Recent Wines June 2021 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WEISZE FREYHEIT 2017, HEINRICH (Burgenland, Austria)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Both Littlewine and Newcomer Wines stock Strohmeier in the UK.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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Recent Wines June 2021 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Imported by Indigo Wines.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Of course, Basket Press Wines is the importer.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paradise Regained – Visiting Tim Phillips

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to drop by to see Tim Phillips for a couple of hours. We met at his walled vineyard which he rather aptly calls “Clos Paradis”, a short drive from Lymington in Hampshire. As I rarely have time go there more than once or twice a year these days there’s always quite a lot to see. We then retired down the road to the winery for a bit of tasting.

Tim always gets my brain going, and he likes to explore similar subjects, and perhaps that’s why we get on well and he values my comments on the wines he’s making. I think we would not exhaust the conversation over a whole day, but on this occasion an early dinner engagement cut short our fascinating time together.

Tim Phillips Ghostbuster with some bio-preps (no nasty chemicals here)

For anyone who doesn’t know, Tim began his career in South Africa, producing some very impressive wines made under his Charlie Herring Wines label (some still available and they are crackers). On returning to the UK, he was the recipient of some amazing luck when the walled garden of a large 19th Century house came on the market. Originally for a ridiculous price, seeing as there was no house attached, but later the owners saw sense and Tim had himself a vineyard.

The winery is housed in a small agricultural building a short drive away, but with enough land for Tim to develop along ecological lines, with a large pond, a coppiced bit of woodland (with a family of deer) and, now, an adjacent field which Tim is planting with some trees. He seems to have a lot of help from the local Jay population, with a good number of oak saplings springing up.

Last time I visited the vineyard Tim was considering lowering the trellising for some of the vines and this is now underway. His Riesling, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc have now been joined by, I think Tim said, around 100 Pinot Noir vines. They had a difficult start last year, due to lack of rain, but this year they appear to be thriving. It will be a few years before we see any wine from them and whether Tim will make his first “English” Charlie Herring red wine, or whether they will go into a sparkling wine, we can’t say. Whichever it is, it will be exciting.

After a good look around the vineyard and, I must say, spending a while allowing the new chickens to befriend us (so tame), we headed through into the orchard. The old ladies are still resplendent, looking straggly but majestic. Tim is adding new apple trees as well as other non-fruit species to enhance the space, and the tennis court is slowly disappearing under nature’s advance.

One of Tim’s beautiful old apple trees

Tim has been very much taken with the teachings of Masanobu Fukuoka, especially that part of his philosophy which advocates leaving cuttings, or otherwise returning their nutrients directly to the soil. It’s part of Fukuoka’s natural farming (shizen nōhō) method, a subject about which we both feel passionately interested. Of course, viticulture is a balance, and there are risks involved in leaving cuttings on the ground, but being in the vineyard twice a day, early morning and evening, allows Tim be in very real contact with his plants and the terroir/microclimate. It means he can spot any problems and deal with them swiftly.

Chanelling Masanobu

The last of the bottled cider (2017) has gone. Les Caves sold it through in a matter of days and if there’s any in retail you will count yourself lucky to find some. I tasted the 2020 cider which has been on Chardonnay skins, six months in the egg. It remains as refined as the red wine-infused bottles, Tim clearly making all his cider to taste like an apple version of Champagne. The Chardonnay skins impart an uncanny, well, Chardonnay flavour…and a little texture, at least right now. This is one to look forward to.

For the first time Tim is making a still wine from his Riesling (rather than sparkling). 2020 saw a third pressed off the skins and two-thirds crushed, with the following three months on skins. It’s in a barrel now (old wood, from 2012). At the moment it has amazing depth but Tim will know intuitively (and by constant tasting) when it’s ready.

A bit of a treat was to try the wine Tim has made from the fifty-year-old Seyval Blanc vines of a near neighbour. I’ve written about the variety recently. Breaky Bottom in Sussex makes the benchmark sparkling wine from this variety, a wine which is remarkably refined. It was the first variety I made wine from but it was a pretty poor effort, largely because for a variety of reasons (weather and the vines not having been pruned to fewer bunches) the alcohol level was too low and the acids way too high. Naturally I wasn’t going to chaptalize.

Tim’s wine is lovely. Right now, there is no dosage. With 5g/l, which Tim proposes after it’s had 24 months on lees, it will give it a bit of breadth on the tongue, and probably take away some of the tarter acids which my wine was plagued with.

Now to releases. There will, of course, be more cider ready for sale at some point as disgorging of the 2018 is underway. Expect availability from December, says Tim. The 2020 Sauvignon Blanc looks promising, perhaps a little different to some of the previous releases. I drank a bottle of Tim’s 2018 Sauvignon Blanc last week and it went very well with, of all things, a spicier than usual paella.

The Seyval Blanc will I imagine be a micro-release when it comes, as the vineyard owner retains the majority of it. Tim also promised a tiny release of sparkling Riesling in September of this year, but it will be truly limited. He promised I’d get one bottle…one bottle…for which I should probably be grateful, though two bottles would more than double the joy.

There was another TP treat in store. There’s an experimental sparkling Sauvignon Blanc from the 2015 vintage. Not sure what is planned for that, but I truly hope it sees the light of day [a day after I wrote this, I saw a post from Tim on Instagram, followed by a message to me where Tim said it won’t. It failed to make the grade and “is now compost”. I still wish he’d bottled some for me to judge in a couple of years].

All of Tim’s wines are remarkable, and I really don’t care much what’s in the bottle so long as I get one. However, in the years that I’ve known Tim I have seen his fan base grow from a number of locals to a truly national following. The battle for bottles can only get ugly. If you follow Tim on Instagram you’ll see that between my visit and publishing this piece, quite a few people have been visiting, no doubt staking their claim. I’m not at all surprised. The secret has been out for a while. These are remarkable wines from a magical place made by a very fine winemaker. One of our best.

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

Paradise Lost – A Eulogy for Two Great Natural Winemakers

I’m sure that most readers will know by now that this year has already seen the loss of too many winemakers. The death of one who meant a lot to me happened in tragic circumstances on 5th May, Pascal Clairet of Domaine de la Tournelle. Then, just a few days ago I learned of the death, on 17th June, of another of natural wine’s brightest lights, Dominique Belluard, in similarly sad circumstances. Pascal was only fifty-eight, Dominique a few years younger.

I had wanted to write something about Pascal earlier, but I know his family had requested that people left it a little while. I’m not really sure how much readers really want to read about the circumstances around the deaths of these undoubtedly great men, and in fact I don’t propose to go there. Yet these two deaths, especially coming so close together, have genuinely affected me, even more so than I imagined they would.

As a way of showing my enormous respect for these two individuals, I want to write something about what they, their domaines and their wines, have meant to me over the years. This is in no way meant to lessen the passing of others. Merely that Pascal and Dominique’s wines were always up there among my very favourite, and will continue to be so as long as they are available for me to drink. Opening a bottle now will have a special meaning.

Pascal Clairet ran Domaine de la Tournelle in Arbois with his wife, Evelyne. He had worked for the Jura Region’s Comité Interprofessionel before properly starting the domaine in 1995. Although the winery is outside of Arbois now, the Tournelle HQ is a rather attractive town house right on the bank of the River Cuissance in the centre of Arbois (at 5 Petit Place). It is here that the couple’s fans would head to the tasting room, beside the incredibly popular summer-opening Bistrot de la Tournelle, effectively in their garden by the water. Nowhere in France reminds me of a Viennese summer Heuriger quite so much.

The last time I spoke to Pascal at Dynamic Vines, February 2020

I can’t exactly pinpoint when I first got to know the wines made by Pascal and Evelyne, but on reflection it must have been quite early on. I do know that the first wine I bought from them was their zero added sulphur Poulsard, L’Uva Arbosiana. It’s a delightful wine with amazing fruit plus a savoury edge, glouglou before I knew the term existed.

I can remember those first bottles, transported home in a cool box for fear that they might spoil in transit. I’d been visiting Arbois pretty much every year since the late 1980s, either to stay a week, or simply on the way home from visiting close friends in Geneva via the more scenic route. I always bought plenty of wine but these were some of the first edgy natural wines subjected to my overloaded boot in the height of summer. They didn’t spoil, and in fact nor did bottles I subsequently bought at Antidote Wine Bar, off London’s Carnaby Street, in even hotter summer temperatures, either (the Clairets are partners in this lovely Central London bar and restaurant with a wine shop now upstairs).

One occasion I drank L’Uva was particularly notable. It was on the final day of the Crowdfunding project for Wink Lorch’s Jura Wine book (published 2014), and a group of fellow Jura addicts (not quite so numerous back then, but definitely growing) got together at the sadly now closed Terroirs wine bar, near Trafalgar Square. The plan: to take to social media in what was a successful attempt to generate more pledges.

Wink taught me a valuable lesson that night and with that very wine…that when a natural wine shows signs of some reductive notes on opening, just splash it into a carafe to give it some air. Wink shook the carafe, duly covered, pretty vigorously as well. I don’t recall an occasion since where this hasn’t worked.

Of course, Domaine de la Tournelle produces many other lovely wines which perhaps one would say even surpass “L’Uva”. As with most Jura producers, even the relatively small ones, lots of different wines are made. Savagnin here is exceptional, with both “Savagnin de Voile” and a magnificent and complex Vin Jaune being as good as anyone’s. The Trousseau from “Les Corvées”, a wine that goes down easily yet ages well, gaining complexity over the years (always worth grabbing in magnum from the tasting room) should always be on the purchase list.

The last Tournelle wine I drank (back in April) was the “Cul de Brey” red. This is a blend of three varieties in more or less equal parts: Trousseau, Syrah, and the rare Petit Béclan. Glorious juice from happier, pre-Covid days.

The last time I saw Pascal was at the Dynamic Vines tasting in February 2020. I told him we were planning a trip to Arbois that summer and that I was hoping to visit them. “Of course, give us a call” he said in his distinctive French. Of course, it never happened.

Domaine de la Tournelle is imported into the UK by Dynamic Vines.

Although I would say that I got to know Domaine de la Tournelle first, Domaine Belluard followed close, and after coming across what was the nearest natural wine producer to where I was staying on a summer holiday in the Alps, I quickly discovered that some of their wines were being imported back home by the great catalysts for natural wine in the UK, Les Caves de Pyrene. Les Caves’s Doug Wregg has written about Dominique eloquently on the “Les Caves” blog, and I know he shares a deep passion for the estate. We both believe these wines have been personally transformative, and always transfixing.

Dominique, unlike Pascal, came from a wine family. He joined his father, Albert, and brother Patrick in the mid-1980s. His father died in 2011, after which he parted ways with his brother, buying out his share in the domaine.

Although Dominique grew other varieties (Mondeuse, some Altesse, and at one time some Petite Arvine), the variety here is Gringet. This autochthonous grape is certainly used by other producers in the Savoie sub-region of Ayze, but mostly for traditional method sparkling wine under the Crémant de Savoie appellation.

Dominique became a star on the basis of his still wines made from the grape. “Les Alpes” is a fine wine by any stretch of the imagination, but it is clearly surpassed by “Le Feu”. This is Gringet grown on a steep (in places very steep) two-hectare site strewn with glacial sediments. The grapes are fermented (since 2004) in concrete eggs, some in rather unusual eggs encased in diamond-shaped concrete tanks according to Wink Lorch (Wines of the French Alps, 2019). Like many other biodynamic vignerons, he believed in the value of the motion created by these ovoid vessels during fermentation, dispersing the lees throughout the juice.

I admired Dominique so much. I know he had to face a litany of problems and issues over the years, none of them that I know of his own making. Same with Pascal. As with the wines of Domaine de la Tournelle, I’ve enjoyed these wines on so many wonderful and special occasions over the years. One cuvée which I have perhaps drunk more than the others is the gentle, low dosage, “Les Perles du Mont Blanc”.

“Perles” usually shows a very characteristic flavour and bouquet of ever so slightly bruised apple, whilst retaining a mouth-watering freshness. It contrasts nicely with the stricter “Brut Zéro” (off limestone). With two-years on lees (six months more than “Perles”) it is formidably ageworthy, but I’ve a soft spot for the younger “Perles” cuvée. There would rarely be an occasion when I saw it in a restaurant in France and didn’t select it as the first bottle.

“Perles du Mont Blanc” was the last wine I drank in France, although I’ve drunk Belluard at home since the Lockdowns began. That last trip to France was to stay at an apartment owned by friends in Oberkampf (Paris 11th). We were there to see the last date on our son-in-law’s short tour of France but after we bade the band goodbye as they headed off to Prague, we had scheduled in a day for ourselves.

We spent the late afternoon and early evening sipping several wines at Septime La Cave but we had booked a meal at a new restaurant near to The Bataclan which we’d never noticed before. We had planned on a quiet dinner with maybe just one more glass each, but there on the list was “Perles”, irresistible juice with which to sign off from the City of Lights. Little were we to know that, having visited France every year for it must be decades, I would be writing this almost two years later, bereft of French culture on several levels.

If we love wine, we have many passions. However, some of those passions become something more. These wines and their producers become a meaningful, almost constant, part of our lives. For me, Gut Oggau and Rennersistas in Burgenland would be described thus, as would Alice Bouvot and Domaine des Bodines in Arbois. And indeed, there are others in other places. The wines of Pascal Clairet and Dominique Belluard occupied that pedestal as well.

As I write, I don’t know what will happen to these two domaines. At La Tournelle, Pascal’s wife Evelyne was his equal partner in the winery, both having enological qualifications, although Pascal was the man in the vines. Although he had mentored some of today’s younger stars of the northern Jura, he was not one for delegating a lot of the work…work which made the fruit which enabled the wines to sing with such joy.

Dominique had taken on some help a few years ago, Yann Pernuit. Yann has been seen as a bit of a rising star in his own right, but I am not sure the extent of his involvement in Domaine Belluard. Dominique’s partner, Valérie, was behind the domaine’s administration.

Whatever happens, and I sincerely hope both estates find a way to move forward, both of these men will be missed. Genius is certainly an over-used word, but both Pascal and Dominique made remarkable contributions to their respective appellations. They will be missed by wine and they will be very much missed by me.

In many ways it seems as if there have been an almost overwhelming number of changes in natural wine in both of these regions of Eastern France in the past few years. As Alsace’s low intervention wines seem to thrive, Savoie and Jura have been unusually hit by frost and hail, domaine sales at the highest level, and indeed vignerons passing on. The post-Brexit, Covid, era has not been kind to we lovers of these two regions. One can only hope for better times ahead.

Posted in Arbois, Artisan Wines, biodynamic wine, Jura, Natural Wine, Savoie Wine, Wine, Wine Heroes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Finest Wines Available To Humanity

The Finest Wines Available to Humanity is not some deluded statement of intent, at least I don’t think so, but is taken from the cult 1987 film, Withnail and I. Withnail says “we want the finest wines available to humanity, and we want them now”. It is perhaps this most famous line, or at least most knowing, that Darren Smith has chosen to pillage for the name of his wine company.

Darren has worked in the wine trade for many years, including a spell at London’s innovative The Sampler, and as a wine writer and journalist. In 2018 he took the ultimate step, after working a number of harvests, to become a winemaker. Since then, he’s worked around the globe. So far, he’s released wines working in collaboration with three producers, in La Palma (Canary Is.), Bio Bio (Chile) and Bairrada (Portugal). The wines are all at least organic, hand made and easy to drink. The first bottle I tried was so good that I bought the rest of his currently limited selection. There is certainly a wine from Georgia on the cards, with a couple more collabs ready to bottle soon, and Darren is also starting to sell some of the wines from his collaborators.

Darren’s initiation into winemaking came from working with Dirk Niepoort as an intern at Quinta de Nápoles in the Douro. Already a big fan of Niepoort’s Poeirinho, a wine made from the Baga variety, he ended up being sent down to the Niepoort vineyards in Bairrada (and Dão). The work was punishing, but like most newcomers to wine production, he’d fallen in love and knew this was what he wanted to do. Of course, the key to hard work is lots of play too, and this was a period when Darren’s palate was educated with, indeed, some of the finest wines available to humanity.

The result of this period was a collaborative cuvée Darren made with Sergio Silva, Niepoort’s vineyard manager down in Bairrada. It comes off old vines grown on the chalky soils of Quinta da Baixo. The idea was to make an old style Bairrada, by which I mean a short fermentation (albeit updated to stainless steel), giving less extraction, lower alcohol (12.5%) and overall a lighter and more elegant wine with finesse. But there’s also a nice bit of texture to chew on the way down. With lots of red cherry and plum as a bonus, it’s extremely tasty.

Interestingly, I’ve drunk Niepoort’s “Lagar de Baixo” Baga from the same vintage, and they do taste remarkably similar, but that’s no bad thing as the Niepoort version is such great value, and a good example of a woefully under rated variety. What both wines share is a delicious lick of acidity. This focusses the freshness and lifts the wine, making it quite easy to drink. Whatever the experts may say about the oak monsters of our world, drinkability has to be a hallmark of any great wine. I’m not saying Darren’s Baga exhibits “greatness”, but it is a great bottle as far as satisfaction goes.

At around the same time as he ventured to Portugal, Darren began what is currently a two-wine collaboration with Viki Torres, on La Palma in the Canary Isles. Regular readers will be no strangers to Victoria Torres Pecis, whose wines I discovered a few years ago, via the portfolio of Modal Wines. I’ve rated Viki’s wines highly enough to call her the new star of the Canaries (see my article here , where you can read more about Viki’s story and her wines).

La Palma is the most westerly, and fifth largest, of the main islands in the archipelago, but it rises almost a full seven thousand metres in height (that’s more than 4,000 metres below the sea and 2,426 metres above it), making it one of the steepest islands in the world. The vines are literally grown on the slopes of one enormous, and indeed active, volcano, whose crater is a full ten kilometres wide. This means that the vines grow on black volcanic ash soils, known here as “picón”, at altitudes up to 1,200 masl. Viki’s base is at Fuencalliente, near the island’s southern tip, but she farms vines in different parcels all over the island, and some are way up at those heights (which makes for a long harvest of around three months to bring in grapes from all those varied microclimates).

The first wine I drank from Darren was his collaborative cuvée of Listán Blanco (aka Palomino Fino in its homeland of Jerez), which he made with Viki in the 2019 vintage. It comes off the black soils from plots in the southeast and southwest of the island. It was shockingly good. Darren said of Viki’s wines that they are like a cave-aged goat’s cheese (of which plenty are made on La Palma) as compared to a triangle of Dairylea, which analogy readers outside of the UK might be a little nonplussed by, though I’m sure you get the idea.

I can say the same of this Listán. It’s a saline beauty, dry but with apple freshness, with (you don’t expect this) notes of honey as well. It creates a lingering finish and, with minimal sulphur added, it has a real vivacity. You don’t really expect, and half don’t believe, that it contains 13% alcohol. Delicious stuff.

There’s another (white) wine Darren made as a collab’ with Viki, called Is That the Milky Way? I’ve yet to try this one, but the photo on the label shows the inspiring view of the Milky Way, which can be seen in the night sky above the clouds on La Palma with the naked eye. It’s made from Albillo Criollo. Darren’s Albillo cuvée comes from a vineyard called Barranco Pinito, up at 1,000 masl, which forms one side of a steep ravine. Unusually, this is in the south of La Palma, because most of the Albillo is up on the north side of the island. Viki doesn’t farm these vines, which are outside the DO, and Darren purchased their grapes from a local farmer, making the wine at Viki’s place.

The fourth wine wearing Darren’s “TFWATH” label comes from far away Chile. It’s a collaboration this time with Roberto Henríquez, who farms in the Itata Valley of Bio-Bio. I’d already tried Roberto’s amazing wines via Wines Under the Bonnet, his UK importer. The variety is País, the classic “peasant” variety of Chile, brought over by the colonisers from Spain, originally for use by monks for their Communion wine, four hundred years ago. It’s probably the same variety as Listán Prieto, originating in the Gredos Mountains where some of the world’s finest Grenache is now being made. Interestingly, another place you’ll find the variety is on the Canary Islands, some cuttings having been presumably sold when the fleets touched land there en-route to South America.

The original wines made from the variety would have been very simple and rustic, and they remained so for almost all of the four hundred years-or-so that they have been cultivated in Chile, very much disdained by the forward-looking large producers who felt that Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, etc, were a somewhat safer and more commercial bet. País was well and truly ignored…except by a few.

Roberto Henríquez originally trained in agronomy and worked as a vineyard consultant, so he knew where there were plots of very old vine País. Through tasting these wines, given to him by the farmers, he was able to understand the variety and its qualities, and most importantly, to bring those qualities to the fore in his own wine, making all the right decisions based on quality alone.

Henríquez got a taste for natural wines when working in The Loire (he’s also worked in South Africa and Canada, so has quite wide experience outside of Bio-Bio). His own País cuvées (Rivera del Notro and Santa Cruz de Coya) are pretty sensational for this variety. The latter vineyard comprises vines over 200 years old up at an altitude of 350 masl. I’m wondering whether Darren’s País comes from this 3-ha site? He describes his cuvée as coming off “black basalt sand, dry farmed and unfiltered”. At least we know he found the grapes for his collaboration after a drive along dirt roads near the backwater village of Millapoa, which is where “Coya” comes from.

So, these are Darren’s four wines. So far. I mentioned Georgia, and I saw in one of his regular updates that a trip to Western Georgia is in the offing for Darren. The lucky man is going to make a collaboration in Imereti, with Baia Abuladze. She makes wine with her sister, Gvantsa, both having a commitment to traditional winemaking methods, which (not always the case in Imereti) includes using “Churi”, the Imeretean name for Qvevri.

They are making wine to the east of the Sairme Mountains in a region with a unique microclimate, particularly with the high solar intensity caused by the higher angle of the sun’s rays. I’m expecting another special wine from Darren, assuming he can get to Georgia for this year’s harvest. The Abuladze sisters’ wines are as far as I know only available in the UK via , but Baia made the 2019 “Forbes 30 under 30” List, and is clearly a name to watch in her own right.

Before Georgia there will be a couple more wines to sink your teeth, I mean tongue, into. Bottling soon will be a Moratella Rosado 2020, made in collaboration with Monastrell and Garnacha specialist Julia Casado. Julia is a very small-scale artisan producer (@ladelterreno) in Bullas, a region in the province of Murcia which more or less fills the gap between Jumilla and the sea in Southeastern Spain. Naturally it’s a region of old and neglected vines, perfect for Darren’s preferences.

Next up after the Rosé will be Mollar Cano 2021 from Peru’s Mala Valley. This is a wine Darren made with Pepe Moquillaza. If you don’t know Mollar Cano, you may well have tasted the variety under the name of Negramoll, from the Canary Islands. It originated (probably) in Andalucia and ended up in the Canaries on the way out to South America, like so many other varieties.

Pepe is interesting in that he’s well known for producing a revered Peruvian Premium Pisco called Inquebrantable (which translates as “Unbreakable”). In Peru a lot of very basic, often poor, wine is made as a by-product of the Pisco industry. Pepe has turned this on its head and is at the very forefront of quality, natural, wine in Peru, a tiny segment of the market but sure to gain ground. It will be very exciting to taste the new Peruvian wine from Darren.

So where can you find The Finest Wines Available to Humanity? The first thing to say is that quantities are pretty small…and running out every week. There are a couple of London retail locations, one market, where Darren can be found on a Saturday, or you can contact the man himself (when he’s around in the UK), perhaps via his Insta (@tfwath).

Those retailers are The Sampler branches and Lechevalier, a wine bar and shop on Tower Bridge Road. You can also try them at two restaurants: Skye Gyngell’s Spring at Somerset House and the immaculate Leroy in Shoreditch. One of the best ways to pick up the wines is to head to Westgate Street Market, in London Fields, if it’s not too much of a hike. Darren is there on Saturdays, and there’s usually a chance to taste. Otherwise, especially for everyone outside of London, drop Darren a line and he can arrange to send out the wines, with the usual shipping of course. They come directly from London City Bond (LCB). On Instagram he’s @tfwath or go to

I’m only a couple of wines in on my journey but I cannot see myself wanting to miss any of Darren’s upcoming releases. Mind you, a word of warning. I am far from being the only one to be getting acquainted with these wines.

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

Recent Wines May 2021 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

Part 2 of May’s most interesting wines drunk at home begins with two stunning wines, from the Jura and Burgenland (the second of those a fellow blogger coincidentally chose as his wine of the month for May). From here we swing over to Portugal, then Franken in Germany, Savoie (just south of Lac Léman), and Burgundy, finishing with a familiar friend from Alsace.


Alice Bouvot continues to make the most innovative wines in Arbois, and I’d even put her ever-growing negoce range a step up from ex-vigneron (?) Mr Ganevat. The innovation comes from using or blending grapes from different regions which Alice harvests herself, making the wines wholly “naturally”, including with no sulphur additions. It kind of figures that the labels are always equally innovative, but this one is next level too, a line drawing of her favoured gnome as “Roi” with a painting-by-numbers chart for us to colour it in, should we wish.

This cuvée is Riesling, grown by Philippe Brand at Ergersheim in the Bas Rhin (Alsace), directly east of Strasbourg. The grapes are transported back to Arbois and are give two weeks maceration on skins before ageing in tank. This was bottled in May 2018 and three years in bottle had not wearied it one bit.

The grape variety gives itself away on the nose with beautiful Riesling scents, quite evolved. The palate is very interesting. High-toned fruit acids are still evident but there’s a really nice depth to a wine you might assume would be lighter from the bouquet. But the flavours of chilli and ginger which mix with the lime citrus make for something quite different again. There’s finesse, but “Roi” definitely has a rebellious side too. I love this so much, but it might scare the unaware.

Imported by Tutto Wines.

GRAUBURGUNDER 2019, RENNERSISTAS (Burgenland, Austria)

Rennersistas, now “Renner und Rennersistas” since brother Georg joined the team, operate from their father’s original winery right on the western edge of Gols, as you approach from Neusiedl am See, at the top end of said lake. (I discovered that if you write GOLS in capitals it will be mistaken for the acronym for “Global Organic Latex Standard”, in case that comes in useful some time).

I do recall Stefanie telling me some time ago that they were going to move away from single varietal wines, once they had fully understood what vine stock they had and how the terroir affected it, towards producing more interesting blends. I pray, having discovered this wine for the first time, that they keep making varietal Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris). Fellow blogger Alan March declared it his Wine of the Month for May and were I so inclined, I cannot think of one to top it, though Alice Bouvot’s Riesling would be its equal.

The fruit comes from a new vineyard only planted in 2017 (this is the first vintage), and is fermented on skins for four days, and this was evidently enough to extract sufficient colour to make the wine a clear cherry red or magenta (though oddly described as “amber” on the retailer’s web site). The colour was a shock, but the wine divine. Ageing is in old wood, on lees.

The bouquet is of red fruits, but in the way that a Blanc de Noirs has the same kind of nose, the palate definitely cries “white wine”. Especially if you close your eyes. You will taste both redcurrant and cranberries, with the kind of edge you get in cranberry juice. The alcohol, at 12.5%, is just perfect. It’s a truly versatile wine. I’m shooting myself in the foot big time here because it will be my own fault if I can’t get some more.

Available from Littlewine and Newcomer Wines.


I think you will see a sudden influx of Portuguese wines into these articles in the coming months. After getting behind Simon Woolf’s project, a new book on the Wines of Portugal, I thought I ought to make an effort to drink more of them. I have enjoyed many Portuguese wines in the past, and even visited the wine regions in the north, but sometimes a country drops off the radar for whatever reason.

I’ve actually met Antonio Maçanita a few times, a really nice guy, but it was always to taste the wines he makes on Pico Island with his Azores Wine Company. Those wines are hand crafted artisan gems, made from grapes grown on some of the most rugged and windswept volcanic terroir in Europe. The pair of Alentejo wines (this red and a white) are quite different, more commercial perhaps (on tasting the red). However, they are significantly cheaper. If you only drink natural wines, I don’t think this will be for you, but if you are seeking something fairly inexpensive (although £15.50 isn’t inexpensive for most consumers), this may provide an interesting experiment.

Antonio has partnered with Sandra Sárria to make a cuvée from forty-year-old Aragonez (aka Tinta Roriz, aka Tempranillo) (40%), blended with Alicante Bouschet (30%), Trincadeira (20%) and Castelão (10%). The vines are all grown on schist and granite.

Fermentation is in small vats with 15-20 days post-fermentation maceration. It’s quite different to the wines I normally drink. Alcohol is up at 14.5% and the wine is suitably dense and dark to match, and has thick violet legs running down the glass. The nose is of dark, spiced, fruit whilst the palate is equally dense, and earthy. It’s viscous and I can’t help thinking a degree less alcohol would have suited my taste, but that’s my purely subjective assessment. I think age will assist in balancing it. You get liquorice and eucalyptus.

In sum – it’s a very well-made wine at the top end of what I’d call commercial. Commercial or not, I do think if I’d aged it I’d have found more nuance. I do know a couple of people who have loved this, and although it’s not my thing it’s good to leave the comfort zone.

Purchased from Butlers Wine Cellar.

“LE ROUGE NU” 2018, MAX SEIN WEIN (Franken, Germany)

This is my third bottle, but first red, from this relatively unknown 3.5-hectare estate at Wertheim-Dertingen, in Franken (Franconia). It has already furnished me with some very good old vine Silvaner…or should that be “Sylvaner”. You can see from the name of the wine that Max has decided to go Français, and he carries this through to the grape varieties. Instead of using its common German name, Schwarzriesling, he uses its more common French synonym, Pinot Meunier, for the main grape variety, and there’s also just a touch of Pinot Noir (I’m told), not Spätburgunder.

I’d suggest that the red here is equal to the whites. If you enjoy good Meunier. The simplest way to describe this is plum coloured raspberry juice with strong notes of strawberry on the nose. However, it’s not one-dimensional. There’s also a nice hint of “forest floor” coming through in the 2018. It’s another bottle of total glouglou for quenching that thirst. Fresh, zippy acidity and mouth-filling fruit. Joyous…you get the idea.

As well as this 2018 there is also the 2019 vintage available right now, which will certainly feature in my next order.

Discovered and imported by Basket Press Wines.

“1515” 2016, LES VIGNES DE PARADIS, VdP des ALLOBROGES (Savoie, France)

Dominique Lucas, based at Ballaison, made this 100% Chasselas cuvée from one of the least known regions for the variety, which has been grown for centuries south of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) as well as on the northern (Swiss) shore of the lake. There are various AOP designations in the short stretch between Geneva and Evian-les-Bains, including Crépy, Marin, Marignan and Ripaille.

In this case, Dominique uses the regional Vin de Pays (now IGP) designation, Allobroges. However, in this part of Savoie there is no one making wine quite like Dominique’s. I’m not the first to suggest his Chasselas stands with the best wines of France. Having finally given up his family vines in Burgundy, he can now concentrate on his special project here in Savoie.

“1515” comes from the appellation of Marignan, a tiny sub-region near Sciez, almost on the lake, just east of the promontory on which sits the beautiful and much visited medieval village of Yvoire (you can take a lovely boat trip across the water to Yvoire from Geneva). The grapes come off slopes at between 350 to 400 masl, all gravel with clay.

Ageing is in a mix of large old wood and concrete eggs, vinification following meticulous sorting. Dominique not only uses biodynamics but also several other more mystical measures. You probably know his “Kheops” (sic) Chardonnay is made in a concrete and oak pyramid aligned to the points of the compass. He also plays classical music to the wines (he’s by no means alone in trying this), believing sound waves calm the wine. But then it’s nice to have some music in the winery and perhaps Napalm Death might scare the juice?

This is perhaps the weightiest of the five Chasselas cuvées here, and it’s perhaps less mineral than some. But it is built around a filigree lacework of acids which wraps around gorgeous pear flavours, with maybe a hint of pineapple. It does have a classic mineral texture on the dry finish though. More than anything else, I think this particular Chasselas proves that the variety is capable of ageing, something few give it a chance to do. It’s clearly the attention to detail at every stage which creates the possibilities. It’s up there with Ziereisen’s top Gutedel and a lot cheaper (under £30 for this vintage when purchased, pre-Brexit). Try it before you dismiss Chasselas.

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene, but quantities are fairly small (3,400 bottles of this in 2016).


Sylvain Pataille, like many a traditional Burgundian winemaker who remains glued to their patrimoine, was born in Marsannay from where he now farms from a base near the church. This is another biodynamic farmer whose red wines have proved both increasingly excellent, and equally remained excellent value, for twenty years, getting better all the time.

Also a specialist with Aligoté, in which he has a remarkable belief, Sylvain is finally seeing that variety get some of the credit it deserves. Whether or not this has been precipitated by the shocking price of Côte d’Or Chardonnay at almost any level now, the very best Aligoté is now getting decent prices, and one or two have become genuine unicorn wines, highly sought after (says a man who just bought some De Moor Plantation 1902).

The winemaking here is natural, no additions except sulphur, added only if necessary at bottling and in tiny amounts. Several different Aligoté are made and this one comes from the “Aligoté Doré” clone. Most of the acidic Aligoté readers will have drunk, perhaps mixed in a Kir, is made from Aligoté Vert, the most common clone in Burgundy. Aligoté Doré was made famous by Aubert de Villaine in his exceptional Bouzeron Aligoté. It’s a different beast.

Significantly lower yields, a tendency of the clone, improves both aromatics and concentration. That Pataille’s vines for this cuvée were planted in 1949 on a gentle east-facing slope rising to 300 metres, in red soils over classic Burgundian limestone, gives this wine the best possible start. Twenty-four months in old oak rounds it out and some bottle age mellows it further.

This wine has a remarkable affinity to Chardonnay, for a moment, then it flits back to Aligoté, and seems to make this pendulum switch gently, on the palate, down to the end of the bottle. There is no piercing acidity, just a sensual smooth mouthfeel, but the wine is steeped in the fresh mineral texture of limestone. There are now a good number of fine Aligoté, but this is up there with the very best.

From The Solent Cellar.


The Rieffels make this Pinot from a number of parcels scattered around below their home village of Mittelbergheim, where their winery/tasting room sits on the main street, almost opposite Jean-Pierre Rietsch. They are one of a group of winemakers which David Nielson (“Back in Alsace” blog) has dubbed the Mittelbergheim School…with good reason because the winemakers involved share experiences, taste together and have a very similar outlook, whether that be on natural winemaking or the graphic design of their labels.

“Nature” is one of three Pinots under the Rieffel label, and is the most glouglou of the three. Fermented for around two weeks in stainless steel, as whole bunches, the wine then gets just eight months in older oak before bottling the following spring. With no additions, including zero sulphur, the wine is protected by an injection of CO2 (which, don’t worry, the wine absorbs, leaving just a mouth-tingling freshness). Pure as it’s possible to get, this is like fruit juice, albeit with a very surprising 13% alcohol. The wine is quite light though, lifted, zesty. What kind of juice? Strawberry and cherry for me. Wine should be fun and this is!

This cuvée came from Littlewine ( Just £26. I plugged this very same wine when I drank a bottle last year, but it’s well worth a repeat recommendation. As they say, if it’s worth Tweeting, Tweet it twice.

Posted in Aligoté, Alsace, Artisan Wines, Austrian Wine, biodynamic wine, Burgundy, German Wine, Jura, Natural Wine, Neusiedlersee, Portuguese wine, Savoie Wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Recent Wines May 2021 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

May wasn’t quite the start of the early summer we experienced last year, but we kicked off with wines which at least helped to make it feel like one. Will the wines still be this good out of Lockdown? I hope so, but then we might just be heading for a “third wave” so it’s just as well the cellar is well stocked. We began on 1st May with a sensational English sparkler from a much-maligned grape variety. Moving on, we visited Slovakia, Australia’s Adelaide Hills, back to England, then over to Savoie. The first half of the month concluded with a rare but welcome trip to the Languedoc, another of the increasing number of wonderful Palomino table wines coming out of Southern Spain, then ended with a nicely aged Cabernet Franc from the Loire.


Peter Hall planted Breaky Bottom by hand in 1974, so it was one of the first commercial small artisan vineyards in England. It is blessed with a truly beautiful location, nestling in a fold in the South Downs, between Brighton and Newhaven. As you stand on the South Downs Way walking path you look down on the farm, and over the ridge beyond to the sea, just less than two miles away. The vineyard consists 6 hectares on chalk in the South Downs National Park, on land shared with a small herd of forty sheep.

Peter and Christina Hall were pioneers of Seyval Blanc long before the Champagne varieties became the chosen grapes for English Sparkling Wine. Whilst Peter makes equally enthralling wines from those varieties, which all seem to share a house style of lacelike fruit and mineral acidity, I have only once tasted a Seyval Blanc sparkling wine which approaches this one in quality, though quite different (one made by Tim Phillips, and I only tried it a few days ago…but more of that another time).

This is a traditionally bottle-fermented wine, aged on lees, with almost the colour of elderflower cordial, no doubt psychologically precipitating the lovely floral elderflower bouquet. The palate shows fresh apples with a hint of confit lemon. It has a sharp focus but overall is very light on its feet. This is a wine to pour blind for the traditionalists who really don’t rate Seyval Blanc (since they tried one acidic still wine in 1989, you know how the story goes).

Butlers Wine Cellar (two Brighton shops and mail order/web sales) usually stocks the widest selection of Breaky Bottom wines I’m aware of in the UK, aided by their close relationship with the Halls.

“CARBONIQ” 2019, VINO MAGULA (Lower Carpathians, Slovakia)

I love the wines of Magula, but I do reckon they have upped their game in the last couple of vintages. Both Czechia and Slovakia are making truly exciting wines which seem ready to break through beyond the cool bars of the UK’s metro areas, with a few more journalists waking up to them. Although good packaging doesn’t make a wine taste better, I do appreciate the effort they have put into adding a little more interest to their already striking labels (a cut-out vine driving deep into the earth to seek nutrients).

Magula is a ten-hectare family farm at Suche Nad Parnou in the Lower Carpathians. The family farm biodynamically on mainly loess soils with a high mineral content. Very low rainfall in this valley forces the vines to go deep, and they have a rugged side, balanced by the fruit purity of biodynamics.

Carboniq is a lowish alcohol (10.5%) red made from the Modry Portugal variety (aka Blauer Portugieser), one which can make surprisingly juicy wines (see Staffelterhof etc in Germany) but is another grape woefully underestimated by the traddies. It makes a pale but vibrant red here, scented with pure red fruits (red cherry, strawberry), with classic “whole berry” juice. The good acidity makes this very refreshing, and there’s just a little bite on the finish. It makes a great lunchtime red, not that you can’t drink it anytime (I mean, at 10.5% it might go well with a cooked breakfast?). Altogether, amazing value too, at £19.

UK importer is Basket Press Wines.

RAINBOW JUICE 2019, GENTLE FOLK WINES (Adelaide Hills, South Australia)

Gareth Belton has had an interesting career progression. Born in South Africa, he came to Australia in his teens on a tennis scholarship of all things, but ended up as a marine biologist before being afflicted by the winemaking bug. He farms 11 hectares in and around the Basket Ranges, purchasing additional grapes from friends. He follows biodynamic processes, and unusually for Australia (but not in the natural wine fraternity) all his vines are unirrigated.

Rainbow Juice originally came from a single site co-planted with 21 varieties, but these days it comes from a wider spread of sites. Some of the older vine stock is over forty years old. Both red and white varieties go into the blend, with a focus on Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah and Gewurztraminer (among a very long list). The white varieties get a three-week skin maceration and the red varieties are lightly pressed to give the wine its Rosé colour. Fermentation is described as “rolling”, with grapes added as they come in.

That colour is a darker pink with some orange or copper glints. The colour would be described by Rosé traditionalists, and those focussed on what the market seems to lap up, as “Non-commercial”. The wine is dry yet juicy, with grapefruit and other citrus aromatics. The palate is more around the mandarin spectrum with a little texture from the skin contact (but not too much). All this makes for a delicious glugging pink with a lot more interest than many. So tasty.

This bottle came via Littlewine.


Tim Phillips makes this artisan cider from the apple orchard adjoining his beautiful paradise of a walled vineyard near Lymington in Hampshire. He adds a dash of his red wine to colour it (although now he’s switching from this to using skins), and of all the fine English Sparkling Ciders I know, this is the most vinous. In fact, Tim told me recently that his UK agent said it could almost be a fine Grower Champagne, and that’s what you get.

The first thing that comes over is a remarkable spine-tingling freshness, backed with very fine tiny bubbles. Although one can push the sparkling wine analogy a long way here, the apples definitely tell you it’s cider, just cider with an extra dimension. Taut and tantalising, but sadly (as with anything Tim produces) hard to source.

This was my last bottle. I managed to secure just one from the 2020 vintage, the remainder going straight to Les Caves de Pyrene. I understand they sold them through pretty much immediately, but there should be a few bottles knocking around in the Indie retail sector and restaurants. Grab one if you spot one. It’s fine…like fine wine…and different.


This 15-hectare domaine (grown from 3.5 hectares back in 2001) is at St-Pierre d’Albigny, east of Chambéry on the Combe de Savoie. There is a mere two-hectares of Altesse planted, the traditional white variety of the Combe. The domaine has been run since 2001 by Raphaël Saint-Germain, who studied plant biology, but winemaking is in the hands of Fabrice Bouché. He follows a progressive, low intervention route using indigenous yeasts and carbon dioxide injected into the tanks as a means to protect the juice and minimise the addition of sulphur.

The result with this Roussette is a classically mineral profile unhindered by adulteration. The bouquet is herbal but the palate, whilst fresh, is a little unexpected. I would fancifully describe it as (please indulge me) like licking honey-coated stewed apple from a stone. These wines are very good and excellent value, from an estate which flies below the radar of those seeking the more fashionable names of Savoie.

Wink Lorch, in Wines of the French Alps (Wine Travel Media, 2019) suggests that the white wines from this domaine develop well over a few years, and tasting this bottle bears that out. You just sense that whilst right now it’s lovely and fresh (and only 12% abv), it does have more potential to round out and develop, especially the nose.

Imported by Alpine Wines, purchased from Butlers Wine Cellar.

“LA BUVETTE À PAULETTE” 2019, MAS COUTELOU (Languedoc, France)

Jeff Coutelou (who can now no longer use “Mas” on his non-AOP Languedoc wines) seems to have an uncanny ability to make some very serious natural wines, but equally, some of the most glouglou in Southern France. He farms circa 13 hectares at Puimisson, north of Béziers. Jeff takes natural wine to another level with a desire to develop a mixed habitat with a focus on ecology.

His more Neanderthal neighbours have not always appreciated why planting trees on the edge of the vines benefits viticulture, and Jeff sometimes seems like a prophet amongst the blind in a part of the region well known for boosting the profits of the agrichemical industry.

Anyway, out of Jeff’s very wide range of captivating wines, “Buvette” has traditionally been the one made from odds and ends, “glou’d” together for glugging, although at 14.5% abv don’t glug it too quickly. The 2019 is a blend of Merlot, Mourvèdre and Syrah and in this vintage it’s really juicy. A big wine but balanced by freshness so that it doesn’t taste heavy at all. The colour is dark and you get that expected dense fruit with sharp fruit acidity balanced just right. Crunchy and with punch! The one thing which could put some people off is a slight touch of volatility, which a couple of friends found more of in their shared bottle than I did mine.

Coutelou is imported by Gergovie Wines but this bottle came from Keeling Andrew & Co, the import arm of Noble Rot, purchased at Seven Cellars in Brighton. I must say, I was only allowed one bottle, though there were two on the shelf. It’s a slightly odd wine to be on ration, a cheap and cheerful glugger, albeit a very good one. I’ve noticed an increasing tendency to ration wines, but I don’t think a couple of bottles is excessive. However, my reason for wanting two was to persuade another retailer to stock it, but I later found out they already do.


This wine comes from Bodegas Herederos, a project led by Raúl Moreno. Born in Seville, Raúl worked in London before setting up an import business in Australia and New Zealand. But he wanted to make wine back home. Not just any wine, but a replica of the wines once made in Jerez before Sherry became a fortified wine. It just happens that unfortified table wines are really taking off in the region, but this new addition (begun with the 2017 vintage) is at the forefront of exciting quality, a tremendous new discovery for me.

All of the Oceánicos wines are from single vineyards, with a terroir focus. “Curro” consists of Moscatel from Puerto de Santa Mariá and Palomino from Sanlucár, both from single vineyards (Viña Maria Luisa and Viña La Fama). All are old vines off Albariza soils, which of course is quite unusual for Moscatel. The grapes are fermented in tank as whole bunches, then the juice spends nine months on lees with no oxygenation.

The green-gold flecks in the glass already make this attractive. The bouquet is striking, like a slightly salty Chablis (the Chablis element is really noticeable for me, and I got it on another Palomino last week). The palate is clean and fresh with bags more salinity, suggestive of the white, sun-baked Jerez albariza soils. It’s also herbal (fennel is in there), with a classic textured acid finish, chalky-dry. This is very good indeed. I have another untasted Oceánicos wine (Cepas de Pacco) which I think is more expensive and also has more skin contact, but the Curro comes as highly recommended as possible.

The Oceánicos wines are brought in by Les Caves de Pyrene, this one via The Solent Cellar. There’s a worthwhile article on them on Doug Wregg’s blog, Doug Decants, on Les Caves’s web site.


Antoine has been in charge of the family domaine at Varrains, not far from Chaintré, since 2002. Over almost twenty years he has established himself as one of the most exciting producers in the Central Loire, but unlike certain other domaines, his prices remain very reasonable (let’s say by comparison to the likes of Clos Rougeard).

He credits as mentors Thierry Germain and the Foucault brothers of Clos Rougeard, whose vineyard some of his eleven hectares abut (in the sandy soils of “Les Poyeux”). Ten of those hectares are red grapes for Saumur and Saumur-Champigny, with one precious hectare of Chenin, for white wine.

This is what I would call an old school Cabernet Franc made by a man who looks younger than he probably is. Vinification is in cement tanks and the red consequently has that lovely earthy texture these vessels can give a wine. Ageing is deep underground in an enormous cool cavern. This texture supports plum and red fruits on the bouquet, the palate showing deeper plum notes. Even at almost seven years old there are still nice acids, set off by a very balanced 12.5% alcohol. There’s no appreciable tannin, just that texture. Quite magnificent, really, and one wonders when tasting a wine like this why Cabernet Franc seems to gain so much less kudos among most wine connoisseurs than Cabernet Sauvignon?

I’m not totally sure where all of my few bottles of Antoine Sanzay, red and white, came from, but I’m thinking almost certainly The Solent Cellar. They currently list an interesting (and discounted) six-bottle selection case of 2018s (two red pairs and one white pair for £159). Worth checking out. At just over £26/bottle my “prices remain very reasonable” might be an understatement.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Cider, English Cider, English Wine, Natural Wine, Rosé Wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Collector

Do you have too much wine? The answer to that question will probably depend on how much disposable income you have and whether you have the space to keep it, or to pay someone else to do so. I’m extremely lucky. I don’t have a cellar in the conventional sense, but our house is built on a hill so that, via a door lower down the house, I have storage which is beneath the front floor. It’s much the same thing in terms of temperature variation. It means that over time I’ve built up a decent wine collection, albeit measured in merely hundreds of bottles.

I have friends and acquaintances who own many thousands of bottles, far more than they could possibly drink in their lifetimes. Of course, if they have purchased wisely, they may be able to turn their cellar, or their stash at a bonded warehouse, into a nice retirement fund. I couldn’t do that. Never sold a bottle, don’t intend to, though when my last Chave Hermitages were worth around £250/bottle it was almost tempting. Almost. My ideal would be to drink it all before I go, but timing like that would be mere luck. No one in my family would be sufficiently interested in my stash for it to be particularly appreciated as something to pass on. It may end up as something only slightly less onerous to clear out than all the crap stored in the loft.

I spotted an anonymous poll on Tom Cannavan’s Winepages Forum last week, titled “How Many Bottles Do You Own?” The largest number of respondents at the time of looking (19%) said they own between 1,000 and 2,000 bottles, but 5.7% of those replying claim to own “more than 10,000 bottles”. Another 5.1% answered “7,000 to 10,000”. As a visitor to that forum, I would tend to believe they are telling the truth.

I’m guessing many people reading this will not be so lucky, particularly younger readers who, like me back in my twenties and very early thirties, probably just have a rack or two under the stairs. I think it was around the mid-1990s when I hit my first hundred bottles and it has crept up from there.

The thing is, when you begin to amass a lot of wine, something odd begins to happen. Before your cellar reaches a sort of equilibrium, the common problem is being forced to drink a bottle too young, either that or to go out and buy something cheap to drink instead as the only alternative. After a certain point you end up not wanting to drink that precious bottle you have saved for years. A certain unwillingness to let go. Sometimes bottles get ignored as a result of changing taste. I have a dwindling selection of fine Bordeaux and Burgundy, which save for a small handful of “natural” producers I hardly buy anymore. But there are also unicorn wines which I doubt will be easy to come by again, even if I can afford the atrociously elevated prices of current vintages. So, when they are gone, they are truly gone, and that can be scary.

There’s a kind of warm feeling I get when I enter the cellar. I don’t exactly stroke the bottles (I’m told some people do), but I am aware (in most cases with remarkable accuracy) where most wines are located and their presence does impinge upon my consciousness. Frankly, it feels good. I think it’s a similar feeling with all collections, except that with a book or an LP you can re-read or re-listen. Once the wine is consumed, that’s it, gone. It’s a frightening thought.

Some people firmly believe you have to buy a whole case of each wine. Then you don’t need to feel that sense of loss until the final bottle, which you will probably consume as the contents are beginning to fade, anyway. Of course, there’s always the Coravin, but I don’t own one and don’t intend to, a purely personal choice based on how I like to enjoy a bottle of wine.

I used to subscribe to the view that one should preferably buy a whole case, certainly six bottles at least (though money was certainly a factor in curtailing how often I did), but then at some point around the year 2000 I realised that there is such a wide world of wine out there, buying cases, or even six-packs, was going to seriously curtail the number of new experiences open to me. This is when my norm of purchasing one bottle, sometimes two, very occasionally three or four, began to take hold.

What makes for a collector, I wonder? Some suggest it’s a pastime for geeks, introverts with few social skills. I don’t agree, or at least I hope those who know me find me pleasant, engaged, capable of empathy etc. But there is certainly a collector gene. Strangely, my daughter has it but my son could probably live out of a suitcase (plus a couple of guitars). People collect all sorts of things, and I’m sure wine collecting is just another aspect the overall “hobby”. In many cases it can become a genuine addiction though.

I began to wonder, when the idea for this piece came into my head, how long collecting has been a thing. We all know about the obsessive Victorians who went across the world, bringing back collections of plants, stuffed animals, dead butterflies and more. Before this period of frantic activity, Colonialism had already begun to sweep up the treasures of defeated civilisations like some great human phylloxera vastatrix, taking all in its path to fill country houses and the great new museums.

The Grand Tour was perhaps a more legitimate way of collecting cultural objects to bring home…when you paid the artist rather than some tomb or temple thief (the robbing of temples is still going on today, whilst most tombs have long been emptied). Have we always been collectors? Did our Neolithic ancestors invite a prospective partner back to their cave to see their collection of flints, or sabre-tooth tiger teeth?

My own habit began very briefly in childhood. I had a stamp collection aged around nine or ten. As pre-teens hit, that tentative interest transferred to a zeal for vinyl as I got into music. It was two miles to my nearest record shop, and on a Saturday morning I would walk there and back with my mate, David White, to buy a 7” single. Both of us had a fairly standard allowance that meant we could afford the record but not the bus fare.

Collecting recorded music has been a lifelong passion of mine, although pretty much every record I owned was sold for very little money around 1978 in order to buy the new bands of the post-punk era. I’ve been equally voracious in accumulating classical composers as well as rock and pop, especially opera. I’ve been trying to play every one of my alphabetically-shelved LPs and CDs this past year. It is going to take a very long time to get through them, but I’m enjoying the discipline. Some things haven’t been given a spin for twenty years.

Books have also been a passion. I’m an avid reader, as is my wife, and we have well over two-thousand books here at a guess. Occasionally some go to charity, but inevitably every time they do I want to read a book I gave away six or twelve months ago. Of course, within this category is my wine library. I did a quick count and it came to 108 wine books. Some of them I’ve read three or four times and they are an invaluable research resource. Even here, I’ve got rid of some over the years and almost always regretted it.

People collect what many of us would think odd things. When I was in my early teens a friend’s father was an amateur film maker and he collected those LPs of sound bites (steam train, fanfare, volcano erupting…) and we spent many fascinating hours playing them just as we would play any of our more conventional musical discoveries. These records became highly sought after when sampling became common in certain musical genres.

A lot of collecting is of things from the past. Nostalgia is very much one impetus for collecting, for inducing that warm glow, often for a time when life was a lot simpler and we felt safe and secure. It’s probably why I’m all of a sudden playing music from my teenage years. Wine purchasing is in some ways the opposite, a burning desire to try the new. But then we don’t open it. What’s that all about? Ownership? Is hanging on to wine bottles a bit like buying vinyl and keeping it unopened in its shrink wrapping, or like collectors of toy cars or plastic film characters, left in their boxes or blister packs, not played with?

Some collect wine to boast about it. Rows of Le Pin, Pétrus and DP to show your friends, just like the guy who was a friend of my wife’s father, who had a whole room full of his regimental memorabilia which he would be sure to show with glee on any visit. Others hide it all away, lest a visitor should ask him (usually him) to open a treasured bottle. I fall in between, because I know that part of my reason for not opening a bottle is because I want to be able to share it with people who don’t have one, be that at our place for dinner, or at a BYOB wine event. There are definitely wines we connect with certain friends. Oh, so-and-so loves L’Octavin but someone else likes old Bordeaux.

My wish to be generous is genuine, although there is the occasional pang of minor regret…the tiny pour of that last bottle of Ganevat Vin Jaune shared with ten or twelve wine fanatics in a restaurant. But what goes around comes around, and I know my own mild generosity has been more than matched by the generosity of others over the years. That is one of the great things about the wine fraternity, and collecting wine at least allows a degree of sharing not available to those who collect toy cars or dolls.

You might think this is an unusual topic for me to write about. I suppose that over the past year of lockdowns I have been buying more wine than usual. Without doubt, we have been drinking a bit more wine than usual as well, so the wine collection hasn’t really decreased in size, much as my wife would like to see fewer bottles parked on the floor in front of the racks. It has got me thinking, though, about the sheer quantity we have to get through at some point. As a result, I think our drinking habits have changed in one positive way. I have been selecting wines to drink which before, I would not have opened. I know I’m not alone in opening wines previously reserved for birthdays or Christmas on a random Wednesday night.

This feels like a major breakthrough. I’ve drunk more wines from favourite producers, such as Domaine L’Octavin, Gut Oggau or Rennersistas, during the past year than in any previous years. Equally, there are wines I own which I’d have readily grabbed in preference to rarer bottles, but which now I look at and wonder why I bought them. Not that they are bad wines…on the contrary. It’s just that they are not quite at the level of the wines I’m drinking, and that means both in terms of quality and also in terms of interest.

Another aspect of my collecting mentality has changed too. A few years ago, I was no less interested than any of my wine mates in trying to get hold of unicorn wines. Domaine des Miroirs, Dominique Lucas’s “Kheops”, Prieuré-St-Christophe from the Grisard era, Overnoy, Ganevat’s top domaine wines, you know the type of thing. As I mentioned in my last article, trying to obtain a mere bottle of these can be rather soul-destroying. In the old days you’d go into a Parisian wine bar and try to order a wine like this, and the guy behind the bar, glimpsing your imperfect anglophone pronunciation, would reply with an emphatic “Non!”. Well, these days you begin to hear that from English wine merchants you’ve known for years. A local wine shop refused me more than one bottle of a certain Languedoc red the other day, even though there were two out on the shelf.

I’ve started to realise that actually, much of the true excitement in wine exists in the £25-to-£35 range rather than going more expensive. I suppose that as my (relatively) expensive bottles do get consumed the desire to keep wine for decades will be tempered by the fact that many of the wines I’m buying now will probably taste better after four or five years rather than one or two decades (though the price-to-quality and ageability ratio for German Riesling remains astonishing). It’s a little sad to be reminded that fine Barolo is a pointless purchase for me now. I hope I’m still here in twenty years but I’d rather enjoy a top producer’s lesser wine in five years, just in case.

Spending less is greatly assisted by a new tack in my wine “collecting”. As wines from established producers become both more expensive and harder to source, I have found a new passion for new producers. I’ve always had a knack, due to my level of long emersion, for finding new stars. Having a finger on the pulse has always been important to me. I only truly know Jura as well as most because I first went to Arbois (as a day trip from Burgundy) in the 1980s and have returned most years ever since.

This certainly has a mirror in music. Part of my musical focus is definitely nostalgic. I bought a Neil Young ten-cd box of assorted radio broadcasts last week, and I have Frank Zappa’s last US concert on pre-order (out in June). But at the same time, I’m very much open to the new, hence my interest in the contemporary jazz of Sons of Kemet, and all the British rap/hip-hop artists I’m listening to at the same time.

This brings me to the last point, I think, that I’d like to make about the collecting impulse. It’s not necessarily about perceived quality. Of course, the collector of Le Pin in large format is no different to the guy who collects vintage Rolex (or vintage Porsches). That’s about collecting what is conspicuously the best, and will be seen as the best by fellow connoisseurs. But most collectors, for want of money or just a very different sensibility, collect for different criteria. To amass things which speak to them on a personal level. That may be toy soldiers, Wedgwood pottery, football programmes, concert tickets, or it may be wine.

This is why I’m pretty sure that owning wines from new and young producers in sometimes less well known, even obscure, wine regions, engages a different feeling than that of owning a collection of the finest Bordeaux, Burgundy or Champagne. That’s not to denigrate such collectors, who in all probability started their wine stash at a time when these wines were not so expensive, and not so difficult to source. But many will equally have paid top auction prices, and their feeling will be one of pride at the victory over others in the saleroom. Success as an emblem of manhood, perhaps. Seeking out the new, wines which do not yet have the stamp of greatness placed upon them by the trend setters is different, surely? Or perhaps not? I mean, we’re all obsessives to some degree.

At least you can be pretty sure that inviting someone to share your bottle of Prévost Fac-Simile may be slightly more enticing than asking them to come over to see your collection of pristine, boxed, Corgi toy cars. The bottle of wine you bought from a relatively unknown producer today may turn out to be a Prévost of the future (anyway, isn’t Collin the new Prévost, and Lassaigne the new Collin, or something like that?). It’s probably going to be the people with that sort of collecting mentality who will suss out which wines among the vast sea produced around the world will be the unicorns of tomorrow. Isn’t it? Help me out here.

I’m hoping, on that note, to take a break from writing for a couple of weeks (though no, I’m not dashing off to Portugal, Ascension Island or The Falklands – to readers outside of the UK, a handful of places we could, in theory, visit without hotel quarantine on our return). I should be back in a fortnight’s time with what is shaping up to be a gorgeous set of wines from May, plus an article on a very exciting new winemaker, who some “collectors” I know are already busy snapping up.

Posted in Wine, Wine Hobby | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Rosé – Taking Pink Wine Seriously

You might expect me to make some kind of excuse that, oh well, it’s Rosé time of year, but I have a confession to make. I drink Rosé throughout the year, sometimes even when it’s cold and wet. I’ve been showing these tendencies for a few years. I try to keep quiet about it in certain places (Australia, mainly) because it’s not really nice to have your manhood questioned, and very dated jokes being made about wine for Sheilas or “the ladeeez”. But I don’t mind sharing with people who actually like wine for what’s in the glass, like you folks reading my blog.

I think I’ve always known I like Rosé. It’s just that in the early days the ones I liked were not of the fashionably light pink hue that seems to provide the most commercially successful wines today. There were a couple of reasons why I tended to buy darker Rosé wines. First, they seemed to me by far the most interesting. Also, many were quite a bit more expensive than the paler pinks from Provence, and they tended to be pink(-ish) wines which could age.

That was very important in the UK where we never seemed to get the most recent vintage, which didn’t seem to be bottled and shipped quite in time for our summer…or maybe the wine chains just got a better deal on the previous vintage’s leftovers. But if you found Rosé wines which could, and occasionally had a strong desire to, age, then it didn’t matter.

The catalyst for this article was reading Elizabeth Gabay’s “Rosé – Understanding the Pink Wine Revolution”, yet another work in the Infinite Ideas Classic Wine Library series. Liz’s book was published in 2018 so it has taken me a while to get around to reading it. What I plan to do here is talk about the book a little whilst taking readers on my own pink wine journey. At the end of the article, I’ll tell you which my favourite half-dozen Rosés are, and why.

This particular book is slightly different from the other half-dozen-or-so I’ve read in this series. That difference is both a positive and a negative in terms of who the book will appeal to. If you take the last books I reviewed in the series, Matt Walls’s Rhône Wines, or Anne Krebiehl’s Wines of Germany, they both fit neatly into the type of book which takes a wine region, or country, describes its regions or appellations, and then gives us an entry for what the author perceives as the top, or best, producers. This book attempts to describe a wine style over the whole world, and indeed “wine style” is grossly inaccurate because Rosé comes in many styles. It also describes the industry of Rosé. This means that you get the commercial side of the larger producers represented as well as the smaller artisan labels which my own readers are probably more interested in.

So, Liz’s book has appeal for those in the wine trade, especially those wishing to study for the higher WSET levels or the Master of Wine qualifications. It isn’t a massively technical book, but it is technical enough not really to be of interest to those who buy their Côtes de Provence Rosé in the supermarket (who, if at all, might prefer a chatty, slim, wine guide). The elements relating to commercial production may, conversely, not appeal to the aficionado. That said, this wide-ranging book is as important as Simon Woolf’s on Amber (orange) Wine. If you don’t know much about Rosé you are missing out on one of wine’s fast-growing market segments.

Although you will read plenty about wines (in the general sense) many of you would not immediately consider going out to buy, the book does have a thread running through it which isolates serious examples in this genre. They are very often not the most fashionable wines among the general population, and it is clear that the apparent clamour for pale pink wines in a clear glass bottle (with a real chance of light strike affecting their quality) is not one always shared by connoisseurs of the Rosé style.

The book, after a couple of introductory chapters, begins by exploring what Elizabeth Gabay MW calls the “historic” Rosé regions. It’s here that we first meet the profusion of styles, with Bordeaux Clairet, Tavel, Rosé des Riceys, Cigales, Siller/Schiller/Schilcher, Cabernet and Rosé d’Anjou, and Vins Gris (including Oeil de Perdrix) offering a perfect reflection of how strikingly different Rosé tradition can be.

Here we meet several styles which I found attractive in my twenties. Tavel, because I visited the appellation back in the 1980s (and immediately after bought the wines of Domaine Maby from Yapp Brothers). Rosé des Riceys felt like a genuine secret when we first discovered it, staying with honeymooning friends close-by, in France’s Aube department, when travelling down to the South of France (incidentally a trip on which I visited my first Provençal producer, the beautiful Château Sainte-Roseline, near Les Arcs-sur-Argens) in the mid-1980s. It took me decades and a producer called Olivier Horiot to convince my friends how majestic a properly aged bottle of Rosé des Riceys can be.

Back in the day, Marsannay, at the northern end of the Côte de Nuits in Burgundy, used to be the Pinot Noir Rosé often pointed to as something different. These were the days before Marsannay had been granted a Village AOC for red wine, and the pink wine stood out within the Côte d’Or. Personally, I found it pretty simple beside a good wine from Les Riceys (which, of course, has long been an almost secret source of Pinot Noir for some of the biggest and most famous Champagne Houses).

One other grape variety I’ve not mentioned is Gamay. It is rarely thought of as a top Rosé variety, but the Beaujolais has made tasty pink wine for years, and the Ardèche clones seem equally as capable. But again, I seem to discover wines from off the beaten track, and certainly one of my favourite in recent years has been from Switzerland’s Valais, Domaine des Muses being an estate whose range I have sampled liberally. Surprise, surprise, though this really is a surprise, it has an uncanny ability to improve with age too (though we are not talking “Riceys”, just a few years).

This Swiss Rosé was drunk last year and I’m sure a few of you won’t believe it showed as well as it did (from Alpine Wines)

Schilcher came via a Viennese friend’s obsession with very dry sparkling wines. Once I had served her a nice Extra Brut Champagne in the UK, she felt I was ready for this Styrian speciality (and I most certainly was). Vin Gris experiences came from Toul, and Oeil de Perdrix from Switzerland (via Swiss friends in Geneva this time, but try the wine I wrote about recently from Domaine Montmollin in Auvernier, Neuchâtel), Both were preceded by Gérard Cordier’s oeil de perdrix Pinot Gris from Reuilly in the Loire. This was another staple from Wiltshire wine merchant Yapp Brothers (who have a beautiful, restored, old brewery as their headquarters, in Mere). It strikes me that Yapps sell one of the best and most diverse range of Rosé wines in England.

We then travel with Liz to Provence (which we shall return to), and the other classic French regions for Rosé, before we head over to North America. Here we go from the sublime (SQN) to the…with Blush Zinfandel. It’s such an important style. You may think you don’t want to read about Blush, but you need to. You know how, in an election, you think “how can anyone possibly not see through all the lies and vote for that…?” It’s a reminder that whilst we all geek over wine, in real life it’s just a beverage. One that if it’s easy down the throat, looks nice, costs relatively little, and has a few million marketing dollars thrown at it, will make someone a tidy profit by shifting millions of units albeit on small individual margins. It will also give millions of casual drinkers genuine pleasure.

You know, there’s a lot of wine like this in the Rosé sector. Thankfully, some are still making the hidden gems. One from North America appears in my last article, “Recent Wines April 2021 (Part 2)”. I drank my first ever bottle of Jaimee Motley’s Mondeuse Rosé only last month and it nearly made my top six, being I’m sure the best pink wine hailing from California I’ve ever drunk. I am promised by its importer that the bottle of Smockshop Band Spring Ephemeral Rosé from Hiyu Wine Farm in Oregon, which currently sits in one of my racks, may even surpass that.

The Southern Hemisphere follows next. Both Australia and New Zealand make fine Rosé. If I was forced to choose one Australian off the top of my head it would probably be Julian Castagne’s Allegro. For New Zealand, well my head was first turned by the whole bunch Pinot Noir Vin Gris from Otago’s Felton Road (which I first drank in a restaurant called Ginger Boy in Melbourne’s Central District, on the wonderfully named Crossley Street).

An interesting aside, which shows the disconnect in Australia over Rosé wine: the author mentions that Rosé is currently the fastest growing sector for wine in Sydney (well, 2017 figure), yet in Australian wine guru James Halliday’s “Top 100” published in the Weekend Australian (Nov 2020), he selected not one single Rosé (not even a fizzy one). I can’t speculate as to why, but whilst the Rosé style is becoming fashionable with younger Aussies, there is still that lingering suspicion that to some old, white, grey hairs, it is still a wine for “Sheilas”. Younger drinkers, interested in funky natural wines like Gentle Folk Wines’ “Rainbow Juice” Rosé (Basket Range, Adelaide Hills) won’t be thinking too much about the dinosaur viewpoint (not that I have the remotest idea what Halliday’s view is…maybe he just thinks that no Aussie Rosé makes the Top 100?.

I don’t propose really to include Pink Sparkling Wine here, much as I love it. In fact, I’m so partial to this colour of fizz that it would take up way too much space, but suffice to say that Elizabeth Gabay gives it a Chapter. If there were ever another edition, I think this is one place where she might expand her coverage a little. Grower Champagne is producing some truly unique styles we haven’t really tasted before (take Jérôme Prévost, Cédric Bouchard and Pierre (Rodolphe) Péters to name just three).

England is producing some fine Rosé sparkling wine as well, especially from newcomers like Jacob Leadley’s “Black Chalk” (Wild Rose), and wines with a clear unique selling point, such as Exton Park’s occasional release of a pure Meunier made by their brilliant winemaker, Corinne Seely. We Brits are also joining the pétnat revolution with the likes of Tillingham and Westwell (to name but two very successful interpreters of the genre).

The final part of the regional coverage returns the reader to the rest of Europe. The author gets into many nooks which remain a mystery to the majority of drinkers. Again, I’m sure another edition would expand a little more on Germany and Austria, both hitting us with a host of remarkable pink wines in literally the past two or three years in some cases, with special mention to Burgenland generally (source of one of my top six). If you want to know why, it’s largely because the “natural wine” producers in these countries especially (but it’s a trend which is widespread) are less hung up about the commercial viability of any style. If they want to make it, and it’s good, then they will hand sell it to specialist importers who know how to place these wines.

In this respect I must mention Alsace, where with red wines becoming truly red these days, there are some fantastic true Rosé wines, mostly made with Pinot Noir, from producers including, inter alia, Christian Binner (Si Rosé very nearly made my top six, and perhaps it was an error that it didn’t), Lissner and Beck-Hartweg.

The book finishes with around thirty pages on “the business of rosé”. Many of you will read this and think you have moved into a completely different world, but it’s a great lesson that you and I inhabit but a tiny little corner of the wine business. In fact, I’m going to put it in print here that I probably learnt more that I didn’t know from Elizabeth Gabay than from any other wine book I’ve read in the past few years. That’s despite knowing perhaps almost as much as the author about some of the less commercial and more geeky styles of Rosé covered.

Ah, I promised we’d get back to Provence. We all know, I imagine, that what the public adores is a nice pale pink which can be sipped on the patio and immediately (if our weather gives us just a chance) to be transported to Cannes, or Saint-Tropez. A few may even be able to conjure up a (pale?) imitation of bouillabaisse to go with it. If it has a nice easy name, like Whispering Angel, so much the better.

I am no less enamored with Provençal Rosé, as you will see from my selection below. However, the ones I like most tend to be a little different, almost certainly a little darker, and in my opinion a little more gastronomic. And, of course, I believe more capable of ageing (not that I personally keep these wines for many years, with the exceptions of Rosé des Riceys, Tondonia, which is released with some age on it anyway, and perhaps Château Musar’s Rosé).

There were dozens (literally) of pages in this book where I found an interesting fact or anecdote, and where I’d folded down the page, intending to mention them. But they would just lead to an enormous list. Even longer than the useful list the author includes in her “conclusions” after the final chapter.

The book does have a few minor frustrations (perhaps more so for the author than the reader?), in which I would include some poor proofreading and some frustrating omissions in the index (I think this specialist publisher ought to employ an indexer who really knows wine). But that should not put you off reading it. It’s perhaps a left-field choice for many of my readers, but as I said, I learnt a lot, and Rosé is important, whether or not you are taking a pretty bottle off the shelf in Tesco or looking for something obscure and somewhat more expensive in an indie wine shop. Whilst it might sound more of a textbook than some in the series, it really isn’t. It was equally an enjoyable read as well.

And now to my favourite Rosé wines. I’ve mentioned a few pink(-ish) wines already throughout this article, all of which merit trying by that mere token. This time, for once, I really am going to stick to six, albeit an impossible task because it means I’ve missed out Domaine Tempier in Bandol…but then it’s their reds I love most and my guess is that if you know any of my favourites already, it would be Tempier. My friends will wonder why we don’t see L’Uva Arbosiana from Domaine de la Tournelle, but as Liz Gabay rightly points out, Poulsard makes “false Rosé”. A Rosé is not defined by its colour but by its vinification and Poulsard/Ploussard counts as a red if it’s made as a red. Well, it saves my blushes!

I’m fairly sure I shall forget some but here we go, David Crossley’s definitive six most tasty, exciting and best Rosés in the world, ever (in no particular order):

Château Simone, Palette, Aix-en-Provence

I once tried to find this place around thirty-odd years ago but failed, though you can glimpse it from the autoroute as you speed eastwards, towards the beaches. The Rougier family takes 45% Grenache and 30% Mourvèdre, and adds in a mix of Syrah, Castet, Manosquin, Carignan and Muscatel (according to UK importer Yapp Brothers). It’s old school, aged in oak, ageworthy, ruby red and complex. For the table and perhaps the first truly serious Rosé I fell for.

This is another wine that proves Rosé is not defined by its colour. As with Tavel (at least more traditional Tavel wines), it can look more like a light red than “pink”.

Try Yapp Brothers.

Clos Cibonne Rosé Tradition, Côtes de Provence

Cibonne is by contrast made from a single variety, Tibouren, in the part of the Côtes de Provence to the east of Toulon. Elizabeth Gabay says “Tibouren is regarded by many in Provence as the traditional variety for making Rosé”. This autochthonous variety went out of favour in the second half of the 20th Century, so most Tibouren today is good old vine stock. Gabay also reveals a genetic connection with the Rossese variety of Western Liguria, which figures.

Cibonne makes several cuvées, but at this simple level you get a Rosé with a haunting, floral-dominated, bouquet and fresh red fruits, riper in a warmer year. What makes the wine unique is that it is aged in old barrels under flor. Just a very thin layer forms, so it’s not really as noticeable as in a biologically aged Sherry, or a Vin Jaune. It just adds a lot of complexity.

From Graft Wine (formerly Red Squirrel).

Think we may have got the red, en magnum, here, but you get the idea

Domaine Sainte-Magdeleine, Cassis

There’s an argument for suggesting that Domaine Sainte-Magdeleine is the most beautifully located vineyard in France, sitting as it does atop the cliff that is Cap Canaille, within the UNESCO World Heritage “Les Calanques”, just overlooking the town of Cassis itself.

Jonathan Sack-Zafiropoulo now runs the domaine, whose wines are sought in the cafés and restaurants of the town, especially this Rosé (the white is excellent, if unusual, too). Made from a blend of Grenache Noir, Cinsault and (the largest percentage) Mourvèdre. Coral pink in colour, all red fruits and fresh acids, but with the weight, as UK importer Yapp Brothers suggests, to accompany crab or lobster. I would describe it as perhaps the closest wine here to what the public is looking for in a bottle of Rosé, yet somewhat more serious (as you’d hope from a bottle which retails for around £25).

Olivier Horiot, Rosé des Riceys, Les Riceys, Côte des Bar

It might seem unfair that four of my six choices are French, but there are many clues to follow in the article as a whole to enable you to seek more widely, and at least this one isn’t from Provence. Olivier makes two single vineyard Rosés, definitely terroir-expressive, so different (including in terms of their ability to age, I think), but whether you find a bottle of Valingrain or En Barmont, go for either. Drink them on release and you’ll be mad at me, and my palate (and shocked they are tannic). Age them a decade or more and you will find haunting Pinot Noir, with scents of tea leaf, dark cherry and dark chocolate, sometimes with a top note of soft strawberry.

I won’t go into the vinification, which is described in the book, but these wines are rare and fine. Judging by the results of a 2012 tasting presented by Eric Pfanner in the New York Times, which is mentioned in the book, and which included the producer I first encountered and some years later revisited, Morel Père et Fils, some of the original vintages I purchased there (1982 and 1983) might still be hanging on. The hints of wild strawberry and liquorice noted by Pfanner absolutely ring true with me.

Ask re availability for Olivier Horiot at Winemaker’s Club (London). The Sampler has sold them in the past.

Lopez de Heredia, Viña Tondonia Rosado Gran Reserva, Rioja

When we think of unicorn wines it’s not Rioja that comes to mind, but even less so a pink wine. For decades the traditional Riojas of Lopez de Heredia in Haro have been seriously under-priced, and even then, only enthused over by people like me (and doubtless many of you) who have occasionally sampled gems from the 1970s, 1960s, and if we were very lucky the 1950s. But a Rosado?

This cuvée is an example of where the wine is so good that it overcomes a lack of fashionability. It’s a blend of (usually) around 60% Garnacha with Tempranillo and maybe 10% of Viura. Released as a Gran Reserva when supposedly ready to drink about a decade after the vintage (that’s what LdH say but most experienced consumers will counsel another three, or even better, five years in the cellar), it has a traditional upbringing which includes four years in barrel, not really the norm for a pink.

The colour can vary and some vintages have looked almost blood orange, but the 2010 appears closer to onion skin pink. The complexity of this wine amazes first time drinkers. You do get red fruits but there’s always a lot more. I usually find the scent of those tinned mandarin segments we ate as children and, like my mother, we put into lime jelly for our own children. So, a Proustian wine, but not a vegan wine: it’s fined with egg whites even today.

One word of caution though. The price of the LdH Rosado has gone crazy, even if you can actually persuade your wine merchant to sell you some (most go all Parisian hipster wine bar if you ask). You can buy the 2008 for £106/bottle in London, though the current 2010 might be had for around £50-60 if you bid for a three pack on various auction sites. I guess with Simone almost hitting £40 these days, it’s not a big leap. But I’ve given up on unicorns.

If you need a bottle, I recommend trying Hedonism or Berry Brothers’ London shops. Many independents obtain a tiny amount but what they don’t put straight into their personal cellars goes within ten minutes. If you see a bottle, pounce.

Gut Oggau, Winifred Rosé, Burgenland

I had to include a pink wine from Burgenland, and the shores of the Neusiedlersee offer so many fine Rosé wines that I can’t even list the also-rans. Almost every kilometre around the whole circumference of the lake will yield a bottle you should grab. But this one, from Oggau, just north of Rust, is the ne plus ultra. In my humble opinion, of course. Perhaps if you are really interested in the fun aspect of Neusiedlersee pinks, you could also grab something from Rennersistas or Koppitsch.

Stephanie and Edouard Tscheppe-Eselböck have created a literal family of wines, as depicted as characters on the labels. Winifred is part of the younger Gut Oggau generation. There is a reluctance to enlighten the consumer as to the varietal composition of the wines, the desire being for us to see them as expressing the terroir. It’s a worthy ideal (and certainly as valid for a Rosé as any other colour), but because consumers want to know, then writers like me have a tendency to spoil things.

So, we are likely to have 60% Zweigelt and 40% Blaufränkisch. It’s worth mentioning because, as with Gamay in France, Zweigelt is vastly underrated for making Rosé wines. This one uses low-yielding old vine fruit, gently pressed, but the colour is still on the darker side (magenta or fuchsia).

The bouquet tends to cherry and cranberry, the palate perhaps raspberry and apple, with zip and texture (it sees some time in used oak). The wine is joyous and soulful, with both a frivolous and a slightly more serious side. Kind of perfect really. Certainly less “serious” than the wines listed above, but absolutely no less amazing.

Gut Oggau can be had from Dynamic Vines and Antidote Wine Bar (both London).

Posted in Rosé, Rosé Wine, Wine, Wine Books, Wine Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Recent Wines April 2021 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

Part 1 of April’s wines began with a new wine from a very new producer, Jas Swan. This Part 2 begins with a new wine from a producer I expect is unknown to most readers as well, but one who more than most points to the remarkable things going down in Czech Moravia at the moment. This lovely Czech wine starts off a run which, even within the context of my usual exploratory drinking, yields some additional wonderful and exciting wines from Greece, California, Alsace, Switzerland, The Canary Islands, and also Cahors and Jura in France.

UNCUT SILLER 2020, PETR KORÁB (Moravia, Czechia)

Siller is a traditional wine style, also called Schiller in Germany, and although there are differences, Schilcher in Austria. It’s a lighter style of red wine (the name translates as “to shimmer”) and it was originally a pale pink. However, all of the modern Siller/Schilcher I’ve drunk has been dark in colour. It was also traditionally a blend of red and white grapes (hence the colour), but as you will know, Austrian Schilcher is made from one very red grape. This Czech Siller is a blend of three, but all red varieties. This one is closer in style to Hungarian Siller, which would often be a darker-coloured light red, but with a tannic crunch.

The Siller blend from this exciting Boleradice domaine is St Laurent, Frankovka (Blaufränkisch) and Zweigelt, from vines over thirty years old and picked in mid-September. It is called “uncut” because the vines are left untrimmed, similar to the “graupert” style of cultivation we see at Meinklang in Burgenland. Far from overproducing grapes or greenery, the vines find an equilibrium, even if they look untidy to those who prefer a lawn to a wildflower meadow.

As you can see from the vintage, this wine is very young and as such, by drinking it now, we capture its almost raw vibrancy. It has a brambly, hedgerow, scent and the palate pricks the tongue with concentrated dark fruit acids. The finish does indeed have a good lick of texture which makes it inhabit a world very different to a lot of easy going young red wines. In a way it reminds me of those refreshing wines from the less well-known grape varieties of Piemonte (Freisa, Grignolino, Ruché…). It’s kind of rustic yet very modern at the same time. At a perfectly judged 12% abv, it’s delicious served a little cool and very gluggable. Indeed, as wines go, it’s very cool indeed. More please.

Petr Koráb is, of course, imported by Basket Press Wines.

“SPIRA” [2018], KTIMA LIGAS (Pella, Greece)

There’s definitely a feeling among most wine professionals that Greece makes wonderful wines, and this is proved beyond doubt at numerous trade tastings. The difficulty is that their retail distribution is relatively poor, and this in my view holds them back in getting the recognition they deserve from consumers. Perhaps retailers think Greece would be a hard sell, the same issue faced by a number of smaller and less-hyped countries. If you taste the wines of this “natural” producer you’ll see how wrong that is.

Domaine Ligas was founded by Thomas Ligas in 1985, based in Northern Macedonia (north of Thessaloniki), up in the mountains at Pella, where he follows the teachings of Masanobu Fukuoka, allowing nature to take its course in vineyards which, from the photos I have seen, look achingly beautiful. Son Jason is now involved, and daughter Meli, who lives in Paris, travels Europe to promote the wines. It is therefore Meli with whom I have tasted on numerous occasions at the natural wine, and importer, fairs in London.

This cuvée is unusual for a couple of reasons. First, it is made from the black Xinomavro variety, vinified as a white wine (although the colour is actually more yellow with a pink/orange tint). Secondly, it’s a solera wine, comprising in this bottling vintages from 2012 to 2018. It has undergone skin contact and the result is unctuous and rich, a little toasty with hints of orange citrus, peach and honey. It is a wine in complete harmony, even at 14% abv, and I would probably say it is my favourite of all the Ligas wines I’ve drunk so far, and from one of my very favourite Greek producers. Zero sulphur is added and, honestly, this is so damned good.

The importer of Ktima Ligas wines is Dynamic Vines.


Jaimee is an art graduate who fell in love with wine whilst working under Rajat Parr at the famous restaurant, RN74 in San Francisco, which has rightly been described as revolutionary in introducing West Coast diners both to more unusual grape varieties, and to a more food-friendly style of wine than the Napa norm. She then went on to work as an assistant winemaker for Pax Mahle, another mover and shaker for the New California.

This wine comes from Calaveras County, high in the Sierra Foothills. Jaimee sourced the cuttings in the Santa Maria Valley and Matthew Rorick (of Forlorn Hope) grafted them onto old Graciano roots.  Fermented in stainless steel after a long period of gentle foot-treading, the wine was then aged in used oak. Only a tiny addition of sulphur at bottling, no other additives at any stage. This was Jaimee’s first vintage and what she has produced is astonishing. I’ve never drunk a Californian Rosé remotely as good as this.

The colour is more burnt copper than pink. The bouquet is both herbal (it’s the large sage bush outside our back door) and floral, and on the palate it is rich for a wine of just 12% abv, but yet it has that clarity you might expect from grapes grown at 600 masl on mainly limestone rock with a thin layer of schist. Essence of Rocky Mountain Way. I cannot express how much I loved this wine, there’s just so much in there. Inspired.

Jaimee’s wines have recently been brought in by Littlewine ( Uncharted Wines also lists them, but currently has no stock (according to their web site).


I think I may have mentioned fairly recently that Binner was one of the first of the Alsace natural wine domaines I got to know. Most likely for that reason I hadn’t drunk any of late, so I put that right by purchasing a few bottles. Binner is based in Ammerschwihr in the Haut-Rhin, that part of Alsace which used to be rather dominated by some of the bigger producers.

Christian, a mainstay of London’s natural wine fairs, converted to biodynamics way back in 2003 and has ever since been producing a range of exceptional white, and indeed red, wines from his Ammerschwihr winery. This one comes from a vineyard at Katzenthal which is also known in dialect as Lerchenfeld. The soils are pure granite with mica.

Why buy this wine, which retails for just over £20, as opposed to more weighty offerings, such as the Grands Crus? You get the expression of a single site, but if you like a nice taut and mineral Riesling, you don’t need to wait years to enjoy it. The colour is closer to amber than the usual pale Riesling hue. The bouquet is classic Riesling but with orange blossom and beeswax. The palate is quite savoury, with a honey-like finish. Lime and ginger add to the complexity and interest here, which is surely a bonus at this price. Bottled with zero added sulphur and sealed under a glass Vinolok. Don’t try inserting a corkscrew.

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene and also available from Littlewine (

OEIL DE PERDRIX 2019, DOMAINE DE MONTMOLLIN (Neuchâtel, Switzerland)

Œil de Perdrix translates as partridge eye, the French term for a particular pale style of Rosé. The style used to be relatively common in the French-speaking parts of Switzerland, with a similar type of wine being made in the German-speaking Cantons under the name of “Federweiss” (which can be white or a pale pink). I used to buy Oeil de Perdrix regularly from one or two small domaines to the west of Geneva, but some years ago the Swiss authorities bowed to the winemakers of Neuchâtel and the Trois Lacs, and reserved the term for their Neuchâtel AOC pink wines.

Although a number of grape varieties can be used for the style here, Domaine de Montmollin, based in the famous wine village of Auvernier, is one of the producers which makes their Oeil de Perdrix from Pinot Noir (which I would also argue makes the best Federweiss). The grapes see a very light direct press, and the juice is relatively pale. I say relatively because by using Pinot Noir (organic at Montmollin) the wines have just a bit more weight to them. The colour can also vary from vintage to vintage, if only slightly. I’ve seen them paler than this 2019 from a domaine whose wines I have bought for several years.

The style isn’t overtly complex. Red fruits and grapefruit acidity dominate. But there is subtlety here, and you don’t want to lose that by serving it too cold. As it warms the Pinot character is amplified and the wine rounds out nicely. The back label had the usually bland suggestion that it goes well with “Asian cuisine”. In this case, well, it did.

Swiss wines are always expensive to we Brits, but at a little less than £30 it’s not too expensive for the adventurous drinker to try a unique style. There is still some up on the Alpine Wines web site, though as one of the only sources of Swiss Oeil de Perdrix in the UK, it does sell out fairly swiftly.


Darren used to work at The Sampler in London, but like a few young people who work in the wine trade he wanted more. Wine writing, which he has also since turned his hand to, probably wasn’t enough either, so in 2018, after dabbling at a few harvests, he became an itinerant winemaker. So far, he has made wines in collaboration with local winemakers in Portugal’s Bairrada, Chile’s Bío Bío, and here on La Palma, the smallest of Spain’s Canary Isles. They are all released under his label “The Finest Wines Available to Humanity”, which is a quote from the cult British comedy classic, Withnail and I.

Darren’s collaborator for this Listán Blanco (aka Palomino Fino) is Victoria Torres. As Victoria was one of my highly trumpeted discoveries of 2019, you will understand my desperation to get hold of some of this wine just as much as I was keen to try some wine from Jas Swan (see Part 1 of April’s “Recent Wines”). On the basis of this first bottle, I definitely plan to try more from Darren.

The vines are quite old, grown on the island’s “picón” soils, dark volcanic ash, which cover the vineyards here in both the southeast and southwest of La Palma. Viki’s winery is at Fuencaliente, nearby, and this is where Darren made the wine. That wine is made from organically farmed grapes with very low added sulphur and no other manipulations…and it really is remarkably good. It has the island’s characteristic salinity along with a dry, apple freshness, but it has a gently honeyed centre centre as well, which definitely adds depth. This all creates a wine which lingers a long time, riding the palate in a sedate slalom. Only 400 bottles were made so I am thrilled to get to try it.

Darren has this wine at his former employer’s, The Sampler, along with Lechevalier on Tower Bridge Road, and he seems to have a stall at the famous market in London Fields (Westgate Street) on Saturdays. Maybe check out his Insta (@tfwath) for updates and details. The quantities made of these wines do not suggest a much wider distribution. I purchased mine directly after contacting him via Instagram.


When I was younger, I had a bit of a thing for Cahors. I suppose it was a little different to Bordeaux but in a similar space. The region around the city is very beautiful, as is the cuisine, and although we never stayed there, I was lucky enough to pass through it several times, allowing long enough for an hour or two in the city or nearby. As I got more interested in natural wines, Cahors (with one or two exceptions) didn’t always come to mind.

Fabien Jouves, however, has been a constant in my more enlightened drinking, not least for his cuvée which strikes a deliberately offensive pose, “You F**k My Wine”. It certainly gained him some notoriety, but it makes a point about how some more conservative appellations seek to move in one direction only, which doesn’t always connect with the zeitgeist.

In the case of Cahors, it might be worth noting that there have been some moves to identify the wine with its main grape variety, thus jumping on the bandwagon of the commercial success of Argentinian Malbec in a big and usually quite alcoholic style. Fabien makes something very different, and indeed although the wine does say “Malbec” on the label, this cuvée’s name emphasises the local synonym for Malbec, Côt.

Mas de Périé, Fabien’s domaine, sits up on the plateau above Cahors, where the soils blend limestone and clay with deep-bedded mineral deposits. The vines are currently undergoing biodynamic conversion, but Fabien’s wines are all “natural wines”. Haute Côt(e) de Fruit has a vibrant deep inky purple colour with scents of violets along with mostly red and some darker fruits. It has a delicious freshness which you might call “brisk”, and a general fruity lightness.

Very much glouglou rather than structured and/or tannic. Most certainly not your typical Malbec, certainly not one I’d give to my neighbour who loves the variety. That said, this does sport 13% abv, so any move to glug this down swiftly might result in a surprise wobble on standing up. Still, what its brambly fruit does allow it to share with its distant Argentine cousin is a suitability for the barbecue.

Fabien Jouves is imported by Carte Blanche Wines. My bottle came from Bin Two Wines (Padstow, Cornwall) because I decided to make it worthwhile when I ordered the Jas Swan wines by adding in a further assortment of bottles (as one does).


The final wine from April is another absolute stunner. Julien Mareschal started out in his early twenties with, originally, no wine background at all. He moved from studying agriculture onto a wine diploma course at Dijon before working for a number of Jura domaines (among other regions). I think it is pertinent to mention that his approach was changed when he was mentored, as so many superb natural wine producers in the region were, by the late Pascal Clairet of Domaine de la Tournelle

Julien now farms around five hectares from his base at Pupillin, just outside Arbois. This particular wine is from a site called “Sous la Roche”, a steep slope rising to 500 masl. The soils are “argiles bleues du lias” (lime-rich blue marls). Although Julien has little Chardonnay, he does make it from two sites. Both are made ouillé (topped-up, not the traditional oxidative style). This wine is both fermented and aged in older foudre with ten months on lees. There are no additives, either in the vineyard or winery, except for very minimal sulphur.

This is an especially fine Chardonnay, from one of the finest of Jura’s new wave of producers. A wine of considerable purity, showing lemon citrus, hints of pear and a little nuttiness. Its great minerality and lees-induced texture suggest it will age rather well, but who cares. If I had a second bottle I’d be no more able to hang on to it to find out just how well. One to seek out before prices go really mad. A decade ago, this young man was almost unknown. Now his reputation is assured.

Domaine de la Borde is imported by Les Caves de Pyrene. This bottle was purchased retail from The Solent Cellar (Lymington).

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