Recent Wines December 2020 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

There’s a strange feel to writing about the wines we drank at home during December. Looking back on the first ten bottles, which will comprise Part 1, it seems so long ago that I drank them, more so than usual. I think that must be because we hibernated during Christmas Week, and waking up today, almost the whole of last year seems like some surreal dream. Yet wine was a constant, and looking back on the notes I took on these bottles, I was certainly blessed to drink some very good wines. Some unusual ones too, but perhaps that’s no surprise.

We have here two Spanish wines, two Swiss, a Champagne and a Jura, a rather miraculous “natural” Bordeaux, and bottles from Slovenia, Germany and Austria. I would not say each of these wines is on the same level, but six or seven of them would sit well alongside anything I drank in 2020, and every bottle here would, as always, be thoroughly enjoyed by any adventurous drinker.

LA BOTA DE FLORPOWER 84 (MMXVI), EQUIPO NAVAZOS (Sanlúcar, Spain)

“Florpower 84” is a 2016 Palomino table wine aged under flor for 19 months, eight months in Sherry casks and the remaining 11 months in stainless steel vat (therefore bottled in 2018). The grapes were harvested from the chalky albariza soils of the Pago de Miraflores “La Baja” (the best plot in this vineyard) at Sanlúcar. This was, I think, the fifth bottling of Florpower and it has been bottled with a bit shorter period under flor than previously. The idea was to express freshness and the specific terroir rather than emphasise the biological ageing.

The first thing you notice on the nose is the purest, clean, lemon citrus. The palate has a mineral structure and beautiful salinity, and the finish has a gentle chalky texture. There’s an odd resemblance here to a new-born Chablis, at least to my palate. Although I had obviously kept this a couple of years from purchase, I won’t worry about keeping the one remaining bottle of 84 until warmer weather comes along. It’s still fresh, but has perhaps gained a little complexity.

Equipo Navazos is distributed in the UK by Alliance Wine.

AMIGNE DE VÉTROZ GRAND CRU 2017, JEAN-RENÉ GERMANIER (Valais, Switzerland)

This is an old estate, established in 1896 at Vétroz, just past Sion, towards the western end of the Rhône Valley before it turns north, at Martigny. In the 1990s Jean-René Germanier (the founder’s grandson) along with his young nephew, Gilles Besse, took the estate towards the top of the region’s producers, with a shift to quality over quantity.

Vétroz just happens to be the village where you will find in decent quantity one of the rare high-quality grapes of the Valais, Amigne. In some ways it is the lost variety of the region, because there just isn’t enough Amigne to allow it the profile of, say, Petite Arvine, or Cornalin. You don’t see it often, and this is one reason why I’ve not drunk any for years.

The vineyards here are black schist, all crumbled slate, and on the specific steep site where this wine derives, called “Balavaud”, the slate is interspersed with glacial moraine. When the biodynamically grown grapes are harvested they are, perhaps a surprise, vinified in amphora. The result is remarkably good, a clean but textured mountain wine which has both fresh acidity, yet at the same time a beautiful weight (alcohol does strike 14% but don’t let that put you off), with balanced herbal and mineral notes. It’s a reminder to make sure I don’t go anywhere near as long before drinking another.

I should add that Germanier/Besse are equally as good with other autochthonous varieties (especially Cornalin and Heida), and with international varieties like Pinot Noir and Syrah. I’m a fan of the long-lived Cayas Syrah, but I think this Amigne is now my favourite wine from this excellent estate.

The UK importer is, in this case, Alpine Wines.

CHAMPAGNE CHARLES DUFOUR « BULLES DE COMPTOIR #7 » (Côtes des Bar, France)

Charles set up his own estate at Landreville based on the 6 hectares of vines he retained from the Robert Dufour estate when it was split up in 2010. Since then, he has very quickly established a mega-reputation among lovers of Grower Champagne which has thus far luckily outstripped his prices. So Bulles de Comptoir, his main line, remains under £40, occasionally, making it one of the best values you can find in this sector.

This version #7 is a blend of biodynamic Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and unusually, some Pinot Blanc, the latter a parcel of old vines (60 years plus) perhaps rarely found yet not unknown down in the Aube. The vintage is 2016, but these grapes are blended with those from a reserve perpetuelle (a bit like a solera) from vintages 2010 to 2015. Tirage was in November 2017, disgorged March 2019. It is bottled extra-brut (around 3g/l dosage).

The result is lively, vibrant, truly alive…this is the real plus for this particular Champagne. That said, it doesn’t lack for depth, the reserve making all the difference, but perhaps the extra bottle age as well. One expert described Bulles de Comptoir online as “fancy Champagne for people who know”, and you cannot disagree, especially in terms of value for money. I think the current release available will now be #8 (based on 2017), which I haven’t tried but will have no hesitation in doing so.

I admit I’m not sure where I bought this. Checked the usual suspects but no luck. If anyone knows, please add a comment.

POTION MAGIQUE VIN DE FRANCE [2018], DOMAINE L’OCTAVIN (Jura, France)

Some wines live up to their name. For me, a magic potion is not necessarily going to be complex, but it should be transformative. Here, the Queen of Arbois blends 40% Poulsard, 40% Chardonnay and 20% Savagnin, all from the Mailloche vineyard, past the western edge edge of the town. Picked in September, so quite early, the fruit was destemmed and placed in cuve for seven months on skins. The result is totally unique. The colour is, what, pale red, orange, pink, indeed all of these together depending on how you hold the glass. On the palate it tastes like a blend of blood orange and quince.

I won’t lie, the wonderful labels Alice sticks on her newer wines, especially the ever-widening number of negoce cuvées, are an attraction in themselves. But you will be hard pressed to find more enervating juice coming out of the back streets of Arbois. I truly cannot wait to go back for another visit, if she’ll have me. All the wines Alice makes are perhaps unusual, but certainly magical.

L’Octavin is imported into the UK by Tutto Wines.

BOBAL TINAJA 2017, BODEGAS GRATIAS (Manchuela, Spain)

This is the second wine I’ve tried from this family bodega in the wilds of Manchuela. The first was back in March 2020, a wine called “Arroba” made from the obscure Pintaillo variety. It was all herbs and raspberries, a skin contact red which made my nose prick up. It was one of just 560 bottles made. Nine moths later I get round to trying their Bobal, perhaps an ever so slightly better known grape, but still well within the mission of the bodega to protect anything local and traditional in their vineyards. These really are very old bush vines, growing low on clay soils with a high lime content. Bobal is the main variety grown at Gratias.

This is a zero-intervention wine, the grapes being placed into small clay tinajas to ferment. We may think of Sicily, or the Slovenian-Italian border, for “amphora” wines, yet Spain and Portugal have just as vibrant a tradition, which is once more being revived, by the natural wine producers in particular. You don’t often get fruit presence like this out of clay, but there’s a packed mouthful of cherry on first swig. Then comes something contrasting, deep and natural liquorice. It adds a dark side, enhanced by the tiny touch of burnt sugar on a dry finish. It’s both deep and delicious, another 14% abv wine which does not lack subtlety.

This is imported by Alliance Wine, my bottles being bought at The Solent Cellar.

“MIRACLE” 2018, OSAMU UCHIDA (Bordeaux, France)

Sometimes you taste a wine but wait a long time to buy a bottle. I met Osamu and his wife at a rather wonderful tasting called “Bordeaux : The Risk-Takers” put on by Vine Trail (at Carousel off Baker Street) in March 2019. I tasted the two Uchida wines on show and was massively impressed (perhaps even an understatement). It took me until autumn 2020 to buy a bottle.

Uchida farms a mere six tenths of a hectare, hidden away, surrounded by trees, in the Haut-Médoc appellation, yet remarkably close to Mouton-Rothschild. All the vines are Cabernet Sauvignon and are at least 30-years old. Farming is naturally biodynamic. Vinification uses hand-destemmed whole berries. Ageing is in a single 500-litre old oak cask where it rests for twelve months before bottling, by hand, no fining/filtration and just a tiny bit of sulphur added.

In some ways there’s a real “new world” side to this Cabernet. It’s very fresh indeed. The fruit is cranberry and blueberry, with a touch of blackcurrant emerging later. It has a touch of smokiness and/or black pepper spice which seasons it. Yet it doesn’t show the weight of most “New World” Cabs (though it does register 13% abv). It’s clean and alive and very much hand-crafted, it’s easy to tell that.

Uchida is perhaps a visionary, a special guy truly in tune with his tiny vineyard. Originally from Hiroshima, he visited around three-hundred domaines to learn about wine. It seems almost perverse that he ended up in Bordeaux, but it has given us the opportunity to taste Bordeaux of a very different kind, one which is slowly emerging from the structured new oak and “gobs of fruit” of the Parker era. I was smitten back in 2019 and I was twice-smitten last month. One thing I’d pondered on though, at that tasting. Osamu reckoned this wine (well, the 2016 vintage) retailed around £26, which made me wonder how he could make any money. Perhaps reassuringly I had to pay £45 for the 2018, but I have no regrets whatsoever. It’s possible you may not love this like I did, but you never know until you try it.

Vine Trail is the importer whose tasting I had attended in 2019, where I got my first taste, but the bottle reviewed here came from littlewine.co.

“JANKOT” 2018, STEKAR 1672 (Goriska Brda, Slovenia)

The name is a play on “Tokay”, the grape we now call Friulano, and Janko Stekar, who along with his wife, Tamara, runs the Stekar 1672 estate, founded, you guessed it… The vineyards are situated mid-way between the Slovenian (or Pre-Julian) Alps and the Adriatic Sea, within the region of Goriska Brda at a town called Kojsko. These are pre-Alpine vineyards, and pretty steep. The Stekar family farm seven hectares of vines, on a mixed cultivation farm about twice that size.

Most readers will probably know that Friulano is very much a favoured variety for skin contact wines, and that’s what this is. What really struck me here, though, was that alongside the textural platform you get from the maceration, amazing amounts of tropical fruit come through. It’s actually easy to drink, aided by the fresh acidity, yet there’s a tension between the texture and the fruit which means you’d be unlikely to mistake it for New World. In fact, it’s quite typical of the fascinating wines coming out of Slovenia now. At just 12.5% abv it has a food-friendly demeanour but nothing too heavy. The skin contact side is there but restrained, at least compared to some Friulano orange wines. It is quite gorgeous.

Imported by Basket Press Wines.

ESCHENDORFER FÜRSTENBERG MÜLLER-THURGAU “S” 2019, HORST SAUER (Franken, Germany)

I used to buy Horst Sauer wines, many years ago, but always Silvaner. This was always considered the classic estate for Silvaner in Franken, especially the wines from Eschendorf’s Lump site. Though Horst (now joined in managing the domain by daughter Sandra) is usually seen in smart attire when on the road, he’s a farmer at heart and the enduring success of this estate is down to the vines. This perhaps pertains especially to the much-maligned Müller-Thurgau variety, demonised through the cheap süssed-up wines of the 1970s.

Actually, Sauer calls Müller-Thurgau a “renaissance grape variety”, and it is indeed undergoing something of a renaissance in Germany, even if the mainstream is yet to rediscover it. The key to the success of this wine is first of all, old vines. Forty years and over here. Next is, of course, site. The vines may not be on the famous Eschendorfer Lump, but Fürstenberg is just next to it, facing east, and as the name suggests, is certainly not a flat site, but in fact a VDP Erste Läge.

There are many exciting natural wine M-T cuvées on the market but if you give this a go I think you’ll see how classical the grape can be with the right care. Both floral and vinous, the palate of what is undoubtedly a young wine is slightly spritzig (lively, tangy, with miniscule bubbles of CO2 yet not sparkling). The acids are reasonably pronounced but there is a slightly evasive touch of richness which might grow with age. It’s certainly a wine with a mineral backbone that may put on some flesh in the cellar. It reminds me, more than any other German wine, of Switzerland, for some reason. No pun or psychological connection to Thurgau intended. It also tastes more like an 11% wine than one showing 13%.

Going back to cellaring (you can cellar it for sure, but if I buy it again I’ll probably guzzle it), the Bocksbeutel flask in which this comes is a real pain to stack – it won’t fit in the rack, though as many now come sealed under screwcap they will happily stand on the floor. Anyway, I’d hate to see this traditional bottle phased out. Despite the propensity of family members to say “what’s that, Mateus Rosé?”. Come to think of it, should’ve saved the bottle for a candle. Fittingly, perhaps, Weingut Horst Sauer is on Bocksbeutel Strasse, in Eschendorf.

Purchased from Butlers Wine Cellar, Brighton.

SYRAH “CHAMOSON” 2009, SIMON MAYE & FILS (Valais, Switzerland)

If Switzerland’s Rhône Valley gives us a plethora of autochthonous grape varieties of real value, it also produces some very fine wines from French grapes. Certainly, there’s world class Pinot Noir from the Mercier family at Sierre, but perhaps we can find rather more fine Syrah, after all, the grape of the Rhône. One of the top producers of Valais Syrah is Simon Maye & Fils, based at St-Pierre-de-Clages. It is Simon’s sons Axel and Jean-François who farm the famous vineyards of Chamoson today, recently joined by their son/nephew, Raphäel.

The estate is relatively large for the region, 12 hectares, and the Maye range is equally extended. I’m a fan of their Humagne Rouge, but the Syrahs are the most highly regarded. What is interesting is that there is a Vieilles Vignes bottling, but this cuvée we are discussing is the “regular” one. Nevertheless, they are both capable of a long life, and this 2009 was on cracking form.

At first, you’d say it is structured (though not so much “tannic” at this stage) but the fruit is slick, smooth and smoky. I find a kind of smokiness in many Valais Syrahs, which don’t always seem to develop that bacon note you get in the French Rhône’s classic Syrah terroirs. You might place this as a good Côte-Rôtie in a younger vintage, but the way it develops is quite different.

This bottle was purchased from Alpine Wines, though it is not currently listed among the several Simon Maye cuvées they do bring in.

PERSPEKTIVE ROT 2017, WEINGUT KOPPITSCH (Burgenland, Austria)

After drinking this bottle my cellar is completely empty of wines from this producer based at Neusiedl-am-See, at the top end of the lake. This is the first time I have to say that in two or three years, and I’m quite sad. You see, the wide world of wine is full of fantastic wines, and it’s also pretty well stocked with fantastic people. But the Koppitsch family are among the warmest and most friendly people I’ve met, from what is almost certainly about the friendliest wine region in Europe. That sadness was probably made worse because they were undoubtedly one of maybe a dozen or so producers in Europe which I’d pencilled in to visit during 2020.

Perspektive Rot is all about limestone. The blend is 70% Blaufränkisch, which we know adores the limestone terroir of the Leithaberg Range, 20% Sankt-Laurent and 10% Syrah. The vines are on a prime rocky site called Neuberg, northwest of Neusiedl, part of that Leithaberg Range (which I can never bring myself to call mountains). The limestone soils are scattered with pockets of schist, and this mixture can produce some very lively red wines up here.

Limestone-grown Blaufränkisch always seems to have a mineral backbone, but perhaps the sinews are stiffened by the schist (think St-Laurent in a similar context to slate-grown German Spätburgunder). Freshness is there as well, a common and sometimes giveaway as to what’s in the glass.

The fruit was 90% destemmed and then pressed manually into barriques after thirteen days. The wine saw 22 months maturing on gross lees, post-fermentation. Nothing was added, not even sulphur. The result is gloriously pure-fruited with a hint of wood smoke. It will age further, as its tannins attest, but they are gentle tannins and this 2017 tastes lovely as a reasonably young wine.

This can be sourced from Fresh Wines of Kinross, Scotland, by mail order/online. They usually have a fairly small selection from Koppitsch, but all the wines are good (and I believe new vintages have arrived). Those with the newer colourful labels are full of glouglou goodness, whilst the Perspektive wines and the Reserves will age.

Jascots is also a potential source in England for Koppitsch, but note that their online shop lists just three (somewhat older) 2016 cuvées at the less expensive end of the range now. The wines are fairly easy to find in Austria, but they are one of the poorest represented in the UK (in terms of availability) out of all the exciting producers bordering the Neusiedlersee.

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Review of the Year 2020

Well indeed, what a year 2020 has been! Like no other, for sure. But although everyone involved in the world of wine has experienced life in different ways, wine is still there, and has given us all immense pleasure, a snapshot of which was provided by a dozen friends in wine in my last article. So, of necessity my annual review of the preceding year is bound to be a little different. That said, 2020 provided enough highs to write about, and as I sign off for the year with the hope that 2021 brings more of a return to our wine normality, principally wine travel, trade tastings and lots of companionship, let us take a page or two to celebrate the best “winey” things from the past twelve months.

If you’d have asked me how my blog was going in April or May, I might have said it looks as if I hit my peak readership in 2019, yet for some reason readership picked up again in the second half of the year and, as I begin this article on 16 December, I have already topped last year’s readership by a little more than a thousand. So, whilst an increase of maybe 3,000 on last year (currently running at a little over 1,000 a week) may be modest, you can’t imagine how motivating it is to still be climbing the mountain.

What is worth mentioning is that so far during 2020 I’ve been read in 114 countries (three new ones added in the past fortnight). Only around half my readership (19.3k) were in the UK, with the USA, France, Canada, Australia, Germany, Switzerland and a number of other European countries following in our wake. But I’m very pleased to see so many other nations represented, and I’ve often wondered who my two readers in the Vatican City might be. One never knows.

In 2020 I managed to publish sixty-four articles, and before I move away from all this statistical nonsense, I thought I would list the twelve most popular, for they make interesting reading in considering what people find attracts them to Wideworldofwine.

These dozen were articles (from most popular down) on Victoria Torres Pecis (yes, this has been the most popular article of the year, “The New Star of the Canaries”); extreme viticulture in Nepal; unicorn wines (maybe Fifty Shades of Unicorn was an enticing title?); Pieter Walser’s Blank Bottle Winery; on Tongba, a Tibetan/Nepalese experience made from fermented millet grain; unusual grape varieties; Bindi Wines (producer of the most sensational wines I tasted in Australia in 2019); another article on Nepal (A Month of Drinking Differently); then come two articles on Gut Oggau and Rennersistas in Burgenland; on the Durrmann family in Andlau (Alsace); then finally a tourist guide to Arbois and the Jura for wine lovers.

This year has not been packed with big trade tastings, interesting wine dinners and lunches, and visits to see producers. On that note I had to forego visits to Austria, Alsace, Jura and again to Australia, along with my annual trip to Nepal and a much hoped-for return visit to the vineyards of Nagano in Japan. These trips, tastings and dinners have, in the past, made up the bulk of my writing, along with my monthly round-up of “recent wines” drunk at home.

So, 2020 in many ways forced me to think on a wider horizon. The focus changed from tasting to dreaming. Plenty of vicarious wine travel seemed to hit the spot, and other articles which seem to have had a lot of hits, especially in the final quarter of 2020, have included those on the wine regions such as Burgenland, Aveyron and Bugey. The title of my site perhaps hints strongly at how wide my horizon is, but it is inspiring to think that others are equally interested in something more than just the classics, though I in no way denigrate those regions.

The year began, as you may remember if you allow yourself to cast your mind back that far, with a number of exceptional events before the Lockdowns began. In January we had the Bogans in London (Haisma, Le Grappin and Eyre) and a great Nekter Wines tasting at The Ten Cases, not to mention another Wines of Hampshire event at 67 Pall Mall, showing the strides made yet again by some of England’s finest sparkling wine makers.

Two major tastings took place in quick succession at the end of January and late February, namely Dynamic Vines at their Bermondsey HQ, and Viñateros in the Royal Agricultural Halls in London’s Victoria. Both were sensational, and little did I know that as we headed off to Tromso in a bid (successful) to see the Northern Lights in mid-February, they would be the last large-scale tastings I was to attend this year.

Pascal Clairet (Dom. de la Tournelle) at Dynamic Vines

We came back to what also turned out to be two exceptional dining experiences, the last for the remainder of 2020. The first was the annual trip to The Sportsman at Seasalter on the North Kent coast, which although it has become a regular jaunt with similarly open-minded wine buddies, involving far too much time spent on trains and in taxis (and too much wine if I’m honest), remains a genuine treat every time. The food is hard to beat, perhaps only The Ledbury in London equalling the experience in all my years of dining in the UK.

We had begun 2020 on New Year’s Eve, dining at Wild Flor down in Hove, a quality neighbourhood restaurant which truly specialises in the kind of wines, admittedly mostly of a more classical bent, which someone like me will appreciate. We dined there with a friend on the very night that the first English Lockdown was summarily announced (in fact I heard the news on the BBC as I was putting on my shoes and coat to head down). The team there provided a truly memorable, celebratory, evening that I shall not forget any time soon.

Although we are mostly talking wine here I ought to mention the best dish I ate at home. It was a mushroom wellington made with chestnuts and pecans, and do you know what? It was from a Moutard de Maille recipe, appearing as an ad on Instagram.

Throughout 2020 wine merchants were trying to keep connected with their customers in different ways, but none more so than the “Wine Zoom”. Now I won’t lie, nor pretend I’m the only one, who got totally “zoomed-out” in those early weeks of Lockdown. The problem was zooming wine in the day and facetiming family and friends in the evenings. I developed an allergy to screen talking which required a long mid-year detox to overcome. Yet those early Zooms provided some exceptional insights (though some were boring and some suffered from insuperable tech issues, not to mention the occasional feeling of embarrassment when you see the only other “attendee” drop off, leaving you alone with the broadcaster – it only happened the once).

Zooming with Newcomer Wines, one series I tried not to miss

The Zoom events helped me to focus on the best way to help a lot of small wine importers (and it remains so) – to buy wine from them. To those who received a mere six-bottle order from me, I’m sorry but I had to spread the love around. To those I purchased from more than once, what could you possibly have done to deserve such largesse, hey?

I will say that the necessity of creating a working interface with private customers for importers whose main business was previously with the “on-trade” resulted in the lucky consequence that we individuals were given the chance to buy wines which would normally end up in restaurants. Some of these wines would have been hidden away for the favoured few. I, for one, have really benefitted and snaffled a few unicorns. There’s still time. I know my “Time for Delivery” Insta-pics have received plenty of likes and hey, yes, I’m waiting for another delivery as I type (Modal Wines). You know, stockpiling before Brexit…

To take my eyes off the screen I’ve done a lot of reading (real books, for those still attracted to them), and some of that reading has been on wine. I have to say, 2020 has not seen as many wine books published as I would have wished, but almost all those I have read (not all published in 2020 of course) have been exceptional (well written, engaging, informative). I have most enjoyed Jamie Goode’s “Goode Wine Guide” (he does so love to prod the shiny buttons), Luis Gutiérez’s “New Vignerons”, and Alice Feiring’s book on Georgia, but my Wine Book of the Year Award for 2020 (although it was published in 2019) must be The Wines of Germany by Anne Krebiehl MW.

The “MW” is important, but not for the reasons you might think. I was aware of Anne when her MW dissertation on Spätburgunder earned her not only a big prize, but also the respect of all of us who have long fought the corner for Germany’s red wine terroirs. Add to that the fact that she understands Deutscher Sekt like no one else I know, and you have a voice for modern German Wine.

Actually, I do know one or two lovers of German Wines who have raised an eyebrow or two over a couple of omissions from her book (published in the Infinite Ideas Wine Library), but surely she easily makes up for these by having her finger on the pulse of German wine like no other writer today.  That she is a young woman is perhaps telling. She may not have quite the same perspective as I do (that is surely the MW thing, though having ended my wine education after my WSET Diploma, perhaps my view is somewhat skewed there), but she appreciates the transformation of German wine by the next generation in a way that perhaps more traditional pens cannot. She is happy to remove her MW hat (not that I’ve ever seen the fabled MW hat, nor the lapel pin either, though it exists) and show us pure unbridled passion for her subject. To combine knowledge with passion is, for me, the ultimate attraction in wine writing.

All I can say is that in all the forty years I have been enjoying good German wine, it has never been so exciting, and that of all the worthwhile voices currently writing on the subject, none excites me more than Anne Krebiehl’s.

Before talking actual wine, I think I must just mention two developments of 2020 which stand out for special recognition. Both new ventures are brave at this time, but both have proved thus far exceptional contributions to our passion.

The first is Littlewine, or littlewine.co. Littlewine was the brainchild of Christina Rasmussen, a wine journalist who also worked in Wine PR, and Daniela Pillhofer, who co-founded Austrian specialist Newcomer Wines with Peter Honneger in 2004. Littlewine is both an educational platform for wine knowledge focused on wines with soul and integrity, and an online bottle shop where one is able to sample such wines. The model is a subscription one (the “Backstage Pass”), but also with plenty of free content. The wines on sale, which change regularly and feature some of the finest and most innovative low intervention wines available in the UK, are exceptional too.

The second is Trink Magazine. Of course, I can’t be wholly objective here because since their launch late this year they have published my article on the market for German and Austrian wines in the UK. But the reason I think Trink Mag is important should be obvious to my readership. Its aim is to translate (often literally) a German-speaking perspective on the wines of the German-speaking regions of Europe (Austria, Germany, South Tyrol and German Switzerland/Deutscher Schweiz). Its founders are Valerie Kathawala (based in New York) and Paula Redes Sidore (based in Germany).

I have been a follower of Valerie’s writing for some time, and we share so many passions in wine, so I was naturally thrilled to become part of the Trinkmag story. Trink may of necessity move to a subscription model, at least in part, but I do recommend expanding your mind through its varied articles. The writers really are some of the best in their respective fields. If their “TrinkTalks” start up again online, I can assure you they are well worth checking out.

After a substantial couple of thousand words of waffle I do need to tell you about some of the astonishing wine experiences I’ve had this year. Like everyone who shares this passion, I have been drinking more and better at home. Each month I publish here (in two parts now) an article called “Recent Wines”, which I try to limit to sixteen wines a month. These are not meant to be “the best” I’ve drunk that month, but the most interesting. You won’t therefore read about every bottle in a six-pack, nor perhaps about too much DP and Comtes.

I cannot bring myself to award “Wine of the Year” in each category this time around. It would be unfair to the children of my cellar who have provided untold amounts of light in the darkness. It would be nice to think I could keep this “best of the best” list to twelve wines, but that ain’t gonna happen, is it! We start off with the wine I drank on New Year’s Day 2020, from a producer whose several wines consumed this year have raised him even further in my personal pantheon, and we end with, would you believe it, a Red Bordeaux (but not remotely as we know it). Remember, these wines are not points scorers, they are wines which inspired me.

  • Gewurztraminer “Demoiselle” 2016, Domaine Rietsch (Alsace)
  • Trossen Rot 2018, Rudolf & Rita Trossen (Mosel)
  • Gringet “Les Alpes” 2016, Domaine Belluard (Savoie)
  • Counoise “David Girard Vineyard” 2018, Keep Wines (Napa)
  • Mischkultur Gemischter Satz 2018, Joiseph (Burgenland)
  • “Superglitzer” Rot 2018, Rennersistas (Burgenland)
  • Pas à Pas Savagnin Rose MV, Domaine Rietsch (Alsace)
  • Eastern Accents 2018, Réka Koncz (Hungary)
  • Promised Land Riesling Brut Nature 2013, Charlie Herring Wines (Hampshire)
  • Chardonnay Rose Massale 2016, Stéphane Tissot (Jura)
  • Méga-Gamay Vin de France, Domaine L’Octavin (Jura)
  • Chianti Classico 2005, Castello di Ama (Tuscany)
  • Lorchäuser Seligmacher 2011, Eva Fricke (Rheingau)
  • Furmint “Aus dem Quarz Unfiltriert” 2018, Michael Wenzel (Burgenland)
  • Rakete 2018, Jutta Ambrositsch (Vienna)
  • Frankovka Modra Unplugged 2015, Magula (Slovakia)
  • Bierzo Godello “Cal” 2017, Veronica Ortega (Léon)
  • “So True” 2015, Patrice Beguet (Jura)
  • Devin 2018, Magula (Slovakia)
  • Ripken Vineyard Ciliegiolo 2018, Keep Wines (Napa)
  • Skin Fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2018, The Hermit Ram (North Canterbury)
  • Kortpad Kaaptoe 2016, Blank Bottle Winery (Swartland)
  • Poulsard “Sur Charrière” 2013, Domaine Labet (Jura)
  • Cœur de Cuvée 2003, Champagne Vilmart (Champagne)
  • Intergalactic White Blend 2019, Renner und Rennersistas (Burgenland)
  • ZBO (Zibibbo in Amphora) 2018, Brash Higgins (Riverland/McLaren Vale)
  • Fleurie « Chavot » 2014, Julie Balagny (Beaujolais)
  • Amigne de Vétroz Grand Cru 2017, Jean-René Germanier (Valais)
  • Bulles de Comptoir #7, Charles Dufour (Champagne)
  • Jankot 2018, Stekar 1672 (Slovenia)
  • Miracle 2018, Osamu Uchida (Haut-Médoc)

If there are awards to be made, I would really like to focus on just two young winemakers. The last thing I wish to sound is I any way patronising, but 2020 has had its dark side for wine. There have been several high-profile issues surrounding the treatment of women in various parts of the wine trade, several of a serious nature. Wine is unquestionably still dominated by older white males, and those of us who find this unacceptable must work for greater equality and transparency on matters including gender and race.

It is nevertheless reassuring that the past decade has seen not only an increase in the number of high-profile women winemakers (something I feel Austria has led the way on in many respects), but those women are, in so many cases, making the most exciting wines. Regular readers will know the women winemakers I have long admired, with an uncanny number working within a stone’s throw of Burgenland’s Neusiedlersee. But in 2020, following my discovery of Victoria Torres Pecis (La Palma, Canary Is) last year, I got to try the wines of Vernonica Ortega (Bierzo, via Indigo Wines) and Annamária Réka-Koncz (Eastern Hungary, via Basket Press Wines). You can currently try Veronica’s wines easily because importer Indigo Wines now has an online shop. Basket Press Wines has a pop-up shop on Hackney Road (almost opposite Sager + Wilde) through December, though their wines are also available online. For what it’s worth, those two are what I’d call my discoveries of the year. They are very fine winemakers.

Veronica Ortega

With that I will sign off. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my highlights of a peculiar year. I don’t now expect to publish more this year, but I hope to be back in early January, doubtless with a clutch of superstar wines from December, along with a new and exciting-looking wine book to review. This really is a time for hibernation with a real fire and as many glasses of wine as I can reasonably get away with. I shall dream of real vineyards next year. I’ll leave you with some photos of what, for any wine lover, will strike a chord as some of 2020’s happiest moments, that #timefordelivery. Just a selection, mind.

Many thanks go to (in no particular order) The Solent Cellar, Modal Wines, Basket Press Wines, Littlewine, Vine Trail, Indigo Wines, Uncharted Wines, Tutto Wines, Nekter Wines, Alpine Wines, Equipo Navazos and Butlers Wine Cellar for inspiring me to part with too much money.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Natural Wine, Review of the Year, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Books, Wine Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Discovery Dozen – 2020s Magic Moments for Friends in Wine

If one thing has been said to me more than anything else this year, it’s that wine lovers have never drunk as well as they have during 2020. I think as we’ve all been drinking more at home, and very little outside of the home, many of us have been inclined to open more so-called weekend wines on a Monday or Tuesday. Or maybe it’s merely because we have more time at home and less time on a train that we can better appreciate the wonderful wines we have at our disposal. It’s certainly something I felt acutely, so when this was repeated to me a few times I thought it might be an idea to ask a few wine friends what had set them alight, what had been their wine discoveries, in this year of lockdowns.

As we are talking wine, then a dozen seemed an appropriate number. Everyone below works in wine, whether as a writer, importer or retailer (or all three in some cases). The wines they have “discovered” are therefore available through the companies my contributors run in many cases, but if they are still available that’s a good thing. The one thing you can be certain of, looking at the individuals who have contributed, is that if this mixed case landed by your front door in the runup to Christmas, you would be very lucky indeed. In the spirit of independence, which you know I like to stick to, I did not request that they submit a bottle for my own quality control evaluation. More fool me.

Christina Rasmussen – Journalist and Co-founder, littlewine.co

L’Aligator, Jean-Yves Vantey (Burgundy, France)

“In the nooks and crannies of the hillsides above the Route des Grands Crus you can find Isabelle and Jean-Yves Vantey making compelling Burgundies from the lesser-trodden slopes of Maranges. L’Aligator is old vine Aligioté from a 0.15ha plot planted in 1972, farmed biodynamically then whole bunch pressed, aged ten months and then bottled unfined (only 1,270 bottles made). Neither Isabelle nor Jean-Yves come from a winemaking background and they started their Domaine des Rouges Queues with just 1ha of vines in 1998. Yet what they have made here is the epitome of a “little wine”, humble yet full of life.”

The excitement currently around this neglected and once maligned Burgundian variety is palpable. Not only are some big names giving it more attention, but it seems almost the grape of choice for a lot of newcomers to the region. I’m drinking Aligoté like never before and I hope I get to try this one (though with less than 1,300 bottles I may need to wait for the next vintage).

Christina visited Jean-Yves and Isabelle on her vintage tour, tent on back, this summer. One of the lucky ones to get a vintage fix in a year when wine travel for me was non-existent. If you ask her what her “Lockdown achievement” was, she’ll tell you she learnt to fly a drone. Her article about the Domaine des Rouges Queues on littlewine.co follows the Aligoté harvest and includes drone footage. It’s amazing what drones have brought to wine journalism in the last couple of years.

Nic Rizzi – Modal Wines

“Er Giancu” 2019, Azienda Agricola Possa, Cinque Terre, Liguria (Italy)

“This wine, tasted along with Heydi Bonanini’s whole range, stopped me in my tracks for its uncompromising expression of a forgotten land, and possibly the most picturesque region on earth. 80% Albarola, 20% Bosco, 25 days on skins”.

Cinque Terre truly is a special place and although there’s not a lot of room for vines, the potential is great, and is beginning to be being realised. This sounds exactly the kind of wine I long to discover myself. Modal Wines’ Nic Rizzi is adept at sniffing out future superstars. In the past few years these have included Burgenland’s Joiseph and La Palma’s Victoria Torres Pecis, to name just two.

Ben Henshaw – Indigo Wine

Tokaj 2018, Holass (Tokaj, Hungary)

“A blend of Furmint and Hárslevelü from a husband and wife team which has all the things I’m looking for in a modern white – character, texture, freshness and depth – plus it’s delicious and very food friendly.”

Hungary seems always on the verge of a breakthrough and the modern face of the Tokaj region has such potential to make deeply individual terroir wines. It amazes me sometimes just how many new winemakers Ben and his team at Indigo sniff out and their range expands every year on a wave of sheer quality. One of Indigo’s new stars will get a mention in my own review of 2020.

Jiri Marjerik – Basket Press Wines

“Les Autochtones” 2019, Max Sein Wein, Franken (Germany)

“This 100% Silvaner from 60-year-old vines has an amazing minerality, a complexity that is gentle yet very enticing. It is a wine that you can sit with and really get deeper into its character, changing with time in the glass, an absolute charmer.”

I bought some of these wines and I’m looking forward to trying them soon. They are hopefully available (unless sold out) at the Basket Press popup shop on Hackney Road (opposite Sager + Wilde) through December. Basket Press Wines specialises in Central Europe (Czech Republic and Slovakia with forays into Slovenia and Hungary). This is their first excursion into Germany, and my guess is that the wines must have made a real impression on Jiri and Zainab for them to make the leap.

Simon Smith – The Solent Cellar

Chardonnay “À la Percenette” 2016, Domaine Pignier (Côtes du Jura, France)

“Made by the three Pignier siblings who have long practised biodynamic farming, making increasingly fine wines in their 13th century cellar [at Montaigu, south of Lons-le-Saunier]. This Massale Chardonnay is the Melon à Queue Rouge, and it sees minimal handling and ageing in oak (though it is topped-up, or ouillé) for twelve months, bottled with no added sulphur, releasing notes of blossom and acacia, ripe apple, and nuts.”

Simon notes that he’s grateful this still flies under the radar. Another contributor to this article would agree…she says it is one of her favourite Jura Chardonnays in her book on the region. I have some on order. These red-stemmed Chardonnay clones, found rarely except in Jura vineyards, have a special nuance well worth exploring.

I suspect many of you already know The Solent Cellar, in Lymington, on the edge of the New Forest. I have family there and it took me a while of walking past thinking I really don’t need another wine shop in my life before I went in and discovered what would become my favourite wine retailer in the country. Simon is not afraid to stock anything and exemplifies as much as anyone why the wine trade here is so vibrant. Like everyone, they do mail order, but Lymington makes a nice day out, especially on a Saturday morning when the sun is shining and the large market on the main street is in full swing. The wider area has become something of a gastronomic mecca too.

Doug Wregg – Les Caves de Pyrene

Allégeance Extra Brut Rosé, Champagne Marie-Courtin/Dominique Moreau (Côtes des Bar, Champagne, France)

“This biodynamically-farmed massale selection Pinot Noir comes from east-facing slopes on Kimmeridgean soils. Grapes see a two-day maceration, crushed underfoot in the traditional local fashion. It has an enticing onion skin colour and balances pretty red fruit aromas and flavours with real density of texture and profound minerality, and possesses that indefinable energy that one finds in all Dominique’s wines. This is primarily a wine of place and time.”

Poor wine writers are most likely to have to stick to entry level when it comes to purchasing fine Grower Champagne, but I’m pining for this cuvée, one I was unaware of before Doug sent this in. It’s exactly my kind of Rosé and I may need to stretch my hard-pressed budget. Dominique began working from Polisot, close to Celles-sur-Ource, in 2001, and farms a single site of just 2.5ha. She fashions mineral wines of true sophistication, especially with age, and yet there are so few bottles to go around.

David Neilson – Back in Alsace (and Raisin)

David is based partly in San Francisco and increasingly in Alsace. He’s my go-to for all the new producers in Alsace and I’m indebted to him for giving me the heads-up that Tutto Wines have taken on Lambert Spielmann in the UK. This Muscat, and his “Red Z’Epfig”, duly arrived here last week. The labels are genius.

“This is MUSKA” 2019, Lambert Spielmann (Saint-Pierre, Bas Rhin, Alsace)

“Pronounced like Muscat, it comes from a certified organic vineyard and sees fifteen days whole grape maceration before raising in innox.  A discrete base of mixed fruits with a long and dry finish that brings fabulous vibrancy. Lambert’s music selection on the back label is The Specials’ cover of the ska classic “Pressure Drop” by Toots and the Maytals”.

Anne Krebiehl MW – Author (The Wines of Germany)

Weissburgunder “Ried Höchtemmel”, Weingut Schauer (Südsteiermark, Austria)

Anne found it very hard to choose one favourite, being an avid consumer of bubbles, Pinot Noir, dry Riesling, and Austrian and Italian reds. But she went, like most participants, for something a little different. As it’s a producer I’ve never tried, nor indeed seen, that makes it a good choice for me.

The German-speaking wine world has many fine writers, but somehow Anne seems to have her finger on the pulse of the exciting developments in these countries, which makes her writing so vital for me. Read whatever she writes about traditional method Sekt, and she is undoubtedly the Queen of Spätburgunder.

“My discovery goes to a region that always gets under my skin but to an underrated grape variety which has been made to shine with purity, depth and lightness. Grown at 570m altitude it is a picture of clarity. Its gentle ageing in oak gives it a glorious nutty edge and a most creamy texture. It is emollient and super-slender at the same time, it has elegance and poise, it is bottled purity”.

Wink Lorch – Author (Jura Wine and Wines of the French Alps)

Pet Nat 2018 Extra Brut, Domaine Miolanne (Auvergne, France)

Wink has strayed from the regions she is noted for writing about to select a wine from a place that I recently begged importers to get on board with in an article on this site. There truly is so much happening in the Auvergne. Goodness, there’s even a book on the region in French. I’m more of a petnat hound than Wink, revelling in its fun and simplicity. I’m hoping somebody is going to import this one. I mean, such a pretty label…but it just sounds so appetising.

“After all these years this is the first time I’ve truly enjoyed a petnat. It’s a coral-coloured, gently fizzy rosé Gamay from an old Auvergne vine selection grown organically at about 450m on volcanic soils. Totally opposite to the tutti-frutti character you might expect, this petnat spends nine months sur-lattes. It has a chalky dryness with a wonderful stony edge to it, which makes it cry out for nibbles, or indeed provides a flexible match with most foods. One of my unexpected finds from a short trip to the Côtes d’Auvergne in the summer.”

Peter Honneger – Co-founder, Newcomer Wines

Furmint “Gorca” 2019, Michael Gross (Haloze, Slovenia)

“It’s a unique piece of land, one of the most beautiful vineyards I have ever been to.  The wine sits in barrel for 15 months, totally untouched without racking or SO2. It’s a type of Furmint that is game-changing for what Slovenian wine can achieve and it once again proves that Furmint is the best terroir white wine grape variety in Central Europe at the moment”.

I’ve drunk too few Slovenian wines yet to know the country well, but just reading Peter’s description makes this wine a must buy. What I do know is that I had been trying to find exciting Furmint for years, and it is in the last couple that I’ve discovered such wines, in both Hungary and Austria (Wenzel, in Rust, which Peter also sells, has been a revelation). Certainly his point about the variety is highly valid.

Valerie Kathawala – North American-based author and co-founder of Trink Magazine

Silvaner “Augustbaum” 2017, Kerstin and Richard Östreicher (Franconia, Germany)

Fascinating that we have two wines selected from Franconia/Franken in this article, and both from made Silvaner. I have a secret shame in that I’m quite a fan of Silvaner/Sylvaner and will argue its corner with any of the naysayers. But aside from one fine vineyard in the north of Alsace, Franken has to be Silvaner’s true home.

“The Östreichers farm just over 3ha in Sommerach, an historic site for viticulture within a stone’s throw of the great urban vineyards of Würzburg. The Augustbaum comes from a parcel of Katzenkopf, a site of sandy Muschelkalk at moderate elevation. With its nose of herbs and grapefruit pith and zest, and a suggestion of flint that emerges with time in the glass, the wine sets up expectations of something quite taut, but on the palate there is rippling depth, like a small stone thrown into the centre of a cold lake, its precision, balance and length amplifying a grounding minerality and waves of flavour. Organic, hand harvested, spontaneous fermentation and élevage in barrique (giving harmony without adding structure, aroma and oak flavour).

Daniela Pilhofer – Co-founder of littlewine.co (and Newcomer Wines)

La Bodice 2017, Hervé Villemade (Loire, France)

“My most memorable discovery of 2020 was “La Bodice” 2017 by Hervé Villemade (Loire), which I tasted on one of the few easy, chilled evenings of the year, watching a movie and popcorn in hand. It’s a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and upon first sip, me and my partner Peter both looked at each other and went “Wow, this is incredible.” It had a silky touch of almonds to it, with some salt kicking in as the wine was dripping down the palate. I’m not a huge fan of buttery expressions of wine, but this one had just the right touch of depth and richness to it, balanced by that salty finish. It reminded me a lot of the great wines coming out of Styria – by Ewald Tscheppe of Werlitsch and his brother Andreas Tscheppe in particular – probably also due to the combination of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. It was one of the first wines I have had by Hervé Villemade and it left me curious to visit Hervé when time and travel restrictions allow as I’m keen to find out more about the person who crafted this amazing cuvée and who, in my opinion, deserves more attention for this incredible art. Also, at £26 this is hard to beat.”

By coincidence we have friends just down the road from the Villemade siblings and I have known the Cheverny wines from this estate for some time. Quality right now has never been better and it’s lovely that Daniela has chosen this. The wines from the appellation of Cheverny, close to the truly enormous Renaissance period château of the same name, south of Blois, have long been a bit of a Loire secret and this estate is probably the finest exponent. There is a guest article on this producer by Aaron Ayscough for those who have access via Littlewine’s “Backstage Pass” subscription.

Reading through these entries again I can’t help but be amazed at the diversity of wines selected. But equally I can’t help but recognise the honesty of them. I mean the wines. I know it’s a cliché, but no one you will note has gone for anything flash or hyper-expensive. You can so easily imagine every single contributor sitting at home with a glass (probably a Zalto Universal if we’re honest) in hand taking a sniff and a sip. We can probably imagine the expression on their face, because we have most likely felt the same emotions as a stunning new wine has helped us through these unusual and trying circumstances.

Of course, I get to have my own say in my Review of the Year, which I hope will follow in due course before Christmas. But I’m grateful to everyone here who took the time to send me a wine to include. I hope that you feel as excited by them as I do.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Christmas and Wine, Review of the Year, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Recent Wines November 2020 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

Continuing to the second selection of wines I drank at home during November, we start out with a rare treat from New Zealand, then a South African favourite, before settling down to Burgenland, Jura’s Sud Revermont, Monmouth in Wales, Champagne, Beaujolais and Alsace. I am no different to many other people who say they have been drinking better than ever during the pandemic, but I really think there are some spectacular wines in this selection. Let’s hope the treats keep coming.

SKIN FERMENT SAUVIGNON BLANC 2018, THE HERMIT RAM (North Canterbury, New Zealand)

Theo Coles farms the “Limestone Hills” vineyard and other tiny blocks in North Canterbury, the rapidly up-and-coming wine region on New Zealand’s South Island. This beautiful landscape has, in Theo’s case, remained untouched by chemical sprays, and he makes natural wines here perhaps like no one else in the country. Other more “natural” winemakers still manage to make wines which taste very “NZ”. Theo doesn’t lose that identity but he’s prepared to push the envelope just a bit further. He’s a wizard with Pinot Noir, and he makes a shockingly good Muller-Thurgau (once quite prevalent in NZ before Sauvignon Blanc came along). But if you really want to see what sets him apart, maybe this signature Sauvignon is one to try.

Fully destemmed fruit sees six weeks on skins. It undergoes malo in barrel after which it is immediately bottled with no added sulphur. It pours out of the bottle between straw and gold in colour and despite a kind of “skin contact” texture on the nose, its bouquet is pure NZSB, but after time it gets more complex. The palate has texture too and there’s a little bitterness. This isn’t over extraction, merely a of bit added flavour riding on the edge of vibrant fruit, if that makes sense. For me, it’s a brilliant wine, the like of which I don’t think New Zealand has seen before. As someone said to me online recently, forget SB in new oak. Skin contact is the way to go. It sure is.

The Hermit Ram is available from Uncharted Wines. They are one of the many importers who have opened an online shop for private customers during the pandemic, giving us all a chance to order wines which are often only to be found in restaurants.

KORTPAD KARPTOE 2016, BLANK BOTTLE WINERY (Swartland, South Africa)

I’d managed to keep a bottle of Pieter Walser’s Fernão Pires (aka Maria Gomes) for a couple of years and it proved a good move as this has aged magnificently. Pieter always has a story for every wine. The name here translates from Afrikaans as “by the fastest route” (he tells us). When asking for directions a grape grower told him “take a right after the Shiraz and Carignan and then left at the Fernão Pires”. Fernão what? On investigation the owner, a Malmsbury producer, didn’t really want this variety. He told Pieter he could have it if he took it all. As with all of Pieter’s stories, they sound a tiny bit surreal, but once you know the man you invest them all with truth (even when they involve fighting off sharks). Anyway, it turns out that these are the only Fernão Pires vines in the Cape.

Pieter fermented the grapes simply, in tank. The result hits you with a nice fresh lemon zippiness before a more honeyed side comes through. It has the sort of texture of honeyed (more than oily) Viognier via its apricot stone fruit. It’s a kind of sunshine richness. Then the faintest hint of butterscotch (or perhaps salted caramel, these things are rarely that precise) lingers before ginger comes through on the finish. Once it has warmed up each mouthful is a journey across that spectrum of flavours, from citrus to saline and savoury. You don’t really notice it cracks 13.5% abv because it retains a vivacity not always seen above 13%. As with all the Walser wines, it seems to manage to be both quite lively and stately at the same time. It’s an oddity which I genuinely think people should seek out.

Blank Bottle is imported by Swig Wines. They regularly get Pieter over to the UK to do events around the country (as well as trade tastings). I went to one such event at Butler’s Wine Cellar in Brighton back in 2019. I couldn’t have wished for a better morning, entertained like never before at such a tasting. He’s one of the nicest and most engaging people in wine I’ve ever met. The owners of Butlers are good mates with Pieter and he’s made a few exclusive bottlings for them, excellent value wines. They are one of the retailers always well provided with Blank Bottle cuvées.

ZWEIGELT 2017, HEINRICH (Burgenland, Austria)

Gernot and Heike Heinrich are yet another biodynamic operation based in the wine village of Gols (also including Claus Preisinger, Rennersistas, Judith Beck and more), to the north of the Neusiedlersee. They took over from Gernot’s parents in 1985. This is an estate where incredible attention to detail has created wonderful living soils and a diverse ecosystem. Conversion to biodynamics was certified in 2006, the Heinrichs being one of the founder members of the Austrian “Respekt” organisation. The wines are all treated as individuals here and from cheapest to more expensive they all have something different to say. There are numerous reasons why their wines don’t always appear on the most fashionable wine lists in London, but they are incredibly well loved by people, like me, who write about wine.

This Zweigelt was described by the Heinrichs as displaying the delicacy of a cut diamond. In a different vein, Jancis Robinson said the 2015 had sufficient acidity to counter the heartiest Tafelspitz (which did make me yearn a little for some of those traditional Viennese Beisl restaurants serving hearty traditional dishes). Those very different notes sum up this lovely wine.

The grapes are harvested from all three vineyard zones by the lake, from the flat gravels closer to the reed beds on the Parndorfer Plain up to the limestone and pockets of schist on the Leithaberg. It was given two weeks post-fermentation on skins in both wood and stainless steel, before thirteen months in old wood (vats and 500-litre barrels). It’s quite serious Zweigelt, dark coloured, smooth and rich, yet only 12% abv. It majors on concentrated cherry fruit cut with red fruit acidity. It’s very elegant as well. It’s way too under the radar. Gernot and Heike are well noted for being one of the first Burgenland producers who really took Zweigelt seriously, and their reds, especially off the wonderful terroir of the Leithaberg which just seems to bring life to the wines, are so vibrant…but please don’t neglect their whites.

Heinrich is imported by Indigo Wines.

POULSARD “SUR CHARRIÉRE” 2013, DOMAINE LABET (Jura, France)

Domaine Labet was one of the Jura producers which set me off on my journey down that particular rabbit hole. Back in those days Alain and Josie worked the land. Today it is their children, led by Julien, who farm somewhere in the region of seven hectares in what is known as the Sud Revermont, near Rotalier. This is the far south of the Jura region, but despite its distance from Arbois, it is another centre for world class producers, as you may well know.

I have to say, because it is something I feel strongly about, that Domaine Labet should be every bit as famous as their neighbours, whether that be the established J-F Ganevat or the superstar newcomer, Domaine des Miroirs. Or indeed any producer in the wider region. I feel that it’s only now that the wines of this wonderful estate, whose vines have never seen any chemical sprays or additions, are getting their just acknowledgement as some of the finest natural wines in France.

So, to the Poulsard. It’s from Labet’s “Parcelles Rares” series. Very old vines, planted in 1969, and a little planted in 1994, from a plot of just 46 ares (sic) on marnes bleus soils at 350 masl, make up the cuvée. The wine is simply made and sees no sulphur added. The result is now, after seven years, brick red, almost the colour of an aged Nebbiolo. It has a mere 10.4% alcohol, but it doesn’t lack body. It has mellowed nicely into a truly complex wine, indeed profound and magical. There’s just something about it. It has a haunting quality that makes the wine float on the palate, but it hasn’t lost that core of concentrated pomegranate or cranberry fruit.

This bottle came from Winemakers Club. Labet can also be purchased through Vine Trail.

TRIOMPHE PETNAT, ANCRE HILL ESTATE (Monmouthshire, Wales)

Richard and Joy Morris planted vines just outside of Monmouth in 2006. Intuition might tell you that surely Wales is too wet for viticulture, but this is a particularly dry part of the country. Although they have some Triomphe [d’Alsace] planted, they have managed to grow Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Albariño, over 12 hectares, to great effect, establishing a reputation as a pioneer of low intervention viticulture and winemaking in Great Britain. The estate is now openly up for sale as Richard and Joy want to retire. If you have a spare £15 million and want to get into biodynamic (Demeter certified) grape farming in Great Britain, here’s your opportunity (contact Savills Estate Agents).

Triomphe was developed as a hybrid cross (between an American variety and a vinifera) in 1911, in a Colmar then still under German rule following annexation in the war of 1871 and the Treaty of Frankfurt. It grows well even in a cool climate, though you need to really keep on top of canopy thinning to avoid mildew when wet. The wine produced in this case is deep coloured and gently fizzy (almost frizzante with only 2-to-3 bar pressure) and very frothy. It’s a multi-vintage wine whereby the juice from the new vintage is added to the base wine, its sugars reinvigorating a second fermentation. The result is very simple, yet it does exactly what any petnat should. It provides a “smashable” juice which refreshes all the parts…in this case, being a red wine, through pure raspberry juice with a hint of Ribena (that’s blackcurrant to those not familiar).

Ancre Hill wines are to be found through the Les Caves de Pyrene network of independent wine shops. I bought a selection of Ancre Hill wines in an order from Butler’s Wine Cellar of Brighton, source of the Breaky Bottom sparkler which appeared in Part 1. Definitely worth a look for English and Welsh wines.

CHAMPAGNE VILMART COEUR DE CUVÉE 2003 (Champagne, France)

Vilmart & Cie is tucked away in Rilly-la-Montagne on the crest of the Montagne de Reims, just west of both Chigny-les-Roses and the main D9 road from Reims to Epernay. Vilmart was the first “Grower Champagne” I became enamoured with, before I even knew that “growers” existed, or at least as producers of cuvées like this one, to match the very best produced by the Champagne Houses.

Laurent Champs runs this perfectionist operation, with a winery filled with some of the most beautiful wooden barrels and vats, matched by the stunning beauty of the stained glass created by Laurent’s father, René. The vines are “only” Premier Cru, but they are old (most are around 50-years of age) and the top cuvées really do make a mockery of the Grand/Premier Cru distinction which in most other cases holds relatively true.

Coeur is made from the heart of the cuvée, the first gentle pressings. The grapes are unusually fermented in barrique and like any wine thus made, it demands a long period of post-disgorgement bottle age for it all to come together. Then, like any fine wine, it can be magnificent. It is usually made up of around 80% Chardonnay with just Pinot Noir added, but I don’t have the exact blend for this vintage. What I am able to say is that this ’03 is now complex and magnificent. It is obviously made with great care and attention to detail, but it also has genuine soul.

Laurent has an odd knack of producing some magnificent bottles from what the critics term less-good vintages. In fact, I’d like to try a better 2001 than Vilmart’s Couer de Cuvée of that disastrous year. This is much better than the 2001 though, a lovely wine drinking so well now. It’s my last 2003 Coeur, though I do have a few 2002 left. But it is now probably beyond my pocket to purchase newer vintages, as are most prestige cuvées from Champagne. Sic transit gloria mundi.

This was purchased on a visit to the domaine in April 2012, as the 2003 had just been released.

FLEURIE “CHAVOT” 2014, JULIE BALAGNY (Beaujolais, France)

Julie is a Parisian who is very much more at home in the countryside. She began working for wine producers in France’s southwest, but managed to make a home with three hectares of vines surrounded by woodland, around Fleurie. Julie has since added a further 2 ha in other locations and she has started to supplement her estate wines with a few negociant cuvées (one of which I bought this week).

I have had so many really good bottles of Beaujolais from 2014, and indeed this is my last of three (or four?) of this cuvée. Not only have they all been superb, but this is still going strong, drinking nicely but not sliding down the hill. As with all the Balagny wines, this sees whole berries undergo a semi-carbonic maceration. The juice is never manipulated by pumping over or pushing down. No additives, including sulphur, make this the purest of natural wines in both senses.

Cherry juice of the most concentrated (but light as a feather) kind is the core. There’s a tasty twist of pomegranate acidity dancing over the top, and a little bit of earthy texture sitting underneath. Overall, it’s smooth fruited and, it’s true, alive. I’d say it’s mature but has perhaps as much as four or five years left in the tank. Who says natural wines cannot age? I think this actually might be the best bottle of the batch, a case shared with a couple of friends.

Tutto Wines is the importer for Julie Balagny. I don’t think there is any “Chavot” remaining on their list, but they do show five Balagny cuvées from the 2019 vintage, only one of them currently on their online shop, Tutto a Casa.

AUXERROIS “STIERKOPF” 2016, DOMAINE RIETSCH (Alsace, France)

Jean-Pierre Rietsch is one of the most respected producers in Mittelbergheim, hotbed of innovation in the Bas Rhin. He’s the seventh generation of his family to farm here, although they have not always been wine growers, his parents having begun vine cultivation in the 1970s.

Stierkopf is a south facing slope of limestone and sandstone at Mutzig, perhaps ten kilometres to the north of the Rietsch base at Mittelbergheim. It’s a particularly warm site on which Jean-Pierre also grows amazing Pinot Noir. The wine began a spontaneous fermentation after which it was left in vat, on lees, for eleven months. It is allowed to go through malolactic. It shows just 12 mg/l sulphur on analysis. It was bottled in August 2017.

There’s a mineral structure backed with striking salinity, but there’s also fruit to match, generous pear and quince. Looking at the wine as a whole, standing back a moment, it looks like a wine bound together with a certain tension yet that tension is relieved at the edges by sunshine. I guess that means I think the wine reflects its terroir. It certainly shines brightly, an exemplary wine. I know I am lucky to own a reasonable number of Jean-Pierre’s wines, but they are getting drunk rather quickly. A visit to Alsace this year had to be postponed, only exacerbating the situation, but although this bottle came from a previous visit to the domaine, Jean-Pierre Rietsch is imported into the UK by Wines Under The Bonnet. Fill your b…onnets, as they say.

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Recent Wines November 2020 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

November’s “Recent Wines”, the most interesting wines drunk at home last month, kicks off in Rust and a winemaker whose wines were among the first from Burgenland I drank. We then continue our journey via Sussex, Hungary, the Mosel and back to Burgenland, before we head over into Slovakia. We are then back in Sussex but for something completely different, before ending Part 1 in California.

JUNGE LÖWEN 2018, HEIDI SCHRÖCK (Burgenland, Austria)

Heidi’s old family cellars are situated right on the square in the beautiful town of Rust, right on the western shore of the Neusiedlersee. Whilst the focus these days is rightly on the younger generation of natural wine producers around the lake, we shouldn’t forget that there are a group of women who have been making biodynamic or low intervention wines around here for many years. These include Birgit Braunstein, Judith Beck, and of course Heidi Schröck.

Junge Löwen does what it says on the label. It’s a tasty drinking red under screwcap, a blend of 85% Blaufränkisch and 15% St-Laurent. It smells of bright dark fruits with a lovely smooth palate made interesting by a slightly mineral edge. It’s simple, but an excellent introduction to Heidi’s very pure wines, and great value. Although her reds step up from here, via Rusterberg and Ried Kulm, this is just as enjoyable in its own way for its accessible sappy fruit.

I’ve mostly bought Heidi’s wines from Alpine Wines over the years, apart from a few bottles purchased in Heidi’s cellars, but this bottle came from The Solent Cellar via Liberty Wines, who seem to have the three red wines mentioned and halves of her Beerenauslese.

CUVÉE MICHELLE MOREAU BRUT 2014, BREAKY BOTTOM (Sussex, England)

Breaky Bottom is kind of hidden away in the Sussex countryside south of the County Town of Lewes. The six-hectare estate, founded by Peter Hall when he planted a vineyard near Rodmell in 1974, is one of the longest-standing quality producers of English Sparkling Wine, and perhaps one of the few to make very good Seyval Blanc. This cuvée, however, is made from a more traditional blend of 70% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir and Meunier.

“Michelle Moreau” (a poet, dancer, writer, inveterate traveller and a close friend of the Halls) is an award winning cuvée of just 6,736 bottles which at £35.50 is as much a hidden classic as the estate is hidden away in the folds of the South Downs chalkland. It’s bright and classy with a little bite of acidity, but it also shows that bit of bottle age which adds depth and complexity. I’m sure it will improve further, but it is drinking so well now. Sort of lively, but stately. I definitely want to get some more.

This comes from the estate via Brighton wine merchant The Butler’s Wine Cellar, which is something of a specialist when it comes to English (and Welsh) sparkling wine, whose owners have a close connection with the estate.

ORA 2018, RÉKA-KONCZ (Eastern Hungary)

Annamária Réka is too much of a regular in these monthly revues for me to go over her background yet again, as I work my way through my first batch from her range (after this one I have just one more of her wines currently in the UK to write about). She makes mostly wines from white grapes with differing degrees of skin contact in the very far east of Hungary, right up by the border with Ukraine. She will certainly get a mention in my Review of the Year in a few weeks.

Ora is a field blend based on a local and rare autochthonous variety called Királyléanyka, which Annamária is intent on keeping alive. The blend also contains some Rhine Riesling, Hárslevelü and Furmint (probably among others, as is the way with traditional field blends all over Central Europe). It sees a five-day maceration of destemmed grapes in open cask before finishing in tank.

The wine has some protecting C02 which makes it gently spritzy (not fizzy) on opening. I should warn that it was the most “cidery” wine I’ve tried from this producer, though I’d describe it as the best cider I’ve ever drunk. But it is a little out there. Within the context of what I’ve just said this was gorgeous, if for the more adventurous.

There are plenty of more straightforward (if that’s really a fair word to use) wines in the Réka Koncz range. They are imported by Basket Press Wines and you can check out these wines (and their whole range, from mostly Central Europe) at their popup shop throughout December, at 188A Hackney Road (almost opposite Sager + Wilde). See my article of 23 November for more details.

LITTLE RED RIDING WOLF [2019], JAN MATTHIAS KLEIN (Mosel, Germany)

JMK is the man behind Staffelter Hof and this is one of his Landwein, which sport contenders for the most modern and perhaps most exciting wine labels in Germany today. You’d hardly guess that some of these wines hail from the traditional vicinity of Kröv, on the most famous stretch of the Mosel. This red is made from Pinot Noir with zero added sulphur, equally unfined and unfiltered.

What hits you first is mouthfilling cherry fruit. That’s enough, although a little earthy texture makes the wine food friendly. At a balanced 12% abv it is truly gluggable, but it doesn’t seem light or lacking weight on account of that concentrated fruit. One of the best German reds for drinking bottle after bottle in an unashamedly natural wine style without an excess of funk.

Imported by Modal Wines.

INTERGALACTIC 2019, RENNER & RENNERSISTAS (Burgenland, Austria)

The Renner establishment is on the right-hand side of the road as you drive (or cycle in my case) into Gols coming from Neusiedl-am-See, at the top of the lake. Gols sits in the middle of vineyards which slope both above the village and below it, more gently down to the reed beds of the Neusiedlersee. The Renner revolution is well underway, and Stefanie and Susanne are now joined by brother Georg. Although their father, Helmuth, has been a noted producer of the serious “Pannobile” wines of the region, the three siblings are all well versed in the ways of natural wine production (the sisters trained with Tom Shobbrook and Tom Lubbe).

Intergalactic is a new wine in the range, a white field blend of Grüner Veltliner, Welschriesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat Ottonel and Chardonnay. When I visited at the time of the 2018 vintage Stefanie told me how, having seen how their individual varieties perform on their own and getting to know them, their interest now really lies in creating the best possible blends.

This cuvée sees a little skin contact over four days before ageing on lees in old oak. It only shows 11.5% abv, which gives it a lightness, but at the same time there’s definitely something in the blend which adds a little plumpness or gras. The overall effect on the texture is very positive.

This wine is firmly in the unfiltered camp, so it really does need a day or two standing up, but it’s a glorious field blend. Planet Gols is taking us to the outer reaches of the furthest galaxies. Please don’t stop.

Renner & Rennersistas are imported by Newcomer Wines and are also available at littlewine.co , and I’ve bought this from both so I’m not sure which one this bottle came from.

DEVIN 2018, MAGULA (Sovakia)

Magula is among the best three or four producers I know in Slovakia, and is equally one of my favourites in the whole of Central Europe. It is a ten-hectare family estate (second generation) at Sucha Nad Parnou in Southern Slovakia. Biodynamic wines are made in a dry valley (hence the vine on the labels, forced to go deep) from loess soils with a high mineral content, especially calcium, which you will see clearly affects the flavour.

Devin is a local cross between Gewurztraminer and Roter Veltliner. It combines a texture somewhere between peach juice and olive oil but the bouquet and palate give fresh lime citrus and peach with hints of spices and a saline twist. It’s a lovely variety for anyone seeking something very different to what they may have tasted before, yet don’t want anything too out there. In some ways it reminds me a little of Viognier, but if you don’t like Viognier don’t be put off. Everything blends together nicely, so that the wine is neither complex nor simple (or maybe it’s both at the same time).

Another bottle from Basket Press Wines which you could pick up at the importer’s popup shop (188A Hackney Road) during December.

QVEVRI WHITE 2019, TILLINGHAM WINES (Sussex, England)

Ben Walgate’s change of direction, from running a well-known English Sparkling Wine specialist to artisan winemaker pushing the boundaries of English wine at its fringes, is proving to have been a good move. The myriad wines made just inland from Rye are all of interest, or should be, to anyone interested in (or writing about!) the wines of Great Britain. One of the most out-there decisions Ben made was to import a couple of qvevri from Georgia. More have followed, and his cuvées of qvevri wine and cider are among the most exciting crafted at Tillingham.

This cuvée is a blend of Bacchus and Pinot Blanc, from two separate qvevris, whole bunch pressed with four months on skins in the buried clay vessels. You’ll be pushed to find another wine like this in England. It’s very cloudy (wholly unfiltered) but it tastes remarkably clean with grapefruit freshness cutting through the palate. It’s a versatile wine too. You might think it a summery glass but the texture adds palatability with food, and we actually drank it with a spicy curry.

This bottle came from the shelves of The Solent Cellar but it’s worth remembering that the Tillingham shop is currently open from 10-4 on Saturdays during Lockdown (Dew Farm, Dew Lane, Peasmarsh), and presumably for longer after 2 December (check the web site). They sell the full Tillingham range on site, along with a great selection of other mainly natural wines from the restaurant cellar.

RIPKEN VINEYARD CILIEGIOLO 2018, KEEP WINES (California, USA)

The story of how Jack Roberts met his future partner, Johanna Jensen, on the Englishman’s first day in the USA is very romantic. Both moved into high quality wine making, Johanna with Abe Schoener’s Scholium Project and Broc Cellars, and Jack with Matthiasson Family Wines. Jack was Matthiasson’s vineyard manager until last vintage, when he finally felt able to devote all his time to his own family’s project.

Ciliegiolo is a little-known Tuscan variety, a minor component in Chianti, which has gained some recognition in recent years both in Maremma on the Tuscan Coast and in Umbria. Its name comes from the Italian for cherry, which pretty much explains the grape. Someone saw fit to plant some, whether deliberately or thinking it was something else, twenty years ago on the Sacramento River Delta. Jack and Johanna seem to have a passion for finding these less well-known varieties around wider Napa (I drank their delicious Counoise back in May), and every single time they get the very best out of them, as if they have a Midas touch.

The grapes are fermented in stainless steel with no stems. You get ripe, dark and zippy cherry fruit, concentrated but coming in at just 12.5% alcohol. This seems to make for perfect balance and maximum refreshment. A remarkably beautiful glass of alcoholic cherry juice which, if I dare say it, is the best Ciliegiolo I’ve ever drunk (and yes, I’ve had a few from Italy). Personally I would pick up any wine made by this pair.

Keep wines’ UK agent is Nekter Wines, a specialist in excellent under the radar Cali producers, as well as the likes of Matthiasson.

Sometimes even I forget to photograph the bottle…but at least I kept the label
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The Goode Wine Guide (Review)

I’m hoping I’m not too late here to recommend a great little stocking filler for the wine obsessive in your life. This came out in September but my Lockdown reading pile has grown somewhat tall, and I’ve only just read it. I was just a little worried that its relatively small size would mean that the print was tiny, but that turned out not to be a problem. I guess that at just under 230 pages I zipped through it pretty quickly, and if it has any downside that is it. Easily remedied though, I am following it with a book which weighs in with over 500pp.

The Goode Wine Guide is the umpteenth book of Dr Goode’s I’ve read, and it’s a little different to the others. But it’s not at all what you might think. Jamie doesn’t give you a list of wines you should drink from every region or country he can think of, like most books with a similar title. Instead he provides a sort of manifesto for wine lovers. A kind of “this is what I think…you may agree with me or you may not”.

Jamie is that rare wine writer, a genuine scientist. He often jokes about people with letters after their name, but he has them fore and aft (Dr and PhD). His discipline is biology, and he is keen to remind us that winemaking is down to biology more than chemistry (unless you are a particular type of winemaker). He is also a little bit of an iconoclast, but again in a very different way to what we usually see. But that will come out as we go through the book.

The Goode Wine Guide is divided into 55 chapters, which is only an average of four pages each, but some chapters are even shorter. When Jamie makes his points, they are usually succinct, but in one or two cases I was yearning for him to go a little bit further. I’ll give you a taster of the sort of areas he’s discussing. Sometimes it’s winemaking or farming, sometimes it’s about the people who sell wine, and sometimes it’s about those who write about it. Quite often however it’s just highlighting an approach to the subject which is just a little out of kilter with the mainstream. A philosophy of wine perhaps, if that doesn’t sound too serious for a book that is above all, fun. He’s not so much an evangelist though, more someone who likes to prod us out of our stupor…our tendency to take things at face value and believe all the old clichés. He may like to tear down the odd stubbornly held belief, but he’s not smashing all the statues in the temple.

An example, perhaps. Chapter 6 dives into two opposing approaches to the subject, which he calls “reductionist” and “holistic”. He reminds us that our wine education teaches us to break down a wine, in our tasting notes, into its constituent parts. By “marking” a wine for elements such as brightness, bouquet, texture (for example) we can build up a brick by brick quality picture. Jamie asks us to look at the whole experience. He asks whether “if we rush too quickly to words we might miss out on the experience”. This really gets to the heart of Goode’s (and my) philosophy. If we reduce wine down to three points for this and five points for that, we are able to score the wine. But are we on a different planet to the people who buy the bottle to “enjoy” (my question, not his)? As Dr Goode says, “we need to dwell with it, experience it…”.

Chapter 11 is called “Mouthfeel Matters”. It’s only about a page long (plus a rare half-page footnote). We place so much store by how a wine smells, its bouquet. Of course we do. Most of us realise the importance of aroma the first time we smell a really fine Red Burgundy, if we’ve not already come to see half the pleasure in wine is its nose before that point. But there’s something else we tend to forget. The key to this vignette is a quote from Nick Mills of Rippon Vineyard in Central Otago. I won’t spoil it by giving you the full quotation, but it begins “Terroir is issued through shape and feel, not smells and flavors (sic)”. It’s so important to understand that a wine is not merely a list of summer fruits on nose and palate.

Chapter 14 is one after my own heart. Its title, Beauty is not the Absence of Flaws, illuminates a topic Jamie has touched on before in his book on wine faults. After you have read this chapter you will pine for Japan (if you’ve been before) and at the same time perhaps to listen to a record on which there is a real drummer, not a drum machine. I’m sure many of you will see where he’s going with this idea.

I’m pretty sure you want to know what the doctor thinks of scores? He discusses them in Chapter 20, which runs to almost five pages! His view is nuanced, as you’d expect from a man forced to use them in wine competitions. He accepts that they do have a limited value, but he perhaps looks over rather wistfully at those with the freedom to reject them (like myself). But one sentence sums up my own feelings. “[Scoring wine] is an attempt to make something diffuse and indefinable into something focused and precise”. My own view is that those who are truly enthusiastic about scoring wine are to me like someone who takes an opposing view to mine on Brexit. They are, in most cases, implacable. Trouble is, score inflation ruins any argument that scores are objective. Can people not see that in order to get your name on a shelf sticker you just have to score a wine 98-100 points? Because if you don’t see it, your rival can.

Chapter 27 says “Stay Critical but Remember There’s Room for Everyone”. Oh! how some wine critics have embarrassed themselves by allowing their mouths to froth over natural wine. Jamie wrote a letter to these people, which he published on his Wine Anorak blog, and reproduces here. It’s very funny, unless you have a very reactionary bent when it comes to people wishing to avoid using synthetic chemicals on their vines and a range of other interventions and manipulations in their winemaking. He’s not saying that people who make wine the other way are wrong. He’s by no means a natural wine fundamentalist, far from it. He’s just asking why people get so upset about natural wine? Personally, I consider them a bit like those who say “why do we have an international women’s day and not one for men?” In other words, they don’t quite get it.  Just let people do their own thing Mr very traditional wine writer. They are not hurting you! How many of us feel challenged, even diminished, by new thinking?

It’s nice to see someone who is (otherwise) very positive about the world of wine today, especially in terms of quality. As Jamie rightly says, there’s so much less bad wine than there used to be. I can attest to that fact, having been alive a little bit longer that the author. There’s a chapter on this point, but it ties in with another, on those wine writers who profess to be consumer champions. There are a few of those around today, all born perhaps from one man who told us we don’t need to pay more than average supermarket prices to be happy.

Jamie gets mildly upset when people suggest that the world of wine is peopled by rip-off merchants trying to push inexcusably expensive bottles to the public, and worse than that, decrying the cheaper brands as rubbish. Again, I won’t spoil it, but Chapter 42 is called “Beware the Consumer Champions”. ‘Nuff said! Needless to say, I’m firmly with those who cherish the expertise and passion of the wine trade in this and every other country I buy wine in. Naturally people in the independent wine trade want to make a living, but just like indie record stores and book shops, they do it because of their passion, and their desire to pass that passion on to you and me.

If you think that only one type of wine writer comes under scrutiny, think again. Chapter 53 is called “How to succeed at wine writing by writing boring articles”. This is where Jamie’s surely not afraid to make enemies. The story he reveals is one which happens so often. The writer is invited on an expenses-paid press jaunt. He or she may get to visit the odd artisan producer, but it’s clearly more about the bigger guns, who are after all stumping up the cash to bring the journos over. Back home they go and they are expected to knock out something which puts everyone in a good light, for their few hundred quid fee, making sure to mention anyone who might like to advertise on the opposite page.

Now spin it however you wish, but this is true in so many cases. It’s the way the wine world works, and it’s the way wine publications survive in some (not all) cases. There is a retort, which in fact a well-known wine writer highlighted in a conversation with me the other day. They said that if editors didn’t ask for formulaic articles like this, they wouldn’t get written, which is a fair point from someone whose work published in book form is very far from being formulaic or boring. However, they also said that no magazine or journal pays for really good wine writing. Perhaps those who have been lucky enough to write for World of Fine Wine have found an exception. Others are lucky enough to have the chance to express themselves in books. I, for one, feel very lucky that I can say what the hell I like here, and publish it.

Do I have any criticisms of The Goode Wine Guide? No. The book is not intended for anyone looking to learn about wine in a factual way. Very few times does the author mention any specific wine or wine region. But it is illuminating in other ways. Who would read it and why?

Certainly, anyone in the wine trade should not only enjoy it, but learn a little. We all get drawn into thinking about things through blinkers, and Jamie does nothing if not remove our blinkers. He reminds us that there is always another perspective. If we ignore or reject that perspective we risk missing out. For the same reasons this book is likely to be just as interesting to avid wine lovers, and those who are embarking on the journey towards a wine obsession. You might not have the same degree of interest or engagement as I did, in every single chapter, but there are fifty-five topics to grab your attention.

Only one quibble, Jamie. In Chapter 45 you exhort us not to be an all-rounder but to be a specialist. Well, it’s aimed largely at the wine producers of Great Britain. Their sparkling wines are so good that they shouldn’t go rambling on about their Bacchus, the author suggests. It’s not that my view is a bit more nuanced on this one (English and Welsh still wines are making great strides), but that in a footnote Dr Goode gives us a list of English Sparkling Wines he can recommend “to start with”. I’m sure your memory was shot when you wrote that footnote Jamie. It’s the only reason, surely, that we don’t see “Black Chalk” at the head of that list.

The Goode Wine Guide is published by the University of California Press (Sept 2020) at £15.99 ($18.95). It really would make a great stocking filler for Christmas and I can imagine sitting by a log fire, a glass of Palo Cortado in hand, with the need to read something both easy going yet stimulating at the same time. You may well find it hard to put down and be near the final chapter by the end of the Bond movie on TV which you’ve seen nine times before. I was going to say “a great way to avoid playing charades” but I guess there won’t be much of that this Christmas.

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The Christmas Popup You Mustn’t Miss (Basket Press Wines on Hackney Road)

I don’t know if you are like me but I love browsing. Record shops, book shops and yes, wine shops. I find it remarkably difficult to enter one of these establishments and to leave without a purchase. But aside from the pleasure of spending time looking at the shelves I find that physical stores actually encourage me to try new things. Something always leaps out at me that I did not enter with the intention of buying, and quite often that something is a book, record or bottle that I didn’t even know existed. In the age of online shopping the pure pleasure of browsing is being lost to many of us.

There’s another great thing about these physical stores, and especially a wine store. Many of us would like to be adventurous but don’t necessarily know where to begin. Nowhere is this more obvious than wine regions which are new to us and hardly seen in your run of the mill store. This is why you really need to get down to Hackney Road during December.

If you are someone who reads this blog avidly, or even dips in from time to time, you will have spotted that I have a developing interest in the wines of Central Europe. It’s a kind of natural progression from my passion for Austria and her wines. Maybe my relatively regular bottles littering my “Recent Wines” posts may have whetted your appetite, but you have not been tempted to order online. Your prayers may be answered if you might consider dipping your toe in with just two or three bottles, and you’d like a bit of advice in selecting them. Basket Press Wines is opening a popup shop in East London during the month of December. I would suggest that you get down there if you possibly can to check out what’s going on in this exciting wine scene.

Jiri Majerik and Zainab Majerikova

Basket Press are specialists in the wines of the Czech Republic (or Czechia if you prefer). This isn’t surprising as Jiri Majerik is a Czech national. But they don’t stop there. They also cover top producers from Slovakia as well as dipping into Hungary, Slovenia and Germany.

Czech Moravia has a long tradition of winemaking but is poorly served in our wine literature (it warrants around 200 words in the new (8th edn) “World Atlas of Wine”). It has around 16,500 hectares of vines which spread southwards, in a kind of triangle, from the apex of the region’s largest city, the regional capital of Brno. It is a hotbed of high-quality natural winemaking, led perhaps by Jaroslav Osicka, one time teacher at the local wine college. The region has its own movement, called Autentiste, with its own festival, Autentikfest, every August. It is this band of winemakers which Basket Press focuses on for the core of their list. Their portfolio is not exclusively “natural”, but all of their producers are either biodynamic or at least organic, with low intervention at the heart of what they sell.

Jaroslav Osicka

Grape varieties to look out for do include the better known varieties like Veltliner, Frankovka (aka Blaufränkisch) and Pinot Noir (planted here originally in the 14th century), but also regional specialities like Modry Portugal (Portugieser) and Cabernet Moravia (a high potential Zweigelt-Cabernet Franc cross). I would especially recommend checking out the region’s many interesting petnats. Petr Korab is perhaps the king of Moravian bubbles, for my subjective taste, but he’s not alone.

In addition to the above you will find on their list the wonderful Czech natural ciders of Utopia, as well as wines from Slovakia (do not miss Magula), Hungary, Slovenia and Germany. Jiri and his wife Zainab have just made their first excursion into Germany, having taken on Max Sein Wein from Franken. It’s an estate which is certainly part of the “Alt-Germany” movement, with interesting blends, very old-vine Silvaner, and the rare Schwarzriesling (that’s Pinot Meunier to you and I).

Another star in the portfolio is their Hungarian producer, Réka-Koncz. Annamária Réka makes wines in the very far east of the country, so some of her vines are even technically in Ukraine. They are natural wines made most often with varying degrees of skin contact, and with a strong focus on autochthonous grape varieties. These are sensational wines for anyone with a true sense of vinous adventure, not easy and perhaps challenging for those whose palates may be of a more conservative bent, but I’m not alone in recognising their magic. Do ask advice in-store if you want to try one of the less extreme cuvées, though perhaps you might just go straight in.

Réka-Koncz

So, to the details. The Basket Press Wines Popup will be open from 1 December at 188A Hackney Road, London E2 7QL. It will be easy to find for many, situated across the Road from Sager+Wilde, Morito and The Marksman Pub.

Opening will be from 1 December to 31 December, Wednesday to Saturday from 12pm to 8pm and Sundays from 11am to 5pm. The Christmas exceptions will be Christmas Eve (24th) when they will open from 12pm until 3pm and then they will remain closed from 25th to Monday 28th inclusive. The shop will then reopen on 29th to 31st December from 12pm until 8pm.

Delivery will be possible, and in any case Basket Press Wines offers a very good next day mail order service throughout the year at basketpresswines.com . However, for the month of December you have the opportunity to browse, and to chat with Jiri and Zainab. Do not miss this chance to acquaint yourselves with these interesting and often genuinely thrilling wines if Hackney Road is within reach. Hopefully during this time we will be allowed to enjoy some of the other fantastic watering holes in the near vicinity as well (lunch sorted).

I should just add, as it is fairly unusual for me to promote something like this, that I am neither being paid or bribed to do so. These wines fascinate me and I’m keen to promote them, and to get people to try a few. There are other very good importers who sell one or two wines from this wider region, but Basket Press has the largest concentration of them in the UK at the moment. I think it’s a good move for them to go for a popup and I hope it introduces many more inquisitive wine lovers to what these regions have to offer.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Christmas and Wine, Czech Wine, Hungarian Wine, Natural Wine, Slovakian Wine, Slovenian Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Shops | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All I Want for Christmas…(from the importers, please!)

There was a time when the UK was acknowledged the best place to buy wine in the world. As we didn’t (as the received wisdom at the time went) have a “proper” wine industry of our own, you could by way of compensation buy anything you wanted here. Well, now we make our own world class wines, but if you still think we have the best market for wine in the world, you probably need to get out more. Other markets have woken up just as our own has begun to prove, for several reasons, not just “Brexit”, a little less attractive to exporters.

What other markets are lapping up is that which is new and exciting. How many UK wine merchants have been happy to fall back on yet another Crozes-Hermitage, Sancerre or Rioja of middling quality? I know wine shops abroad which have never sold such wines. Admittedly my wish list here is for wines which are not going to appeal to the mass market, but they are cutting edge wine regions which produce wines which are already entering markets which still have their finger on the pulse.

I try, generally, not to come across as if I’m blowing my own trumpet but I do know for a fact that there are wines available in the UK as a result of me having written about them. There are one or two producers who owe me a bottle, not that I’ve ever been sent one (which at least helps maintain my independence). But the boundaries are forever pushing forward and I think it’s about time that the British public were introduced to wines which the coolest markets in the world are starting to enjoy.

I’ve always been one of those awkward customers. It was probably my third visit to a Majestic Wine Warehouse in the 1980s when I asked whether they had any wine from Oregon. I gave up on ever seeing Jura wine here until, miraculously, Wink Lorch came along and assisted the journey to cult status for that small region in Eastern France. If you read this blog even sporadically you will know my tastes are not mainstream. I’d like to think I’m just a restless explorer seeking out tomorrow’s stars, but there’s plenty I can’t find in the UK. This article lists a few regions I’d like to be able to buy without an expensive trip overseas.

Japan

I’m starting with the most difficult of all. It was only on my fourth trip to Japan that I first visited a wine region, although long before that I could not fail to notice how Japan had embraced wine, especially natural wine. The region wasn’t Yamanashi, where the big names have been producing often excellent bottles of Koshu which could be found in the UK if you looked really hard (or, for a while, merely visited Marks & Spencer’s wine departments). No, it was Nagano, where some of the most exciting wines are being made on the slopes below the Japan Alps.

Nagano is drier (relatively) to Yamanashi and perhaps a little higher. All the classic French grapes excel in places, but the outliers are more exciting in many cases. I’ve tasted remarkably good Albariño, for example, from one of Japan’s finest winemakers, Akihiko Soga (one g) at Domaine Sogga (two g’s) in Obuse, which Jamie Goode described last year as Nagano’s finest winery. But there’s a lot more besides.

Japanese winemakers, many but not all introduced in Anthony Rose’s excellent “Sake and the Wines of Japan” (Infinite Ideas, 2018), have taken to natural wine (to a degree) despite a difficult climate because of the philosophy behind it. Minimal intervention and purity suit the Japanese psyche…and in Japan a well-designed, bright and modern graphic label goes a long way too. Most Brits, let’s face it, may hardly be aware Japan has a vibrant wine industry. As a result it will take a lot to get these wines to the UK but Jamie Goode has built up expertise from visits there, as well as Rose, and those are sources to tap. I shall be carrying on my research as soon as the Clampdown allows. Some of these wines would be a good fit for the European wine bar scene.

In the meantime, if you want to know where all those unicorn wines which you used to find in the UK have gone, explore the wine bars of wider Tokyo.

The Auvergne

This remote region of Central France has made wine for decades. I recall Yapp Brothers (Wiltshire) used to tap into the value wines of the co-operatives there (doubtless they still do). But it has become “natural wine central” by dint of the affordable land, which just happens to be great volcanic terroir for glouglou reds in particular. Gamay and Pinot Noir are often the most favoured varieties.

One or two UK wine importers are onto this, if I’m fair. Gergovie (London) is one, and you can usually find a good example or two at their 42 Maltby Street restaurant (a place which no one should need an excuse to visit). But I mention the region here because in France you can even buy a book about the Auvergne’s natural wine stars. It’s the second in the series “Entre Les Vignes” by Guillaume Laroche and others. Sadly it’s not, as far as I know, available in English (the first book, on Burgundy, is), but it does help illustrate, because there’s a market for the book, that the wines of the Auvergne are thriving.

Bugey

Bugey sits to the west of the wine regions of Savoie and south of Jura in France’s first department, Ain. Bugey was, until recently, almost unknown in the UK, which will not surprise anyone once they realise it has fewer than 500 hectares of vines in production. I was introduced to the region long ago by friends who live close to Geneva, both to the still wines and the strange méthode ancestrale sparklers which were, in many ways, the model for the modern petnat explosion. Nowadays Bugey is at least on the wine map, and a couple of producers have hit UK shelves, if sporadically.

The other day a wine friend who lives in France said to me that he’d heard Bugey was going to be the next big thing. I think I said that eighteen months ago, but I was aware that this was unlikely. Despite being beautifully highlighted in Wink Lorch’s second book (Wines of the French Alps, 2019), the vineyards are dispersed, covering a wide area and there is little cohesion at AOP level. Nevertheless, the wines can be quite thrilling, and the most exciting are not on the radar (as far as I’m aware) of UK wine merchants.

Probably the producer considered at the top of the tree is Renardat-Fâche. Elie and Christelle farm almost thirteen hectares at Mérignat, the best known of the villages for the sparkling Bugey-Cerdon. They already export their small production to a dozen countries yet I’m not aware anyone in the UK has them. It’s a shame because I know someone who consults for them and they’ve been praising the wines vociferously to me for several years.

The friend mentioned in the second paragraph above made his comments after drinking the wines of Caroline Lédédenté. Her first vintage was only in 2018 and after finding more vines to purchase last year, now has two-hectares to her name. All the same, she’s obviously swiftly gaining a name in France. She trained with Grégoire Perron, a star of sulphur free wines in Bugey, labelled Vin de France, under the “Combe aux Rêves” label at Journans. He in turn had worked for Ganevat, so a lineage is established.

Bugey remains small and obscure, but exciting. Plenty of equally small and obscure producers are imported from other tiny regions by “Les Caves” and others, so why not Bugey? Vine Trail should be given credit for importing both Peillot and Balivet, both names I go for when dining or scouring the shelves in the wider region. Bugey could become a “mini-Jura”.

Deutschschweiz

For years Alpine Wines (formerly Nick Dobson Wines) was pretty much the only place to source Swiss wines in the UK. Why people never really explored Swiss wine was a mystery, but one easily solved. The argument went along the lines that Swiss wines were expensive, but as author on Swiss wines, the late Sue Style once said, the only expensive Swiss wines are the poor ones.

The other reason we saw so few Swiss wines in the UK was that the Swiss drank most themselves. Switzerland still only exports around 3% of its production, but as the home market is shrinking this is changing. I’ve been writing about Swiss wine for years, but if one thing frustrates me, it’s the difficulty in exploring the wines of German-speaking Switzerland. It is time we saw a few of these over here, not just wines from Vaud and Valais with a few from Geneva and Neuchâtel thrown in.

Graubunden has rarely been an issue. Daniel and Marta Gantenbein’s winery at Fläsch, in the far east of Switzerland close to Liechtenstein and Austria, is acknowledged as truly world class, and their fame has rubbed off on others locally. We see a few producers from the country’s far east on our shelves, occasionally. If Gantenbein’s wines are rare and expensive (Howard Ripley has an offer right now), then the likes of Fromm (at The Sampler) are a little more affordable.

But Deutschschweiz is not merely Graubunden. It is also sixteen more cantons, in which the regions of Aargau, Schaffhausen, Thurgau, Bundner Herrschaft and Zurich are all making wines gaining a name for themselves in the thriving Zurich wine bars and beyond. I’ve written before about the young winemaker grouping, JungeSchweiz-NeuWinzer. This is no longer limited to the German speaking cantons, but it certainly revived the fortunes of quality wine production within them. With varieties such as Räuschling (once as maligned as Müller-Thurgau) and the rare but potentially brilliant Completer, complementing often excellent Pinot Noir, there’s a lot to explore. I’ve been banging on about these wines for a year or two and I’m hoping to see results soon.

North America

There are other wines we really should be seeing in the UK from outside of Europe. New York States’s Finger Lakes region is one. I bought a Finger Lakes Riesling from The Ten Cases (Covent Garden, London) once. That’s all. With Canada incredibly well covered these days, it’s time that the wines of this albeit small US East Coast wine region should be represented in the UK. There are plenty of wines mentioned in the literature. The Rieslings in particular sound pretty good. If we can find excellent wines from Long Island, and perhaps not quite so excellent wines from Virginia, at least in London if rarely beyond, then we should also have access to Finger Lakes.

Central Europe

There are places which are gaining fans quickly but are reasonably represented. Czechia has its champion in Basket Press Wines, and those who have discovered the wines from this small Central European country have been more than impressed. Next door Slovakia has a few top wineries imported, as does Slovenia. I think this trio will gain more ground very quickly, once more led by the dynamism of the younger natural wine crowd. Hungary has potential too, though the industry is split between tradition and innovation. We just need to broaden their base, from the small importers selling mostly to restaurants, to listings on the shelves of indie wine merchants, where without restaurant mark-ups consumers may be persuaded to try them. Quality is there, without question.

New Germany/Alt-Germany

Austria has driven ahead of what I’d call “Alt-Germany” (named thus after the small “Alt-Mosel” movement). Much as I worship at the altar of German Riesling, I cannot get over the exciting wines being made from less favoured varieties, both white and red. To an extent I think the next generation in Germany, and also dozens of producers with no previous background in wine, have taken note of what the younger generation in Austria are achieving. They are also challenging, under the Landwein designation, Germany’s propensity to legislate artisan experimentation out of the picture.

My frustration here is not that the wines are not coming into the country, but that our small independent wine shops are rarely stocking them. Even those which put Austrian Rotgipfler and Roter Veltliner on their shelves. Come on, folks. Check out importers like Newcomer Wines or Modal Wines and order up some bottles.

Then There’s Greece

Anyone remember Oddbins? That’s the original Oddbins. Back in the 1990s (I think it was) they introduced some fabulous Greek wines to the UK. Then it went very quiet. Today there are a couple of importers who specialise in Greece, and a few more import the odd domaine. Nowadays Greek wine covers the famous (Santorini, Gouménissa/Náoussa, Nemea etc) and the almost unknown. Crete too has undergone a renaissance and her wines are usually great value. Current economics makes export desirable but drinkers here need to catch up. I am convinced that it is merely lack of familiarity which holds people back from stocking one or two.

Of all the wines I’ve mentioned above, they almost all share one quality. They are not “modern” wines in the sense that they are clean and characterless. They certainly have bags of personality. But they are wines for a “modern palate”, especially the natural wines. Wines which lack that seriousness which leads people to pontificate over them. They are instead wines for drinking, and often where alcohol levels are low, in the kind of quantity which relieves a thirst (within reason, of course). It’s just that in being a little unfamiliar the wines, merchants and retailers may have to work a little harder to sell them. But just think how your customers will thank you for introducing the more adventurous among them to these delicious new flavours.

So, if you feel smug that you have put your first wines from Burgenland or Arbois on your list, that’s good. But there’s a way to go. These less well-known wines (I refuse to allow esoteric) are not going to fly off shelves or wine lists, unless you make the effort to promote them. But doing so will help you stand out from the crowd (and the wine trade in Great Britain is quite crowded, is it not?).

If you are merely reading this as a consumer don’t be afraid to ask for wines like these. You may not fall in love with all of them, but I’m pretty sure that with an open heart and mind you’ll really enjoy a good many of them. Whilst many traditional wine regions are, for the most part, resting on their laurels, these lesser known producers need to work really hard to get your attention. And they are doing just that.

What I’d really like for Christmas is the chance to see mountains and vineyards again, and to see close family who live overseas. But as I said in my recent article on “Far-Flung Grapes”, you can at least manage a little vicarious travel via some adventurous wine selections. Maybe when stocking up for Christmas ask your favourite wine shop for something a little different.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Czech Wine, German Wine, Greek Wine, Japan, Natural Wine, Swiss Wine, Wine, Wine Merchants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Recent Wines October 2020 #theglouthatbindsus

Regular readers will note that there is no “Part 1/Part 2” for October’s wines drunk at home. This is because I managed to fracture my ribs. Three weeks on and I’m on the way to recovery, but the painkillers I had to take initially meant no alcohol for a couple of weeks. It did have its positives. First, it wasn’t that hard, so maybe I’m not an alcoholic. Secondly, I don’t have to feel too bad about rejecting “Sober October” and “Dry January” (but let’s face it, that really was not going to concern me one bit). But on the bright side, I probably have a case of wine in the cellar which would not otherwise have been there.

So for October we have our usual eclectic spread of wines, from Spain’s Bierzo, Neuchâtel in Switzerland, The Mosel, Alsace (2), Jura (2), and Czechia (or Czech Republic if you’re old school) plus a lone Piemontese.

GODELLO “VO Cal” 2017, VERONICA ORTEGA (Bierzo, Spain)

I first tried the wines of Veronica Ortega at Viñateros this year, and subsequently put a couple of bottles in a mixed case. Someone I follow on Instagram suggested I leave the red for six months, so this is the first of Veronica’s wines I’ve drunk since the tasting. They made a big impression on me.

She made her first vintage in 2010 after stints in Priorat (Clos Erasmus and Alvaro Palacios), New Zealand (Burn Cottage), Douro (Niepoort), Burgundy (Comte Armand and DRC) and the Rhône Valley (Domaine Combier), but fell in love with Bierzo during a stint with Raúl Perez. As I said in my original review, an impressive CV.

Veronica farms just five hectares near Valtuille de Abajo and the vines for this 100% Godello are around 40-years-old or more. Planted in an old limestone quarry (“Cal” stands for limestone), the wines have a very low ph so require very little sulphur, in this case none was added. The wine, aged partly in used oak and partly in amphora, has a beautiful bouquet of grapefruit and pear with ginger and nutmeg spice. There’s a little texture and salinity on the palate which gives it a freshness enabling us to drink it now, though I am guessing it will age for three or four years. But you don’t need to resist. Gorgeous stuff.

Veronica Ortega is imported by Vine Trail.

AUVERNIER GOUTTE D’OR 2016, DOMAINE DE MONTMOLLIN (Neuchâtel, Switzerland)

The vines of Neuchâtel sit in the lee of the Jura Mountains off the Autoroute which heads north from Lausanne towards Basel, at the point where you would climb eastwards towards Pontarlier if you are taking the scenic route through Eastern France.

Auvernier is an historic village on the western shore of the lake, now administratively part of the municipality of Milivignes. The domaine, of 50-hectares, is currently run by the younger generation, Benoît and his sister, Rachel. It was their father who converted the domaine to biodynamics but the family have been viticulteurs here since the 17th century. There are ten different varieties but they specialise in the local oeil de perdrix rosé (Pinot Noir) and Chasselas, of which there are many cuvées.

This 2016 has an extra touch of bottle age, and the producer does recommend a window of 2-3 years, but it has retained a little petillance, perhaps a touch softer than in its youth. It’s still fruity though and has a kind of stately flavour which young Chasselas rarely exhibits. A floral bouquet precedes lime and mineral texture on the palate. Satisfying but I wouldn’t keep it any longer myself. The various cuvées of Chasselas from this domaine, including their early release unfiltered bottling, are recommended for exploration, along, of course, with the pale oeil de perdrix.

The importer is Alpine Wines.

TROSSEN ROT 2018, RUDOLF & RITA TROSSEN (Mosel, Germany)

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about this wine, but it deserves another plug. The Trossens of Kinheim-Kindel are rightly lauded for their natural “Purus” cuvées, almost cult wines among many aficionados of the region. Yet their other wines fit their natural wine ethos perfectly, and equally hit the flavour spot.

Here we have a blend of Pinot Noir and Dornfelder. The flavours may be quite simple but they are pure concentrated and vibrant, dark fruits as fresh as if they were picked straight off the bush. In the mouth they explode like a party popper. Despite its easy drinking nature, this is, for me, a standout wine. Why? I think some lovers of expensive fine wines just never experience this particular kind of thrill. Too simple they say. Dornfelder, no way, they say. I merely smirk.

Try littlewine.co or Newcomer Wines.

CHASSELAS PUR VIN 2017, PIERRE FRICK (Alsace, France)

Jean-Pierre and Chantal Frick cultivate something like 12-hectares of vines around the village of Pfaffenheim, south of Colmar in Alsace’s Haut-Rhin department. They have long been one of the pre-eminent domaines at the forefront of the Alsacien natural wine movement, as well as exponents of boidynamics (Demeter certification since 1981). As David Neilson, Back in Alsace writer and Raisin App team member writes, they are “activists in many areas of the ecology movement in Alsace” as well as being members of the so-called Alsace “Gang of Four” (original naturalistas, along with Christian Binner, Bruno Schueller and Patrick Meyer).

Jean-Pierre is one of those growers who makes you wonder where he finds time to tend the vines, but the old adage “…ask a busy man” holds true here. The wines remain exemplary. This cuvée is a little unusual in that it is a zero sulphur bottling of a grape hardly seen in Alsace these days, although it seemed a little more prevalent when I first visited the region at the end of the 1980s.

I’m grateful to David again for identifying the exact source of this rare Chasselas, the Carrière site, a tiny half-hectare plot producing sometimes just 1,000 bottles. As I have never had difficulty in sourcing this zero sulphur wine, I had been totally unaware that all of it is exported (London and Quebec, apparently). I feel pretty lucky.

It is pure, mineral and clean, something of real beauty and for me, probably the best Chasselas in France (but feel free to tell me I’m wrong). Forget that it isn’t the “best” wine in the Frick portfolio, nor certainly the most expensive (far from it). Just flip off the cap, forget “points” and enjoy it.

This bottle came from littlewine.co but you can also try Les Caves de Pyrene.

PINOT NOIR 2016, DOMAINE DES BODINES (Jura, France)

I’m sure many of you know that Bodines is close to my heart. I love a tale of a very young family striking out with a small vineyard, slowly growing their vine holding and their reputation at the same time. The reputation is for honesty in their wines and honesty in every aspect of what they do. Their first vintage was 2011 (from which a lovely Vin Jaune was released a couple of years ago), so they now have a little experience under their belts and their wines seem to get better with every vintage.

They seem to excel with the Burgundian varieties (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir). The 2016 Pinot is quite dark in colour with a very spicy bouquet overlaid with sweet scented red and dark fruits. It smells almost autumnal. The palate is also spicy with some tannic structure suggesting it may still be quite young. It was certainly less evolved than the 2015, the last vintage we drank. It was showing strongly, but for those who would wish to keep it, the wine will evolve further. It’s always the big dilemma with natural wine, because when the fruit sings, you want to drink it. No additives, including no added sulphur.

Purchased from the domaine, but try Les Caves de Pyrene for Bodines in the UK.

NEUBURGER “UNFILTERED” 2019, PETR KÓRAB (Moravia, Czechia)

In my recent article on less well known varieties I mentioned the resurgence (albeit slight) of Neuburger, but that was largely directed at Austria, where the natural wine producers have rediscovered its qualities. The Kórab brothers founded their winery in 2006, at Boleradice. Petr, now sole winemaker, is intent on keeping alive the region’s small, old, vineyards, adding diversity via sheep, goats and beehives. Some of the vines are gnarled old 75-year-olds with tiny, almost uneconomic, yields but quality is very high indeed across the whole range. I rarely buy a case from the importer without it containing some Kórab.

The wine is more complex than you would expect from such a so-called “lesser” variety, and it has texture, weight and freshness. The latter comes from its tarte au citron lemon acidity, but it plumps up as it warms in the glass. This was picked on 11 September with 0.5g/l of sugar and 5.2g/l acidity and was aged in robinia (aka false acacia), a medium commonly used for barrels in Moravia’s Velkopavlovická region. Understated yet really rather good, and it went very well with a rice and roasted vegetable/cashew dish we knocked up.

Petr Kórab is imported by Basket Press Wines in the UK and according to their web site this wine is not quite sold out.

“SO TRUE” 2015, ARBOIS, HUGHES-BÉGUET (Jura, France)

I’ve not visited Patrice Béguet for a few years, but lucky for me I went reasonably long on the 2015s. It was, at the time, Patrice’s most successful vintage to date, and one in which he was able to achieve his dream of zero added sulphur across the range. Based slap bang next to the church (with an increasingly precarious bell tower, it must be said – I’m sure that crack is getting bigger) in the village of Mesnay, walking distance from Arbois, he farms vines outside the village, and over on Pupillin’s famous Côte de Feule.

“So True” is obviously (I hope it’s obvious) made from the region’s pre-eminent red variety (Trousseau). This is a gentle, fairly pale, Trousseau exhibiting the true quality of the year. This wine also sports what at the time was one of his new labels, featuring a lithograph designed to adorn his grandfather’s “gentiane” liqueur.

This has that slightly gamey note of maturing Trousseau, along with a tiny bit of tannin and more than a tiny bit of brightness. The grapes come from both the aforementioned Côte de Feule and a little from a small parcel Patrice farms in Les Corvées, on the edge of Arbois. Part of the cuvée is made by carbonic maceration, giving the wine its fruitiness. So pure, so true.

Although this is another bottle purchased at the domaine, Patrice Béguet’s wines can occasionally be found via Les Caves de Pyrene.

“GRANITE” 2018, LUCAS & ANDRÉ RIEFFEL (Alsace, France)

Lucas Rieffel is one of the key members of the Mittelbergheim School (well, to be fair, every member is equally prominent), which in itself is a group of some of the most exciting names in the Bas-Rhin department. This is another of the region’s old domaines, boasting around five hundred years of viticultural history, before it came to prominence in the 1990s. This really is a “school” because the group of five members are continuously tasting and learning together, all striving towards perfection in all they do. You can read more about the Mittelbergheim School elsewhere on my site, or on David Neilson’s “backinalsace.com”.

“Granite” is a biodynamic blend of Pinot Blanc and Pinot d’Auxerrois from the Gebreit lieux-dit, one of several in the vicinity which may ultimately end up as “Alsace Premier Cru” when all the work is done. It sits above the steep Kastelberg on a flatter plateau, weathered granite as opposed to Kastelberg’s slate.

This is, once more, the zero added sulphur cuvée (there’s also one which sees a small dose). The vines are old, up to fifty years, and the wine is aged in barrel, which makes for a serious drop. I often say I choose Pinot Blanc for lunch when dining out in the region, but this is several levels above what I’m expecting on those occasions. Almost bitingly mineral, yet with a rondeur which allows the texture and bite to blend in perfectly. At this age the fresh acids burst to life, and some might like it with a bit more age. Not me though. As a fully signed up acid hound, this is just glorious. It’s easily the best Alsace Pinot Blanc or Auxerrois I’ve drunk in a very long time, from a producer I was slow to get to know, but whose whole range I can’t resist (some may have spotted the Instagram photo of the six-pack which arrived today, including more of Lucas’s Pinot Noir).

Yet another bottle from littlewine.co.

LANGHE FREISA “TOETTO” 2017, GIUSEPPE MASCARELLO (Piemonte, Italy)

This is of course one of Barolo’s most famous producers, based in the village of Castiglione Falletto. Freisa is, however, not a grape which many Barolo drinkers will have seen very often, nor perhaps pursued too vigorously. In the past it frequently made a light red, more often than not frizzante and with no attempt at seriousness. This wine isn’t one of those. The grapes, from Castiglione’s Toetto cru, were harvested late, in early October. The selected fruit was what they call traditionally fermented, with a maceration of twenty days, then aged in Slavonian oak before settling in tank prior to bottling.

A deep ruby red, but on the darker side of that spectrum, the wine is spicy, slightly chewy with some tannins, and very concentrated. It is superbly made, and I reckon I was opening it a little too young. They have made a wine here to age, I would guess, perhaps five years in this vintage. The level of concentration and extraction is exemplary and this is top stuff. The alcohol level did shock me a little (15%), but the wine is balanced, and I must say, it’s a cracker. Maybe split the bottle though.

Purchased from The Solent Cellar.

Posted in Alsace, Arbois, biodynamic wine, Czech Wine, German Wine, Jura, Mosel, Natural Wine, Spanish Wine, Swiss Wine, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Far Flung Grapes – A Different Kind of Wine Travel

“ The Whale that wanders round the Pole is not a table fish. You cannot bake or boil him whole, nor serve him in a dish…”

Hilaire Belloc

I’ve always loved this poem and I remember writing this first verse in my diary before I went off travelling for a couple of years in my younger days. I felt like a whale who couldn’t be pushed into the square hole my career had waiting for me and I just wanted to swim away, unmolested by so-called normality. How many of us who end up with a passion for wine have similar sentiments? It seems to me a more obtuse variant on something I heard more recently: Life is like a book. If you never travel it’s like staying on the same page, forever. It took me a while to escape that square hole, but I got there in the end.

Most people I know who have something of an obsession with wine would not contemplate a life without wine-related travel. Vineyards, aside from giving us a taste of nature, and as well as providing the calm green views we may crave, bring to life the wines which they produce. It’s no cliché to suggest that we can learn a lot about a wine from merely standing on the rock and soil which made it. We feel the sunshine, observe the slope, the way that the sun glints on the river or lake, we smell the scent of garrigue. These are just a handful of things we experience.

Then there’s the place of the wine in the local community. We discover the temperament of the people who make it, we eat the local food which goes with it, and we experience, if we are lucky, the conviviality which usually comes with sharing the joie de vivre it brings.

Of course, those who are lucky enough to live such a life must never forget we are in a tiny minority. In fact, when I began my life of wine travel a great many of the people whose wine I was tasting had not had the same opportunities to travel as I had. They weren’t flown around the world like superstars to pour their wines in London, Tokyo or New York, but equally it was a time before their whole lives were dominated by strings of wine trade employees turning up at their door and hoping to taste every cuvée they produce, no matter that being a “farmer” is of itself a full time job.

Yet during 2020 many tasting rooms have remained silent, and even if in some countries they are open for visitors once more, there are plentiful reasons why many of us are not yet clocking up our air miles. Now do not think that I am oblivious to privilege, but when you had planned a year’s worth of vineyards to visit it is somewhat dispiriting to have that ripped away. Austria in April, Alsace and Jura in July and Australia in November. Even vineyard visits in my own country have been at least postponed due to the semi-lockdown before harvest.

There is more than one way in which we can travel, at least vicariously. We can, of course, do it through wine books, but except for one or two very recent additions to the genre, 2020 has not really provided a lot of new wine literature to read. I can tell because I’ve been reading a lot more books about music this summer. We can, however, also travel by trying new grape varieties. New varieties, perhaps more than merely new wines, can take us somewhere completely different. Those taste differences, which can often be a shock, even to those of us whose palates crave new flavours, can really connect us with an unfamiliar terroir, wine region, or perhaps even country.

So, after a lengthy introduction I’m going to try to provide a little map which, should you so choose, you can follow to experience some new flavours. With luck, from the comfort of your arm chair or table (or wherever else you like to sip your wine) you might travel in the mind to places which, if and when life ever gets back to normal, you may even wish to visit yourself. In my case this has certainly happened, specifically with the wines of Moravia in the Czech Republic (which I had also hoped to visit this year).

This article does not have the space to take us around the world so I will start in Eastern France and head east, through Germany, Switzerland, NE Italy and Austria, and into Central Europe. There are, of course, wonderful grape varieties to try further west. What life could be lived without Fer Servadou, Sumoll and Hondarrabi Zuri, but another time, perhaps.

No Jura here. When I first visited Arbois I’d hazard a guess that around 5% of the wine trade in England or the US (and 1% in Paris) had tasted Savagnin, Trousseau and Ploussard? I’d also suggest that most of that 1% from Paris would have dismissed them with a patrician sneer. Many still do. But let’s face it, Jura is a contemporary star and if you have never drunk at least one of those varieties you probably would not be reading this article. We need to go a little deeper.

Alsace is different. I don’t mean to suggest Sylvaner/Silvaner, because that has truly come into its own both in France and Germany this past decade. I would, however, suggest that you try Klevener though. That’s Klevener, not Klevner (a different grape entirely). Klevener de Heiligenstein is a speciality of a village of that name in the Bas Rhin (northern) segment of Alsace, just north of Andlau/Mittelbergheim. It’s actually a synonym of Savagnin Rose. It’s not directly related to Jura’s Savagnin, but it is a member of the Traminer family all the same. Less aromatic that Gewürztraminer, it has been tamed by world class producers like Jean-Pierre Rietsch (Mittelbergheim) and others. Obscure rating:10 and a solid start.

Germany is awash with varieties we never knew could make classy wines…because no one ever treated them right. I think for the adventurous Germany can reward those seeking sappy reds combining fruit with, if you are lucky, a bitter twist. Let’s stick with Dornfelder, Trollinger, Lemberger and Frühburgunder.

Dornfelder is a crossing (1955) of two obscure varieties, Helfensteiner and Heroldrebe. It is mostly found in the Ahr Valley, the Pfalz and Rheinhessen, but not exclusively. There are 425 ha planted in the Nahe, but more than four times as much in Rheinhessen and almost ten times as much in the Pfalz (which is quite a lot considering we see little of it on the UK market). I first tasted Dornfelder as a varietal from Lingenfelder (Pfalz) in the 1990s, but it is used to great effect, along with Pinot Noir, in Rudolf and Rita Trossen’s generic “Rot” (Mosel). It also makes Bolney Estate’s “Cuvée Noir” English sparkling red, a wonderfully sappy wine if you want something different.

For Trollinger and Lemberger you really have to hit Württemberg, where there is a true tradition for these varieties. Trollinger is Südtirol’s Schiava, whilst Lemberger is Austria’s Blaufränkisch. The former may generally have the better wines right now but that’s because Lemberger has rarely been taken seriously. If you take a look at the wines of Bianka and Daniel Schmidtt (Rheinhessen) you will discover its untapped potential. Frühburgunder is more difficult to track down in its homeland because it has often been mistaken for Schwarzriesling (Pinot Meunier, aka Müllerrebe, in parts of Germany). It is better known in England as Pinot Noir Précose, but some of you will know I grow a little, and prefer the German name. Look to the Ahr to see some examples where it feels loved.

If a theme is emerging, it is that these once-called “lesser” varieties, abused by the industrials for high yielding plonk, are most often taken seriously by young producers aiming to make gluggable juice, perfect for the modern wine bar scene, often using low intervention methods and reasonably small yields, which can transform the wines into something of personality.

We are seeing this in Switzerland, where wines from big yields made for an older palate are being replaced by lower yields and wines of quality for discerning drinkers, and even (shhhh!) export markets. Suisse Romande has a host of excellent autochthonous varieties, many of which I have written about at length. The majority come from the Valais (Cornalin, Humagne Rouge and Blanc, Amigne and especially the wonderful Petite Arvine, as well as various renditions of Jura’s Savagnin, via Heida and PaÏen). There are many even more obscure varieties. If you want to go totally hors-piste I suggest you look for Plant Robert (Vaud) and, better still, Completer (Graubünden), or a Vin de Glacier made from Rèze, aged in larch barrels in (for example) the Val d’Anniviers, near Sierre. Rèze is perhaps plain odd. Completer makes super wines, though at a price.

My own exploration of Swiss wines is now more focused (if importers will help me here) on the German speaking cantons (Deutschschweiz). There is a real renaissance in the east, aside from the already world class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay of Graubünden. The driving force has once again been the young growers, here via the Junge Schweiz, Neue Winzer organisation (JSNW). The group has developed to cover a wider geography, but its nascence derived from the desire to prove that the German speakers can also make quality wine.

Jauslin (Basel, for Müller-Thurgau and Gutedel), Tom Litwan (Aargau, also for “Riesling-Sylvaner”, the name erroneously given to Müller-Thurgau outside of the Canton of Thurgau, though Pinot is his passion), Urs Pircher (Zurich, for the increasingly rare Raüschling) and Nadine Saxer (also Zurich, who makes three different” Riesling-Sylvaner” bottlings). All of these producers pretty much make a living from Pinot Noir and have fun with the other varieties. Is that not so often the way?

Italy of course presents a number of avenues to pursue, but if we stick to its northern regions, Aosta offers up several gems. Of all the Aostan grapes surely Fumin has to be the one which stands out. Look for Les Crêtes or Cantina di Barró. Rouge du Pays is another mainstay red variety worth trying. White varieties are abundant too, although the region’s top white wine is generally considered a Chardonnay (from Les Crêtes), but this producer makes a Petite Arvine to match anything from Switzerland’s Valais (which is after all just over the St-Bernard Pass to the north). Ottin is another top producer. Aosta is truly worth researching because the only reason its wines are rarely seen outside of the region is that production is tiny – it’s Italy’s smallest wine region.

Northeastern Italy has the aforementioned Schiava, and Lagrein for red varieties. Oddly enough the last Lagrein I drank was from Australia (Vinteloper, Adelaide Hills). A lovely rendition with juice, bite and grip, from a variety which which isn’t always this ripe in Italy, yet shows the variety’s potential.

But South Tirol also shows some lovely renditions of Germanic white varieties, and here I shall single out two, from one producer. The abbey of Neustift/Novacella, founded in the 12th century, is a few kilometres out of Bressanone/Brixen, where ancient routes split north to the Brenner Pass, into Austria, and east up the Isarco Valley. A magnificent place to visit, it is also famous for its wines. The top of the range wines, called “Praepositus”, are exceptional. There’s a Müller-Thurgau that would surprise anyone, but the star (indeed, chosen to appear in “1001 Wines to Drink Before You Die”) is the Praepositus Kerner, harvested up to 930 metres above sea level.

There are some wonderful producers in Alto Adige (Peter Pliger, Tenuta Falkenstein etc) but they focus on varieties such as Riesling. But before we cross into Austria, I must mention Georg Ramoser for Lagrein and Weingut Niklas for Schiava. Though I’ve not drunk these wines for many years, they have provided some delicious bottles.

Austria is obscure grape central, and really deserves an article on its own. Aside from the varieties most of us will know, I’d suggest all of the following white grapes are worth a punt if seen as a varietal wine, or in a blend (often the Gemischter Satz field blends, not just of Vienna). The figure in brackets is the estimated current planting in hectares: Frühroter Veltliner (400); Gelber Muskateller (200) though as “Muscat à Petits Grains it is perhaps hardly obscure, yet Austrian versions are so different; Neuburger (550); Roter Veltliner (200); Rotgipfler (130) and Zierfandler (80).

The latter two are specialities of Gumpoldskirchen (Thermenregion). Despite its proximity to Vienna I’ve never visited, largely because it isn’t well served by public transport, but its wines are worth seeking out. The wines of Johanneshof Reinisch are fairly easy to find in my home country, the UK.

Neuburger has halved its plantings since the 1950s, when it was a high-cropping workhorse, but we are once more seeing a revival brought about by dynamic young producers. The Rainer Wess/Somm in the Must collaboration (Krems) is definitely worth a taste, but I recently drank a Neuburger from Petr Koráb (Czechia), a crown-capped, unfiltered, natural wine. It was rather good. I’m sure Neuburger has an interesting future.

I mentioned Frühroter Veltliner above. What more obscure variety could I suggest? How am I ever going to find this, you ask? Well at one time Modal Wines imported Niburu’s Kamptal cuvée made from this grape. I don’t think they have any right now, but we live in hope.

I wish I had time to journey into Czechia, Slovakia and beyond, because varieties such as Devin and Modry Portugal (to name only two) truly deserve to be tasted by adventurous and open-minded wine lovers. Devin is a Traminer x Roter Veltliner cross originating in Slovakia, whilst Modry Portugal is a clone of Blauer Portugieser which has made a home for itself in Moravia.

I really cannot leave without returning to Austria and admitting my secret shame. There is a grape variety which, as an inveterate acid hound, I adore. It’s (you may have guessed) a speciality of Weststeiermark, and goes into the regional Schilcher. It is, of course, Blauer Wildbacher, of which Austria only has around 400 ha remaining. Schilcher is traditionally a dry Rosé with searing acids and a lethal concentration of dark black fruit.

However, Blauer Wildbacher is so much better rendered in sparkling form, and increasingly producers are coming around to this idea. I never leave Austria without a bottle of Schilcher Sekt, but the best version in my opinion is a “frizzante”, made by Franz and Christine Strohmeier. It has a passing resemblance to Belgian Kriek beer in a funny sort of way and rocks out at just 10.5% abv. It’s also occasionally available in the UK (Newcomer Wines).

I’d better not mention Uhudler though, because not only is that made from a vitis labrusca grape variety, Isabella, it would also definitely be one for the polar explorer among us, but if you want to experience that “foxy” aroma…

A little journey like this can be nothing more than superficial, a tiny snapshot and I hope mildly entertaining. You know, like those coach tours of Europe which an Australian family member bravely took a couple of years ago. Several cities in a day and hardly more than a night in each country – in fact it was twelve countries in twenty-four days to be accurate. It might just give a flavour, though, enough to inspire some deeper practical research. If you think you know wine surely it is worth knowing what’s at the fringes as well as what is at the epicentre. The heart and soul of a country’s wine encompasses both. And I can promise you an adventure, not least because I have only scratched the surface here. Or you could, alternatively, just read the same page of that wine book over and over again.

Oh, what about Chasselas, Furmint, Zweigelt, you ask? Well varieties like these are pretty mainstream now, aren’t they? If not, search my site. There’s a whole article on Chasselas/Gutedel posted in August, and likewise on Blaufränkisch/Kékfrankos. If you got to the end of this article, you might enjoy them. And then there’s Greece…

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