Sisters Are Doin’ It at Weingut Renner

Our trip to visit Rennersistas at Gols began very early with a forty-five minute train ride from Vienna Hauptbahnhof to Neusiedl-am-See, and an eleven kilometre cycle into the wind. It made us slightly late and very hot for our 10.30 appointment, but Stefanie’s suggestion that we move directly down into the cellar cooled us off in two minutes. It was a welcome start to a morning spent chatting and tasting with Stefanie Renner, all the more remarkable because it was the first day of the earliest ever harvest at Gols.

I’ve met Stefanie and her sister Susanne several times in London, and regular readers will know that the sisters are among my very favourite producers in Burgenland. The fact that the wines are so exciting is, for me, the prime reason, but at the same time I can’t help being infected by the sheer enthusiasm here.

927B5ADD-62E9-4CA8-9DED-981F804A5B89

Rennersistas has grown out of the wine business built up by Stefanie and Susanne’s father, Helmuth, who took over the Renner estate in 1988. He made good wines with, perhaps, a more conservative philosophy than his daughters, relevant to the time. Nevertheless, the domaine’s reputation grew and it joined the nine members of the Pannobile group of quality producers in the village, along with the likes of Preisinger, Beck, Heinrich, Pittnauer, Nittnaus etc (more on Pannobile later).

Eighty-five percent of production for the Rennersistas is currently from red grapes, although they are actively trying to rebalance this, particularly through selling their Merlot which they don’t feel makes good “natural” wine. The gleaming clean cellar, ready to receive the 2018 harvest, is crammed with a mixture of tanks – mainly stainless steel of varying sizes for flexibility, and some wooden fermentation vessels. Four amphorae (1,000 litres each) were due to be delivered days after our visit.

The next level down is the barrel cellar, constructed in 1961, a haven of cool after the building heat of the day outside. Here, rows of mostly used oak sit beneath sandstone quarried on the other side of the lake, providing perfect conditions for élevage. Production under the Rennersistas label began with the 2015 vintage at 5,000 bottles, and is increasing every year.

Stefanie, as many of you will know, trained abroad with Tom Shobbrook in Australia’s Barossa, and with Tom Lubbe (South Africa and Matassa in Roussillon). One or other of the Toms is the origin of the Rennersistas’ increasingly well known wines called Waiting for Tom.

Waiting for Tom White 2017 is a 12% abv blend of Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder), and Chardonnay. It’s given three days on skins for a touch of colour and texture before being pressed into foudre and some old barriques. It hits you with what is undoubtedly a Rennersistas signature, massive and lively freshness. It has great acidity, but this is totally balanced by fruit. There’s a little spice there as well, perhaps a touch of liquorice.

The sisters began by making mainly single varietal wines. Stefanie said that they really wanted to get to know each variety very well, especially how it performs on its individual terroir, before trying to include them in a blend. But blends seem to be interesting them more and more.

3469D327-E4CC-4A61-95B3-2FAD066EB3C7

Weissburgunder 2017 is nevertheless a pretty good advert for their single varieties. It may just be a little more “fruity” than the WFT white blend, and maybe a touch “riper” (alcohol level is the same as WFT). This hits first as a hint of apricot but finishes with an equally faint touch of quince. There’s some slate in the soil and perhaps this is what gives the wine a nice edge.

I ought to mention that although freshness seems to be a key component in these wines, they don’t appear to fade. I wrote about their 2015 Weissburgunder almost exactly a year ago, back in August 2017, and it was still delicious, especially as a first attempt.

Waiting for Tom Rosé 2017 is this year a blend of 60% Zweigelt and 40% Blaufränkisch. The fruit again is sweet, but with added spice. And freshness…of course. That fruit is intense strawberry and raspberry, not always associated with Blaufränkisch. The grapes were 100% whole bunch pressed in the coolness of the night time, after picking very early the same morning. Of course, it’s a rosé, it’s not meant to be complex. But the fruit is exquisite, making it just a super nice wine.

Waiting for Tom Red 2017 blends Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch with St-Laurent. In 2016 the vintage was quite cold, with late frost affecting the vines, which stressed the sensitive St-Laurent more than the other varieties. As a result (according to Stefanie) the 2016 WFT red was quite reductive (a carafe to hand would be preferable). 2017 isn’t at all reductive. The St-Laurent was all destemmed for this blend, but a small proportion (around 10%) of the other two varieties went in as whole bunches with stems. It shows the same “gluggable” qualities as the rosé, but naturally with a touch more weight and body.

Blaufränkisch 2016 (technically “BL FR NK SCH” – you can guess the regulatory difficulties with putting a grape variety on the label) is a very interesting wine (note the change of vintage here). From perhaps the late 1980s, and through to the present at some addresses, Blaufränkisch came to be vinified as a quite powerful red in Burgenland, with plenty of extraction and invariably more than a few lashings of oak, much of it new.

There is by chance a very interesting article in the September 2018 Decanter Magazine by Stephen Brook on Blaufränkisch, where he highlights the different possibilities the variety gives the producer: a “weighty, powerful wine…further enhanced by oak ageing” or an unoaked, lighter wine with “bright, zesty sour cherry aromas and flavours”. Whilst I can sometimes appreciate the former style, for sure, it is the latter that I adore for normal drinking, and wines made in this style are often fantastic in their own right, not “lesser” versions of the variety.

The key to freshness is, of course, the avoidance of drowning the fruit in new oak, but equally important is to pick slightly earlier in order to avoid the higher alcohol levels too much hang time will give you. The Rennersistas 2016 Blaufränkisch is pretty much a textbook version of this style. It’s darker than the WFT red, and has thicker legs, but it reaches just 13% abv. It’s not significantly lower in alcohol than the oaky style usually gives us, but it’s enough to make a difference in balance. The bouquet is intense and reflects the darker colour, but don’t fear, freshness, that stamp of this winery, is there as well. Perfect. You can drink a bottle of this, no worries.

C3AA82B9-B521-4D0C-A694-EBEC9D7901B4

Stefanie is quite effusive at this point. She cares deeply about the wines and I think is quite pleased to experience our level of appreciation at close quarters, without the noise and bustle of the Wine Fairs. She says it’s all about the “positivity and love” you put into the wine, a statement which could seem trite coming from some, but in her case you do not doubt that she’s telling the truth. Effusive passion for the wine seems infectious around the lake. You hear exactly the same from Heidi Schröck, Judith Beck, Birgit Braunstein and Stephanie Tscheppe (of Gut Oggau), to name just a few other producers who seem steeped in empathy for their terroir.

Near the beginning of this article I mentioned the Pannobile Group. I should say a few words about them because it is relevant to the final Renner wine we tasted, one which I had never tried before. Pannobile Members submit one red and/or white wine per vintage to be sold under the Pannobile label. It must be made from three red varieties – Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt and/or St-Laurent and two white, Weissburgunder and Chardonnay, but it may be a blend or a single varietal. The stipulated vineyards form a list of the best sites which stretch from Straßäcker, west of Neusiedl’s rail station, to Äussere Söllner-Kranawitzl, east of Halbturn, covering the villages of Neusiedl, Weiden, Gols, Mönchhof and Halbturn.

96239B44-55ED-4138-9254-E06F4A23754B

Weingut Renner Pannobile 2015 comes from the sisters’ first vintage, and they made this prestigious wine with their father. 2015, you will recall, was a very warm vintage, and they persuaded their father to pick a little earlier. Stefanie is not alone in the Pannobile Group in wanting to bring more freshness into the wines, but things must move slowly. The market for this cuvée is overwhelmingly Austrian, and much more conservative than the natural wine loving fans of the Rennersistas wines in the rest of Europe. To symbolise that, it has a different, plain, label to the wonderful “Rennersistas” tractor label, which so perfectly seems to symbolise the sisters’ ethos.

The Pannobile wine, which as we remarked was picked earlier for more freshness, was half aged in 2,000 litre oak and half in smaller wood and barriques (500 litre and 225 litre) for a year. Then it was transferred to tank for six months and saw further bottle age for another six months before release. There are only one or two rackings so the wine here spends a long time on its full lees. The rule is that the Pannobile cuvées can only be sold two years after picking, and the big party that is Pannobile Day has always been held on the first Saturday in September (previously before the beginning of the harvest, but not in 2018!).

F5BA8AD0-910A-4877-AD0B-1EB04E1F0780

What do I think of this wine? Certainly impressive, though quite different to the Rennersistas other wines. In that respect it might shock some. Would I buy it? If the answer were no it would only be because I can’t get enough of their other wines. That said, I’d have bought a bottle to age at home had I not got another thirty-five miles or so to cycle in heat topping 33 Degrees…a decision I now regret.

I mentioned the vintage getting earlier, and the fact that Rennersistas were beginning harvesting on the very day we visited. We are not quite as bad people as it looks, because “harvesting” in this case meant bringing in some grapes for the wonderful petnat “In A Hell Mood”. They tasted ripe from the baskets, and before we left we were privileged to do something all wine writers and wine fanatics dream of. Stefanie scooped up a glass of Pinot Noir juice fresh from the press, and after her, we became only the second and third people to sample what will become the 2018 vintage. Like the sweetest fruit juice and, as is so often the case with just-pressed juice, a reviving glass.

It’s hard to imagine a welcome like that which Stefanie gave us (although another fabulous visit was to end our week in Austria, of which I shall write another time). I had been lucky to chat with Stefanie on several occasions before, so I felt I already had a connection, but I didn’t expect to be made to feel almost like a friend dropping in. Thanks so much, Stef!

We had an invitation to drop in “for a drink” at Claus Preisinger‘s modern winery too, just around a ten minute ride from Weingut Renner. Claus was obviously very busy, with a new team in the cellar receiving the grapes, but we still managed a glass of Kalk und Kiesel 2017, having drunk the 2016 version just three days before at Glacis Beisl in Vienna.

Preisinger is a special name for me. Before I stepped into Newcomer Wines (who import both Rennersistas and Claus into the UK) when they had a container at Shoreditch Boxpark in London, I’d been a fan of Austrian wine, but my focus was mostly on the more traditional whites of the Wachau. It’s probably true to say that Claus, more than any other producer, opened my eyes to the dynamism of the natural wine scene in Austria. Even a short visit was therefore a must, for me. Thanks Claus.

Rennersistas are at Weingut Renner, Obere Hauptstrasse 97, Gols (opposite the petrol station on the very western edge of the village).

Claus Preisinger is at Goldbergstrasse 60 to the north of Gols, and running along one of the village’s most presigious vineyards (Goldberg, of course).

Please make an appointment before visiting. Newcomer Wines at Dalston Junction in London import both producers’ wines.

As a postscript I’d like to give a plug to Neusiedlersee, Europe’s shallowest lake at an average of just 1.5 metres deep. At 315 square kilometres it’s also Europe’s largest endoheic lake (a drainage basin with no outflow). It’s surrounded by an area of reed beds twice the size of the lake itself, and is a haven for bird life. It’s also pretty flat, so ideal for cycling. To be sure, you get a stiff breeze from the southeast (hence the big wind farm north of Gols), but in the heat of a very hot August, this was a blessing.

From Gols we rode to Podersdorf, through flat vineyards (contrasting with the gentle hillsides to the north). From here you can put your bike on a ferry and cross the lake to Rust if you have time. At Rust you can hire small motor boats for an hour or two at the marina, or just cycle to the village to see the picturesque houses and the storks. Oggau is a few kilometres to the north! You can read about my 2015 trip to Rust (Rust Never Sleeps) here.

This time we rode along another cycle route (the region is littered with cycle tracks) back to Neusiedl-am-See and down to the See Bad. Here you’ll find the well known restaurant, Mole West. It sits on a small marina on the lake and whether you’ve cycled 40+ kilometres or not, is a very relaxing place to finish your day. Mole West, Seegelände 9, 7100 Neusiedl-am-See.

BDC0E4B2-1EAC-4698-9895-154C6054B307

We hired bikes (€15 a day each) from Fahrraeder Bucsis, who are right next door (50m) from Neusiedl Station. Direct trains to and from Vienna Hauptbahnhof run hourly, other services requiring a change. Be sure to get into the correct carriages at Vienna because the train splits en route. You can get to Gols by bus, and occasionally by train with a change.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Austria, Austrian Wine, Natural Wine, Neusiedlersee, Vienna, Wine, Wine Tastings, Wine Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Aligoté

Some years ago now I attended a “bring your own bottles” Burgundy Lunch, and was seated on a table with some genuine experts in the region’s wines. The red I took was a safe bet because I’d sourced it from a fellow diner, a wine merchant and writer on the region. The white was made by Coche-Dury, but it didn’t go down so well. You see, in my inimitable way I’d decided to mix it up a bit and had taken a Coche-Dury Aligoté. I’m positive one person used the term “battery acid”, and only slightly tongue in cheek.

Aligoté appears to have its origins in wine literature in the Eighteenth Century, as a natural crossing between Gouais Blanc and Pinot Noir, the former being also a parent of Chardonnay, so the two grapes are half-siblings. Burgundy is its home, and although its plantings (less than 2,000 hectares) are way less than Chardonnay (of which there is at least six times as many hectares), it remains relatively stable. This might surprise those who would assume it would give way to the much more profitable Chardonnay nowadays, but I think that in a region where traditions still hold, there is a desire to continue the tradition of a second white grape variety, albeit usually planted on the margins of any estate.

Although the comment I related above is indeed unfair in relation to Coche-Dury, there is no escaping the fact that Aligoté can be a very high acid grape, not least when cropped at high yields, as it can so easily. Many people still think it is only fit to be made into a kir by the addition of crème de cassis, its somewhat traditional use in the region. At best, Aligoté has been damned with faint praise. If I might quote Jancis Robinson from the seminal Vines, Grapes, Wines (Mitchell Beazley, 1986):

Aligoté is to Chardonnay what Silvaner is to Riesling: a poor copy…with notably more acid, less body and much less ageing capacity

I’d accept, to a degree, all but the last proposition. Jancis goes on to say (the faint praise):

That said, just as exceptionally fine Silvaners can be found in Germany, so Burgundy occasionally yields up a genuinely toothsome Aligoté“.

To be fair, this was written back in the 1980s, and was probably reasonable comment back then. But Aligoté is now on a roll, and in fact has almost become a cult grape variety. I wonder why?

I think that, aside from the admittedly sometimes nasty Aligoté made commercially from high yields, there are two kinds of wine being produced from the variety. There are those that have always been there, made with care by top producers. They’ve been hidden away. Bottled in relatively small quantity, they are not often shown to visiting wine writers, nor (often) a domaine’s overseas importers. The producer often thinks the visitor won’t be interested in Aligoté (they are often right), but it’s just as likely that they can easily sell all they have to knowing private clients. We’ll talk about some of these, and there are surprisingly many very good ones.

Anthony Hanson, in Burgundy (Faber and Faber, 1982, p74) does suggest that there are, or at least were, a few villages particularly noted for their Aligoté. He cites Pernand, Villers-la-Faye (remember that one), St-Aubin, Chagny, Rully and Bouzeron.

The second kind of wine has been popularised by a mix of the new and dynamic micro-negociants and the equally new breed of natural winemaker in the region. Aligoté has a reputation as a grape no one wants, and if Chardonnay is in very short supply, then it is much easier to pick up some (often unsprayed and old vine) Aligoté. If you can gain enough control over the vineyard to ensure yields are reduced, and if you then vinify the wine with as much care as you do your Premier Cru Chardonnay, then you may just find you’ve made a cracker…as one or two of them have.

Cropped low, Aligoté is capable of greater breadth and depth than we have been used to in the commercial examples we had previously seen. Not only that, the acidity which is the first thing every single critic mentioned in the past, can be toned down to something one would more likely describe as “zippy mineral/stone freshness”.

So where should we look? We have to start with Bouzeron. Even in the 1980s most lovers of Burgundy knew that the co-director of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Aubert de Villaine, and his wife Pamela, had a big reputation for the variety in a Côte Challonaise village which gained its own AOC, Aligoté de Bouzeron in 1979. (It was inexplicably changed to just “Bouzeron” in 1998, presumably to mirror the rest of Burgundy’s village AOPs, but consumers need to be aware they are getting Aligoté, not Chardonnay).

Domaine A&P de Villaine is now (since 2000) run ably by Aubert’s nephew, Pierre de Benoist, who says he feels privileged to have responsibility for this second string variety. This estate does make the best wine in the village, though others would argue they have their equals. Bouzeron as an AOP has plantings of around 50 hectares of Aligoté, mostly planted on various types of limestone (there’s also marl), most definitely the variety’s preferred geology. De Benoist is also trying to preserve a particular strain of Aligoté they have in their vineyards, Aligoté Doré, which he considers superior to your run-of-the-mill Aligoté Vert. Other producers are proving him right.

So what of those older, hidden parcels from the famous domaines? Well the list is long, but worth putting in writing, although I’ll only write more specifically about one or two of them. The most famous Aligoté of all, and as far as I know the most expensive, is made by Ponsot from a plot right above the Morey Grand Cru, Clos de la Roche. The Clos des Monts Luisants would, for all I know, also be a Grand Cru were Aligoté allowed as a GC grape variety (it has to make do with a Premier Cru designation).

If you happen across wines from Hubert and (his son) Laurent Lignier, Arnaud Ente, François Mikulski, Domaine Lafarge (a personal favourite), Comte Armand, Paul Pillot, Domaine Arlaud and Pierre Morey, then take a good look. With Leroy D’Auvenay and Coche you’ll need to check with your bank manager first. In retrospect that Coche needed a lot longer in the cellar, but all of these wines will age a few years, more in a good many cases. They don’t tell you that on the WSET, do they?

Of all the classic Aligoté the one I adore most is that of Jean-Marc Roulot. Roulot may be known for Meursault of unbelievable purity, but he’s equally known among aficionados for brilliant wines from lesser terroirs. His Bourgogne Blanc is legendary, if increasingly unaffordable, and his Monthélie is a secret known only by a relative few. I drank a bottle of Roulot Aligoté 2015 at Noble Rot a few weeks ago. It’s still on the list at £52 (Pierre Morey’s Aligoté 2015 is a touch cheaper at £48), along with a few others in the “Other White Grapes” section: Ramonet (£58), Lafarge (£52), and De Moor (£57), five options in total, making a pretty tasty selection.

Although Roulot wines always have a characteristic rapier-like spine, which makes them stand out in tastings, the perceived acidity here is tempered by vine age and yields. Jean-Marc has just point eight of a hectare of Aligoté, planted by his grandfather. These old vines, up to 80 years old, are farmed organically and yields off clay and limestone kept down. The Aligoté here is both fermented and aged in stainless steel (the only Roulot wine made this way) and it is bottled after a year. For me, it’s a go-to wine to see what the grape is capable of, though as is often the case with restaurant wines, the one we drank was doubtless a shade too young.

My other go-to Aligoté producers from the Côte d’Or might be seen as quite different. Sylvain Pataille has built a domaine from scratch around Marsannay at the very north of the Côte, whilst Claire Naudin took over from her father at Magny-lès-Villers up in the Hautes-Côtes, between Aloxe and Comblanchien, in 1994.

Pataille is pretty much an all round genius considering what he’s achieved since he began vinifying his own wine in 2001. Sylvain is another fan of the lower yielding Aligoté Doré and from it he makes four single vineyard bottlings, namely Clos du Roy, La Charme aux Prêtres, Champ Forey and Auvonnes du Pépé. Vines are up to 80 years old, again, and yields range between 20 to 45 hl/ha (some of that high yielding Aligoté I mentioned yields 80 hl/ha).

Why does Pataille bottle these wines separately? After all, the largest of these sites (Auvonnes) is just 0.8 ha, the rest 0.3 ha approx. His biodynamic methods yield, he asserts, wines of real energy (greater than his Chardonnay in most cases), with an added salinity. Only a little sulphur is added at bottling, and despite their surprising cost they are truly great Côte d’Or wines. And Sylvain genuinely believes they are different enough to compare them, though I’ve not tried them all myself. What I have tried are exceptional.

Claire Naudin also introduced biodynamics at her domaine, and with her Aligoté “Le Clou 34” she goes a step further than Pataille. Bottled as a “Vin de France”, it has no added sulphur whatsoever. This is the Aligoté that many of the new vignerons cite as an inspiration, especially those outside of the immediate region, and of course those practising natural winemaking. It’s maybe broader than some, has perhaps a touch of natural wine baked apple, but it sits on a finely-toned skeleton. The 2016 might set you back a bargain €30/£30 or so, although I don’t personally know of a UK importer (do put me right if there is one).

Outside of the Côte d’Or there is a little Aligoté down south in Burgundy, though somewhat more in the north, in the area around Chablis. One of our favourite Chablis producers, Alice and Olivier De Moor (based in Courgis) makes outstanding Aligoté in, when frosts permit, two cuvées. These can be had, albeit in tiny quantities, via Les Caves de Pyrene. Their Aligoté is actually planted in the village which is the rather unlikely bastion for Sauvignon Blanc in Northern Burgundy, Saint-Bris. The key, again, is in old vines, their half a hectare being planted in 1902.

BF61FCA8-886F-4078-B26F-C62095D57D43

The domaine of Jean-Hugues and Guilhem Goisot is based in Saint-Bris, and their biodynamic Aligoté is no mere afterthought, sitting alongside fine Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and red cuvées. It actually has some of the fresh mineral qualities often shown by Chardonnay in the region, and at around £17 (available from a good few smaller independents via, again, Les Caves) it’s one of the Aligoté bargains to be had. I bought the wines of this producer early on, when I first discovered Les Caves de Pyrene, but sadly in recent vintages frosts and hail have severely cut back what they have been able to produce.

IMG_0158

What of the new micro-negociants? Mark Haisma and Andrew and Emma Nielsen (Le Grappin) both produce exceptional versions. Mark’s has been good for as long as he’s been able to make it, and his 2016, tasted in January this year, is no exception. It’s quite fruity, though equally fresh. Someone said “New World-style” but that may be going too far. It comes in at just 12.5% abv. A very tasty drop.

507AD26C-C888-4A78-A356-06539BF3A3BF

For Andrew and Emma, Aligoté is a new departure for the 2017 vintage, and it has become one of the summer’s unicorn wines, so little of it was made. Andrew sourced his grapes from “Perelles-le-Haut” in the Macon village of La Roche-Vineuse, a south-facing slope of Bathonian limestone/marl. Again, the vines claim 80 years of age (is this a secret sweet spot?), giving “small yields of orange-tinged berries”.

Andrew’s technique here is a bit of foot stomping (said by some to be Emma’s speciality), basket press, and then moved into large oak for six months on full lees. There’s breadth despite a mere 11.5% alcohol, and you cannot escape “minerality” in its texture. It’s refreshing, yet the acidity is far from biting. A very lovely wine. A skin contact version, Aligoté Skin 2017 was just released at Wine Car Boot a couple of weekends ago. I’ve sadly not tried it, and probably telling you about it may mean it’s all gone by the time I’m back in the UK to get some (Emma, save me a bottle?). £20!

D4AD8C29-BDC4-4DA5-A38E-C884E3202DD4

Aligoté’s propensity to produce wines which seem alive when cropped low, farmed biodynamically, and when sulphur is not added, make the variety a godsend in many ways for Burgundy’s natural wine producers, and skin contact should be added to that list. The top of the natural wine producer list, at least for price, might well these days be considered Domaine Prieuré Roch, though I’m not sure where in the UK imports it (Berry Bros and one or two other merchants import a raft of Preuré Roch wines, but I’ve not yet seen Aligoté here. The domaine has its own bistro in Nuits, 22 rue Général de Gaulle).

Nicolas Vaulthier once worked (in fact he was one of the founders) in the famous Aux Crieurs de Vins natural wine bar in Troyes (where you will as likely as not find local star vigneron Emmanuel Laissagne sitting on his day off). Now he makes wine in Coulonges-la-Vineuse up towards Chablis (in fact the village is over the River Yonne from Irancy and Saint-Bris). He makes (as far as I know) two natural Aligoté, Cuvée M (two weeks on skins, minimal sulphur) and Aligoté Bréau (no skin contact).

Also look out for Aligoté from Fanny Sabre, but perhaps the real find when it comes to this oft-maligned grape variety is that made by Yann Durieux under his Love and Pif! label. Yann used to work at Domaine Prieuré Roch, but he now farms 3 ha at Villers-la-Faye in the Hautes Côtes, not so very far from Claire Naudin (I believe the winery is in Messanges, around fifteen minutes’ drive north).

The name? Pif is French slang for wine, so it’s a sort of play on Love and Peace/Love and Wine. Love for the grapes from bud to bottle is the absolute rule here. The wine I suggest you look out for is called Les Ponts Blanc…sometimes listed under the domaine name, Le Recrue des Sens. If you look on Cellartracker you’ll see the confusion people have over this wine. It’s fresh and alive, yet it has a kind of haunting quality. Easily misunderstood, but it’s a cult classic.

The vines are aged around 40 years, planted pretty much up in the hills above Romanée-Conti, not that this should really have any bearing but it’s always mentioned in the merchant blurbs so I thought I’d stick it in, what the heck! They never fail to tell you Yann has dreadlocks either…The vines are on clay-limestone and that is a running theme which perhaps has relevance here, and for Aligoté’s future in other locations. The fact that this super wine is fermented for a couple of weeks on skins has not escaped the eyes of many producers, a bit of a beacon. It’s very pure, even in the warmer 2015 vintage. No sulphur, of course.

FE47DC82-C7C0-4F94-A1BC-7F485F8DD5C1

Durrieux’s Aligoté alongside rarely seen De Moor at Newcomer Dalston a week ago

What about other locations? Aligoté hasn’t really translated to other parts of France very well. There is said to be a little around Die (Rhône-Alps) but the closest we get to significant (well, relatively) plantings is in the Swiss vineyards of Geneva. Many domaines and the co-operative make a fruity and fresh version, pleasant enough for me to buy but I’ve not yet found anything profound.

8269A7AE-C407-47D3-805C-3600E819FD42

Aligoté has translated to Eastern Europe, somehow. Romania has some noted plantings, as does Bulgaria (some readers might just be old enough to recall the wines made here before the fall of Communism where Aligoté was one of the cheaper offerings).

California professes to be home to some Aligoté, although a good proportion of the tiny amount of California-bottled Aligoté seems to come down from Washington State. Calera, which used to be a champion of lesser varieties to a degree (I remember their powerful Viognier in the 1990s), certainly used to bottle some Aligoté, presumably grown locally, but in micro-quantities only available here when a true wine geek brought one back.

Otherwise that’s about it, though the wonderful thing about my readership is that you generally know at least as much as I do, and I’m sure I’ll get a few weird and wonderful suggestions to seek out. Some is rumoured to be planted in Australia, but I’ve no idea where. What of England? I checked the list of varieties Ben Walgate has planted at Tillingham in Sussex, but if Aligoté was among them, I missed it.

Naturally a trip to Burgundy is by far your best bet for sampling Aligoté, but as I suggested above, Noble Rot in London Mid-Town’s Lamb’s Conduit Street has five fine examples on the list. Hardly a decent independent wine shop fails to have one of the wines I’ve mentioned here. The fact that they are few and far between in the supermarkets may be no bad thing. There’s plenty of “battery acid” out there, but more often than not, high cropped Aligoté will just taste of nothing much at all…until you transform it into a kir.

But find one of the wines mentioned above and you might conclude that you’ve hit upon a gem, one of wine’s little secrets that a certain type of wine lover will dismiss out of hand. More fool him (sic). I can assure you that the esteemed producers who make those wines know exactly the quality they have produced. You only need to throw aside prejudice and enjoy. You may also find that this summer quite a lot of other drinkers are doing just that.

 

Posted in Aligoté, Artisan Wines, Burgundy, Grape Varieties, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Amber Revolution by Simon J Woolf

Every so often the near desert that is wine publishing comes up with something welcome and really interesting. Wink Lorch’s Jura Wine and John Szabo’s Volcanic Wines come to mind. Simon Woolf’s Amber Revolution fits firmly in that category, and has generated a massive amount of excitement already on social media since its publication a few weeks ago. A pic of its striking cover is almost as ubiquitous right now as a bottle of Ganevat (in this case it’s a good thing)

2F47EDF3-594B-46BC-A8FE-98300ADBA52A

In my review of Woolf’s book I have just one criticism, and I’ll get that out of the way first, although as you’ll see, it has nothing to do with the author. Like Wink Lorch’s book, Amber Revolution was self-published after a crowd funding campaign. I know Simon Woolf is not a well known author, though his work has appeared in Decanter Magazine and other drinks publications, and when his bio announces him as an “award winning” wine and drinks writer I do not doubt that assertion.

Nevertheless, it beggars belief that a book on this topic was not taken up by a specialist publisher, and as you will see, the sheer quality of this book on several levels only serves to reinforce that frustration. I only hope that the book achieves the success it deserves…and makes Woolf some money.

Before we delve into the book, let’s step back and look (fairly briefly) at what is Amber Wine and why we need a book about it. Amber Wine is the same as the wine we perhaps more commonly know as orange wine – note the lower case “o”, which ought not, pedantically speaking, offend the good growers of Orange in Australia (nor Orange County in California), but it seems that this small Aussie region of New South Wales has been a bit shirty about the term “orange wines”.

Amber, or orange, wine is wine made with skin contact. White wine is made without skins, from which the juice would pick up colour pigments. In that case, the grape skins are discarded after pressing. By leaving the skins in contact with the juice for anything between a couple of hours and several months (even years in extreme cases) the juice takes on a darker colour, which can range from a pale burnished gold to a deep browny orange, and a whole lot in between.

We are effectively talking about making a white wine in the same way, more or less, as you make a red wine. The result will show some typical red wine characteristics which are largely based around tannins, structure and mouthfeel (though experienced, of course, through our senses of sight and smell as well as taste).

I say sight, because the colour is what we see first, and this has led to one of the most erroneous criticisms of macerated skin contact wines – that they are oxidised. This mistake is usually made by older critics who are programmed to see darker colour as a sign of exposure to air. The irony is that in traditional skin contact wine making the skins form a cap over the juice, protecting it from oxidation (although submerging the cap regularly helps stop bacteria from appearing in the skins). Woolf will have quite a bit to say about the naysayers who so patently get this wrong.

We often think of orange wines in connection with amphora, and specifically the Georgian qvevri, a clay vessel with a small aperture, traditionally buried in the ground, in which the wine more or less makes itself. What we should remember is that amber/orange wine is actually made in a range of containers, even including epoxy tanks and stainless steel.

Slowly, since the 1990s, a movement has come together to create a rebirth for skin contact wines. I say “rebirth” because, of course, this is how “white” grapes would have been made into wine for many centuries since wine was first made, until the advent of so-called modern winemaking in the 20th Century. Those who travelled (mostly) from Italy to Georgia to see for themselves this dying tradition turned out to be very gifted and extremely driven individuals. The fact that we now have a fourth category for still, dry, wines (alongside red, white and pink) is ultimately down to them.

When we pick up Amber Revolution we are struck by its production values. It bears a resemblance in look and feel to a blend of Paul Strang’s 2009 work, The Wines of South-West France, Jon Bonné’s 2013 The New California Wine and Isabelle Legeron’s Natural Wine. I like the waxy texture of the cover and the stunning graphic by Studio Eyal & Myrthe. The text is very clear and easy to read, as are the useful info-inserts which are interspersed with the text, and which pick up on different mini-topics (how qvevri wine is made, misconceptions, matching food with orange wines etc).

The original photography, by Porto resident Ryan Opaz, is wonderful. It really makes the book, in the same way that Mick Rock’s photographs did for Wink Lorch’s Jura book. If you think a self-published work is always going to include a load of home snaps, think again.

The text itself reveals two things about Woolf. First, that this ex-musician, sound engineer, IT consultant and currency designer can write quite effortlessly and entertainingly. Second, that he knows how to do his research. The book shows a genuine depth of knowledge on a niche subject that is at times astounding. And secure in his expertise, he doesn’t pull any punches when better known so-called experts get it wrong. He obviously has a passion for the subject and is prepared to defend the wines.

014E16D8-A6D5-419D-A6C9-008C19A435C5

The book’s narrative begins not in Georgia, the place we think of as the home of orange/amber wine, but in Northeast Italy, and over the border in Slovenia. It is in Friuli that one man in particular made orange wine great again. Joško Gravner was the darling of the international wine critics until he began to question everything he was doing, following a trip to California in 1987. In 2000 Gravner visited Georgia, a country in a fairly lawless state following the breakup of the Soviet Union, and with local help he tasted some amazing qvevri wines…and was completely hooked.

2BFD8D37-4788-4B77-89FE-E6169A5EA9BF

Joško Gravner by Murizio Frullani (see picture credit notes below)

Gravner surrounded himself with other likeminded winemakers from both Friuli in Italy and (once the Iron Curtain came down) producers over the border in Slovenia, people like Stanko Radikon and others. They doubtless gave him a certain comfort during the time his wines were being panned by critics, and returned as “faulty” by customers. But he persevered, and slowly a small group of influential wine people (like French Laundry’s Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, the UK’s David Harvey, and Eric Asimov, the New York Times’ long-standing wine critic) began to get just what Gravner was doing, and, more importantly, to get the wines.

Woolf doesn’t forget the importance of Georgia in the story. He travelled there himself for the first time in 2012, having had his orange wine epiphany in the Carso cellars of Sandi Skerk the previous year. He details the tradition, and talks about those artisans who kept the flame alive. Yet he doesn’t dodge the importance of slightly more commercial producers, like Giorgi Dakishvili, who began slowly to find an export market for these wines. This was so important because the home markets in countries in the former Soviet Union’s sphere of influence were not, and to a certain extent still are not, interested in skin contact styles, which they see as old fashioned.

7B602E4C-1E07-4F24-BCA3-9039270857D7

Alaverdi Monastery, Georgia, by Ryan Opaz

Woolf covers a whole lot more in three hundred pages. He looks beyond the abovementioned core regions of skin contact production, to orange wines being made all over the world (the style is now quite prevalent in the USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa and has even taken off in a very small way in the UK).

He also entertainingly takes on the critics – I thoroughly enjoyed his gentle comments following a small tasting arranged with the English wine writer, Hugh Johnson (at 67 Pall Mall). I like a writer who stands up for the truth, and for what is factually correct, in the face of misleading comments from bigger guns. Let us not forget that there have always been extreme voices in the world of wine (Gluck on expensive wines, Bettane on natural wines), much as there are in politics. There is, of course, room for different tastes and opinions, but when such voices are factually wrong they do need to be put right.

If you either don’t believe the author knows what he’s talking about, or you’ve not realised yet that he seems like a witty but self-deprecating guy, read the Epilogue, where he details his attempts at making amber wine himself, or at least assisting in the process. I must say, I like someone who is prepared to have a go, not just talk.

Which reminds me, anyone know where I can find a small amphora? We have between forty and fifty bunches on the home vines this year and having failed with an allotment’s worth of unripe Seyval Blanc two years ago (including a cuvée with skin contact), I’d love to try again, without a plastic tank this time.

The final ninety pages of the book comprise a roll call of recommended producers, around three to a page with a short paragraph on what makes them special, plus address and contact details, all arranged alphabetically by country. This section really enhances what has gone before it. The bios are short, but they allow for our own further research.

 

There’s no way Woolf could have mentioned every possible decent producer of orange styles (so may I just add in the very compelling Špigle-Bočky from Richard Stavek and brought into the UK by Basket Press Wines, and Brash Higgins’ Amphora Project cuvées, especially the Zibibbo Amphora from old bush vines in Australia’s Riverland, which Vagabond imports)…but there are a heck of a lot he lists which I’d never heard of (check out Josip Brkič in Bosnia & Herzegovina if you can). Do not dismiss, or merely flick through, this section as it really will broaden your experience (more than 180 producers are listed as recommended from, I think, twenty countries).

Whilst, as the author makes clear, amber/orange wine does not equate to “natural wine”, much skin contact wine is made by producers following the natural wine path. It is for this reason that I think there is a good-sized market for this book, which I’d go so far as saying is essential reading for all adventurous young (and a few older, less prejudiced) wine lovers. Initially, I felt happy to support a worthwhile self-publishing project, but having read the book I am so pleased I did. The wine publishers have missed out and messed up big time here. Recommended reading, 100%!

Amber Revolution – How the World Learned to Love Orange Wine is written by Simon J Woolf, with a Foreword by Les Caves’ Doug Wregg, who has probably imported significantly more different orange wines into the UK than anyone else has, or will. The book is published in The Netherlands by Morning Claret (www.themorningclaret.com) at €35/£30, and in the USA by Interlink Books, Northampton, Massachusetts ($35). I understand that wider UK and European distribution will be forthcoming within a couple of months, but contact Simon Woolf on the above link for sales enquiries in the meantime.

Note on pictures – The photos in this article were all taken by me and, unless it is obvious they are not, were photographed directly from the book, including the photo of Joško Gravner with his qvevri, which was taken by Maurizio Frullani and appears in the book courtesy of the Gravner family, and Ryan Opaz’s photo of the Georgian Monastery of Alaverdi on the edge of the Caucasus Mountains. The photos below are mine. Please contact me with regard to any errors or omissions of attribution.

 

Skin contact selection, finishing with our first active English qvevris at Tillingham Vineyard, Sussex. You may even be able to spot my own not very successful first attempt among them, above.

 

 

 

Posted in Artisan Wines, Natural Wine, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Wine, Wine Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Volcanic Wines – Foxlow (24 July)

Volcanic wines, by which we obviously mean wine made from vines grown directly on volcanic soils (or, in some cases, pretty much bare rock), have been a talking point for a few years. When John Szabo MS wrote his wonderful book on the subject (Jacqui Small/Aurum Press 2016, see my review here) there was obviously deemed to be a market for an in depth study. Somehow we all felt that “volcanic wines” were something a little bit special.

Volcanic terrain suitable for viticulture stretches right down the West Coast of America, from the Pacific Northwest, through California and down through Chile, where tectonic activity has been at its worst most recently. Europe has a whole host of regions with volcanic soils, but on the whole more recent activity has been limited. There are outcrops in Alsace and Germany, Italy, Greece and Hungary, as well as the islands off Europe’s Atlantic Coast grouped together as Macronesia (essentially Madeira, The Canary Isles and The Azores).

The big question, when we met at Foxlow Restaurant in London’s Soho last night, was can we find any distinguishing features in volcanic wines? It is perhaps timely to look at a question like this when the view that geology doesn’t have a direct influence on wine is in the news. There are a number of scientists who will state with certainty that the vine is not able to take up minerals from the rocks below, through its root system.

I have no issue with science, but I do observe that thing which all lovers of wine find self-evident – that the flavour and structure of wine can change in ways that our senses can detect over quite small distances (Burgundy’s Crus provide the classic example), and that these differences are reflected (surely not coincidentally) in often subtle changes in geology on the ground. The ultimate question, which Andrew Jefford asks in the Foreword to John Szabo’s book, is (to paraphrase) “do we believe the wine we experience is the result of winemaking, or do we also believe in terroir?” Do we believe, as the world’s best winemakers state almost without exception these days, that “wine is made in the vineyard”?

What have wine lovers previously noticed about volcanic wines? There is often (or sometimes) a certain mouthfeel and texture, which can occasionally be mistaken for tannin, and which does not appear to be a result of winemaking. There is often salinity too. Higher acidities are almost ubiquitous, which seem to give the wines freshness. Although we are not supposed to use the term “minerality” according to the scientists, the term is an apt descriptor if we allow ourselves a little license. The wines also often show a savoury, more than fruity, character (see the Gamays tasted below). This can be combined with a touch of earthiness.

That has been my experience. Let’s see how the wines shaped up. I must say that we tasted some lovely wines. There were one or two stars for me. Not necessarily the same as those everyone else (a table of eight) would have identified as such, but there was some broad agreement nevertheless. Sadly we didn’t have any American examples, so this dinner and tasting was confined to Europe. But we did cover some key regions.

Foam Somló [2017], Meinklang, Somló (Hungary) – Meinklang is the Austrian producer based at Pamhagen at the southern end of the Neusiedlersee, but this wine comes from repurchased old family vineyards at Somló, where an ancient volcanic plug rises from the flat Hungarian plain between the Austrian border and Lake Balaton.

The grape varieties in this tasty petnat are Hárslevelü (a secondary Tokay variety) and Jühfark (a variety special to the Somló hill). A perfect aperitif on a very hot and quite humid day in London, this is more foamy than fully sparkling, with initially quite large bubbles which quickly dissipate, leaving a little spritz. Unfined/unfiltered, it’s cloudy near the bottom of the bottle, and it has a refreshing apple-like acidity with a tiny bit of a salty bite on the finish. This is one of several wines which Meinklang produce from their vineyards here.

EA61376C-D618-47AF-B1CE-35AC9112DAD5

Assyrtiko de Mylos Vieilles Vignes 2016, Hatzidakis, Santorini (Greece) – The idyllic holiday island of Santorini in the Greek Cyclades is an active volcano in what is known as the Hellenic Arc, which runs from Greece, across the Aegean to Turkey. It was the scene of one of ancient history’s cataclysmic eruptions in the Second Millennium BCE, an event which may have terminated the great Bronze Age Civilisation of Minoa.

The result today is a still potentially active crater sitting partly beneath the sea, the island of Santorini forming the edge of a classic caldera lake, semi-open as a bay to the west, partly closed by the island of Thirasia. Minoan Akrotiri was covered in a thick layer of ash during that great eruption, thus providing archeologists with a perfect opportunity to study this early civilisation intact.

Santorini may now be one of the most beautiful, and often expensive, of the Greek islands, but it undoubtedly produces its finest, and most ageworthy, white wines. Assyrtiko is the main grape, and makes up around 75% of plantings. It’s a unique variety, one capable of astonishing quality. The best Assyrtiko has body combined with fresh acidity, and we were tasting one of the very best, albeit quite young.

Deliciously limey, but also textured, one could loosely say “like Clare Valley Riesling with tannin”. The texture is palpable, but so is the freshness. There is no doubt that the old vines give this a great deal of extra depth. A fabulous wine, potentially, because I know this ages really well and really needs a bit more time. Yet it was still damned good.

D37B70CD-F767-4819-9C36-3CC4C2DBEE9E

Greco di Tufo 2015, Pietracupa, Campania (Italy) – Campania is the Italian region under the influence of perhaps her most famous volcano, Mount Vesuvius, another source of one of ancient history’s cataclysmic eruptions, which buried Pompeii and Herculaneum in the Roman era. Because it was witnessed by Pliny the Younger, whose accounts brought to life the horrors of the event (more than 1,500 bodies have been found in the ruins, but it is known that the combined populations of Pompeii and Herculaneum were around 20,000 people), we know so much about what happened here.

Sabino Loffredo makes wine in Montefredane, which sits near both the Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino terroirs in Campania. As well as these whites of repute, he also makes a fine version of the regional red speciality, Taurasi. Fiano is often lauded above Greco down here, but Pietracupa Greco di Tufo is a delicious wine. If it has a “volcanic” characteristic, it is a touch of salinity, and a texture which adds depth, but this is overlaid with a creamy pear flavour and a squeeze of lemon freshness. The bottle age of this 2015 shows that the variety need not be one to drink immediately on release when from such a reputed producer.

78CFA6CF-FDB2-4044-B2FC-D7153E2FAEF8

Verdelho o Original 2015, Azores Wine Company, DO Pico, Azores/Açores (Portugal) – The Azores forms a remote archipelago roughly nine hundred or more miles off the coast of Portugal, direction America. The islands are part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge of volcanic activity, where as America pulls away from Europe at a rate of around two centimetres a year, magma oozes up from the gap between the plates.

The Azores may be windswept and remote, but what a fortuitous location they provided for sailing ships crossing the Atlantic. After the advent of steam, viticulture declined, but didn’t die. Its commercial revival by António Maçanita and his Azores Wine Company, and the selection of the Azores as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique viticulture, is a fascinating story. Pico is the largest island, and is basically a towering volcanic peak with viticulture possible from the shore (where vines are lashed by the Atlantic) up to around 200 metres above sea level.

The vines are planted low to the ground in fissures which look barely capable of harbouring any vegetation. They are protected by low stone walls, currais, which from above look more like the remains of an ancient civilisation. You can read about when I met António and tasted his wines in June this year here.

This Verdelho, which is not the same as Madeira’s Verdelho (some say it could be closer to Godello from Galicia) is dry, smooth, ever so slightly bitter. There is some “fruit”, but it is dominated by salinity. There is a stony mouthfeel and 13% abv. What ever you do, don’t over chill this wine otherwise its genuine personality won’t come through…and it is fairly unique on so many levels. It’s a shame that these wines just have to be expensive, a factor of their production costs. But they should be tried, truly. For me, this is a lovely, and fascinating, wine.

67284670-619A-4953-98F9-F327A3C9785F

Soave Classico DOC “Vignetti di Foscarino” 2015, Inama, Soave (Italy) – When people think about “Volcanic Italy” their eye naturally wanders southwards, but in fact much of Italy is of volcanic origin. In the Northeast, especially in the area where Soave (and Valpolicella) is made, there are outcrops of weathered black basalt (amid a limestone terroir resulting from the earlier shallow water lagoon, with additional clay deposits) which date from the time (broadly) when the Alps were formed, when Africa piled into Europe, in plate tectonic terms.

The resulting wines of Soave are capable of complexity and longevity, as attested by the region’s most famous single vineyard wines from top producers such as Pieropan, Tamellini, and Inama. Stephano Inama, whose father set up the estate in the 1960s, has been one of the drivers towards a rebirth of quality in Soave.

Vignetti di Foscarino is an old vine site of southeast-facing vines in the classico zone. It’s a rich wine, perhaps a facet enhanced by the vintage. It begins with some characteristic lemon freshness before the pear and stone fruit kicks in. It has that classic touch of almond on the finish. It’s clearly a multidimensional wine with many facets, but more than any other, it is surely one of those wines which tempts you, like the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with his candy, into using the “m” word – “minerality”. To which one would certainly need to prefix “complex”. But a wine to keep a while, even from 2015.

1D7281C3-6FD0-48B5-8380-E22E5F9EA20F

Vino Blanco 2000 “La Time”, Llanos Negros, DO La Palma, Canary Isles (Spain) – The Canary Islands are very much part of the wine consciousness of many wine lovers these days, but perhaps more for the wines of Tenerife than the smaller, more westerly, La Palma.

Although becoming Spanish in the 1400s, the Islas Canarias archipelago lies a mere 60 miles (100 km) off the coast of Morocco. The fortunes of wine here declined for roughly the same reasons as production similarly declined in the Azores, only recovering in the current century, with producers like Suertes del Marques and Envinate bringing Tenerife’s wines to international audiences. The wine which originally made the Canaries famous, Sack, is no longer produced.

Llanos Negros is a producer wholly new to me (and one that didn’t appear in Szabo’s book). La Time is made from sixty-year-old Listàn Blanco (aka Palomino in mainland Spain) grown on five contiguous plots which, although on volcanic rock, are on soils of sandy loam.

Winemaking involves skin contact (six days) and fermentation in concrete tank, then the juice was kept on lees until it was bottled a decade-and-a-half later, in 2015 (approximately 2,350 bottles). In keeping with the producer’s instructions this was decanted for three hours before being brought to the restaurant. It is golden yellow, tactile almost, in its rich mouthfeel and texture. A unique and brilliant wine, in my humble opinion. Almost Burgundian, certainly, in its complexity at almost eighteen years of age. Why have I not heard of this, and why does no one I know import it? I understand it costs less than €20 retail in Spain.

155D1D6A-CB8A-41E9-90E7-02047E792D99

Riesling Grand Cru Rangen de Thann 2009, Domaine Paul Zinck, Alsace (France) – There was another table at this dinner, but I naturally didn’t get to taste their wines…except for one. I want to mention this Rangen because it is Alsace’s only volcanic terroir, that despite the proximity of the ballons of the Vosges mountains.

The Vosges were pushed up around 500 million years ago when the Rhine Graben was formed, and they have since been weathered and eroded. They correspond to the area we now call the Black Forest, on the opposite, German, side of the Rhine, where vines sit on the lonely volcanic outcrop of the Kaiserstuhl.

The 600 metre high volcanic hill further south and west, in Alsace, is the Grand Cru Rangen, which rises above the small town of Thann. The site has shallow and complex soils over bedrock and the vineyard is often scattered with stones. These retain warmth, so that every wine I have tried from this cru has had a certain warmth and richness to it as well.

As far as I know there are only three proprietors of vines here. Perhaps the two best known are Domaine Zind-Humbrecht (whose Clos St-Urbain from here is one of the most famous wines in Alsace), followed by Domaine Schoffit. The third is Domaine Paul Zinck, which has had access to some of the fruit from a mere hectare of Rangen since the early 2000s.

The 2009 we tried last night had that characteristic richness, so much that a couple of us debated whether it was really a Vendanges Tardives (I gently demurred). It was powerful, for sure, and maturing. It was in some ways the least “volcanic” wine of the night for me, but that is a mere stylistic comment, certainly not qualitative. It was not my favourite style of Riesling either, but it was a privilege to try a wine which is not bottled every vintage, and when it is just a few hundred bottles are filled. I certainly missed the flintiness of some tasting notes in this richer and more softly mature example.

EA71CD31-5092-421E-9733-7FCAC5CA491D

Susucaru Rosato 2015, Frank Cornelissen, Etna, Sicily (Italy) – Etna! This is almost certainly why we are interested in Volcanic Wines. The journey to perhaps one might say “greatness” for the wines of the lower slopes of Mount Etna is one of the great wine stories of the past thirty years.

The ring of vineyards around Sicily’s famous crater look uncannily like the shape of Santorini, and John Szabo in fact calls Etna “like an island on the island”. Etna rises over 3,300 metres on the Sicily’s eastern side, built up over half a million years of successive eruptions, between Messina and Catania. Today those weathered and eroded volcanic soils, added to by more recent eruptions which continue today, make for some of the best viticultural land in Italy, land whose wines have achieved fast fame since quality production was instigated at the end of the 1980s.

Although several grape varieties thrive on Etna, including international varieties, the great red grape of the region has to be Nerello Mascalese. In Susucaru this Nerello strain is paired with three white varieties: Cattaratto (in other places you will read Insolia), Moscadella and Malvasia. The wine is made in exactly the same way as the other Cornelissen wines, which includes skin contact (ten days here, for texture and, as Frank says, “territorial identity”), fermentation in epoxy tanks/containers and no added sulphur. Remarkably (when you taste it) there are around 25,000 bottles of Susucaru.

Cornelissen has earned a reputation which sees him, unfairly, as the wild man of the mountain. He is a deep thinker, but wishes (and suceeds in doing so) to create wines with passion and soul. For those afraid of wine “as a living thing” it may also be fair to say that his wines show greater consistency these days – although I’m convinced that poor retail storage affected them in the early days, before cool shipping and aircon were deemed essential.

This wine is a real bad boy, clean and fresh with great acidity, but also with grip, a high toned bouquet, and so much going on. An excellent and complex (perhaps complicated) rosé (actually more of a light red in reality). I loved it. One of the most profound wines you will find labelled as a rosato in Italy.

7DE7EA11-A5A9-424B-B992-39EE97E3DAFF

Gamay sur Volcan “La Madone” 2016, Gilles Bonnefoy, Côtes du Forez (France) – Although many people won’t have come across this region, near the volcanic Massif Central, in the Upper Loire, but which in reality sits quite near the edge of Lyon, I can remember that the Sunday Times Wine Club sold an example of Forez as far back as the 1980s. Today the co-operative cellar is joined by a handful of independent vignerons, at least one of which is making a name for himself.

Bonnefoy farms around eleven hectares of Gamay biodynamically, the vines sitting on the slopes of two extinct volcanoes at Champdieu. La Madone is one of them. This 12% wine is bright but a little more “Pinot” in colour than what one might expect from Gamay here. The nose is fresh and fruity, but with a smoky edge.

The palate continues the Pinot Noir riff. The savouriness and depth of the fruit give more than a hint at a slightly structured Pinot, although nice rounded cherry flavours do come through as well. Winemaking does not include whole bunch/carbonic maceration, but is of a more classic red wine technique.

I think what we are seeing is a wine that is way more complex than its lowly AOP and price would suggest, but also a wine to enjoy without pomp. After all, at just £11.50 from The Wine Society this is probably the bargain of the day.

4EA6ED54-DD35-4C53-B32E-49CDD84F804D

Morgon Côte du Py 2015, Dominique Piron, Beaujolais (France) – We did have a discussion as to whether the Côte du Py is truly “volcanic”, a discussion I was embroiled in over the Côte de Brouilly cru at the 2018 London Beaujolais Tasting quite recently. Quibbling aside, I am happy to accept that the dominant terroir for this particular cuvée is on igneous rock.

This is not quite the contrast one might expect between these two Gamays. Piron’s is, thankfully, quite restrained, but nevertheless shows some of the characteristics of the atypical 2015 vintage in the region. It has also, thankfully once more, just 13.5% abv. It was served quite chilled, and of course is a young wine. It would not jump out as classic Gamay, having a hint of meaty steak with blueberries, which reminded one of our number of Cabernet Franc. Nevertheless, it’s an elegant wine with great purity, despite possibly a little oak influence yet to integrate. Hmm! My praise seems a little damp, but that is not what I intended.

DC910B0A-071F-4F0B-8E50-5643B2077E43

Etna Rosso “Guardiola” 2006, Tenute delle Terre Nere, Etna, Sicily (Italy) – Marc de Grazia fashioned a famous estate from extremely old vines, some being pre-phylloxera, on Etna’s north side, near Randazzo. In doing so he did as much as anyone else to promote this up-and-coming region. Terre Nere means “black earth”, and much of the topsoil here is fine volcanic ash mixed with stony basalt.

Although I’ve been a fan of this estate for many years, it is more often the generic entry level wines (red and white) which I’ve drunk. The Terre Nere single vineyard, or cru wines, are something else entirely. Complex wines, they all show the nuance of their site, all being demonstrably different.

This nicely aged Guardiola comes from the estate’s highest planted vines at above 1,000 metres. There are only three producers of this cru, and the vines sit behind a locked gate to try to protect the grapes from an increasingly common problem on Etna, theft. The cuvée is made from Nerello Mascalese, which has a reputation of being slow to evolve from this site, a wine of restraint. This 2006 was, for me, actually quite rich and lifted, with a slightly meaty edge. That mature palate combined with a complex bouquet make for a superb, joyful, wine. Excellent, and I felt very lucky to try it with decent bottle age.

AB1297F5-DCA2-44A5-9183-5CC825786031

So, as we are through with the wines, were there any conclusions to draw? The fact that the wines were all good sadly means nothing – we could easily have found some faulty or poor wines, but we were lucky. Yet certain descriptors did crop up throughout, which we had mentioned at the beginning: salinity, texture and freshness being three.

It’s still difficult to generalise, but on the balance of probability, given that some broad characteristics did run through the tasting, I think there is an argument for the proposition that volcanic soils or rocks can influence the resulting wine in some way. As the science appears to suggest I’m wrong in terms of the traditional “soil to glass transfer” idea, we shall need to look for other explanations.

In the meantime, I shall continue to drink these wines. You see, they are some of the most interesting and exciting wines around.

For interest, wines of the day (so difficult to choose) might be the Azores Verdelho, the Llanos Negros from La Palma (Canary Is.), Cornelissen’s Susucaru and the majestic Terre Nere cru, Guardiola. For sheer value for money, Gilles Bonnefoy’s Forez “La Madone” was a glugging miracle if it really does cost £11.50.

Foxlow deserves more than a throw away mention. With free corkage the meal came to a little over £30/head, way cheaper than the next cheapest meal I’ve had this year in Central London. As part of the Hawksmoor Group, the food was very good. Simple, yes, but simple is good when you want to concentrate on the wine…and that’s not to say it wasn’t really flavoursome, it was. Would I go back for another wine event? Like a shot.

 

 

 

Posted in Artisan Wines, Sicily, Volcanic Wines, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

New at Newcomer

I read recently, under the Decanter Magazine headline “Bordeaux becalmed”, that for the first time since Sotheby’s started selling wine in 1970 Bordeaux has dipped below 50% in sales. The decline in popularity of this once king of the wine regions is something for others to ponder, but at a wholly different level there have been few international success stories as swift as the rise, or maybe we should say rebirth, of Austrian wine. The pendulum swings…or is it just that even rich old people eventually go to another place and take their ideas on quality, and what makes for exciting wine, with them?

Austria makes plenty of old school classic wines, as the fine Rieslings and Grüners of the Wachau attest, but there’s no doubt that what is driving interest in Austria among the new, younger, wine drinkers are the young producers who are starting out, or taking over established parental estates. Of course, the fact that many of these are turning to “natural wines” doesn’t fit in with the parameters of taste established by the old guard. They don’t really like it up ’em, especially if it has undergone skin contact (the illiberal wine elite let out a shudder).

There’s no finer example than the Rennersistas in Gols, creating a buzz with their new wines and eye-catching labels, just doing something so very different. I mention the Rennersistas because I’ll be visiting them very soon, but it is no coincidence that you can find their wines in Newcomer Wines at Dalston Junction. As I’m off to Austria soon I thought I’d pop over to take a look at what’s new.

Since they moved up to Dalston Lane from Shoreditch Boxpark they have grown their range and grown in stature, but that doesn’t get around the fact that a special effort is required for me to get over to see them, and three or four times a year is all I manage now. I need to try harder, because this is one of the most exciting places to buy wine in London, with some of the friendliest staff.

It’s a really good time to make an effort to get there yourself because Newcomer seems to have taken delivery of a fair few new vintages of existing lines, plus a few new additions.

From Rennersistas in particular, now is the time to try their Waiting for Tom white blend (Chardonnay, Weissburgunder and Welschriesling), a worthy partner for the excellent red I have kept back from their first vintage (2015), just as an experiment. I left Dalston yesterday with a bottle of In a Hell Mood, Stefanie and Susanne’s petnat (75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay, Ancestral Method, seven months on lees, unfiltered). This producer is surely one of the most exciting in the vicinity of the Neusiedlersee in Burgenland, and there is actually a good, wide, selection of their wines on the shelves at the moment.

5D45D1BF-1EEE-4CB8-BF3F-BA2C0B00FF94

Claus Preisinger is, of course, closely associated with the Rennersistas. If you want a brilliant range of Gols wines, from cheap to expensive, Claus may well be the place to start. Somewhere in the middle of his range sits two sparkling wines, Ancestral (ancestral method with crown cap, not kept on yeast lees, £30) and Xtravaganza (mushroom cork, traditional method, £39). Both wines are made from Sankt-Laurent, and the prices here are pretty close to what you’d pay in Austria.

Since the 2015 vintage Claus has made one of the best “fun” wines in the country. Puszta Libre is a blend of mostly Zweigelt with (depending on vintage) 20% to 30% Sankt-Laurent. Part of the fruit undergoes carbonic maceration and part is direct pressed. The 2017 vintage is just in. I love this wine, a brilliant light glugger, quite inexpensive. I’ve not tasted the ’17 but I sensed real enthusiasm for the new vintage from the staff (“really fruity with more extract and texture than the ’16”). Needless to say, some went in my bag.

562E9AAB-9D27-495D-9994-D99D7DD31DB7

Michael Wenzel makes wine further down the Neusiedlersee on its western shore, at Rust. It was a shame I was quite unaware of Michael when I visited Rust in 2015. Michael’s focus is on Furmint. Historically it was always planted here, because we are just over the border from Hungary’s Sopron wine region, both of which sat firmly in the Austro-Hungarian Empire before the First World War. But it almost died out in Austria through the middle of the Twentieth Century, until Michael’s father, Robert, smuggled vines over the Iron Curtain from Sopron in the 1980s.

As well as the excellent Furmint 2017 which, coming off mica and gneiss, has ample fresh acidity and a mineral edge, don’t pass by the Gelber Muskateller 2017. This is a traditional variety of the western shore, off the same soils. It sees seven months on lees and is bottled without filtration. A very pure wine when I’ve tried it before, and I’m quite a fan of the wider dry expression of this grape from this part of Burgenland.

D7C0CE93-D84B-41E5-A83B-496D3FC31822

I’m not massively familiar with Baden producer Enderle & Moll. Sven and Florian have become something of a Pinot Noir specialist, in a region (and indeed, country) where the competition with this variety is hot. Some have even gone as far as to rank them number one in Germany, quite a shocking accolade, on which I’m not qualified to comment.

Newcomer has their Pinot Noir 2016 (only £21), but a step up is Liaison. This comes from vines of at least 45 years old and is considered a kind of Premier Cru. They use an old basket press and barrels from Dujac, yet all this care will only set you back around £30 (take-out price). Hardly a risk. Liaison is available from 2014, 2015 and 2016 vintages. And why not grab their fun Müller-Thurgau at the same time (£15).

2A1B73A2-D167-44A5-83DB-189435885991

FA885352-B53E-45EE-BBF3-832E00CFDAA0

Another new vintage just arrived is the magnums of Christian Tschida‘s amazing “Brutal” red blend cuvée. One of the best of the wines made and labelled after the bar of the same name in Barcelona for their Brutal Wine Co, this is quite rare and even at £78 for the 2016 should really be snapped up. The wine beside it in the photo is Sonja 2016, a bit of a labelling departure for Christian. But hey, Cabernet Franc from Neusiedlersee’s eastern shores is surely a must-try, even though Tschida’s wines never come cheap (£38).

6C2375A2-7EC0-427D-B719-1FD6D023D01D

Weinviertal isn’t an Austrian region I knew a lot about until I was struck almost dumb by the top wines of Poysdorf producer, Ebner-Ebenauer, earlier this year. About 20 minutes south of Poysdorf, in the village of Hohenruppersdorf, you will find Michael Grindl. I’ve never tried his wines, but I know I should – he’s a skin contact specialist whose wines sometimes have quite long periods on lees. Two labels I’d not spotted in Newcomer before were his Weissburgunder and Riesling Sodalis from the Sol vineyard.

D91E3B03-24CA-45D6-AC64-3AA2296F6000

Finally, from Austria, Vienna’s star natural winemaker Jutta Ambrositsch. There is a good full selection of her wines in stock right now. The one I took away was Rakete 2017 which she bottles as a Landwein but describes as a “Röter Gemischter Satz Rechts der Donau”. Gemischter Satz is the traditional Viennese field blend of which I am so enamoured (and, of course, a passion I’ll be pursuing when I visit Vienna soon).

I’ve truly adored Jutta’s wines ever since I bought her white Gemischter Satz, Sieveringer Ringelspiel, back in Newcomer’s Shoreditch Boxpark days. I tasted this red wine at the “New Old World” RIBA Tasting earlier this year, and this will be my first purchased bottle. As with Claus’ Puszta Libre, serve cool or (even better) lightly chilled.

870F7D0E-1ECF-42F4-B10C-CB26F8798631

Newcomer has a whole lot more these days than just Austrian wine. As far as I know they are the only place in the UK to stock a wide range of wines from Swiss Valais producer, Mythopia, who must surely be one of the most unique Pinot Noir specialists in the world – prices range from £49 up to £79 (for Wild Geboren 2012).

BB5D0969-FF76-42AD-9374-3AEBBDC4E665

I didn’t spot any bottles from Mosel’s Rudolf and Rita Trossen on the shelf yesterday (reclusive, near mythical, natural wines from the less lauded slopes of Kinheim in the Middle Mosel), but I did spot a very healthy Jura offering this time (Labet, Domaine des Cavarodes, J-B Ménigoz’s Bottes Rouges, Les Dolomies) and the same Domaine Giachino Savoie Apremont I bought in Paris a few weeks ago (again, at almost the same price in Euros, £21).

Other names to look for from France include De Moor AligotéYann Durieux (Love and Pif) and Jerôme Prévost, whose Meunier La Closerie Les Béguines can at least be had here, even if it now retails for over £70.

7297A243-5B33-45C4-8E56-5C35E00D721B

Back closer to Austria, don’t forget to check out the Czech/Moravian wines of “Autentisté Group” Member Milan Nestarec, whose crown capped Danger 380 Volts sees just two months on lees in bottle, and is a lovely grapefruity petnat in perhaps a lighter style than some. His Forks & Knives wines (green label below) have given a lot of pleasure here, too.

0B19510D-10E5-4E26-AFE3-D0C382C8E940

Do get yourself over to Newcomer this summer. I strongly suggest a small suitcase accompanies you. There’s still an awful lot I haven’t mentioned, like the Werlitsch and Strohmeier pictured below. Those who know me well know how I’ve been inspired by the wines of the wonderful Ewald Tscheppe, and his “tree and earth” labels.

The Strohmeier Schilcher Frizzante is a real Steiermark Region speciality, made from the Blauer Wildbacher grape. Tart yet creamy, with the flavour of tiny wild mountain strawberries. For devotees and initiates, and the most adventurous of wine lovers, until a year or so ago this was a purely Austrian delight. People like Newcomer’s Peter Honegger and one or two others are seeking to widen its appeal. I hope they succeed.

Werlitsch, Strohmeier, Preisinger Puszta Libre and Jutta’s Rakete red Gemischter

Newcomer Wines is at 5 Dalston Lane, London E8. Best options from Central London are either overground to Dalston Junction or the separate Dalston Kingsland stations (both very close), or by bus. Bus routes 56 (from St Bart’s Hospital near St Paul’s) and 76 (from Waterloo) stop close to Dalston Junction.

You can read about the large Newcomer Wines Tasting, “The Old New World” (March 2018, the the RIBA) here.

00E4BEF3-95BF-4F73-9D85-3B0523101885

Posted in Austria, Austrian Wine, Natural Wine, Neusiedlersee, Sparkling Wine, Wiener Gemischter Satz, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Shops | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Recent Wines (June/July 2018) #theglouthatbindsus

Philippe Alliet is a mercurial vigneron who makes Chinon east of the town, in the back streets of Cravant-les-Côteaux. He is best known for his single vineyard Côteau de Noiré, but Chinon Vieilles Vignes 2008 comes from Cabernet Franc vines over fifty years old and is a gem. Perhaps 2008 was not the finest vintage here, but the old vines have produced a complex wine where the fruit on the nose is morphing into something leafy and smokey. There’s a plumpness as well as a lightness (I know…but it’s true). Very impressive and, in view of the vintage, pretty much ready to drink at around a decade old. I dare say more lauded vintages may go longer, and this 2008 is in no desperate need of drinking.

3DC1A865-3CE1-4F26-9CBD-1512916489E5

Txacoli is getting better known these days, but if you’ve never drunk this Basque wine, then this hot English summer is surely the time to do so. Getariako Txacolina 2017, Ametzoi is a showcase for the autochthonous Basque variety, Hondarrabi Zuri (with a little Hondarrabi Beltza for company). This small, golden grape produces wines in three DOs, of which Getariako is the one most often seen outside of the Pays Basque.

With just 10.5% alcohol, this version is apple fresh and frothy, with just a touch of salinity (maybe that Bay of Biscay influence). Ignacio Ametzoi’s Txacoli is always one of my favourites, full of youthful vigour when drunk soon after release, it has a crispness which reminds me of just picked, cool, apples, and a greenness reminiscent of the rolling Basque hills between San Sebastián and Bilbao. Re-freshing!

F1C929BD-9980-4AF7-A862-582A8B7C88E8

Bourgogne Aligoté 2017, Du Grappin is probably the unicorn wine of this batch. It proved hard to source any initially, and then I ended up, somewhat embarrassingly, with three bottles. Andrew and Emma Nielsen have really hit on something here. Eighty year old vines from the “Perelles” lieu-dit in the Macon village of La Roche-Vineuse provide the grapes. The soils, White Bathonian Limestone with marl give a mineral flavour and texture, but the acidity is in no way biting, as can be the case with Aligoté. It’s what you’d expect from vines this old.

Foot crushed, basket press, six months on lees, no fining nor filtration…in other words great care has been lavished on this. Beg a bottle if you can, or indeed the skin contact version which is about to be introduced to that salivating public very soon, at Wine Car Boot in London on 28 July. Sadly I won’t be there, but I think they will sell rather a lot of it.

D4AD8C29-BDC4-4DA5-A38E-C884E3202DD4

More recently I drank my first full bottle of Du Grappin Beaujolais-Villages “Nature” 2017. I admit that I’m finding that the amazing “Le Grappin” Côte d’Or wines are getting harder to afford, so it’s good to know that the “Du Grappin” label continues to provide amazing value with wines of quality coupled with genuine personality.

From La Pente in the village of Lancié, where the terrain is granite and schist, it undergoes a traditional whole bunch fermentation in concrete and wood. As with most of today’s wines, there’s no fining/filtration, and as the name suggests, no added sulphur. There is, however, a bit of CO2 to preserve freshness, and this really enlivens an already fruity wine. This bottle showed no reduction, nor spritz, although they recommend a carafe (not a bad idea, here).

This is just lovely, juicy cherry, “smashable ©”, bojo. #gogamaygo as they say.

5466B41F-FAA8-4335-98CD-0A0D41CABEB3

ZBO 2016, Riverland, Brash Higgins – Brash Higgins is the label of Chicago native Brad Hickey, who makes wine in South Australia’s McLaren Vale. He should be far better known. Perhaps his range is too wide for many importers, though his labels are striking. He is most famous for his sous voile masterpiece, Bloom. Although the variety there is Chardonnay, it is made almost exactly like a Vin Jaune, even down to ageing, and bottling in a 70cl clavelin look alike.

One of Brad’s loves is amphora, and he makes several wines in these vessels. ZBO is Zibibbo, sourced from Ricca Terra Farms in the Riverland Region on the Murray River, east of Barossa in South Australia. The region may not be known as a quality fruit source, but Brad has found 70-year-old bush vines here. He trucks the fruit to McLaren Vale, where it spends 150 days in amphora. Only 105 cases were made in 2016.

This is dry “Muscat” with a lovely apricot nose. The palate shows a little lemon extract and a touch of honey. There’s that lovely amphora texture too. As it is unfined/unfiltered you get a bit of cloudiness at the end, for me a pleasant contrast to the clearer first two-thirds of the bottle. Despite 13.5% abv, this is remarkably refreshing, and so long as well. Vagabond Wines is the exclusive UK importer of Brash Higgins. They should have stocks of the 2017.

528B252B-05FD-49B0-A2F7-F7471105370F

Pinot Noir “Sand” 2016, Jean Ginglinger, Pfaffenheim – Jean Ginglinger is a biodynamic producer whose family has been making wine in the region since the early 1600s. I’ve been drinking so much wine from “up north” in Alsace, that it’s nice to be reminded that the Haut-Rhin is just as good a source for exciting natural wines.

“Sand” is a Pinot Noir blended from all Jean’s different plots, because 2016 was no less a horribly small vintage in Alsace as anywhere else in France (although he did make an unusual blend of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir that vintage as well). It ticks all the boxes for gluggable glou with strawberry and light raspberry fruit dominating. It actually manages 13% abv, yet has good acidity, and indeed a very tiny bit of volatility, but I loved it. Serve a little chilled. I bought this at Le Verre Volé in Paris.

08921D6B-E7C2-46CF-9983-A73A9722E69A

“Perfect Strangers” Artisan Cider, Charlie Herring Wines – Charlie Herring is the label under which Tim Phillips made wine first in South Africa, and now from his walled vineyard near Lymington in Hampshire. He has also begun making beer, but his largest crop comes from his old orchard behind the vineyard. You can read more about Tim (if you haven’t already) here…when the two of us visited Ben Walgate back in late May.

Perfect Strangers, with its lovely “A Humument”-inspired label, is actually a blend of apple cider and wine, rather like Tom Shobbrook’s “Cider”, except that this is somewhat more appley (the Shobbrook version, made with pears, has Mourvèdre added, which has a more prominent, rather than dominant, influence). So good, and if I’m honest you are probably more likely to get hold of some of this than the rarer wines Tim makes.

Artisan cider is surely underrated. The increasing propensity for small scale English winemakers to produce some cider to supplement their wine output is doing nothing but enhance the reputation of this beverage as a quality product, not merely a rather unsophisticated drink. Perfect Strangers (ie cider and wine) is far from being unsophisticated, but it is also a real thirst quencher. Contact www.charlieherring.com for stockists.

“Murmure” 2016, Domaine Rietsch, Mittelbergheim – I visited Jean-Pierre Rietsch last October, and he was kind enough to sell me a good selection of his wonderful Alsace wines. Murmure is a dry Muscat Ottonel, the fruit coming off Mittelbergheim’s marno-calcaire soils. The grapes undergo semi-carbonic maceration for seven days and the wine is aged six months on lees. This 2016 was bottled with 0.5 g/l of residual sugar and 9 mg/l sulphur.

I’d argue this is a genuine terroir wine with beautiful balance. As with Brad’s ZBO, this wine is slightly cloudy as it has no pre-bottling filtration, nor fining. There is lees texture and precision which, although Muscat doesn’t perhaps make wines to which one would always add this adjective, is very elegant. I think that is something which can generally be said of all of Jean-Pierre’s wines, and they also all show very considered winemaking.

I’m not sure Rietsch has a UK importer right now. Someone will put me right on that, if they indeed do. If it is true, it is quite unbelievable. He’s one of the best, if not the best, producers in the village…in Alsace even.

E71F7725-AD00-4B31-BD5B-21CF26DF14FF

Petnat 2015, Vol 4, Fuchs und Hase, Langenlois – Fuchs und Hase (which translates as “Fox and Hare”) is the joint label of Austrian Kamptal producers and good friends Alwin and Stefanie Jurtschitsch and Martin and Anna Arndorfer. These two top producers decided to work on this petnat-only project together.

Volume 4 is a blend of Müller-Thurgau and Grüner Veltliner, fermented in stainless steel undergoing a 12 day maceration on skins, and was bottled just three weeks after the harvest. It then spent twelve months ageing on lees in bottle before disgorgement. There is no added sulphur, and just 10.5% alcohol.

It is dry, and quite gentle for a petnat, but has lots of dry extract and acidity. Nice length too. I drank Vol 1 back in October last year, which blended the two varieties here with Gelber Muskateller, if I recall correctly. That was good, but the hot summer weather brought out another side to this wine. Only 1,000 bottles were made and it’s worth seeking out as a relatively inexpensive crown-topped fizz whilst you can still find it.

It’s imported by Les Caves de Pyrene and I understand that there is also another Volume I’ve not tried which blends Zweigelt and Cabernet Sauvignon. On the evidence of the first two Volumes, I really need to try some of that.

29191631-B1F0-4065-947A-D3669759AC89

This article has stretched a little more than I originally intended, but last night we had a lovely Al fresco dinner at home with friends, and I just can’t resist sharing something about what we drank.

Two lovely wines and one stunner. Käferberg DAC Reserve Grüner Veltliner 2011, Davis Weszeli comes (like the Fuchs und Hase wine above) from Langenlois in Austria’s Kamptal Region, just east of the Wachau, and is designated Erste Lage (rather like a Premier or Grand Cru). This terroir sits at around 300 metres altitude, comprised in different parts of sandy loam, clay and gneiss. The altitude, and cool valley location, allow for a long hang time, thereby allowing the Grüner to become fully ripe, although this wine doesn’t always attain the 14% abv reached by this 2011.

It was rich and smooth with relatively low acidity, but showed really delicious stone fruit and texture. It went down very well with a red rice salad with tamarind and soy dressing, and spanakopita. We didn’t carafe it as suggested on the back label, but we did serve it only cool (though maybe a tad cooler than the suggested 12-14 degrees because we knew it would quickly warm up on a sunny evening here). An impressive wine, more so for failing to display its alcohol overtly in any respect.

I bought this from Newcomer Wines back in the Boxpark days, but I think Vagabond (again) might import Weszeli now (they had a Weszeli free-pour event last week).

DA872B2C-838F-40B1-86A6-0B293180B32A

A wine which has been tucked away even longer in my cellar reminded me that I just do not drink enough sweet Chenin Blanc. Chaume 2005, Domaine des Forges is made by Claude and Stéphanie Branchereau, who farm a few hectares at St-Aubin-de-Luigné at the top end of the Layon tributary of the Loire. Dark hued, this is peachy and creamy (“peaches” our guests chimed, and they were right). It tasted rather like a peach tarte-tatin, rich, concentrated, long and moreish. Shame this was just a 50cl bottle.

These wines are not only indestructable, not only invariably delicious, but they don’t really cost all that much. I’d had this so long I can’t really recall where it came from, but interestingly (it may be the answer) an unspecified (doubtless recent) vintage appears on the Waitrose web site at under £10.

109D1FE2-36A9-41D9-ACEE-E79D1B02F096

I’ve told you those two were good, but I’ve saved the best until last…and this is a wine you can buy because I only got my bottle two weeks ago. Champagne Dehours Oeil de Perdrix Extra Brut is a palish pink made from mostly Meunier with 17% Chardonnay in this rendition – presumably 2015 fruit mise en cave in July 2016 and disgorged July 2017, with zero dosage.

Jerôme Dehours is based at Mareuil-le-Port, with vineyards centred round Cerseuil (one of Mareuil’s three constituent hamlets in the Marne Valley). It’s an area I know as Raphael Bérêche has vines here. Dehours is a Meunier specialist whose wines sit on the foundation of terroir with little dosage to “obscure” it. The terroir is indeed singular, being one of the coolest (no, let’s say “coldest”) in the region, but Meunier doesn’t resent a nip in the air as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay do.

The Oeil de Perdrix (partridge eye) has just a hint of pale pink colour which reflects a bronzed glint in the sunshine. The fruit is quite fresh and light, a rare whiff of strawberry here, but there’s also something more savoury. The Meunier gives it a little body and perhaps a slightly generous quality, but it is a truly appealing wine, really so good.

The wonderful thing about it is its price. This cost me £45, and whilst it might not quite match the amazing quality and individuality of Jerôme Dehours’ single vineyard wines (of which Peter Liem says “buy them without hesitation” (Champagne, Mitchell Beazley, 2017)), nor does it match their price. This came via Solent Cellar in Lymington. I know H2Vin import a few Dehours Champagnes, and I know this came via them, but they don’t list this particular Oeil de Perdrix on their web site. I think Solent Cellar may have half a dozen left.

573010C6-196D-43E8-B4AB-9A085AB4EF71

These articles are supposed to be restricted to wines we drink at home, but there are three other drinks that I must mention. The photos below show Karim Vionnet “Grabuge!”, a sort of demi-sec Sparkling Beaujolais with just 7.5% alcohol, which was THE most perfect evening beach drink a couple of weekends ago. Then, on Saturday, we drank the L’Anglore Tavel from Eric Pfifferling at Plateau in Brighton, with Starvecrow Petnat Cyder (and a mean negroni). The food included one of the best dishes I’ve had there, a spaetzle with broad beans and ricotta.

Posted in Alsace, Artisan Wines, Austrian Wine, Beaujolais, Champagne, Cider, English Cider, Loire, Natural Wine, Sparkling Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Recent Wines (May 2018) #theglouthatbindsus

I’m getting behind (as usual) with this “recent wines” malarkey, so I’m going to split May and June into two more digestible bites – eight wines from May today and then eight wines from June next week.

PN17, Tillingham Vineyard, Ben Walgate, East Sussex – You may well have read my article about my visit to Ben Walgate’s Tillingham Wines (26 June) and I’ve certainly been talking up what Ben is doing for much of this year. In my defence, I’m hardly the only one to do so. I make no apology for featuring his pink petnat here.

Quite a lot of the driving force in the English wine scene is from fairly large companies. The likes of Nyetimber are not massive compared to the big Champagne Houses, but they are companies who can supply wine across the country and on export markets. The wines are wonderful, and this is what the industry needs to grow. But what we also need are the innovators, those who will push the boundaries, and experiment.

Ben (and Tim Phillips of Charlie Herring Wines in Hampshire) are the small guys who are doing just that. Ben’s production is currently tiny, but like Tim, everything he makes is exciting. PN17 is simply named, a “petillant naturel” from 2017 grapes, and it is a relatively simple wine too. The grapes are predominantly Dornfelder (which I think is a perfect choice for English petnat, more please) with a little Pinot Noir (which helped restart a sluggish fermentation). It is fruity, precise (very) and the gentle but persistent fizz gives the wine a nice bite. Although it doesn’t (shouldn’t?) count, it just looks so good in the glass as well.

I know there’s hardly any around. If any retailers still have some they should shout out because I know a good number of wine lovers who are sorry they didn’t get a bottle. I only managed five bottles from three separate sources…three more to go and I’m trying to share them.

0C279593-1488-4F7C-944A-F150965BD6D6

Nevrosé 2016, Domaine des Bodines, Arbois – I have been seeking out the wines of Emily and Alexis Porteret for a few years, but October 2017 was the first time I had visited the Domaine des Bodines, on the edge of Arbois, just up the road towards Dôle.

I had first heard of the Porterets from Evelyne Clairet of Domaine de la Tournelle, because Alexis had worked with her husband, Pascal, for a couple of summers. Bodines has a lot in common with Domaine de la Tournelle, especially their love of the land itself, and the desire to express purely that through their unmanipulated wines.

Although I am lucky to have one or two Bodines wines at home, this was the only wine Emily had left to sell on that visit last year. Although it is pale and may look like a Ploussard, it is in fact Pinot Noir, from a plot intent on giving good yields. You’d never believe this lovely fruit-driven wine has 13% alcohol, with its strawberry scent adding to the mirage. Bottled as a Vin de France, this is firmly in the glouglou tradition. In this context it is just fantastic.

Check out my piece on Bodines here.

129683C9-9DD8-47B1-8E6D-82F735F74D78

Ryzlink Rýnský 2015, Jakub Novak, Moravia – I’ve been drinking quite a few of the excellent Czech wines imported from Moravia by Basket Press Wines over the past twelve months. It’s amazing just how good these wines, all from small artisans, are. This wine is from a producer often stocked by Basket Press, but this bottle came from Winemakers Club on Farringdon Street (London).

As the name makes clear, this is the vrais Rhine Riesling and it is stunning, seriously. As the alcohol content (13.5%) suggests, it has body, but it also combines it with great definition and real presence. It’s almost certainly the best Moravian wine I’ve drunk to date (there are a few contenders), suggesting that we will hear a lot more about the region over the next couple of years. I’d also put it amongst a handful of the best white wines I’ve drunk this year.

Jakub’s background will prick up the ears of anyone who has tuned in to the Moravian natural wine scene. He was taught winemaking at college by Jaroslav Osička (also a member of the chemical-free Autentisté group of winemakers), and worked in the cellar at Dobrá Vinice, another of the region’s pioneers in natural winemaking. With only around a hectare of his own vines he has to buy in fruit to make his domaine viable, but all grapes are carefully sourced. The Riesling is one of the hardest to find, tiny quantities of just a few bottles entering the UK. If you hear of any going then run. Contact Jiří or Zainab at Basket Press for news on any of Jakub’s wines.

FCA2B5D8-201C-4C69-B7E3-E6EE6E60EDC8

“Oh Yeah!” Savagnin 2015, Hughes-Béguet, Arbois – More Jura, this time an ouillé (topped-up) Savagnin from the young master of Mesnay. Patrice is an emeging talent with vines in his home hamlet and at Pupillin. This Savagnin is quite fruité, a joyful, lively wine with a tiny bit of CO2 to add piquancy to the grapefruit-freshness on the tongue. It’s so alive and a real pleasure to drink. It’s yet another wine where you just don’t notice the alcohol (13%) and it slips down all too easily.

This is bottled unfiltered, so it is slightly cloudy as you reach the bottom of the bottle. If you want it clear, then stand it up for a day or two. There is no added sulphur here either. This is from a batch I picked up on a visit in 2016 and it has lost none of its zip, even though (as almost everywhere) 2015 was relatively warm here. I would argue that 2015 was Patrice’s best vintage up to that date, and the wines (as I said at the time) have great potential.

This bottle sports the lovely new labels Patrice copied from the 19th Century lithograph his grandfather used for his distilled gentiane spirit.

031F93C0-DD98-40B6-BC44-DDAE60354B33

Y’a bon The Canon [2014], A&J-F Ganevat (Vin de France – Jura) – Jean-François Ganevat makes an increasing range of negoce wines, usually as a chance to experiment, and to purchase fruit from other sources. This red is made from a blend of old Jura varieties, the like of which you will find in the nursery at Château-Chalon but in very few vineyards, along with Gamay. Ganevat is showing an increasing interest in using grapes from outside the Jura region, especially Gamay, which in this case was purchased in Beaujolais.

You can only tell the vintage here from the cork. The bouquet is very fruity, with cherries and other red fruits (certainly strawberry). The palate shows lightness but just enough structure (and 13% abv) to make it go with the kind of cheese, charcuterie and rillettes dishes you’ll probably find at any bar serving it. It is none the worse for some extra time in bottle, the fruit seemingly not at all diminished. But I doubt it is intended for long keeping.

59C94B2B-7837-40B9-9A2F-BA105EDC1E99

“Lezèr” 2017, Vigneti delle Dolomiti, Foradori – The problem with Foradori’s wines has always been their need to age to show their best. So often I see pictures on social media of bottles of the senior wines popped open before their time. This cuvée was wholly new to me this summer, and it’s a chance to sample the Foradori genius in another guise.

This wine’s birth, fortunate as it is for us, was born from adversity, namely a hail storm in 2017 that destroyed 40% of the Teroldego crop. What resilient biodynamic fruit that was saved underwent a short maceration and fermentation in a whole range of different vessels to make a light red.

Lezèr, marketed in a clear bottle, is Teroldego intended for instant glugging. It’s a vibrant red which has a lightness of being, and a balanced 12.5% abv. So it’s easy to drink, but it doesn’t lack substance. Certainly the acidity comes with a tad of structure too. I bought three bottles and served this one just a little chilled, which I think worked well, accentuating the wine’s positive aspects. In every respect, this makes a perfect picnic or beach red, though it wouldn’t fall down at a barbecue.

The grapes come from the alluvial soils of the Campo Rotaliano, the heartland of the Teroldego grape. It is bottled with just 27mg/l of sulphur after vinification in cement, wood and amphora, which may be why this has a nice, slightly grainy, mouthfeel under the fruit when chilled. Many retailers will have sold this through. Try Ten Green Bottles, or Solent Cellar, which are the retailers where I bought mine. AG Wines is the importer for the UK.

E41155E3-A210-4084-8083-1325348C804F

Vinel-lo [2016], Partida Creus, Baix Penedès – This is the estate created by former architects Massimo Marchiori and Antonella Gerosa, who moved from Piemonte to Barcelona for their practice, before heading up into the hills to Bonastre, in Tarragona Province, to make wine (and grow food). In a short space of time they have achieved a rare fame in the natural wine world, and I see their bottles in almost every natural wine bar I visit in Europe, and indeed in the cellars of several  producers as well.

Vinel-lo comes from a blend of grapes planted on chalky-clay soils. These include Garnacha, Sumoll, Trepat and Carignan. Unusually, the wine has a prolonged fermentation as each grape variety (around eight of them) is added one after the other. Whole bunches with stems are used. After fermentation the wine sees seven months in stainless steel tanks before bottling without sulphur.

Vinel-lo is often the easiest Partida Creus wine to find. Its generous Catalonian character shines through concentrated fruit and even a touch of richness on the palate, but (not always the case in this region) light of touch at the same time (only 10.5% alcohol). Bottled unfiltered, it has some large chunks of sediment in the bottle, and a touch of CO2, but it is totally delicious. I keep buying single bottles of this, but every time I drink one I promise myself I’ll buy another. This one came from Noble Fine Liquor, though they do look out of stock currently. Try some of the other usual suspects.

A95B4851-CF7C-4BD4-A818-48738D9628B9

Morgon 2016, Kéké Descombes, Beaujolais – Kewin Descombes is one of the newest of the new breed of young bojo producers to burst onto the scene. To be fair, he’s been around making wine for about five years (2013 was his first solo vintage), but as George Descombes’s son, and therefore a direct descendant of the Gang of Four, there is no hiding for Kéké. And this guy is only just in his mid-twenties,

Yet talent isn’t necessarily hereditary. Having a whole six hectares in Morgon and Beaujolais AOC to work is a good start. The vineyards are farmed organically so far, but with a strong will to produce the best wine possible from both appellations.

The delicious, light, Cuvée Kéké is in the latter AOP, from rented vines. The Morgon is sourced from the Courcelles vineyard (on granite), is made in cement vats using whole clusters, and is in some ways in the same style, an easy drinking Morgon (interestingly, he made a restrained Morgon in the hot 2015). The bouquet has a quite haunting cherry scent, and it is relatively lightly structured on the palate, yet that little bit of grip does ground the wine and make it food friendly. It’s just the most delicious glugging Gamay, but with a little something extra from reasonably old vines, some up to sixty years of age (although there is a Vielles Vignes cuvée as well).

Young Descombes is imported by Red Squirrel.

B6117FC9-E488-4E8A-AA3F-921C5A913BAE

We strayed into June with that last wine, but I shall throw out another batch of wines next week. I say wines, but I shall also be including the Charlie Herring “Perfect Strangers” cider+wine brew from Tim Phillips…quite astonishing. I also realised a month ago that I’d been drinking too little Alsace this summer, despite my Alsace love-fest last year. And I’ve now decided on my favourite Brash Higgins wine after Bloom! The unicorn wine next time will be an Aligoté. Bet you can guess whose it is, or can you?

A3D0D02E-0DED-4382-B74F-1329288AFF93

 

 

 

Posted in Czech Wine, English Wine, Jura, Natural Wine, Spanish Wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Lodi Old Vines with Abe Schoener

I’m not usually star struck when it comes to people in wine, but I have to admit that the wines of Abe Schoener’s Scholium Project had a big influence on me when I first came across them through The Sampler some years ago. It wasn’t only what they tasted like, it was also the philosophy behind them, ideas which helped shape the change in the way I began to think about wine.

This tasting at Sager + Wilde‘s Hackney Road venue was based around Abe’s home region (all but two of his wines now come from Lodi), showing some Scholium Project wines and some neighbours. For palate calibration (and the sheer joy of it) we also had some of Eben Sadie’s wines from South Africa (there’s a connection – I’ll come to that). The intention was to look at a region of old vines (old in a Californian context) and see what kind of wines are now being made in this long misunderstood part of the Sunshine State. Abe is just such a charismatic guy and it was fascinating spending the afternoon with him

992E64B3-28DE-43AD-83FD-B6A7777BD742

We’d better begin by explaining where Lodi (pronounced Low-dye, or Load-eye) is. The region sits at the head of the San Joaquin Valley, east of San Francisco and south of Sacramento. The area is quite warm, hot even, with soils in the main of a light alluvial nature, washed down from the Sierra Foothills, largely through the valley of the Mokelumne River.

Let’s face it, Lodi isn’t the first place that comes to mind when thinking about Californian winemaking, and there’s a reason. Historically, Lodi was planted with eating grapes, such as Flame Tokay, and smaller quantities of commercial wine varieties like Alicante Bouschet, Zinfandel and Carignanne. There’s even some Kerner and Dornfelder here, perhaps betraying the ethnic origin of the original settlers.

Because the region was seen as one producing dull, workmanlike, wines, these vines (some planted back in the 1920s in the Kirschenmann Vineyard, and even as long ago as 1886 in the case of Bechtold Ranch, where ancient Cinsault was planted by German immigrant Joseph Spenker) were left undisturbed, often on their own rootstocks because the soils here also contain a large percentage of phylloxera-resistant sand.

When I say “workmanlike”, the region was once one of the fruit sources for Mondavi’s lower level Woodbridge label, and the Zinfandel here was probably saved from being ripped out by the fashion for that frightening white version so beloved of the supermarkets at the end of the Twentieth Century. The renaissance was begun by Randall Grahm. He has since left Lodi, but his legacy has been the rediscovery of quite unique pockets of old vine material on equally cool pockets of land where the river meanders and creates ox-bows and horseshoes of cooling water on what is basically a flat river plain.

In fact the supposed heat of Lodi is not quite what the statistics, and the books, will have you believe. Of course, we are not talking cool climate, rather warm to hot (average temperature during the growing season is 20.4 Celsius, and annual rainfall is a meagre 483 mm), but the region does get some of the mists up from the San Joaquin river delta to the west. It’s cooler here than in the north of the Napa Valley, for sure. The region also benefits from reasonably good water supply, with many underground aquifers, something rare in the State.

The final piece in the jigsaw is the “Lodi Rules”, not a football or baseball variation, but a wine certification scheme based on sustainable farming, which was put in place by the super-effective Lodi Winegrape Commission. These rules not only help preserve the old vineyards, but also enhance the name of a region whose fruit was once anonymously blended into wines from more famous Californian wine producing areas.

A group of wine trade professionals tasted fifteen wines in a couple of hours at Sager + Wilde, and I don’t propose to provide detailed notes for them all. Some will only warrant contextual comment, but some of the wines tasted were pretty damned good, for sure. You will recall that I mentioned a connection with Eben Sadie in South Africa. That connection is Tegan Passalacqua. Tegan is Abe’s closest collaborator, he’s the winemaker at Turley Vineyards, and his own brand, Sandlands. Tegan trained partly in South Africa and, working with Sadie, and was strongly influenced by him, as indeed was Schoener himself.

1C7F121F-EBEA-4DF8-BB73-3F0FC31AB685

We began with an Eben Sadie wine, Sadie Family Mev Kirsten Chenin Blanc 2016, Stellenbosch. What a wine to start with. I’m quite familiar with the Sadie wines, but not this one, and boy was it amazing. It comes from the oldest Chenin vineyard in South Africa, situated now within the urban confines of the town. Mrs Kirsten was the owner, who passed away in 2014. Like all of Eben’s wines, it is unirrigated (Sadie is quoted as saying “to irrigate is to negate the vintage”), and the wine has the length and concentration of the finest Chenins in the world. It’s what you expect for £100/bottle, but still.

E3760837-A958-4B9E-880E-1587A54B5B40

We moved on to contrast it with a Lodi wine, one that was totally different. Acquiesce Picpoul Blanc 2017 was there to show how what is supposedly a hot region can produce light whites. This 12.5% white was quite commercial, but floral, fresh and pleasant, and a pointer towards some traits we might pick up on as we began to explore a couple of the individual vineyards of Lodi.

D58B41C1-25C2-4389-A189-DA5506C8D69B

The Kirschenmann Vineyard is planted not far from the town of Victor, just east of Lodi. The soils here are alluvial and less loamy than those in the west. They have a high quartz content, and go down about forty feet to a bed of limestone. The oldest rootstocks are from the 1920s, but most are 1970s plantings, some grafted quite recently.

Tegan’s Sandlands Kirschenmann Chenin Blanc 2015 contrasted deftly with the younger FTP-C Scholium Project Kirschenmann Chenin Blanc 2017. Sandlands showed sweet oak and freshness, Scholium a little reduction but with great zip. The latter wine was cloudy from no filtration, and it also had no sulphur added. Quite a lovely mineral wine at just 12.5% abv. A true wine of soul for me.

Bechtold Ranch, is now owned by Wanda Woock Bechtold, great granddaughter of the Joseph Spenker who we noted had planted the site back in 1886, twenty-five acres (just over ten hectares) of ancient Cinsault vines which are some of the the oldest in California. The fruit is renowned to give wines relatively light in alcohol, and the wines are usually noted to be highly refreshing.

This is pretty well exemplified by the Scholium Project Bechtold Ranch 1MN 2016, a funky and fruity light red made in the Scholium Project’s small wooden open fermenters, with foot treading and, where possible, a dry cap, unpunched. Between 60 to 70% whole clusters help give the wine lovely lifted, fresh, fruit. Some sensitive souls might find a touch of volatility offputting, but obviously not me. You have to be pretty sensitive to these things to let it spoil the wine’s pure drinkability. You need to think about what Abe and his team are aiming to achieve.

Michael David Winery is one of the bigger, more commercial, producers in Lodi. Their Bechtold Ranch Sinso Red 2016 is very different. This producer does maximise the use of Lodi old vines, but it’s a classic, straight wine, clean with good acidity and 14.5% alcohol. They have taken irrigated old Cinsault, fermented it in large tanks with pumpovers, used commercial yeasts, and almost certainly acidified. It may cost $50 a bottle but for me it is a very ordinary wine. Yet it still shows (or hides, perhaps) the quality of the fruit, or at least something is there under the simplicity.

The third Bechtold wine was our first look at Turley Wine Cellars. Larry Turley started this venture in 1993, having sold Frog’s Leap. His mission was to focus on old vines no matter their yields, nor even the vineyards’ state of health. Tegan Passalacqua came along as a harvest intern in 2003 and is now Director of Winemaking.

Turley Bechtold Ranch Cinsault 2016 comes from the middle of the vineyard, where the loam is deep and the grapes produce none of the dark and jammy wine for which Lodi was once associated. Early harvesting has produced a wine of only 12.5% abv, yet one which is concentrated and tastes stronger. It has a slight buttery, minty, note and no reduction. It’s impressive, in a totally different style to the Scholium wine.

It was paired with another South African from Eben, Sadie Family Soldaat Swartland Grenache 2016. This has dense fruit richness, characterised by big legs. There is also some evidence of whole bunches (a slight stemmy note), but in contrast to the Turley, this actually tastes less alcoholic than the 13.5% on the label suggests, doubtless on account of its incredible freshness.

BBD2FE4E-0E8C-4505-8743-4C8F97E5A2A9

A couple of wines (A Klinker Brick Carignanne and a St Amant Zinfadel), both 2015, demonstrated a different side to Lodi, where fruit from the region is still going into pretty commercial wines of the type we’d see in the supermarket. Abe’s point is that they do fill a market need. People seem to want to drink big wines with oak chips or staves, or at least they are told that they should like them.

Why make wines like this? For sure it is trying to recreate the Napa model from lesser fruit without the investment, nor perhaps the skills? We had an interesting aside about viticulture. It’s not just the oak regime, but Abe told us that the commercial growers go for vertical shoot positioning. That’s fine in Bordeaux where the vines need air and sun, but in the Lodi climate the grapes see too much sun. Then they are left to hang until every bunch is ripe, so that the ripest bunches may have a potential alcohol of 18 degrees.

Michael David Freakshow Zinfandel 2016 was in the same stylistic mode, with a label to match. A $20 wine made in large quantity to give people what they think is a taste of something better. There is nothing intrinsically bad in this wine, although it appears to be highly manipulated to my less experienced palate, but I would say that the whole philosophy behind it is flawed…that is, from my perspective. I’d like to see cheaper wines be fruity and fresh, gluggable, without tannin and “oak”, which makes them near useless with food when all that is overdone.

1DDA4D1D-5738-4BF8-A310-498DCA692760

We returned to the Kirschenmann Vineyard with two reds. I have neglected to say that Tegan Passalacqua now owns this vineyard, and both of the reds here are made from one hundred year old Zinfandel. Turley Zinfandel 2016 is very classy for Zinfandel, showing old vine concentration, but with a touch of elegance you might not expect from the variety.

The Scholium wine, FTP-Z 2016, comes in at just over 15.1% abv. There are no punchdowns or pumpovers, yet the phenolics have extracted themselves and the wine has sweet fruit, yet it also has remarkably balanced acidity for the level of alcohol. Both wines were harvested on the same day.

To end this fascinating tasting we drank another two white wines…for palate calibration! One was another South African, the classic Testalonga El Bandito Cortez Chenin Blanc 2017 which I probably don’t need to introduce to many readers. The grapes come from Swartland bush vines planted in 1972 on decomposed granite, quartz and silica. The wine has a remarkable freshness to it, and is in the “natural wine” mould (I think they do add a tiny bit of sulphur at bottling).

Having drunk the “Baby Bandito Keep on Punching” Chenin recently, this wine is clearly a step up, and something a bit different to the Eben Sadie we drank at the beginning of the tasting. When Craig Hawkins says he just makes wines he and his wife Carla like to drink, he’s far from alone in that sentiment, but you do get the impression that he means it, and if you don’t like them, tough. Most people I know do like them…a lot.

E3085120-8BF8-4A2F-A1E3-DF59BF98A2B6

The final wine, a sort of added extra, was Scholium Project VLV Reserve, Bokisch Vista Luna Ranch White 2016. This is a Verdelho grown on the only Lodi site of the tasting which  is not flat and more or less at sea level. The soils are pushed down glacial deposits rich in quartz and iron. It carries 13.91% alcohol really well, being very mineral, as well as nursing a tight muscularity. The wine has a nice granular texture to it. Stunningly good, a Scholium wine I don’t recall drinking before, but one I’d like to buy (Shhh but it happens to be one of Abe’s cheaper wines!).

959F1B99-BFCD-4E34-9AC7-BB7E09F7447C

What did I learn here? I learnt about a Californian wine region I’d only really read about (John Bonné is a recommended source, in his The New California Wine (Ten Speed Press, 2013)). Of course, I’d tried many Scholium wines but I’m not sure how much it had registered that they were largely from Lodi.

We did learn about the old vine material in Lodi, and we saw evidence of the different ways that old vine fruit is used – some for artisan wines and some for more commercial product. We learnt about soil complexities, and how that (as well as other factors such as earlier picking) can ameliorate a hot climate, and enable fresher and lighter wines, including whites, to be produced in a region more noted for monster reds.

We had it confirmed what world class wines are being made by Eben Sadie. I knew that, but the two wines tasted yesterday took my understanding to a new level. But in looking at Eben Sadie, Abe Schoener, Craig Hawkins and Tegan Passalacqua as well, we also learnt that in an age where the vineyard is now king, there is room for the winemaker as philosopher to impact the whole style of wine coming from a particular site.

This was a wonderful event, and very warm thanks must go to Abe for talking to us, and to Christina Rasmussen for organising it. The S+W staff hosted us with enthusiasm, so thanks go to them as well.

Hey Abe, I drank a glass of The Prince later on, raising it to you on 4th July. Cheers.

Posted in Californian Wine, Wine, Wine Heroes, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Utravino – The Full Piemonte

A lot of my articles draw attention to small importers, often working in specialist areas. Without the innovation and deep knowledge these small merchants bring to the table we’d probably miss out on some spectacular wines, as I hope recent articles covering wines from Central Europe have shown. The small guys are the ones most likely pushing the boundaries.

Whilst many of these small importers are at the cutting edge of the natural wine movement, it is no different in the world of classic wines from classic regions. Ultravino has only been known to me for around eighteen months (they were born in 2017). I attended a Tasting of their wines at 67 Pall Mall in November 2017 and a few of the wines on show at the Summer Portfolio Tasting yesterday (at Citizen M Hotel near the South Bank in London) were the same vintages, giving us an opportunity to taste them with a little more age.

The Ultravino list shows a real depth of knowledge in Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero, introducing boutique producers of the highest quality in necessarily small quantities to a select group of Nebbiolo lovers, most of whom share a real passion for this singular European terroir, possibly the only one capable so far of taking this fickle grape variety to greatness (although the wines of Ar.Pe.Pe in Valtellina do show the consistency to challenge that supposition).

From my perspective, this Tasting exceeded the previous in quality terms. Every single wine here was enjoyable in its own way. In many cases purchasers were given a genuine dilemma – whether to stretch to some of the top wines, which showed exceptional class at fairly steep prices, or whether to snap up some of those producers’ so-called lesser wines which seemed, looking at the quality:price ratio, to offer real value for money.

I happen to love the wines of Barolo, Barbaresco and (increasingly) Roero, and the region itself, one of Italy’s too often forgotten destinations for wine tourism (and also, in my humble opinion, the best food in Italy). If you share my passion you should take a look at the Ultravino portfolio.

I shall cover the white wines, all Arneis, first, and then the red, mostly Nebbiolo, wines by producer, with a couple of Barbera thrown in as we go.

The Classic White Variety – Arneis

Arneis can be a marmite variety for some. As with Viognier, I know people who love it and those who just can’t get along with Arneis. What I enjoy is the pure variety which producers manage to conjure out of it. It’s a subtle grape which can give fruity wines, erring towards the peach and apricot spectrum. Others tease out of it the flavours of quince and other similarly bitter notes which add a refreshing twist, rather like a gin and tonic. Those wines more often seem to show fruit reminiscent of pears. Acidity levels vary too, so there is no one iteration of the variety in the wider region.

Roero, to the northwest of Alba, is the heartland for Arneis, where the variety of terroirs (chalk, sand and clay) give different qualities which, when blended, add interest and complexity. Arneis has also crept down into the Langhe, allowing another string to the bow of Barolo producers, and this is why Ultravino chose to concentrate on it.

It can be a notoriously difficult grape to grow (prone to low acids and over ripe flavours), but producers are discovering that when the quality of the wines is proven, perseverance is rewarded. There have been examples of Arneis in the UK for many years, but it is perhaps only just beginning to gain wider recognition among lovers of the region’s reds.

A very good start on a scorching hot day (the whites were well iced and tasted on an outdoor terrace in the shade) was Ca Rossa “Merica” 2016. This was very fresh with a little body, and the bitter twist here almost went as far as juniper. No less attractive was Val Del Prete “Luèt” 2016. At just £45/6 IB this is surely remarkable value from Mario and Giovanni Roagna, who make biodynamic wine from their Cascina at Priocca. Their four hectare amphitheatre of vines is farmed with great care, and it shows in all of their wines. This is a summer garden wine par excellence.

Giovanni Almondo is considered by many specialist commentators to be the best producer of Arneis in the whole of Italy, certainly in Roero. His “Le Rive” 2016 is very probably the best example of this variety I have ever tasted. At £105/6 IB it is perhaps equally the most expensive I’ve tried, but if you want to see the subtlety and class, and nascent complexity of which this variety is capable, head directly here, do not pass go! However, Giovanni makes an Arneis which will cost you just £65/6 IB. “Bricco delle Ciliegie” 2016 has less of the ethereal about it, but nevertheless is a wine of zippy acidity and wholly refreshing qualities. It comes from vines planted in a former cherry orchard.

Almondo is blessed with some exceptional soils. Sand seems to give wines of good acidity, with the limestone soils giving the wines structure and clay adding complexity. Of course alongside these varied terroirs, Giovanni has some old vines which reach more than sixty years of age in places. Old vine Arneis can be a different beast to an Arneis you might find in the supermarket (Malvira’s Roero Arneis, which many readers will have seen in Waitrose in the UK,  is a pleasant enough wine for around £11 but it doesn’t show the added dimension that the Almondo wines have).

5AFB89C6-4665-446B-98DE-808634BDD6C7

The final two Arneis were less intriguing as to complexity, but made up for it with pure drinakbility. Palladino showed some mightily impressive reds indoors, but their Roero 2016 white was pale and fresh, and quite distinctive. It won the “Star of Italy” and “Star of Piemonte” awards at the Harper’s Wine Stars Competition 2017I’m positive that the judges loved that vibrant freshness which just lifts the wine. Livia Fontana Langhe Arneis 2016 is just a little fuller and perhaps fruitier. A wine for simple drinking.

For me, both of the Almondo whites were exceptional, and for general drinking, especially at this time of year, I liked the Palladino and the Val Del Prete.

The Region’s Reds – Terroir Wines Plain and Simple

ROERO

Actually, Nebbiolo is rarely simple, except for perhaps one or two co-operative examples from the Val d’Aoste, and the kind of Barolo made for the lower end of the supermarket chain. The examples from Roero bore this out. Roero is no longer a region you’ve never heard of, but incresingly is a source for great value but ageable Nebbiolo.

Val Del Prete showed again what good wines they make. I’m guessing many will ignore them in favour of the big boys here. That would be a shame. “Vigna di Lino” 2013 has a gorgeous colour, lovely Nebbiolo scent, a smooth body, and the sense that it has a bit of age. Although it’s not like a complex Barolo, you can have this for a mere £85/6 IB (though currently out of stock, it is due back in the autumn). Their Riserva 2013 is a bigger wine with tannic structure, but it is a wine which will clearly age.

I’d recommend tasting it for yourself, because I don’t claim to be an expert on the ageing of Nebbiolo at this level, but I found it an impressive wine for just £130/6 IB, bearing in mind that Jancis Robinson said of 2013 “the prognosis is for a vintage similar in quality to the already legendary 2010”. What I can say is that 2010 Roero has aged well, and is a great value bet for those wanting Nebbiolo to drink other than just on special occasions.

08E35D4E-394B-4FDB-8BAF-857F5A08FE1A

As an aside, staying in the region near Nizza several times, I realised that when Barbera is given the best sites (as there, but never in the Langhe), it produces wines with noticeable terroir specificity. Roero-grown Nebbiolo can often express site better than generic Langhe Nebbiolo, though this is a broad generalisation. But those of us who look for individual character as much as we look for a particular definition of quality, should bear Roero in mind.

Ultravino showed some lovely red wines from Giovanni Almondo“Bric Valdiana” came as both 2014 (from magnum) and 2015, two wholly contrasting vintages. 2014 gave us tannin and good acidity, but is somewhat lighter than the smooth 2015, which showed more concentration. I’m not yet as convinced as some commentators as to whether 2015 is generally a vintage for me on account of low acids (I like a bit of fresh acidity in a young wine). That the producers here generally managed to keep their 2015s at least a little fresh at this tasting was a good sign. This could certainly be said for Almondo’s wine, and even more so for Cà Rossa Valmaggiore 2015.

That said, Cà Rossa Mompissano Riserva 2013 was even more impressive. My note says “so alive”. Angelo Ferrio’s Riserva comes from unique terroir where the white soils contain marble. It sees thirty months in large oak and clearly has massive potential, as did the 2010 when I tried it back in 2017. You forget you are in Roero here, and it may surprise you to know you can purchase this for £125 for six in bond (around £20 before taxes for a wine with genuine potential over the medium-to-long term).

BARBARESCO

My friends know, because I’m constantly telling them, that Barbaresco is the place to look for interesting top quality Nebbiolo. After all, Barbaresco has a co-operative which has been turning out magnificent single vineyard Nebbiolo for as long as I’ve been drinking the variety. Without the fame of Barolo, you just need to look harder, and that’s what Ultravino has been doing, as have canny purchasers. They showed two producers well known to anyone who has ventured into the region, plus one absolutely oustanding newcomer.

Paitin is based at Serraboella, which is about half way between Neive and Mango, in beautiful rolling hills which make this bit of Piemonte so attractive to first time visitors. The Pasquero family are best known for their singular patch of vines within the Serraboella vineyard itself, Sori Paitin, which produces wines of some longevity.

Sori Paitin 2013 shows its class immediately through the lovely ethereal and haunting scents which dominate the bouquet. As with Pinot Noir, for me, fifty percent of the pleasure from this variety is derived through the nasal passages. The best wines have not so much the “power” as the gift to transport you somewhere else, in this case directly to the vineyard. Actually, as I type I’m listening to Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole (the Habanera), and that has a similar quality.

Serraboella 2013 may be from a larger parcel, but it also serves up the structure and tannins with underlying ripeness which mean that you should not be broaching this for a long time. If the price differential (£150 as opposed to £200 for six in bond) is important, you won’t feel hard done by.

C1C5FB4B-E924-48AA-A43B-B12E3D84DA7F

My problem has always been that I like Paitin and Giorgio Pelissero more or less equally. The wines of Treiso can show the more elegant side of Barbaresco and although there can be structure here, you do get a sense of that elegance. The “Tulin” 2013 has, additionally, an almost meaty edge to it, something like an almost imperceptible hint of iron or a little blood from a rare steak. This is almost a family trait, yet “Vanotu” 2013 has less of this, and is a little plumper. Price would suggest it is the finer wine, but the differences for me are more about terroir than quality.

7D19074F-9927-4913-80A8-D7DE903F2C45

Silvia Rivella is the label of former Gaja winemaker of forty years, Guido Rivella. After retiring from Gaja in 2015 he has been making tiny quantities of wine at his small family estate at Barbaresco itself, and Ultravino has the UK exclusivity for these wines. They are something special, though that is not to say that they are easy wines. For a start, despite using large old wood, they do have power, and tannic structure of the kind one might associate with barrique wines. They also show amazing levels of concentration, concentration which almost takes your breath away in the top wine. Prices are steep, but as we shall see, there is value.

Barbaresco “Montestefano” 2015 is that top wine. The asking price is £380/6 IB, but there is potential for this to be world class. Slavonian oak dominates yet underneath the fruit is elegant, despite the vintage. “Fausoni” 2015 is a little cheaper (£315/6 IB) and is very classy too, with fine ripe and well managed tannins. There is concentrated cherry fruit here. It’s a wine that somehow manages to be big yet subtle at the same time.

The (relative) bargain here is the straight Barbaresco 2015 (£230/6 IB). There is the sort of concentration which you don’t always find at this level, and despite the genuine excitement and class in the two single site wines, this one would be my own personal selection. A chance to taste what I think is greatness without breaking the bank completely. But beware, Ultravino has an allocation of a mere 300 bottles of the 2015s across the three wines.

Striking a note of optimism, Rivella reckons his 2016 fruit is the best he’s seen harvested in the whole of his career. I think many will find these wines to have been almost shocking to taste, such is their concentration. They do, however, clearly have underlying subtleties which will come to the fore when properly aged.

I believe Guido’s daughter runs a small bed and breakfast/agriturismo, so in theory you could go and taste for yourself. My hunch is that everything not sipped goes back into the barrel. These wines are, as far as I’m aware, available for pre-order, shipping for Autumn.

D8D06244-8E22-49B3-8A08-EFD33E04AFC9

F110756C-236E-4EE8-BFA7-E549AB5BCA5A

BARBERA

We were shown Barbera from two producers. Both were quite big wines with smooth fruit and alcohols topped 14%. They were not the classic Barberas with acidity and that bitter twist finish, but they still seemed to go down well in the room. I would describe Palladino “Bricco delle Olive” 2015 as more of a “classic Barbera from a warm vintage”, a bigger wine yet without losing the qualities which we look for, of ripe fruit and freshness, a bit of acidity and bite.

Livio Fontana Barbera Superiore 2015 is from Castiglione Falletto and is a wine for ageing in the classic “superiore” style. It has seen a couple of years in oak and then an extended period in bottle before release. I did prefer the 2014 when I previously tasted it, but that may well be personal preference.

BAROLO

Although I judge Ultravino on their exceptional selection from the two lesser appreciated regions, there is no doubt that they will be judged by many on their Barolo selection. There were no wines from Chiara Boschis on show yesterday, but there were some fine Barolos from Carlo Revello, Livia Fontana and Palladino.

Carlo Revello & Figli makes classic La Morra Barolo, in a softer style but still with grip. In the past this producer has been known for using small oak, but in 2016 Carlo began replacing the barriques with larger Slavonian oak. The pendulum is most definitely swinging back in Barolo, as producers realise that the problems of the past were caused by hygiene, and the state of repair of the vessels for ageing, not the size of the vessel. Larger oak is now seen to enable terroir expression unencumbered by extraneous flavours like toast and vanilla. In particular, Slavonian oak is coming back too.

We had four wines from Carlo, three single site wines and a blend. Both “Gattera” and “Giachini” were from 2011, a very dry vintage in parts, where water stress has led to many making wines of little interest. That is not the case here. Although there is none of the stewed fruit character some 2011s display, the alcohol levels do reach 15%. This is also the case with the “Roche” 2012 (a generally much lighter vintage).

A11C548A-CE66-4F27-AE36-3B861AE3E296

My own favourite from Carlo Revello was actually the blended wine. RG 2013 does have the advantage of vintage, of course, and it’s a selection from Roche dell Annunziata and Gattera (hence the letters). It shows that characteristic La Morra softness, a smooth wine which might be approachable younger than many 2013s. The grapes come from sandy soils at altitude, and from a windy site where temperatures can be kept down, or at least kept consistent, in a hot year. “RG” is £225/6 in bond.

7CC18320-0FB3-4798-935D-42EF4B310E65

Livia Fontana showed yet more thoughtful winemaking with her reds. And, as always, value is to the fore at this Castiglione producer. With two hundred years of winemaking history behind them, Livia runs the company with the help of her two sons, Michele and Lorenzo. These may not be the top wines of the DOCG yet they do display typicity for the wider Barolo region, and more specifically, for the terroir of their village.

So “Villero” 2013 has the structure of this well known site, where they have around a hectare of vines at between 300 to 350 metres altitude. Winemaking is described as traditional, which means fermentation in stainless steel followed by at least 40 months in cask, and then more time in bottle. This wine has structure, and I personally think it would benefit from more than a decade further cellar ageing. Yet the tannins have that velvet texture which does signal approachability sooner, if that’s how you like your Barolo.

“Fontanin” 2013 is the less expensive option. It’s nicely made and £140/6 IB as opposed to £225 for Villero. Winemaking looks just the same so what you are paying for with the senior wine to some extent is the fame of the vineyard, which of course probably gives that wine a little more concentration and longevity. But in a vintage like 2013 the cheaper wine can shine.

1D34119F-BE40-4F84-AA8C-5693A75966C1

We finished with the Palladino Barolos. Palladino operates out of the old Cappellano Winery in Serralunga, and they are also great terroirists. The wines from the 2013 vintage are quite big, it must be said. They have tannic structure, and in some ways that structure seemed if anything a little accentuated since I last tasted them in 2017. But I find them very impressive, and I do have a soft spot for Serralunga.

Both “Parafada” and “Ornato” show subtle differences between them. The former sees a year in barrique before going into larger oak, and it combines elegance with power. Ornato is a site on clay and chalk, with none of the common (to the region) sand in the soil. It has a real earthy quality, and the structure (I think) to age like a Riserva. That’s not something to ignore when it can be had for £190/6 IB, as opposed to £310/6 for the next wine.

CB460596-666B-4ADD-B8D7-7CC560BEEFAC

Palladino Barolo Riserva “San Bernardo” 2012 won a “Platinum Award” (97 pts) at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2018. This is a powerful wine, of the type which tends to stand out in these awards, but that should not take anything away from what is a brilliant wine, quite spectacular, and a nice way to end the tasting.

It’s just that if I’m buying Barolo to lay down, the Ornato ticks all the boxes, if not quite to the same degree, for £20 less per bottle before taxes, and to be quite frank what you save on a six pack is more than enough to buy a nice Roero, or half a dozen Arneis to see you through the heatwave. I would leave the senior wine to those who can easily afford it, and hope that one of them is kind enough to open a bottle for you if one is still here in 2038.

C7FA97ED-838D-460B-94BF-ED67EC5CF016

I think I’ve done enough to communicate my enthusiasm. There are plenty of big name wine merchants who can furnish you with the big names of Barolo. I have a hunch, from chatting to people at the Ultravino Tasting, both those who I knew and those I’d never met before, that this is a slightly different crowd, more clued up, and more able to judge a wine on its special qualities rather than on name.

It’s often disappointing when you take a wine to a dinner that you know to be of spectacular quality, yet the guests have never heard of the producer. Some, not all, of those imported by Ultravino fall into that category. But this is a special list. The depth of knowledge shared between James and Gabriele is such that there are no duds here, not remotely. It’s a case of what style you like and how you want to spend your money. This is especially true as Nebbiolo wines head towards becoming “the next Burgundy”, in terms of price and rarity on the secondary market.

What I would say is that tasting these wines brings proof of their quality, and (to me) more importantly, their personality. If you don’t necessarily want the wines which the books, perhaps written a few years ago, will tell you are the best, but instead prefer to look for differentiation and terroir at a sometimes more affordable level of pricing, then get down to the next Ultravino Tasting. If you want the opportunity to try the “impossible to source” wines of Sig. Guido Rivella, then don’t leave it too long to give the guys a call.

Ultravino can be contacted via james@ultravino.co.uk or directly from their website here.

The few photos below are from the slightly unusual venue of the “boutique” CitizenM Hotel, Bankside. Downside, they call themselves “cool”, upside, it is pretty cool.

 

 

Posted in Fine Wine, Italian Wine, Piemonte, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Paris (What We Drank In…)

I’ve just been over to Paris for a long weekend, my first trip there since November 2016. The city was bathed in early summer warmth and sunshine, which can rather make it seem like the best city on earth at times. I’m sure the sunshine helped make it seem like my best trip in years.

I know that many readers would be straight off the train and down to visit Camille at La Buvette, or in for a bottle of Métras at Septime La Cave, within the hour. It wasn’t that kind of trip for us. Staying with friends, we largely gorged ourselves on art (with a little opera). Nevertheless, we still managed some wine shopping, a lot of eating, naturally, and some very good wines. Most of them were in a more classic style, but they were all of the highest quality.

First of all I need to tell you about three Champagnes, one of which (the Val Frison) was a new discovery for me (thanks go to Peter Liem’s recent book). Bérêche Campania Remensis Rosé is probably my second favourite of Raphaël’s wines, after Reflet d’Antan. The colour is almost bronze, and reminds me of the metallic glaze on lustre ware pottery. Blending Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Ormes on the Petite Montagne, it is a true terroir rosé, and it almost tastes, albeit subtly, of that terroir in a way very few pink Champagnes do. Colour is obtained by adding a touch of red wine, dosage is low at 3g/l. It is lace-like, with a well defined backbone of acidity. If you want an elegant rosé this is a benchmark.

A3514832-CCF9-4FCA-A030-279E36AA067C

Agrapart “Terroirs” is a contrast, but in many ways similar too. Pascal’s Grand Cru is a blanc de blancs, with fruit coming from Oiry, Oger, Avize and Cramant in the Côte des Blancs. It is one of Agrapart’s fuller wines, but it shares with the Bérêche a precision and a rapier-like thrust of balanced acidity which gives structure, and seems to bring out the terroir (the latter being, after all, the raison d’être for Grower Champagne). It’s another massively impressive wine, no less so the quarter of a bottle we had left for the next day.

What I find interesting with the Agrapart wines is that all this precision and frame/structure comes from wines aged not in stainless steel, but in large old oak, and I believe they really do reflect the land on which the grapes are grown, as well as the skill, if not genius, of their creator.

97F1517E-5D6C-4FCF-ADC1-401C8C3E9975

The third Champagne was my first taste of the wines of Val Frison, who is based at Ville-sur-Arce in the Aube/Côte des Bar. I think Valérie’s “Goustan” blanc de noirs may be available at The Good Wine Shop in Chiswick, but I spotted this blanc de blancs rarity at La Cave des Papilles, where they had several of her cuvées. Val Frison “Lalore” is unusual for Val in that most of her six hectares or so of vines are Pinot Noir. This comes from a single plot of Chardonnay vines called Les Cotannes, which is on Portlandian soils, as opposed to Kimmeridgean, more common down there.

It sounds a little mean to say that Lalore was not quite in the same class as the previous two Champagnes, and that would in fact give the wrong impression. This was very good indeed, good enough to spur me on to seek out more of Valérie Frison’s wines. It had a little more weight than the previous two Champagnes, but also such magnificent Chardonnay fruit. A year or two will add further complexity, but some is already showing.

What makes this wine is terroir, again. It is so difficult, in the face of this word being outlawed by so many commentators of a scientific bent, not to bring in the “M” word, but the acidity and texture cannot be better described than by “minerality”. Yup, I’m after more of these! Being a Brut Nature seems to suit this wine and its ripe southern fruit.

980AC9B7-A63F-44AD-A28D-3E487E677265

Speaking of southern fruit, with temperatures up in the mid-twenties or higher it was a good idea to break out some Provençal wines, but no pale coral rosé I’m afraid. I adore the wines of Château Simone (we even tried, unsucessfully, to find the property once), but I have drunk the white far less often than the red and the pink.

This estate sits among wooded hills to the east of Aix-en-Provence, within sight of Mont Ste-Victoire (you could certainly at one time catch a glimpse as you whizzed past on the Autoroute), and the vines are on north facing limestone slopes.

Château Simone Blanc 2014, Palette is as distinguished as its lovely label. Although young, you can begin to taste and smell the herbs and beeswax which also give the wine a distinctive texture. The scent is gentle too, but both bouquet and palate have real presence, and of course length as well. The grape mix is around 80% Clairette with a little Muscat, Bourboulenc, Furmint and very ancient varieties. The vines at Simone are incredibly old, some 160 to 170 years of age. It certainly used to be the mantra here that vines were only replaced if they died.

The power of suggestion is just too much – you look at the label and can imagine yourself inside the old château when sipping this, with the smell of wood and leather and just a hint of dusty furniture…yet there’s a lemon water freshness too, which lifts you out of the dream like a cup of lemon tea. I used the word “wondrous” on my original IG post, and it is.

BC3A3566-D1C7-47F4-B898-892D95A45693

As a total contrast we drank a big Bandol another night, but why is it that big Bandols don’t seem, to me at least, to be a bad choice in the heat (albeit with a touch of breeze drifting languorously through the large open windows of a Paris apartment)?

Domaine Tempier Bandol “Cuvée Spéciale Cabassaou” 1988 was a rare chance to drink a top Bandol with proper age to it. This is very important. Cabassou is a tiny parcel of around 1.2 hectares just below the larger Tourtine, and is said to represent the best wine at Tempier. Vines are quite high up here, over 100 metres altitude. The plot, and cuvée, is mainly Mourvèdre, with five percent made up from Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah. It has, at this age, a softness that you don’t see with Mourvèdre until the edge is taken off it with time.

It has a meaty, almost feral, quality yet in retaining its structure, that never escapes the fence which the wine has built to contain it. I’ve seen it described as “earthy”. Maybe that texture has left it at this age, but there is something of an iron or blood note which adds intense spice, though in tiny measure. For me this will match any Bordeaux or Northern Rhône, although I’d say it is drinking nicely now.

6AA4B778-3C82-4381-B9B1-A6903F678207

I am not massively familiar with the wines of Martin Tesch from Langenlonsheim in the Nahe, though naturally I’ve known him by reputation for many years. I was kindly sold the next wine by an acquaintance a few years ago when I mentioned this on the Winepages Forum. In view of who I was staying with, I thought it a good wine to bring to Paris (and also, not least, because it isn’t French).

St Remiguisberg Riesling Trocken 2006, Weingut Tesch, Nahe comes from what some commentators say is the Tesch vineyard which produces his most complex wines. The soils are decomposed volcanic rock and they seem to give the wine a very fine spine of structure and hardness, over which the body is finely toned but not without just an ounce or two of fat.

The fruit is spectacular, even at over a decade old, but more remarkable is the zippy lime and lemon acidity, which to me seemed to have the freshness of a younger wine. Again, I’m sure that this is very much a terroir wine. The word to sum it up though is “purity”. It’s a wine that’s not quite in your face (no doubt age sees to that), but it’s still shouting out until the afterglow slowly subsides more sedately, with a slightly oily texture replacing the attack, and a more complex herby flavour replacing the citrus.

37D0660F-1C65-49F8-A159-33AE853A33D9

Occasionally a treat is, unexpectedly, even better than you hoped. When someone pulls out an old wine you feel honoured. When that person is an expert on the wine region in question your hopes are raised. But old Burgundy is fickle and you need to be prepared for anything. Or do you? How many times does a slightly unfancied wine from Burgundy, especially a red one, come up trumps?

Beaune Hospices de Beaune “Cuvée Hugues et Louis Bétault” 1964, Jacques Delaporte was such a wine. The colour was magnificent to begin with. It lacked any hardness and there was fruit there, both on nose and palate. The most definite sign of age was the sediment, compacted and hard. Definitely a John McEnroe wine (“you cannot be serious”). There’s little more to say really, except that I’m sure it wasn’t made by Rudi. Astonishing for a wine of more than fifty years of age. Why on earth should you believe me? I wouldn’t. Wow!

34F3E2DB-38AD-4DE5-B3D8-2C07EB992D8F

Paris has changed quite a bit over the past few years, and no more so than for the lovers of natural wines. All the old haunts are still just as good, for me the twin retail summits being La Cave des Papilles on rue Daguerre in the 14th, and the Caves du Panthéon on rue Saint-Jacques in the 5th. I will just mention here a couple of new discoveries (to me, at least).

There seems to have been a move in Paris of late to combine a wine shop with something random. There’s one near the Bastille which has an art gallery/shop attached, and a remarkable place near Les Papilles that sells wine and accordions. Also reasonably near to Les Papilles is Mi-fugue, Mi-raisin, which is a music and wine shop. To be fair, the wine side (which takes up most of the physical space) was so exciting that I only gave the CD racks a cursory glance. Particular strengths are in Jura and Savoie (for me), and next visit to Paris I will be heading here before I’m loaded with almost too much to carry. Like the man below!

 img_207460F59D69-293D-4A78-BEC9-75636DFCEE62 

 

Another new (to me) cave worth looking in at if you are near to a branch is Divino. I know some of you are ahead of me here. There are two branches, the first on rue Elzevir in the Marais, about half way between the Cognacq-Jay and Picasso Museums. The second branch is on the Boulevard Voltaire, close to the Charonne Métro Station, which is probably more out of the way for most people.

That’s not to say, of course, that the old favourites are not still attractive. Verre Volé has a larger wine shop  on rue Oberkampf (half way between Oberkampf and Parmentier Métros, and of course this area has become natural wine central, with the two places I mentioned at the top of this article within walking distance), but the Verre Volé restaurant on rue de Lancry up on the Canal Saint-Martin (not far from Place de la République) remains the number one place for Paris first timers, and for many years after for many visitors.

Take away prices are still reasonable. They won’t sell any unicorn wines…if they get just half a dozen they’ll save them for the restaurant, but I bought a delicious Ginglinger Pinot Noir from Alsace (I say delicious because we drank it last night). The canal itself remains one of the most pleasurable places to stroll on a dimanche, along with the city’s markets.

D6E79788-C081-46BB-884F-ACF005DF9982

Of course these high profile places are all well and good if you can blag a table, but what does the natural wine obsessive do if you can’t. Paris has not only opened more good wine shops than I can ever remember over the past few years, but all sorts of random restaurants have been bitten by the natural wine bug too.

Okay, we are in Oberkampf here (naturally the best place to stay in Paris), but local friends took us to a neighbourhood North African restaurant. I was bursting for a tagine and I didn’t give the wine for lunch a lot of thought. What a gem Le Tagine (13 rue de Crussol, Métros – Filles du Calvaire or Oberkampf) turned out to be.

Okay, be warned, the tagines don’t come with couscous, but the food is delicious and the wines…take a look at this mere part of their selection…not bad. The Arena was a good match.

 

 

I’ll leave you with a flavour of our weekend of art and music. The architecture exhibition was Junya Ishigami – Freeing Architecture at the Fondation Cartier (again, in the 14th). It has been extended into September, such is its success, and it is highly recommended assuming you are open to this sort of thing. I loved it. Fondation Cartier was designed by Jean Nouvel, who also designed the fabulous Institute du Monde Arabe, over in the 5th near the Pont de Sully.

 

One final word of warning – the queues at Eurostar‘s Gare du Nord terminal seem to get longer and longer. The fairly recent admonition to arrive at least an hour early should be taken as a minimum now, or at least that was our experience this week. I’ve heard of a couple of people missing trains and having to pay a hefty supplement to catch a later one.

 

A4507DEB-47FE-4CDA-B5C4-21B6DEBDF749

Posted in Champagne, Fine Wine, Paris, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment