More Recent Wines

This post brings us up to mid-April, as I attempt to catch up on the most interesting wines I’ve been drinking at home this year. Beginning with a couple of Austrians from Newcomer Wines (hoping to pop in there next week), it’s mainly crazy Europeans, except for the last, a solitary representative from Vermont.

Anyway, time is short, and with the Real Wine Fair, plus what I hope will be a very exciting Savoie Tasting with Wink Lorch just a few days away, I’d better crack on with these.

Puszta Libre 2015, Claus Preisinger, Austrian Rotwein – As you probably know by now, Claus is based in Gols, towards the northern end of the Neusiedlersee (eastern side), but this wine, in its tall, thin, bottle is labelled merely as a table wine equivalent. The label tells us to serve it “Gekühlt” (self-evidently “chilled”), which it certainly warrants. It’s a lively and fruity mixture of Zweigelt, Pinot Noir and St-Laurent, seeming to blend raspberries and cherries on nose and palate with a touch of spice. It slips down easily, and my note says “adorable”, which it is. Just 12% abv, so think of it like a really good straight Beaujolais and you’ll get the idea.

IMG_2689

Blaufränkisch “Tochter” 2015, Andreas Nittnaus, Gols (Burgenland) – Andreas is brother to Martin, with whom he also makes wine, and he’s one of several producers with the same surname close to Gols (a real hotbed for Newcomer Wines producers these days). This “daughter” is dark, quite smoky at first before its very concentrated darker fruit enters the nose. The palate is initially quite grippy, but when it opens it becomes smooth textured. Its 13% alcohol gives it weight, yet it isn’t heavy. A very nice Burgenland Blaufränkisch, though labelled as a “Österreichischer Biowein”. Whereas the Preisinger wine (above) is definitely for drinking now, this wine will evolve if left a while, though also very tasty now.

IMG_2694

Gentil de Katz 2015, Clément Klur, Katzenthal (Alsace) – Composed of Pinots Blanc and Gris, plus Gewurztraminer, this is a straw yellow Alsace blend of a style which had pretty much gone out of fashion. Once called “Edelzwicker”, a blend of noble grape varieties, and produced in large commercial quantities, I first came across a refined version of the label “Gentil” on the delicious Hugel blend from the Sporen vineyard (today, designated Grand Cru). Now “Gentil” has been appropriated by quite a few natural wine talents, and the noble blend is back with a vengeance.

This wine tastes somehow both old fashioned and modern. Biodynamic, just off-dry, it has a certain richness on the palate (13% abv), and nice fruit and floral aromas (including, perhaps, orange blossom). The back label suggests it will keep for five years, though this 2015 is delicious now. I wouldn’t serve it too cold as the aromas and flavours really developed as it warmed up, as did its gentle complexity. You may remember me writing about Klur’s Crémant, so definitely a name to watch in a region brimming over with new young talent. This came from Solent Cellar.

img_2710

Côtes du Jura 2010, Domaine Macle, Château-Chalon (Jura) – This is a classic for anyone who has been drinking these from the 2010 vintage, though I imagine most have been drunk by now. Like Roulot’s 2010 Bourgogne Blanc, this is a wine people haven’t been able to get enough of. I think this was my last one.

Some would consider Macle the pre-eminent producer of this village’s famous Vin Jaune style, Château-Chalon. Here we have a lovely table wine, blending Chardonnay and Savagnin. It has a fresh citrus nose with a hint of apple, and the palate finishes slightly nutty, from the Savagnin, rather than oxidative winemaking. It has developed a rounded richness on the palate over its evolution in bottle, but it retains an almost firm minerality. Best of all is its amazing length. A very impressive wine from one of the Jura’s best addresses.

IMG_2747

“Forks & Knives” 2014, Milan Nestarec, Moravské (Czech Rep) – This is the white version of Milan’s “Forks & Knives” wine. The previous bottle was a bit spritzy, yet this was flat. I’m not sure whether I preferred the version with a little CO2 present, but this one was still pretty nice though, and I mention it here to encourage others to try the wines of this excellent, and committed, Czech producer.

The rather obscure grape variety here is Neuburger. It makes a yellow-gold wine which, when it warms a little, gives out a fruity and floral bouquet, with a nicely soft and fruity palate. It’s sealed under crown cap, and comes in a light red/pinkish version too (made from Suché). The white, bottled unfiltered (so expect it to be cloudy unless you stand it up for a while) is a simple thirst quencher with appley fruit. Possibly not for everyone, but gaining quite a following since appearing at Raw Wine in London in 2016. Nice bright label too.

IMG_2752

Terroir du Léman (Un Matin Face au Lac) 2015, Vin des Allobroges IGP, Les Vignes de Paradis (Savoie) – The producer behind Les Vignes de Paradis is the talented Dominique Lucas. This wine is from Ballaison, overlooking Lake Geneva on the French side, just east of Geneva. The grape variety is Chasselas, mirroring the wines on the Swiss Vaud on the opposite shore. Dominique, a Burgundian by birth, also has a small domaine just outside Pommard, up in the Hautes-Côtes, from where he makes a deliciously fruity Burgundy called “Nectar de Pinot Noir”.

Dominique’s Savoie operation is not large. He made just 3,000 bottles of this 2015 Chasselas, in an experimental cellar stocked with various amphorae and concrete eggs. As with pretty much most Chasselas, it’s a fairly neutral wine to begin with. It has a bit more weight, and a bit less acidity, than many of the Vaud wines I mentioned, and indeed than the slightly pétillant Crépy wines, nearby (one of the several small French AOCs making Chasselas wines of various levels of quality from near the lake). But it also has texture, and a touch more complexity, although over all it majors on simply being delicious and fresh. It’s a very impressive wine, which sort of creeps up on you, unawares.

I bought this bottle directly from Terroirs Restaurant in London (but available direct from Caves de Pyrene), and bought the Pinot Noir from Ten Green Bottles in Brighton.

IMG_2864

Frappato 2014, Terre Siciliane IGP, COS – COS is the result, as many of you will know by now, of a holiday collaboration between three school friends way back in 1980. The COS philosophy has changed down the years, and today’s wines are natural, and some of the most beautiful and poised wines on the island of Sicily. The estate is near to Vittoria, Ragusa and Modica, in the southeast.

Although COS are famous for their amphora wines, their pure Frappato is fermented in stainless steel, and aged in cement tanks. It’s a vibrant, palish red with a bouquet that sings of red fruits (strawberries, redcurrants, cranberries), with a slightly earthy finish which often makes people wonder whether it has seen the inside of a terracotta vessel. I’ve been in love with the wines of COS for many years, and I regularly change my mind as to which of their cuvées I like best. The Frappato always has its turn.

IMG_2867

Müller-Thurgau 2015, Stefan Vetter, Franken – Franken, or Franconia to some, is the source of some excellent wines, both white and red, although it deserves to be better known in the UK. What it has not previously been known for is fine wine from this particular, much maligned, variety. It is true that Müller-Thurgau does have its stars. I’m sure there are readers who can name at least a couple from Northeastern Italy, and some may have come across a once famous wine from the eastern end of Lake Geneva. But in Germany it is infamous for the sugar water which almost destroyed that country’s wine industry (and “industrial” it was).

Vetter is based at Iphofen, a wine village not far from Würzburg (to the southeast). This may be the most expensive German M-T you’ll have tasted (around £30 from Winemakers Club), but believe me, it is good. Flowery scented, it has nice extract and has gentle fruit. It comes in at a mere 10.5% alcohol too, very refreshing. Stefan Vetter also makes a range of extremely good Sylvaners, perhaps more of a mainstream variety in Franken. They are even more expensive, but their place on some very special restaurant wine lists should vouch for the quality.

IMG_2869

L’Etoile 2010, Domaine de Montbourgeau (Jura) – L’Etoile is a very small and perhaps little known Jura appellation, close to Lons-le-Saunier. Its name (and that of the village at the centre of this AOC) comes from the star-shaped fossils found all over the vineyards. This nine hectare estate is run by Nicole Deriaux, the third generation of her family to make wine here.

L’Etoile is perhaps most famous for its Chardonnay, which from this estate can be particularly fine, but the Savagnin here is lovely too. It has a real purity, and a sort of crystalline texture, with a little spice, rather than the quintessential nutty flavours of Savagnin from other Jura AOCs. It’s also nice to taste a wine that combines the mellowness of maturity, with the fresh, slightly more mineral, texture from this special terroir. This is a producer who has garnered plenty of praise, but not yet enough, I think.

IMG_3002

Grace & Favour 2014, La Garagista, Vermont – The Real Wine Fair is upon us this weekend, and it was at the 2016 Fair that I drank my first wines from the State of Vermont, including this rather lovely sparkler. The grape variety is La Crescent, descended from Black Hambourg, which is the variety of “The Great Vine” at Hampton Court, the Tudor Palace, just outside London. Grace and Favour apartments there are rented free to elderly Royal functionaries (former Ladies in Waiting etc), so this wine is a homage to Hampton Court.

Dierdre Heekin and Caleb Barber practice polyculture farming, with vineyards close to Lake Champlain, in northern Vermont. They are committed to American native vines from vitis riparia and lambrusca, along with some vinifera crosses. I recall Doug Wregg on the Caves de Pyrene (the importer) Blog saying that when tasting these grapes you really do begin to question the hierarchy of noble varieties. I seem to have that experience so often. Committed viticulture and winemaking from good terroir always trumps semi-industrial production, whatever the grape variety, and many a lesser known grape variety affords a wealth of new flavours.

Anyway, the wine…it’s fairly orange in colour, and if truth be told, somewhat like a very refined sparkling cider. That might put off the scoffing anti-natural wine bore, yet the palate is very clean and precise. It’s unfiltered, so cloudy if stored horizontally, with plenty of particulate yeast matter (er, bits) in the bottom of the bottle. But at the end of the day, it delivers a mouthwateringly refreshing glass, which is clearly wine, yet has the flavour of a crisp Braeburn apple, with a mere 11.5% alcohol. A slightly unusual wine, for sure, but I’ve met plenty of people who’ve tried it, and not one has failed to shout its praises.

IMG_3067

 

Posted in Austrian Wine, Jura, Natural Wine, Neusiedlersee, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Another “Masters” Class (Spanish Whites)

Just six of us were at Masters Superfish yesterday for a lunch themed on Spanish Whites. I must say that there are those among us who feel that our Fino lunches here in Waterloo provide a wine style most suited to fish & chips, yet for me we had two very different sparkling wines to open the innings, and both went on to make centuries, to pursue the cricket analogy.

As ever, the food was simple but perfection. I’m often asked about London restaurants by overseas readers, and London has enough worth visiting to fill a very large directory. But if you want to sample the so-called national dish, then this is the place to come. French friends find it bordering on incomprehensible that we can enjoy London’s Michelin-two-starred venues and somewhere like Masters in equal measure. I think they are missing out. When you factor in the price, £15 yesterday for some fresh prawns, onions and gherkins (not so wine friendly), and the Masters Special (the exceptionally large cod and chips below), then what do you have to lose?

IMG_3149

As for the wines, and those sparklers, well, the first of those was rare and rather special. Clos Lentiscus Sumoll Ferèstec 2010 is a Penedès methode traditionelle wine made by Bodega Can Ramon. It’s a miniscule cuvée of just 720 bottles (this one was numbered 51). Biodynamically produced from the increasingly well-regarded red Sumoll grape (vinified white, as opposed to Sumoll Blanc (sic)), it was disgorged in April 2016. The unique part of its production is in the use of local honey in the dosage. It could be the answer for anyone getting hayfever in Barcelona?

The wine is pretty dark in the glass, almost pale bronze. The bouquet shows richness, and a mature character, quite complex in the style of Champagne producers like Selosse and Prévost. On the palate it’s very different from what you are expecting. Totally fresh, with a very direct and elegant acidity. At around €50, this is magical, if you can find any (I think you’ll have to go local). Although it isn’t labelled as Cava, it illustrates that there is more than mass produced fizz in Spain.

If such a claim needed validating, then our second wine certainly reinforces it. Colet-Navazos Reserva 2010 is made from Chardonnay, aged on lees for 40 months. This was disgorged in October 2014, so it has had around two-and-a-half years pda. This wine, bottled as an Extra Brut, also has a unique aspect to its production as well.

Collaboration began between Colet and Equipo Navazos in the early 2000s. The aim was to make quality sparkling wine from Palomino Fino grown on the chalky Albariza soils of Jerez, using native flor yeasts. Meanwhile, both companies embarked on the ageing and production of two Penedès wines, from Colet’s home vineyards, using flor yeasts again, and using sherry-style wines in the dosage. I admit I’m not entirely sure whether the dosage in the 2010 is from Jerez or Montilla (the 2011 uses a blend of Manzanilla and Manzanilla Pasada), but you get the idea.

The straight Extra Brut is made from Xarel-lo, but this Extra Brut Reserva is pure Chardonnay. It is elegant, refined, and bone-dry. The Chardonnay and the long ageing give it a hint of Champagne about it, but the flor character, though pretty subtle, gives it an extra dimension, and a personality all of its own. There is perhaps more regionality to the Xarel-lo cuvée, but the Chardonnay Reserva is pretty sensational. Definitely a wine for the connoisseur to seek out.

Tempranillo “Blanco” 2015, Bodegas Sonsierra, Rioja is a somewhat unusual cuvée. Whilst other white varieties usually dominate white Rioja (largely Viura), this is made from 100% white Tempranillo grapes, a natural vineyard mutation of the region’s major red variety.

The wine undergoes a 24 hour pre-fermentation maceration, then 4 months on lees (with twice daily stirring) in oak (85% French, 15% American). This gives the wine body. The nose combines tropical fruit with a floral element, and maybe a little toasty spice from the oak. The palate is silky and full. It certainly requires food, and is beyond the spectrum of what you might normally expect from Rioja Blanco.

IMG_3151

Godello 2006, Adegas Coroa, Valdeorras was very interesting. You may have read about the Pazo Senorans dinner I went to recently, where we had a taste of older Albariño, showing how well that Galician grape variety can age. Godello can age just as well in the right hands (cf  Rafael Palacios’ As Sortes). I saw a note for this vintage on Cellartracker, posted in 2012 and saying this vintage was past its prime. Well, the 2006 may be past its prime today, but I think only just. It’s waxy, peppery, and there’s little fruit except maybe a lick of grapefruit acidity. There is also the hint of a butterscotch note developing as well, a sure sign of passing its prime, perhaps. But there was still some complexity.

I just think that it was a fascinating example of Godello at a decade old, not from a wine like As Sortes, intended to age that long, yet still providing something of interest. Others may well have thought it “past it”, there was not a lot of discussion on this wine, but I thought it went rather well with the food, myself.

Pedrazais Godello Sobre Lias 2015, Alan de Val, Valdeorras is a younger and more alcoholic (14%) Godello. Valdeorras (because someone asked) is a small area nestled between Ribeira Sacra and Bierzo, in Spain’s northwest. Although there are increasingly good reds produced, it is best known for white wine made from Godello, which is often steely when young, but ages well.

Pedrazais is a vineyard with north facing slopes, and the vines are planted at around 450 metres. Sobre Lias translates as on the lees and this gives the wine texture. There’s also fresh acidity, but a kind of sweetness to the fruit, no doubt down to the 14% alcohol. But the acidity, coupled with its texture, makes it a versatile seafood and fish wine.

IMG_3150

A change of direction in both grape variety and region for our final dry wine. Ekam 2013, Castell d’Encus is from Costers del Segre. This is a DOP quite a long way inland from Tarragona in Catalunya, towards Lleida. Ekam is made from Riesling (with a tiny bit of Albariño in some vintages). This may not sound like a traditional variety for Spain, but the vineyards of Castell d’Encus are up at between 800 to 1,100 metres altitude. In fact, Ekam has a growing reputation.

The wine is very dry, someone remarking that it reminded them of a German Trocken wine. It’s fermented partially in stone vats, carved out of bare rock, and it does have a similar texture to that which one gets from concrete eggs. The wine is intensely mineral, with grapefruit-fresh acidity. It’s youthful now, but delicious, yet I think a little bottle age will allow it to develop and improve.

IMG_3155

Although Masters don’t exactly do dessert, we did satisfy our need for a sugar rush with a sweet Godello. Pardoxin Dulce Godello de Recolección Tardía, Palacio de Canedo/Prado a Tope is, as the label says, a late harvest wine, from Castilla-León. The wine has  lots of sweetness without being cloying and heavy. Perhaps something more of interest than something to actively seek out, but it was a nice end to lunch, though we did have to decant to a coffee bar at Waterloo Station for a caffeine fix. Spain strides onwards!

IMG_3157

Masters Superfish is basic dining but the fish, and the chips, are peerless. They are at 191 Waterloo Road, London SE1 8UX, just a few minutes past The Old Vic theatre. Booking recommended: 020 7928 6924.

Posted in Dining, Spanish Wine, Sparkling Wine, Wine, Wine and Food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Deptford Fun City

Deptford Fun City was a record label started by the Copeland brothers, Miles and Stewart, which flourished briefly in the late 1970s. It was an offshoot of Illegal Records, and was set up to release the music of several Deptford artists, most notably Squeeze and Alternative TV. I’d never been to Deptford before yesterday evening, but I do remember the joke, rather close to the bone, that Deptford was so poor they couldn’t afford a comma.

Deptford is still, well, perhaps the right word is authentic. It reminds me of bits of London I remember from the 1970s. If you think Shoreditch, or even Dalston, are edgy, then come down here. Around 85% of the population have lived there for a long time, and probably don’t travel the ten minutes it takes a Southeastern train to get up to Canon Street, one of the City of London’s more obscure mainline rail stations. But arriving at around 6.15pm yesterday, there were signs of infiltration. Gents in suits, ladies in macs, alighting with me. Not so much city slickers, but those city workers a little bit down the food chain. There is a sense that Deptford is beginning to get a makeover.

It is here that The Winemakers Club has opened its second location, Winemakers Deptford, at 209 Deptford High Street. If you turn right out of Deptford Station you find a large Poundland, and an Iceland, but turn left and it’s all local shops, with one or two more interesting venues being created. A couple of hundred metres in this direction you’ll find their fairly simple, unprepossessing even, frontage. Don’t be put off.

IMG_3128

Inside, the decor is very simple. It has the air of a French bar à vins, and the only sign that this is no ordinary local bistro is the array of interesting bottles on the bar, and on the shelves opposite. There’s nothing like the number of wines for sale at Winemakers’ Farringdon bar/shop, but I’m guessing that equally, there are nothing like these wines elsewhere in Deptford.

Four of us dined there, and so we were able to share a wide selection of food from the menu, and I must say, it was all extremely good, some of it sensational for a place of this size. One time when “hats off to the chef”, in this case Rory Shannon, means something. Excellent brawn (listed as Head Cheese on the menu) came with finely cut, soft onions. Crab croquetas were sensational (could have eaten another portion), and smoked mackerel paté with Kent radishes was not far behind. Heritage tomato bruschetta had the taste of real tomatoes, the pigeon salad with garlic croutons only lacked for a little more pigeon (because it was so good), and a Lincolnshire Poacher souffle served with picalilli was also good. We all shared two portions of highland beef tagliata which, on account of the quality of the meat, was excellent.

IMG_3129

Brawn, Crab Croqueta and Rory Shannon’s home cured Salamis

I began the evening with a glass of Meinklang Sziklafehér. This comes from their Somlo vineyards in Hungary, but from the bottom of the mountain where the volcanic matter is covered by a layer of loess. A field blend of Olaszriesling, Harslevelü, Juhfark and Furmint, it’s quite simple and light, but invigorating and zesty, with a slight prickle. A lovely summer aperitif. We were given a plate of home produced salami as an appetiser, including a very good Finocchiona, which you’d be hard pressed to tell from an Italian-produced version. Rory Shannon has his own curing cabinets and it’s something of a speciality here.

IMG_3131

Next, Gino Pedrotti’s Nosiola 2015, bottled under the Vignetti delle Dolomiti IGT designation. It comes from Trentino, from valley vineyards swept by the southerly winds off Lake Garda. Straw coloured, there is a lovely scent somewhere between floral and fruity. The palate finishes with an unmistakable note of slightly bitter hazelnut.

Tète Red is a non-vintage blend of mainly Cabernet Franc (90%) with Grolleau, made by four young winemakers coming together as “Les Tètes”. They are based at Panzoult, and are one of a couple of new Loire producers in the Winemakers Club portfolio. This is simple, fruity and extremely pleasant. In fact, this is a perfect example of the bar à vins kind of bistro wine you’d be excited about discovering in Paris. Forget complexity, this is about thirst quenching. It does that supremely well.

The next wine was brought along by one of my dining companions. From a producer I am getting to like a lot, but a wine I’ve never drunk before (I tasted it at Viñateros this year, but that’s a different kettle of fish). Envinate Benjé comes from the island of Tenerife in the Canaries. It’s a red, made from one of the several Listan varieties on the island, Listan Prieto (with the tiniest touch of Tintilla, all vines being between 70 to 120 years old). Apparently, Listan Prieto turns out to be the same grape as South America’s Pais, the most widely cultivated red grape in Chile until Cabernet Sauvignon took over in recent times. Brought to South America by Spanish missionaries, one imagines that the Canary Islands was a stopping off point for victualing ships for the Atlantic crossing.

This is a beautiful wine, which really knocks on the head perceived wisdom about noble and not so noble grape varieties. It’s a lesson we are being taught all the time by the finest producers on Tenerife (cf Suertes del Marques as well). The part of Tenerife where this wine comes from, 1,100 metres up on the cliffs in the northwest, is quite marginal, with the vines benefiting from colder night time temperatures. This makes for a wine which has a certain concentration of fresh, bitter cherry fruit, but not excessive body. There’s a savoury, saline, quality to it as well.

A step up from their Tàganan cuvée, Benjé was Wine of the Night for me, a perfect demonstration of how to create true beauty from an unfavoured vine variety, from well beyond Europe’s classic wine regions. And it was decanted into a fish, thanks to Mr Zalto! Somewhat thicker glass than his usual fare, but Daniel, I want one.

IMG_3142

Lazio Rosso IGT, Cantina Ribelà 2015 is made from the Cesanese variety, and is effectively, from its production zone, the red wine of Frascati (near Rome). This 2015 was more powerful and full-bodied than one diner remembered the previous vintage, and its 14.5% abv bears this out. A rich and smooth wine from volcanic soils, very well made for a modest price, but perhaps not a style I’d go a long way to seek out. But I could see others liking it more. For me, I loved the simplicity of the Tète Red, and the frisson of excitement generated by the Envinate.

IMG_3141

Winemakers Deptford comes highly recommended. If you are fairly close to Canon Street, it’s also far more accessible than you might think, and just three minutes from Deptford mainline station, which is the first stop (trains seem to be going to Dartford or Strood). As the train goes through the side of London Bridge Station which is currently a building site, then presumably trains will stop there in future. Deptford, as you will see below, has its own claim to fame in the history of rail transport in London.

IMG_3130

 

Posted in Dining, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Il Popolo del Sangiovese

A group of us get together for occasional Tuscan lunches, usually based on Sangiovese reds with a few token Tuscan whites. I’m sure you’ve read about them on my Blog. There’s always a theme, but when you’ve run from Chianti Classico Normale to Brunello Riservas, something different is called for. So yesterday’s theme began as “Tuscan grape varieties from outside Tuscany”. As no one managed to find any Greek Vernaccia, nor Slovenian Trebbiano, it was agreed that we’d relax the whites. Someone also brought an Umbrian red grape, but we are not a spiteful bunch.

Lunch was at Popolo, in Rivington Street, close to Old Street Station, London, where Jon Lawson (who spent five years with Theo Randall) is head chef. It was my first visit to this tiny Shoreditch restaurant with an Italian flavour and a hint of Spain. The food was excellent. I started on Piquillo Pepper croquetas (too hungry to remember to photograph them), then lamb’s cheek pasta parcels (for me, the highlight, they were just so good). Then everyone shared bavette steaks and pigeon (not enough pigeon to go round all of us), before finishing with a cheese platter, including a Taleggio of exceptional quality. The service was friendly and we felt a genuine welcome. A great place.

One word on this lunch. You might get the impression from the notes on individual wines below that they were not all of stunning quality, that some were not very exciting, and that one or two were faulty. It is true that, for example, the wines were not of the same consistent quality as those at the last of these Tuscan lunches I went to – at The Glasshouse in Kew. But that would be misleading as to the success of the lunch.

Apart from the very good food at Popolo, and of course the company of good friends, it was the trying of these wines from such diverse sources, and with such diverse flavours, which made this lunch both satisfying and such fun. Exploration is surely as big a part of enjoying wine as a procession of fine vintages, where in fact quality can be drowned by the next wine which is just that tiny bit better.

We began with three whites. Hans Family Vineyards 2013 Marlborough Arneis (Herzog) was very attractive. Richer than the majority of bottles of the Piemontese version perhaps, but it still had a chalky texture with pear and peach stone, accompanying a floral nose. I managed to guess the grape, but went for Australia rather than New Zealand.

Montevecchio Vermentino 2016, Chalmers, Heathcote, Victoria was a clearskin wine, brought along by one of our friends at OW Loeb. It is a wine under consideration for their keg programme. Montevecchio is a second label of Chalmers, used for more experimental wines. This is a one-off as it was used to season some new botti which are now to be used for Sagrantino, so I understand. Lighter than the Arneis, in fact it hardly tasted like a warm climate wine, yet it does have real flavour. I’d have thought it would do well in keg. Very refreshing.

IMG_3102

Timorasso “Fausto” 2012, Marina Coppi, Colli Tortonesi comes from the hills at the southeastern edge of Piemonte, beyond Alessandria and Tortona. Marina dedicates this wine, made from the rare but rather good Timorasso grape, to her grandfather, the great Italian cyclist, Fausto Coppi. It’s lovely, rather richer than the version of Timorasso I know best (Walter Massa, at Monleale), coming in at 14.5% abv. There’s a little skin contact for richness and texture, and it wears the alcohol well, with freshness to balance. It also developed whilst in the glass.

Sangiovese “1492”, 2012, Christobal, Mendoza, Argentina kicked off the reds. It’s a pretty commercial wine, but nevertheless very pleasant. There’s actually a good bit of Sangiovese in the country and I’d say that it has potential if taken seriously. This wine is, unashamedly, a fairly cheap quaffer, but not bad.

“Venustas”, Mark’s Vineyard Lot 1, 2012, Ambyth, Paso Robles was a nice foray into California. It’s actually a blend of Sangiovese and Tempranillo, made biodynamically. The Sangiovese makes up the larger part of the blend (54%), but the wine was quite oaky. We felt that perhaps the Tempranillo had soaked up a lot of oak, making it dominate a little. The 12.4% alcohol should have been seen as refreshingly low, but perhaps there was not enoughbody for the oak. A smooth and rich red, though, even if it was without very much evident Sangiovese character.

Australia is just starting to get better known outside of wine geek circles for its Italian varietals, though she has been making them for many years. A lot of the work has been done in Victoria (many of you will have come across the Gary Crittenden range), and that’s where we were for our first Aussie, Sangiovese 2014, Dal Zotto, King Valley. This was very true to the variety. Perhaps the higher elevation of the King Valley helps. Not too dark, with a certain lightness, smooth but with a nice lick of acidity. Someone remarked that it was quite like a Chianti Classico, which (having taken this wine) was exactly how I’d hoped it would be received. Red Squirrel have chosen well here, as this is no warm climate Sangiovese with no connection to its roots. Quite lip-smacking.

Sangiovese 2013, Payten & Jones, Yarra Valley hails from a producer I’d never come across before. They are based in the Valley’s wine centre, Healesville, and the vines for this wine are in the Yarra sub-region of Gruyere (sic). Payten & Jones are wedded to as little intervention as possible, and they joke on their web site that this wine makes itself, bar a quick look over the top of the newspaper every day. Quite grainy in texture, I got raspberries, and a touch of herbiness, but missed the juniper the producer describes. This was, once more, a decent wine, but it didn’t have the varietal definition of the Dal Zotto.

IMG_3112

Grotte di Sole Patrimonio 2012, Antoine Arena, Corsica. Arena is Corsica’s best known producer, and Patrimonio one of its best known wines (up in the north of the island, close to Bastia). Arena make “natural wines”, and in fact they were one of the first few natural wine producers whose wines I tried. In fact they may have been the first whose wines didn’t taste volatile. Niellucciu (also sometimes Niellucio) is the synonym for Sangiovese in Corsica, although modern ampelography casts doubt on whether they are in fact the same variety.

IMG_3113

This has masses of acidity and texture on the tongue, and some volatile acidity. It tasted super dry, and our resident Champagne expert suggested it may have undergone a slight second fermentation at some point whilst in bottle. It tasted to him like a fizz-free Sparkling Shiraz! So possibly a faulty bottle?

Back to Italy for the last two dry reds, and to that other bastion of Sangiovese production, Romagna. Romagna Sangiovese Superiore Riserva 2013 “Avi”, San Patrignano is a lovely wine made by a very special community, which gives hope and work to people who are recovering from addiction. They are a large foundation, with around 350 employees and more than 1,300 guests, who pay no fee for their rehabilitation therapy. Wine is but one part of the work experience available.

The group of people who attend these lunches often go on an annual trip to Tuscany, and it was on one of these trips that one of them was accosted in a quiet Florentine Piazza and lured to tasting these wines. When a good cause combines with good wine, there’s nothing to lose. The wine is rich, with plummy fruit and spices (nutmeg, cloves), making this a complex Riserva, capable of ageing, but showing its quality now. I found this wine very impressive.

Sangiovese di Romagna Riserva “Pruno” 2009, Drei Donà ought to have been the star of the day. Drei Donà is a well known producer whose Tenuta La Palazza estate lies inland between Ravenna and Rimini, north of San Marino, and close to the town of Forli. “Pruno” is their flagship wine, a single 3.2 hectare site of 100% Sangiovese, which at Riserva level sees 18 months in a mix of 500 litre and 250 litre French oak, plus a year in bottle before release. And we had a 2009 on the table. I was looking forward to this so much, but it was well and truly corked.

We finished off with two sweet wines, which were both, in their own way, off-topic. But they were also delicious, so we didn’t grumble. I guessed the grape variety in the blind red, Sagrantino Appassimento 2013, Chalmers, Heathcote. Another wine from Chalmers. Although Jasper Hill and other estates around Heathcote (inland in the State of Victoria) gained a name for Nebbiolo in the 1990s and 2000s, Chalmers has pioneered Italian varieties there, and has acted as a nursery for many vines planted by others in the region.

This dried grape wine has 13% alcohol, with hints of chocolate and spice, very sweet, but also “like grown up fruit juice” as someone put it. It did actually taste like the sweet Sagrantino wines I’ve tried in Italy, although the alcohol here didn’t appear out of balance, or too heady.

IMG_3121

Our final wine was purchased off the list at Popolo, in order to have a second wine with the cheese course. Dominio del Urogallo Flor del Narcea Moscatel, Nicolas Marcos was stunningly good. Marcos was born in Spain’s Toro region, but left to make wine in Asturias. He worked for a while under Alain Graillot (of Crozes-Hermitage fame), whom he credits with changing his life. He believes in minimal intervention winemaking, and in wines which are low in alcohol, and which will partner food.

There is no doubt that this hard to describe Moscatel, complex and sweet but at the same time totally gulpable, is wonderful stuff, even taking into account the propensity to eulogise dessert wines after a (very) heavy alcohol intake over a three-and-a-half-hour lunch. But this really was good, and a producer I’d never tried, having missed him at the RAW WINE Fair in March.

 

IMG_3123

Thanks for the delicious loquat, Ian. This fruit is native to China, but is now grown in Italy and Spain. A large bag of these came from Borough Market, and some were generously distributed after lunch.

 

Posted in Dining, Italian Wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Savoie Fare

This article is really a bit of a plea for your help, though it’s not for myself that I ask it.

I’ve been drinking the wines of Savoie for even longer than I’ve been drinking Jura, but back in the day it was a different proposition. Whilst there were genuine discoveries in smarter ski resort wine shops, or in Annecy (often wines made by people called Quenard), the wines were mostly the co-operative type of fare, served up to uncomplaining skiers, to wash down the fondue. Yet there was always that feeling which suggested great potential in the whites, if only they could tap that alpine purity. And didn’t the red variety of the region, Mondeuse, have some sappy, brambly, appeal to it?

As time wore on, I began to find some of the qualities I was looking for, mainly among an older generation of small farmers who took pride in their wines. Occasionally an English merchant such as Yapp Brothers, Tanners, or The Wine Society, would bring in some wines of real interest and value (Yapp’s Domaine de L’Idylle comes to mind). At the same time, through local friends, I was introduced to the very obscure wines of Bugey, especially those, like the frothy pink Bugey-Cerdon made by the Méthode Ancestrale, which predate the popular pétillant naturel wines we drink today.

A very short introduction to French Alpine Wines

The wider wine region of Savoie stretches from the southern shore of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) in the east, via a spine of viticulture running down both sides of Lac du Bourget, to the most intensely farmed area of vines south of Chambéry. This is known as the Combe de Savoie, variously depicted in outline on a map as an object which some may see as a mallet, a hairdrier, a gamer’s joystick, or worse. Here, steep vineyards lining the slopes above the River Isère perhaps epitomise everything we imagine an alpine vineyard should be.

Savoie has many individual Crus, a product of the widespread nature of the vignoble. You will almost certainly come across Aprémont, Abymes, Chignin, Arbin and Cruet from the Combe, and perhaps Chautagne, Marestel and Jongieux, from near to Bourget, but there are others (16 in total).

To the northwest of Savoie lies Bugey, with disparate vineyards scattered in the alpine foothills around the southern edge of Jura (known as the Revermont), and into the Bresse plain. Within the Savoie region you will also find the Vins des Allobroges IGP, whilst some vineyards, increasingly of interest, stretch into the département of Isère. The most southerly vineyards which one might consider alpine are down towards the Drôme, way south of Grenoble. The Diois is generally best known for sparkling wines, Clairette and Crémant de Die, but still wines are also made here.

The alpine regions boast several of their own grape varieties. The vineyards in the east grow a lot of Chasselas, the same as their Swiss cousins on the lake’s north shore. It ranges from unexceptional (Marin) to worth trying (the richer Ripaille), to potentially fascinating (the lightly sparkling “Crépytant” wines of Crépy).

The main mountain vineyards of Savoie boast their own grape varieties: Jacquère, and Altesse (sometimes under the AOC of Roussette de Savoie), for whites, and Mondeuse for red, the latter being either fruity and light-ish, or occasionally with more structure and tannins providing potential for longevity. Additionally, you will find the Rhône’s Roussanne, and Burgundy’s Pinot Noir and Gamay.

There are several ancient varieties which are equally worth discovering, the best of these in my view being Gringet, made famous by perhaps Savoie’s finest producer, Domaine Belluard, who are based over in the tiny enclave of Ayze, just east of the valley of the River Arve, and of Bonneville (a town all lovers of Triumph motorcycles will hold dear to their heart).

Bugey grows a number of grape varieties. You will increasingly find interesting Pinot Noir, doing well alongside Mondeuse and Gamay. Savoie’s white grapes are joined by those of Burgundy, and even Jura. There has also been a real revival in the aforementioned méthode ancestrale sparklers (often made with Gamay and Poulsard when vinified as the pink Bugey-Cerdon).

Back in Savoie you’ll find Chardonnay used for a variety of other sparkling wines, either made by bottle fermentation (méthode traditionelle) under the relatively new Crémant de Savoie AOP, or merely tank fermented. Some readers will remember the once popular sparkling wines from the Seyssel AOC, which can be much improved today.

For the past few years I’ve been touting Savoie and Bugey as wine regions which are about to take off. This is in large part down to a younger generation learning from, and joining, the old masters. At the same time, the growth in “natural” wine and low intervention wine production seems to have reached these remote regions, and given winemaking a bit of a boost, and a profile outside the region. Like Jura, Savoie in particular provides cheaper vineyards, interesting autochthonous grape varieties, and a viticultural tradition due to be reawakened.

Wink Lorch has a new project!

The time is ripe to discover French Alpine Wines, and with remarkable perspicacity, along comes Wink Lorch with a project to introduce these wines to us. Wink needs little introduction to 90% of regular readers of my Blog. She is the author of one of the finest wine books of the past few years, Jura Wine. It brings that small but fashionable region to life in a scholarly way, touching on all aspects of Jura wine, history and culture, and with intensely evocative photographs, most taken by the well known Cephas lens of Mick Rock.

Wink, as she did for her Jura book, is undertaking a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, in order to fund the writing of her book, to be called Wines of the French Alps. It will cover all the regions I’ve mentioned above, and will follow pretty closely the format used in Jura Wine. Although she has long been acknowledged as the foremost authority on Jura wines, it is perhaps less well known that Wink actually spends half of her year in Savoie, and has an equal interest in the wines of that region and beyond.

Wink’s Kickstarter Campaign has, as I write, just 21 days to run. She has managed to raise pledges for around half the sum of £12,000, required to enable the project to move forward. There are several options for interested parties, ranging from a discounted copy of the book (publication due November 2017) through multi-book deals (ideal for wine shops), having a Savoie tasting event organised for you and your friends, right up to guided tours of Savoie (one day), or Savoie and Bugey (3-4 days).

I know this book will be good, but if my word does not sway you, the prestigious Best Drinks Book prize in the 2014 André Simon Food & Drink Awards for Wink’s Jura book ought to.

To find out more about Wink Lorch’s project, and her Kickstarter Campaign, and indeed to make a pledge, follow the link HERE.

You might ask why I am writing this? I know Wink just a little, meeting occasionally on the tasting circuit perhaps once or twice a year. I did assist her a tiny bit before, taking part in a Twitterthon along with many others to promote the Kickstarter Campaign for her Jura book. After all, I see myself as that region’s number two fan, after Wink. In this case, I just really want, no “need”, this book. I’ve made my own pledge and I sincerely hope that many readers will feel they would like to do the same.

Posted in Wine, Wine Books | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Recent Wines (…ish)

I’d fallen into writing a series of ongoing articles on “recent wines”, those I’ve been drinking at home. Not necessarily the poshest wines at all, but those I thought you’d enjoy reading about. But 2017 has really taken off in terms of the number of wine events I’m attending, and as we head into mid-April I haven’t written one since December last year.

So, catch-up time. I’d fallen into the habit of keeping these pieces to eight wines, but despite some heavy culling, I will stretch to twenty wines in order to bring us up-to-date. Don’t worry, I’ll split them into two articles over the next couple of weeks. The following bottles were drunk at home during January and February 2017. The next part will bring us up to Easter.

I hope you enjoy reading about my usual eclectic mix. I hate missing out a lot of very good wines, many of them being a bit too “classic” or, dare I say it, normal, for the many wine aficionados who I know read Wide World of Wine regularly. All of these wines below are worth seeking out, with the usual caveat that I’m talking here to the more adventurous wine lover. Let’s face it, who else reads my Blog?

“Simone” 2014, Vin de France, Julie Balagny (Beaujolais)

Julie’s wines just speak to me. I have been buying them in Paris for a few years, and continue to do so, but I shared a case after tasting this at the Tutto Wines tasting at Ducksoup in Soho last October (which you can search for quite easily on the Blog).

This particular wine is usually a “Fleurie”, but in the 2014 vintage the fermentation stuck and Julie had to restart it with some must from 2015. It’s not completely unusual. I know a young Jura grower who had a similar problem. So Vin de France it is. Light in colour, this is still vibrant cherry juice, with fruit and freshness (and just 12.5% abv). In fact it’s so fruity you forget it’s alcoholic, almost. Tutto will always sell out of Balagny’s wines as they are so sought after. But it’s worth asking.

IMG_2255

 

Crémant d’Alsace Brut, Clément Klur

Klur is one of several new Alsace discoveries for me. He is based in Katzenthal, just a few kilometres more or less east of Colmar. Clément does like his slogans. This unsulphured sparkler, for instance, he calls “Crémant de Clément”, and his little quip “Klur, c’est Pur” on the back labels sums up his philosophy in the vineyard and cellar. This has fine bubbles, quite a floral nose, dry on the palate with apple and brioche, finishing with a citrus intensity. Klur is distributed in the UK by Alliance Wine, and mine was purchased from Solent Cellar (Lymington).

IMG_2280

 

Allegro 2013, Castagna, Beechworth

Beechworth, in Victoria, is one of Australia’s most exciting wine regions, and ought to be seen as one of its most prestigious. Giaconda may well be the most famous of the wine estates here, but Castagna, along with producers like Sorrenberg, is not far behind. This wine is a rosé made from 100% Syrah, and if truth be known I was a little worried by its age. It’s not unknown, given the random mix of single bottles I own, for wines to get forgotten, as this one had. It was one of several wines I purchased after a tasting with Julian Castagna a couple of years ago (it was with the reds, which continue to age, gracefully I hope).

The Castagna vineyards in Beechworth are farmed biodynamically, and this wine is full of biodynamic life, even after three-and-a-half years post-harvest. Dark salmon pink in colour, the bouquet is quite evolved, both fruity but also hauntingly floral (violet). The palate was still very fresh, it has held up rather well. I include this here because Castagna is known for very fine red wines, and this is something rather different. A pink to match with Asian-Pacific food, perhaps. Altogether a lovely surprise.

IMG_2292

 

Saint-Véran 2015, Domaine de la Croix Senaillet, Macon

This is a domaine unknown to me before a friend gave me this bottle. Richard and Stéphane Martin farm 25 plots on the slopes around Davayé. They make wines within the AOCs of Pouilly-Fuissé, Pouilly-Vinzelles and Macon-Davayé, along with six or seven St-Véran cuvées. This is their sulphur free bottling, from vines grown on limestone and clay, and made in oak.

It was very good indeed, a Southern Burgundy of real beauty. It opened a little dumb, but after ten minutes was really singing. There’s not masses of acidity, but the fruit is very ripe and the richness just seemed in balance. This is the sort of wine for which you pull out a word like “harmonious” and know it’s not being misused. The lack of acidity makes it seem a little understated, but its qualities build as you drink it, stopping just short of a crescendo. Not a wine for a grand Burgundy dinner, more one to surprise two or three genuine lovers of White Burgundy on a Wednesday or Thursday evening.

IMG_2339

 

La Bruja de Rozas 2015, Comando G

An Instagram friend was asking me about wineries nearest to Madrid the other day. These guys may be an hour or so away, but if you want to try some of Spain’s most exciting wines right now, then the Gredos is one of the places to head for. Comando G is the joint venture between Daniel Jiménez Landi, Fernando Garcia (Marañones) and Marc Isart (Bernabeleva). As individuals they make the finest wines in the region, and in Comando G (the G is for Garnacha), they have revolutionised their chosen grape, turning it from jammy blockbuster into something fruity and pure.

“La Bruja” is labelled Vinos de Madrid, and comes from the Valle del Tiétar in the Sierra de Gredos. In fact, whilst Comando G make several wines from very tiny parcels, genuine terroir wines of Grand Cru quality (and prices), this is their “village wine”, from vineyards around Rozas del Puerto Real. The grapes are grown on granite at around 850 metres altitude, surely one of the key reasons these wines have a purity so rarely found in the past in Garnacha/Grenache wines.

It has a darkish colour, some tannins, and lots of concentration. I’d recently had a corked bottle of the 2014, so this bottle made up for it several times over. This will age a little, but it doesn’t have to. It’s a super wine and pretty exceptional value for money, the perfect introduction to the range. You can read about more Comando G wines, and also the wines of Daniel Landi, in my Viñateros writeup here.

IMG_2414

 

Regnié 2014, Antoine Sunier

Many readers will have come across the wines of Julien Sunier. Antoine is his brother. Julien started making wine in 2008, and soon got spotted for his lovely Morgon, Fleurie and Regnié (working with Jasper Morris MW). Antoine’s wines are a more recent addition to the Beaujolais canon (2013), with most of his small holding of around five hectares being in Regnié.

Both Julien and Antoine make lovely Regnié, and in fact their wines have done much to raise the profile of this most recent addition to the Beaujolais Crus. If both make very good Regnié, and indeed I read someone recently suggesting that their Regniés might be their best wines, how do they differ? It is said that Antoine’s version is a little darker and a little more intense.

On the evidence of this 2014, it is very fruity indeed, the hallmark of the wines of all of the young generation of Beaujolais producers. Fermentation begins as a carbonic maceration, but then proceeds with punching down, as in what some call the Burgundian style. Antoine aims for a wine which has depth and terroir expression, and indeed he succeeds (not that I could claim to identify Regnié terroir myself). But for me, the essence of this wine is that it is light(ish) and fruity, exhibiting all the positives of a sulphur free natural wine, and the characteristics of this lighter Beaujolais Cru. Or, in fewer words, it’s simply delicious.

IMG_2447

 

Fledermaus NV Deutscher Landwein, 2Naturkinder

Melanie Drese and Michael Voelker aver to make wines inspired by Alice Feiring’s definition of Natural Wine – “wine with the intent of nothing added and nothing taken away”. They worked in publishing (including in London, where they first got bitten by the natural wine bug), before taking over Michael’s father’s vines in Kitzingen, just east of Würzburg, in Franken (Franconia), Germany. They make several cuvées, this one being a blend of around 75% Müller-Thurgau with 25% Silvaner.

Cloudy and darkish yellow, this is going to put a lot of people off, at a guess. It’s cloudy because it’s unfiltered, and yellow because of skin contact. It comes off limestone soils, and other than the skin contact (in stainless steel), its vinification is not remarkable. It has undergone its malolactic, and it comes out with just 11.5% abv.

The nose is hard to describe as well, neither fruity nor herby. Perhaps it’s stone fruit you get? The palate is also rather hard to describe, because there’s both austerity and softness, which strangely cohabit in the same mouthful.

I’m sure that by now a couple of readers will be running scared, but it’s this slightly odd palate which frankly makes this wine, if not unique, one of a small bunch of hard to describe wines which leave some of us so irrepressibly fascinated.

The name comes from the fertiliser used on the vines, harvested from a local bat colony. I drank their equally edgy Bat-Nat pét-(b)nat, made from Pinot Meunier (Schwarzriesling) at our Oddities Christmas Lunch (at Brunswick House) in December, and was equally enthralled. I know fellow blogger Simon Reilly (www.wineloon.com) is a fan, he wrote about them in December last year, and was really the person who sparked my interest. 2Naturkinder wines can be found at small importer Wines Under the Bonnet.

IMG_2476

 

Pinot Noir “Cuvée Julien” 2010, Côtes du Jura, J-F Ganevat

This is Ganevat’s simple entry level domaine Pinot Noir, but I kept a bottle to see how it would age. It probably wasn’t a big risk, based on the chosen vintage and the ability of J-F’s domaine wines to age well generally. The colour was vibrant pale red and the bouquet smelt intensely of raspberries. We are not looking at a kind of Burgundian complexity here, but more the kind of fruit-centred pleasure one hopes for with a Bourgogne Rouge from the finest domaines. But this cuvée does have the advantage of fairly old vines, planted in 1977 on Ganevat’s limestone/clay soils near La Combe, south of Lons-le-Saunier in the Revermont (a region between Jura and L’Ain).

What this wine dishes out is vivacity. At more than six years old, and with no added sulphur to protect it, you’d be hard pushed to nail this as a natural wine, I think. You shouldn’t expect complexity, as I said, but with its mouth filling fruit and very long and persistent finish, this is something quite magnificent in its simplicity. Perhaps it is in the wines at this level, rather than in the expensive masterpieces, that Jean-François best demonstrates his magicianship? If you ever were to buy wine after just looking at its colour in the glass, this might be the one.

IMG_2479

 

“Mauvais Temps” 2013, IGP Aveyron, Nicolas Carmarans

The Aveyron is, without question, one of the most beautiful regions of France. It is also one of her poorest, most rural and, sadly, least well known to both tourists and wine lovers. Perhaps if I mention Marcillac, it will place Aveyron on the map a little more clearly?

What I can say without exaggeration about Nicolas Carmarans is that he is a very fine winemaker. After meeting him and his wife a year ago, I can also say that they are two of the nicest winemakers I’ve met, and nice winemakers is a pretty large field, is it not.

Carmarans used to own and run the Café de la Nouvelle Marie, one of the forerunners of the natural wine scene in Paris. Bitten by the bug he eventually moved to Campouriez, his old ancestral home village, near the former VDQS of Entraygues-et-Le Fel.

Mauvais Temps is the name of the vineyard, once a 20 hectare vine-clad slope until the devastating frosts of 1956. The land up here is mountainous, mostly on schist with some sands. The soils are largely volcanic in origin, near the edge of the Causse d’Aubrac. Most of the hillsides are covered in forest now, but they used to be covered in vines, making wine to slake the thirst of the coalmining industry. Coal mining has all but died out now, but it began around the town of Decazeville as early as the sixteenth century (the last mine closed in 2001, but I do remember small miner’s cottages in the late 1980s).

This red, the lightest in the range, is comprised 40% Négret de Banhars, 50% Fer Servadou (Mansois) and 10% Cabernet Franc, made by semi-carbonic maceration in conical wooden vats, after which it spent 12 months in old barriques. The resulting wine is light, but not simple, has only 11% abv, and is lovely. Pure grippy dark fruits sums it up, along with a soft concentration. It’s the kind of wine where one bottle is not enough. I wonder whether Nicolas has considered magnums…?

Just writing about this wine makes me yearn to go back to this beautiful part of France…and, of course, to visit Les Carmarans.

IMG_2485

 

Chardonnay Vielles Vignes 2012, Vin de Pays de Franche-Comté, Vignoble Guillaume

Guillaume is probably best known to French winemakers as one of the country’s best vine nurserymen, Pépinières Guillaume. Their operations are based in Charcenne, near Gy. But they are also the largest producers of what used to be called Vins de Pays de Franche-Comté (now IGP), Franche-Comté being the French region in which you will find Jura. Their range is surprisingly large (more than twenty wines are stocked by Theatre of Wine in London), perhaps a result of the large number of grape varieties grown by the nursery side of the business. One of the best wines in the range is a Vin Jaune lookalike called Cuvée des Archevêques, made from Savagnin, well worth asking for if you visit one of Theatre of Wine’s three shops in Greenwich, Tufnell Park or Leytonstone.

The best value in the range, in my opinion, is to be found in the two Vielles Vignes wines, a Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay. This Chardonnay is dark straw in colour. The bouquet is quite nutty (hazelnuts), with a citrus note on top. The palate is fresher. It’s more Jura than Burgundy, very much a country wine with a little rusticity, fascinating. The Reserve wines come with ageing in new oak and are altogether different. They are also approaching £10 more expensive. I think I prefer these VV cuvées, although they are more of the type for recommending to those who want to seek out something unusual, rather than the out-and-out you must try it recommendation for the Carmarans wine above.

IMG_2681

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

Up the Junction

Thirty years ago I lived less than ten minutes’ walk north of Dalston Junction. This part of London was very different back then. There was no spanking new Overground Station where there are now two. There were certainly no “luxury flats” on Kingsland Road, advertising their roof-terrace views of the city skyline, now fully visible to the south. There was, and long may it survive, one of London’s least well known but most vibrant street markets on Ridley Road. And now we have food, wine and vegan dining. After my third time back in the area in recent weeks, I thought I should let a few others in on the secret.

I’m sure some of you read the first part of my article on the recent Tasting at The Vaults (home of Winemakers Club on Farringdon Road). It focused solely on Otros Vinos, the small importer of wild Spanish wines. Quite a few of their wines are retailed out of the equally tiny Spanish deli, Furanxo, which I mentioned in that article, run by Manuel Santos (Santos & Santos Imports) and Xavier Alvarez (chef and co-owner of Tagállan in Stoke Newington). I decided to head over to Furanxo, to meet up with Otros Vinos’ Fernando Berry and to bring back a stash of wines.

Furanxo is like a traditional Sevillano Albaceria, selling a selection of Manuel’s artisan food products and a selection of well chosen (don’t they say carefully curated these days) Spanish wines. The shop is tiny, but there’s an impressive array of cured meats off the bone, mainly acorn fed Iberico hams. The cheeses are unpasturised gems from small Spanish farms. Manuel is adamant about supporting traditional farmers. The rest of the shop is filled with high quality tinned fish, bottled vegetables and fruits, and even hand gathered and dried Galician seaweed (four different varieties). We left with several items.

As well as the food store, Furanxo is also a bar in the evenings, where you can go for a tapas and a glass or two of wine. There’s a basement room which is used for culinary workshops and other events. Then there’s the wines themselves. Not all of the wines on the shelves come from Otros Vinos, but take a look here for a roundup of what I tasted at The Vaults.

Fernando popped the cork on something cold to lubricate our conversation. I’d tasted and liked three wines from Marenas at The Vaults. It’s José-Miguel Márquez’s six hectare estate on the sandy-clay soils of Montilla. Montepilas is an old indigenous grape variety, pretty much almost extinct. It ripens very late, in October, where it still only makes a wine of around 12% abv, so it’s ideal for table wine. Freshness is retained because the vines are grown at higher elevations which cool dramatically at night.

IMG_3052

Marenas Montepilas from Montilla

Viticulture is about minimal intervention, and soil health is everything to José-Miguel. His neighbours think he’s insane not to plough, nor treat his vines. He just uses a tiny bit of copper, and a tiny bit of sulphur in the vineyard (none during winemaking). The Montepilas has a lovely sun-kissed yellow-gold colour, but there’s no skin contact, and it is aged in stainless steel. It’s nicely aromatic and soft on the nose, but the palate is bone dry and has a slight steeliness coupled with a chalky (ahem, mineral) texture. It’s surprisingly long, with a haunting, ethereal, finish.

IMG_3079

My Otros Vinos stash (suitcase not shown)

Furanxo is a small shop, and good as it is, some people who don’t live near Dalston would not be persuaded to venture into the wild east without a few more enticements, perhaps. But just a few minutes’ walk away, right opposite Dalston Junction Station, is Newcomer Wines. I’ve written about Newcomer recently right here. Newcomer originally set up in Shoreditch Boxpark, selling Austrian wines out of one of the shipping container units there. They moved over to more permanent, and larger, premises in Dalston last year. They have expanded their offering beyond Austria now, whilst keeping their original focus at the core of the range. But you can find a lot of hidden gems, like the Czech wines of Milan Nestarec, or the newly added wines of Swiss maestros, Mythopia, alongside some of Austria’s newest producers and most exciting wines.

Newcomer Wines

Newcomer becomes a bar in the evening as well, with a selection of Austrian inspired small dishes. Now the summer is arriving in style, they have opened up the outdoor area at the back. They have one of the most exciting ranges of wine in London now, and they are more than worth checking out if you like what is happening in Austria’s winelands.

Round the corner from Newcomer, on Kingsland High Street (on the outside of Dalston Cross Shopping Centre) is one of London’s absolute best vegan restaurants. If you want something more substantial, head here, but do book in the evenings, and turn up early for lunch if you want to dine on spec without a reservation. Like all the best vegan restaurants, Fed by Water serves great food, whatever your tastes and tolerances. It calls itself “Italian Vegan”, and that’s its focus. There are plenty of pasta dishes, pizzas and great desserts, but they serve a mean calzone, for which a good appetite is recommended.

Fed By Water, with calzone, bottom right

Your journey back to the City, the West End, or further afield, should not happen until you’ve taken a stroll down Ridley Road Market. It hasn’t really changed since I used to wander down in the early 1980s. You still get the loud and friendly banter from the stall holders as they try to lure you into making a purchase.

The shops along the roadside are not for the faint-hearted (nor perhaps for true vegans). They sell meat of every description, from pig’s trotters to unidentified offal. But the stalls are largely a blend of fruit and veg, bolts of bright Caribbean-inspired fabrics, clothing (one stall sold just bras, all loose on the table) and groceries. Look for the fruit and veg stalls with their produce in clear plastic bowls. Each one is £1, and may contain anything from five long red peppers, to enough ginger to last three or four weeks. My guess is that they are around 75% cheaper than the supermarket. You could probably get a week’s supply of veg for a fiver, same for fruit.

Ridley Road Market

On a very sunny Thursday lunchtime the whole scene is at once both relaxing, and redolent of vibrant London at its best.

Furanxo is at 85 Dalston Lane, London E8 (turn right, round the corner from the far end of Ridley Rd Market). See Santos & Santos.

Newcomer Wines  is at 5 Dalston Lane (opposite Dalston Junction Overground)

Fed By Water is at 64 Kingsland High Street (on the outside of Dalston Cross Shopping Centre)

Ridley Road Market is on Ridley Road and is open Monday to Saturday

This part of Dalston can be accessed via the London Overground, to either Dalston Junction or Dalston Kingsland Stations. Several buses come up here via The City, from where it will take about 20 to 30 minutes.

Not wine related, but on the way back we jumped off the bus at The Barbican to see the exhibition The Japanese House: Architecture and Life After 1945 at The Barbican Art Gallery. Highly recommended, runs to 25 June. Check it out here.

 

Posted in Austrian Wine, Dining, Natural Wine, Spanish Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Shops, Wine Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Senorans at The Shipyard

I was back at Lymington’s wonderful Shipyard Restaurant last week for a dinner with Javier Izurieta, Export Director of Pazo Senorans. The Shipyard is getting a reputation for wine, and in fact they have a tasty looking event on 4 May with Olivia Barry (Jim Barry, Clare Valley), which will doubtless include a taste of their much anticipated Aussie Assyrtiko, the first one from down under.

The Shipyard is a few minutes away from Lymingtom Quay, within the famous Berthon Boatyard. Close to Lymington Harbour, on the Lymington River, they are attached to The Fish Market, purveyors of fresh fish of real quality, which also supplies the restaurant. The Shipyard put together a Galician menu featuring octopus with padron peppers and chorizo, roasted cod fillet with olives and patatas bravas, and a wonderfully executed Tarta de Santiago, with a home fashioned stencil for the traditional icing sugar topping. A wonderful meal is guaranteed here, and the people are unimaginably friendly (and more than happily compliant with any special dietary requirements).

                      The Shipyard, Lymington

Pazo Senorans is acknowledged as one of the very top producers in Galicia, some would say the top producer. They have a very simple mission – to produce the finest Albariño in the world. They do this in one of the most beautiful, rugged, parts of Spain. The landscape is granite, very Celtic, and topsoils are poor and thin. Formed largely of this decomposed granite, they are also very acidic. The antithesis of our idea of the Spanish climate, it is a green land, washed by Atlantic winds and waves of rain which swirl down the Bay of Biscay. It was one of Europe’s poorest regions up until the end of the 20th Century.

Winemaking is not complicated at Pazo Senorans. They eschew oak as they believe it masks the Albariño grape variety, but they are great believers in using the lees, which Javier passionately told us bring “life” to the wine. The Bodega is in the historic town of Pontevedra, at the head of the Ría of the same name. The town is the provincial capital, allegedly founded by the Greeks, and has a wealth of arcaded houses with glazed balconies, along with a host of architecturally interesting religious buildings, and a Templar castle (I passed through very briefly a long time ago).

IMG_3016

Javier Izurieta of Pazo Senorans

We tasted the entry level Albariño 2015, the Pazo Senorans Colección 2013 and 2009, and their complex Selección de Añadas from 2008 and 2007 in bottle. We finished dinner with the Añada from 2006 in magnum. These bottles range in price from around £17 for the current vintage to around £23 and £40 respectively for the two more expensive cuvées (only available from the domaine, or perhaps speak to their UK agent, Alliance Wine). The Tasting was organised through Solent Cellar, Lymington’s classy wine shop, who (if you are swift) may be able to source some of the wines for you.

Pazo Senorans Albariño 2015 is the current vintage of Senorans’ standard release. It’s no mere “standard” wine though, fresh and delicious with genuine character. It’s amazing value, and drinking now, but it really will age and improve, perhaps over three more years.

IMG_3008

Pazo Senorans is all about proving the ageability of the Albariño grape variety. The Colleccíon 2013 clearly has greater depth. It has an extra herby character and superior length as well. If it is available, it’s only a relatively small step up in price over the straight 2015. The 2009 Colleccíon has a beautiful nose, with a limey “sweetness”. The (bone dry) palate is still fresh, and there’s more clean acidity than you might expect. It’s a lovely wine.

Añada is a big step up. The 2008 is surprisingly pale still. The nose is quite appley (one taster insisted Cox’s Orange Pippin). It has spent three years on lees before going back into small stainless steel tanks for a while before bottling, thereafter spending at least a year in bottle before release. There is genuine depth here and it’s hard to imagine any finer aged Albariño.

2007 seems to have a bit more dry extract than 2008, but it still shows that lovely rounded citrus freshness which is the hallmark of the Senorans wines, and a touch, almost, of the Riesling about it. It also has a mineral feel on the palate. The vintage variation is a positive for me. Naturally some people expressed a preference, but such variation just emphasises that these are wines of personality and character, not some industrial product with only a commercial imperative.

We finished on the 2006 Añada from magnum, an impressive wine for several reasons, not least in showing Albariño’s ability to age. More of that classic freshness and pale colour, green-gold, with great legs (glycerol), plus lees-induced texture. Proof, if proof were needed, not only of this producer’s position at the pinnacle of Albariño production, but also of this grape’s place as the queen of Spanish white varieties.

IMG_3010

A few pictures of our dinner, below, will hopefully whet the Friday evening appetite.

The Shipyard Bar and Kitchen is at Anchor House, Bath Road, Lymington, Hampshire: see web site here . Their website is very colourful and is well worth scrolling through.

Contact The Solent Cellar for availability of wines on 01590 674852.

Alliance Wines is the UK Agent/importer for Pazo Senorans.

 

Posted in Spanish Wine, Wine, Wine and Food, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Crémant – More than Mere Froth

Following The Vaults Tasting last Monday, I was back in London for an interesting little tasting the following day. Organized once more by Business France, Crémant presented twelve producers of this category of sparkling wine from five out of the eight French wine regions designated for Crémant production. Sadly there were no individual producers of Crémant de Savoie, nor Jura, both of which are making some particularly interesting wines at the moment and, ironically, both of which I’m particularly fond. Nor was there any for Crémant de Die. But this did allow me to focus on the other production zones. I didn’t taste the wines of Les Grands Chais de France. They are the UK’s largest supplier of Crémant (they also own brands like Calvet and JP Chenet), and have a presence in every French sparkling wine production zone.

The tasting was at the Edel Assanti Gallery in Newman Street, Fitzrovia, and its white walls provided a good visual environment for the wines. It was a little hot, but the wines were well chilled and the organisers ensured there was plentiful, constant supply of ice.

IMG_2963

So What is Crémant? – A Brief Introduction

Crémant is the designation for the finest sparkling wines of France outside of Champagne. Well, that’s the theory. All grapes for Crémant must be hand harvested, and rules for gentle, whole bunch, pressing apply (as do rules on maximum yields, grape varieties pertinent to each region, etc). The production method is effectively the same as Champagne, using the Méthode Traditionelle, which means that the wine undergoes the second fermentation in bottle.

There are currently eight designated production regions, or AOPs, for Crémant. Apart from the aforementioned Savoie and Jura, these are Alsace, Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Die, Limoux and Loire. The last on that list, Crémant de Loire, was the first to be designated, in 1975.

There are a couple of basic differences with Champagne. One is bottle pressure. Although the term “Crémant” was once used for Champagnes of a lower pressure (now often called Perle by some growers), modern Crémant can in fact still sometimes have a lower pressure than most Champagne. Champagne usually has a pressure of between five and six atmospheres (famously the sort of pressure you’d find in a tyre on a London Bus). But the Crémant category does allow for a lower pressure (I know, for example, that the rules for Jura stipulate a wine above 3.5 atmospheres). But generally, the consumer will be unable to tell the difference.

A more important difference relates to ageing on the lees of the second fermentation, in bottle. Lees ageing is the key to quality in sparkling wine, and long lees ageing gives Champagne its characteristic autolytic complexity. Non-Vintage Champagne must spend a minimum of 15 months on lees, but the best has much longer, and Vintage Champagne even longer still. You might have read about Weingut Peter Lauer’s Reserve Sekt in my last article, wine which spent 24 years in bottle – an exception, and probably not intentional (Florian’s father forgot about it!), but the wine is truly astounding in its complexity (and fresh too).

When you read the notes on the wines here, you will notice that most of these Crémants see just 12 months, maybe 18 months in some cases, in bottle before disgorgement. As the effects of autolysis really kick in from 18 months onwards, it becomes clear that these are not often wines of massive complexity. Instead, they are wines to celebrate for their fruit and freshness. As one producer said, that’s a nice way to enjoy sparkling wine.

Does the Future Look Bright, and What do we Do with Crémant?

In the past people have tried to compare Crémant with Champagne, and invariably it has come off worse. That’s not always right. Many readers will have been given Champagne of dubious quality, especially if purchased from one of the supermarket Christmas offers, where they knock out something with an unknown name for a tenner. At the same time you might have tried a bottle of Stéphane Tissot’s Crémant du Jura BBF, or his Indigène, where complexity and interest rivals a top grower Champagne. So, within the category there’s a lot of variety.

Where Crémant scores highest is surely value for money. In the UK we drink oceans of cheap Prosecco. Crémant tends to cost more than the kind of Prosecco we cart home from our supermarkets, but it’s still a lot cheaper than fine Champagne. Instead of seeing Crémant as a rival to Champagne for the big celebration, why can we not acknowledge it as the perfect wine for summer, especially for picnics and outdoor dining. Even for the barbecue. I mean, why do we insist on drinking 14.5% Shiraz or Malbec when its 25 degrees and the coals are nudging it up to thirty?

If I learnt anything from this tasting, it’s that there’s a lot of pleasure to be had from what are largely, except for the special cuvées, fairly simple wines which are nevertheless long on fun and pleasure. Look at how much pét-nat is glugged by young people, at least in London and Metropolitan Britain. Crémant, when well executed, should fit into that demographic. Okay, some Crémant might taste good, but it is made in industrial quantities, you say. True, some is, but this is generally a quality category, sparkling wine made from decent quality handpicked grapes, vinified traditionally. And the volumes do help to keep the price down.

The problem for Crémant on this particular export market lies perhaps with other rivals from the New World, especially Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Chile. These wines are well established in the UK, and are often keenly priced in supermarkets and wine chains. Not all are bottle fermented, and it is unclear whether consumers really know, or care.

THE PRODUCERS

Domaine Zinck, Crémant d’Alsace, Equisheim

Alsace is the largest production zone for Crémant (more than 20% of Alsace wine is sparkling, though vast quantities are made by the tank method). It’s a little known fact that the region is planted with quite a bit of Chardonnay, used only in sparkling wine, yet most Crémant d’Alsace is blended from among the four Pinots (Blanc, Auxerrois, Gris and Noir), plus a little Riesling.

Domaine Zinck was established by Paul Zinck in 1964 and today comprises 20 hectares producing both still and sparkling wines. There are two Crémants, a white Brut and a Rosé, and both were available to taste in bottle and magnum.

Crémant Brut is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir, with 30% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Blanc. The current bottling is from a 2014 base with 20% reserve wines, mainly 2013 with 5% from 2012. You can see, if you are au fait with Champagne releases, that the wine is younger than many current releases from that region. But there’s still a bit of a biscuity note here in the Brut, along with crispness and freshness.

The pale salmon-coloured Rosé is also sold as a non-vintage. It’s 100% Pinot Noir, largely from 2014 again, with 20% reserves from 2013. It’s crisp and fruity, with quite high acidity, which the fruit copes with.

 

The Magnum Effect

One story of the Tasting involves the “magnum effect”. Generally it is true that wines age better in magnum. This doesn’t just apply to premium cuvées of Vintage Champagne, and certainly not exclusively to bottle fermented sparkling wine. The theory is that with twice the wine and no more air ingressing into a magnum than a standard bottle, the wine ages more slowly and achieves greater complexity. This is unquestionably true of long lees aged Champagne, but is it true of Crémant?

Every producer brought at least one wine in magnum, and there was a thread through the tasting. I didn’t find one wine which didn’t taste better in magnum, including those Zinck wines above. One reason might be that the magnums currently on the market had actually been aged for longer than their 75cl counterparts. Or maybe they just looked more impressive! With a magnum of Crémant often costing the same as a bottle of Champagne, there are certainly occasions where, let’s face it, “impressive” is no bad thing.

IMG_2973

The Magnum Tasting Lineup

Domaine Schwach, Crémant d’Alsace, Hunawihr

Schwach has 19 hectares in the region, which François Schwach began purchasing in the 1950s and 60s. The company is run today by the third generation of the family, Sébastien. Schwach makes a wider range of Crémant cuvées than Zinck, and six cuvées were on show.

Four white bottlings cover Blanc de Blancs (Pinots Blanc, Auxerrois and Gris); Blanc de Noirs (Pinot Noir); Chardonnay and Riesling. The Chardonnay is dosed with a low 4g/l dosage, but is still quite creamy compared to the other bottles. The Riesling is very mineral and almost chalky. There’s also a fruity Rosé.

Crémant d’Alsace “S” is the special cuvée. It’s a blend of equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with one year on lees, bottled at 8g/l liqueur. It’s a vintage wine, and this bottle was a 2011. It’s the last vintage Sébastien’s father made, and he named it “S” after his son, who was about to take over. It has a degree of extra complexity on the nose, and more personality.

IMG_2969

 

Domaine Joseph Gruss & Fils, Crémant d’Alsace, Eguisheim

This is a slightly smaller estate, at just over 16 hectares, split into more than 50 plots on differing soils around Eguisheim, one of my favourite Alsace villages. I liked the wines here, doubtless swayed by the amiable winemaker, André Gruss, who was on pouring duty. André said he is aiming for balance, purity and elegance, so let’s see how he did.

Crémant d’Alsace Brut is a Pinot Noir with extended lees contact (15 to 20 months depending on vintage) and the wines go through malolactic (which many crémants avoid, to retain freshness). This is more fruity than some, easy going but well made.

Extra Brut Classic is different. 80% Pinot Blanc with 20% Riesling, a little less time on lees (12 to 15 months) and no malo. Dosage is 3g/l. Despite being served a little cold, there’s a biscuity arrowroot nose, plus good fruit. The palate has a fruity acidity, with some citrus from the Riesling, and a fine spine running through it.

Brut Prestige blends 60% Pinot Blanc with equal proportions of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with no malo again, and 5g/l dosage. Longer lees ageing (up to 30 months for each year, but at least 24), but very fresh. All of these wines will drink well now, which is how André likes them, young and fresh.

Cuvée Prestige is the same wine as above, but with a minimum of 30 months in bottle on lees, and bottled in magnum. This one had undergone malolactic, and was disgorged in November 2016. It was the most impressive wine so far, and one of my favourites on the day.

 

Célène, Crémant de Bordeaux, Haux (Entre-Deaux-Mers)

Célène has been making sparkling wine in Bordeaux since 1947, a fact which might surprise those who have little idea Bordeaux even had a sparkling wine industry. And Célène make a lot of wine – 1.3 million bottles a year. There are two ranges, going under the “Ballarin” and “Célène” labels.

Several of the wines contain Semillon, which, counter-intuitively perhaps, makes for quite an interesting flavour profile. Ballarin Noble Cuvée blends Semillon with Muscadelle and Cabernet Franc (vinified white). The oddly named Black Pearl White Brut blends the same varieties, but with a bit more precision and freshness.

A couple of other wines proved equally interesting. Célène Saphir Rosé is 85% Cabernet Franc plus Merlot. The finish had quite a nice bitter touch. I preferred it to Perlance Brut Méthode Traditionelle, blending Colombard and Sauvignon Blanc. Just nine months on lees and dosed at 10g/l, this would make a decent aperitif if well priced.

The most interesting wine was Célène Opale Blanc de Blancs Crémant de Bordeaux, a blend of 60% Semillon, 30% Muscadelle and 10% Sauvignon Blanc. This gets 12 months ageing on lees in the company’s cold underground galleries. Quite delicate and floral on the nose, there are exotic fruits on the palate, and plenty of lingering flavour. It makes a nice point of difference to the many Crémants made from the traditional Champagne varieties.

IMG_2974

 

Moutard-Diligent, Crémant de Bourgogne

Moutard will not be unknown to Champagne drinkers. They are one of the producers from the Côte des Bar (Aube), which by coincidence is just across the regional border north of Chablis/Irancy. They have been making still wines from those appellations for some years, but only started producing Crémant de Bourgogne, from vineyards around Tonnerre, since 2015, so this is a new venture. The wines are only just on the market this year.

There were six wines on show, all well made and showing the expertise of a well regarded Champagne House. There’s a Brut, Brut Nature with zero dosage, a cuvée vinified in oak, a Brut Rosé from Pinot Noir, and a 3 Cépages cuvée (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Aligoté).

Of the six, the most interesting, though certainly the most expensive one would assume, is the cuvée Les Vignoles. This is from a selected parcel, or lieu-dit, a plot at Molosmes, just east of Epineuil. 100% Chardonnay, there’s more complexity. The fruit is citrus, with some tropical flavours, but overall there’s a nice line of fresh acidity. With a touch more presence than the other wines, this will certainly accompany food – paté to seafood and (as Moutard suggest) sushi. It will be interesting to see how they price this one.

 

Veuve Ambal, Crémant de Bourgogne

This company is the largest producer of Crémant de Bourgogne (they make 40% of the AOP), based in the Côte Chalonnaise, at Rully. They have been operating for more than a century, and are also responsible for the still Burgundies of André Delorme.

There were several sparkling wines on show, but they were showcasing a new “product”, Veuve Ambal Expression. It’s a Crémant de Bourgogne with a “random bottle design”, so that the pattern on every bottle is different. Now one could be cynical about all that, but to be fair the wine tastes fine, no, more than fine. The blend is 90% Pinot Noir with the addition of Gamay. Dosed at a friendly 11 g/l, it has plenty of fruit on the nose and it’s not all that dry (to a Champagne drinker). You’d call it a crowd pleaser, and if that, along with the bottle design, encourages novices to try a Crémant de Bourgogne, that is a good thing.

Maude Metin, who was on the stand, told me she thought it would retail around £15. If she’s right, they may have the potential for success. Too much more and I think you are getting into territory where people want something a bit more serious, where the colourful bottle could be a hindrance.

 

Victorine de Chastenay, Crémant de Bourgogne, Beaune

This Crémant House is part of the La Chablisienne Group, but has made around 6,000 h/l of sparkling wines since 1995. The three basic cuvées are all well made (BrutRosé and Blanc de Blancs). These are wines which will provide satisfaction for someone wanting well made fizz without the expectation of complexity.

The two Vintage bottlings are a step up. Blending Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. 2011 was served in magnum, and had some complexity. It’s surrounded by the typically florid marketing you expect from these larger producers, who no doubt have the budget to pay marketing companies. The language doesn’t always translate well for the British market. But it’s the wines which matter in the end, and this magnum, with an extra year of age (over the 2012), was very good. Another example of the magnum effect.

The 2012, less complex than the 2011, was nevertheless fresh and attractive. As a range, these wines were all attractive for what they are. The Vintage 2011 in magnum vied with the Moutard Vignolles as my favourite of the Crémants de Bourgogne.

 

La Compagnie de Burgondie, Crémant de Bourgogne

This grouping comprises the Caves Bailly-Lapierre (for Crémant), Vignerons de Buxy (Côte Chalonnaise still wines) and AVB (Beaujolais). Rully claims to be the birthplace of the Crémant de Bourgogne AOC.

Bailly-Lapierre showed four non-vintage Crémants. The best of these is labelled Chardonnay. This bottling gets an extended three years ageing, and can quite rightly boast of its finesse.

The white Vintage, made only in the best years, is made from the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at their disposal. I preferred the 2010 Rosé to the 2009 Blanc. It’s a nice salmon pink colour with good fruit. It sees three years on lees. Both are called “Vive-la-Joie. Pinot Noir Brut 2013 is much paler, with just a wink of colour from the press of the grapes. Served from magnum, the mousse and bead was subdued, but it had a nice vinosity.

 

Domaines Auriol, Crémant de Limoux

Domaines Auriol is owned by the Vialade-Salvagnac family, but they make wine all over the South of France, at a number of estates. Their Limoux wines come under the Maison Vialade label, but are made at an estate called Terres Blanches, which the family acquired in the 1980s.

Crémant de Limoux is not one of the better known Crémants, but has an increasingly good reputation based on one or two up-and-coming estates. The terrain can be hilly and the best fruit is grown at elevation, benefiting from cooler night time temperatures. This version, 70% Chardonnay with 20% Chenin Blanc and 10% Mauzac, is very fruity but with an elegance which I’d put down to Limoux Chardonnay (which in the region’s best still white wines can be exceptional). The wine gets 15 months on lees and it has genuine character.

Auriol were the only people to sneak in some still wines. I couldn’t resist trying two unusual IGP Aude wines, a white Albariño and a red Marselan under the “Jardin des Vignes Rares de Ciceron” label. The Albariño had a lovely nose and was a good example of an easy drinking version of the Galician grape. The Marselan (a Grenache-Cabernet Franc cross) was purple in colour with sappy fruit. Both good gluggers.

 

Ackerman, Crémant de Loire, Saumur

Ackerman began life in 1811, so they have a history comparable to many of the Champagne Houses. They also own 366 hectares of vineyard. So their importance to the Loire economy cannot be underestimated. They specialise in both Crémant de Loire and sparkling Saumur, which has its own AOP,  with a different (mainly Chenin Blanc) grape mix, and its own regulations on yields etc.

Of the several Crémant de Loire cuvées on show, Cuvée 1811 Brut Rosé was one of my two favourites. The grape blend is unusual for a pink sparkler, being Cabernet Franc with Grolleau. Fifteen months on lees gives a wine with elegant red fruits on the nose, and ripe fruits on the palate.

Crémant de Loire Cuvée Louis-Ferdinand Brut 2013 is a special prestige cuvée. Just 3,000 bottles were produced of the 2013, and the liqueur for dosage is the sweet Coteaux de Layon. Three years on lees gives a buttery, toasty wine of some elegance. Very interesting.

As was the magnum offering from Ackerman, X Noir Brut Rosé, made with the Pineau d’Aunis variety. Very aromatic with red fruits, definitely a wine to pair with food (fish or fowl).

Ackerman may be large but they are not scared to experiment. Saumur L’Esprit Nature Brut is made from Chenin Blanc, 12 months sur lattes, it’s pale gold in colour, fresh, fruity…and has no added sulphur. A creditable experiment which I hope succeeds.

 

Caves de Grenelle, Crémant de Loire, Saumur

Slightly younger than Ackerman, but nevertheless founded in 1859, it does remind us that sparkling winemaking in the tufa caves of Saumur goes back a long way. Another seven cuvées were on show, and this House is making nice wines, most with a lifted, floral character, from the fairly easy going Cuvée Si made by a variation on the Méthode Ancestrale (with just three weeks on lees), to the more complex Cuvée 3/7.7.4.

That strangely named cuvée is made from three grapes: 7 parts Pinot Noir, 7 parts Cabernet Franc and 4 parts Pineau d’Aunis (which explains the name). It’s a Blanc de Noirs. They call it “chiselled”, with reason. There’s red and stone fruits, with a nice berry nose. Pretty, elegant, and savoury on the finish, it probably needs six months to settle but I think it will be impressive. I liked it, anyway.

 

If I want to make a couple of conclusion, I think they would be first, as I said at the beginning, these wines need to be assessed on their own merits, not as some kind of second class Champagnes. But equally, whilst those made using some of the traditional grape varieties of the Champagne region can be very nice, don’t be put off trying some of the interesting wines made using other varieties. Each company at this Tasting produced at least one wine, and in most cases more than one wine, which I think even a reasonably fussy wine aficionado would enjoy.

Many of the producers above are still looking for a UK importer. For further information, contact Business France.

 

 

Posted in Burgundy, Loire, Sparkling Wine, Wine, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Return to the Vaults Part 4 – Howard Ripley

In this final part of my article on March 2017’s Vaults Tasting I want to concentrate on the wines of Peter (Florian) Lauer, imported by Howard Ripley, but of course there were some other wines I had to try among the many crowding their table, one or two of which will merit a mention.

Weingut Peter Lauer is now under the management (since 2005) of Florian Lauer, and he was on hand to pour. I’ve been a very big fan of his wines for a few years, and I was thrilled to meet him. His estate, at Ayl in the Saar, is producing a range of some of the finest wines currently coming out of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer.

This might seem a step change from the “natural wines” I’ve been largely writing about in Parts 1 to 3, but I try to attend all of Howard Ripley’s German Tastings. For me, sulphur or no sulphur, German Rieslings are among the purest tasting wines on the planet.

In his 2012 book The Finest Wines of Germany, Stephan Reinhardt calls the wines from this estate “some of the finest, most classic Rieslings in Germany: pure, precise, piquant, racy, mineral and chiselled, but also ripe”. After that, you won’t require any tasting notes from me. It does encapsulate what Florian’s wines are all about.

One of Florian’s secrets is the estate’s sparkling wines. By law they are Sekt, by style they are Riesling Crémants. The very well priced NV has three years on lees (for a French Crémant you’d expect 12 months, maybe 18). It’s very good, of course, and I recommend it wholeheartedly, but for double the price (somewhere over £40) you can buy a Vintage 1991 or 1992. Whilst the 1991 (disgorged 2015, not on taste last Monday) is a softer wine, 1992 is bottled with no dosage. This wine is little short of amazing. It has had 24 years (years, not months) on lees in bottle, and has aromas of nuts, spice and salt. It’s dry, the acidity is a pure rapier thrust (gets to the heart without tearing), and it sits there, complexity building as it warms.

Apparently these vintages, made by Florian’s father, were discovered in the Lauer cellars, and Florian has released them, all 3,000 bottles, into the world. In my next article, by coincidence, I’ll be writing about French Crémant, and suggesting that it is probably unfair and unnecessary to compare the genre to Champagne. But this wine is for lovers of the finest Champagne, just so long as zero dosage Champagnes don’t upset you. If you can get just one bottle!

At the lower end of the Peter Lauer portfolio there is a Saar Riesling Fass 16, here shown in the 2015 vintage. Michael Schmidt, writing on Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages, wrote in May last year that 2015 might be the real deal, the “vintage of the century”, and in such years the so-called lesser wines from the best estates invariably provide a lot more pleasure than their relatively modest prices might suggest. This might be a “basic dry Riesling” but here you are still getting a wine from the steep slopes of Ayl. It comes in at around the £15 mark all in, but the smart drinker will opt for magnums at little more than double that.

Kupp Fass 18 Riesling GG 2013 is the dry “Grand Cru”. It comes from part of the famous (or is it infamous) Ayler-Kupp vineyard, near Biebelhausen. This has rich fruit but is mineral driven. It shows the finer side of the Grosses Gewächs, that balance between ripe fruit and Riesling’s taut steel line. Great length already, but it will improve over a decade.

Schonfels Fass 11 Riesling GG 2012 is also from site which is part of Ayler-Kupp, sadly subsumed by the 1971 Wine Law. It’s a smaller site than the Kupp, the fruit is a little richer and there’s a touch of spice. But there’s a lightness too, and it often drinks earlier. Yet the vines here are 100 years old and yields are low. Neither are wines for the uninitiated, nor perhaps those who prefer Germany’s Prädikatswein, but their complexity repays those who come to love them.

But do not worry if the Prädikats route is your preference. Florian is a fan of these wines too, especially at Kabinett level. Ayler Kupp Fass 8 Riesling Kabinett 2013 has everything you want from a Kab. Elegance, freshness, minerality (or whatever you prefer to call it), plus a touch of sweetness. That sweetness comes on the mid-palate. The finish is dry. It’s so good, truly. At 7.5% abv you have to restrain yourself. I know, I bought some in Germany and it won’t last this summer, fact.

IMG_2946

 

Now for the other wines I want to mention. Perhaps you’ve read my articles on previous Howard Ripley German Tastings (usually held twice a year in the Hall of one of Legal London’s Inns of Court), so you know that I’m more partial than many for German reds. One producer I’m consistently buying, albeit just odd bottles, is Ziereisen.

Weingut Ziereisen can be found down in the south of the Baden wine region, almost at the gates of Basel, at Efringen-Kirchen. Their vineyards are protected by the the Vosges Mountains of Alsace and the Black Forest. The micro-climate is therefore warm, but is ventilated by the Belfort Gap, to the west at the bottom of the Vosges, which means that growing black grapes is not as risky as you might think.

Whilst Ziereisen is well know for its reds, the first wine I tasted, true to form, was their Gutedel “Heugumber” 2015. Gutedel is none other than France and Switzerland’s Chasselas variety, of which I’ve written a fair bit in the past month or so. This may not light the fire of the average Mosel aficionado, but it’s a nice dry white, perfect as an aperitif, maybe with a bowl of salted nuts, or with cheese dishes. It has a bit more presence and a little less acidity than many examples from the French speaking regions, and in fact their top Gutedel bottling, Steingrüble, spends almost a year on lees.

 

Ziereisen grow a fair bit of Pinot Noir, but if you wish to go right off-piste with them, you have to try one of their Syrahs. Jaspis is the impressive top bottling, and it is the one I know best. But if you prefer to go in a rung below, around Burgundy Premier Cru in terms of price, then Syrah “Gestad” 2012 won’t disappoint.

The vines are younger here (Jaspis is old vines, but both are grown on a barren, steep, limestone vineyard with high density planting). Ageing is in oak (25% new). There’s still scope for more ageing in bottle, but this is very good. I know not many will go right out and buy a German Syrah (the Germans lap these up, anyway, so some might think the price is quite steep for the quality), but do try to taste them if you can. The Jaspis Pinot Noir Old Vines cuvée is pretty damn good too.

 

Before tasting the reds, I tried several other Rieslings from estates which you would almost buy blind – Schäfer Fröhlich (Felsenberg GG), PJ Kuhn (Rheinschiefer) and Zilliken (Saarburger Rausch) in particular, but as the Howard Ripley tag says, “We like Riesling – and when that runs out we drink Burgundy”. There is one particular Burgundian grape which has always been a little unfashionable, perhaps the Gutedel of the region, Aligoté. It really seems to be making a comeback, not doubt because Burgundian Chardonnay is so expensive now, but also because in some cases yields have been lowered and the acidity tamed.

IMG_2949

There has always been very good Aligoté. I don’t just mean Coche-Dury’s marvel (if you age it), or Aubert de Villaine’s Bouzeron. Goisot, at Saint-Bris, have always made a super version, and people as diverse as Alice and Olivier De Moor in Courgis (Chablis, but they have Aligoté at Saint-Bris) and Sylvain Pataille (single vineyard versions from Marsannay/Fixin) are really creating a stir with the grape. It seems to have a new lease of life.

I’m trying every Aligoté I can, and Howard Ripley import Jérôme Castagnier Aligoté 2015. The domaine is in Morey-St-Denis, but has vines in Gevrey and Chambolle too, including  parcels in Charmes-Chambertin and Clos-St-Denis. This relatively modestly priced Aligoté is very nice, without the acidity one came to expect of old (Aligoté really did only seem fit as the base for a Kir at one time). It even has a bit of texture from two months on lees. You’ll pick this up for under £20, if you want to explore the grape further, especially as the Goisots seem to have no wine to sell right now, and it’s a lucky man (or lady) who can source a few bottles of De Moor.

IMG_2950

 

Before finally signing off from this marathon that was The Vaults VI, I should mention that there are always a few purveyors of other victuals on hand. Androuet were there with a table of very fine cheeses, as befits their status as one of London’s top cheesemongers, Urban Farmhouse were there, showing their sour and farmhouse beers, and so was The Charcuterie Board, who wholesale and retail fine British cured meats (also representing Moons Green and Native Breeds, two of the UK’s foremost charcuteries).

If you are a member of the Trade, or Press, do try to devote some time to The Vaults next time they are showing. It’s one of the best wine gigs in town for the sheer variety of wine we get to taste. But guys, try not to hog the tables and give others a chance to taste.

 

Posted in German Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment