always recommend telephoning.

If you don’t speak their language, you may well be, as they say down here, stuffed. My wife speaks the kind of French which sounds French, fluent but with just enough of an English accent I’m told is appealing to the ear (unlike mine…I can get by very well so long as no one mentions my accent). This is a bonus for me, and indeed occasionally for friends who request a favour.

A welcome may not always be forthcoming because life can move at pace for these families. I remember a visit with my own family in tow, arranged with one producer during our drive back to England. We turned up at the appointed time to discover he’d gone out to his furthest vines and we were met by his wife, in her dressing gown (late morning), wholly unaware of our visit. She did open something, but I think she was pleased we were just most interested in relieving her of a mixed case. A relatively short visit seemed in everyone’s best interests.

The difficulty, for the potential visitor who exhibits even a mild obsession with wine, is that Europe’s wine regions are increasingly peopled by very small producers who farm a hectare or two, often with no full-time help. These are the young stars we increasingly chase after, and as the classics of Burgundy, Bordeaux and Barolo become too expensive for most of us, and as natural wine gains even more appeal, more and more of us want to seek them out.

Their partner may do the accounts in the evening or weekends, but there’s no tasting room and no-one to conduct a tasting. These are the producers Hannah is talking about in her article. If you like natural wine, then almost all of the producers you desire to meet and taste with are likely to fall into this category. The issue has been highlighted on social media especially in regard to Jura producers, but the problem is not restricted to that region in France, and not to France exclusively. It is a big problem for the young winemakers who are struggling to make a living from a few small parcels anywhere, but mostly in Europe.

André Durrmann in their tasting room – It’s nothing fancy but you will be made welcome

A good example of this kind of winemaker was mentioned in the Twitter feed which led to Hannah’s “response” article. Patrice Beguet is based at Mesnay, a small village which is walkable, being just down the road, from Arbois, Jura’s heartland. I’ve visited Patrice a few times and any tasting he conducts takes place in his small cellar, below the house. Any transactions are conducted in his open plan living room above. Such producers are not geared up for wine tourism and it is hard to believe how an exciting young vigneron like Patrice, whose vignoble includes plots in far-away Pupillin, could actually get any work done if he saw all the visitors who would like to taste there.

Then there’s the elephant in the room…wine to taste? What wine? Many of the people who left comments on the article, and those who commented on Twitter, say the same thing. At the end of the day, wine is a business and if you make wine, you’ve just gotta go out and sell it, boy! But the key lies in whether you’ve got any wine to sell.

Some people forget, or have no idea of, the size of some domaines in regions like the Jura, the Ardêche or Alsace. If you’re a cult natural winemaker worldwide demand strips out your production before it’s seen the inside of a bottle. I know some lucky souls who could double production and still sell out in a week or two, as indeed is quite common in Burgundy as well. These guys aren’t trying to ship hectolitres to China, but anyone who’s been to Tokyo in the past few years will see where a lot of natural wine is heading, especially now that the post-Brexit paperwork or other hassles make my own market such a pain to ship to. The more new markets open up, the less wine there is for us.

Perhaps the extreme of this can be found almost on my own doorstep with Tim Phillips’s Charlie Herring Wines in Hampshire. September will see a tranche of Riesling released. Even at one bottle per customer, he will be over-subscribed, and he could probably double his prices with no change in the result.

You may be lucky enough to sell all of your production from a good year without difficulty, but if you are cursed with having vineyards in much of France, especially Central and Eastern France, you’ll have been greeted with either terrible frosts, or hail, or various kinds of rot, or all three, in pretty much every vintage for the past…well almost as long as I can remember.

Take the case of Patrice Beguet, of whom I spoke above. When I first visited him, it must have been almost a decade ago, he let me taste a whole range of cuvées, dark red, light red, white (oxidative and ouillé), pink, orange and a few petnats as well (not forgetting the Macvin!). I’ve just last week purchased a new wine of Patrice’s called “Three Views of a Secret”. Devastated harvest conditions in 2019 saw his mates Benoît Landron, Claude Ughetto and Marc Humbrecht help him out, and “Three Views” is the result. Without friends like that one wonders whether he’d have enough cash flow from his own vineyards to continue.

Some producers have made a real name for themselves from their negociant wines (Alice and Olivier De Moor in Chablis, Alice Bouvot at L’Octavin in Arbois and J-F Ganevat down at Rotalier to name just three). But make no mistake. The catalysts for creating these labels have been the vicissitudes thrown at them by the weather.

This is happening every year now, especially in and around Arbois. It’s not one bad harvest but several. I know winemaking couples where one has had to go out and get another job to bring in a little more income. Life is tough, and you will know just how tough if you read my June article on the very sad loss by suicide of two of Eastern France’s truly great winemakers (though I don’t wish to judge or to over-simplify the reasons for those tragic deaths, which are not directly related to the contents of this piece).

So, you say, what’s the point of your article? Well, I’m not the kind of person who thinks they can tell others how to behave. If you think these guys are there for your entertainment, or your determination to bag that Vin Jaune their importer doesn’t get an allocation of trumps everything, then that’s up to you.

What I want to do is merely to make my readers pause and think about the situation these incredibly hard-working people find themselves in. Time poor, worn out not just by vineyard work but by the whole commercial/admin side of their business, and with an empty cellar. I have been truly honoured on occasion when I realise that the few bottles a winemaker has agreed to let me buy actually come from their own private stash. That has happened at one producer on two consecutive visits.

How do I propose to change my own behaviour? I think I’m going to seriously curtail my visiting in the case of these very small producers who don’t have a tasting room regularly open to the public. I’m going to stop and think about the impact of my visit. Sadly, this means there are people I’d truly like to revisit but on the whole, I may not feel I can justifiably bother them anymore. I would even say that I feel a degree of guilt for past visits…for my assumption that even as a writer with a wide readership, I have some right to take an hour of their precious time.

Alice…in a garage…in Arbois…at 8.30 am! How did she make time?

This still leaves a group of producers I know quite well, or at least a little. Mostly people in Alsace, Jura and Burgenland who I’ve already visited, chat with on social media and see at wine fairs. I feel pretty certain there are nine or ten places where I am genuinely welcome in those regions. In some cases, I’ve championed their wines from the beginning and they remember that.

I’ve never had the stamina for five visits in a day, like some people, so if I can see three or four producers on a week-long trip, that’s enough. Plus, those who maybe say at a wine fair that I must go and visit them. It does happen, and I’m quite happy to remind them of it. You have to be prepared to take rejection though. I’m not like these “top” journos who believe they can dictate a date and time of arrival, turn up three or four hours late, and still expect to be treated like a king.

Even the hard-working winemakers usually get away for some kind of holiday in August, and equally, hassling them around harvest is usually unforgivable (though again, generosity abounds, as it did with one producer I know well, who honoured our appointment even though it turned out to have been made for the first day of an unexpectedly early harvest, and there was a team to manage. If she was stressed, we didn’t see it).

Possibly the highlight of all my wine trips – being literally the second person (after Stefanie) to taste the first juice of harvest (Pinot Noir for Petnat, Weingut Renner, Gols 2018)

It’s really just a question of being more thoughtful.

Oh, and one more thing…Hannah says “sometimes people bring gifts”. She also points out the other side of the coin, that some expect an aperitif, or even an invitation to stay for dinner (and it’s true, I’ve heard stories). Winemakers do love trying new wines. Some will have a row of bottles from around the world in their cellar. If you take a carefully selected bottle or two as a gift, you will more than likely find your generosity is rewarded, perhaps with a free bottle yourself, but mostly with a better, more relaxed, visit and the chance to at least buy a few coveted bottles. I’ve done this myself, not at all out of any expectation of reciprocity, but out of a shared passion and respect for the winemaker and empathy for their work.

At the end of the day, it’s all about empathy, isn’t it!

Hannah Fuellenkemper’s article in The Morning Claret can be found here.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Jura, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Hobby, Wine Tastings, Wine Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The One Straw Revolution (Masanobu Fukuoka)

Here in the UK a series of proposals has just been published under the ambitious heading of a “National Food Strategy”. Its author, Henry Dimbleby, has outlined a raft of measures we need to adopt in order to save lives from our poor diet, to protect nature and the environment and ensure that farming in the UK is sustainable. Perhaps the most eye-catching proposal is that we should reduce meat consumption by 30%. Less eye-catching, but no less important, is the need to massively reduce agri-chemical inputs. Aside from the dangers to human health they may or may not pose, long-term, it is their destruction of ecosystems which has finally been recognised (in some quarters) as unacceptable.

Such proposals may well get nowhere, and especially those relating to synthetic chemical interventions. Aside from the fear that climate change will bring new challenges, no challenge to the profits of the large agri-chemical producers will go unchallenged. Whilst low input agriculture remains a minority sport, there’s little to worry about, but we can’t have the whole world going organic, surely? Think of food security, think of the costs (they say).

In many ways the food strategy is framed in a way that puts the focus on a change in diet, and on educating people to change habits. In other words, a market-led approach. What needs to happen (as indeed with things like plastic packaging) is a producer-led approach. We are starting to see this to a degree, but nowhere near enough.

I think we can say that in some respects the wine fraternity is moving ahead of other agricultural sectors, and one way it is doing this is by exploring the methods of regenerative agriculture. No-till farming is not new. In fact, such methods were common in many countries until the 20th Century. I keep hearing about projects in the UK, and I even read about a return to this way of farming in The Guardian newspaper this week, in Spanish olive groves. But the methods, practical teachings and philosophy of the man I will introduce you to have taken off all over the wine world, whether directly influenced or indirectly.

Those who know producers like Ligas (Greece), Lissner (Alsace) and Meinklang (Burgenland), to name but three, are all following principles which effectively leave the whole ecosystem to regulate itself. In the case of vines there is no intervention between rows and just a little shoot repositioning (no annual pruning). Such ecosystems seem to become self-regulating after a while. I was recently with Tim Phillips (Charlie Herring Wines) in his Hampshire vineyard and we were discussing our passion for this very book as he showed me the cuttings to be returned to the earth as natural fertiliser.

The book is The One Straw Revolution and the author is, of course, Masanobu Fukuoka. I think those interested in natural wine and low intervention wine production will enjoy reading it, not least because of the increasing interest in Fukuoka from the wine community. Perhaps the time has arrived to shift our focus away from the biodynamics of Steiner and Thun, just a little, and to focus on how wine in general might benefit from a “no-till” regenerative approach.

Fukuoka was born in 1913 and lived a long and eventually contented life, passing away in 2008. Trained as a scientist (plant pathology), he broadly managed to avoid combat in WW2 working as a produce inspector and researcher in Yokohama. This gave him an insight into Japanese agriculture, which underwent great change after the war, largely as a result of American influence, both in terms of what to grow (Japan was a big potential market for American cereals) and how to farm.

In rejecting modern agricultural methods, returning to farm on the island of Shikoku, he developed a philosophy which some called “do nothing” farming. He applied his methods to both the dual cultivation of rice (summer) and grain (winter) in the same fields, and to his citrus orchards, in which he also planted his vegetables, amongst the trees. Some thought him crazy, but his methods worked. He matched the best yields in his neighbourhood without the costs associated with mechanised, chemical, farming, and with far fewer hours work than his contemporaries.

Fukuoka’s farm became the focus of attention, both from other scientists and from people looking for identity in a new way of life, the latter forming a community in huts on his mountainside.

The key to Fukuoka’s philosophy and methodology lies in the ability of nature to carry on doing what it does without much help from humans. In fact, Fukuoka’s light bulb moment may have been when he saw an abandoned field full of weeds, but with an ample crop of rice growing up among them.

A natural ecosystem includes a fluctuating number of predators which generally appear to balance each other. Too many of one type of insect and you get more predating spiders, too many spiders and there’s more food for the birds. Even common rice diseases righted themselves. In fact, as for yields, his shorter and healthier plants produced the same number of rice grains as the taller chemical-fed fields. What’s more, his natural food began to get a reputation which could have enabled him to charge much higher prices (as the retailers did who bought it), except that he believed such food should be available to all (an issue in our market, for sure).

The application of agri-chemicals on a large scale is largely a 20th Century phenomenon. In the 1960s activists drew attention to the potential harm to humans some of them could cause, especially Rachel Carson in the USA. Yet although her warnings were heeded to a degree, once DDT was banned the pressure kind of fell away.

Fukuoka outlines four principles to “Natural Farming”:

1 No cultivation (ie no ploughing or tilling);

2 No chemical fertilizers or prepared compost;

3. No weeding (weeds build soil fertility and balance the biological community); and

4. No other chemicals.

Soil health is absolutely key. This is a mantra we hear almost daily now, but not from a majority of farmers. And indeed viticulteurs. This despite so many photos of napalmed vineyards. Now, chemical applications by heavy tractor seem the easy route, and no one thinks of the long term.

It reminds me of a story in the James Rebanks book (see further reading below) English Pastoral. An old farmer was mildly made fun of for having been left behind by the agricultural revolution, for being a bit “backward” in taking up any new technologies. After he died a soil analysis was undertaken. On intensively farmed land this is essential because the soil is slowly dying and needs constant “replenishment”. On Henry’s farm they discovered the soil was rich and healthy, full of worms, very fertile. Henry had added no chemicals to his land and had not spent thousands of pounds doing it.

Quoting Rebanks “The men had discussed it in the pub. Dad said the way farming was going was insane. That old Henry had known more than the rest of us daft fuckers put together”.

Masanobu Fukuoka recounts a visit from a university professor who finally understood why there was no leaf-hopper problem in these fields…because natural predators of the insects were there in abundance. It dawned on him that in the other fields all the predators had been eradicated by spray treatments, yet here a natural balance in nature was maintained. “He acknowledged that if my method were generally adopted, the problem of crop devastation by leaf-hoppers could be solved. He then got into his car and returned to Kochi”. Even when his methods were proved to work, no one dare advocate them on a large scale.

Of course, many grape growers are highly focused on soil health these days. I only choose to mention the Rennersistas in Gols (Burgenland) as an example because soil health featured very early on in my conversations with Stefanie Renner, even before I visited them. One aspect of soil health Stefanie believes has a profound effect is a cover crop. As well as putting nutrients back into the soil they compete with the vines and help in some way to concentrate grape flavour. As Stefanie said in a recent interview with Littlewine (, “the wine tastes different with a cover crop”.

This ties in very well with Fukuoka, because he advocates a cover crop as an essential part of his regenerative agriculture. Along with a straw mulch, he uses white clover, which he found in his particular circumstances when used together control but not eliminate weeds, which play their own part in soil fertility and in a regenerative ecosystem.

This small book is a delight to read, well translated (by Larry Korn, Chris Pearce and Tsune Kurosawa), it’s a mere 184 pages long, made up of very short chapters. They set out the reasons Masanobu left science for the farming life, his practical methods and especially later in the book, his wider philosophy.

The Preface is written by Wendell Berry. Best known as a writer, and as an anti-Vietnam War activist, he’s also a farmer and has written widely on this subject, becoming an influencer here as well. The Preface is useful in putting methodologies specific to Japan into a wider context. As the American Berry says, Fukuoka’s techniques will not be “directly applicable to most American farms” but they do provide a great example of what can be done. Berry introduces the founder of organics, Sir Albert Howard, and highlights some similarities in their beliefs.

He also highlights a key element to Fukuoka’s thinking, asking the question “what will happen if I don’t do this?”. In this respect you could say Fukuoka is “a scientist who is suspicious of science”, but in reality, he is merely questioning the instructions of those who possess “piecemeal knowledge by specialization”, as a child might question the instruction of a parent. Why? What for? Because it is clear that the specialist does not see the whole picture, just as the scientist does not see how nature performs without his or her intervention.

In one of Fukuoka’s later, wholly philosophical, chapters (Drifting Clouds and the Illusion of Science) the author is expansive in his criticism of aspects of science, or at least the ways in which specialised, segmented, science dominates our lives. In a way such science has helped form our current economic conundrum, and it is the same conundrum for agriculture (and by that we include viticulture) as for climate change. We are locked into the capitalist requirement for growth and progress to generate increasing profit.

It is such thinking which creates our current crisis whereby all of the things we need to change seem unchangeable. As Chomsky points out, our problems are systemic because the way we do things (mechanisation, fossil fuels, agri-chemicals etc) are locked into a profit-driven system, and that system cannot easily be changed. But change must come and only consumers and farmers can effect these changes when related to agriculture. The pressure from the multi-nationals and financial institutions (investment banks solely responsible to their shareholders) is against them, but slowly change can be made. It has to be.

Masanobu Fukuoka described a so-called “do nothing” method of agriculture successful on a tiny scale on one of the islands of the Japanese archipelago. He suggests that great change can begin with one straw of barley. It is exactly the kind of revolution we need…in thinking about food production as part of our desire to feed the word, healthily.

In Fukuoka’s own words (page 3) “This method completely contradicts modern agricultural techniques. It throws scientific knowledge and traditional farming know-how right out the window. With this kind of farming, which uses no machines, no prepared fertilizer and no chemicals, it is possible to attain a harvest equal to or greater than that of the average Japanese farm. The proof is ripening right before your eyes.

Such results may or may not have a wide application in agriculture in general (and I know we have not discussed various climate events which have produced famine in the past and will do so in the future), yet those who are trying elements of this form of regenerative agriculture have achieved quite a degree of success. It is clear that those in viticulture who have taken on board Fukuoka’s teachings appear to be forging ahead, and if you look at the producers I’ve mentioned in this article, who are just a sample, the proof is in the bottle.

If you have the slightest interest in growing food, and especially if you are interested, as I am, in experiments at the cutting edge, pushing the boundaries, of wine production, I promise that you will find this both practical and philosophical book a great little read. A tenner well spent.

The One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka was published by the New York Review of Books(this edn 2009, soft cover/paperback), originally published in Japan as “Shizen Noho Wara Ippon No Kakumei” (1978) by Shunju-sha (Tokyo). It may be available on a number of the larger online sources, including Blackwells, Amazon etc.

There are at least a dozen books I could recommend as very peripheral reading, and I imagine at least half my readers will have read all of them. However, the following four books are lovely reads and throw light on different aspects of agricultural knowledge and practice. I know I’ve mentioned these before, but sometimes it doesn’t hurt to labour a point.

English Pastoral by James Rebanks (who previously published “A Shepherd’s Life”) (Allen Lane, a Penguin imprint, 2020) – a shepherd who is so much more than that.

Wilding by Isabella Tree (Picador, 2018) – England’s great rewilding project which I visit frequently.

Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe (Magabala Books, 2014) – Australia’s indigenous peoples were not hunter-gatherers.

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Milkweed 2013, Penguin 2020) – As Pascoe (above) describes the understanding of Australia’s land, including its aptitude for producing food, by its original inhabitants, pre-colonisation, so this author shows the unique understanding of North America’s capacity to produce food by its own indigenous peoples. Both highlight the way that science, perhaps with the arrogance of a colonial mentality, has ignored deep knowledge learnt from nature over centuries.

Posted in Artisan Wines, biodynamic wine, Japan, Natural Wine, Philosophy and Wine, Viticulture, Wine, Wine and Health, Wine Science | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Recent Wines July 2021 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

After a somewhat focused Part 1, we can inject a little more diversity via the second half of July’s drinking at home. Champagne, Slovakia and Alto-Adige (or Südtirol if you insist), then Alsace and the Pays Nantais are followed by the Swiss Vaud (another wine from a producer featured in Part 1, as promised), winding down with Friuli and Burgundy. I’ve noticed a couple of sparkling wines in there. I’m quite shocked at how few I’ve drunk this “summer”. Whilst I’m one for drinking whatever I want whenever I want, I can’t help thinking that the weather has played a part.


Dominique Moreau makes this lovely Côte des Bar Champagne in the village of Polisot, with a 2.5-hectare contiguous parcel of vines not far from the River Seine. In fact, this part of the region is now known as the Barséquanais. Most of her vines are Pinot Noir, with a little Chardonnay. All are certified organic, but Dominique’s viticulture and winemaking go much further than that, into biodynamics and natural wine philosophy. She is undoubtedly one of the major emerging star Growers in a region which has become somewhat the centre of the so-called Grower Revolution in quality.

Résonance is made from old vine Pinot Noir grown on Kimmeridgean clays (like Chablis next door). It spends three years on lees with vinification in tank. No dosage is added on disgorgement. The result is certainly dry, but very characterful. There’s a lovely balanced blend of apple freshness and red fruit aromatics, seasoned with a little salinity on the finish. This is simply a glorious Champagne, I don’t care if it’s only Dominique’s “entry level”.

This came from The Good Wine Shop (Kew location). I would have been back a few weeks ago were it not for Covid. They have one of the best Grower Champagne selections in the UK. Les Caves de Pyrene imports Marie-Courtin and they are an alternative source for all of Dominique’s wines, depending on what they’ve shipped at any time.


I keep buying wine from this 10-hectare family estate at Suche Nad Parnou in Western Slovakia, northeast of Bratislava, and every wine seems to get a little more exciting. This is, as the name might possibly give away, an “orange”, “amber” or skin contact wine. The blend is Rizling Vlassky (Welschriesling), Veltlin (Grüner Veltliner) and Devin, the latter a variety indigenous to Slovakia’s western hills and deriving from a cross between Traminer and Roter Veltliner.

The vines are grown on the highly calcium-rich soils in two valleys close to the village. Farming is biodynamic. Skin contact gives the wine its orange hue, more akin to the colour of rust. It smells clearly of mandarin citrus and tastes like Seville Orange marmalade with its bitter orange finish. It starts out tasting a touch tannic but this softens as the wine warms and rounds out in the glass. The result, after the cold edge disappeared, was rather delicious and I recommend not serving this too cold. No sulphur was added and this gives the wine its bright, lively quality which I find always appears in the best amber wines.

Imported by Basket Press Wines. OV will set you back £29.50.

VINO ROSSO LEGGERO 2018, PRANZEGG (Alto-Adige/Südtirol, Italy)

I was going to purchase my annual dose of Foradori’s “Lezèr” but then I saw this, another light summer red. Pranzegg is a favourite producer from the region among people I know, but I’ve rarely drunk their wines. I wasn’t even aware that they were imported into England until I saw this. Martin Gojer took over his family’s tiny estate, just 3.5-ha of vines, in 2008. He is based at Bolzano (or Bozen for German speakers), about 50 km below the Brenner Pass into Austria.

Martin and his wife, Marion, farm biodynamically, and they see their farm as a holistic ecosystem which they aim to be self-sustaining. They are a shining beacon of ecological awareness in a region dominated by co-operative cellars, albeit some rather good ones. We have a blend of Schiava and Lagrein, two of Südtirol’s traditional varieties, so what’s not to like?

To create this light touch red wine with a bit of texture the direct press juice of these two red varieties is fermented on the skins of already fermented white grapes. The result has a unique quality. Whilst the colour is pale for a red wine, almost like that of a darker-hued Rosé, there’s a bit of tannin and the kind of bite you get in a good Vinho Verde. Otherwise, it tastes like a white wine. The bouquet is all red fruits (pomegranate comes to mind), and with a touch of CO2 on the palate, it’s extraordinarily refreshing (just 11% abv here). As the wine warms slightly the fruit amplifies into lovely cherry juice, but in this case do serve chilled.

Imported by Newcomer Wines, purchased from Littlewine.


Lucas Rieffel is a member of the Mittelbergheim School, an extraordinary group of artisan winemakers producing wines among the most exciting in Alsace, and sharing ideas and wines to move the whole village forward. If we know Mittelbergheim as a centre for Natural winemaking in the Bas Rhin, it is down to this group. If we are speaking of excitement, as well as sheer quality, and about the feeling generated on tasting a new cuvée for the first time, my first bottle of his pink Crémant must be right up there. I hope it isn’t anywhere near my last.

Lucas and his father are best known for their steely biodynamic wines made from Riesling, and some rather good Pinot Noirs on the same level from different sites around the village. This Crémant Rosé is pure Pinot Noir. The vines are all thirty years old or more, initially aged in foudres before bottling. The wine sees ten months on lees, this being disgorged in May 2021. The idea, I think, is not to make a wine with a great deal of lees-age autolytic character, but rather what we have here. Pure raspberry fruit dominates, but it clings to a spine of mineral steeliness.

I would say that this is one of the best couple of bottle-fermented sparkling wines I’ve drunk through our eighteen month Covid ordeal. It combines a fruitiness rarely seen from a lees-aged sparkling wine with the house style, a firmness of purpose and real focus.

At £28 from Littlewine I say it compares well to anything I’ve drunk for the price, including some more expensive English fizz. A lesson in value and pleasure, sheer joy to drink.

“JE T’AIME MAIS J’AI SOIF” VIN DE France [2019], VINCENT CAILLÉ (Loire, France)

This wine comes from the Muscadet/Pays Nantais part of France’s Loire Valley, Vincent Caillé being based at Monnières. He’s the fifth generation to farm here, in charge of the family estate since the mid-1990s. His major contribution has been a focus on quality coupled with the introduction of biodynamics in a region once considered too wet by many.

However, a few years ago a challenging vintage saw massive crop losses due to the double-whammy of hail and frost followed by some disease. This resulting wine has an element of innovation to it, being a blend of the traditional Muscadet grape, Melon de Bourgogne, with Colombard, Grenache Blanc, Macabeu, Roussanne and Marsanne.

If some of those varieties don’t look very “Muscadet”, then you might have an idea what happened here. Vincent is seen as a bit of a torch-bearer for biodynamics and low intervention practises in the region and plenty of growers, far and wide, rallied to his aid. The brilliant label, which seems to channel Ubu Roi, was specially created by a local artist. The wine was such a success that it has become a regular cuvée in the Caillé portfolio.

Like Muscadet, the wine is clean and fresh, but somewhat broader than the wines of that appellation (except for those aged in oak). Imagine the flavour of a juicy, ripe, Galia melon with a twist of lime on the finish, along with a tiny lick of pebbly texture. In other words, a simple wine giving great summer refreshment.

This was £22 from Bin Two in Padstow.

DORAL “EXPRESSION” 2019, CAVE DE LA CÔTE (Vaud, Switzerland)

I wrote about this forward-looking co-operative’s entry level Chasselas in Part 1 of July’s ”Recent Wines” (the article below this one if you wish to check it out). I suggested that it may not be as profound as some of the best Chasselas made biodynamically elsewhere in the country, but Chief Winemaker Rodrigo Banto has captured the essence of the variety as a clean and fresh, tasty aperitif wine. I purchased this particular bottle because I’ve never tried this grape variety before, but in the same way that I was slightly, but most pleasantly, surprised by the simple freshness of the Chasselas, I was surprised at how I liked this one even more.

Doral is a cross between Chasselas and Chardonnay. The intention was to create a wine with the fresh herbs and citrus qualities of Chasselas along with the breadth and class of Chardonnay. I don’t think this wine has any pretentions towards Burgundy, but it does indeed manage to give a nice rounded amplitude to the typical qualities of Vaudois Chasselas (which you may or may not appreciate).

The colour is an attractive green-gold, the bouquet is of crisp apples, lemon and perhaps even kiwi fruit. The palate is where, perhaps, the Chardonnay comes in. The added breadth encompasses peach and maybe a little apricot, but you get the idea. I think you might in fact guess that this was not a crossing, but a blend of the two varieties. I’d be interested to know what anyone else thinks?

This can be had from Alpine Wines online for £22, or from a few independent retailers who, as I said in Part 1, are beginning to see the value of listing a few Swiss wines. My bottle came from The Solent Cellar.


Here we are more precisely in Friuli di Colli Orientali with what at first appears to be an unassuming negoce Chardonnay. It’s made by Christian Patat, who might be familiar to a few afficionados. The wine is made from any surplus of grapes from Ronco del Gnemiz, and there is also a tenuous connection with the very high end Miani cuvée, which is now rather expensive – some grapes come from this source on occasion as well.

The fruit comes, geographically speaking, from Buttrio, Rosazzo and San Zuan, so close to the Roche Manzoni near the Slovenian border. Different wines appear under this label each vintage depending on what grapes become available. The Chardonnay cuvée has no pretentions to seriousness. In fact, it’s quite light on its feet, despite a 13% tag on the label. However, it does combine a mountain freshness (which it fairly oozes with), alongside a salinity which could fool you into believing an influence from the Adriatic. The overriding impressions are of sweet lemon citrus and honeysuckle. For around the £18 mark it certainly delivers real value for money. The Ronco del Gnemiz estate Chardonnay can be had, by the way, from a retailer near me, for £62.50.

Imported by Astrum, purchased at (in fact, recommended by) The Solent Cellar.


I sadly have to admit that the Côte d’Or’s Premier Cru wines are now almost beyond the pocket of someone who now devotes all his time to writing about wine rather than earning a proper living, and I’ve rather cut off the “freebie” route in my desire to only write about wines I truly like a lot. I have to rely on that thing we call “the cellar” – thank goodness I have one. There are still some bottles left of older vintages, but they are diminishing. Mind you, Andrew Neilsen did say it was a while since he’d drunk a ’12 when he saw my post on Instagram, so maybe he’s not so well endowed with his older vintages too?

Boucherottes is what I call one of those classic Beaune Premiers. Back when I drank Burgundy with greater frequency Beaune was considered largely downmarket by the connoisseurs, with a few notable exceptions. Certainly, compared to the famous villages of the Côte-de-Nuits, and even compared to the red wine 1er Crus of neighbouring Volnay and Pommard. But I always loved the smooth sensuality yet unprepossessing restraint of some good Beaunes from decent vintages, exemplified in my purchases of Jadot’s “Les Ursulles”.

I guess I’d never tried a Beaune Boucherottes until I bought a six-pack of Andrew’s 2011 vintage but this following year has always seemed, at least to my palate, a little more open for business. This is why it might surprise some that it’s still going strong.

You get silky-smooth Pinot fruit with hints of sous-bois development. One might call it suave, intended as a compliment. Nice length yet not a shouty wine at all. Modern winemaking but with an old-fashioned sensibility, perhaps. It shows how good a winemaker Andrew was even way back then. It was also affordable for mere mortals in multiple-bottle quantities. I don’t begrudge Andrew what he charges today, taking account of costs, and I still think this cuvée is very good value indeed. We can only feel lucky he still has access to the fruit.

Purchased direct from Le Grappin on release.

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Recent Wines July 2021 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

In the first half of July, I crawled into a corner of European wine which spilt out a little from Trink Magazine’s “umlaut wines” domain, but only just. I think the eight wines I’ve written about here are perfect for summer, not that the weather here in the South of England was always everything one might wish for during these two weeks. For those who crave a little more diversity, you will find that in Part 2, and for those who are with me on this page, so to speak, there will also be a little more of the same.

We begin in Hungary, before travelling to Austria’s Burgenland, Baden in Germany and French-speaking Switzerland. Then we try two more German wines before a return to Burgenland, finally finishing back in Switzerland, but this time in a rarely seen part of Deutschschweiz.


This is my last bottle of Annamária’s wine until the 2020 vintage arrives in the UK, hopefully in early autumn (although with the current delays to delivery one cannot be certain). I’m almost certainly shooting myself in the foot to say this, but famed as I am for my drinking diversity, this is one of the few producers I would (indeed will) devote a whole order to when they do arrive.

Eastern Accents blends 70% Hárslevelu with 30% Királyleányka from Annamária’s organic vineyards at Barabás, close to the Ukrainian border, on the Northern Great Plain. The vines average between forty and sixty years of age. The first variety is macerated on skins for five days, whilst the second sees a two-week semi-carbonic maceration.

The result is so fresh and fruity, with good acidity. This is balanced by texture from the maceration on the skins. No wood is used for this cuvée. What you get is an orange or amber wine, but not the ponderous tannic version. This is lively but with bite. It’s a pure joy to drink and at just 12% abv, very easy to drink too. All in all, a remarkable producer who is beginning to find a cult following and not just in the UK.

Imported by Basket Press Wines.

PUSZTA LIBRE 2020, CLAUS PREISINGER (Burgenland, Austria)

Claus sits like a lord surveying his domain from the balcony terrace of his ultra-modern winery above Gols at the northern end of the Neusiedlersee. It’s somewhere I had hoped to be at some point this year…such is Covid life. Claus makes some very serious wines, and some tasty varietals lower down the pecking order, but this cuvée is just a marvel of simplicity, to be drunk by folks with joy in their hearts, not the most serious of wine collector types.

Puszta Libre is a life-affirming, zippy red blend, of Zweigelt and St-Laurent. There’s nothing added here, not even sulphur. You serve it cold as a beer and drink it like fruit juice (and with 11.5% alcohol, that’s not difficult). One of the vendors says “this wine may be finished before you open it”. Well put. It won’t last long, and frankly, with a wine like this, that is all you need to know.

Imported by Newcomer Wines, this bottle purchased from Littlewine. Just £19!


Florian Moll and Sven Enderle farm at Münchweier, on rich limestone and sandstone soils on the slopes below Baden’s Black Forest. Working together since 2007, they have made a name as two of the rising stars of German Pinot Noir, using a low intervention approach, transforming some of the region’s oldest Pinot vines into quite spectacular wines, if perhaps unfairly under the radar in the UK market.

Whilst many might ignore their Rosé, that would be a big mistake. Pinot Noir can make exceptional pink wines, especially when they are not a mere afterthought. This version is darker in colour than what has become fashionable for Rosé these days. In fact, I’ve seen lighter colour in some reds. It’s also a wine which hits 13% abv, making this very much a gourmand wine, not a “slurp in the sun” effort.

The wine is clearly Pinot, both on nose and palate. The fruit is built around a core of mineral acidity which gives it a “rosé” character, and it’s deceptively easy to drink, despite the alcohol level. Highly recommended for something a little different, especially for those who believe Rosé is not just for summer.

Another wine available via the Newcomer Wines/Littlewine combo.

CHASSELAS 2019 “VIN DE PAYS”, CAVE DE LA CÔTE (Vaud, Switzerland)

The Cave de la Côte is based at Tolochenaz, near Morges, just west of Lausanne on the north shore of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva). They are a large co-operative operation and farm, via their members, vineyards stretching all along this part of the Vaud, towards Geneva. For many Swiss wine snobs, they might say that this comes from the “wrong side” of Lausanne, the steeply terraced vineyards of Lavaux, to the east of the city, having somewhat more kudos. This is not the point.

In 2003 this adventurous large co-operative appointed Chilean winemaker Rodrigo Banto as Chief Winemaker and he has transformed the operation here into almost certainly the best co-op in the Canton of Vaud, and one of the best in the whole of Switzerland. His major contribution was to change the mindset whereby the winemakers worked with whatever fruit came in. By working alongside growers in the vines, quality has been transformed.

I won’t pretend this particular bottle is more than an easy-going co-operative wine, albeit one that has been well made. It’s flinty, pebbly, herbal. It can work as a food wine, but it makes an even better aperitif. Whenever we visit Geneva friends we always sit down before dinner with a civilised bowl of nuts and a bottle of light white wine, which is most often a Chasselas from one of the villages on La Côte. There’s zip, a CO2 prickle and apple freshness, with a touch of peach blossom. The finish has a savoury twist.

Whilst I recommend this as an aperitif wine, it went well on this occasion with a Japanese-style vegetable curry. In some ways it’s the essence of drinkable Swiss wine, updated with modern winemaking methods and without the outrageously high yields of old. It has the rare quality found in so few Swiss wines as well – affordability. Joelle at Alpine Wines says “this is the best entry-level Chasselas we could find” and I don’t doubt her. At £16.20 surely worth a try?

Rodrigo has introduced a range of natural wines, which go under the label “Nu”. These will cost a little more and can be had from the same importer as this wine in the UK for closer to £25. I shall be featuring another very interesting wine from this co-op in Part 2. There’s enough interest in Swiss wine to last a lifetime and I can’t understand why more wine lovers don’t make the effort to explore them.

The Cave de la Côte is imported by Alpine Wines but a few of their wines are increasingly found distributed by Alpine in several small independents who want the odd Swiss wine to enliven their list. I grabbed this from Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton. It may currently be out of stock but Joelle writes that more is expected soon. Equally, try The Solent Cellar or contact Joelle at Alpine for stockists.


I won’t re-introduce the Trossens. I’ve posted and written about plenty of their wines before. They are as legend in the Mosel as are the likes of Ganevat in Jura, at least among lovers of natural wines. This long-biodynamic estate is based at Kinheim in the Central Mosel. The couple have been farming here without chemical inputs since the 1970s, using no added sulphur for the past decade. Their purest of pure Rieslings have been an inspiration to other producers for a long time, and the other varieties they grow are certainly not inferior in my opinion.

They cultivate their Riesling vines on the grey and blue slate of what were once highly unfashionable slopes, and certainly a terrain which is difficult and back-breaking to work. The key to their success is old vine stock, biodynamic cultivation and pretty much zero intervention in the winery. Perhaps as important to Rudolf is the spiritual side of wine, something I can see he deeply appreciates as a farmer of vines. I have a great deal of admiration for all of his wider philosophical beliefs and I admit that helps me appreciate the wines more.

Schieferblume blends Riesling from three sites, translating the slate terroir into a summer meadow with a solitary peach tree providing aromatic shade in the glass. Just off-dry to my palate, it is vibrant, harmonious and drinking so well. When I placed my last mixed order, it was hard to resist getting more of this, though in the end I opted for something “Trossen” I had not tried. But frankly, Rudi can’t fail!

Predictably another import from Newcomer Wines, but as for availability, it’s possible that only Littlewine has some left at present.


If you want a regular buy Pinot from Germany, this is one to consider. The region of Württemburg is one better known for mixed farming than for vine specialisation, and perhaps it took a couple whose parents were not winemakers to specialise here, at Vaihingen/Roßwag, 30km northwest of Stuttgart. Hannes Hoffmann and Olympia Samara farm four hectares on steep terraced slopes on a bend above the River Enz. They may not have had family working in wine, but Olympia has worked with Claus Preisinger and Hannes with Dirk Niepoort.

The vines are old but they are vinified rather simply. Some destemmed bunches and some whole bunches infuse gently for three-to-four weeks, ensuring minimal leaching of tannins from the skins, but not minimal flavour. Ageing consists of ten months in large old oak before bottling, of course without fining or filtration. Just a minimal amount of sulphur is added at this stage.

The initial impression is of bright cherry and raspberry fruit with a reasonable level of concentrated fruit acids. Of the last bottle I drank (July 2020), I said “sings like a choir of angels”. Okay, that’s quite florid for me (actually, I may have been quoting someone else), but boy this is good. This bottle, a year on, has greater depth, perhaps with slightly less vivacity, but it’s still fabulous.

Newcomer Wines/Littlewine. A mere £26 for a bottle of joy.


This is another estate in the blessed location of Gols, this time with a winery on the western edge of the village. Stefanie, Susanne and Georg make wines of which I would say their greatest quality, across the range, is excitement. This comes through a lack of fear when it comes to experimentation, but this is backed with a rather quiet meticulous attention to detail. This has been achieved through truly getting to know their vines and terroir before experimenting. For the Renner family, soil health is key and it shows in their wines.

We have here a pink wine which has a little age. To be honest I was surprised when I saw the vintage because I’ve not had the bottle “that long”. The current vintage in the UK appears to be 2019. The wine is something of an old friend. The blend is around 70% Zweigelt and 30% Blaufränkisch, direct-pressed. The juice is aged eight months on lees in used barriques.

Biodynamic farming and minimum intervention create a perfect summer wine. Even now, this older vintage tastes of strawberries and cream with a raspberry acidity peeking through. It’s smooth, dry, has a little lees-induced texture and is the colour of strawberry juice. Still working its magic.

The 2019 will set you back £24 from Littlewine and is also available from Newcomer Wines.

RÄUSCHLING 2018, BECHTEL WEINE (Eglisau, Switzerland)

Eglisau is hardly a famous region for viticulture, even in Switzerland, yet within its fifteen hectares of vines planted north of both Zurich and the Rhine, it is home to two somewhat famous winemakers. One is the retiring Urs Pircher, the other is a rising star of Swiss wine, Mathias Bechtel.

Mathias swept to fame as a member of the influential Junge Schweiz-Neue Winzer movement, before he started to take home the big prizes. His small estate occupies land rising to 470 masl, on mostly marine deposits covered with river sand and gravels, rising above the river and sheltered by forest. Like many young winzer without family vines to inherit, he started out with a rented plot in 2014 and didn’t have a proper winery until the 2019 vintage. Nevertheless, he still managed a “Grand Gold Medal” for his 2015 Pinot Noir in the “Mondial des Pinots 2017”. Much of his wine is currently made from bought-in grapes whilst he is reorganising his small vine holdings, according to Dennis Lapuyade ( in an excellent article about Räuschling, highly recommended).

Räuschling is an old Swiss-German variety, at one time also common in parts of Alsace, and once very much seen as a workhorse grape for mass produced jug wines. It’s a cross between Gouais Blanc (know as Gwäss in Eastern Switzerland) and the Jura’s Savagnin variety. I may be wrong, but I don’t think you’ll find it, certainly not in commercial quantity, very far from Zurich nowadays.

So how come a rising star is concentrating on a variety not known for making serious wines? The truth is, that as with many other so-called lesser varieties, it’s all down to yields, care in the vineyard, and attention to detail in the winery. When an effort is made, Räuschling can produce aromatic dry white wines with a little more fat on the bone, and with a capacity to age to greater complexity.

This is exactly what Mathias Bechtel achieves here, something considered atypical (although neighbour and mentor Urs Pircher’s Räuschling is of equal fame, but I have sadly never tasted it). There’s a crispness, but allied to something more complex, rounded out via ageing on lees in acacia wood. Do you know arrowroot biscuit? It’s here. There’s also a little stone fruit and pear. Altogether very much my kind of white. It’s just a little different, and for me that adds to the excitement.

We often talk about how beautiful Swiss vineyards can be, focusing on the terraces of Lavaux, or the Alpine slopes of the Valais. I’ve never visited Eglisau but from photographs this tiny enclave above the Rhine looks equally idyllic. I wonder whether I might get there one day?

Whilst Räuschling is undergoing a bit of a revival, the best is not remotely cheap as compared to the wines of old. Alpine Wines is the importer and they list this for £37.45, which is about 25% more expensive than Mathias’s possibly better-known red wines. However, it is very good and quite uniquely so for a wine made from this variety. For the adventurous, perhaps, but only because of the price. You won’t find the wine itself in the least bit disturbing. On the contrary. To all Fall fans, Räuschling Rumble!

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Intoxicating by Max Allen (Book Review): Ten drinks that shaped Australia

From the late 1980s onwards, I became increasingly interested in Australian wine. I used to think I liked some cool wines, but what transformed my knowledge of the country, by its focus on Australia’s artisan producers, was a book I’ve mentioned many times. Max Allen’s “The Future Makers” (Hardie Grant Books, 2010) is a big old tome, and I could not be more grateful for the friend who gave it to me as a present, sending it via his uncle, from Melbourne. It must have taken up a sizeable part of his luggage allowance. I would argue that there still is no better book on Australian wine, especially if you are interested in smaller, low intervention producers. Exactly the same producers who were at that time beginning to be imported into the UK.

We jump forward a decade, to the summer of 2020, and I am now following Max on social media, and I see that he’s a new book due out, called “Intoxicating: Ten Drinks That Shaped Australia”. Published by Thames & Hudson Australia, it is inexplicably not available for direct sale in the UK and this time I was blessed with help from a generous acquaintance in New Zealand, who I know from Tom Cannavan’s Wine Pages Forum. This very kind man sent a copy over with his wife, who whilst visiting family here posted it on to me around a month ago. Thankfully, Intoxicating is available in paperback, running to around 250 pages, but still, the generosity of people who share a love of wine knows no bounds (even if it took up rather less space in the suitcase).

The book is divided into ten chapters, each one highlighting a drink which has a place in Australian history and folk lore. You certainly don’t need to know every drink, nor necessarily want to drink it, to be drawn into this incredibly well researched and totally enjoyable book. Allen’s style is always engaging and he matches this with very deep knowledge, not bad for a guy who was originally born in England, though benefiting from Australian family until he moved out there in (I think) his twenties.

If the book gives a nod towards a chronology, the first chapter starts us off before the colonial period. What Allen does immediately is dispel the myth that alcohol was unknown to the indigenous people before the British introduced it. In particular, he introduces Way-a-linah, fermented from the sap of a tree known as the cider gum. The fermented sap produces (still) a mildly alcoholic beverage which apparently does taste a little like mild cider. Sadly, this tradition is at risk from climate change. The trees are very sensitive to too much heat so that even the parts of Tasmania where the trees are most prolific are at risk of becoming too warm.

As you read the book you will, I hope, be pleasantly surprised that one of several strands which run through it looks at issues around alcohol in relation to the original inhabitants of the continent, especially how the narrative has been shaped by the colonial masters to portray the aboriginals as drunkards and unable to consume alcohol without negative effects. That’s a narrative which completely ignores one place of alcohol in our own culture, as a crutch for people who have been deprived of hope. For native Australians, that deprivation has been of more than just hope. It has been of land, identity and soul.

When the first settlers arrived, life was pretty tough…and not just for the convicts. Failing to learn from those already farming the land, the British came close to starvation, but they soon sorted out their priorities and established (via one particular regiment) a spirits-racket. The drink of choice was rum, though not rum as we know it. Rum brought into Australia came mostly from Brazil. It wasn’t the golden spirit distilled from molasses we enjoy today, but aguardente, distilled from sugar cane juice. In Portuguese it means “burning water”.

The more adventurous reader might attempt to make a modern version of a drink invented by Colonel Thomas Davey, Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, in 1815. It’s a blend of beer, aguardente rum, brandy, sugar syrup and lime juice. It went by the name of “Blow My Skull”.

Chapter Three covers peach cyder. Actually, Allen takes us on a journey around the traditional tipple of many of the different immigrant populations into Australia, but peach cyder became a popular drink due to a surfeit of peaches and as the author makes his own apple cider, he gives it a go. It’s a nice story, which I won’t spoil, except to state something we all know. Peaches can make a fine distillate.

It might surprise some that Champagne not only made its way to Australia, but it did so in some quantity. Even more surprising is who drank it. We read the story of Mrs Bond’s brothel, founded in Melbourne in the 1850s, where archaeology finds Champagne bottles outnumber any other type of drink by many times (along with hundreds of oyster shells). The title of the chapter is “The Salthouse Champagne”, which refers to the wreck of The William Salthouse, which sank in the treacherous entrance to Port Phillip Bay in 1839. Some bottles were retrieved in 1982 and, in 1994, subsequently tasted. James Halliday was on hand to write about it in the Weekend Australian, describing them, according to Allen, as “particularly notable”.

From here on in we begin to read about drinks we’ve probably heard of, if not always tasted. Aussie classics like Seppelt’s Angaston Bitters, 1930 Dalwood Cabernet (the birth of Australian Fine Wine), Victoria Bitter (a beer with which I have had my own personal relationship), and McWilliams Port. Although you will rightly assume that the author touches on the historical importance of fortified wine in Australia’s drinks history, this particular chapter provides an interesting foray into “aboriginal drinking” and the Native Australians’ relationship with grog.

The penultimate chapter brings us up to date. Kanga Rouge was not part of the famous Monty Python sketch, it really existed. Trouble is, the wine was a joke. But the 1970s saw the beginning of a revolution in Australian wine, a revolution which led to popularity in the UK beyond the dreams of the corporates who eventually began to dominate Australian Wine. In the late 1980s and early 1990s (if my recollections are accurate), a BBC2 programme called “Food and Drink” had millions of viewers, my very young self being one of them.

Oz Clarke and Jilly Goolden introduced us to wines bursting with Australian sunshine, ripe fruit seasoned with oak (mostly real oak in those early days rather than chips or essence). We never looked back, or at least we didn’t for about a decade. I recall vividly the first bottle of Aussie Chardonnay I purchased (Rosemount), who we drank it with and the look on our faces. Rosemount was very soon joined by Penfolds in my wine racks, which made the classic reds of South Australia, from Grange at the top all the way down. We will come back to Penfolds.

Some think we in Great Britain are cheapskates. The story of Australian wine in the UK certainly does nothing to dispel that suggestion. A mass market for Aussie sunshine was established, but over the years that sunshine fell in value, especially to the supermarket buyers who saw Australian wine as a cheap drink to market to the masses in quantity.

When wine from countries like South Africa, Chile and Argentina became available for even less money, any pretence at loyalty evaporated. The market is king, always the problem for a near industrial product, much of it arriving in tankers to be bottled at the docks, made by increasingly large corporates. The artisans Max Allen wrote about in “The Future Makers” still found a market in the UK, albeit a niche one, but certainly a decreasing one too.

Australia has since found its saviour (perhaps) elsewhere, in China. In 1995 Allen quotes figures showing exports of wine to China were a mere 1% of that exported to the UK. In 2019, he says, wine exports to China were 150 million litres, worth $1.2 billion. Staggering, and dwarfing the relatively miniscule quantities of Aussie wines which now come our way.

I recently read that yet another name synonymous with Australian wine in this country, Brown Brothers, had decided to exit the UK market completely. Just a few years ago I could go to the annual “Australia Day” trade tasting in London and taste well over twenty wines from this large family company.

Ironically it appears that Penfolds has, after an absence of many years, made a comeback here. I think Majestic Wine lists around nine lines, although not all the once-famous “bins” of old. But Australian wine is changing at the corporate level.

Christopher Rawson Penfold and his wife planted their original Magill Estate at the foot of the Mount Lofty Ranges, outside Adelaide, in 1844, thus starting what became a great Australian tradition by which doctors who believed in the health benefits of red wine became the producers of some of the country’s finest labels.

Since the 1840s Penfolds has gone through so many owners, it really is a lesson in the corporate world of Aussie wine. Southcorp…Fosters…Treasury Wine Estates. Penfolds may be back in the UK, I’d quite like to know how that happened. But like all of Australian corporate wine, the real market is seen as China. However, markets come and go. At the bottom of the Penfolds range has long been a wine named, in a way, after the company’s founder (via the cottage on his estate). It’s called Rawson’s Retreat. I’m sure you’ve heard of it? If I remember correctly, it was a single red blend, although now it’s a brand with several product lines.

Anyway, I recently read (on Vino Joy News, a site dedicated to China’s wine market) that Rawson’s Retreat destined for China will now contain wine sourced in South Africa. This is admittedly mainly down to the current spat between the two countries which has led to a 218% tariff being imposed on Australian wine exports to China. I am led to believe that the Rawson’s Retreat you can buy for £5 in some UK supermarkets will not move in the same direction, or maybe not yet, not that I imagine too many readers of Wideworldofwine will be overly concerned.

Perhaps the reappearance of Penfolds in the UK might just be dipping a toe back into an old market, just in case, although I know that China’s wealthiest wine lovers won’t be unduly hit by 218% worth of taxes on their Grange. Such taxes ultimately only benefit the super-wealthy because they decrease the competition from plebs like me for the unicorns.

The final chapter of Intoxicating brings us back, in a fascinating way, to what the future might hold, not in terms of markets so much as in terms of what gets made. This chapter looks at (inter alia) wine from native grapes. Yes, there are native Australian grapes. Of course, all the vinifera vines were brought to Australia mostly from Europe and The Cape. That is well documented. What even few wine experts in Australia know is that there are native species.

There’s a lovely story in there, which I won’t narrate, but it ties everything together. It embodies a spirit of adventure, an open mind, and a desire to look at Australian drinks culture with a much wider perspective than that of the colonial boozer and his descendants. What after all, as the author points out, is the difference between the French/European concept of terroir and the aboriginal “connection to country”? In sub-titling the last chapter “Drinking the Future” the author acknowledges that in a country populated for a couple of centuries by invaders who paid scant regard to the agriculture of its native inhabitants…until now…when it comes to alcoholic beverages, there’s “so much more to learn”.

I would suggest that for anyone with the slightest interest in Aussie booze, or indeed in Australia and its culture, this book makes essential reading. Although I said that the book is not available in the UK, that is not completely true. Amazon has it as an e-book for Kindle (£12.10) and also seems to be listing (as of Tuesday, at 16.25) a single copy from an Amazon Seller, second hand, for £23.93 (as of 21 July).

A Kindle edition of The Future Makers is also available (£10).

There’s one other book I would say is essential reading if you want to expand your understanding of Aboriginal Culture in Australia. It’s one of the most famous books to come out of the country in the past decade, so I apologise to the many readers who will know it.

Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe (Magabala Books 2014, new edn 2018) is a well written but scholarly refutation of the “hunter-gatherer” tag which, was always applied to Australia’s Aboriginal peoples. If you suggest a people does not have a settled status on the land it becomes so much easier to dispossess them of it, but aside from this, Pascoe shows that we can learn a great deal from Aboriginal wisdom, especially when it comes to regenerative agriculture and the creation of a balanced ecology in a time of climate crisis and change. So much of what he discusses is as applicable to viticulture as to all other forms of agriculture in Australia.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Australian Wine, Wine, Wine Books, Wine Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Recent Wines June 2021 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

Part Two of June’s wines begins with a country I have drunk too little of since our Lockdowns began. I hope to be purchasing some more Georgians this summer. Next up, two English wines in a row before a first-time experience for me, a Portuguese Petnat. Then we head a long way east, into Austria (two wines, both sensational), Czechia and Germany, parts of Europe which appear to feature strongly as I drink my way through July as well. Although these articles are written to highlight the most interesting wines drunk at home during the month, I will end June with a brief mention of a couple of bottles we drank in a restaurant on the very last day of the month…because I have to!


If American painter, John Wurdeman, is the outsider who brought international attention to Georgian wine via his Pheasant’s Tears winery in Signaghi, in the Kakheti Region of Eastern Georgia, Ramaz Nikoladze is the Georgian who became an unlikely ambassador for his country, via his hooking up in the mid-2000s with the Slow Food Movement in Turin. He went on to open Tblisi’s famous natural wine bar, Ghvino Underground, and has now done so much more for his country, including as founder of “Qvevri Renaissance”.

It all began when a Japanese journalist suggested that his traditionally made Qvevri wines were worthy of Slow Food’s attention. Ramaz is unusual, in that the Qvevri tradition had not been quite as prevalent in the Central region of Imereti as it was and still is in Eastern Georgia. Also, quite unusually, his clay vessels were buried out in the open rather than in a winery, though they now live indoors since these past five or six years.

This particular wine is a little different though. Ramaz makes it from Tsolikouri vines owned by his uncle in Lekhumi, less than a hectare with an age range of thirty to one hundred years old, planted on mainly limestone soils. There is no skin contact here and the grapes are pressed directly into qvevri (no stems). Fermentation lasted around eighteen days using indigenous yeasts, and then the juice spent six months in the same qvevri, before racking into clean ones before bottling.

The result is very clean, fresh and zippy. It might shock you if you are expecting an “orange” wine. However, I guarantee you will be stunned…in a good way…by its vivacity. So alive. Another side of Georgian qvevri winemaking, equally brilliant.

Tsolikouri has always been the most planted variety in Western Georgia, and as such was much prized for its supposed quality in the former Soviet Union, no matter how industrial its production may have been back then. Apparently, it was Stalin’s favourite grape variety. Please don’t let that put you off. It’s imported by Les Caves de Pyrene. This wine has a mega reputation in some quarters and a lot of people want a bottle. I have no idea what the current Tsar thinks of it, probably not a lot, Georgia being far from his favourite country.


Tim Phillips makes this play on Tom Phillips’s “A Humument” from vines planted in his walled vineyard near Lymington. This brick-walled site protects the vines enough here to ripen Sauvignon, and even Riesling, like nowhere else I know in the UK. The site really is something of a paradise. Anyway, if you recall, it was English Wine Week back in late June, so this bottle seemed highly appropriate.

Tim’s wines generally benefit from time. He won’t release wines before he deems them ready, this being just one more detail in a whole string of quality-focused decisions which inform the winemaking of this perfectionist. The nose is clean with notes of gooseberry and nettles. There’s sufficient acidity to suggest holding this a little longer, maybe another year. Nevertheless, it’s already quite astonishing.

You get a blend of purity and intensity. The freshness explodes on the tongue. You could almost imagine the fruit was distilled, not fermented. It has that kind of pure essence which you’d expect from an eau de vie, except without the alcohol (Tim’s wine has 11% abv). It sits on the tongue for a very long time. If you appreciate acidity as the defining core of a wine, you’ll love this, a wine as lovely as its label.

Tim’s wines are in remarkably short supply. They are occasionally available from Les Caves de Pyrene, and I’ve seen the 2017 currently on the Littlewine site (a good bet for drinking sooner than the 2018, perhaps). The Solent Cellar, Tim’s local indie wine merchant, often has a few bottles when he releases something.


We continued English Wine Week with another of England’s most innovative artisan winemakers, Ben Walgate. Tillingham is his rather smart project (vineyards, hotel with rooms, restaurants on site) just north of Rye, close to the Kent border and within sight of the Sussex coast. Tillingham is becoming the wine tourism destination, so much so that following significant attention from the national press, I was unable to book a stay there. They are apparently full for seemingly some months to come.

Nevertheless, long time readers will be aware that I have followed this project from the beginning, most importantly watching the wines themselves evolve. There are a host of different cuvées to select from every year, including some spectacularly good wines with bubbles, but End Grain is a favourite. It’s a still wine made from a base of Ortega (28%), Madeline Angevine (33%), and Bacchus (36%) with a tiny 3% of Müller-Thurgau.

The key to this blend is skin contact. Ten days for the Ortega, less for the Madeline Angevine and Bacchus. The overall ageing and blending sounds way too complicated to elaborate in detail. There’s a little time spent in oak for part of the blend, stainless steel for other mixed parts, but the Ortega component spends longer in concrete vat before all four varieties are blended before bottling without fining/filtration and just a tiny addition of sulphur.

The wine is cloudy, the colour of “Robinson’s Lemon Barley” for all old-school Wimbledon fans. The fruit component, which combines with the acidity, is beautiful elderflower and lemon zest. This rides on a tasty salinity, all of which quench the thirst, but the whole wine is grounded on the texture added from the skin contact, not too much so that the balance is maintained even at a low 10% abv. Not one for the “serious-minded” drinker. You need a lighter soul and a sense of joy. Drink on a warm day, outdoors if possible.

As with Tim Phillips’s wines, you sometimes need to hunt for them. Les Caves, and a selection of independent retailers they supply, will often have them. I have also seen some Tillingham bottles on (though a search today found none). But they are fashionable, though more is available and more widely than in the case of the Charlie Herring Wines.

PET-NAT ROSÉ 2020, QUINTA DA RAZA (Minho, Portugal)

Quinta da Raza is a Vinho Verde specialist, established at the end of the eighteenth century, whose wines I have never come across before, but this bottle was recommended by a couple of the guys at The Solent Cellar in Lymington. It’s a co-fermented cuvée of Vinhão and Padeiro grown at around 250 masl in the sub-region of Celorico do Basto, in the far south of Minho’s Vinho Verde zone.

Vinification uses wild yeasts for a spontaneous ferment, with the light pink colour coming from the Vinhão without extraction. The partner variety, Padeiro, gives the wine its aromatics. These are fresh red fruits, raspberry and strawberry, with a nice brambley edge on the finish. You’d say it’s a simple wine, mostly on its fruit, although the bottle contains the lees which, as with most petnat wines, are not disgorged, and these give just a touch of texture. Altogether rather nice, a lovely picnic or beach wine. Super-refreshing, quite tight, lots of bubbles and a frothy mousse.

This wine is imported by Raymond Reynolds. If you are in Portugal you can, allegedly, purchase this for 9€. Here you will have to pay British prices, more than twice that, but we have to accept these sad facts of life and live with it. It is still, within a UK context, good value.

WEISZE FREYHEIT 2017, HEINRICH (Burgenland, Austria)

There are few places on this planet where I would rather be than on the shores of the Neusiedlersee, and naturally Gols would be where I’d wish to spend much of my time. There’s just something about this relatively unprepossessing place that produces an unusually large concentration of very fine winzer and winzerin, even for this prolific part of Austria. Prolific that is in terms of fine wines and very fine natural wines at that.

Gernot and Heike Heinrich took over the family winery in 1985, and they farm around ninety hectares, quite a large holding in the region. They are noted proponents of biodynamics, and indeed were founding members of “Respekt”, an Austrian biodynamic certification body.

The wine is called “white freedom”, which of course refers to both the low intervention approach they follow, and their freedom to create the wine exactly as they would wish. The main variety in the wine is Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), grown on fossil-rich limestone soils with sandstone and mica-schist. To this is added just 3% of Muskat Ottonel for aromatics. Around 25% of the juice sees a fortnight’s skin contact, but ageing on lees for 21 months after fermentation, in large used oak, adds to the textural qualities here.

The bouquet strikes a first note of citrus, but the palate is quite different, with, for me, peach and Galia melon. The acids are very fruity, with a hint of sharpness but overall rounded and softened. You get texture but not too much, it’s well integrated. But such words are dull…this wine is just transformative and transcendental, really something special. I poured a taste whilst cooking and immediately filled the glass on the first sip. I drink a lot of really good wines but this is one which is just that few centimetres taller than most. Next level, so to speak. No added sulphur either.

Heinrich is imported by Indigo Wines. They may be available retail via their “The Sorting Table” web shop.


Out of all the wines I’ve enjoyed from the Czech Republic over the past few years, this “unicorn” wine has to be the most unique. Petr Nejedlík is based in the Moravian village of Novy Saldorf, on the southeastern edge of the Podyji National Park. He farms without using any chemical treatments on his 15 hectares of vines.

The grapes used in this cosmopolitan blend are Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, grown on granite, sand, silex and quartz. The winemaking is much less “international”, though. It’s a rare expression of Czech qvevri vinification. Petr uses vessels imported directly from one of Georgia’s most acclaimed qvevri makers.

Initially you will get a real sense of Fino Sherry on the nose. This broadens out as the wine warms in the glass and on the palate into something akin to dry orange marmalade, whilst retaining the salinity you will have encountered in the bouquet. The wine is still very fresh, even after a decade, though I’m not sure how recently it was bottled from the qvevris.

This is one of those wines which will appeal very much to lovers of Vin Jaune, although it is, of course, quite different. It transcends what anyone would expect, as it does any old-fashioned notions of quality. It’s just complex and long and rather wonderful. I drank my first bottle of this back in December 2019, and promptly made it my “skin contact WOTY”. If anything, this second bottle, drunk a year and a half later, was even better than I remember it. This is good…shhhh! A bargain at £35 in my very humble opinion.

Basket Press imports. No idea how much, if any, they have left. It’s certainly still up on their web site.


Franz and Christine Strohmeier make astonishingly good natural wines at St Stefan ob Stainz in that part of Southern Austria known as Weststeiermark, famous for its rare grape variety, Blauer Wildbacher. There are just over 330 ha of this variety, almost unique to this sub-region, but the grape comprises around 60% of the 500+ hectares planted here.

The Strohmeiers warrant a mere four lines and two words in Stephen Brook’s first edition of The Wines of Austria (Infinite Ideas, 2016), yet ask any wine lover who knows the region and they will be among the first artisan winemakers to get a mention.

Blauer Wildbacher makes Schilcher, often interestingly described as a Rosé. Schilchersekt, in its sparkling form, is quite popular in Vienna and beyond, but this wine is made “frizzante”, less pressure and fewer bubbles. I personally find this style closest to my taste on account of having just the right amount of fizz for this fairly uncompromising variety (which reminds me loosely of some of the red frizzante wines I’ve drunk in Piemonte and Emilia-Romagna).

The vines are planted on what the locals call “opok” soils. They look just like schist/slate but are in fact a mix of clay and silt, which you may know from Maria and Sepp Muster’s famous “Vom Opok” Sauvignon Blancs. The Blauer Wildbacher grapes see a ten-hour maceration, giving the wine a rust colour. The second fermentation in bottle gives the wine its bubbles and gentle sparkle, rather like a petnat.

The wine seems to embody every taste sensation going. “Red fruits and girders” wouldn’t be too outrageous. Someone called it “dry Irn-Bru” but that might be a cultural reference too far for non-Brits/Scots. The palate has fruit wrapped around the acidity, though which fruit(s) exactly, I can’t say. The finish is dry, a little salty and mineral in texture. It can be served cloudy, using the dead yeasts in the bottle, but I would recommend trying a glass where the bottle has been stood up…clear before cloudy, just to see that remarkable colour. Thereafter, give it a gentle shake.

I’m not going to lie, I praised this bottle on Instagram and immediately worried it would sell out, after the feedback, so I ordered some more, getting in before anyone reads this and shares my enthusiasm. The friends we shared it with had never tried Schilcher in any form before (oh my!) and I think they rather liked it. Though be warned, my love of Austrian consumables probably goes beyond what is deemed normal in Great Britain.

Both Littlewine and Newcomer Wines stock Strohmeier in the UK.


Going classic here to prove a point. If you are going to buy these wines, give them a chance to mature. For many, this Bernkastel-Wehlen estate is the top of the pile in the Mosel. For others who don’t really get these wines, and probably drink them too young, they look on somewhat nonplussed. Stephan Reinhardt in The Finest Wines of Germany (Aurum Press, 2012) says “To drink a Riesling from Joh Jos Prüm is to enjoy a springtime of the heart and mind”.

The Sonnenuhr site at Wehlen is a steep slope on the Bernkastel side of the river, bookmarked by the very obvious sundial on the cliff face from which it takes its name (best seen from the opposite bank, on which you may well be cycling if you hired your bicycle over the bridge in Kues and are pedalling along the Mosel cycle trail).

The vintage in 2009 was unquestionably warm here, in fact hot and dry. It had the potential for producing wines of greatness. This Spätlese is quite delicate for a year like this, but it also has breadth and a lot of depth. The floral bouquet emphasises what I mean by delicate. It’s nose-fillingly beautiful, just to smell it. There’s no petrol. The palate is dryer than you might think, especially the way the spätlesen have been going (is 2020 going to prove an exception?). The palate seems to me to have a combination of brioche and mellow lime. There’s such length here, I can’t describe how long it stays in the mouth. If this isn’t fine wine, I’m not sure what is. A feast for all the senses.

This was purchased from The Sampler a very long time ago.

I mentioned that I wanted to highlight a couple of wines we drank in a restaurant. That restaurant was Plateau in Brighton, one of my favourite places before Covid, but this was our first time there since March 2020. I was struck by how the food was even better than ever. A sad reflection of our times is the fact that the wine list (including a separate list now called “unicorns”) was a little smaller than before, but what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality.

We began with a bottle of Joiseph “Fogosch” 2019, Luka’s glorious Grüner Veltliner from Jois in Burgenland. After glugging that rather swiftly, we moved on to Sin Titulo 2018 from Victoria Torres Pecis on La Palma (Canary Islands). This light red is as amazing as the Fogosch white and I couldn’t have chosen two more exciting bottles. Although this cuvée changes with the vintage (2016 was white, but 2017 was a red made from Negramoll), I am assuming from the taste that this was also made from Negramoll? I was brought down to earth when told that the “unicorn wines” are not available for takeaway – I really wanted that red. Sic transit gloria mundi. Both wines are coincidentally imported by Modal Wines. I could not recommend these, and indeed all of the wines made by these two “star producers”, more highly.

Posted in biodynamic wine, English Wine, Natural Wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Recent Wines June 2021 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

I always try to emphasise that my “recent wines” articles are meant to highlight the most interesting bottles I’ve been drinking at home. June is a case in point, more so than usual. Part 1 begins with a style of wine I rarely drink, but this example was very fine. Next, wine in a tin. It gets a mention because it is by far the best can of wine I’ve tried. We then move through interesting Bairrada, Rheingau and Alsace Pinot Gris, all marked by points of difference to the norm. Czech wine is always interesting, and the one I drank in mid-June was a dry botrytis wine. We reach the end of Part 1 with a glorious Ribolla from Napa, but in the first half of June we managed a week away and I must finish with a brief mention for just a few of the very many bottles we consumed that week. In their case, I have mostly highlighted the best.


Many readers will have drunk Toro in the past and experienced a big and powerful wine, perhaps not as tannic as Ribera del Duero, but full of very ripe fruit and alcohol. The biggest name in Ribera del Duero is, of course, Vega Sicilia, and Pintia is their wine in Toro, an appellation which lies west of Ribera del Duero, and immediately west of neighbour, Rueda. Toro does at least boast altitude. Vines grow between roughly 600-to-850 masl, so cool nights can stop the wines becoming too unbalanced. In the late 1990s the region underwent significant investment from some of the biggest names in fine wine, both Spanish and French.

The main grape variety is the Tinta de Toro, aka Tempranillo. Its wines seem to become more muscular as they move west, so that the grape’s expression in Toro is quite different to that in Rioja. But this is partly about extraction and oak ageing, influenced by a Duero mindset and the praise of certain wine critics of the era. So, this is indeed a muscular red, which hits 15% abv, somewhere that I generally believe a table wine doesn’t need to go.

Yet what we have here is unquestionably very fine indeed. Garnet with purple legs, doubtless colour derived from its cold maceration and pumping over during fermentation. The wine goes through its malo in new oak before twelve months of oak ageing (70% French oak, 30% American). The result is a blend of dark cherry and a meaty stew, but with top notes of strawberry coming through. At seventeen years of age this is still structured, though not overtly tannic. Unquestionably fine and powerful. Properly aged, one cannot deny this wine’s beauty.

I’ve had this so long I really cannot recall where it was purchased. Guesses would narrow down to The Sampler or Berry Bros & Rudd.

THE LIBERATOR CHENIN No 5 (Swartland, South Africa) (250ml can)

Richard Kelley MW is the man behind both importer Dreyfus Ashby and the Liberator range of South African wines. He’s one of the most knowledgeable people in the UK when it comes to South African wine, with a massive range of contacts built over many years. He’s fashioned this range of good value wines with more than interesting labels from fruit sourced at good addresses. These wines are not your usual commercial fare, despite their reasonable pricing.

This particular wine is available in bottle, Chenin which comes from a rather well known producer, but that name having been mentioned, I was hypnotized to forget it (I genuinely have). We’ve all seen this marketing before. Famous name has some grapes he doesn’t want, so out comes an anonymous bottle supposedly packed with “Grand Cru” fruit. Most of us will run a mile at the merest whiff of such promotion. But I think we can safely assume this is no dodgy ruse because the wine is genuinely damned good.

Wine in a can seems to be a new trend, but most are definitely aiming low, both in terms of consumer and price. Putting a decent wine in a can is an experiment which has worked rather well in this case. This Swartland Chenin is punchy but superbly balanced. You wouldn’t really expect complexity in a tin, and you don’t get it, but this goes a bit beyond refreshing and satisfying. As I said above, in my introduction, the best wine in a tin I’ve tried by quite a long way.

In a bottle this retails widely for around £11. At this price it represents genuine great value. In a tin it’s a bit more expensive, £5 for a third of a bottle, but its convenience for the beach or picnic gives it extra appeal. The size is just right, either for one person desiring those large glasses you get served in a wine bar, or between two who want one of those 125ml glasses the posher places charge the same for. Rick has done especially well here. Take the Riedel “O”s rather than the plastic cups for this one.

Created and imported by Dreyfus Ashby, available in many indies, including The Solent Cellar and Butlers Wine Cellar.


I’m sure many will have already read my piece on Darren Smith’s “TFWATH” label, wines made by this roving winemaker increasingly all over the globe. This collaboration really got Darren Smith’s career going. Working for Dirk Niepoort in the Douro, Dirk sent him off to their Bairrada operation, Quinta de Baixo, where Niepoort makes, among other gems, the accessibly priced Lagar de Baixo from the Baga variety.

Darren, with the help of Niepoort’s manager at Baixo, Sergio Silva, has made a style of Bairrada often found in the past but less so more recently. This means a short fermentation avoiding wood (in this case, updated to stainless steel). Less extraction gives a vibrant, bright, wine without that woody character Bairrada exhibited in the 1980s. With just 12.5% abv it’s an altogether lighter, quite elegant, wine, but it does have a little texture to add a touch of food-friendliness. The fruit is all red cherry and plum, but it has a pleasant savoury edge.

It’s really tasty and very good indeed. As I work my way through the wines Darren has made so far, there is nothing to restrain my determination to try everything he makes. And as my article highlights, there’s plenty more exciting stuff to come. This bottle was bought direct from Darren. You can find his wines at The Sampler, Spring Restaurant at Somerset House, and Lechevalier (Tower Bridge Road), and you can taste at Westgate Street Market by London Fields, where Darren has a stall on a Saturday. Outside of London, contact Darren direct via . If your interest has been piqued, you can read my article here.

I heard today that Darren’s Listán Blanco, made with Victoria Torres Pecis on La Palma, and which I praised in a previous article, is down to its last hundred bottles! WIGIG!


Weingut Georg Breuer, based at Rüdesheim in the Rheingau, has been in the increasingly capable hands of Theresa Breuer since 2004, when her father, Bernhard, passed away. Today she has over thirty hectares split over more than 150 parcels, of which around four fifths are Riesling vines. At the top of the Breuer pyramid are the Cru wines, single sites of great stature such as Rauenthaler Nonnenberg and Rüdesheim Berg Schlossberg. Terra Montosa is a kind of second wine for the Rüdesheim crus, made since 1990 from a combination of sites just below “GG” level. The name, of course, translates as “steep ground”.

The 2018 vintage was excellent here, a hot year, yes, but the vines are on deep phyllite, clay and quartzite slate. The richness of the vintage is therefore balanced by the intense mineral flavour and texture surely derived from this terroir.

Yellow plum fruit and a lemon acidity kick off the palate’s journey. The richness wells up but is kept in check (the wine is dry, of course). It has tension. I appear to have completely ignored the obvious ageing potential of what was my first whole bottle of this delicious 12%er. Next time I buy it, I will try to keep it longer. I am confident it would have got even better, but what a wine at this level shows is just how Theresa Breuer, in almost seventeen years, has built on the work of her father and taken this Rheingau estate to another level.

Imported by Indigo Wines.

PINOT GRIS “M” 2017, MAISON LISSNER (Alsace, France)

Domaine Lissner is at Wolxheim, in what used to be the wild frontier of Alsace winemaking, close to Mutzig and Molsheim (now that frontier of innovation has moved a long way north). Théo Schloegel is the winemaker, though he works in both vineyard and winery with the lightest of touch. The culture is of both biodynamics and biodiversity, with a great deal of interest paid to the teachings of Masanobu Fukuoka (I speak about Fukuoka so often I really should write about him this year).

The vines look wild, but then so is the flora and fauna. There is one winter pruning, but following Fukuoka, the cuttings are left where they fall. In the summer there may be a little shoot repositioning, but that’s about it. After about seven years the team found, as have others, such as those who manage Meinklang’s Graupert vines at Pamhagen in Burgenland, that the supposedly rampant vines find an equilibrium here.

This is Pinot Gris, but very different to the Alsace norm. The “M” stands for maceration, so this wine has colour extracted from the variety’s reddish skins. In fact, this is more of a red wine than a rosé based on colour alone. Whole berries ferment, with zero interventions. After a four-week maceration the juice was pressed into demi-muids and some 500-litre barrels. No sulphur is added to the wine.

The wine indeed tastes like a light red. There’s a little spritzy prickle on opening, the result of carbon dioxide used in lieu of sulphur to protect the wine. It doesn’t initially taste of Pinot Gris, the red fruit spectrum hitting the tongue. Allowing the wine to warm in the glass and mouth, it broadens and the aromatics become more familiar. The fruit then becomes a little spicy. It’s a hidden gem, I love this wine.

The beautiful label is taken from manuscript of the Abbey of Mont St Odile, which I recall visiting many decades ago on a very misty day, high above the vineyards. Sadly, these great illuminated texts, moved to Strasbourg “for safety”, were destroyed when the city was shelled by the Prussians in 1870, but copies remain.

The wine comes from that perhaps unparalleled Alsace portfolio of Vine Trail.


The man from Boleradice may make some of the best petnats in the Czech Republic, but he can also make some pretty good still wine too. Following the Authentiste  Charter of Moravian natural viticulture, he farms biodynamically with minimal intervention. Petr is at the forefront of moves in the area to save Moravia’s old vineyards, and generally the vine age benefits from this. He also has a holistic approach to his work and lifestyle, incorporating viticulture into a mixed farm.

For this cuvée, Koráb uses the variety’s better-known name, Welschriesling (as opposed to Moravia’s “Vlassky Ryzlink”). The cuvée comes from thirty-year-old vines, the grapes picked late, in early October. About 25% of the bunches will be affected by botrytis, and whilst the wine is fermented dry, there’s a botrytis character which accompanies the wine’s richness. The other facet of this wine is its texture, which derives from ageing on lees.

The bouquet is surprisingly rich when swirled in the glass, and this is accompanied by slowly developing honey on the nose. There’s no cloying on the palate, though. In fact, the wine is dry, clean, and refreshing. The texture accentuates this. You certainly don’t notice that it has 13.5% alcohol. This went down particularly well paired, counter-intuitively, with a spicier than usual biryani on a humid day. Delicious.

Of course, Basket Press Wines is the importer.


George Vare planted these vines in the Bengier Family Vineyard in Napa’s Oak Knoll, vines which he smuggled in a suitcase, so the story goes, brought from Josko Gravner’s vineyards in Friuli. Whichever way the vines got there, they are a welcome addition to a wine region rather full of more classic French varieties.

Three refugees from America’s East Coast came out west to make wine (including Ben Brenner at Rutherford Wine Co and Matt Nagy at Maybach), achieving success (many 100-pointers in Matt’s case) but not satisfying their joint passion to make interesting, low intervention, wines that express place more than corporate ideologies. The result here is a skin contact wine which saw fifteen days fermenting under a submerged cap and then ageing in old oak for fifteen months with no added sulphur and very little topping-up.

Tasting this wine in January 2020 it was clean, mineral and stony. Good enough to prompt me to buy a bottle. In June 2021, wow, it had really blossomed. There’s almost confit orange, toasted nuts…the palate is quite unique. It still has an innate stoniness but the skin texture has added spice (ginger) and more hazelnut. Fresh on the tongue but broadening on the palate, this is just so good. In fact, I’ve yet to taste a BN wine that doesn’t rate “brilliant” and, at least in Napa terms, this is a total bargain at £38. If, however, you are looking for a 100-pointer, stick with Maybach.

Imported by Nekter Wines. Their exceptional Californian range goes way beyond the usual fare of corporate collector’s wines.

Now we come to the wines drunk whilst away. The first trip to see my family since early November last year coincided, fortuitously, with my brother’s birthday. I chose to take my last bottle of Vilmart Grand Cellier d’Or 2006 from Premier Cru vines at Rilly-la-Montagne, which was on peak form, though the delicious Black Chalk Classic Brut 2016 from close to Winchester in Hampshire was not put to shame. Black Chalk has become a family favourite so I know with whom I have to share most bottles I purchase. Later we drank another English favourite which I would put at a similar level (for both class and interest), Langham “Corallian”, this Dorset producer’s classic cuvée.

However, the finest sparkling wine drunk during that week was sipped and admired outdoors a few days later, with close friends. When I began to become seriously interested in Grower Champagne, the two obvious sources (Selosse and Prévost) were soon joined by a couple more, Bérêche and Ulysse Collin. The latter Collin wines were quite new to the UK at the time, mid-2000s, and could be had for around £50/bottle in Selfridges Department Store, not always noted for keen pricing in its very good wine department. Oh, for those days!

Ulysse Collin “Les Maillons” is a single vineyard at Barbonne-Fayel, from which is produced a « Rosé de Saignée », one of the finest wines in Olivier Collin’s portfolio. He also makes a Blanc de Noirs from the same site. It’s situated in the Coteaux Sezannais, and Olivier owns around 2.5ha of this vineyard (just less than a third of its acreage). Yields are kept low and the vines are now pretty much all over forty years old. No wonder this wine is concentrated. It goes on and on as you savour its brilliance (brilliance in both senses of the word).

The base vintage for this three-grape blend based on Pinot Noir, is 2015, disgorged 2019. It has a dark colour for a pink (sic) Champagne, and has gained some complexity in bottle. Red fruits dominate (we are talking specifically raspberry and pomegranate on a bed of cherry). This wonder of a wine is now not far short of three times the price it was what seems not that long ago, so it was a privilege to share a bottle. You will find Rosé Champagnes of a similar quality, and you will find a few of them for less money, but I don’t think you will find any in this style to beat it.

Another sparkler of real interest was made from a variety you would never suspect of being capable of making such a thing. Vallana Brut Rosé Metodo Classico is made from Nebbiolo, and seriously, it will surprise you.

Going bubble-free, best still wine of the week was surely Jean-Pierre Rietsch Brandluft Riesling 2015 from Mittelbergheim. Jas Swan’s “Sif” Weissburgunder (Katla Wines) from the Mosel gained the approval of another wine nut for being the perfect beach wine. Finally, a stunning classic red from The Cape, Boekenhootskloof Syrah 2007 is surely one of the finest of all South African wines you can buy. I use the itals to emphasise this as something I need to shout about. Buy it, age it, enjoy.

Best fortified? Equipo Navazos La Bota de Fino 68, of course. There were some other stunning wines but space surely forbids their inclusion. The good news is that I went out and bought a few of them, so you’ll get to read about them at a later date.

I think that’s enough enthusiasm for now. Part 2 to follow…

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