There’s a strange feel to writing about the wines we drank at home during December. Looking back on the first ten bottles, which will comprise Part 1, it seems so long ago that I drank them, more so than usual. I think that must be because we hibernated during Christmas Week, and waking up today, almost the whole of last year seems like some surreal dream. Yet wine was a constant, and looking back on the notes I took on these bottles, I was certainly blessed to drink some very good wines. Some unusual ones too, but perhaps that’s no surprise.
We have here two Spanish wines, two Swiss, a Champagne and a Jura, a rather miraculous “natural” Bordeaux, and bottles from Slovenia, Germany and Austria. I would not say each of these wines is on the same level, but six or seven of them would sit well alongside anything I drank in 2020, and every bottle here would, as always, be thoroughly enjoyed by any adventurous drinker.
LA BOTA DE FLORPOWER 84 (MMXVI), EQUIPO NAVAZOS (Sanlúcar, Spain)
“Florpower 84” is a 2016 Palomino table wine aged under flor for 19 months, eight months in Sherry casks and the remaining 11 months in stainless steel vat (therefore bottled in 2018). The grapes were harvested from the chalky albariza soils of the Pago de Miraflores “La Baja” (the best plot in this vineyard) at Sanlúcar. This was, I think, the fifth bottling of Florpower and it has been bottled with a bit shorter period under flor than previously. The idea was to express freshness and the specific terroir rather than emphasise the biological ageing.
The first thing you notice on the nose is the purest, clean, lemon citrus. The palate has a mineral structure and beautiful salinity, and the finish has a gentle chalky texture. There’s an odd resemblance here to a new-born Chablis, at least to my palate. Although I had obviously kept this a couple of years from purchase, I won’t worry about keeping the one remaining bottle of 84 until warmer weather comes along. It’s still fresh, but has perhaps gained a little complexity.
Equipo Navazos is distributed in the UK by Alliance Wine.
AMIGNE DE VÉTROZ GRAND CRU 2017, JEAN-RENÉ GERMANIER (Valais, Switzerland)
This is an old estate, established in 1896 at Vétroz, just past Sion, towards the western end of the Rhône Valley before it turns north, at Martigny. In the 1990s Jean-René Germanier (the founder’s grandson) along with his young nephew, Gilles Besse, took the estate towards the top of the region’s producers, with a shift to quality over quantity.
Vétroz just happens to be the village where you will find in decent quantity one of the rare high-quality grapes of the Valais, Amigne. In some ways it is the lost variety of the region, because there just isn’t enough Amigne to allow it the profile of, say, Petite Arvine, or Cornalin. You don’t see it often, and this is one reason why I’ve not drunk any for years.
The vineyards here are black schist, all crumbled slate, and on the specific steep site where this wine derives, called “Balavaud”, the slate is interspersed with glacial moraine. When the biodynamically grown grapes are harvested they are, perhaps a surprise, vinified in amphora. The result is remarkably good, a clean but textured mountain wine which has both fresh acidity, yet at the same time a beautiful weight (alcohol does strike 14% but don’t let that put you off), with balanced herbal and mineral notes. It’s a reminder to make sure I don’t go anywhere near as long before drinking another.
I should add that Germanier/Besse are equally as good with other autochthonous varieties (especially Cornalin and Heida), and with international varieties like Pinot Noir and Syrah. I’m a fan of the long-lived Cayas Syrah, but I think this Amigne is now my favourite wine from this excellent estate.
The UK importer is, in this case, Alpine Wines.
CHAMPAGNE CHARLES DUFOUR « BULLES DE COMPTOIR #7 » (Côtes des Bar, France)
Charles set up his own estate at Landreville based on the 6 hectares of vines he retained from the Robert Dufour estate when it was split up in 2010. Since then, he has very quickly established a mega-reputation among lovers of Grower Champagne which has thus far luckily outstripped his prices. So Bulles de Comptoir, his main line, remains under £40, occasionally, making it one of the best values you can find in this sector.
This version #7 is a blend of biodynamic Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and unusually, some Pinot Blanc, the latter a parcel of old vines (60 years plus) perhaps rarely found yet not unknown down in the Aube. The vintage is 2016, but these grapes are blended with those from a reserve perpetuelle (a bit like a solera) from vintages 2010 to 2015. Tirage was in November 2017, disgorged March 2019. It is bottled extra-brut (around 3g/l dosage).
The result is lively, vibrant, truly alive…this is the real plus for this particular Champagne. That said, it doesn’t lack for depth, the reserve making all the difference, but perhaps the extra bottle age as well. One expert described Bulles de Comptoir online as “fancy Champagne for people who know”, and you cannot disagree, especially in terms of value for money. I think the current release available will now be #8 (based on 2017), which I haven’t tried but will have no hesitation in doing so.
I admit I’m not sure where I bought this. Checked the usual suspects but no luck. If anyone knows, please add a comment.
POTION MAGIQUE VIN DE FRANCE , DOMAINE L’OCTAVIN (Jura, France)
Some wines live up to their name. For me, a magic potion is not necessarily going to be complex, but it should be transformative. Here, the Queen of Arbois blends 40% Poulsard, 40% Chardonnay and 20% Savagnin, all from the Mailloche vineyard, past the western edge edge of the town. Picked in September, so quite early, the fruit was destemmed and placed in cuve for seven months on skins. The result is totally unique. The colour is, what, pale red, orange, pink, indeed all of these together depending on how you hold the glass. On the palate it tastes like a blend of blood orange and quince.
I won’t lie, the wonderful labels Alice sticks on her newer wines, especially the ever-widening number of negoce cuvées, are an attraction in themselves. But you will be hard pressed to find more enervating juice coming out of the back streets of Arbois. I truly cannot wait to go back for another visit, if she’ll have me. All the wines Alice makes are perhaps unusual, but certainly magical.
L’Octavin is imported into the UK by Tutto Wines.
BOBAL TINAJA 2017, BODEGAS GRATIAS (Manchuela, Spain)
This is the second wine I’ve tried from this family bodega in the wilds of Manchuela. The first was back in March 2020, a wine called “Arroba” made from the obscure Pintaillo variety. It was all herbs and raspberries, a skin contact red which made my nose prick up. It was one of just 560 bottles made. Nine moths later I get round to trying their Bobal, perhaps an ever so slightly better known grape, but still well within the mission of the bodega to protect anything local and traditional in their vineyards. These really are very old bush vines, growing low on clay soils with a high lime content. Bobal is the main variety grown at Gratias.
This is a zero-intervention wine, the grapes being placed into small clay tinajas to ferment. We may think of Sicily, or the Slovenian-Italian border, for “amphora” wines, yet Spain and Portugal have just as vibrant a tradition, which is once more being revived, by the natural wine producers in particular. You don’t often get fruit presence like this out of clay, but there’s a packed mouthful of cherry on first swig. Then comes something contrasting, deep and natural liquorice. It adds a dark side, enhanced by the tiny touch of burnt sugar on a dry finish. It’s both deep and delicious, another 14% abv wine which does not lack subtlety.
This is imported by Alliance Wine, my bottles being bought at The Solent Cellar.
“MIRACLE” 2018, OSAMU UCHIDA (Bordeaux, France)
Sometimes you taste a wine but wait a long time to buy a bottle. I met Osamu and his wife at a rather wonderful tasting called “Bordeaux : The Risk-Takers” put on by Vine Trail (at Carousel off Baker Street) in March 2019. I tasted the two Uchida wines on show and was massively impressed (perhaps even an understatement). It took me until autumn 2020 to buy a bottle.
Uchida farms a mere six tenths of a hectare, hidden away, surrounded by trees, in the Haut-Médoc appellation, yet remarkably close to Mouton-Rothschild. All the vines are Cabernet Sauvignon and are at least 30-years old. Farming is naturally biodynamic. Vinification uses hand-destemmed whole berries. Ageing is in a single 500-litre old oak cask where it rests for twelve months before bottling, by hand, no fining/filtration and just a tiny bit of sulphur added.
In some ways there’s a real “new world” side to this Cabernet. It’s very fresh indeed. The fruit is cranberry and blueberry, with a touch of blackcurrant emerging later. It has a touch of smokiness and/or black pepper spice which seasons it. Yet it doesn’t show the weight of most “New World” Cabs (though it does register 13% abv). It’s clean and alive and very much hand-crafted, it’s easy to tell that.
Uchida is perhaps a visionary, a special guy truly in tune with his tiny vineyard. Originally from Hiroshima, he visited around three-hundred domaines to learn about wine. It seems almost perverse that he ended up in Bordeaux, but it has given us the opportunity to taste Bordeaux of a very different kind, one which is slowly emerging from the structured new oak and “gobs of fruit” of the Parker era. I was smitten back in 2019 and I was twice-smitten last month. One thing I’d pondered on though, at that tasting. Osamu reckoned this wine (well, the 2016 vintage) retailed around £26, which made me wonder how he could make any money. Perhaps reassuringly I had to pay £45 for the 2018, but I have no regrets whatsoever. It’s possible you may not love this like I did, but you never know until you try it.
Vine Trail is the importer whose tasting I had attended in 2019, where I got my first taste, but the bottle reviewed here came from littlewine.co.
“JANKOT” 2018, STEKAR 1672 (Goriska Brda, Slovenia)
The name is a play on “Tokay”, the grape we now call Friulano, and Janko Stekar, who along with his wife, Tamara, runs the Stekar 1672 estate, founded, you guessed it… The vineyards are situated mid-way between the Slovenian (or Pre-Julian) Alps and the Adriatic Sea, within the region of Goriska Brda at a town called Kojsko. These are pre-Alpine vineyards, and pretty steep. The Stekar family farm seven hectares of vines, on a mixed cultivation farm about twice that size.
Most readers will probably know that Friulano is very much a favoured variety for skin contact wines, and that’s what this is. What really struck me here, though, was that alongside the textural platform you get from the maceration, amazing amounts of tropical fruit come through. It’s actually easy to drink, aided by the fresh acidity, yet there’s a tension between the texture and the fruit which means you’d be unlikely to mistake it for New World. In fact, it’s quite typical of the fascinating wines coming out of Slovenia now. At just 12.5% abv it has a food-friendly demeanour but nothing too heavy. The skin contact side is there but restrained, at least compared to some Friulano orange wines. It is quite gorgeous.
Imported by Basket Press Wines.
ESCHENDORFER FÜRSTENBERG MÜLLER-THURGAU “S” 2019, HORST SAUER (Franken, Germany)
I used to buy Horst Sauer wines, many years ago, but always Silvaner. This was always considered the classic estate for Silvaner in Franken, especially the wines from Eschendorf’s Lump site. Though Horst (now joined in managing the domain by daughter Sandra) is usually seen in smart attire when on the road, he’s a farmer at heart and the enduring success of this estate is down to the vines. This perhaps pertains especially to the much-maligned Müller-Thurgau variety, demonised through the cheap süssed-up wines of the 1970s.
Actually, Sauer calls Müller-Thurgau a “renaissance grape variety”, and it is indeed undergoing something of a renaissance in Germany, even if the mainstream is yet to rediscover it. The key to the success of this wine is first of all, old vines. Forty years and over here. Next is, of course, site. The vines may not be on the famous Eschendorfer Lump, but Fürstenberg is just next to it, facing east, and as the name suggests, is certainly not a flat site, but in fact a VDP Erste Läge.
There are many exciting natural wine M-T cuvées on the market but if you give this a go I think you’ll see how classical the grape can be with the right care. Both floral and vinous, the palate of what is undoubtedly a young wine is slightly spritzig (lively, tangy, with miniscule bubbles of CO2 yet not sparkling). The acids are reasonably pronounced but there is a slightly evasive touch of richness which might grow with age. It’s certainly a wine with a mineral backbone that may put on some flesh in the cellar. It reminds me, more than any other German wine, of Switzerland, for some reason. No pun or psychological connection to Thurgau intended. It also tastes more like an 11% wine than one showing 13%.
Going back to cellaring (you can cellar it for sure, but if I buy it again I’ll probably guzzle it), the Bocksbeutel flask in which this comes is a real pain to stack – it won’t fit in the rack, though as many now come sealed under screwcap they will happily stand on the floor. Anyway, I’d hate to see this traditional bottle phased out. Despite the propensity of family members to say “what’s that, Mateus Rosé?”. Come to think of it, should’ve saved the bottle for a candle. Fittingly, perhaps, Weingut Horst Sauer is on Bocksbeutel Strasse, in Eschendorf.
Purchased from Butlers Wine Cellar, Brighton.
SYRAH “CHAMOSON” 2009, SIMON MAYE & FILS (Valais, Switzerland)
If Switzerland’s Rhône Valley gives us a plethora of autochthonous grape varieties of real value, it also produces some very fine wines from French grapes. Certainly, there’s world class Pinot Noir from the Mercier family at Sierre, but perhaps we can find rather more fine Syrah, after all, the grape of the Rhône. One of the top producers of Valais Syrah is Simon Maye & Fils, based at St-Pierre-de-Clages. It is Simon’s sons Axel and Jean-François who farm the famous vineyards of Chamoson today, recently joined by their son/nephew, Raphäel.
The estate is relatively large for the region, 12 hectares, and the Maye range is equally extended. I’m a fan of their Humagne Rouge, but the Syrahs are the most highly regarded. What is interesting is that there is a Vieilles Vignes bottling, but this cuvée we are discussing is the “regular” one. Nevertheless, they are both capable of a long life, and this 2009 was on cracking form.
At first, you’d say it is structured (though not so much “tannic” at this stage) but the fruit is slick, smooth and smoky. I find a kind of smokiness in many Valais Syrahs, which don’t always seem to develop that bacon note you get in the French Rhône’s classic Syrah terroirs. You might place this as a good Côte-Rôtie in a younger vintage, but the way it develops is quite different.
This bottle was purchased from Alpine Wines, though it is not currently listed among the several Simon Maye cuvées they do bring in.
PERSPEKTIVE ROT 2017, WEINGUT KOPPITSCH (Burgenland, Austria)
After drinking this bottle my cellar is completely empty of wines from this producer based at Neusiedl-am-See, at the top end of the lake. This is the first time I have to say that in two or three years, and I’m quite sad. You see, the wide world of wine is full of fantastic wines, and it’s also pretty well stocked with fantastic people. But the Koppitsch family are among the warmest and most friendly people I’ve met, from what is almost certainly about the friendliest wine region in Europe. That sadness was probably made worse because they were undoubtedly one of maybe a dozen or so producers in Europe which I’d pencilled in to visit during 2020.
Perspektive Rot is all about limestone. The blend is 70% Blaufränkisch, which we know adores the limestone terroir of the Leithaberg Range, 20% Sankt-Laurent and 10% Syrah. The vines are on a prime rocky site called Neuberg, northwest of Neusiedl, part of that Leithaberg Range (which I can never bring myself to call mountains). The limestone soils are scattered with pockets of schist, and this mixture can produce some very lively red wines up here.
Limestone-grown Blaufränkisch always seems to have a mineral backbone, but perhaps the sinews are stiffened by the schist (think St-Laurent in a similar context to slate-grown German Spätburgunder). Freshness is there as well, a common and sometimes giveaway as to what’s in the glass.
The fruit was 90% destemmed and then pressed manually into barriques after thirteen days. The wine saw 22 months maturing on gross lees, post-fermentation. Nothing was added, not even sulphur. The result is gloriously pure-fruited with a hint of wood smoke. It will age further, as its tannins attest, but they are gentle tannins and this 2017 tastes lovely as a reasonably young wine.
This can be sourced from Fresh Wines of Kinross, Scotland, by mail order/online. They usually have a fairly small selection from Koppitsch, but all the wines are good (and I believe new vintages have arrived). Those with the newer colourful labels are full of glouglou goodness, whilst the Perspektive wines and the Reserves will age.
Jascots is also a potential source in England for Koppitsch, but note that their online shop lists just three (somewhat older) 2016 cuvées at the less expensive end of the range now. The wines are fairly easy to find in Austria, but they are one of the poorest represented in the UK (in terms of availability) out of all the exciting producers bordering the Neusiedlersee.