Having become increasingly impressed with the wines of Czechia over the past three or four years I had set my heart on visiting Moravia in 2020. There was no better occasion to do so than for the annual Autentikfest. The festival takes place in August and it not only showcases the Czech natural winemakers who are members of the Moravian-based Autentiste movement, but it aims to include other producers with the same philosophies from neighbouring countries and regions.
Sadly a visit in 2020 was not to be for me, the pandemic curtailing all my travel plans. However, Jiri Majerik and his wife Zainab, from London’s Czech specialist importer Basket Press Wines, were able to make it. I thought that as these wines are getting much better known in the UK, and creating a bit of a stir in particular with the sommelier community, readers would enjoy some reporting on the event. Zainab kindly agreed to write something, and to send over some photos, perhaps to whet a few appetites for next year. So over to Zainab…
“A natural wine festival in the Czech Republic may have sounded rather foreign to many a few years ago, but thankfully this has changed recently. Having been asked to write about one here on Wideworldofwine is proof that there is growing interest and a thirst to get to know the wines of this country in more depth.
The Autentikfest Moravia, in its sixth edition now, takes place every year on the second Saturday of August, from 11 am to 10 pm. The festival is organised by the Autentiste Group, more information on them below. It is definitely what we look forward to every summer since we started Basket Press Wines in 2017. It attracts many visitors from around Europe and now it’s great to see that many UK folks are keen to make the journey too.
The vision of the Autentiste Group is to bring together all of the members and other natural wine producers from Central/Eastern Europe under one roof. This year, we saw Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, and, of course, Bohemia and Moravia from Czech Republic. The past 10 to 15 years has seen a significant rise in the number of Czech winemakers, many of whom form the Autentiste Group, who are steering away from making wines to please mass consumers. All the growers follow strict organic farming practices and intertwine biodynamic principles too. They also take a natural/low-intervention approach in winemaking that is not masking the fruit with any kind of additives or manipulation, allowing the wines to communicate where they are from and retain their unique sense of place.
Moravia can be easily connected via Brno, the main city in the southeast part of Czech Republic. Flights are available to Brno from London’s Stansted Airport, and then it’s only a short 40-minute drive and you can be in the heart of the winemaking region. Other alternatives include driving from neighbouring Bratislava in Slovakia, or from Vienna in Austria [Google Maps suggests approx 1 hour 45 mins from Vienna by car, 45 to 50 mins from Brno and around 1 hour 15 mins from Bratislava – Ed].
The festival takes place in the village of Boleradice in the Velkopavlovicka subregion. It takes place on a hill overlooking the village in the valley, in a beautiful courtyard dotted with traditional cellars, including Petr Korab’s cellar. Petr is one of the members of the Autentiste Group and the festival has been held here since its inception. Ask anyone and an outdoor tasting in the shade of the trees with vineyards surrounding the area sounds enticing enough to spend a hot summer day at. Even with ample accommodation in the village, booking early is recommended. One can also opt to camp out, right by the festival site. With unlimited supply of food from stands set up by restaurants, who also focus on sourcing their ingredients with care, you won’t go hungry.
The Autentikfest leaves you feeling relaxed and has a lovely laid back feel to it. The visitors to this festival usually also show a great understanding of the wines and seem to really savour and enjoy the day rather than rush it. The continuous supply of food and water tanks can keep you going until the last hours. Not guaranteeing any lack of heavy headedness the next day, but at least, you know you have drunk well and been poured wines by some of the most exciting Central European winemakers on the scene.
A list of all the winemakers who poured their wines on the day can be found here: http://autentikfest.cz ” [click on the left hand button on the top row – that’s Introduction, or Uvod if you haven’t hit translate – and scroll down to the producer list].
Many of you will have seen the Trophy Winners of the Wine GB Awards 2020, announced around a week ago with an online presentation. Naturally, with the current pandemic, the Awards had to go “virtual” this year so there was no black tie dinner, and presumably fewer nasty hangovers all round. But with the difficulties experienced by English wine producers this year, whether that be with employing picking crews or merely selling wines when cellar door sales have been curtailed, it seems even more important to spread the word about the English and Welsh (I should stress Welsh as well) wine industry.
I hesitate to use the word “industry”. Although the UK is now planted with very close to 10,000 acres of grape vines, very few individual producers in the UK have reached the sort of production levels one might categorise as industrial, although it’s fair to say that a great many have gone beyond what we might call “artisan”. Most producers are still fairly small scale though, and many are also relatively new. They have all sunk large investments into their vineyards and wineries, and are hoping for a return on that investment. As we enter the great unknowns of the post-Covid economy and a potential deal-less Brexit, anyone who loves English wine will be keeping their fingers crossed for them.
The reason it’s worth investing our energy in promoting these wines is that they really are good. Okay, plenty of ridiculous hyperbole gets thrown around (recently we find that an English wine is purportedly the “best in the world”), but although that kind of wild reporting does our wines no good in the long run, except perhaps for the headline writers, nevertheless the quality of the best English and Welsh Sparkling Wines is simply stunning, and the still wines are not that far behind, if at all, in many cases.
The 2020 judging took place at the Ashling Park Winery near Chichester, with judges Oz Clarke and Susie Barrie as co-chairs, assisted by Rebecca Palmer (of Corney & Barrow). They tasted 281 wines over five days and awarded 245 medals (34 Gold, 98 Silver and 113 Bronze). For the top wines there were 13 Trophies. I shall list those and mention some of the other wines of interest which gained some sort of medal. After that we have the special trophies, the top awards.
Before moving on to the winners I would say that there were some producers who didn’t get a mention. It is likely, looking at my list below (just the ones which came to mind) that some may not have entered. That’s a shame, especially when one or two are clearly aiming to be the best. Some others may be too small to wish to enter (cost of entry?), or perhaps with one or two, their natural wine and biodynamic tendencies didn’t float the judges’ collective boat? We shall never know because the thirty-six wines which did enter but failed to gain an award are not listed anywhere, as far as I can see.
As I have drunk this past year excellent wines from Nyetimber, Rathfinny Estate, Westwell Wines, Tillingham, Ancre Hill, Hoffmann & Rathbone, Hambledon, Cottonworth and from the students at Plumpton College, I would like to give them a shout. Their names do not, as far as I can see, appear in the list of winners. Susie Barrie mentioned “boundary pushing” and I’d like to think that all of the above, albeit in different ways, have pushed forward the boundaries of English and Welsh Wine, and through innovation comes progress, does it not?
Oh, I didn’t expect to see Tim Phillips’s wines there, but those who know, know, and I think a fair few of you do judging by my correspondence.
Ashling Park (hosts) gained two trophies for their NV and Rosé sparkling wines.
Hattingley Valley, Jenkyn Place and Black Chalk gained Vintage trophies for their 2014, 2015 and 2016 cuvées respectively.
Chapel Down won three trophies for their Kit’s Coty cuvées (Bacchus and Chardonnay, both 2017, and their sparkling Coeur de Cuvée 2014).
Gusbourne won two trophies, both for still wines (Cherry Garden Rosé 2019 and Pinot Noir 2018).
Harrow & Hope Blanc de Noirs 2015.
Sugrue Trouble with Dreams 2014
Not all the gold medals are listed here, and not all are wines I know, of course, but the following producers have shown wines which, in the opinion of the judges (as stated by Oz Clarke on the Awards Broadcast) are “world class”:
This is just a random list of producers I know. Some are listed because they didn’t come away with any more than a silver though you might have expected them to.
Bride Valley gained Silver, as did Davenport for their well known Horsmonden Dry White 2018. Cornwall’s Camel Valley appears with a Silver for their 2017 Brut. Trevibban Mill gets a Silver for an unusual Sparkling Red. The two London urban winery projects get a mention, both Roberson via their London Cru Label (Pinot Noir Précose, better identified as Frühburgunder), and then Vagabond Wines, who managed three Bronze for Bacchus, Ortega and Pinot Noir Rosé.
Two further mentions, first Davenport who got a Bronze for their “HUX”. This is a botrytis-style varietal Huxelrebe made with 10g/l residual sugar (so off-dry). It’s a style which used to dominate English Wine, and it’s nice in some ways to see someone continuing the tradition at a decent quality level.
I’ll also mention Hidden Spring Vineyard. In the 1990s they had a burgeoning reputation. I believe that the first English Sparkling Wine the Fortnum & Mason department store in London sold was their pink, and their still wines boasted some innovative labels. I’m not sure how many times Hidden Spring sold but the current owners took over in 2015, building a small boutique winery on-site near Horam (East Sussex). It’s good to see a very old favourite back on its feet. They came away with one apiece of Gold, Silver and Bronze.
Now we come to the top awards of the competition. These are for the wines which really shone.
Top Sparkling Wine Trophy went to Hattingley Valley for their King’s Cuvée 2014.
Top Still Wine Trophy went to Chapel Down for Kit’s Coty Chardonnay 2017.
Regional Awards went to:
Wales – White Castle;
West of England – Sharpham (for their Stop Ferment Bacchus 2019);
South East – Given jointly to Chapel Down and Ashling Park;
Wessex – Hattingley Valley Wines;
Thames & Chilterns -Harrow & Hope;
Midlands & North – Laneberg Wines
East Anglia – Tuffon Hall
Laneberg Wines is Tyneside’s first urban winery project, in the Team Valley, Gateshead. From what I’ve read, this sounds pretty exciting, though I know nothing about them really. Their first vintage was 2018, and if you wondered about ripening the grapes, those used for that vintage came from Leicestershire.
Equally, I know very little about Harrow & Hope, although I’ve been reading a lot in recent months. They are at Marlow, on the Chiltern Hills. They planted almost 16 acres (6.4 ha) of the main Champagne varieties in 2010 and have since been described as “stars of the future” (Stephen Skelton MW, The Wines of Great Britain, Infinite Ideas 2019, p162). Henry Laithwaite needs little introduction, being the son of Tony, of the wine mail order specialist of the same name. The south facing chalk hill, riddled with hard flint, which Henry farms with his wife, Kaye, provides excellent terroir. Skelton’s latest book gives a large entry to a vineyard on which he offered consultation services. Worth reading because he obviously knows the operation well and it does sound, from other sources, that his prediction may be pretty accurate.
Stephen Skelton himself received the Wine GB Lifetime Achievement Award.
Best Newcomer Trophy went to Jacob Leadley’s Black Chalk in the Test Valley, and here I must moan that my closest wine shop has for whatever reason chosen to stop listing Black Chalk just as they receive recognition in these awards. A foolhardy decision. I must try to find time to pop over to see Jacob and the team, unless of course we are heading into a second Lockdown.
The Boutique Trophy is awarded to the top scoring wine of the Awards. A taste-off between High Clandon, Breaky Bottom and Sugrue saw the accolade go to Dermot Sugrue. His “Trouble with Dreams 2014” comes off a vineyard in Storrington (East Sussex), planted for a religious order in 2006. The field mix is 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, planted (unusually) on an east-west orientation due to the nature of the site. The wine is made at Wiston, and in any vintage it is wonderful…but give it some age to see how magnificent it can be.
It’s worth noting that in his acceptance speach Dermot thanked, inter alia, his “Romanian pickers”, a reminder that the hard work done at harvest by these crews is often forgotten in the current climate. I know of several vineyards in the UK who rely on very experienced and expert Romanian pickers whose skills without doubt contribute to the quality of the grapes they bring in, and thus the end product.
Winery of the Year went to Wiston Estate, which I passed only yesterday by coincidence. The vines here were a project of Pip Goring, whose son Richard is now in charge of what, from their acceptance video, looks a very happy small team. Dermot Sugrue is Chief Winemaker. Fingers crossed I shall be toasting my dad on his birthday with the wine below, very soon.
Supreme Champion – The Gore Browne Trophy was a straight taste-off between the top still wine and top sparkling wine, the winner being Hattingley Valley King’s Cuvée 2014. This is a top barrel selection, both fermented and aged in barrel, fruit either sourced from the home vineyard or from vineyards directly managed by Hattingley Valley. Emma Rice is winemaker, at a producer which has grown to become perhaps the biggest exporter of English Wine overseas. Hanging onto, whilst adding to, export markets is going to be key to the future prosperity of UK wine.
The full list of medalists, along with a thirty minute film introducing the big winners from the 2020 Awards, is up on the Wine GB web site: here.
All I can add is to admonish Oz for his choice of a narrow flute with which to toast the winners. Take a tip from Susie, Oz! Treat him to some new stems, someone.
Otherwise, just go out and try some of these wines. The best are not cheap, but they do represent good value compared to Champagnes of similar quality. It’s a question of scale. If the wine is “cheap” then I’d be wary without tasting. Often we hear the criticism, albeit less and less, that the wines are acidic and young. As producers establish reserve wines for blending into the sparklers, and climate change brings warmer ripening seasons (albeit with less predictability for rain, frost and hail than previously), the route to true top quality becomes more well trodden. Often they key is merely to allow the wines to age, as indeed you would any other wine of quality.
I have changed somewhat during this pandemic, and one way in which I’ve changed is in a desire to shop locally. We can also try to drink more locally too. That’s never going to work perfectly for any wine obsessive, but then I still have to go further afield than my local corner shop and veg box delivery for some of what I need, and I even have to go to a large nasty online store when my local stores’s web sites can’t help me. Supporting the UK wine industry is no hardship, even for someone with my offbeat tastes. The old cliché rings true…use it or lose it.
Here are a few more photos of English and Welsh wines I enjoy, some winning awards here and others conspicuous by their absence.
We start out here in Part Two with a trip to Sicily, where I’ve not visited, so to speak, for a while. We then journey vicariously via the Mosel, Beaujolais (but not as we know it), Alsace, Burgenland, Champagne, Jura and back to Burgenland. As you will see, variety is the spice, and fruit, of life. If you haven’t yet managed to catch up on Part One, you only have to scroll down to find it.
ZIBIBBO IN PITHOS 2016, COS (Sicily, Italy)
I’ve drunk this relatively new addition to the COS range a few times, but the last time I wrote about it was from its inaugural 2014 vintage, and that was a rather magnificent magnum. There was no amphora Zibibbo in 2015 so this is the wine’s second vintage. I go back an awfully long way with COS, so much so that these days I forget to buy some very often, but I rather wish I could remember to buy this particular cuvée in every vintage.
Zibibbo is Muscat of Alexandria, and this comes from vines averaging an age of twenty years in the Marsala production zone, so quite a trip from the COS base at Vittoria. The grapes undergo a spontaneous fermentation in amphora, after which they spend a further ten months on skins. The colour is deep orange, and there’s plenty of texture, even in a four year old bottle, but despite that the nose has that lightness of mist drifting away as the sun warms up an autumnal morning (just like today, in fact, although I’m not sure they get autumnal mists around Marsala).
The beeswax and nectarine on the nose is complemented by orange and bergamot on the palate. It’s a dry wine, but initial lemon acidity has mellowed to just a twist. There’s remarkable depth here, it’s a very grown up wine for the grape variety. I’d go as far as saying it’s sophisticated, and it gets more so with age. It will certainly age further but I’m not sure there’s much point, it’s so good now.
Usually available on release in relatively small quantity from Les Caves de Pyrene.
WEINHAUS PETER LAUER DEUTSCHER SEKT BRUT 2016 (Mosel/Saar, Germany)
I am sure I’ve mentioned many times the old museum Sekts made by Peter Lauer in the 1990s, which occasionally crop up a few bottles here and a few more there, in London. These are quite remarkable bottles, worth grabbing even if they cost the same as a bottle of fine and famous Grower Champagne. But what we have here is the same wine made by current winemaker, Florian Lauer, at Ayl on the Saar tributary of the Mosel.
This is a Riesling from great terroir, eminently suitable for sparkling wines, being a little cooler than the slopes of the main river. I’ve read that the majority of the fruit comes from Ayler Kupp itself. It doesn’t lack for body, or maybe I mean structure, but there’s also a lightness which seems to infuse every part of this wine. We have a floral bouquet combining with a very mineral palate. It’s definitely not over acidic, but although balanced I think we could put it on the side of “strict”, perhaps less so than initially, four years post-vintage. But that’s its beauty. It doesn’t have that autolytic complexity found in those older releases, but it does have immediacy and class.
The older wines may be said to prove beyond doubt that Riesling can make complex sparkling wines by the traditional method, but this proves we can thoroughly enjoy Sparkling Riesling every day. Now for the tricky bit. I know this wine is fairly inexpensive and extremely good value, but I just cannot remember where I bought it. Not Howard Ripley, from whom I would usually obtain, indirectly, most of my Lauer wines. Perhaps someone might be kind enough to jog my memory? It’s important because I do want more. Having gone over to the dark side regarding Spätburgunder, Sekt and obscure German grape varieties are both pulling me inexorably over the edge right now.
Raphael Saint Cyr is the fourth generation working at a domaine previously started by his great grandfather under the name “Domaine Bellevue”. Although the domaine is at Anse, which is right on the southern edge of the region, in the “Beaujolais” appellation, they also have vines in the north, in the Crus of Moulin-à-Vent, Morgon, Chénas and Regnié.
The domaine is currently organic after conversion by Raphael, and this Gamay petnat is from clay and limestone soils and underwent a three day cold soak before fermentation. It’s simple but fruity, light, gently textured with a touch of minerality and incredibly thirst quenching (and 11% abv). The soft cherry fruit with a touch of raspberry is the essence of glou. A lovely summer wine, and summer does seem to be generously giving us a final flourish here in the south. Rather like the pink petnat from Domaine Maupertuis (Auvergne), this is one to buy every summer and not really think about it too much. Just grab for any occasion that takes place outdoors, especially picnics.
My bottle came from The Solent Cellar. Six wines from Domaine Saint Cyr are now available from Uncharted Wines. I don’t think they have this cuvée, but they sell a remarkably similar 2019 pink Gamay petnat called “Galoche”. As Raphael has started to give all his wines “parcel” names, it may be pretty much the same thing from the next vintage. It’s cheap as chips.
Laurent Barth is one of the new wave of exciting natural producers in Alsace. He’s fairly typical of these young growers, in that his domaine is small (just four hectares), but he has seven grape varieties planted on twenty-five different sites, from which he produces, depending on the vintage, at least ten, often more, different cuvées. Three of these are usually Pinot Noirs.
This wine is a traditional blend of varieties, once generally known as Edelzwicker. Racines Métisses means, they will tell you, “mixed roots”, although in colloquial French it has a subtler and more contemporary meaning. Laurent has a fascinating label which depicts a vine leaf made up of the phrase “L’esprit du Vin” in Persian, Hindi, Georgian and Arabic script, which may perhaps hint at where this well travelled vigneron is coming from.
The blend here centres on Auxerrois, a Pinot Blanc variant (at around 55%), along with Muscat, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and a small amount of Gewurztraminer. Off light alluvial soils, the wine has a gentle quality and a good amount of vivacity (there’s around 6g/l of residual sugar which adds a little mouthfeel to the general lightness of touch). The 13.5% alcohol listed on the label is virtually invisible on the palate. Its fragrant florality is what you notice, with honey, lemon and lime. Aged partly in large old Vosges oak and partly in stainless steel, with minimal sulphur addition, it has genuine poise. A lovely wine from an excellent producer based at Bennwihr, a little north of Colmar.
Imported by Vine Trail.
PUSZTA LIBRE 2019, CLAUS PREISINGER (Burgenland, Austria)
From the balcony of Claus’s ultra-modern winery above Gols you can survey the stretch of vines which, uninterrupted, eventually reach the shallow Neusiedlersee, probably enveloped in a mid-morning haze as summer tails off and harvest is in full swing. Claus makes such a range of wines, all of them wonderful in their own way. A number of them are just so sophisticated that very few people in the UK know just how good they are. Yet Claus also has a sense of fun and enjoyment. When it comes to sheer drinking pleasure I think no wine better exemplifies this than Puszta Libre.
This is a blend based on Saint Laurent with Zweigelt and Pinot Noir, made in the style of an old Burgenland table wine as Claus’s grandfather might have fashioned. Puszta refers to the Hungarian Plain, and as with so many of the wine producers around here, acknowledges the Hungarian heritage of these vineyards before the Empire was split up.
The style is 100% simple, gluggable, fresh and zippy. You get very concentrated black fruits, as if you’ve overdone your hedgerow browsing. We drank this biodynamic cracker slightly chilled with Moroccan-inspired puff pastry tart of roast vegetables. The label, which emulates one found on lemonade bottles in the 1920s, is simple, classic and apt. This has to be one of the best summer wines you can buy and it is reasonably easy to source from either Newcomer Wines or Littlewine. Suitable both for bright sunshine and for cheering up a dull day.
CHAMPAGNE VINCENT COUCHE CUVÉE CHLOÉ BRUT NATURE (Champagne, France)
I drank a regular cuvée from Vincent Couche earlier this year. It was very nice but not really a wine that stood out, for £42, among those of very good but lesser known growers. This cuvée was a significant step up, I think. Couche grows thirteen hectares on the Côte des Bar, having converted to biodynamics in 2008. It’s clear that there is a real passion for the vineyard in his veins, which he has inherited from his mother (he says). It’s clear that, like all successful growers, he believes in allowing well nurtured fruit to express itself without much intervention in the cellar. To this end, Chloé is actually a zero added sulphur cuvée, not unknown but still relatively unusual in Champagne.
Being made with no added sulphur is not the only thing which is unusual about this wine. It’s actually a solera cuvée too. The grapes come from Buxeuil, and from the island of vines at Montgueux (made famous by Emmanuel Lassaigne). The blend is around two-thirds Pinot Noir and one third Chardonnay and a little over half of the blend was vinified in oak. Bottling was not only with zero sulphur, but zero dosage as well.
The result is a wine (I say “wine” deliberately) of stature with glorious complexity evolving, though you might know that I do love a good réserve perpetuelle, so it’s a style I can appreciate. You need perhaps to be able to tolerate a tiny bit of oxidative ageing, which I know some people can’t stand in their Champagne. But I think it’s lovely. Mature brioche notes dominate, balanced with citrus acidity, the palate being evolved and relatively forward but not too much. Allow it to open out, preferably in a wine glass (certainly not a flute). It will then give pleasure with food if that’s the way you want to go with it.
Again, I don’t know who imports this. It’s another bottle from The Solent Cellarand is listed at £50, only £8 more than the Montgueux and certainly worth every one of them.
CHARDONNAY “LES CORVÉES” 2015, DOMAINE DE LA TOURAIZE (Jura, France)
I’ve met André-Jean Morin and his wife in London, at Raw Wine 2019, having first tasted their wines a couple of years before, thanks to a kind friend who brought some back for me. Their domaine on the edge of Arbois was pencilled in for a definite visit in early July, one of several trips I was unable to make this year. By way of compensation I managed to grab a bottle of this Chardonnay when purchasing a mixed case from their UK importer recently.
André-Jean took over the family vines, now in the region of twelve hectares, from his father, who was a member of the Arbois co-operative. Now approaching fifty, he remembered, when we met, the excitement and fear of leaving the co-op and going it alone at a time when such actions were looked on slightly less favourably by the community than they are today.
The Arbois winery is quite small, but as André-Jean sells more than 60% of his grapes to other producers he is able to concentrate on a few cuvées of his own. This is the first time I’ve drunk a Touraize Chardonnay and I think it’s the best bottle from AJ so far. The vines are in the famous “Les Corvées” site, situated off the road from Arbois to Montigny-les-Arsures, and below the famous Tour de Curon where Stéphane Tissot makes his world class Chardonnay. The vineyard is actually planted more with Trousseau, for which it was originally known (AJ makes Trousseau Les Corvées too), than Chardonnay. Quite a number of very well regarded Arbois producers have vines of both varieties here. You’ll see the name on bottles from Domaine de la Tournelle, L’Octavin and others.
I think the quality of the Touraize wines has rocketed in the past five or six years, as exemplified in this Chardonnay. It’s a truly old vine cuvée (50-to-80-y-o vines) showing complexity with five years age. It’s nutty but not oxidative, fresh and remarkably light yet equally mature. I think both the domaine and this wine are a well kept secret, but they are a new addition to the Vine Trail portfolio. I hope the folks there agree with me that it is an astute addition.
FURMINT “AUS DEM QUARZ”UNFILTRIERT 2018, MICHAEL WENZEL(Burgenland, Austria)
We are back in Burgenland for our final wine, but we have moved round the lake anti-clockwise, from Gols on the northern shore to Rust on the western side. Michael is one of many winemakers with a long family history here, in his case going back to 1647. Back in the day, when Hungary was the dominating presence in this part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Furmint was widely planted. It almost died out around Rust, but in the 1980s some cuttings were smuggled over the border in the communist era (the old “Iron Curtain”, just down the road from Rust) by Michael’s father, Robert. It’s not really all that surprising, therefore, that Michael has made this variety his main focus. There are still less than a dozen hectares of Furmint planted here and he owns a little over a quarter of them.
The grapes are whole bunch fermented in a mix of barrel and tank, with eight months on lees and no fining nor filtration at bottling. The result is “flinty” on the palate (though the terroir is of course quartz with mica) and zippy/fresh. It begins zesty and mineral but finishes with spice. In the glass over time it develops a more fruity bouquet, and quite a bit of complexity despite being, if my memory is correct, the cheapest of Michael’s Furmint bottlings (£24). One of its vendors calls Furmint the “Chenin Blanc of the East”, quite apt as there are allegedly odd pockets of Furmint vines in France’s Loire Valley. The varieties are totally distinct, but they are both good at tapping into the mineral nature of their respective soils. Drinking a bottle of this was a lovely hour-long journey of a wine unfolding.
This bottle came from Littlewine. They do still have some, I think, and if you are putting together a mixed case from them I’d seriously recommend you grab a bottle. As I finish writing about August’s best wines I find myself wondering whether this may perhaps have been the most surprising wine of the month in terms of thrills per pound. Wenzel is also available from Newcomer Wines.
Part one of my roundup of the wines drunk at home in August is pretty diverse. This first eight (eight more in Part 2 to follow) includes two from France (Jura and Bordeaux), plus bottles from England, Hungary, Germany, South Africa, Austria and Spain. The diversity was helped by the fact that I drank quite a few wines I’ve written about before during August, and I do like to avoid repetition. Most are in my usual “natural” camp, but I’m continuing to drink a few of the slightly more classical wines I have squirrelled away (if you would call white Bordeaux “classical”).
ORTEGA AMPHORA 2018, WESTWELL WINES (Kent, UK)
This is another bottle from a recent small purchase of Westwell Wines, who are undoubtedly one of the most exciting of the new wave of small, artisan, wine estates pushing boundaries on the UK wine scene. They are, perhaps, to Kent what Tillingham is to Sussex, although county borders aside these two producers are not far apart at all. Westwell is just below the Pilgrim’s Way walking path and just off the M20 between Maidstone and Ashford.
We are on North Downs chalk here, good terroir for Ortega, enhanced in this case by skin contact in amphora, both for fermentation and ageing. These are Italian vessels made in Florence by the renowned maker, Artenova.
It’s a really beautiful wine with a bouquet showing clear notes of apricot and honeysuckle with a little beeswax, perhaps. The palate has gentle orange citrus but finishng with herbs and spice. It’s a wine that’s soft and nuanced, and exceptionally good. Lovely label too.
The agent is Uncharted Wines.
PRETTY COLD 2018, RÉKA-KONCZ (Eastern Hungary)
This is my monthly fix of Annamária Réka’s wines, and as I type I’m about to drink another (they will soon be all gone). I’m trying to ration them but I could easily guzzle them far quicker. You probably know by now that Annamária is on Hungary’s eastern border with Ukraine, though not all that far from Tokaji, and that her vines cross into Ukraine in places as well.
This bottle is a petnat made from a field blend based on Királyléanyka, a local grape Annamária is keen to keep alive. It’s an ancestral method, bottle fermented but undisgorged, sparkler made from organic grapes. It has plenty of small bubbles, a lovely ethereal nose and a palate which is dry, mineral-textured and extremely refreshing. It does have a firm backbone but it slips down pretty easily, all too easily at 12% abv. Only 800 bottles of this were produced in 2018, so I feel lucky to have got one. It’s simply as good as all the rest of Annamária Réka’s wines I have tried. Certainly one of the best half-dozen petnats of the so-called summer of 2020.
Imported by Basket Press Wines.
PLOUSSARD 2016, ARBOIS-PUPILLIN, DOMAINE DE LA RENARDIÈRE (Jura, France)
Laurence and Jean-Michel Petit are well established now with around seven hectares in the village of Pupillin, just south of Arbois. Jean-Michel has run this traditional domaine whilst fulfilling several roles within the local wine community, but in recent years he’s been able to step back a little and to think through his own approach, which is now organic whilst using some biodynamic preps.
There are a little over 1.5 ha of Ploussard vines here, all on the local “marnes bleus” soils which suit the variety perfectly. Pupillin does, after all, style itself quite justifiably as the “World Capital” of the variety. Although Jean-Michel still adds sulphur to most of his wines, albeit in ever decreasing quantity, the Ploussard is a fully natural wine, made with no added sulphur. It sees 18 months ageing in large oak and is otherwise simply made.
In some ways it’s a simple wine in the end result, but that is not a disparaging remark at all. It’s very successful, tasting of pure raspberry, with perhaps the smallest hint of liquorice and cherry bite on the finish. This makes it smooth and a little bit chewy without tannin. It’s just a tasty bottle which seems perfectly judged, easy going and drinking well now.
I’ve not tracked down who imports this but it came from The Solent Cellar (though they currently only list this producer’s Vin Jaune).
LORCHÄUSER SELIGMACHER 2011, EVA FRICKE (Rheingau, Germany)
Eva doesn’t come from a winemaking family, both her parents being doctors in Northern Germany. It was on a gap year job in South Africa that she caught the wine bug and after studies at Geisenheim she found work experience at Cissac, Pingus, Schloss Johannisberg, and in Australia and Piemonte. She returned to Australia after graduating (Tatachilla, McLaren Vale) before returning to Germany as vineyard manager for JB Becker.
Her first solo vintage in the Rheingau at Eltville was 2006, her range based around three single site Lorch wines, from Schlossberg, the GG Krone, and Seligmacher. But 2011 was the first vintage where she was working full time for herself, previously holding down a day job at Josef Leitz. All of her vines, covering thirteen hectares (of which only a couple are owned outright), are Riesling. This 2011 vintage was the first I bought and this was my first bottle of Seligmacher I opened.
At nine years old this Riesling is simply gorgeous, almost shockingly good, confirming Fricke for me as one of the new young stars of the rejuvenated Rheingau region. These are old vines off slate with quartz deposits. The wine tastes assured, with posture. Lime and petrol make for a classic nose, and the smooth palate is almost regal. It has Riesling fruit but bags of mineral acidity. Giving it the chance to mature a little has really illuminated for me Eva’s gifts as a winemaker. The problem will be whether to swiftly enjoy the remaining bottles or to keep one for a good while longer? The latter course will be difficult. This was so good.
Eva’s wines appear to be available both via Berry Bros & Rudd and Lay & Wheeler.
SPOTSWOOD SHIRAZ 2010, CHARLIE HERRING WINES (Stellenbosch, South Africa)
We had a couple of very carnivorous family members to lunch on about the hottest day of the year, and I might have wondered why I was serving a wine with 15.5% alcohol, but it worked remarkably well (served at cellar temperature). A bit like drinking Port up the Douro, if you have ever done that.
You’ll have seen me drinking the wines and ciders made in Hampshire by Tim Phillips under his Charlie Herring label. Before he came home he made a range of very different wines in South Africa, but I think they show a similar degree of subtlety (you read that correctly), despite the high alcohol.
What we have is very low yield Shiraz destemmed and fermented in open-topped vats using wild yeasts, pumpovers and punching down, and then into a basket press before transfer to used French oak in both small and large formats. Ageing was 24 months, and this wine was bottled in February 2012, just over 3,700 bottles being filled.
The 2010 is really hitting its stride and seems to me in a wonderful place. Naturally it’s rich and smooth, with a degree of power for sure, but how can a wine with such high alcohol be so balanced? Well, it is. It balances fruit and alcohol on the palate, and also fruit and tertiary aromas on the nose. I’d call it a little gem, in the sense that it is almost unknown, but of course there is nothing “little” about it.
This wine, and others like it, are available at some independent retailers, but you can just contact Tim at http://www.charlieherring.com/contact/ if you want to see which older vintages he has in the UK. There’s also a telephone number on the contact form, though he’s a busy man and would doubtless prefer an email. The Durif is pretty popular among a few people I know too. I may save that until the first snows of winter.
BLANC DE LYNCH-BAGES 2013, CHÂTEAU LYNCH-BAGES (Bordeaux, France)
We all know Château Lynch-Bages, the seriously overperforming “fifth growth” in the hamlet of Bages, in the Pauillac appellation. Its red wines are long-lived, renowned and justly praised. I’ve drunk a fair bit of it in the past, before its price caught up with and overtook its fame. A visit here was one of the highlights of a trip in 2015 when I had been a guest down the road at Pichon-Longueville (Baron).
Despite its eminent position now in the Haut-Médoc firmament, this estate is geared up much better than most for wine tourism. For a start, the hamlet of Bages itself has a nice bar/restaurant in the tiny square, and no visit to Lynch-Bages is complete without, in true Banksy style, exiting through the gift shop, which sits nicely opposite the restaurant on the other side of the square, the “Bages Bazaar”. There’s also a nice butcher and an outlet of a somewhat famous Parisian baker, but you can discover Bages’s epicurean life for yourself. This is all to say that I purchased this fairly rare wine in said gift shop.
There are about 36,000 bottles of Blanc every year, which sounds a lot but it’s small compared to the region’s red wines from the classified châteaux. It tastes principally like a Sauvignon Blanc, so it’s surprising to discover that this variety only makes up around 60% of the blend, along with Semillon (circa 27%) and rather less (circa 13%) Muscadelle. The Sauvignon comes through perhaps because the aim is to pick the grapes a little earlier than in the past, in order to emphasise freshness, but the other varieties do add depth, for sure.
I drink very little white Bordeaux, and I’m sure this is partly why I enjoyed this very well executed version so much. The gooseberry fruit is there, but not over-stated, as one would expect from such a classy producer. It has a fresh leafy aroma too. The wine is refreshing, even at nine years old, subtle but not simple. The palate is vibrant and balanced and I was surprised how much I liked it. It was really just bought as an oddity because, after all, it seemed a little pointless trying to bring bottles of the Grand Vin I could buy very easily in London home on Easyjet. I’d happily buy more of this.
WEINBERGSCHNECKE PINOT NOIR ROSÉ 2017, ANDREAS & ELISABETH TSCHEPPE (Südsteiermark, Austria)
Andreas Tscheppe began farming in Southern Styria in 2004, based at Leutschach an der Weinstraße. His philosophy is outright biodynamics, venturing into territory which remains peripheral for many otherwise biodynamic producers. He’s also a proponent of sulphur-free winemaking where possible. He fashions a range of quite remarkable wines, acknowledged as such by a great many commentators, yet he also has his detractors amongst the “glass half empty” group of wine critics (sic). They don’t seem to like his “unfiltered” methods, but this is not their only cause for complaint. More fool their outdated conservatism, in my humble opinion.
This wine, take it from me, is a wonderful pink Pinot Noir petnat known to most of us as “The Vineyard Snail” (see label). It’s pale, and certainly cloudy (but that is in the nature of the “ancient method” of making undisgorged sparkling wine, comes with the territory). It is the colour of gloriously ripe raspberries, which oddly enough, lo and behold, it smells and tastes of too. It’s as simple as that, aside from a bit of dry extract texture and bright pointy acidity on the tongue as the wine finishes. It is also just off-dry and combined with its overt fruitiness, that small touch of residual sugar alongside a mere 10.5% alcohol made it perfect on a thirty-degree day. Yet another wine where its joyfulness outweighs any need for complexity.
Andreas and Elisabeth’s wines are imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.
PENAPEDRE 2015, ZARATE (Ribeira Sacra, Spain)
Zarate is located in the Val do Salnes, one of Galicia’s five Rias Baixas sub-zones, but this is a wine from the stunningly beautiful Ribeira Sacra DO, a way inland in the province. The influence here is still from the Atlantic Ocean, and this is one of a bunch of typical Atlantic reds gaining recognition for their chiselled textures but general lightness.
Penapedre is a collaboration between current Zarate family winemaker, Eulogio Pomares, and Alberto Nanclares. Both made wines from the weathered granite and slate of the Penapedre vineyard and they were blended together. We have a field blend of Palomino, Mencia and Garnacha farmed without pesticides at around 500 metres elevation. The result, after fermenting in open chestnut vats for two weeks on lees, followed by 12 months in French oak, is very much a wine showing the influence of ocean winds and rain, yet with a warmth and ripeness from the steep-sided valley with rocks warmed by the summer sunshine.
It somehow combines a sort of racy verve with elegance. A pale wine which floats in the glass like the music of Nils Frahm, but with the underlying textures of the granite from which the vines struggle to derive nutrients. For some, perhaps, an unusual red wine. For you and I, a thrilling adventure.
The rather remarkable Zarate range is available from Indigo Wines.
That ends Part 1, but I’m pretty excited about Part 2, where we shall have some more very interesting and outstanding wines. It will follow, I hope, in a few days.
Pinot Noir, what do we know about it? It’s “the” cool climate red grape variety. Many would omit “cool climate” and claim it’s absolutely the finest red grape bar none. It ripens late and is very fickle, dependent on location (soils, microclimate etc) like no other major variety. Oh, and it comes from Burgundy where it makes its finest wines. In fact in the Côte d’Or, in Eastern France, it makes “Red Burgundy” because Pinot Noir from anywhere else is just not the same, is it!
Well, it isn’t, but that is no bad thing. If Pinot Noir did find its earliest fame in Burgundy it soon spread to other parts of both France and Europe (I’m not going to go beyond Europe here, this is an article not a book). When I say “soon” I might be exaggerating a little if, as Columella suggested, in his De Rustica, a variety bearing a strong resemblance to Pinot Noir was growing in Burgundy in the 1st Century CE. Its spread is credited largely, if anecdotally, to the Cistercian Order of monks who transported the variety as they set up new monastic institutions across Europe, although we must not discount the influence of their more wealthy brothers, the Benedictines.
It’s a little known fact that Burgundy, despite being synonymous with Pinot Noir, does not have the largest plantings of Pinot Noir in France. That honour goes to Champagne. Here, it is mostly made into sparkling wine of course, but still red wines are becoming much more common all over the region, from the Aube in the south where the variety excels, right up to the Montagne de Reims. It is here that I find my favourite still wines from the region, not from the village of Bouzy, once (sort of) famed for its reds, but from Raphael Bérêche at Craon de Ludes.
From Burgundy the variety spread mostly north and east, although Sancerre and the other regions in France’s Upper Loire Valley are becoming increasingly well known for the variety. We shall come to Alsace later. This spread to more marginal regions might surprise some as we know it is a variety sensitive to the cold. It’s all about micro-climates and climate change, and this is why we see Pinot Noir thriving in Switzerland (Graubünden), Austria, Czech Moravia, Northeast Italy (as Pinot Nero) and now in England. Some of these wines are genuinely world class, for example those of Daniel and Marta Gantenbein in the Graubünden village of Fläsch.
However, this article, as you probably guessed, is about Pinot Noir in Germany. Here it mostly goes by the name of Spätburgunder, although as we shall see, some prefer the French nomenclature (and some producers use both). This is not an article attempting to place German Pinot Noir in the same frame as Red Burgundy. Rather, it is an attempt to briefly highlight the diversity of Pinot Noir wines and styles available in Germany. This diversity is largely a result of geology, although we shall need to discuss clones and climate as well. Germany has the second highest plantings of the variety after France.
If Pinot Noir was first brought to Germany, as all the books suggest, by the dozen Cistercian monks who were sent from Clairvaux with Abbot Ruthard to found Kloster Eberbach on the Rhine in 1136 CE, then the variety has since spread in some form to all of the country’s wine regions (although the Benedictines were there thirty years earlier and what type of grape vines they brought is not recorded). The importance of this monastic spread of Pinot Noir (and indeed Riesling in Germany) could command a book to itself, and the centrality of wine culture in mainland Europe has been greatly enhanced by it. Vines like marginal land otherwise too poor for agriculture, even for that other great monastic export, sheep farming.
Before we look at each German region in brief it will be worthwhile digressing for a moment to discuss clones. Although each region has its own topographic, geological and climatic influences, the clonal debate crosses all boundaries. There are, to simplify things, two main types of Pinot Noir clone planted in Germany. We have the Burgundian clones (usually termed Dijon clones) and the clones developed in Germany (principally the Geisenheim clones).
German clones were developed initially to deal with some of the problems facing later ripening varieties in marginal (for Pinot Noir) climates, namely those caused by moisture (rot, mildew etc). The resulting clones often ended up emphasising fruit and can tend to produce wines which age quicker, producing some of the classic Pinot aromas we call “tertiary” after a remarkably short time. Such wines have been considered less serious by many top producers, but this generalisation can be a bit of a red herring.
One or two winemakers are very much in favour of refined versions of these local clones, especially as they help give their wines a true regional identity. Some, like Hanspeter Ziereisen (Southern Baden) have moved back from favouring Dijon to German clones. Others, like Fritz Becker at Schweigen, have both planted, and may use “Pinot Noir” on their labels for the French clone wines and Spätburgunder for the German clones.
The most northerly region for wine in Germany is the Ahr Valley, a tributary of the Rhine about 30 miles south of Cologne (Köln), which rises in the Eifel Mountains. This has always been a red wine region, and although Pinot Noir only makes up just over 60% of the vines planted here, Ahr Spätburgunder is undoubtedly the German red wine people of my age will have come across first. The Ahr can grow red grapes because it is a steep sided narrow valley where the water reflects sunlight onto the heat-retaining terraces, or so we are told. That said, the truth is nuanced. Spätburgunder in fact thrives as much at the western end of the valley, which is wider and less steep-sided. Oh, and the variety was purportedly recorded here in the 9th Century, before the Cistercians came.
Nevertheless, the river produces, the books will tell you, classically structured wines which perhaps give us a portrait of Pinot Noir at its most mineral. Not everyone “gets” slate-grown Pinot (why should they?), but many would posit that this is as far in one direction (the other direction being fruity) as you can get with this variety.
What about some names? Mayer-Näkel was the first Ahr estate I came across and their wines range from earlier drinking to long lived. Stephan Reinhardt has called Werner Näkel (who has now been joined by daughters Dörte and Meike) “the Ahr Jayer” in view of the high prices and renown of his Spätburgunders. The other big name for me is Jean Stodden (now under fifth generation Alexander Stodden). However, the Crown Princess of the region must be Juilia Bertram. She’s married to Franken producer Benedikt Baltes, and both are considered rising stars of German wine. Sadly the wines are impossible to find. Of several other names I should mention the firm of JJ Adeneuer. The family has 500 years of winemaking behind them but a major style shift, towards greater purity, a mere eight years ago has dialled back the wood and thus allowed the slate-fresh mineral flavours to come through. Definitely back on track.
It’s a good point here to mention Frühburgunder. This is the grape often called Pinot Noir Précose in England. I much prefer the German “early (as opposed to late) Burgundian” as I grow some myself. Many winemakers are reviving it in Northern Germany, including Julia Bertram. You will also find that this earlier ripening variety lends itself well to natural winemaking methods. Frühburgunder is not strictly what we’re about here, but I’d definitely recommend grabbing a bottle of it from any fine producer of Spätburgunder.
Mosel-Saar-Ruwer (now rather stupidly in my opinion all called “Mosel” since 2007, like they call Languedoc-Roussillon merely Languedoc nowadays) seems possibly the least likely place to expect to find Spätburgunder, yet for whatever reason we are seeing a lot more of it. Around 400 hectares today, which is around 25% more than Franken, where Spätburgunder has something of a modern reputation. The geology is, like the Ahr, slate, though of varied types. Red wine used to be more common in days gone by in the less favoured reaches of the Mosel, and some other red varieties do well too, even in more famous villages (as those who buy red wines from Rudolph and Rita Trossen will attest).
Over the years I have drunk some delicious and approachable Spätburgunder from the Maximin Grünhaus, at Mertesdorf on the Ruwer. For me this thrilling estate had a little dip a decade(ish) ago, but is now back in my personal top rank (a deliberately subjective classification). The reds here, although not of the quality of the Rieslings, certainly thrill with Ruwer tension, but not without deep luscious fruit as well.
But on the Mosel itself there is one estate which rather surprisingly has a Spätburgunder focus, and this is Weingut Daniel Tardowski. He’s even based at Dhron, pure Riesling territory. He has 3 hectares on the Dhroner Hofberg, whose wines English drinkers may know best via AJ Adam’s Rieslings from this site. But this is voraciously expensive wine, suggesting that Daniel got more than mere winemaking ideas from his beloved Burgundy when marketing his “Pinot Noix”. But at least he has proved that the Mosel can do Pinot Noir as well as anywhere. Oh, and a left field tip for drinkability: Schloss Lieser. But then I’m an avowed fan of Thomas Haag’s source for Pinot Noir, the Niederberg Helden, a steep south facing slope right next to the village.
Franken means, to many who know German wine, Silvaner. It means the great old estates like the Staatlicher Hofkeller Bürgspital and the Juliusspital, and the flagon-shaped Bocksbeutel. But Spätburgunder is very important to Franken in qualitative terms. Some commentators put them up with the finest in Germany. This despite the frosts which can decimate yields here in Bavaria.
No producer exemplifies Franken Pinot more than Weingut Rudolf Fürst. Sebastian Fürst, who will be forty this year, is now in charge of all red wine production and he has taken things to another level…actually, that level is three fine GG (Grosses Gewächs) vineyards. These are stylish wines but require keeping. There are other cuvées, thank goodness, with which to begin the journey. The geology which makes Franken Pinot stand apart is Buntsandstein, from the Lower Triassic era (known to geologists as Bunter in the UK). It is, obviously, a sandstone, so here we have yet another terroir from which to try our Pinot.
We mentioned Benedikt Baltes earlier. He’s been doing for Spätburgunder in Franken (Fürst aside) what his wife is doing for the variety in Ahr, breathing new life into it (and garnering all the publicity the variety might crave). Baltes is an inveterate experimenter, the kind of winemaker who pushes boundaries and thus finds true excellence via intuitive trial and (very little) error. His reds are whole bunch fermented in medium-sized and larger oak. If ever there was a producer tasting I’d like to be invited to, it would be Bertram-Baltes. Especially for a taste of Benedikt’s mythical Cabernet Franc alongside the Spätburgunders. He’s back in the Ahr now, just consulting in Franken, I understand, but some of you may be lucky enough to spot his Franken wines.
Rheinhessenis worth a brief stop. It’s not very well known for Spätburgunder, but Klaus Peter Keller makes some beautiful versions (of course he does), and they should not be ignored in the clamour for his white wines. His Pinot vines are direct grafts from top estates in Burgundy and Alsace, and the soils are mostly on limestone.
Klaus Peter has famously called Spätburgunder “Red Riesling” and it is clear he loves his red wine. As well as producing two GG Spätburgunders initially, he even grafted some very old Silvaner on Morstein to the variety. That’s a bit like grafting part of Romanée-Conti to Riesling. Of course for those of us less wealthy individuals there are other options, not least his “Spätburgunder S”, from young vines (well, around 25-y-o) planted in Morstein. It’s dark, spicy, smoky…and affordable at around £35/bottle.
Try also Bianca and Daniel Schmitt (Flörsheim) for the natural wine angle. Natur Spätburgunder sees four weeks on skins and then a year in 600-litre oak and is an astonishing wine, especially the bouquet.
Pfalz is also becoming a lot more interested in Pinot Noir, especially as climate change ramps up. As a region which looks a little like a northern extension to Alsace it might not be the first place you think of as warm, yet remember how sunny Alsace is (one of the regions of France with the most sunshine hours). The Haardt Mountains act as a rain shadow in the same way that their southern extension, the Vosges, do in France. The vineyards are largely on the lower slopes of the Haardt, facing east and receiving warmer winds from the Rhine plain.
The Pfalz has every geological rock formation under the sun, or so it seems, from the volcanic magma of the Forster Pechstein, through limestone, to the buntsandstein and muschelkalk of the other famous sites of the Mittelhaardt (including the villages of Deidesheim, Forst, Wachenheim and Bad Dürkheim).
Spätburgunder is a relatively new addition to the vineyards of the Pfalz. Almost unknown before the 1980s here, there are now around 1,700 hectares planted, and Pinot Noir at all (literally all) levels of quality are produced. This is therefore a good place to come for some good value German red wine, so long as you are wary of the most commercial quality versions.
Two classic names in the village of Laumersheim are, first, Knipser, who, through Georg Heinrich Knipser and his sons, was one of the first estates to focus on Spätburgunder here, and the sons won Germany’s first red wine competition, the Deutscher Rotweinpreis, with one in 1987. The second is Philipp Kuhn, who makes a range of reds up to GG level. There really are too many producers to cover, but Ökonomierat Rebholz is one estate I’d like to mention. I’m a fan of all of their wines. The estate is at Siebeldingen, in the Southern Pfalz. Hansjörg’s Spätburgunders are elegant and restrained.
However, contrary to advice, I am yet again going to speak of favourites. In this case it is not so much a single winemaker, but a village, Schweigen-Rechtenbach. This village sits right on the border with Northern Alsace, and boasts three producers of note: Weingut Friedrich Becker, Weingut Jülg and Weingut Bernhart. Naturally there isn’t space to elaborate too much on the three of them, so try their wines. Actually, visit if you can…and as I have suggested before, take lunch at the Weinstübe Jülg in the village.
Many of the producers in Schweigen actually farm vineyards within France, on the south-facing slopes above the abbey of Wissembourg. This lovely Benedictine Abbey nevertheless gives no hint that it was once one of the five or six richest ecclesiastical landowners in Western Europe. It’s vineyards were special. Most of them sit within France, but rather than an Alsace Grand Cru designation, they come under German wine law for their German owners, who are forbidden to use the individual vineyard names. They therefore have to resort to the cryptic single letter method, or occasionally breaking the law to push the point. The famous Kammerberg vineyard, which provided the wine for the senior clerics in the medieval period, has been made with a stick-on label obscuring most of the word “Kammerberg” on the 2012 vintage, so that you know what it is. The law is an ass, as they say.
The Pinot Noir/Spätburgunder debate reaches its apogee here in some respects and this cross border winemaking is so fascinating that I will provide a link to my article following a 2017 visit to the village, principally to Fritz Becker, here. I’m a big fan of Jülg and Kleine Fritz (Becker), and there’s no doubt that they make some of my favourite Pinot Noir wines. Becker’s top wines, made in tiny quantity, are sensational. Fritz cites Mussigny as his inspiration. The next level down is pretty amazing too. But a visit is recommended in order to taste the full range of red and white wines.
That more or less leavesBaden, maybe the region younger drinkers might look to for fine German Pinot Noir. It’s a long and thin region which from north to south stretches from the Badische Bergstrasse south of Darmstadt to the Markgräflerland touching Basel and the Swiss border. Within this region are so many producers of worth, and that’s without even mentioning Baden’s eastern neighbour, Württemberg. It may be just a footnote but you might recall I very recently drank a Pinot Noir (thus labelled) from Weingut Roterfaden, the small estate founded by Olympia Samara and Hannes Hoffmann on a crescent slope on the River Enz, at Roßwag. The Muschelkalk and the steep orientation of the vines allows them to fashion marvellous “glouglou” Pinot (and Lemberger) which proves that natural wine Pinot Noir has a very big future in Germany.
Perhaps we really get our Spätburgunder juices going in Baden when we reach Freiburg-im-Breisgau, the attractive if sleepy town which sits to the east of the volcanic plug, rising out of the Rhine plain, known as the Kaiserstuhl. South of the Stuhl’s vulcanism the vines sit on west-facing slopes protected by the Black Forest, where limestones from the Jurassic and Triassic periods underpin the vineyards, along with loess, sandstone and even granite.
If the Vosges mountains form the western boundary, the Black Forest forms the eastern boundary, of the Upper Rhine Rift Valley, created around 30 million years ago, before the river chose this route towards the sea. Whereas Alsace, sitting in the eastern lee of the Vosges, produces mostly white wine, this part of Baden excels with red, and the red variety of choice is Spätburgunder.
It’s time for another brief digression. We have skirted Alsace to the north (Pfalz) and to the east (Baden). If these regions make lovely Pinot Noir, then why doesn’t Alsace? Well, it does. The old myth, that “Pinot d’Alsace” is at best a pale Rosé, is outdated. Even when such an assertion had some truth to it there were some standout Alsace Pinot Noirs. Muré makes one still, from the Vorbourg Grand Cru (“V”, using the old single initial trick again). In fact the Clos St-Landelin within that site has always produced remarkable Pinot Noir. Today there are many more fine producers, too many to mention (and when it comes to Alsace I am firmly banned from ever mentioning favourites again). It should be said, however, that some of the very best Alsace Pinot Noir comes from the vineyards of the region’s fine natural wine makers. If you read my blog regularly you will probably have a good idea of who they are.
So back to Baden. A list of producers would be good. Bernard Huber (Malterdingen), Franz Keller (Vogtsburg-Oberbergen), Weingut Bercher (Burkheim), Dr Heger (Ihringen) and Salwey(Oberrotweil) are all classic names from this central section of the Baden vineyards. Newer estates should begin with Enderle & Moll (distinctly natural wines of very high quality from Münchweier), and Shelter Winery (Kenzingen). A great place to try the wines of Central Baden is Franz Keller’s Schwarzer Adler restaurants.
Further south, indeed at Baden’s southernmost tip, are the vineyards of Hanspeter Ziereisen, which occupy that part of Baden known as the Markgräflerland, around the village of Efringen-Kirchen. There are other producers of note here, including the two domaines of the Waßmer brothers (Fritz and Martin, at Bad Krotzingen) and Weingut Wasenhaus at Staufen. There is also Jürgen von der Mark at Bad Bellingen, whose wines I would dearly love to try but haven’t yet. However, Ziereisen is perhaps the godlike figure here.
He came up in my Chasselas/Gutedel article. Whilst he makes the finest Gutedel in the world, Jaspis 10 Hoch 4 Alte Reben, he is best known for an exemplary range of Spätburgunders, primarily off Jurassic limestone infiltrated with Jaspis (Jasper in English). This terroir, just north of Basel, is blessed in the extreme. Protected by forest and warmed by the wind which blows through the Belfort Gap, the vines, some more than sixty years old, thrive without chemical inputs.
One of Hanspeter’s cheaper Spätburgunders, Tschuppen, is a wine I never pass by if available. Whether you go Tschuppen, Talrain, Rhini or Jaspis (two versions, one very old vines), then you can’t go wrong. Rhini is from a well protected site on limestone. The Jaspis Alte Reben is a barrel selection showcasing the finest Pinot Noir of the vintage. These wines, unlike Tschuppen, need ageing. In recent years Hanspeter has dialled back the new wood. He’s also changed clones. The Dijon clones he planted in the early 2000s were too prone to rot, and he now prefers German and Swiss clones (yes, Swiss). Quality is, in my opinion, phenomenal.
This is really as good a place to leave German Pinot Noir…or Spätburgunder, whatever you will. I hope that what I have illustrated here first of all is that this variety can grow and thrive on a variety of soils and on each there are examples which are more than well worth seeking out, both for your education but also for new experiences. Perhaps only the most fixated Burgophile would now sneer at these wines. I’m emphatically not attempting to make overall quality comparisons because for me wine is about exploration and new experiences. I’m not a wine snob who has to drink “only the best”.
For sure, many of the wines mentioned are no cheaper than fine Burgundy in any case. As with wines like Ziereisen’s top Gutedel, there are people who won’t pay Burgundy prices for German Pinot Noir. That’s fine. But even if you go back to Burgundy, it would be nice to think that you could drink some of these and be glad of a different experience without the need to resort to comparing quality.
There’s quite a bit of German red wine in many of my tasting reviews, but the following link, to “The Great German Pinot Noir Tasting” (held in London in March 2018) has a fine array on show. Follow the link here.about:blankImageUpload an image file, pick one from your media library, or add one with a URL.UploadSelect ImageInsert from URL
It’s not that alcohol hasn’t been consumed during this period of pandemic. After all, the evidence is here for all to see. What I have missed is that opportunity to share a few too many bottles with really good wine friends. We have been out of action for longer than many due to delayed building work and the need to self-isolate before visiting elderly family for the first time in five months, but we did have a chance to finally visit equally wine obsessed friends this week. I thought a quick resume of what we drank might interest hard core readers, hence this short piece.
Mon Luc, Vin Pétillant Méthode Paysanne Vin de France (Jura)
We cracked off at lunch time on Wednesday with a Ganevat I’d never even seen before, let alone drunk. The negoce wines produced under the Anne et Jean-François Ganevat label are so multitudinous that it seems impossible to keep up, but this is highly recommended if you like what you read below.
J-F has been increasingly sourcing fruit in Alsace for the negociant blends and the 90% Pinot Gris which accompanies the 10% Jura Poulsard here comes from that region. That PG is on average 50 years old, the Poulsard a decade older. It’s pale pink (more than the photo shows) and smells of apples crushed on the orchard floor. Freshness dominates both bouquet and palate, though you also get some red fruits on the latter. It’s very appley, but not very cidery, if that makes sense. The bead is strong and it has a very firm backbone. Simple yet massively impressive.
Cuvée Orégane 2014, Côtes du Jura, Jean-François Ganevat (Jura)
This is an assemblage of almost equal parts Chardonnay and Savagnin from vines planted in the 1960s on argilo-calcaire soils on what is now Jean-François’s domaine. The 2014 saw almost three years in used oak, topped up (ouillé), so this is a non-oxidatively aged wine. Both varieties are to the fore and recognisable, the Savagnin adding its characteristic acidity whilst both come on with the nuts. The bouquet is herbal (I can’t swear it is oregano though). It certainly is smooth, saline, so delectable, mightily impressive. Drinking now but will age.
Chablis 1er Cru “Séchet” 2010, Vincent Dauvissat (Chablis)
It’s funny but I’ve drunk a fair few Raveneau these past couple of years but not so much Dauvissat, so this was a treat. Vincent now farms around eleven hectares of excellent Chablis terroir. Séchet is a fine Premier Cru on the western side of the Serein river, on a southeastern-facing slope, producing wines often said to be very mineral and, as has been suggested many times, razor-sharp. Chablis just as I like it.
The wine is so “green-gold” that you would very possibly guess Chablis just by sight. Spice and nuts (especially almonds) come through on the bouquet, and then a little pineapple fruit (deep, more like roasted pineapple). It’s complex, yet I’d also say very youthful. I’d be so bold as to suggest this will go a decade more and still taste fresh as the acids and spine are firm. The palate has that beautiful savoury Chablis quality already, though. It certainly went perfectly with roasted cashews as a pre-dinner aperitif.
Dom Pérignon 2002 (Champagne)
The colour here is very youthful, the bouquet initially fresh with spice (cinamon) and a hint of curry powder overlayed with a lovely floral element, with even fainter butterscotch coming in the glass. Later we got melon and, unmistakably, cucumber. And then, faint but certainly there, was a hint of tca. I probably should not go off on one about cork taint in Champagne. I’m pretty sensitive to tca but I get very few tainted Champagnes. One usually expects the construction of the cork to minimise it.
Here it certainly wasn’t strong enough to make the wine at all undrinkable, and we were able to dissect and analyse it. It’s always good to focus on the positives of a wine. Those positives come through in the typical DP structure and amplitude combining with a sort of rigid finesse. Vintage 2002 was a pretty warm year and whilst the fruit selection means it is very far from blowsy, there’s definitely a little fat. I’d say, taint aside, that it is probably around half way through its optimum drinking window, with a good decade left. Impressive, of course, but I was niggled by the cork. It’s an expensive wine to be spoilt, even if only a little, after careful cellaring.
Domaine de Chevalier Rouge 1996, Pessac-Léognan (Bordeaux)
Recent cellar exploration has reminded me that I don’t have a of of Bordeaux left, but I could easily do with drinking a few of them. Why I haven’t bought Bordeaux in recent years has more to do with the annoying elitist attitudes of many Château owners and those who write about Bordeaux than the wines themselves, although I certainly have a larger soft spot for the savoury and balanced wines of old rather than some of the more demonstrative oak and fruit bombs of the Parker era.
If there is one part of Bordeaux which has retained a taste link with its past more than any other, it is the Graves, and the top Crus of Pessac have always been among my favourite wines from the region. The sheer class of this wine goes without saying, but its assertiveness is different to that of a Pauillac, or other parts of the Haut-Médoc. Its earthy side comes through unmistakably as mellow peat. It smells almost as if it has been raised in an old Lagavulin cask. But we also get classic pencil lead and tobacco, absolutely text book stuff. Then you get violets wafting in. Forget about blackcurrant fruit, though some might detect a little blackcurrant leaf.
Parker only gave this 90 points, and it’s probably all the better for that. For me this is how Red Bordeaux should taste, and I think you might still be able to grab some (for around £120/bottle). It hints at what Bordeaux tasted like before 1982, and it is that organoleptic link with Bordeaux’s past which thrills me here.
Vin Jaune 1976, Pierre & Georges Bouilleret (Jura)
This was my first wine from the Bouillerets. Wink Lorch provides the background (Jura Wine, 2014, p204). They were among the earliest people in Pupillin to bottle their own wines and Pierre (who passed away some years before Wink’s book was published) was married to one of Pierre Overnoy’s sisters. This led to the Overnoy-Houillon domaine taking over some of the Bouilleret vines when the brothers retired.
This 1976 is an important wine, not merely because this was the first vintage of Vin Jaune (well, actually a Château-Chalon in my case) that I ever bought, and look what that did to me. No, it’s important as a lesson about Vin Jaune.
Most Vin Jaune is consumed way too young. That the wine is relased at over six years old and sold at around seven gives consumers the impression that they are buying an older wine. And they drink it. This wine shows what happens when you age a bottle, in this case for 44 years. I am definitely not suggesting all Vin Jaune keeps well for forty years, but when you taste a well aged bottle you experience something wholly different to a young one.
The bouquet is so complex: curry, ginger, walnut and hazelnut quite distinguishable. How come? Because the wine is mellow. The acids of a youthful Vin Jaune are smoothed out so that once again we have to think of a single malt whisky in terms of the “soul” of the liquid. It’s a contemplative wine, yet the Savagnin grape still retains its characteristic tang, giving the impression of a little salty acidity to underpin everything.
What this Vin Jaune also has, and has retained, is freshness. This is possibly its most surprising asset, because not all forty-year-old Vin Jaune will have this quality. It’s also a testament to old school Vin Jaune, and to the style itself. Remarkably, when Wink was writing, perhaps in 2013 or 2014, these wines were still available from Madeleine in Pupillin. I’m sure that there must be some still knocking around. Comté and walnuts recommended.
Vin Jaune 2011, Jacques Puffeney (Jura)
This is of course a more familiar name in the Jura firmament, although this great producer’s retirement, with 2014 as his last vintage, is making his otherwise fairly purchasable wines much more sought after now.
Puffeney made a number of different wines, but sous voile Savagnin was probably considered his speciality. He made everything from a wonderful Savagnin aged under flor for just two years (a brilliant wine, often cited as a “baby Vin Jaune”), up to Vin Jaune wines aged in large oak for a decade or more longer than is usual (although we all cite six years and three months as the required ageing period for Vin Jaune, in fact the AOP requires sixty months under flor, the rest being what happens before (fermentation period) and after (rest in bottle). Those periods are just the minimum).
This wine is what I would call Puffeney’s straight Vin Jaune. It ages in cellar rather than loft and the large oak coupled with the stable temperature of the cellar give it an almost unique mix of weight and remarkable elegance, even when fairly young. Only about 25% of the barrels which begin as potential Vin Jaune might make it through to the final selection and after this they spend another year, above the minimum, in large oak before bottling.
This wine is unquestionably young. It has far greater acidity than the more mellow 1976 (above), so that its nuttiness is far more to the fore than other more subtle qualities. It also has a fairly strong citrus element, a blend of lime and lemon with a touch of grapefruit. It’s undoubtedly very fine indeed, glorious even. And long. But if you have a bottle, as a fellow wine writer asked on Instagram, then do keep it if you can. 2011 was a fairly big vintage in terms of quantities, but the wines from top producers have proved to be from very good to excellent. Well worth putting in the hard work to reap the rewards.
Does it seem odd that I’m writing about a French grape variety and using a title written in German? Okay, you’ll accept that the Swiss love Chasselas. It’s their most widely planted grape variety and comprises around 60% of white wine produced in Switzerland, but of course most of that is in the French-speaking Cantons. In fact the famous grape geneticist, Dr José Vouillamoz, has established from DNA testing that the variety originated in the Lake Geneva region of the Suisse Romande.
However, if you stay with me I’ll take you on a journey that will prove this grape should not be maligned in the way it has been, with the most respected of authorities calling it “pale”, “decidedly neutral” and “usually an eating grape elsewhere” (World Atlas of Wine, 8th edn). In fact in her original book on vine varieties (Vines, Grapes and Wines, 1986) Jancis Robinson called Chasselas “…a vine that produces such generally unremarkable wine…”. I’ll also show you that its best wine is German.
The very first time I drank Chasselas was an almost forgotten wine from the Upper Loire. Before the fame of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé had spread much beyond Paris, an obscure wine named after the town of its origin, Pouilly-sur-Loire, was a varietal Chasselas of seemingly no repute. It may have been a wine of little impact but I soon found the variety again in its heartland.
A very long time ago, when I was beginning my voyages of wine discovery, I spent a lot of time around Geneva, and drank a lot of Chasselas, both from the Canton of Vaud, mostly the villages of La Côte (east of Geneva on the north shore of Lac Léman), and from the French appellations on this lake’s southern shores (Crépy and Marin in particular). These wines in the late 1980s or early 1990s could often be the very epitome of nothingness from Switzerland and battery acid from France, and this latter’s rasping quality must have been quite an achievement from a grape generally low in acidity.
These early examples were generally of moderate quality and this was because of high yields and an undiscerning local market which would drink anything available. Because Chasselas can be cropped high and is never highly alcoholic, yields were forced and sugar added (chaptalisation) to compensate for low alcohol. When we get to know Chasselas we see that it’s a variety which rarely has an excess of acidity, nor alcohol either. It could be termed subtle, or even shy. In fact it turns out that it’s a variety which truly expresses its terroir, especially when the winemaker treats it with the love and care it deserves. It is usually enhanced by wood, but not new wood. Equally, those who believe in the variety have found that lees ageing adds a great deal that is good. In fact the winemaker we shall come to at the end of this article even takes skin contact a step further, making one cuvée of the variety in an amphora.
We begin to see this nascent quality, and loving care, in the terraces above the village of Aigle, between Montreux and Martigny in the Eastern Vaud, where Henri Badoux et Fils lends 70% of their production to the variety, and makes a very well-known cuvée called Aigle Les Murailles. You’ll recognise the name because I’ve written about this wine quite recently. It’s commercial in a sense, but still excellent quality. It acts as an entrance to the more serious Chasselas made on the UNESCO-listed terraces of Lavaux, which cascade down to the sun-reflecting water of Lac Léman/Lake Geneva, between Lausanne and Montreux. Here we move from soft and easy (though still eminently ageable to a degree) to layers of complexity and an ability to develop significant nuance with age, especially in the delineated “Grand Crus” on this stretch of lakeshore.
Not far from the Lavaux Vinorama enotheque at Rivaz you will find a vine conservatoire devoted to Chasselas. There are around forty clones preserved here, with further sites elsewhere in the Canton. In fact it is the clonal diversity of Chasselas on this stretch of vineyard which drew attention to its origins in the Lake Geneva region. The Lavaux Vinorama is worth a visit for a tasting (fees charged) and a film in the basement, but in true Swiss style the vineyard paths are well marked and the scenery above the lake so beautiful that seeking out the Chasselas vines in the conservatory is a pleasant way to walk off one of the enotheque’s light lunches with tasting samples.
Next stop, the Swiss Valais (or Wallis to German speakers), and in particular to Fully, a village close to Martigny, almost at the point where the River Rhône sweeps northwest towards its interrupted passage into France, via Lac Léman. We are not really all that far south of Aigle here, but whereas Aigle’s vines are warmed by the föhn wind, the climate of the Valais can be surprisingly hot and sunny. Chasselas in the Valais is now exclusively called Fendant, though not all Fendants are equal. Marie-Thérèse Chappaz is one of the very best winemakers in Switzerland, and her different Fendant cuvées are another biodynamic step up in terms of soul and personality. Compare “La Liaudisaz” with “Président Troillet”.
Before we step forward into the whole point of this article, I will just take a final detour back into that once unpromising vignoble south of the lake, in France. One producer, Dominique Lucas, of Domaine Les Vignes de Paradis has the measure of Chasselas. Dominique is based at Ballaison, quite close to Geneva and the Swiss border, and farms around ten hectares of vines. He makes a number of Chasselas wines which aspire to greatness at the top of the range (though “Kheops”, a Chardonnay made in a concrete pyramid, truly is a rare world class wine). Dominique is one of the only artisan producers in France to give Chasselas serious attention and he succeeds with aplomb.
So what does the phrase “world class” have to do with Chasselas? Well in the same way that they call Chasselas by another name in the Valais, they do the same in the German-speaking world. Here it is known as Gutedel. If we enter German-speaking Switzerland we can find excellent wines both under this varietal label, and indeed as Chasselas. In Basel-Land in particular (perhaps Weingut Jauslin), or for the adventurous, Anne-Claire Schott at Twann (Bielersee), who uses the variety as part of her co-planted white wine blend, aged in concrete egg and made pretty much as a “natural wine” with a tiny bit of added sulphur.
All over German-speaking Switzerland you will find increasing numbers of younger winzer making a big effort with Gutedel (and indeed the same with Chasselas in the French-speaking Cantons). Check out almost anyone in the winemaker group known as Junge Schweiz, Neue Winzer to find some wines worth trying. Be aware, however, that with a few exceptions, the Swiss rate Chasselas from the French-speaking Cantons more highly than their Gutedel siblings, although this perception is slowly changing. But to find the best Gutedel on the planet we must leave Switzerland, driving up to Basel and over the German border.
Markgräflerland is that part of the Baden wine region in Western Germany which sits almost unseen and unknown to many, a few kilometres from the Swiss border, south of Müllheim. In the village of Efringen-Kirchen, Hanspeter Ziereisen farms 19 hectares of vines. Many of his vineyards lie on south-facing slopes which overlook the Swiss city of Basel. They sit between 250 masl and 400 masl, protected by forests, and by a cooling wind which blows through the Belfort Gap to the west, keeping the vines relatively disease free without the need for pesticides.
Hanspeter is probably known best for making some of the finest Pinot Noir in Germany, or even for producing by far the best attempt at German Syrah. But Gutedel is something of a speciality of the Markgräflerland, brought here in the late 18th Century from the Lake Geneva region. Ziereisen makes several bottlings. They are all very good, even the humble entry-level Heugumber cuvée. But it is in his top Gutedel, called 10 hoch 4 Alte Reben (ten to the power of four), that we finally see what this grape can achieve.
The wine is named simply after the very high planting density of the Steingrüble vineyard, achieved by interplanting the existing rows to make for very narrow spacing. Forty-to-fifty-year-old vines, on pure Jurassic limestone soils (in German, “Jaspis”, hence the name on Hanspeter’s top bottlings), proves the terroir-malleable Chasselas is capable of far more than mediocrity. The grapes for Hanspeter’s top cuvée are hand harvested and undergo a 24-hour maceration in large oak barrels of 450 and 600-litres capacity prior to ageing. The result gives a wine of pear and white peach fruit with mineral texture and a smoky note (perhaps a hint of Lapsang Souchong or Matcha?). It is both subtle and intense at the same time, with a touch of salinity.
Hanspeter believes emphatically in what I have suggested myself, above, that Gutedel/Chasselas is a great expresser of terroir, and in the Southern Markgräflerland, around two hundred kilometres (approximately 125 miles) from the place of the variety’s birth, he has seemingly found the perfect location for this variety, and has almost certainly fashioned the greatest Gutedel in the world. The 2016 was one of my white wines of the year in 2019, though a bottle could well cost in the region of $125.
I can imagine to the completely uninitiated paying such a sum for a fairly unknown grape variety in the United States, or the UK, might be scary. We wine writers may not earn the money to buy such wines regularly, but at least we get to taste them, so we know when we have a safe bet. A century ago the value of Gutedel from this region was better appreciated and the top wines matched the best from Germany for price. Remember that at this time Germany’s top Rieslings easily matched the best from Bordeaux and Burgundy by the same measure. Their ability to age was equally appreciated. It may have been a time when subtlety was a quality more recognised than it was a decade or so ago, but the pendulum is swinging back, I’m certain.
What I will say, emphatically, and this is in some ways my whole message with wine…don’t always worry about the grape variety. If you have a little bit of a sense of adventure within you, look for a greater palette of flavours for your palate to explore and savour. If you can find increasingly exciting Chasselas/Gutedel based on some of my own recommendations, then you will equally find sensational Silvaner, Neuburger that pushes the right buttons, Roter Veltliner and Rotgipfler to wake up your tastebuds, or perhaps even a Klevner from Italy’s German-speaking Südtirol or a Heiligensteiner Klevener (sic), aka Savagnin Rose, from Northern Alsace. The point is to explore Europe’s full viticultural heritage rather than merely buying what the marketeers (and the self-appointed taste arbiters) tell you to like.
If you can’t afford the 10 Hoch 4 (like me), then Ziereisen makes several other Chasselas. If you want to explore further afield, whether in France of Switzerland, the “Chasselas” is unlikely to be the producer’s most expensive wine. Occasionally it will be the cheapest. The one place to be a little wary is Switzerland, because not all of the wines will be as good as the top producers by a long way. Marie-Thérèse Chappaz is always a name to check out, or peruse the producer names in Sue Styles’s “The Landscape of Swiss Wine” (Bergli 2019).
There are a number of grape varieties which are almost completely identified with one country yet which have spread beyond false borders, especially those borders which have moved around in Central Europe, or in the Alpine regions. These varieties might go by a different name in other countries but they add another taste dimension for those attracted by the original variety. One such example is Blaufränkisch. As you will guess from the title, I have a few in mind and they all have something to do with the German-speaking parts of Europe.
Blaufränkisch is not just identified with Austria, but it is the best known of her red varieties abroad. Only the white Grüner Veltliner would trump Blaufränkisch in consumer recognition of Austrian wine in the English-speaking markets. This doesn’t completely reflect the grapes on the ground because Zweigelt has more than double the land planted to Blaufränkisch in Austria, around 6,500 ha, compared to around 3,000 hectares of Blaufränkisch planted today. By way of comparison there are just less than 15,000 ha of Grüner Veltliner.
In some ways the rise of Blaufränkisch has been for the wrong reasons. As Austria’s wine industry rebuilt itself on the back of quality, it was Blaufränkisch which some producers decided could be immersed in new French oak to emulate the so-called fine wines of France, and satisfy the international taste for chewy vanilla. There is a good argument that the variety prefers oak ageing to stainless steel because the grape’s tendency towards higher acidities seems enhanced by that more inert medium, but the most successful Blaufränkisch wines, in my view, are those which see a moderate degree of ageing in larger format old oak, which is of course the traditional way.
When I say “traditional”, Blaufränkisch has been known under this particular name since the mid-nineteenth century, although doubtless its origins in Austria go back much further. But what do we know about its origins? It was long thought to be a clone of Gamay, which might be why the variety is known as Gamé in Bulgaria, but modern ampelography, with DNA testing, suggests it originates from Lower Styria, that is the Slovenian part of Steiermark.
It soon wooed Austrian producers and although it spread into Austrian Styria, it really found its home in Burgenland. As a late ripening variety which frustratingly for farmers also buds early, it loves a warm climate and warm soils, and it found them both on the gentle initial slopes of the low limestone hills (which the Austrians call the Leithaberg Mountains) surrounding the Neusiedlersee, along with the temperature moderation which this large shallow lake provides. The variety probably crept northwards as the region was under the influence of Hungary. Soprón, south of the lake on the Hungarian side of the border is also home to Blaufränkisch, but let’s not jump ahead.
There is no doubt that the most exciting Blaufränkisch wines come from around the lake, and mostly from its northern and western shores. Limestone really does seem to add an edge to the variety’s personality. The limestone seems to help add freshness to a grape variety which can veer towards tannic, even without new oak, when over extracted. Those producers who use fewer synthetic inputs seem to make wines where the fruit and freshness remains unmasked. The DAC wines can be a blend with 85% Blaufränkisch, but are often varietal wines. If labelled “Reserve” they very probably saw new oak, but the fresh fruitiness of the supposedly lesser cuvées often appeals more. Juiciness combined with spice and freshness.
The area of Mittel-Burgenland is very important for Blaufränkisch, the required warmth here coming from the winds blowing across Hungary’s Pannonian plain. Yet the wines here can often be deeper, in body and weight, often without the freshness of the Leithaberg terroir. But on the slate and decomposed limestone soils of Carnuntum, especially around the Spitzerberg hill in the east, Blaufränkisch can produce a different kind of wine, perhaps exemplified by the various different cuvées made by Dorli Muhr (Muhr-Van der Niepoort), including the old vine top of the range, named after the hill itself, and capable of very long ageing. The climate here is cooler, but this is one region where oak and time create spicy wines with notable finesse…in the right hands.
As I’ve written fairly recently, it’s a short cycle ride to the Hungarian border from the villages on the western side of the Neusiedlersee, and Soprón isn’t all that much further (if you are super fit). This is the Hungarian wine region possibly most identified with the variety under its Hungarian name, Kékfrankos. Hungary actually has 8,000 ha planted to Kékfrankos, far more than Austria’s 3,000 ha. In the past it was made in a full-bodied style, one supposedly praised by Napoleon (though however good a military strategist and codifier of the law he may have been, it is well known that his wine appreciation faculties were more limited). I’ll be making a few recommendations at the end of the article, but it is Soprón Kékfrankos that I would suggest you look for as a first step outside Austria.
Kékfrankos is also widely planted in several other Hungarian regions, but unless you buy the wines of Annamária Réka on the border with Ukraine, the wine you are most likely to find filled with Kékfrankos is Egri Bikaver, aka Bull’s Blood. The books will tell you it’s made from Kadarka, but Kékfrankos has replaced most of the Kadarka in the post-communist era.
The story doesn’t end here, not by any means. When we head into Southern Moravia, within the borders of Czechia, we encounter a new name for Blaufränkisch, Frankovka (or Frankovka Modrá in Slovakia). Whilst Slovakia has around 1,700 ha of Frankovka Modrá and Slovenia about 700 ha of Modra Frankinja (as it is usually called), Frankovka is more important in Czech Moravia, where it is the second most widely planted red variety after Pinot Noir. For Slovakia and Slovenia see the recommendations below.
That Blaufränkisch adapts to different terroirs is pretty well exemplified in Czech Moravia, but if there is a regional style of Frankovka, it is perhaps a style based on lightness and elegance, and above all, bottles that are almost always refreshing. I’m sure this is in part because Moravia is a hotbed of natural, or shall we say low-intervention, winemaking.
Zainab Majerikova of Basket Press Wines is a big fan of Blaufränkisch in its refreshing Frankovka iteration. She places it between Syrah and Pinot Noir in terms of balance and its attributes, though with my wider interest in Alpine wines, perhaps I can see a little of Mondeuse in there, and a few connections to Switzerland via Cornalin and Humagne Rouge.
There’s one part of Moravia which has fairly unique soils, and here perhaps Frankovka particularly shines. Dolni Kounice has soils composed of granodiorite rocks. These are igneous/volcanic, but rather than deriving from lava flow, this is silica-rich magma straight from the bowels of the earth, from volcanoes which haven’t erupted. The wines here have an iron richness similar to Fer Servadou (from Aveyron in Central France, especially Marcillac). There’s definitely a raw meat character, and an earthiness, best experienced in the wines of Jiri Sebela’s Dva Duby.
Before we leave Moravia we need to introduce yet one more alias for this much travelled variety. In and around Boleradice, where the Koráb brothers have their winery, Frankovka was long ago known as Karmazin. Petr Koráb continues to use this name and justifies it on the grounds that it makes, yet again, a completely different style of “Blaufränkisch”. Without a doubt here we do have a lively Syrah lookalike, within the spicy spectrum with bright cherry fruit, yet with a bouquet as much floral as fruity.
The Central European vineyard regions listed above provide a whole host of places from which to explore the journey of Blaufränkisch. But the wine world changes very fast, so where in the future might we find worthwhile examples of the variety? Certainly Croatia, which already has nearly 900 ha of Frankovka, probably more as further plantings become identified. Serbia seems to be pushing a few wines our way too, and Frankovka is becoming a major red variety there.
Even more likely is that we will see some “Burgund Mare” on our shores, that being the name of the variety in Romania, which is an as yet more or less untapped source of great value wine. Less likely perhaps is that we will see much of the 130 ha planted in Italy’s Friuli, but there are also experimental plantings in Malaga (Spain) under the name Lemberger, that used in our final home for Blaufränkisch, Germany.
The world is growing to like Blaufränkisch and today there are a number of places you will see it planted outside of Europe. South Australia’s Adelaide Hills is a hotbed of natural wine experimentation. Hahndorf Hill has had the variety for twenty years or so, but other younger guns are showing interest, alongside other varieties from the same parts of the world (I’m sure some of you have tried Vinteloper’s wonderful Lagrein).
Blaufränkisch is planted in most of Canada’s wine regions, from Okanagan to Nova Scotia, if in small amounts. In the USA it is equally gaining a little ground as an alternative variety. In California it has established itself in Lodi, whilst it is also seeing plantings up in Washington State. Here, under its German name, Lemberger, it has the longest history in North America (planted in Yakima Valley in the 1960s). It suffers however, as has been discussed online recently, with negative associations with the pungent cheese called Limburger. Or is it that Americans don’t like “burger” in their wine? On the US East Coast it has spread from Canada, via Niagara, with pockets in the Finger Lakes Region and, sometimes blended with Cabernet Franc, on Long Island.
In Germany the name given to Blaufränkisch is Lemberger, or occasionally Blauer Limburger (sic). In all of the places above where Blaufränkisch is grown it is seen as an important, quality, red grape. In Germany it has, to a great degree, been maligned and misunderstood. Except, just maybe, today, in one forgotten part of the country.
Lemberger can be found in a number of Germany’s regions, but maybe we should initially look at Baden, Franken and Rheinhessen. In Baden we see more Lemberger in the north, on the Badische Bergstrasse, which won’t come as a surprise to anyone paying attention to my “Recent Wines July 2020 (Part 1)” article of last week, because we shall be moving just north of here in a moment. In Franken it doesn’t feature in a big way, but they do have it in the vineyards of the Bürgerspital zum Heiligen Geist, the hospital founded in the early 14th century to look after sick citizens of Würzburg.
In Rheinhessen, Lemburger crops up in the most unexpected place, Nierstein. The historic estate of Heyl zu Herrnsheim came under the St Antony holdings in the early years of this century, and the estate manager at the time, Felix Peters, was known for, in the words of Anne Krebiehl (The Wines of Germany, Infinite Ideas 2019) “his inspired idea to plant lower-lying, less steep, Rhine-facing central parcels of the Pettenthal vineyard to Blaufränkisch”. Remember we identified that this variety loves warm soils? That is just what we have here, and the result is a unique terroir wine, once more. How Blaufränkisch expresses terroir so well when made with patience and true understanding.
Despite all these worthwhile efforts, in Germany the land of Lemberger (and indeed Trollinger) is the vineyards of one of the country’s least known and least understood wine regions, Württemberg. We always cite the Ahr as Germany’s “red wine region”, and of course it is, rightly renowned for fine Spätburgunder. But Württemberg has always made more red wine than white. The difference between the two regions was the expectation that Württemberg should satisfy the country’s needs for a lot of red wine.
This wasn’t actually to the benefit of Lemberger. Trollinger (aka Schiava, from the Sudtirol) is far better suited to making light reds with high yields. The climate preferences of Lemberger/Blaufränkisch made it hard to grow and even harder to attain high crop levels. But it didn’t disappear, presumably because a few old timers believed in it. Again, I’m grateful to Anne Krebiehl for the figures on plantings in Württemberg. They rose from a dangerously low 350 ha in 1964 to just over 1,700 ha today. An obvious marked resurgence.
Climate change is perhaps the obvious reason for this renaissance. That has enabled serious producers to make what some in Germany call a full-bodied red wine. In truth, it is often far less full-bodied than much over-oaked Austrian Blaufränkisch, and this is actually its unique selling point for those of us seeking out “Blau” from outside of Austria. It can still give that classic peppery note, but it can equally be more floral than many versions. This means, not for the first time, that those winemakers using low intervention methods can fashion wines of great purity. They might not quite rival these producers’s Pinot Noir for out and out class, but they can compete in the glouglou arena.
For those readers beyond help when seeking geeky knowledge, I should just mention (again, information gleaned from AK’s wonderful book) that the Weinsberg Grape Breeding Centre, famous for creating Kerner in 1929 (by crossing Trollinger and Riesling) has seen fit to attempt various crossings using Lemberger. These have involved partners as diverse as Cabernet Sauvignon and Dornfelder, but in crossing Lemberger with Portugieser, the variety called Heroldrebe came into being. Now this is presumably named after August Herold, a famous Weinsberg scientist, and I have to say that there’s just something about that varietal crossing’s name which so makes me want to try some.
Of course Blaufränkisch plays a part, albeit a less important role, in that really interesting Burgenland crossing, Roessler, but I think we are drifting too far down a hole now.
FURTHER DRINKING (a very random list)
Naturally one could fill a page, but try the following, chosen for their differences:
Heidi Schröck (Rust, Burgenland) – compare Junge Löwen (85% Blaufränkisch w/ St-Laurent), or Rusterwald with Kulm (old vines, 14m in large oak, a wine to age).
Joiseph (Jois, Burgenland) – BFF is a lighter style natural wine Blaufränkisch, 12.5% abv with crunchy fruit.
Dorli Muhr (Carnuntum) – Serious Blaufränkisch “Spitzbergen” with a 20-day maceration, partially with stems, then into 1,000-litre oak. Structured, perfumed and very ageworthy.
Gut Oggau (Oggau, Burgenland) – “Anastasius” is a Zweigelt/Blaufränkisch blend which is stunning, showing the variety as a 40% (approx) component, and also interesting because it is made in stainless steel.
Rennersistas (Gols, Burgenland) produce a classic low intervention Blaufränkisch/Zweigelt blend, “Waiting for Tom”. Gorgeous in every way. The variety is a wonderful blending component.
There are, of course, many many more to try out there.
If Soprón is probably Kékfrankos Central in Hungary, then do try the first two. The third suggestion is oh so predictable, but I had to. The fourth is a very old favourite:
Peter Wetzer Soprón – often longer lees ageing in old Hungarian oak. Clay, gravel, limestone and loess.
Franz Weninger Soprón – Franz is based in Austria (Horitschon) where his son is now in charge. Compare the Austrian “Hochäcker” Blaufränkisch with the Soprón Kékfrankos
Réka-Koncz (Barabás, Eastern Hungary) – Annamária Réka’s Kékfrankos is called “A Change of Heart”. It sees a two-week maceration with 20% whole bunches. Very mineral.
Hegyi-Kaló (Eger) – remarkably haunting bouquet of tea and roses, sappy, peppery, a little different. Made by a lovely, intuitive, young couple. It’s Júlia below.
Dva Duby (Dolni Kounice) – Frankovka off granodiorite. Iron, meat and blood-edged, with earthy bright red fruits. Quoting the importer, “Jiri Sebela’s wines have a lightness of being”. Shall I just add “unbearable” if sold out (ouch!).
Tomas Cacik (Kobyli) – Tomas sadly died late 2018 but his wife continues his work. Old vines but lightness, once more showing Czech Frankovka is different.
Ota Sevcik – tiny production off a couple of hectares, a bit bigger than the previous two Frankovkas but elegant and with great personality. His “Frankovka Claret”, made in a lighter clairet style, is not to be missed.
Petr Korab – the guy who calls his Frankovka “Karmazin”. More black-fruited and spiced cherry but a floral bouquet.
Vino Magula – late released (at 5/6-y-o) cuvées show restrained power, ageing gracefully and some say becoming like Pinot Noir as they do so.
Strekov 1075 – almost the antithesis, carbonic maceration Frankovka, young vines, zero sulphur added. Drum roll (from Zsolt Sütó) please!
Matic (Stajerska) – if you can find this it comes in a crown cap-sealed litre bottle and is a cherry/cinnamon fruity glugger, where the winemaker pays homage to the way Modrá Frankovka was made by his grandfather.
There are a host of fine Lemberger recommendations in the Württemberg chapter of Anne Krebiehl’s “Wines of Germany”. I recently wrote about Roterfaden, a winery run by a young couple about 20-30 miles from Stuttgart, at Roßwag. Biodynamic Lemberger Landwein made with whole bunches and skin contact makes their reds really scented, fruity and zippy. A sommelier friend of theirs called their Lemberger “a solid earthiness with angel’s wings”.
Following on from Part 1 (the previous article on the site so I won’t provide a link), Part 2 of July’s wines at home has a definite Austrian texture to it. There are three Austrian wines here, plus one Czech, two Australians, a Tuscan and another Swiss wine from my “Alpine Wines” Lockdown case.
“ORANGE ON LEAVES” PETNAT 2019, PETR KORÁB (Moravia, Czechia)
Petr makes wines that are getting quite a lot of attention now, from the village of Boleradice in Moravia’s Velkopavlovická region (also famous for its apricots). The Koráb brothers own or rent four hectares of old vineyards, some with vines up to 75 years old (one vineyard was even planted in 1934, making it 86 years old). Petr’s mission, in fact, is to rescue the old vineyards and the old Czech clones.
The blend in this rather special petnat is Grüner Veltliner and Welschriesling. It’s from the new 2019 vintage (bottled late September last year) and it tastes so fresh. It’s an orange wine, as the name suggests, but it is fairly unique in that before it goes into bottle for its second fermentation it undergoes its first not in oak but in Robinia. Robinia is usually found as a native in North America, where it is often called, somewhat oddly, “black locust”. It did spread to Europe and here it is sometimes called “false acacia”.
The colour is orange with a hint of lychee pink, cloudy, and showing definite skin contact texture, which adds a savoury note. It opened up very fizzy, frothy and lively with initial aromas of mandarin and green tea. The palate is dominated by pure freshness and it goes on and on. The fruit element here errs towards peach. Certainly a wine for the adventurous in terms of the complex blend of elements, but it’s not all that funky, just unique. Impressively different.
Imported by Basket Press Wines, although the Koráb petnats do sell out very quickly.
Alex and Maria Koppitsch are based in Neusiedl-am-See on the northern shore of the lake. They are fully committed to making natural wines which fall, broadly, into two ranges. The “Perspektive” wines are reserves, natural wines capable of ageing. This bottle here is one of what they call their “fun” cuvées, wines with glouglou appeal. They are named in Hungarian in order to reflect the Hungarian influence in the region. Burgenland and the Neusiedlersee are so close to Vienna that it is easy to forget that during the early days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and indeed before, the dominant influence here was Hungary. It was, after all, the Hungarian Monarchy which granted Free City status to Rust in 1681.
Rét means grassland in Hungarian and this wine comes off a gravelly site once used to graze livestock. The vineyard is just 50 metres asl on the alluvial rubble which surrounds this shallowest of lakes. The blend is 80% Zweigelt with 20% Saint-Laurent. Grapes ripen early here on this site, and after harvest they macerate on skins for ten days. This is followed by fourteen months on lees in stainless steel tanks, before bottling with just 5 mg/litre of added sulphur.
This is a completely uncomplicated, fun, red. One to serve cool or even chilled. The red and dark fruit is vivacious, friendly and indeed at just 11% abv, it slips down oh so easily. Just lovely.
Weingut Koppitsch are intermittently imported by Jascots (London) and Fresh Wines (Scotland).
“THE BEAST” FULL SKIN CONTACT VERDELHO 2019, FROM SUNDAY WINES (Hunter Valley, Australia)
The Beast is definitely not named for the wine itself, which it may be as well to point out before you think this is a 15.5% abv monster and move swiftly on. From Sundays is a project between three university friends. Although they source fruit from sites across the country these are most definitely all low intervention wines. As they say, they want to take as little out and put as little in as possible.
The single site for this Verdelho is in the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney. The Hunter was one of the first wine regions to gain a name in the UK back in the early 1980s, and it was the first Aussie wine region I visited. Rather like the wines from this region, I lost interest until returning there last year, realising that behind my back the historic Hunter Valley has taken another leap forward, has fully rejuvenated itself, and is now producing wines as exciting as any other wine region in this vast country.
The Verdelho grapes were fermented in tank for ten days on skins and then passed, skins and all, into two concrete eggs for three months ageing. Bottling, with no added sulphur, was directly from the eggs (using a forklift somehow…don’t ask).
What you get is very cloudy, very low alcohol (10.1% abv, but in the Hunter tradition for white wines), and definitely on the wild side (that, I suppose, is the beast here). Linear fruit is drawn through the wine in glass by its spine. That fruit is definitely reproduced as a hint of yuzu, accompanied by complex aromas and palate of green tea leaf and herbs, plus bergamot or juniper.
It’s a complex wine for not all that much money and also something which would intrigue a natural wine lover if served blind. Almost impossible to guess grape variety and source, I reckon. But don’t over chill it, tempting as that might be. That would mask its subtleties.
Imported by Nekter Wines.
ZWEIGELT 2016, RENNERSISTAS (Burgenland, Austria)
Weingut Renner is in Gols, just on the right as you approach the village, and not all that far to the east from the Koppitsch winery at Neusiedl. Now the Rennersistas wines always seem to feature fairly regularly on my site and I make no secret of the love I have for their output, which I have known from their very first vintage. This isn’t the first time I have written about one I’ve aged either, but I think that I can always rely on them to act as great examples of how natural wines do keep. I reckon Susanne thinks I’m a little odd for keeping bottles back this long?
Do they get better? That’s a difficult question, but I do think that it is fulfilling to have a relationship with a wine you like where you experience it at different stages in its development. To a degree, many (not all) wines are never too young to try and (within reason) never too old.
How about this one, has it kept? Yes, and seriously, it’s gorgeous. Intense, concentrated, yet light (12% abv) on its feet and still full of zest. Zweigelt is such an under-rated variety, capable of giving the purest fruit which in this case coats the palate. There aren’t really any tertiary notes getting in the way of that blackcurrant freshness. We drank it with a creamy mushroom and sauteed onion dish, a blend of fresh chestnut mushrooms and mixed dried wild mushrooms, using their stock, some red wine and non-dairy cream, along with added depth from our current addiction, padron peppers…oh, and loads of garlic. Just the bottle we needed.
The UK importer for Rennersistas is Newcomer Wines.
Joiseph is the exciting new name in Burgenland. Their base is to the west of Neusiedl this time, at Jois, after which the label is named. From miniscule beginnings the three partners cultivate six hectares now, at the base of the Leithaberg range of hills, overlooking the lake. Luka Zeichmann makes the wines.
Gemischter Satz does not only come from Vienna, from where its current fame has spread, and “Mischkultur” literally means “companion planting” or mixed cultivation. For this cuvée we have Grüner Veltliner, Welschriesling, Neuburger, Traminer, Gelber Muskateller and others co-planted on two small sites, called Ried Auflangen and Obersatz. Some of the vines are relatively young, interspersed with really old plants, up to 100 years of age, which are still sufficiently fruitful to keep. The diversity of vine age helps make this a true Gemischter Satz, with vines ripening at different rates and with grapes showing different levels of concentration.
The result has a soft, almost chalky, mineral character and is quite saline on the finish. At first you think wow! This is a great glugger. But then a certain finesse creeps up on you, opening another dimension as the wine evolves in the glass (a Zalto Universal in my case). I’d say this isn’t a complicated wine but it is very pure, a quality found in all of Luka’s wines.
Modal Wines is the UK importer for Joiseph.
CHIANTI CLASSICO 2005, CASTELLO DI AMA (Tuscany, Italy)
Ama is a small hamlet close to Gaiole, in Sienna Province in the heart of Tuscany. This has been my favourite Chianti producer for almost as long as I can remember, and I was once lucky enough to stay within sight of the vineyards, across a wooded valley where the wild boar snuffled and grunted loudly at night as we sat in the hot tub (very unusual for us) enjoying the very slight breeze of a very hot Tuscan summer.
Marco Pallanti has changed the range quite a bit now, especially after the introduction of the Gran Selezione tier into the Chianti Classico DOCG. The wine we are tasting here is now just called “Ama” but back in the day this normale was generally credited to be of Riserva standard. This part of the Chianti region is hilly and dry, terroir filled with Tuscan macchia, with vines planted as high as 500 masl. The Classico is largely Sangiovese but it does here contain a touch of Canaiolo, Malvasia Nero and Merlot, all four varieties aged in barrique.
Now I found this bottle and wondering whether it might be past its peak I pulled it out for a Monday evening. It’s one of the wines I bought with some frequency in my more “classical” period but I’ve not bought any since this vintage. It was only after pulling the cork that I did a bit of research on my phone and found out two rather startling facts.
The first was that in 2005 Pallanti only made this wine. All the grapes which otherwise would have gone into the single vineyards went here. 2005 was a rain affected vintage but it did often have the acidity to age, and good selection of fruit was the key. Regarding the points givers, the vintage was not lauded but this particular wine managed around 90-93 points from a range of gurus, clearly a success. I then noticed that this wine can still be purchased, but at a price. Several sources want £160-plus for a bottle.
The wine itself is still darkish brick, not faded. The bouquet is pure Sangiovese with oak influence, but the oak is gentle and ethereal, and this is mirrored on the palate where it is not at all prominent, not even in a dried out way. The palate melds Sangiovese fruit, still very much in evidence, with tertiary elements. It’s a soulful wine which, although I read a drink by date of 2017 somewhere, I would argue is actually right at its peak now. Wow! On a Monday too. I guess if I’d saved it for a big occasion it might have been over the hill, so I’m just thankful for the rather unexpected joy this bottle brought.
I’m not wholly sure where this came from as it was bought on release. I used to buy Ama from Fortnums in London, but I have just a nagging suspicion this may have come from Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton.
“ZBO” ZIBIBBO 2018, BRASH HIGGINS (South Australia)
Brad Hickey is a Chicago native who headed out to Oz for a complete career change, which has led him to making exciting wines in McLaren Vale. But he’s also a big fan of Italian amphora wines, so he began what he calls his “Amphora Project” to bring this style to Australia. I’m a fan of all of his wines but it’s fair to say that the amphora cuvées are, of those easily available, my favourites. The beeswax-lined terracotta pots are built in Australia by Adelaide potter John Bennett, and Brad now has twenty-four of them. Along with this Zibibbo they also house two red wines, a Nero d’Avola and a Merlot.
Zibibbo is the Sicilian/Calabrian name for Muscat of Alexandria, perhaps best known for the remarkable dried grape dessert wines from the island of Pantelleria, closer to Africa than Sicily. Brad hasn’t gone down that path but what he’s done here is genuinely interesting. The Muscat grapes come from up in Riverland, Terra Rica Farms to be precise. This region is generally known for large scale, irrigation viticulture, but this wine is as far from that as is possible to conceive. The vines, off red loam and limestone, are dry farmed for starters and are 70 years old.
Brad says the fruit is massive, berries the size of golf balls. I’ve long contended that the aromatic varieties like Muscat and Gewürztraminer are ideal for skin contact winemaking. This fruit is destemmed directly into the amphora in the McLaren Vale winery after protected transportation, where it commences fermentation spontaneously with twice-daily plunging of the cap. There it remains for six months with a thin layer of flor forming over the cap (this happened to Ben Walgate with his Tillingham amphoras).
Bottling takes place in spring with no fining nor filtration. The wine has a dusty Muscat bouquet. On the palate it is bone dry, and textured, but fruity at the same time. Think confit lemon citrus, apricots, ginger and faint honey. It has a chalky initial palate but then the textured amphora grip comes in, but this balances so well with all the other elements I’ve mentioned.
This is a gorgeous wine. It’s spectacularly good for a wine no one seems to have heard of. Brad makes the singular “Bloom”, a Chardonnay made like a Vin Jaune, and that is truly my favourite Brash Higgins wine. But it is so rare it’s always on one bottle allocation. Only 220 cases were made of ZBO in 2018, but at least that means some comes over to the UK.
I bought this, as I did previous bottles, from Vagabond Wines, but Emma Dawson MW of Berkmann Wine Cellars told me she has started to import Brad’s wines too. I’m not sure what they have as I think the first tranche came in during Covid, but as well as ZBO I particularly like the Amphora Nero d’Avola and the excellent (non-amphora) Cabernet Franc. A producer who really should be very well known. Even the labels are great, especially the ZBO!
AIGLE “LES MURAILLES” 2017, HENRI BADOUX (Vaud, Switzerland)
When we think of Vaud wines we think of those stunning UNESCO-listed Lavaux terraces west of Montreux…don’t we? Well the Canton of Vaud actually slinks down the eastern side of Lake Geneva as well. Aigle is an attractive village with an old castle about half way between Montreux and Martigny, just off the Autoroute. The castle commands the route of the River Rhône as it shoots towards the lake, and the vines for this cuvée are grown on the terraces which head up the lower slopes behind it. Here, we are not in “Lavaux” but in the appellation called Chablais (sic).
“Les Murailles” is not a low intervention, low production, wine. It might be the most recognisable wine in Switzerland, but this doesn’t mean by any means that it isn’t good. Badoux Vins farms a large estate, with around 50 hectares of vines under their control. Founded in 1908 it has established its name through periods when mass production was more common with other producers in Switzerland, and equally through the quality focus of recent years. So although the label would be recognisable to most Swiss wine drinkers, the wine is very good. At just over £33 in the UK perhaps it needs to be.
This is a good way into Swiss Chasselas. You can buy cheaper but you would not necessarily want to. This wine has a reputation that is deserved, and it is a step towards the Chasselas wines of perhaps some of the country’s smaller artisan winemakers. Off a mix of gravel and shale, there is a softness of texture after three years ageing. That softness melds with the characteristic prickliness of Vaud Chasselas, with the tiniest CO2 bubbles floating upwards in the glass on pouring. This blend of gentle, relatively low, acidity with texture is appealing.
The bouquet is mostly restrained lemon verbena with hints of herbs and stones. It comes in at 13% abv, the general ripeness of the fruit a result of a famous wind called the foehn (aka föhn). It’s a wind which comes down the slope in mountain regions (mostly Switzerland, Austria and Southern Germany) and which has a pronounced warming effect on the Alpine climate.
This is a famous label, and indeed Badoux has capitalised by, in recent years, producing a red “Murailles”, made I believe from Pinot Noir but which has come into contact with lees from Garanoir, Gamaret and Gamay grapes. I tasted it last year and it’s a really interesting cuvée, but perhaps not yet the classic in people’s minds that is the blanc.
Both of those Badoux bottles are imported by Alpine Wines.
We stick with the two-part format again for July’s wines. I’ve selected sixteen once more, which represent a mix of the best and the most interesting bottles drunk at home during July. It remained a month of minimal socialising, although we have been emerging from our deep, dark, burrow a little in August to remain in light as long as possible before they throw something else our way. In Part 1, I’m giving you two Germans, one wine from Hungary, a mega-Jura, a South Australian “beaut”, plus bottles from Austria, Switzerland and Czechia. Dive in.
The village of Kinheim, on the stretch of the river between Erden and Kröv, is mirrored on the opposite bank by Kindel, which boasts a couple who are definitely among the Mosel producers I admire most of all. They have gone their own singular way, which is of course biodynamic and natural. Not all artisan winemakers work from the same philosophy but Rudolph (I have never met Rita…yet) seems always to have lived as one with the nature surrounding him, and my own romantic nature sees this reflected in the wines.
At the Trossen estate we have some wines of, shall we say, a certain stature, such as the Purus cuvées, but there are also some “glouglou” gems. This is actually the first bottle of Trossen Rosé I have drunk. I get the impression I was quite lucky to get a bottle pretty much just as it had been shipped because although it’s not expensive there’s certainly very little around.
This is a delicate pale pink with almost creamy red fruits and really it deserves just the very short tasting note written after a couple of sips…”stuns with its purity and elegant simplicity”. I have a few Trossens here, but if the summer lasts, I shall be craving more of this.
Imported into the UK by Newcomer Wines of Dalston (London).
(IN) RETURN 2018, RÉKA-KONCZ (Eastern Hungary)
I’m not going to say too much about the origins of this wine because you will have noticed that I purchased a good selection of bottles from Annamária Réka and have been trying to restrict myself to one a month to make them last. Consequently they appear in every month’s recent wines articles. Although not too far from Tokaji, the vineyards are close to the border with Ukraine around the village of Barabas, with, as I understand, some vines actually crossing the border.
This wine is a skin contact blend of a local variety Annamária is keen to keep going, Kiralyleanyka (aka Feteasca Regala), alongside Riesling. It is one of her longer-macerated cuvées and it has depth and texture to complement its floral bouquet and ripe lemon citrus (like preserved lemons, with more depth). There’s even a touch of nutmeg spice on a lingering finish. That you can buy this wine for less than £23 in the UK is frankly astonishing…damn, maybe I shouldn’t have said that.
Réka-Koncz wines are available via Basket Press Wines.
MAYGA-GAMAY VIN DE FRANCE, DOMAINE DE L’OCTAVIN (Jura, France)
Alice Bouvot’s wonderfully labelled mega-cuvées are deliciously fruity wines at the more affordable end of her increasingly large and eclectic range. L’Octavin began bottling wines from Alice and Charles’ vineyards surrounding their Arbois base, Alice originally working out of a small garage winery not far from Place Faramand. Although the domaine consisted around three-to-four hectares, the lean vintages of the past decade forced Alice to buy grapes from further afield, and I think she soon overtook Jean-François Ganevat in kilometres driven to source grapes.
From these long drives a range of negoce wines were born. They are usually the ones with a gnome on the label (though some domaine wines like the Trousseau from Les Corvées, and the Vin de France VJ lookalike, show gnome-love too). Every one I try is a triumph of ingenuity and creativity. Here, however, we have closer-to-home Jura Gamay off a 2-hectare site on clay and limestone, with vines averaging around 60-years old. The grapes were taken to Arbois and fermented in tank naturally. No sulphur was added, as with all the wines Alice makes now.
In the glass it is dark in colour but seems to glow. It has a great zippy mouthfeel and it seems impossible that it really has the 13.5% alcohol declared on the label. It’s so fruity and light and it slips down so easily. But it is very concentrated…and long. Pretty much tear-inducingly good. Drink it cool.
This wine was bought at Les Jardins Saint Vincent in Arbois. Tutto Wines imports a range of Alice Bouvot’s wines into the UK. They don’t currently list this one, but they have a very good selection, both negoce and domaine. Definitely check them out. In the USA Zev Rovine Selections has a particularly impressive, er, selection, and I mention them because, somewhat jealously, they have a couple of Alice’s negociant cuvées I’ve never seen before.
MONTEPULCIANO 2017, FREDERICK STEVENSON (South Australia)
Frederick Stevenson is the alter-ego nom-de-bouteille of Steve Crawford, operating out of a small facility in Adelaide. The grapes for this 100% Montepulciano come from up in the Eden Valley. Cooler than nearby Barossa, Eden is perhaps better known for Riesling. So when you taste this beaut of a wine you might have an idea what it’s going to taste like.
The grapes come off limestone terrain at around 350 masl. Steve goes for a low intervention approach and always says his main focus is on the grape farming, more than the winery. He’s trying to get away from the semi-industrial, trophy-yielding, wines he had been drinking in Australia before he set off on his travels around Europe’s viticulture.
Around 40% of the grapes were whole bunch fermented, everything doing its thing in concrete before removal to old oak for 12 months ageing on lees. A tiny bit of sulphur is added prior to bottling. The result is almost an enigma. It’s another wine with striking alcoholic content when you read the label (14.3%), yet which tastes so gluggably light, well certainly vibrant, and zippy. The dark fruits are concentrated and they truly explode in the mouth. There’s that little bit of texture from the concrete and lees ageing, but overall it’s fairly smooth. You really can’t put it down, it’s that good.
Available via Indigo Wines. Frankly everything under Steve Crawford’s Frederick Stevenson label is worth grabbing.
Zdenek has been, since 1996, a part-time wine grower, who famously works as a railway station master as his day job, but who has been making wine professionally since 2008. He only farms two hectares of vines in Moravia, but they are among a group of famous sites, even back in the communist era, and most of the vines were planted in the 1950s. The soils are on pure limestone ancient sea cliffs full of marine fossils. The terroir definitely has a massive impact on these completely low-intervention wines.
The variety here, you probably guessed, is Grüner Veltliner. There is a touch of the trademark Grüner white pepper spice on the finish, but it is mineral salinity which you really notice with this bottling. It has that amazing refreshing quality the variety can bring when it isn’t too fat, or perhaps opulent in the Wachau Smaragd style. It does still show 13% abv but the alcohol doesn’t seem overt. Dry, chalky, mellow quince and pear coming through subtly. Definitely a distinctive wine and a great alternative take on this “Austrian” (so-called) variety.
If you notice “Vin d’Austerlitz” on the label, it’s because that famous Napoleonic battle was fought in these hills, near Hosteradky-Resov. Around 240,000 men fought here in Napoleon’s most famous victory (1805), and more than 100,000 died. A ridiculous event, but don’t let that put you off the wine. It really is very good indeed, and the little extra bottle age has definitely worked some magic and subtlety.
It costs around £24 from Basket Press Wines.
ROSÉ DE GAMAY CLASSIQUE 2017, DOMAINE DES MUSES (Valais, Switzerland)
Domaine des Muses is one of the best known and perhaps one of the finest estates at Sierre, up the Rhône Valley in Southern Switzerland. Originally founded by Louis and Nicole Taramarcaz in 1996, their son Robert now runs things following his viticulture studies at Dijon. Their vineyards are in one of Switzerland’s most beautiful locations which all wine lovers should try to discover (perhaps next time you are driving to Piemonte and fancy something of a detour).
This is in some ways an unusual wine in that you will note the vintage. The vendor of this wine told me a wine journalist really liked this but felt they couldn’t write about a three year old pink. The same vendor says, on her web site, that this wine is just beginning to give of its best and I agree. Drunk younger I am sure it would have been full of youthful vigour, but when you are paying £30 for a rosé wine perhaps you want something extra.
The colour is a classic pale orange-salmon pink. You can recognise the variety from the bouquet, very fruity. The palate is fairly plump (though it’s a very balanced 12.5% abv), exhibiting that Gamay juiciness. I would not say this has overt complexity, but it combines a host of gourmet possibilities with definite interest. It’s not in your face but you will dwell on its subtleties beneath that fruit (I hope).
Pink wines are increasingly being taken seriously, not because they are necessarily serious of themselves when compared to posh reds and whites, but because the style just gets better and better. I’m convinced this is because we are increasingly rejecting the mass produced pinks from the same old places and looking further afield. Switzerland produces a surprising number of excellent Rosé wines from most of her winemaking Cantons, some of which are warmer and sunnier than you might think. Many of which are well worth seeking out.
Olympia Samara and Hannes Hoffmann are typical of the exciting new wave of winemakers in modern Germany, young people who are truly revolutionising German wine for younger drinkers who can approach the country’s wines without prejudice. Their former careers in wine were quite different, with Olympia working with Claus Preisinger in Burgenland and Hannes with Dirk Niepoort in Portugal.
Talking of prejudice, not many people will have actively sought out wines from villages in this part of Germany, their Rosswag base being something like 30km from Stuttgart. This is that famous German wine region called Swabia, and this Pinot Noir is a “mere” Swäbischer Landwein, removed from any appellation. Actually, these vineyards are those of old Württemberg, and Roterfaden/Rosswag is really not all that far from the north of the Baden wine region.
Nevertheless, the vineyards here are perhaps more populated with Lemberger (you know that’s German German for Blaufränkisch, of course) which Olympia and Hannes still cultivate quite seriously, alongside Riesling and Pinot Noir (they use the French name for the variety). Vines are staked on old terraces which form a steep arc above the River Enz. Perfect for a young couple to begin their winemaking journey, except that they are pretty unique here. As an importer into another country wrote, 99% of the wine from this region goes to the co-operative and Roterfaden is the other 1%.
This Pinot is a “to die for” wine, and out of all the genuinely soul-wrenchingly good wines I’ve written about today, I absolutely wish I had more of this wine in my cellar. It also helps that they are such an amazingly nice couple, whom I met back in 2019 in London. Winemaking is very simple, de-stemmed fruit being just gently pushed down during fermentation to ensure the cap doesn’t dry out. The juice then goes into old wood for ten months. Everything follows biodynamic principles and a philosophy of minimal intervention. Sulphur is added in tiny quantity.
The result is simple, but in the best sense. The fruit sings like a choir of angels, it’s so juicy, so outright gorgeous. If you think that natural wine can have a life affirming quality, this will only confirm your belief. It did with me. I said it back in April 2019 and I’ll say it again, these wines are special.
Imported by Newcomer Wines.
WIENER GEMISCHTER SATZ 2017, WEINGUT CHRIST (Vienna, Austria)
Rainer Christ heads up an estate which has 400 years of history in the Vienna wine region. He’s based at Bisamberg, which is over on the left bank of the Danube, one of the city’s most famous wine villages. Wiener Gemischter Satz needs little introduction to regular readers, nor do Vienna’s beautiful vineyards, but I’ve not drunk this entry level wine from Christ for some time. I note that the previous vintage had been listed by one major UK weekend newspaper in their list of fifty wines for summer, but that was the 2016, listed in 2017.
We do have a bit of bottle age here, and though Gemischter Satz blends can age well (surprisingly so), we shall have to see with this one. Although it is Rainer Christ’s bottom rung white, it is from a single site. I’m not wholly sure of the exact varieties in the field blend here, but yields are kept low and everything is picked together and co-fermented. It starts out fresh with the faint spritz (almost) of carbon dioxide so prevalent in this style of wine. Even at three years old it is still nice and zesty. It’s also mineral, dry and faintly textured.
We drank it with a noodle dish spiced with padron peppers and it worked well, its balanced 12% alcohol and zip lifting it above the depth of the spice. It had been a 24-degree day (remember those as we bask in a sweltering 30-plus) and we’d had a lovely walk in the woods. It just seemed the perfect wine to follow with a quickly assembled supper. I have his skin contact version to try soon.