Recent Wines October 2022 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

The final eight wines from October include a few which are unusual, even by my standards, though for different reasons, and actually, one isn’t a wine. We have a smart Oregon Pinot, A Furmint from Austria, an Austrian red from a couple whose wines had been out of my physical reach for a while, a wonderful Czech cider, a German Spätburgunder, a magnum from the “Drinking Against Sinking” project and a very good value Mencia blend from Ribeira Sacra in Galicia.

Cuvée Laurène 2007, Domaine Drouhin (Oregon, USA)

Twice recently I have opened a wine I purchased long ago thinking that it might be past its best, and been pleasantly surprised. The first of these is a wine I bought so long ago the small London wine shop where I found it has long gone. It’s the product of Burgundy negociant Joseph Drouhin’s North American arm, which had been founded as long ago as 1987. That’s twenty years before this vintage, proving that they were very much ahead of the game.

The large, 225-acre, Drouhin estate in Oregon lies in the Dundee Hills, overlooking the Willamette Valley and the Cascade Mountains. Once the new frontier of North American winemaking, the Drouhin scouts chose well. The Dundee Hills has become rather crowded now with plenty of big-name estates making the most of a climate which favours the Pinot varieties, Chardonnay and Riesling. The soils, mostly basalt with red loam as topsoil, favour Pinot Noir especially.

This wine was made by Veronique Drouhin-Boss from an assemblage of barrels from their best lots. Cuvée Laurène was first released in 1992 so not only did the vines have plenty of time to mature, but the style of the cuvée had time to bed down. The result, when given fifteen years ageing, was magnificent.

I knew Laurène has a reputation for ageability but there comes a time when you lose your nerve and think a wine may have sat there too long. On opening it has a nice scent, even in the bottle. The colour had a classic brick red rim and in the glass the bouquet developed into a lovely cherry bass note. Next to emerge was an earthy note with spice escaping skywards, just captured fleetingly in the nasal passages. Autumnal, but definitely focused.

Robert Parker predicted some years ago that it would drink through to 2022, but I would say this is not quite fully mature, though I’d imagine I can go a bit further than Mr Parker with Pinot maturity. By now it has become a stately wine which could rival many Burgundies, not that this is what it’s all about. I found it sublime.

Domaine Drouhin’s Oregon wines are, I believe, now imported by Berkmann Wine Cellars.

Furmint 2019, Heidi Schröck & Söhne (Burgenland, Austria)

Heidi Schröck was the first Burgenland producer I visited, on my first trip to Rust. Her cellar lies on the edge of the magnificent main square of the town, worth planning a trip to for a host of reasons, even if you weren’t a wine lover. I’ve been lucky since then to purchase Heidi’s wines from, I believe, three different sources in the UK, but I’ve added a fourth since moving to Scotland.

Heidi has run her ten-hectare family estate since 1983, and since my visit she has been joined by her twin sons, Johanne and Georg, hence the estate’s subtle change of name since I last wrote about one of her wines. This bottle’s purchase also coincides with Heidi being named Falstaff Magazine Winemaker of the Year, a well-deserved accolade in my opinion.

It comes from two sites farmed by Heidi near the shores of the Neusiedlersee, called “Turner” (no idea?) and Vogelsang. The vines have seen no herbicides nor pesticides, as is increasingly the case in this fragile ecosystem so essential for bird life (which is far more diverse than just the large numbers of storks who nest on the town’s chimneys).

Furmint is, of course, a Hungarian variety, but it has always had a presence in Rust because the town (and its Royal Charter) dates back to the time it was technically part of Hungary, within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this despite being relatively close to Vienna. The variety fell from favour and plantings were much reduced in previous decades, but it is now almost fashionable again. There are certainly a number of very talented winemakers here who use Furmint now.

The soils in these two vineyard sites are predominantly loam, with sand and gravel, plus a bit of quartz interspersed, which over many years I’ve come to believe does affect the wines in terms of a kind of mineral focus. This cuvée is both fermented and aged in large (1,500-to-2,000-litre) acacia barrels, spending eighteen months on fine lees. That adds the lovely texture we get. It has Riesling-like precision with its focused fruit, acids and salinity. I really think occasionally Furmint does a pretty good impression of Riesling until it opens out into something different.

Beneath all that you do get fruit coming through. All taken together, it’s a lovely wine for the price. I had wondered whether a 2019 would have tired a bit, but not at all. The vintage was excellent for its sugar/acid balance on this (western) side of the lake.

This excellent wine cost just £19 from local merchant, Lockett Brothers, via Liberty Wines. Unfortunately, it is currently the only Heidi Schröck wine they stock, but it’s a pretty good place to start.

Ret 2020, Alex & Maria Koppitsch (Burgenland, Austria)

We stay in Burgenland, and on the shores of the Neusiedlersee for our next wine, but we move north and a little east, to the town of Neusiedl-am-See itself. I’ve known Alex and Maria for a few years, Maria a couple of years longer having first met her at London wine fairs. I immediately engaged with the wines, and said so quite vocally at the time. Due to their initial choice of importer, Koppitsch wines didn’t quite get the UK distribution I had hoped for. Now I’m lucky to be able to get my hands on a number up here in Scotland.

The farming and winemaking here are biodynamic and increasingly “natural”. Ret is one of the Koppitsch entry level wines, fun and easy drinking by design. We have 80% Zweigelt blended with 20% Saint Laurent, from thirty-year-old vines off the gravels sloping down to the lake. The grapes were destemmed and fermented on skins over eight days, most going into stainless steel, but with some of the Zweigelt seeing acacia barrels. As a side note, I’m sure that it hasn’t gone unnoticed how plenty of Czech and Austrian producers are using acacia more and more, either alongside or instead of oak.

The wine sits on its lees for 16 months before blending the three different parts together prior to bottling. At this stage 5mg of sulphur is added, the only chemical manipulation the wine sees. The result is certainly not complex, but the Koppitsch’s can do more complex stuff with other wines intended for ageing. This is glouglou pure and simple, low alcohol (10%), gorgeously refreshing, made lively by a hint of CO2. The fruit, as always when this increasingly popular grape blend is done well, is zippy strawberry and raspberry juice with an undertone of blackcurrant and dark cherry playing minor roles.

I hope that now that the excellent small importer, Roland Wines, has the Koppitsch agency in the UK we shall see these beguilingly thirst-quenching wines grab more indie shelf space. I have also managed to top-up on their pink petnat, a long-time favourite.

“Play na ná nánana” 2020, Utopia Cider feat Milan Nestarec (Sudkuv Dul, Czechia)

I’ve written about the ciders of Utopia before. This is not exactly a new idea, but it is a new departure for Eva and Ivo. We know there are ciders which have wine added to them, cf Tim Phillips’s Hampshire gems and equally, those produced by Tom Shobbrook in Australia. The “Play” series goes one small step further. Utopia’s apples, from their orchards in the Josafat Valley are pressed, fermented and bottled, where they are blended with grapes from a Czech wine producer.

Each beverage (neither wine, but not exactly cider) in this series has a (kind of) musical title, and a recommended track to listen to whilst drinking it. “na na nanana” features Welschriesling and Rheinriesing on skins from Moldavian star, Milan Nestarec. There are a number of other bottlings in the series using the wines of other producers, but I think so far this is the best, and very possibly the best thing I’ve tasted from Ivo yet (though the newly imported Utopia Drinking Vinegars, which I tasted at Autentikfest in Moravia this summer, match the ciders, a real revelation, probably the most exciting new product I’ve tasted for some years).

The cider is lightly sparkling, gentle and not at all aggressive. The skin contact element does show through, giving texture, yet it is unobtrusive. Like all similar products, there’s a definite wine element. If you are a cider purist you do need to be aware of that, but I myself find this and similar products innovative and exciting. With 7% abv this is almost non-alcoholic, and goes down like a very refined gently sparkling natural apple juice (we are very much in zero additives land, and that means no sulphur added too). Trust me, you need more of this than just the odd bottle added to a mixed case (my error).

Utopia ciders and vinegars are imported by Basket Press Wines. For anyone tempted, the track paired with this cider is at sptfy.com/nananana. “Live is Life” might not be so much my bag, but don’t let it put you off the drink, which is brilliant, and costs under £15 for a superbly crafted, artisan, product.

Schweigener Spätburgunder 2013, Weingut Friedrich Becker (Pfalz, Germany)

Fritz Becker Junior (Kleine Fritz) may farm in the Pfalz, but you literally could not get further south in that region. So much so that those of his vineyards near his base at Schweigen which spill down the hill towards the Abbey of Wissembourg are in France. Those vineyards are technically in Alsace, and worthy of Grand Cru designation, but Becker’s wines are all subject to German wine law and labelling, whether they come from the French or the German side of the border.

This requires the labelling of those wines in a way which can only hint at the French names for those sites. Things are not so difficult with this cuvée, the grapes coming from vines on the German side and designated not by single site but as a village wine. It’s a good way in to sample the wines of this top producer, because the single vineyards are somewhat more expensive than the £26 or so you will pay for the current vintage.

This “Schweigener” shows an attractive ruby red colour with mostly cherry and lighter red fruits on a nicely perfumed nose. This then develops further with a forest floor bouquet, hinting at pine needles on dry earth. Despite its age it has a little structure still, and I know others have been surprised at this wine’s structure when younger. I would say this hasn’t completely reached its peak but the fruit is abundant.

The vineyard has limestone soils and the vines are approximately between 30-60 years of age. Fermentation is for three weeks in open vat followed by 16 months ageing in barrique. The Becker family usually buys barrels from Burgundy (the region which remains Fritz’s inspiration), but he’d rather buy a good quality used barrel than a cheaper new one.

When we read about German Spätburgunder there are often a number of names mentioned, but you find that the Becker name generally comes up only when the true aficionados (or the German writers) are writing. Becker’s top wines are hard to source (we are talking the special selections above GG level), and the prices are beyond almost everyone I know. However, I just love the wines he makes which fall within my price range, which is pretty lucky really.

Weingut Friedrich Becker’s wines are usually available from both The Wine Society and German specialist, The Wine Barn. Expect to pay around £30 for this in a current vintage in the UK.

Pinot Noir Nature 2021, Lucas & André Rieffel (Alsace, France)

As a nice contrast to the Becker wine above, we are looking at a Pinot Noir from Alsace. Although Mittelbergheim is in the more northerly sector, the Bas Rhin, we are still a little over an hour by car from Schweigen. We are also in a somewhat different place philosophically as well. Fritz Becker makes wines which are individual and express his wonderful terroir, for sure, but they do take their inspiration from Burgandy. Rieffel, father and son, are making a very Alsace-focused wine, expressing both their own unique terroir and their natural wine philosophy.

Mittelbergheim is, of course, noted as potentially having some of the finest Pinot Noir terroir in the region. The variety can now be designated Grand Cru from neighbouring Barr’s “Kirchberg de Barr” (as well as from Hengst at Wintzenheim) from the 2022 vintage…so long as the wines follow the rules.

This wine comes not from any posh Grand Cru, but from vines below the village, sloping towards the main road. It is fermented as whole bunches in stainless steel and then goes into used barriques (though like Becker, also from Burgundy) for around eight-to-ten months before bottling.

“Nature” is the most easy-drinking of the three (I think) Pinots they make. The aim is to emphasise the fruit over all else, and in this they succeed magnificently. As it says on the label (“Nature”), the wine is not only neither fined nor filtered, but sees no added sulphur. Carbon dioxide is used as a protection against oxidation.

You get an explosion of bright cherry fruit on both nose and palate. The acidity is all pure fruit acids and there is a faint prickle from the CO2. The finish, carried along by all this liveliness, lasts as long as some fine wines, but it is trying to be nothing more than fruity fun.

I drink this quite often. I find it irresistible. It tastes of a sunny afternoon spent in the shadow of a cherry tree, although its lightness does mask 13% alcohol. That’s only half a degree less than many a serious Burgundian Pinot. The overall frivolity does trick you into glugging this back, trust me. Don’t go operating machinery, as they say, after finishing a bottle. You will definitely want to finish it.

This was £29 from Cork & Cask in Edinburgh and is quite widely available through a range of indie wine merchants.

“Drinking Against Sinking” MV, Petr Koráb (Moravia, Czechia)

In Part 1, I wrote about one of Petr’s more frivolous and fun wines, Raspberry on Ice. This magnum is slightly more serious, both as a wine and in its purpose. Drinking Against Sinking was a movement among mostly European winemakers (plus one in Argentina) where they made wine, all with the same label (which they could download), profits going to local businesses, like restaurants and retailers, hit by Covid during the first part of the pandemic. All the wineries involved (including Koppitsch from Burgenland, whose “Ret” I wrote about above) were either natural wine producers, or at the very least organic. A worthy cause. There wasn’t a great deal in the UK, but I managed to bag a mag(num) from Petr’s UK importer.

I must say that Koráb has bottled one of his most impressive wines yet under this label. It’s a field blend of grapes coming from three consecutive vintages. First, we have the juice from his Natur Rysek 2016, macerated over winter. Then comes Orange Traminer, with six months on skins, from the 2017 vintage. Finally, Ryzlynk Vlassky from 2018, grapes picked with a touch of botrytis.

Although you will read elsewhere that this is an “orange wine”, the colour is more of a dark yellow than pure orange, and the smoothness and lack of tannins is commensurate with what you’d expect from that colour. Petr did say he’d made this to age, and yes, maybe it will last longer, but I thought it would make a good wine to open for a Halloween weekend gathering of a few family and friends…I was quite blown away. It was brilliant. Smooth mouthfeel with just a little texture, a little exotic, floral, peachy, with poise and panache.

Basket Press Wines, Petr Koráb’s UK importer, had a few of these. If there were 75cl bottles, even I wasn’t swift enough, but the magnums have all left their warehouse now. That said, a persistent search might throw up a few independent retailers who still have the odd magnum if their customers have no idea what it is, and how good it should be.

Lalama 2017, Dominio do Bibei (Ribeira Sacra, Spain)

Ribeira Sacra is in Galicia and stretches east from Ourense, and close to Pontevedra, all the way as far as the boundary with Bierzo (which is in Castilla y Léon). Some Godello is grown for increasingly sought-after white wines, but this is mainly red wine country. The terroir, to a degree, dictates this, being based on the steeply-terraced granite and slate slopes of the small DO’s twin rivers, the Sil and the wider Miño.

Dominio do Bibei is the producer, under the guidance of Javier Dominguez, with consultancy from star names in Northwest Spain, Raúl Pérez, René Barbier and others. As with most reds from Northwest Spain, the main variety is Mencia. This variety came to justifiable prominence in Bierzo a couple of decades ago, producing fragrant red wines with medium body. In my view it went through a dark period, in both senses, with extracted, tannic and carelessly oaked wines appearing from some sources. I think that has been dialled back somewhat, to most people’s relief.

Along with 90% Mencia there are a couple of interesting varieties in the blend. 7% is Brancellao, an autochthonous variety in the wider region, easy to ripen and which buds early. It’s a variety with generally quite high sugars and low acids. There is also 2% Alicante Bouschet in the mix, a teinturier variety (ie a red grape with red flesh, very uncommon in vitis vinifera). If you taste a pure varietal made from Alicante Bouschet (Portugal makes most of the best, with a few from the South of France) you will notice how incredibly intense the colour is. It’s usually used to beef up weedy reds, though this isn’t the case here. It’s probably why this wine is a little darker than much Mencia, though, because I’d definitely not place Lalama in that former over-extracted category.

Still, this vintage nevertheless packs 14% alcohol, despite it coming off north-facing slopes in a region that is unquestionably more Atlantic than Mediterranean. That said, I’ve seen other vintages of Lalama with around 12% abv. It’s quite potent, but it has a beautiful perfume. It has seen 18 months in a mix of barrique and foudre but the oak is pretty well done. It’s not overtly oaky. There is a smooth, rich, mouthfeel and cherry fruit coats the palate.

In many ways this is not a complex wine, and with 55,000 bottles of it produced each vintage one might not expect it to be, but the rich and tasty fruit is enough to make it attractive to drink. I’ve seen notes suggesting this 2017 will go to 2024, but I found it good to go now. My bottle (not my first, so obviously I quite like it) came from The Solent Cellar, and I think cost somewhere between £25-£30, but there is none currently listed online. I’m not sure of the importer, although it could be Lay & Wheeler. It certainly has a decent UK distribution, ably pedalled by Bibei’s export team.

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Recent Wines October 2022 (Part 1) #the glouthatbindsus

October proved to be a month of restored health, post-Covid, which means plenty more wines to write about. Sixteen in fact, so I shall bring you two tranches of eight wines each. The following eight wines hailed from the usual crazily diverse range of terroirs, from England (Sussex and Kent), Western Hungary, Alsace, the Jura, Northern Greece, NE Italy and Czechia. October was almost a last gasp of summer rather than autumn up here in Scotland, both in terms of dry sunny days, and mild temperatures. If the wines seem to reflect this, I’m not surprised. Even today, when the forecast suggests the country will, at some point, be battered by stormy winds, I managed to pop out to the shops without a coat. I’m not sure I’m quite ready to gear up to winter wines quite yet.

Cuvée David Pearson 2015, Breaky Bottom (East Sussex, UK)

Peter Hall had been making wine in the most beautiful location of any vineyard in Britain, six acres set in a fold in the South Downs between Rodmell and the coast, for a remarkable forty years when the grapes for this cuvée were harvested, and he’s fast approaching what I hope will be fifty years at the property. That he makes wine at least as good as any other English producer is an achievement. When you can still find, with persistence, wines from 2010 which retail for half the price of the top cuvées from some other big names in the industry, this is a secret I only share out of fairness to Peter, learning to subdue my own greed (though my eyes and heart are substantially bigger than my wallet).

Peter produces two cuvées each year (one from “Champagne” varieties and one from, or based on, Seyval Blanc, and each is named after a family friend). This wine is from 2015, which in Breaky Bottom terms is relative youth. Named after the man who at first supplied Peter with boxes and later became an integral part of the team at Breaky Bottom, it is comprised of 70% Chardonnay with 15% each of the two Pinots. Just 6,004 bottles were produced.

The result is classic Breaky Bottom. It has a filigree spine of fresh acidity around which clings fragrant fruit. Racy would be a good term. As with most of Peter’s wines, it is built to age and it would be considered youthful in many ways at this current stage in its development. It does have that nascent brioche building from the lees ageing. Excuse the brioche cliché, which I’ve seen come in for criticism elsewhere recently. I don’t know how else to describe it. Well, actually, I did think “croissant” (I eat many more croissants than brioche), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen croissant in a tasting note. That said, citrus aplenty is the main instrument in the orchestra here.

Why drink it young? Well, it’s lovely and fresh, it reminds me how marvellous these wines are, I’m saving my 2010s for company, and to be fair I can’t keep all of my Breaky Bottom stash for years, just to look at. And, of course, it is so damn good.

Try Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton’s Kemp Town for an indie source. Also stocked by Corney & Barrow in London. Both ship wine nationally, so no excuses. And the bonus…this one is only £35.50 at Butlers.

“Jonás” 2020, Sziegl Pince (Western Hungary)

Sziegl Pince is a growing family winery at Hajós-Baja in Western Hungary. The latest generation of the family, Petra and Balázs, were given an 80-year-old vineyard (and a barrel) in 2012. The then twenty-year-olds tended their vines at weekends and in their university holidays. Their hard work earnt them the further gift of a cellar and press, and now they have expanded to a full-time estate of 8.5 ha.

The terroir here comprises mostly loess and clay underneath a mixed topsoil with sand. They work organically, by hand, and see the vineyard’s health as the key to great wines. Having healthy grapes enables them to follow a minimum intervention path in the winery.

Jonás is a white wine made from Welschriesling (called Olaszrizling here), Hungarian stalwart Hárslevelü and Rhine Riesling (Rajnai Rizling). The Welschriesling, 60% of the blend, goes into tank as whole bunches. The Hárslevelü (20% of the blend) goes through a semi-carbonic maceration, and the Rhine Riesling is split 50:50 between pressed whole bunches and grapes receiving skin contact for two days. Fermentation is all in tank, but there’s a little Traminer in the blend as well, which is taken from a 500-litre oak cask. A small amount of sulphur is added, just 15ppm.

The result is very floral and aromatic, but the tiny amount of skin contact is just enough to add a little texture beneath those high notes. This makes a wine with plenty of zip from fresh acidity nicely grounded. The texture helps add weight, almost as if the fruit clings to it in a fresh stream of acids. So, there’s plenty for acid hounds here, but equally it’s a really nice refreshing wine for those for whom “minerality” is a positive tasting note. I loved it.

This is just £23 from Basket Press Wines.

Vin d’Alsace 2020, Domaine de L’Achillée (Alsace, France)

This is a producer completely unknown to me until I tasted their wines at the Real Wine Fair back in the summer. I had been disappointed to see just one exhibitor listed from Alsace but I was very happy once I’d tasted the wines. I would have bought more than the one cuvée had they not sold out at the event’s on-site shop, but I had to make do with this entry-level Vin D’Alsace.

Scherwiller is a village just to the northwest of Sélestat, and just inside the Bas-Rhin boundary. It has no Grand Cru vineyards of its own, but it is where the Dietrich family has farmed for several generations. Yves Dietrich converted to organic viticulture in 1999, and the domaine is suitably named, for a domaine moving to natural wine, after common yarrow in French. Sons Pierre and Jean took over in 2016 and were the first generation to bottle for themselves.

The domaine is quite large, at 18.5-hectares, added to which they have 6 ha of fruit trees from which they make “fruit pétnats” (which I would love to taste). The whole domaine has been biodynamic since 2003.

This simple Vin d’Alsace is constructed from a blend of 50% Sylvaner and 50% made up of Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir (vinified white), and a little Auxerrois, Muscat and Chasselas. In other words, it reflects the traditional Edelzwicker blends for which the region was perhaps infamous in the past. Such blends are undergoing a renaissance, especially at the natural wine estates proliferating in the region, and we are generally much the better for it. Such wines very much reflect their culture, even when some people argue they don’t reflect their place (I’m not one, in fact I often think they better reflect their terroir, but these people can be vocal).

This part of the Bas-Rhin is intersected by several rivers flowing towards the Rhine, and much of the vineyard used for this blend is on clay near the old river quays near the village, used for unloading cargo. The rest is on sandstone and granite. The wine is, as you might expect, floral more than anything else, at least initially. Then we begin to notice more fruit aromas of apricot and plum. The palate is a little more structured than you might expect, with nice citrus acidity refreshing the tongue.

As befits an entry level cuvée, it is simple enough, with a balanced, 12% alcohol. A good drinker is the term I’d use, but in a complimentary way. It points the way towards their wines I tasted back in May, such as the slate-grown Riesling Schieferberg (a lieu-dit giving a wine of great mineral texture and quite exotic fruit), and the 21-day macerated Pinot Noir “Granite”.

Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.

Côte de Feule 2015, Arbois-Pupillin, Patrice Béguet (Jura, France)

Although Patrice has his home and cellar at Mesnay, just south of Arbois, this well-known vineyard is just down the hill from Pupillin. In the early days Patrice had a lot of encouragement from the famous vignerons of that village, including Pierre Overnoy. I think he once told me many years ago that some of his Arbois wine was mistaken by these guys for Pupillin, so he must have been listening.

The vineyard is a well-exposed slope of limestone and marl, one which ripens mostly Ploussard/Poulsard and Trousseau very well. I know as I’ve walked here in hot summer weather. This ripe 2015 also illustrates how well these wines age as well. Although this one sports Patrice’s second-generation label (taken from a fine lithograph used for his grandfather’s gentiane production), it’s not that long ago that I’ve drunk his “Feule” sporting the old, original, label. I can tell you that the new label was a big improvement.

This is darker than I remember, so much so that I had to check the wine’s composition. Retailer notes suggest Ploussard tout-court. I find it hard to believe that there’s no Trousseau, or Pinot Noir, in here. But that doesn’t really matter. The wine is smooth and seductive with glossy red fruits and just enough structure remaining to suggest it is drinking very well indeed. You get cranberry and redcurrant plus a touch of plum, the latter adding depth (but it’s not a traditional Ploussard element). This is a very fine Jura red natural wine, and it shows how Patrice was already maturing into a very accomplished winemaker even back then. Personally, I rank him as a top producer now.

Purchased at the domaine, but Patrice’s wines are selectively imported by Les Caves de Pyrene. They should not be overlooked, including his exciting negoce wines, made in horrifically frost/hail-affected recent vintages which put a heavy financial, and doubtless emotional, strain on many Arbois growers and their bank balances.

Lamda Barrique 2017, Ktima Ligas (Central Macedonia, Greece)

Many people are realising Greece makes very fine wine, wines which have on the whole had far too low a profile on our UK market (though perhaps better known in some other export markets). When people do think of fine Greek table wines perhaps certain reds and whites easily come to mind. Orange or amber wines, perhaps less so.

Domaine Ligas is at Pella in Central Macedonia, in Northern Greece. We are talking north of Thessaloniki, for those who can place that city. Thomas Ligas began farming here in 1985, aiming to work with autochthonous varieties. Assyrtiko is certainly a native of the region, although of course it is far better known as the fine wine grape from the island of Santorini, in the Aegean.

Viticulture here is a very strict (if that is the right word, considering the untouched nature of the vineyard) and successful form of permaculture. There’s a lot of love for Masanobu Fukuoka and his hands-off farming practices here. The farming makes a significant contribution to the profile of all the beautiful wines made by this supremely talented family, but this Assyrtiko sees one day macerating on skins before going into barrique for 18 months.

The result is as different to Santorini’s common iteration of the variety as you could imagine. Fairly dark-hued, this has the weight befitting 50-year-old vines and, when I’ve drunk it younger, a texture slightly more pronounced than you might imagine. As well as the skin maceration we should remember that Assyrtiko is highly mineral as well.

At five years old this is now smooth as honey, a description validated by a certain beeswax texture. The fruit is apricot, and the wine has a nice saline edge. I’m so glad I resisted the temptation to drink this sooner. It definitely shows the value of ageing it. This has blossomed into a truly majestic Vin de Grèce, befitting its iconic Maria Callas label. The label makes the wine stand out, recognisable on any table. The wine itself is outstanding. Only 2,000 bottles made in 2017.

Ktima Ligas is imported by Dynamic Vines. If you can get to one of their tastings, often attended by Ligas daughter, Meli, who lives in Paris, you are in for a treat over the whole range. However, I think this wine may be my favourite.

Pelegrim NV, Westwell Wines (Kent, UK)

Pelegrim is the flagship multi-vintage, traditional method, sparkling wine made by Westwell Wine Estates, who are situated at Charing, on the edge of Kent’s North Downs, not far from Ashford. This cuvée was relaunched, with an exquisite new label by winemaker Adrian Pike’s partner, Galia, in late October. You can find my article of 13 October by searching for Westwell in the search box or clicking on the article “Westwell Wines Pelegrim Relaunch” in the list of top posts to the right. I therefore won’t go into a lot of detail about Westwell, except to say that former record company owner and talent spotter Adrian Pike has taken Westwell into the top rank of quality English wine, both still and sparkling, since he came here in 2017.

Pelegrim is a blend of the three major Champagne varieties, grown on Kentish chalk. We have a ratio of 25% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 35% Meunier. The wine sees a fairly short three years on lees, that is short by the increasingly long ageing of the more expensive cuvées of English sparkling wine. Nevertheless, this is a cracker of a wine, very fruit-forward, dominated by fresh red apple with a little creaminess. Dosage is 8g/litre.

There is a key ingredient which I am yet to mention which makes this the juicy little star it is. Reserve wines. Adrian has been able to build reserves and 20% of the cuvée is made from these wines, stretching back over the past five years. The reserve wines undoubtedly add depth and softness to the very fresh fruit from the base vintage.

The shorter period on lees has a very positive outcome on what you have to pay for the wine. It’s another great value English sparkler which you ought to be able to find retailing for £32.50. I’d be pushed to find another sub-£35 English sparkling wine that is such good value, and it is very much ready to pop the cork now (though it will age should you wish to cellar it). To be honest the fruit is so good on this I see no reason to hold back unless you buy a half case.

This bottle came direct from Westwell, but their wines are available through their exclusive UK agent, Uncharted Wines, in London or UK-wide through their web site. Westwell also sells direct to the trade and the public within Kent (cellar door sales generally by appointment but they are currently opening for tours and tastings Thursday to Saturday, 11am until 5pm…but check before travelling, especially over winter). A list of Kent stockists can be found on the Westwell web site.

Fontanasanta Nosiola 2013, Foradori (Trentino, Italy)

Foradori, and this estate’s shining light, Elizabetta Foradori, probably need little introduction to readers here. Even the most conservative wine writers will be unlikely not to mention this beacon estate when talking about Italy’s northeastern wine region, Trentino-Alto-Adige. The Foradori vineyards are at the intersection of these two, often wrongly stapled together, parts of Italy which rise from north of Lake Garda, up the course of the A22 Autostrada, towards the Austrian border at the Brenner Pass. Foradori are just off this motorway, near Mezzocorona.

Foradori are the pioneers in biodynamic wine in the region, and as far as Trentino goes, one of the few estates of truly world class. However, they are wont to go their own way in pursuit of excellence, for example in amphora vinification. The conservative wine authorities don’t always take to this individuality and so the Foradori wines are labelled as IGT Vigneti delle Dolomiti. They still sell, and for impressive prices.

Foradori is the most impressive name in the production of the region’s autochthonous, and under-rated, red Teroldego grape variety, but here we have one of their equally desirable wines made from a white variety best known in the eastern part of Italy, Nosiola. They are one of several estates which have forced critics to re-evaluate the variety.

Fontanasanta is a 3-ha hillside site overlooking Trento, a little to the south. Nosiola thrives on the chalky clay soils here. It is vinified in amphora, the variety also being especially sympathetic to clay/terracotta. The Foradori family claim this is the traditional vessel for the grape. Skin contact turns it into quite a serious wine here, and when I say skin contact, we are talking an eight-month maceration before the wine is moved into acacia casks. The amphora used are Spanish Tinajas, which are said to be the most porous of this type of vessel, making them especially suitable for very long macerations like this.

If you let this wine age, and I recommend you do so, it will give you a gem of waxy, herbal exoticism. This, coupled with its notable salinity, will render the wine complex with an incredible length. Gorgeous stuff. I know that insiders are well aware of these wines, but I think the fact that these wines don’t come from a region like Piemonte, Tuscany or Friuli makes them slip well under the radar of many wine lovers.

Foradori wines do not come cheap. You will pay at least £46 for this Nosiola, I should think, possibly more (certainly more for an aged version). But there are dozens of white wines made from more fashionable grape varieties, at twice the price, but with half the complexity as this has.

Purchased (but some years ago) from The Solent Cellar, via importer Les Caves de Pyrene. Solent Cellar has, at least according to their web site, the very tempting 2015 in magnum for £85. Beyond my budget, but it would make someone very happy for Christmas.

“Raspberry on Ice” 2021, Petr Koráb (Moravia, Czech Republic)

Petr Koráb is one of the most interesting guys making wine in Czech Moravia. Younger than the old-time masters like Osička and Stávek, he’s every bit as good a natural winemaker. He’s also innovative, and his wines range from serious, through off-the-wall inventive, to wild fun. In Part 2 we shall see another side to Petr, but this wine is in the fun category, and is probably the queen of fun.

I first tasted Raspberry on Ice in extremely pleasant, but tiring, circumstances. We’d flown to Vienna and driven from there to Boleradice in August, where as you probably know we spent a few days visiting some of Moravia’s natural winemakers (and also attended the Autentikfest natural wine fair). We were given dinner almost on arrival by Petr and his wife, at a beautifully set table under the trees outside the Koráb cellars just up the hill, on the edge of the village, before an evening of hard-at-it tasting. It was the perfect pick-me-up. Would it match that experience in that romantic setting when opened back at home?

The blend here is Pinot Noir and St Laurent. It genuinely is like raspberry juice. Effectively, this is all you need to know. It has concentrated raspberry aroma and fruit, with that typical raspberry acidity. Uncanny. It’s all about the fruit, the whole fruit and nothing but the fruit (to misquote Funkadelic). It’s a pale red, frisky, not without a prickly bite, one which embodies all that is meant by “glouglou”. I’m not sure this didn’t all fly out the door in the UK but it is worth checking as another shipment might have arrived. Seemingly a summer wine, it would brighten any autumnal day, for sure. There were some magnums too!

One from Basket Press Wines, of course. I don’t see it on their web site but worth asking whether more is on the way? Otherwise, make a note for next year.

[Enjoying a rather special outdoor dinner chez Koráb, but I promise the wine is as good as I said despite the hospitality]

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

The Vineyards of Britain by Ed Dallimore (Review)

I think I’ve mentioned Ed Dallimore a few times in recent articles, and a while ago I promised a review of his book, The Vineyards of Britain. Now I’ve finally found time to put fingers to keyboard to tell you about it. The keen-eyed readers amongst you will know that I liked it, because I did say don’t wait for my review to buy it. Nevertheless, I guess a few readers would still like a more detailed review, so here it is.

Ed Dallimore has, according to his back flap biog, worked in the wine industry for fourteen years. Ed left university in 2008 and not really knowing what to do, joined Majestic Wine’s Graduate Scheme. In 2012 he headed out to Sydney, Australia, and bagged a job working for Mount Pleasant Wines. Fast forward the best part of a decade and Ed is back in the UK already having had the idea for this book. The leg work was done, after three months planning, between April and November 2021, and I read on the Worldofbooze blog (see below) that he reckons he covered 18,000 miles for his research, often visiting producers more than once.

The book contains something like 140 wine producers, of all shapes and sizes. Initially, Ed planned to include 250 but as was pointed out to him, not only would that have taken an impossible amount of time, it would also have made for a very long, and expensive, tome. Although Ed has therefore missed out a decent number of wine estates and vineyards, and despite the slightly misleading suggestion on the inside of the front cover that it is a “comprehensive” guide, this is certainly the most comprehensive book on English and Welsh wine out there, and I think it fair to say by quite some distance.

Before running through the book’s contents, I want to highlight one thing that really makes this a thrill to read, the photos. Some wine writers manage to employ a professional to enhance their work. Others, Simon Woolf comes to mind, have a co-author who’s a dab hand behind the lens (Foot Trodden with Ryan Opaz). Ed is lucky to be an exceptional photographer himself. There is no way, I am presuming, that he could have employed a photographer, so it’s pretty lucky that he has been able to populate the book with at least one exceptional photograph on each of the producers visited. The images really bring each visit to life.

The Vineyards of Britain begins with a really good introduction. Just enough history of viticulture in Britain, without succumbing to the myths, before a couple of pages noting the pioneers here. There’s a page on terroir, one on climate change, which Ed thinks is likely to have the biggest impact on British viticulture in the decade to come, and then a couple of pages on the opportunities which are there for the industry to grasp. The intro wraps up with an explanation of Ed’s philosophy. I’ll leave the reader to discover what that is, but it certainly accords with mine.

This is not the only thing I have in common with Ed. As the book works its way through the wine regions of England and Wales, from the Thames Valley and Chilterns on page 26 to East Anglia on page 332, Ed is not afraid to indicate who has really impressed him. Whether it is the incomparable Peter Hall at Breaky Bottom (who Ed has taken the definitive photo of), new stars Jacob Leadley and Zoë Driver at Black Chalk, England’s greatest wine thinker, Tim Phillips (Charlie Herring Wines with his magical “clos” near Lymington), Adrian Pike at Westwell in Kent, or Daniel Ham’s Offbeat Wines, Ed seems to pick out for special recognition pretty much all those producers I rate most highly. He’s also excited for relatively new names like Ham Street Wines and Hugo Stewart (Domaine Hugo), who I am trying equally hard to follow when I can get bottles.

Each producer profile gets a two-page spread comprising usually text and a photo. That’s enough to give a pretty decent precis of the vineyard and the wines. Each is preceded by their Instagram name (if they have one), web site, usually the address, info as to whether you can visit and when, and one or two recommended wines to try.

Those producers who Ed considers the most important get four pages, and consequently a little more detail. Although less than two pages of text doesn’t seem like a lot, to me this seems just right. You get a flavour and you can always go off and hit Google for more. There are, of course, other books on English and Welsh Wine, and they might have a little more detail on some estates, but I have found that with Oz Clarke and Stephen Skelton MW these tend to be the older, established, names. Ed’s book is not only far more comprehensive on the number of producers covered, he also has a younger man’s finger, more firmly on the pulse so to speak, of new developments.

Of course, I do not mean to underplay the importance of the big names within the industry, the likes of Nyetimber or Rathfinny for example. Nevertheless, as I have said many times before, it is those small, innovative, artisans who are driving the industry forward. Such producers may often be doing things at the fringes, but their absolute focus on quality usually bears results. Ben Walgate was the first person I knew to use qvevri in England. Now, qvevri, amphora and all manner of other similar vessels are creeping into wineries up and down the country, even into Plumpton College.

I do have one or two niggles with the book, and I guess I should mention those. I have already said that Ed’s original idea, to be truly comprehensive, had to be curtailed. There are one or two producers I was surprised not to see included by way of a profile. Bolney, in Sussex, for one example, because they do get a mention in the context of their contract winemaking in another producer’s profile (they do make wine for a number of other vineyards). Bolney makes a very tasty red sparkling Dornfelder – how could you leave that out!

Equally, I would not have necessarily expected to find Matt Gregory included, but it’s a shame he wasn’t as he’s typical of many young pioneers pushing the boundaries, literally, of English Wine. He makes wine in Piemonte and North Leicestershire, and is distributed by the innovative Uncharted Wines in the UK.

Ed mentions some urban wineries, but there’s nothing on London’s very first, London Cru, based in the West London premises of Roberson Wine. I also think that the Lost Vineyards Project and the subsequent petnat called Frolic, made by Daniel Ham on behalf of Tim Wildman (previously best known for his brilliant, fun, petnats from Australia) is one of the most interesting things going on in UK wine at the moment, with its focus on heritage varieties and unloved and forgotten (in some cases) plots of vines. But perhaps this is too recent a project to have hit Ed’s radar before publication.

That said, I accept that you can’t include everyone, in a book which goes far beyond what anyone else has written about English and Welsh wine. My major gripe is a lack of a producer index (there is a Glossary of terms). I consider myself quite knowledgeable about the English wine scene, but I have found myself wanting to look up a producer I have merely heard of but don’t know which county they are in. The fact that they do not appear to be in alphabetical order within their county or region adds to the time it takes to locate a winemaker. It doesn’t detract from how good I think the book is, but it does make it slightly frustrating to use as a guide for reference once one has read it cover to cover.

Anyway, there’s a rumour Ed might have another book on the same subject up his sleeve, and my guess is that some of the more recent developments in the vineyards of Britain may appear there.

As I mentioned, there are other books on English and Welsh Wine sitting on my shelves. Stephen Skelton’s “The Wines of Great Britain” came out in 2019 as part of the Infinite Ideas Classic Wine Library, and is the latest of a number of books he’s written on the subject. Skelton has been, perhaps, the biggest name at the coalface of our wine industry since the mid-1970s, when he helped establish Tenterden Vineyard (now home to Chapel Down) in Kent. He’s now a consultant and has, inter alia, located and advised on many of the UK’s best sites for vines in recent years.

Oz Clarke needs no introduction to most readers. His “English Wine” (subtitled the newest new world wine country) came out in 2020 under the prestigious Pavilion imprint.

Skelton is authoritative, but whilst Clarke specifically points out that his book is not comprehensive, he does give us an almost complete, and entertaining, overview. Both are worth reading.

Ed Dallimore goes way further than both of the above if you want to read about individual producers. Of course, you get all of the major players, but you also get a good number of new and exciting names (I really need to locate wine from Balbina Leeming’s Bsixtwelve vineyard near Winchester, Ed’s praise matched by another author soon to publish an English and Welsh Wine travelogue, Ruth Spivey). If anyone can help me here?

But in addition, Ed also includes a large number of producers many of us are unlikely to ever come across unless we live nearby. Some of these names have been producing wine for years, decades even, whilst others are more recently on the scene, but they are all united as wine growers (some make wine, many send their harvest to a contract facility) whose output is sold mostly at the cellar door, occasionally in a local pub, restaurant or farm shop. They may not be big names, but they are going to receive a visit from me if I’m in the neighbourhood. I’m always curious.

That’s the real beauty of this book. You get producers large and small and so our knowledge of the vineyards of Great Britain is so much the greater for it. We are lucky to have Ed’s dedication to put in months of hard work, tasting and traveling, to bring this knowledge to us. He’s sure not going to get rich on it, though I suspect that this book should sell very well for all the reasons I’ve outlined.

Ed Dallimore’s The Vineyards of Britain was published by Fairlight Books in 2022 (368pp, rrp £19.99, which is pretty cheap for a wine book these days). It’s a soft cover/paperback which in the months since I bought it has withstood a pretty serious amount of flicking through (especially because of the lack of index). I can’t see why any wine lover living in the UK wouldn’t want a copy, to be perfectly honest. Again, I must say, the photos are a bonus.

The book is available at some major bookshop chains, good independents and online platforms, or directly from Ed (I believe) at his web site, 59vines.com. This is where you will find more of the author’s photos and his own wine blog.

I also think it’s worth mentioning the article I read on Henry’s World of Booze, another WordPress blogger like me ( https://worldofbooze.wordpress.com , 17 July 2022). Well worth reading if you want to find out more about Ed.

I follow Ed Dallimore on Instagram at @59vines .

Posted in English Wine, Sparkling Wine, Wine, Wine Books, Wine Tourism, Wine Travel, Wine Writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recent Wines September 2022 #theglouthatbindsus

September signalled our first month in Scotland. It has been wonderful, although after a week here I managed to catch Covid. As that took out thirteen drinking days (it was a long dose), I think we did okay on the consumption front, and here I give you the eight most delicious wines from last month. We have two wines from different ends of Hungary, one from California, one from Moravia, one from the Languedoc, two from Australia, and one Champagne.

Somló 2019, Hidden Treasures Project, Moric (Somló, Hungary)

I know the wines of Moric reasonably well, if not as well as some Austrian producers. Roland Velich broke away from the family winery and set up the Moric label in the early 2000s, producing, initially, Blaufränkisch from Burgenland. This wine is from a relatively new project, “hidden treasures” forming collaborations with lesser known or younger producers.

It is made from grapes grown on the Somló Massif, a remarkable ancient volcanic plug in Western Hungary, lying almost between Lake Balaton and Sopron on the Austrian border. Here, Velich is working with Kis Tamás, one of the new young winemakers in the region. There is a fine tradition of Austrian winemakers working in Hungary, especially from Burgenland, which used to be part of Hungary in the early days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Incidentally, it’s also why Burgenland produces some fine examples of the Hungarian variety, Furmint, which is undergoing a bit of a renaissance there. I have one ready to drink tonight.

The blend here is 60% Furmint from the southern and western sides of the Somló hill. The other 40% is comprised of 35% Welschriesling from the cone’s Northern side and 5% Harslevelü from the southern slopes. The soils are a mix of mainly volcanic basalt with sand, clay and even some chalk.

The wine was fermented a mix of stainless steel and old Hungarian oak. The bouquet is lovely, expressing gentle tree blossom with a herbal touch adding to the floral notes. The palate shows lively apple zip and a mineral/saline texture. Indeed, this is a lovely savoury white wine with a fair bit of depth.

This cost only £26 from Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton’s Kemp Town. Various Moric wines are available via Berry Brothers, Lay & Wheeler and Clark Foyster. I suspect this may have come from the latter.

Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Failla (California, USA)

This full-bodied Pinot comes from fruit grown in the Anderson Valley. This sits in Mendocino County between the coastal range (Mendocino Ridge) and Mendocino itself, over more mountains. The valley is noted for its cool ripening conditions for the most part, with Roederer growing grapes for its sparkling wine there, and a healthy amount of Riesling and Gewurztraminer is produced for other labels. But closer to the Sonoma border there’s a lot more Pinot Noir grown in warmer conditions.

The Failla label belongs to Ehren Jordan and his wife. Ehren trained in the Rhöne Valley with Jean-Luc Colombo, so unsurprisingly he became well known first for high class Syrah. Nowadays the focus here seems to have shifted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The fruit he sources comes from all over this part of California’s Northern Coast, but his cellars, mostly populated with old oak and a liberal smattering of concrete eggs, is (I believe) still down south, near Calistoga.

The Savoy Vineyard Pinot may not be Failla’s best known, but the site has pedigree. Ted Lemon, whose Littorai label perhaps did more than any to make the name of Anderson Valley, established his first long-term contract for fruit with Richard Savoy, choosing to pay by the acre rather than weight, thus establishing a quality over quantity ethos followed thereafter by any winemaker keen to produce the best wine he or she can.

This wine is more plums than cherry, rich and smooth, indicative of its very Californian 14% abv. The fruit is mature but remains vibrant and retains a mineral texture and even a touch of tannin. At a decade old this wine shows its class. Although there is power here, it doesn’t lack elegance, nor complexity. You are not going to get a gentle, ethereal, Burgundy look-alike, though. Despite its ripeness, and oddly the faintest of a nod to a Pinot-esque Côte-Rôtie, it remains unmistakeably Pinot Noir. Just a unique and different rendering.

This wine was a gift some years ago and although they have good US distribution, I’m not sure who brings them into the UK. I have seen their Sonoma Coast Pinot at Fortnum & Mason in London but at £42 that must make this single vineyard wine expensive. Sorry I can’t be more helpful.

“Miya” 2021, Krásna Horá (Moravia, Czechia)

This is one of the wineries we visited in Moravia this summer (see my article of 21 August for more information on the producer). The winery name means “beautiful hill”, and it is beautiful, extending as it does gently upwards behind the modern, family-run, winery in Stary Poddvorov.

They have a modern outlook here, and as they get along well with Milán Nesterec I can sense some similarities of approach. Krásna Horá has certainly developed a similarly colourful range of labels, like Milán, although with their own very individual stamp and personality.

“Miya” is named after a young niece of the family and is made from 100% Zweigelt (or Zeigeltreibe as they call it). The vineyard is a five-hectare site on loess soils. Production is biodynamic and the juice is partly fermented on the skins after whole bunches go into tank (no wood), and bottled slightly sparkling.

The colour is very much pale, as in strawberry or raspberry, so the crunchy berry fruit and the wine’s lightness is no surprise, though as it is so frivolous and easy to glug, the 12.5% alcohol perhaps is. It drinks like a wine with more like 11%, that is, extremely easily. Not that 12.5% is high, it just tastes lighter. This was one of the most refreshing two-or-three wines we drank on our trip and it was equally delicious on a sunny day in Scotland. It’s probably up there in the top half-dozen glouglou wines of the year so far. It’s a gently fizzy fruit bomb. It does have a bright label too.

Around £22 from Basket Press Wines.

“Couleurs Réunies” 2020, Mas Coutelou (Languedoc, France)

Jeff (as Jean-François likes to be known) Coutelou is currently my favourite producer in the Languedoc. His artisan domaine is at Puimiusson, near Béziers. To say he makes natural wines is to greatly undervalue what he does. His commitment to not only his wines but the whole environment goes beyond almost all of his fellow producers in the region. You’ll find around 13-ha here planted to vines, with the remaining seven planted mostly to trees, not always popular with his napalm-reliant neighbours..

The soils at Coutelou are chalky clay, worked manually. Cellar work is equally hands off, with a diverse team working the harvest, including mine and Jeff’s friend, Alan March as a regular. That suggests I am not wholly unbiased here, but that might be unfair. Although I love all the wines, some are a little too potent for my ageing liver, and no matter how genuinely stunning some of the wines are, I am often quite likely to pick out those with lower alcoholic strength.

“Couleurs” only packs 12.5% alcohol. It is a field blend, mostly sourced from the site known as and for “Flower Power”. The vineyard is planted to an assortment of varieties, including Terret Noir, Terret Blanc, Castets, Morastel, Riveyranc Gris and others, hence the name (both red and white varieties are co-planted).

The result here is a wine majoring on red fruits with a hint of rhubarb adding considerable interest. More savoury elements come through next, including tobacco and leather. It’s a nice, spicy red with some complexity. I call it “simple complexity”, the different elements which can, as here, come together from a field blend where grapes are picked at different stages of ripeness. It’s fresh and not remotely heavy. It is without doubt a wine which has a sense of place, especially if you have been lucky enough to experience this part of France in summer.

We drank this with a fairly spicy couscous dish and they went together perfectly. I think some writers might favour other Coutelou cuvées, but I can’t recommend this more highly as a nicely spiced, natural, wine for drinking.

Imported by both Gergovie Wines and Leon Stolarski Fine Wines (check out both sources for different Coutelou offerings), my bottle came from Cork & Cask in Edinburgh.

“Tolone” Riesling 2018, Nikau Farm (Victoria, Australia)

Nikau Farm might not be too familiar to lovers of Australian wines, even natural ones, but if I say it is the family home and vineyard of Dane Johns, then the label “Momento Mori” might come to mind. Dane is an ex-barrista who began his winemaking career with William Downie. He began his Momento Mori label out of a garage, as far as I can tell, buying in low intervention fruit from around Southern Victoria.

Now, Dane has some land of his own in the Baw Baw sub-region of Gippsland, a large viticultural region in Victoria’s south eastern corner which kind of pokes its nose well into New South Wales. It is, by all accounts, a beautiful farm, where Dane also grows the family’s vegetables with his wife, Hannah. They have ninety-five acres in all, which suits their total commitment to biodiversity (like Jeff Coutelou above), and this is including a twenty-five-year-old olive grove. Currently the area planted to vines is less than 2-ha, but there’s plenty of room for expansion.

Dane follows a totally natural regime. The vines have never been sprayed with any synthetic chemical treatments, and the wines are totally what we call zero-zero. Not only are there no interventions in the winery either, but Dane doesn’t add sulphur at any stage. He likes the discipline of working without the safety net of sulphur. It keeps him focused on his aim to make the cleanest wines he can.

Tolone is a small block of Riesling, not that there are any large blocks of vines here. There’s a little Chardonnay planted and mixed in here if truth be known. The terroir is on a base of sandstone and silica, the latter which adds a lot to the wine’s character. Equally important is the prevailing weather, which here comprises especially the winds blowing in directly off the Bass Strait to the south.

The grapes are macerated for 48 hours on skins and the result is a low alcohol (just 9.3% abv) wine with a mineral structure and texture, and relatively high acidity. It is a wine for acid hounds, for sure, but at the same time there is something infinitely pure about this Riesling. It’s as if everything is stripped back to the bones. If that doesn’t appeal, it should. This is frankly an astonishing wine for the adventurous traveller, quite unique, and beautiful in a way that is perhaps highly unconventional. Only 500 bottles made though.

This, like Dane’s Momento Mori wines, are brought to the UK by Les Caves de Pyrene, whenever they can get some. I bought mine direct from them. It did feel like a privilege to drink this. I spotted that Solent Cellar has several Nikau cuvées currently in stock, presumably in tiny quantities, so be quick. The prices are not cheap (£65 for Tolone, two vintages, though there are cheaper cuvées, slightly) but if you share my taste, and those of Doug Wregg, who I know is a big fan, then jump in and check them out whilst Dane remains ever so slightly, and only just, below the radar of the unicorn hunters.

Freiluftkino 2019, Annamária Réka-Koncz (Eastern Hungary)

I’m not sure regular readers want to keep reading about this producer, from Barabas on the Hungarian border with Ukraine. I certainly appear to drink more of her wines than pretty much anyone else’s at the moment. However, not everyone reads every article, and there will certainly be those who don’t know them.

Freiluftkino is a bottle-fermented sparkling wine, the name translating (in German) as “open air cinema”. I’m not sure which one Annamária had in mind, although there’s a very famous one in Berlin. This bottling is made from 2019 fruit, but used unfermented must from the 2020 vintage as the liqueur for tirage. The wine was given a further one year on lees/yeast after this, before disgorging by hand.

It is very much an artisan wine but made by the classic method, rather like a Grower Champagne. Except of course the relatively short spell on lees makes for a young-tasting wine, but in this case a wholly natural one. I last tasted this vintage of Freiluftkino in February this year and it has certainly gained in stature since that enjoyable bottle. I think the shorter lees ageing and second fermentation probably suits the grape blend, which is Királyleányka, Furmint, Rhine Riesling and Hárslevelü.

The wine’s character certainly comes from, and expresses, the complex soil structure the grapes are grown on. It’s a quite unique mix of rhyolite (a tight-grained, silica-rich, volcanic rock), andesite, dacite and tufa. It is steely and focused with a spicy, pronounced, minerality. The wine’s depth is echoed in a fairly deep straw colour with the faintest hints of green-gold. This bottle, unlike the previous, showed hints of freshly baked bread.

This is as appealing as it is cheap (maybe around £26), at least for a wine of this method. However, that doesn’t help because the 2019 vintage only consisted of 1,228 bottles, so it is consequently also rare. I bagged three in total and have one left. I think importer Basket Press Wines may have sold through the 2019, but I may be wrong and I do know that they have been slow updating their web site with new arrivals this month. But contact them directly for availability of Annamária’s wines. They are becoming quite sought after, especially as a few noted restaurants have taken them up.

Contact Basket Press Wines for availability.

Cuvée de Réserve Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs NV, Champagne Pierre Péters (Champagne, France)

Rodolph Péters blends this rather amazing NV from 50% fruit from the village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger on the Côte de Blancs. When I say fruit, I mean some of the finest Chardonnay on the planet. Well, that’s my opinion. The remaining half comes from Chouilly and Cramant further north. The Mesnil fruit has monumental salinity and Cramant is of course noted for its rapier thrust and filigree backbone. All of the grapes are from sites designated Grand Cru.

In many ways this is what we would like all non-vintage cuvées to taste like, especially in terms of quality. But they don’t! The fruit has precision, but the wine is not merely an assemblage of these sites. It is bolstered by a generous helping from a perpetual reserve which dates right back to 1988. It adds the kind of complexity which is rare at entry level in Champagne.

This bottle shows some youthful, mineral, freshness, but it was also starting to develop some nuts and bready notes. If you are looking for fruit you will find it, but perhaps unusually it was apricot in my glass. Nevertheless, at this stage I did think it quite Chablis-like, which for me is always a plus point with Champagne (just so you know where I stand). It’s that poise, I think.

This is simply a majestic Grower Champagne which will only get better. I can’t always be drinking Cuvée Chétillons after all. £50 is not cheap for a NV but the quality definitely matches the price, and you can now pay £398 for a 2014 Chéti at Mayfair’s Hedonism Wines if you wish, though trust me, it’s too young to drink (almost tempted to sell my last 2002, but not quite).

This came from Lockett Brothers in East Lothian, but I think it’s quite widely available. Liberty Wines managed the enviable coup of winning the Péters agency for the UK last year. I hope I can find a spare wad of notes to get some more whilst its still on the shelf. We drank it on my dad’s 90th birthday and it was very much appreciated as Champagne is the only alcohol he will drink now.

ZBO 2019, Brash Higgins (South Australia)

Brash Higgins is the label of Brad Hickey, who originated from Chicago the United States before exchanging a city-type career there for a vineyard in Australia’s McLaren Vale (as you do). I got to know him because his best mate from back home worked with my wife. Brad is one of the best under-the-radar producers in Australia in my opinion, and a few of the wines he makes are not just good but really interesting too. Not least of these is his Chardonnay made under flor in the fashion of a Vin Jaune (called Bloom and usually available by the single, clavelin-lookalike, bottle only).

Another wine I love, and find supremely interesting, is ZBO. Brad has a way of naming most of his wines using three letters of the grape variety, which in this case is Zibibbo. The fruit source is a long way from McLaren Vale, up in the vast Riverland. Okay, you will tell me from your WSET studies that this is a large irrigation region, noted for high yields and not for quality fruit. Well, Brad isn’t the only guy I know to source some good fruit up here on the lower part of the upper reaches of the Murray River (Murray-Darling is the corresponding wine region just on the other side of the Victoria border, in NSW, and has a similarly negative reputation).

The bush vines providing this Muscat variant (Zibibbo is a synonym for Muscat of Alexandria) are around seventy years old or more. They come from Ricca Terra Farms. Brad takes this fruit and drops it (gently) into Aussie-made amphora, where it sees 150 (not a typo) days on skins.

The result is a dry, textured, wine with all sorts of complexity – from wax, to honey, confit lemon, apricot, and even a little mint or eucalyptus. Unfined and unfiltered, there were 288 cases from this vintage, so it has an element of rarity despite its genial £25/26 price tag.

About the vintage…2019. Muscat is for drinking early, surely, you say? This wine, with its long ferment and maceration in terracotta, is built to age. I would guess that 95% of the ZBO which comes over to the UK gets drunk soon after purchase. I assure you it ages well. For me this is a hidden gem of a wine, and it is way, way, cheaper than the impossible to find “Bloom”.

ZBO is one of the half-dozen (I believe) Brash Higgins wines imported by Berkmann Wine Cellars, and this particular bottle came, via them, from The Solent Cellar. It can be found in a wide variety of independent retailers. Lovely label too.

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Westwell Wines “Pelegrim” Relaunch

I continue to be enamoured by English Sparkling Wine. As I’ve said before, it’s nothing to do with gung-ho jingoism or the slightest feeling of animosity towards our French cousins. It’s simply based on quality, and I should add, individuality. There is a range of artisan estates in Britain making wines with the same kind of personality as those making Grower Champagne in France. Some, of whom I’ve written about before, like Breaky Bottom and Black Chalk, focus almost entirely (Black Chalk has begun to bottle a still Rosé) on sparkling wine. Others, such as Tillingham and this winery, Westwell, have a range of still wines too. I think it is noticeable that if you make high quality sparkling wine you are not going to produce sub-standard still wines.

Westwell Pelegrim with its new label

Westwell Wine Estates, to give it its full name, sits atop chalk terroir on the edge of the North Downs at Charing, not far from Ashford in Kent. Adrian Pike came to Westwell in 2017 and immediately increased the vineyard from just over a dozen acres to thirty. Adrian had a great career in the music industry, having founded Moshi Moshi Records. They had a star roster of successful acts, including Florence and the Machine. However, what drew me to Adrian when I first met him at a London tasting soon after his arrival at Westwell was his “Throbbing Gristle” t-shirt. They were pioneers of industrial music in the late 1970s and had a house a few doors up from the bassist in my band at the time, famous for some pretty loud parties.

Ed Dallimore in his book mentions Adrian’s t-shirts – Have you seen this one, Ed?

The philosophy is to work with minimal intervention, which includes the use of biodynamic preparations in the vineyards, working towards the elimination of all non-organic inputs in the next year or so, following a systematic planned reduction. It’s a philosophy which aims to be equally as hands-off in the vines and winery.

Adrian, like so many of the new names in English winemaking, trained at Plumpton College, near Lewes (E. Sussex), our national viticultural college. However, he got the wine bug before that, working with Will Davenport, after tasting one of his wines whilst pondering a change of direction and, apparently, phoning him up and asking for a job (See Ed Dallimore, The Vineyards of Britain, Fairlight Books 2022, p328). Will has been a pioneer of organic viticulture in England since the early 1990s and equally he was an early believer in English still wines, especially Pinot Noir which is beginning to thrive at the moment with warmer summers…just so long as the late frosts and mildew don’t get the grapes.

Adrian is a bit fan of the Ortega variety so several Westwell wines are made from or include it. This Müller-Thurgau x Siegerrebe crossing was developed in Germany in the 1940s (post-war). It has proved successful in England and Wales because it withstands frost well, and it also ripens early, useful in a country where summers have been known to end abruptly, sometimes before harvest. In its native Germany it is often associated with sweet wines because its early ripening ability enables high must weights. However, in the UK it is more likely to make a dry and zesty wine. Westwell manages to make a skin contact amber wine, a stainless steel-fermented tropical-fruited version, and a very tasty petnat (highly recommended).

There are also Rosés (Adrian likes pink wine, a taste I think he shares with Ben Walgate at Tillingham), both still and sparkling. There’s also a bit of the ubiquitous Regent planted, a red variety also much appreciated in the early days of viticulture in Britain due to its broad resistance to fungal diseases like downy mildew. Regent is undergoing a bit of a rethink at the moment as a new generation of young wine drinkers appreciate the “glouglou” fruit and lower alcohol of natural wines over the more classical flavours imbedded in drinkers who grew up on mostly wines from the classic French appellations.

However, the thing which drew me to write about Westwell today is a more classic wine, made from the three Champagne varieties.

Pelegrim is a classic method sparkling wine named after the Pilgrim’s Way and those who walked it, the ancient pilgrim path which skirts the southern edge of the North Downs as it approaches Canterbury. Medieval pilgrims used the route to travel from the Bishop’s See of Winchester to the shrine of Saint Thomas a Beckett, putting me in mind of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Archeology suggests it is actually much older, a very ancient pathway probably dating back to the Stone Age. It also happens to skirt Westwell’s vines. The cuvée is being re-launched this month with a stunning new label created by Adrian’s partner, Galia.

Pelegrim existed before Adrian Pike came on board at Westwell but Adrian made significant changes. These included later picking for riper fruit, a lower dosage (but not very low, at 8g/litre) and longer lees ageing. The wine is released as a multi-vintage, with the aim of producing consistency every year. The basic blend sits upon 40% Pinot Noir, joined by 35% Meunier and 25% Chardonnay, all a mix of Champagne and Dijon clones. Into this is blended 20% reserve wines from the previous five years. It is this that creates the potential for complexity.

Two factors besides fruit quality and dosage give Pelegrim its individual personality. First, it sees three years on lees. This is not a long time compared to some English sparklers, but it is just right to allow a fruit-forward style combined with some creaminess as complexity begins to show its face. The Chardonnay brings a touch of salinity whereas the Pinots bring both a nice layer of red fruits with a crisp, red apple, acidity.

Secondly, it is fermented to five bars of pressure, a little less than most classic bottle-fermented wines (six bar is more usual in Champagne and most English sparkling wine made by the traditional method). This helps give a slightly softer mouthfeel, which in turn gives an impression, but just that, of a little richness to balance the apple-fresh acids.

Galia’s new label is, I hope you agree, really rather beautiful. It depicts fossilised sea creatures found in the local chalk in abstract form, created from photos taken under the microscope. It’s one of my favourite labels for an English sparkler, sitting somewhere between the wild style often found on petnats and the more classic, if occasionally dull, labels for many of England’s classic sparklers (of course the beautiful classic type face chosen by Reynolds Stone for Breaky Bottom is a notable exception and the exemplar of the classical label).

One very big attraction of Pelegrim is the price. Whilst English Sparkling Wine has risen sharply in price in the past four or five years, especially as costs have rocketed so much and not all vintages have been commercially plentiful, this new launch of Pelegrim has a recommended retail price of only £32.50. I won’t try to argue that this is the best sparkling wine in England, but this is not intended to be one of those cuvées made to impress those wine writers who get the occasional sip at a tasting (we can’t afford the £100 bottles, you know), along with the bonus-rich bankers and hedge fund managers who presumably buy the wines which claim to be the crème de la crème. Instead, it is priced if not for everyone, certainly for those who are prepared to top £30 for a “special treat wine” if the bottle is worth it.

This, in my honest opinion is worth it. We drank it on a special family anniversary and we all loved it in equal measure. It is fruity, so it might not impress those who demand only zero-dosage wines with bags of dry extract and acidity which, in some examples, feels like a fatal thrust from the rapier of Porthos. Yet as well as being fruity it certainly has elegance, and also a wonderful precision. I love the balance here, perfectly judged and, I think, exactly what it means to be. It has quality in excess of its price. Adrian has really nailed it here.

Although Westwell has a good distribution, especially among the hot indie wine shops in London and The South, you can now visit the estate from Thursday to Saturday between 11-5. During these hours you no longer need to book an appointment. You can take a tour and/or enjoy a glass of Westwell wine with local cheese and charcuterie. The bar and shop stay open until 8pm on Fridays and Saturdays. The bonus – cellar door sales.

Image courtesy Westwell Wine Estates

Pelegrim has a younger sibling, Wicken Foy, made from the same grapes as Pelegrim but seeing only eighteen months on lees. It’s available only from independent retailers, plus a little may be available at the cellar door, assuming anyone has any left.

There’s also a kind of super-cuvée available in very tiny quantities. It’s their Special Cuvée Late Disgorged, based on the 2015 vintage in its current form, with, I understand, five years on lees. This is available from agent/distributor Uncharted Wines. Check out www.unchartedwines.com .

Westwell Wine Estates is at “The Vyneyard”, Westwell Lane, Charing, Kent TN27 0BW, and you can check them out at www.westwellwines.com .

Westwell Pelegrim will be launched officially on Tuesday October 25th with a tasting for Trade (3-5pm) and everyone (5pm onwards). The venue is Sager + Wilde, 193 Hackney Road, London E2 8JL.

Image courtesy Westwell Wine Estates

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Recent Wines August 2022 #theglouthatbindsus

It may appear that drinking at home was not a thing in August, but if truth be known we were trying to drink up the sort of wines which either I didn’t want to lug up to Scotland along with a few wines I’d bought several bottles of for summer consumption. We are left with only six I want to tell you about and they come from South Africa, Hungary, Provence, Burgenland, Franconia and The Loire.

Luuks 2020, Blank Bottle Winery (Stellenbosch, South Africa)

I bought several bottles of this over a couple of orders and I’m really pleased I did. It’s a new cuvée from Pieter Walser, and “luuks” means “luxury” in Afrikaans, quite apt. It was the first time Pieter had been able to afford a brand-new barrel, sourced from Burgundy, and this is the result.

The fruit chosen was, perhaps unsurprisingly, Chardonnay from Stellenbosch. Pieter has made a shockingly good wine from it. Interestingly, the alcohol here is not what you’d expect. Some of Pieter’s wines can, how can I put it, creep up on you, and surely Chardonnay might be a candidate for that effect. But no, this shows a very restrained 12.5% abv.

The wine is obviously young at more-or-less two years old, but despite a buttery, toasty, side to it, we also have bright citrus acidity which both balances the oak, and makes the wine so nice to drink now that I’m not sure keeping it will bring a great deal more to the game. It will doubtless broaden but it’s so alive right now, in the way that I described Gut Oggau’s wines recently.

I would say that this is probably the best new Blank Bottle cuvée I’ve tasted for a while, despite the incredibly high standards this wonderful, slightly under the radar, South African producer adheres to. I really like this.

As always, I think all of Pieter’s wines are amazing value. Imported by Swig Wines, this Came from Butlers Wine Cellar in Brighton.

Eastern Accents 2020, Annamária Réka-Koncz (Eastern Hungary)

I’ve written about this producer many times, so many readers will know of my special affinity for these wines.  I drank, and wrote about, the previous vintage of Eastern Accents just over twelve months ago, so I have no worries about plugging my first bottle of the 2020.

The key to Annamária’s wines begins with old vines, around 40-to-60 years old. They are situated on what is known as the Northern Great Plain, close to Barabás, right up on the Ukrainian border. This is obviously not one of Hungary’s more famous viticultural regions, but the terroir is not massively dissimilar to that in Tokaj, which is not all that far away.

The blend in this bottling is 70% Harslevelü with 30% of Annamária’s secret weapon, the Királyleányka variety, better known perhaps as Fetească Regală to those familiar with the wines of Romania. The grapes see a five-day maceration on skins, so this is a skin contact wine. This is followed by a carbonic fermentation (my notes on the 2019 say semi-carbonic) in tank (the cuvée sees no wood).

The result is massively fruity, fresh and easy to drink but there is undoubtedly mineral texture from skin contact and lees. There’s a lovely bite to the finish which adds considerable interest. Apart from describing this wine as gorgeous, I’d also call it “precise”. Only 2,028 bottles were made of this. It is both a good introduction to the Réka-Koncz range, and to skin contact wines in general. Although it is darkish in colour, it’s not an especially tannic amber wine, compared to many.

Annamária Réka-Koncz is imported here in the UK by Basket Press Wines.

Château Simone Rosé 2020, Famille Rougier (Palette, France)

Palette is a tiny appellation in Provence, tucked away in the hills close to Aix-en-Provence. It’s a place you might swish past on the Autoroute, which passes close by, but I’ve never been able to spot any vines. I tried to find the place once, many decades ago, and failed. As far as I know there are just two producers in Palette and Simone is the famous one. It has been home to the Rougier family since the 1830s. They happen to make my favourite Porvençal pink wine (along with fine red and white), and I’d rarely buy a case from Yapp Brothers back in the day without adding in a bottle.

However, I do have a confession. Simone Rosé demands bottle age, pretty much unlike (almost) any other pink wine from this broad region, known for its “best drunk on holiday” brands and only a small group of artisan estates. Having not drunk Simone for a long while some impulse got the better of me. I should have kept this bottle longer, but at least I have the experience to assess it as if I were at a tasting. At £40/bottle now, it was a shame to open it as early as I did.

This is on the darker side for a Rosé, quite a distance removed from the pale numbers so fashionable these days, from the coastal seafood restaurants to a supermarket near you. Its colour is in the same sort of zone as Tavel. The grapes grown at Simone are a long list of the familiar and the unfamiliar. Grenache and Mourvèdre form the base of the pink wine, and they sit alongside the likes of Manoscan, Castet, Muscatel (sic), and Syrah. They are co-planted on limestone scree on the Montaiguet Massif.

Partially destemmed, the grapes undergo a long cuvaison of nine months before going into used oak. The result certainly has body and structure closer to a red wine, yet its character, although partially unique, does point towards a white wine in terms of freshness and acid balance. I think the red fruits come through best on the nose, and Yapp’s use “purity” as a description, which is apt. The palate adds in herbal touches with a little spice. They suggest keeping it 2-3 years, I reckon five years is not too long. Certainly drinking it at two years old was at the beginning of the window, but I think that unless you actively dislike the darker, actually more food-friendly style of Rosé, you will find this an impressive wine.

Although previously purchased from Yapp Brothers in Mere, Wiltshire, this bottle came from The Solent Cellar, in Lymington (Hants).

Neuburger 2018, Joiseph (Burgenland, Austria)

Joiseph is partly named after Jois, a village towards the top of Burgenland’s Neusiedlersee. Luka Zeichmann is the young star who makes the wines. He joined up with business partners Alex Kagl and Richard Artner, who both tend the vines, only in 2015. Jois is where you’ll find the vines, but confusingly the cellars are at Unterpullendorf, a good hour away to the south.

When they began there was under a hectare of vines, split into five tiny parcels. They have grown quite a bit since then…to just under six hectares. The vineyards are mostly on a mix of limestone with shale, which you probably know is the common rock type up here on the southeast-facing Leithaberg Hills which surround the lake’s northwestern side.

Grapes cover all the usual Burgenland bases and many Joiseph wines are blends. This, however, is a single variety seen all too little even in its homeland. I think I was lucky to get a bottle because the various importers to different countries rarely seem to have any. Neuburger is a white variety, a cross between Roter Veltliner and Silvaner. Those who don’t know it by this name might have come across it in the Upper Mosel (Germany) or even Luxembourg, where it goes by the name of Elbling. The eagle-eyed will have noticed that I also tasted the variety in Moravia this summer (Osička blends it with MT in his “Milerka”, Stavek uses it in field blends, Krasna Hora in their entry level “La Blanca”, but even better, Petr Koráb makes a varietal Neuburger which is well worth seeking out).

Even in Germany Neuburger is not very well known, and certainly lauded by few wine writers. Of course, give an unloved variety to a star winemaker and you are likely to taste something interesting. A few winemakers in Austria are treating it with respect, rather like the mini-renaissance of Räuschling in Switzerland.

All the Joiseph wines are completely natural. They used to joke that the only vineyard equipment they owned were wellingtons and secateurs. Not totally true, but they don’t own a tractor, often the first toy new viticulturalists buy with their first agri-loan.

Anyway, what does this taste like? Rather good I must say. The big impression comes from its salinity. It has that salty/savoury taste and a bit of texture. This is balanced by different fruit flavours. Pear dominates, perhaps, but there’s a touch of crisp apple and I am sure I got a hint of pineapple in the overall freshness. This isn’t “fane wane”, but it’s a damned interesting bottle. A mere 800 of them were made.

Joiseph wines come into the UK via the excellent small importer, Modal Wines.

Rouge 2019, Max Sein Wein (Franconia, Germany)

The Max in question is Max Baumann, who runs his family’s vineyard at Dertingen, in that part of Baden known in anglophone countries as Franconia. Here, he farms around 3.5-ha of vines which are up to 60-years-old on limestone with a little red sandstone. All farming is organic and the wines are made with minimal interventions.

For the reds Max has plots of Pinot Noir and Meunier, preferring to use the French nomenclature for Spätburgunder and Schwarzriesling. Rouge 2019 has a majority of (Pinot) Meunier blended with Pinot Noir. He handles this variety, which is now getting more attention here, not just as fruit to slosh into Sekt, but really well as a still wine. The result is a wine with a smooth, fruity, mouthfeel, yet a haunting quality as the ethereal fruit of the Meunier comes through, matched on the bouquet by its lifted cherry scent. The Pinot Noir adds a more conventional cherries and berries fatness.

A delicious fruit bomb from an under-the-radar name, but my friend in Bordeaux (Feral Art et Vin) has also sold these wines and he’s got one of the best palates I know, and the best eye for a future German star bar none.

In the UK these wines come in via Basket Press Wines. They have a number of cuvées, including this one currently in its 2018 version, as well as 2019 guise. Around £28.

Saumur Blanc “Les Salles Martin” 2014, Antoine Sanzay (Loire, France)

When I purchased my first wines from Antoine, including this one, he was obviously set to be one of the up-and-coming names of Touraine. Now this Chenin Blanc is ready to drink, his star has risen. He’s based in the appellation of Saumur, at Varrains, just south of the famous Loire-side town itself. We are about five minutes by car from the large co-operative winery at St-Cyr-en-Bourg and much of the fruit from around here will go to that facility.

Antoine keeps alive artisan winemaking with a hillside plot at around 100 masl, which may have grown since, but last time I looked was a mere single hectare. He took over these vines terribly young after his father died unexpectedly, although it was his grandfather who had been the vigneron, sending his harvest to the co-operative as was the way back then.

Antoine had no experience, but he did get help and assistance from a rollcall of some of the biggest names from far and wide in artisan winemaking in the Loire (the Foucault brothers, the two Jo’s…Landron and Pithon, Bernard Baudry and others). With their inspiration he gained Ecocert biodynamic certification in 2014, at which point he began to bottle his wine himself.

Les Salles Martin is 100% Chenin from surprisingly young vines, possibly not quite ten years old. The fruit is aged in a mixture of barrique and foudre, yielding a wine with plenty of acidity and extract which I’d suggest needs some bottle age if you buy it on release. At a little less than eight years old, this is superb. Although I’d be in no immediate hurry to drink it, I’d say that this 2014 is in a very good place right now. It does taste youthful for Chenin, and there’s definitely, to my palate, some oak influence (despite having read that the oak back in 2014 was not new oak) there, but it’s just fantastically refreshing.

The acidity and vivacity in the wine comes obviously via the biodynamics, but it’s also worth noting that Antoine has avoided the malolactic here. From such a small plot of fairly young vines this is rather elegant as well. Lemon and grapefruit dominate, rather than the pear and quince, which may come later.

Another wine from The Solent Cellar. I think the importer is the Monmouth (Wales)-based Carte Blanche Wines.

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The Good Wine Shop – Organic and Biodynamic Wines

It seems like I only occasionally write about wine shops these days but there is one, well actually four branches to be accurate, which up until now has always been under the radar of a lot of Londoners, their branches being way out west, so to speak, in Kew, Chiswick, Richmond Hill and Teddington. This is, of course, The Good Wine Shop.

I discovered about a week ago that The Good Wine Shop had won Runner-Up for “Best London Multi-Store” in the Decanter Retailer Awards 2022. But more importantly for readers of this blog, they also won the award for Best Organic and Biodynamic Retailer.

TGWS has had a focus on biodynamic wines ever since Mark Wrigglesworth opened their first store in 2004, and over the years they began to import an increasing number of wines themselves. They are strong in a number of areas – friends who are passionate about Italian wines have pointed me in the right direction on numerous occasions. However, it is my particular interest in Grower Champagne that has led me to shop here most often. It would be hard to find a better range of these wines in many other independent London wine shops.

I remember that they were in early with Ruppert-Leroy, whose wines are just beginning to be recognised for their dynamic quality in the UK. Varnier-Fannière, Marie-Courtin, Savart, Delouvin (they have their Meunier from a perpetual reserve, for example), Les Frères Mignon, Benoit Lahaye, Jacques (Emmanuel) Lassaigne, Bérêche, Dhondt Grellet, Laherte, Collard-Picard, Agrapart…and this is far from all of them. If you are feeling like a change and something English, they have Black Chalk, Jacob Leadley’s wonderful wine from Hampshire, about which I’ve written extensively.

From England you’ll also find more Tillingham than most places, along with bottles from Will Davenport and Westwell, to mention my favourites. Whilst we are in England, do not forget to take a look at the range of sake they have from Peckham’s own Kanpai Sake Brewery, making award winning sake of various kinds in London (see Anthony Rose’s excellent Sake and the Wines of Japan, Infinite Ideas 2018, pp 242-3 for more info). I understand that since I was last in some of the Kanpai range may be in short supply but I think most stores have some “Tsuki”. Well worth a look.

To reel off a few other recommendations, DVA Duby’s Impera (Moravia), Maison Blanche Mont-sur-Rolle (Vaud, Switzerland, an affordable, decent Chasselas), Blank Bottle (S. Africa), Ch Mercian Koshu Gris de Gris (Japan – I bought a bottle of this on my last but one visit) would all be a good start. Or you could try some Wiener Gemischter Satz from Vienna’s Nussberg from Zahel, and some unusual grape varieties – Sämling and Lemburger for the wine geeks out there, or a wine based largely on the Callet variety from Mallorca.

I mentioned Italy. There’s a very interesting range from Piemonte, Including Olim Bauda Nizza Riserva (posh Barbera) and Davide Carlone’s interesting Boca DOC, a Nebbiolo/Vespolina blend from 2013. If you want something more classic, perhaps an Ettore Germano Barolo Serralunga in magnum (£81). On the natural side there’s COS from Sicily, and also Terre Nere (Etna Rosso).

TGWS’s strap line is Good Wine, Real People, Great Stories. It’s the mantra followed by most wine loving consumers I associate with. They don’t want florid tasting notes and Parker Points. They want to know about who makes the wine, where, and how. The last part is important because if you are reading this you are very likely at the very least aware of the synthetic chemical inputs added to the majority of grapes and wine, and you will be equally aware of how modern agri-chemicals and heavy vineyard machines are helping to destroy the soils and eco-systems vines need. Any wine shops focusing on wines which minimise this damage are worth knowing about, and worth patronising.

Of course, I shall miss my visits in person to the Kew store, which I would always visit when I was dining at the now sadly closed Glasshouse Restaurant in Kew, where by this summer the cooking far exceeded its single Michelin Star. Now I’m living in a different country many hundreds of miles away I’m not sure how easily I will get there to browse, even when I get to London. They deliver for free on orders over £125, but in shops like these, with such an eclectic range on the shelves, you can’t beat a good browse. TGWS branches are a great place to do just that.

A lament for The Glasshouse and all the wonderful staff who worked there – you will be missed

Posted in Artisan Wines, biodynamic wine, Champagne, English Wine, Sake, Wine, Wine Merchants, Wine Shops | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Recent Wines July 2022 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

For Part Two of my catchup on July’s wines we have some stunning bottles from Italy’s Veneto, the north of Alsace, two came from around Austria’s Neusiedlersee, one from Zurich in the Deutschschweiz, and to start off, a wine made from grapes sourced from pretty much all over England (and some from Wales).

Lost in a Field “Frolic” 2021, Tim Wildman (Various vineyards, UK)

Tim Wildman has given much pleasure to many lovers of petnat, via his range made in Australia, all sporting wonderful arresting graphics on their labels (Astro Bunny, Piggy Pop). In 2021 he got together a team of helpers and trawled some of Britain’s lost vineyards for fruit to make an English and Welsh version of those very successful Aussie bottles.

Many vineyards were planted in the initial “boom” (not that it was a boom by today’s standards) of vineyard planting in the UK, much of it in the 1970s and 80s. Back then you were relatively unlikely to find any Pinot Noir, although some “Pinot Noir Precose” was planted (this grape variety is actually Frühburgunder and nice as it can be, especially when made by myself, it’s not PN). Chardonnay…forget it. Most plantings were a mix of German crossings developed to resist the diseases brought on by a cold, damp, climate. These vines have been terribly maligned in recent years, but their value to wine geeks has led to them being called “Heritage Varieties”.

Tim used 21 heritage varieties for this wine, sourced from 81 English and Welsh vineyards in seven counties. The main variety (70% of the blend) is British staple Madeleine Angevine, a distant relative of Chasselas it turns out. To this was added various proportions of Schönburger, Reichensteiner, Triomphe (a red variety made very successfully as a sparkling wine by Welsh producer Ancre Hill), Rondo (a ubiquitous hybrid red variety crossing Saint Laurent with vitis amurensis variety Zarya Severa, created in former Czechoslovakia in the 1960s) and others. Many grapes came from old plots Tim says were unloved for years.

The result is a wine which, whilst it will never wine big Parker points, is thoroughly interesting, and thankfully massively thirst quenching to boot. It’s a frothy petnat which mirrors Tim’s Aussie wines in tone and fun factor. It has that field blend flavour where no variety, despite the proportions outlined above, dominates. This is clearly because the main grape is white yet the wine is given a deep pink hue by the less dominant red varieties. It’s very much fruit driven, with a summer berries flavour which is unique. Perfect for summer, but I think equally worth taking to older relatives who have the heating up full blast (like my parents), where a thirst needs quenching. At just 10% abv it performs that task extremely well.

If there’s a downside to this wine, it’s the price tag of £32+, but it does come in a unique bottle with a lovely label, and for those tempted and not too impecunious, it came in magnums too. Despite the price (a good third more than Tim’s excellent Australian wines), this wine is worth supporting, especially to try something made from these old sources and heritage varieties. Plenty of producers around the country are finding new markets for some of these grape varieties as younger drinkers go in search of the glou, but there’s nothing quite like what Tim has put together. It was bottled by Daniel Ham (Offbeat Wines), to add further interest to those who know Daniel’s wines.

This wine has mostly been available at small independent wine shops in London and along the South Coast. I suspect that if you want to try this you may still be able to track down the odd bottle. Mine came from Seven Cellars in Brighton.

“Sassaia” 2020, IGT Veneto, La Biancara/Angiolino Maule (Veneto, Italy)

You might remember that I have been particularly impressed with this wine (and producer) whenever I’ve tasted their bottles at The Real Wine Fair. I’ve been remiss over the past few years in not buying any but I put this right earlier this year, though the shop owner kindly sold me a bottle from his tasting stash to enable me to do more than merely “taste” this.

Angiolino and his son, Alessandro, are based near Gambellara, a very old DOC in the Veneto province of Vicenza. Here the main white variety is Garganega, more commonly known from nearby Soave. Here, in the Sorio Hills, Garganega is grown on volcanic soils (as in Soave’s best vineyards), and this is a wholly natural wine with no manipulations nor other inputs, and that includes zero sulphur.

For around a mere £20 you get a genuinely striking, pure, expression of the variety. First you are struck by the lovely perfume given off, quite peachy aromas. The palate adds a citrus acidity and a textured, mineral, bite. A little weight on the palate balances it all wonderfully well. At just 12.5% abv, this is delicious, and equally a bargain.

The wines of Angelino Maule are imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.

Après L’Heure, Christophe Lindenlaub (Alsace, France)

This pink Pinot Noir petnat is made by Christophe at the estate he now runs with his father, Jacques, at Dorlisheim. It’s a relatively unknown village to outsiders, up in the north of the region around 20km west of Strasbourg, just below Mutzig and the slightly better known Molsheim (where the famous motor manufacturer Bugatti was founded).

This part of the Alsace vignoble is at the forefront of innovation, with a mix of new growers who find vines up here somewhat more affordable, coupled with older estates where a younger generation, schooled on natural wines, ecology and regenerative viticulture are staking their claim. To those who love the region’s wines, Bas Rhin is more exciting than the supposedly more famous, more “Grand Cru” endowed, Haut Rhin.

The family has a 200-year history in winemaking here, but there’s no doubt that Christophe has shaken things up and given the domaine a new lease of life. It’s fair to say that he is one of the young rising stars of the wider region. He has taken things further than his father’s interest in organics and creates zero-addition wines of increasing stature.

This petnat is in some ways a classic Alsace Pinot Noir, except that it has bubbles. It has that vibrant red cherry nose and flavour which sings “glug me” in a loud voice. The bouquet also brings in raspberry notes and the palate adds some wild herbs. In some ways it is very reflective of the clay and limestone soils up here, interesting because petnats are often more a mirror of winemaking than terroir. Interestingly I can’t see any indication of vintage, not even a Lot number, on the label. The vines are, I do know, 40 years old or more.

Christophe exports more than 40% of his output, quite typical of the Alsace new wave. Forward-looking countries like Japan and Sweden feature. The wines only became available in the slow to cotton on UK, and the USA, in 2020, and I suspect this wine is from that vintage.

I can’t recall where I found this bottle, certainly in a UK independent. However, I know my new discovery Cork and Cask in Edinburgh listed it and they ship to all UK destinations. They had it for the lower end of its UK retail range, £23.95. Although they sold out, hopefully they will restock the next release. If they do I promise I will buy it.

For all things Alsace natural wine new wave, check out David Neilson’s backinalsace.com, where you can read about the Lindenlaub estate, and many other up-and-coming Alsace natural wine producers. I’ve been quite successful over the years in cheerleading for Jura, Savoie, even Bugey and Moravia, but getting people to buy the amazing wines of what is to my mind the most exciting region in France for lovers of low intervention wine has been, in most cases, quite hard work. I will persist.

G’mischter Sotz 2020, Andert-Wein (Burgenland, Austria)

Erich and Michael Andert farm at Pamhagen, close to the Hungarian border on the bottom eastern side of the Neusiedlersee, where the better known Meinklang are also based. In Pamhagen there are a lot of people with the surname Andert but these brothers are pretty well known. It’s not for the size of their vineyards, tiny compared to the Meinklang estate, but for their uncompromising winemaking. Possibly the best illustration of this is that they will not even have electricity in the cellar. They believe that the waves given off by electricity will negatively affect their wine.

The wine, made from biodynamically farmed grapes, is completely unmanipulated. No electricity means no pumping, and although there are other ways to cool a fermenting vat, there is no temperature control of fermentations here. Everything is allowed to go its own way. Oddly enough, although these wines can be challenging for those who have not experienced them before, they are equally thrilling. There’s something to the argument that the less you do to a wine, the more expressive it is able to be.

This cuvée, the name only suggestive of Gemischter Satz because it is bottled as a mere table wine, is a co-planted, co-fermented field blend of Grüner Veltliner, Welschriesling, Müller-Thurgau, Gelber Muskateller, Frühroter Veltliner and Muscat Ottonel. It’s sappy, saline, cloudy, certainly bracing. As a skin-contact wine it has a savoury, textured palate and a pale amber colour. If you are up for the challenge, you will find zingy peach too, with fresh citrus acidity, herbs (fennel I think), and a surprisingly long finish, all at a mere 10% abv. Certainly not a crowd pleaser, but I know both consumers and people in the trade who worship these mysterious and almost voodoo wines.

They come with a plain white label which states “Andert-Wein” and “Österreich”, and nothing more on the front. Nothing beats a bold statement, perhaps. The back label is slightly more informative, suggesting (inter alia) a possible bottling date of July 2021 and Demeter certification.

Your UK source for Andert is Les Caves de Pyrene.

Federweiss 2018, Bechtel Weine (Zurich, Switzerland)

These wines are labelled Zurich AOC, though I think I recall that they were previously labelled for their village source, Eglisau, close to the Rhine in that Canton. There is only 15-ha under vine here and whilst in the past the big name in winemaking here was the soon to retire Urs Pichler, Mathias Bechtel is the rising star. He comes from the background of the Junge Schweiz-Neue Winzer grouping which has transformed the vineyards of German-speaking Switzerland, what is known in the regions here as Deutschschweiz.

Mathias made his name with transcendent Pinot Noir, by which I mean transcending anything previously made in the Canton, and justly garlanded with awards nationally. It is Pinot Noir which makes this “Federweiss”. Those few who have come across the style may know it as a traditional blanc de noirs, Pinot Noir lightly pressed without macerating the grapes to give winemakers who only possess red grapes the opportunity to make a white wine.

Though Bechtel makes a wine for easy drinking, his version is a light rosé, the colour being more of an orange tinge that real pink. This is down to a light maceration of meticulously tended and sorted grapes from vineyards that reach up to 470 masl above the river, where a cool climate but the reflecting water provide for both ripeness and acid tension. Far from the peasant style of old, this is fruity and mineral, a Federweiss which stands completely apart.

Alpine Wines imports this, but I purchased it not directly this time, but from The Solent Cellar. It retailed for £36, which makes it, like all Swiss wine, hardly a bargain. Yet I would suggest that to try an unusual wine style, from a country all too few retailers will look at, it’s worth it. Because I’m guessing that if you read this Blog, you are a fairly adventurous drinker. Solent currently suggest they have one bottle left. Alpine Wines currently lists half-a-dozen Bechtel cuvées.

Winifred 2021, Gut Oggau (Burgenland, Austria)

This producer, based in the village of Oggau, north of Rust, on the western shore of the Neusiedlersee, has long been one of my very favourite producers. As with Jaroslav Osička in Part 1, I visited Stephanie and Eduard recently, back in August, and wrote about that visit in an article of 19 September. This means that I won’t give any background here. If you are not too familiar with Gut Oggau, check out that article which you may find in the popular articles to the right of this text, or by searching Gut Oggau in the search box.

Summer would not be the same without a bottle of Winifred. I think I’ve mentioned before that one bottle of any cuvée per year is about my lot because of the popularity and justifiable price of most of these wines now. Winifred is a vivacious rosé off a terroir of sand and clay. The vines, most around thirty-five years old, are a mix of Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt.

The colour is towards the darker end of pink, but in contrast the wine is quite light and fragrant. For me the dominant fruit is strawberries in this youthful 2021. It is vibrancy personified, and this is a clear trait of all the Gut Oggau wines which seem to have an extra level of life force in them. I must add though, that in all of the several vintages I’ve drunk of this wine this might be the best I remember. 2021 was a remarkable vintage in many ways, and back on 31 July this year it was absolutely drinking perfectly.

Dynamic Vines imports Gut Oggau, but looking at their list I can only see this cuvée available now in 12-litre format, £960 if anyone is interested, and I presume someone will be. My bottle came from Antidote Wine Bar (who do takeaway sales). Their Central London location, a stone’s throw from Regents Street (12A Newburgh St, off Carnaby St) makes it very convenient for bottle sales.

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Recent Wines July 2022 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

Finally, I think I have some time to write, post-move, post-Covid and post-family visits. I’m way behind with my “Recent Wines” articles, so in this case you will get some not so recent wines dating back to July. Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll publish two parts for July as I’ve got twelve wines to write about. You’ll just get six for August as I think we drank a fair-few wines then that I’ve already written about this year, plus if I’m honest, a few you wouldn’t want to read about.  For September it looks like there are eight wines worth mentioning, despite thirteen days of Covid.

Coming up when I can fit it in will be a review of Ed Dallimore’s excellent “The Vineyards of Britain”. You’ll have to wait to see just how good I think it might be, but in case you are pondering a purchase, well it isn’t quite “comprehensive” in the true sense of the word, but it is certainly by far the most extensive coverage of Britain’s vineyards to date. Ed is also a very decent photographer. This means you don’t need to wait on my review if you are itching to grab a copy.

So, back in the game for July…

“The Trouble with Dreams” 2017, Sugrue South Downs (Sussex and Hampshire, UK)

Dermot Sugrue took the decision to leave Wiston Estate this year and forge ahead full-time, along with his wife, with their own label, now called Sugrue South Downs. Since they launched it with this cuvée in the 2010 vintage, under the label name “Sugrue Pierre”, Dermot has established it as one of the very finest in the country, and before that, during his time at Wiston, he had already made a name for himself as one of the very best winemakers we have as well. I still have one bottle of that 2010 left, awaiting the right opportunity to share it. But I bought some current and recent bottlings this year, including the new Rosé cuvée, and I thought I should pop a 2017 “Dreams”.

The grapes for this 2017 are sourced from three sites. First is the vineyard at Storrington Priory in West Sussex, which Dermot has farmed since the beginning. Second is his own vineyard at Mount Harry, near Lewes (also Sussex, but Lewes is the County Town for East Sussex). He also used some fruit from Hampshire producer Jenkyn Place, with whom he has a longstanding relationship as a contract winemaker.

The vintage suffered from a little frost which reduced yields but may have had a positive effect on quality, although you will understand that Dermot is a perfectionist and is meticulous about fruit selection. We have here a blend of around 60% Chardonnay with 40% Pinot Noir, bottled as a Brut with 8g/litre dosage.

The result, bearing in mind that this is a relatively young wine, is both perfumed and thrilling in its freshness and tension between fruit and acidity. The dosage makes it easier on the palate right now, so despite its ability to age, it seems in no way a crime to drink it. I know that the Sugrue range begins here and goes higher, so to speak, but I have no hesitation in calling this a masterpiece in winemaking in what was a relatively difficult year. It has a thrilling edge to it and a vibrancy rarely found in sparkling wine.

I say rarely, but it’s worth sharing with you my feelings about English and Welsh bottle-fermented sparkling wine. I think 2022 is the year when I’ve begun to question whether I should be buying as much Champagne and switch more towards English producers. Of course, I still have a passion for Grower Champagne, don’t get me wrong. I think some of you will also know that I’m in no way jingoistic about English wine (the producers that are frankly annoy me), especially as I now no longer reside in England. However, I can see myself exploring the wines of my former abode even more from now on. The quality has rocketed.

This was purchased from/delivered by Butlers Wine Cellar (Brighton). They have one of the best selections of local wines I know.

“A Fermament” 2017, Charlie Herring Wines (Hampshire, UK)

Another English wine, you say! Those who read my articles frequently will probably know that Tim Phillips has become a friend over the years. It doesn’t help me get his wines, or certainly his Rieslings. My name goes into the ballot along with everyone else. At least his other wines are merely difficult to source, rather than almost impossible.

As I said, Tim is a friend, but I have no issue with extolling these wines because I’ve not found anyone in the trade who doesn’t rate them highly. Not only does Tim have a beautiful old walled vineyard a mile or two inland from the Hampshire coast (it’s how he ripens the Riesling), but he is also one of the deepest thinking winemakers I know. He’s equally very experienced, having made wine in South Africa, and with Julian Castagna in Australia, from whom I know he learnt an awful lot.

A Fermament is made from Sauvignon Blanc from the walled clos, and this bottling had three months on skins followed by 14 months in barrel before being returned to tank to settle. It was bottled in September 2019, in 50cl glass to help make it go around further. But Tim didn’t release it until July 2020. I let it develop further for two years on advice that it would, unlike much but not all SB, age well. This has been proven to be the case.

The golden colour suggests some skin contact. The bouquet right now is redolent with orange peel, bergamot, nutmeg and a slight dustiness, not at all common-or-garden Sauvignon Blanc. The palate has a touch of texture and real depth. I’d say this has taken on a good bit of complexity since last tasted, but it’s in a really good place, having retained good acidity and freshness. It lingers on the palate for a long time. Nothing Tim makes is short of extraordinary in its own way, and nothing you see on a shelf should be left there after you leave.

I’m not sure that this particular vintage will be available any longer but Tim Phillips’s Charlie Herring wines and ciders are distributed by Les Caves de Pyrene. Tim’s local indie wine shop in Lymington, the excellent Solent Cellar, often has a few bottles as well, although they can sell out very quickly.

Riesling Feinherb “Silbermond” 2018, Rita and Rudolf Trossen (Mosel, Germany)

Rudolf and Rita Trossen have been natural wine pioneers in the Mosel for longer than the term “natural wine” has been in common parlance. Their viticulture and winemaking is merely based on a firm understanding of nature and ecology. They have been based at Kinheim-Kindel for more than forty years.

In many ways this is a classic wine made in a classic wine style which has been overlooked in recent decades. I’m talking about Feinherb. You get low alcohol (11% abv), but not as low as a typical old-school Mosel Kabinett. There’s a little residual sugar which makes the bottle deceptively easy to drink as if it were fruit juice, yet at the same time it is very clearly Riesling.

The grapes come from almost uniformly steep sites in this part of the Mosel, on the stretch between Ürzig and Kröv. You may be pushed to find Silbermond on most maps because it isn’t a famous site, but it is the care which goes into the vines and the winemaking which makes the wine. Producer is key here.

Fruity (lime and mango come to mind), floral, saline and mineral, with a hint of spice. You really cannot stop drinking it once opened, so welcoming it is on the palate. For this style, it is a complete wine, with zero additives.

It came from Littlewine, but now that their online shop has closed you should head to Trossen’s importer, Newcomer Wines.

Mtsvane “Qvevri Traditional” 2018, Anapea Village Winery (Kakheti, Georgia)

This is a traditional qvevri cuvée made from the Mtsvane variety in Georgia’s Eastern region of Kakheti, more specifically in Anapea which is in the sub-region of Kvareli. Well, I can’t say I know Kakheti, let alone Anapea, and neither have I ever come across this winery before.

I’m using the label to tell me that the grapes were harvested in September and placed in underground qvevri for fermentation on natural yeasts. Maceration was for seven months in total with a further three months in bottle before release. It’s a natural wine with no synthetic vineyard inputs and no additions in the winery.

What does it taste like? In the glass it’s an iridescent amber colour. There’s little mistaking that this is a qvevri wine. But it does shine attractively. It almost smells tannic, if you know what I mean, but the hints of apricot and honey build on the bouquet as the wine opens up. The palate is certainly fairly tannic but the texture is balanced by acidity and flavours of yellow peach which carry through a good long finish.

It’s a pretty good way to try out an amber wine if you want to go in, if not quite at the deep end, then certainly with a good example of qvevri winemaking.

From Oxford Wine Company, retailing at £22.50 when I purchased it earlier this year.

Akácia 2020, Jaroslav Osička (Moravia, Czechia)

Jaroslav, now ably assisted by his son Luboš, is based in the important Moravian wine village of Velké Bilovice, and you might realise that I drank this bottle just before visiting him there a few weeks later (see my article of 31/08/2022). You will also know that he has been at the forefront of the Moravian natural wine movement, not only as a producer but as a teacher at the local wine school. As I wrote about that visit I won’t go into much detail here, suffice to say that I personally see him as the sort of “Pierre Overnoy” of Moravia. Of course, it is no coincidence that he took much inspiration from the natural wines of France’s Jura region.

Akácia is a blend of 80% Rhine Riesling with Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. Although these are not considered by outsiders to be native varieties, of course they have been here many years and local clones have developed.

There’s a lovely waft of a floral bouquet gently soaring out of the glass, which after a moment gives off a little spicy note, perhaps from the Pinot Gris? The palate, on swirling the contents, shows a mix of pear and peach, the latter seeming to match the wine’s attractive yellow-gold glow. There’s a little mineral texture and citrus acids but the wine is one harmonious whole. This is very good indeed, and though I’m wont to praise the whole Osička portfolio, this wine is definitely one to try…and it’s not expensive.

Imported into the UK by Basket Press Wines.

Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature 2010, Ebner-Ebenauer (Weinviertel, Austria)

I was rather sad to say goodbye to my last bottle of this traditional method Chardonnay sparkling wine from a producer whose profile is definitely not as great in the UK as it should be, although at least I’ve been able to sample their wines at Noble Rot Restaurant in Lamb’s Conduit Street (London) from time to time. This 2010 won a Gault-Millau Wine of the Year Award and that was well justified because over the years I’ve been drinking it, it has only grown in stature, and is one of the finest sparklers I’ve drunk in the past decade.

Ebner-Ebenauer are based in the Südlandisches Weinviertel, northeast of Vienna up towards the Czech (Moravian) border. More specifically they are in Poysdorf, right on the Hauptstrasse. Marion was barely an adult when she began winemaking, working with Fritz Wieninger in Vienna. I met her a number of years ago and she was a shining beacon of joy at a tasting in the Austrian Embassy in London. Manfred is a calm experimenter who has a passion for Burgundy. They are like opposites, people say, which gives this domaine a certain dynamism.

This Sekt, as I said, made from Chardonnay, has nearly seven years on lees before release. It is above all a wine of elegance. It has broadened since I last drank a bottle (I’ve had four), but it still has a pinpoint focus derived from its acid spine. Very sophisticated. Stephan Reinhardt called it “possibly Austria’s finest sparkling wine”. I’ve certainly not tasted better, not remotely.

When I purchased my bottles (from two sources, one UK and one Austrian) it was retailing for 60€. Looking back now, with the price of good Grower Champagne and the best of English Sparkling Wine, that does look something of a bargain. For confirmation of my own taste, Marion and Manfred were Fallstaff Magazine Winemakers of the Year 2022.

As for obtaining a bottle, the 2010 is presumably long gone. Roberson imports Ebner-Ebenauer into the UK, but I can’t see the Sekt among the eight wines they currently list. It may be worth taking a peek at the wine department in Harvey Nichols in London if you are literally passing. The excellent finger-on-the-pulse merchant in Peckham, The Sorting Table, lists eleven Ebner-Ebenauer wines. This also does not currently include the Sekt but it may be worth messaging them to ask whether it’s on their horizon.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Austrian Wine, Czech Wine, English Wine, Georgian Wine, Mosel, Natural Wine, Sparkling Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gut Oggau Visit, August 2022

I might have mentioned previously that when we visited Moravia we flew into Vienna. The route worked best to minimise overall travel, and to avoid Stansted. It also afforded an opportunity to spend a couple of nights in Rust. This town, on the western shore of the Neusiedlersee in Burgenland, is a great base for a holiday, whether wine-obsessed or not, and I’d not been there since 2015 and was well overdue a return visit.

Rust has many attractions, and many good wine makers, but I was also long overdue a visit to one of my favourite producers who happen to be just a few minutes down the road in the village of Oggau. Stephanie and Eduard Tscheppe-Eselböck purchased vines and winery in 2007, an estate which had been abandoned for a year. This was a good start for a couple who wanted to pursue a zero-tolerance of synthetic inputs in their viticulture and winemaking. This is a producer whose number one aim, I would guess, is to ensure healthy soils and biodiversity on the land they farm.

Many people come into wine with ideas about what they want, and they change whole landscapes and ecosystems in order to achieve that, whether their intentions are good or not. Stephanie and Eduard had a different aim. They had inherited a vineyard and they wanted to discover its personality and soul for themselves, not to mould it into something it wasn’t. That is both the heart and the beauty of the Gut Oggau project. Today they are by no means standing alone in such aims, but back in 2007 such a way of thinking was, if not less widespread, certainly less publicised.

One needs to remember when drinking these wines, that although Stephanie and Eduard seem the happiest couple, always smiling, always having fun, they are deadly serious in wanting to have a positive impact, and a lasting one, on their land…and not just the soil. The regime is biodynamic and regenerative, from biodynamic tisanes to horses for ploughing etc. A holistic approach is both rigorously and intuitively followed.

We were invited to dine at Gut Oggau’s Inn and then to spend some time with Eduard touring the winery and visiting the horses. We had a spectacular meal of small plates, created from ingredients grown and tended by the team. Everyone pitches in for service, and on what seemed like an incredibly busy Sunday evening everyone was very attentive. With the dishes we got through ten wines (and could still stand afterwards) which I shall briefly describe. I shall presume that readers are aware of the “family” created for their wines, made up of three generations. The Maskerade wines below are bottled in litres, and wear a mask. They are vineyards under biodynamic conversion, which have not yet revealed their full personalities.

I should just apologise for how long this article has taken to appear, caused as I’ve mentioned before by moving house/country and then catching Covid, a lengthy bout as it has turned out. The UK importer for Gut Oggau is Dynamic Vines. They are also usually available (including takeaway) at Antidote Wine Bar off Carnaby Street.

Maskerade Weiss 2021 – This is by no means a simple wine. Although it isn’t the desire of Gut Oggau to detail the grape varieties in what are often field blend cuvées, sometimes there are clues. This wine strikes me (I could be wrong and it’s not important to become a detective to check this) that there’s a good dollop of Grüner Veltliner here. It is certainly macerated on skins to give the wine a good amber hue. It starts out full of lifted aromatics, initially floral but complexity builds to something savoury and mineral.

Maskerade Rosé 2020 – This is a year older and we are straight into a wine given a textured mineral core from gravelly soils. Yet riding to the top we have red berry fruits with a soft but fresh mouthfeel, strawberry and raspberry, beguiling us. I always believe Gut Oggau makes some of the very best pinkish wines in Burgenland, and I am sure it’s the fruit purity that hooks me every time.

Maskerade Rot 2020 – This wine is fascinating. The grapes come from a little higher up in the hills which encircle the lake on the western and northern sides. The soils here are quite complex, a mix of limestone and slate with scattered quartz stones. The wine has a stunning freshness and vivacity for a red wine. I’m pretty sure I have a bottle of this, and if that’s the case, I’m seriously happy.

Winifred 2021 – Winifred is sourced off sand and clay soils from vines aged around 35 years old. Maceration in 2021 was only for a few hours in old wood. As with the whole range, there is no fining nor filtration.  The grapes are usually a blend of Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt, making a luminous pink Rosé wine. In a large Burgundy bowl of a glass this unfurls under your nose. It’s always a wine that fascinates me because it’s subtle, full of intrigue and it changes so much in the glass. Always one of my favourites from the range.

Atanasius 2021 – Atanasius is brother to Theodora and made from the same grape varieties as Winifred, from vines of the same age. Its origin is on flat terroir to the north of Oggau, off mostly limestone. 2021 was an exciting vintage because at the end of a warm summer it saw temperatures drop to around 12-13 degrees at the end of the growing cycle. This preserved quite amazing aromatics in this red wine, but also some structure as well. The combination of violets and dark cherry is quite lovely, creating a sense of aromatic complexity. A smooth-fruited wine with big legs, later on you get a touch of plum in the fruit. The finish, however, reminded me of an amazing cherry clafoutis, although the wine is dry. Quite stunning!

Cecilia 2021 – Cecilia is a new addition to the family, and this was my first taste of her. This is a true gemischter satz, a wine made from co-planted grapes, both red and white varieties, picked together and fermented together. The site from where she comes is about one-and-a-half hectares brought back to life by Eduard and Stephanie. Two-thirds of the fruit is direct press and one third is crushed. Fermentation is in wooden vats and maturation is in large 1,500-litre barrels. The vineyard is now fully biodynamic, hence release “fully realised”.

The colour is a kind of salmon and peach blush. There was a touch of reduction which blew off to leave fruit scents such as clementine and grapefruit. The palate has a vibrant freshness which I completely adored, a unique wine which frankly I just want to get hold of (though it seems sold out as far as I can see).

Edmund 2019 – These wines all like some bottle age, especially as one moves up the generations. Edmund is one of the most unconventional of the stable, as you might guess from the label, as ever designed by the artist Jung von Matt. Edmund comes from a half-hectare site, and it is envisaged that there won’t be enough fruit in every vintage to make Edmund. You can imagine that he goes wandering off occasionally, like a nomad, perhaps.

The vineyard was planted in the 1970s and had been untilled, perfect for Gut Oggau’s gentle exploitation. They used a lot of biodynamic preps to help the soil, and the vines in hot, dry, weather. The blend is a mix of white varieties, again co-planted, fermented in an open vat and matured in a single 225-litre Stockinger barrel (or two if there’s enough). The fruit has a sweetness to it (although the wine is dry) in this first vintage. It is mercurial, with grapey aromatics but also umami and white melon. A gorgeous wine and a major addition to the portfolio, even though it may be pretty hard to get hold of. I’m guessing the label alone will increase its popularity.

Josephine 2018 – I love this wine. It’s a fairly regular purchase for me, although the rise in prices in recent years means it’s a single bottle per vintage if I can get it. I’m never fully sure what grapes this wine comprises of, but many will tell you it’s a varietal Rösler (also spelt Roesler). Rösler was developed in the early 1970s in Austria by crossing Zweigelt x (Seyve-Villard 18-402 x Blaufränkisch). Its main quoted attributes are withstanding low temperatures and resistance to mildew. However, if Josephine is anything to go by, it has great potential for flavour too.

From a sunny south-facing slope, the aromas are as deep as the dark, inky purple, colour. What you don’t expect, aside from the tannic structure advocating more bottle age, is the crispness and overall lightness. From a hot vintage, the grapes were picked early and it has retained freshness. It is just 12% abv. A wine of elegance and finesse, which is principally why I love it.

Mechtild 2018 – This is the white wine from the “grandparents” generation. Mechtild is the Gut Oggau family matriarch. The grapes come from the oldest Grüner Veltliner they farm, and this is a world class wine by anyone’s reckoning. It commands a price which is now beyond the means of your average wine writer, but hey, I was privileged to taste half a glass. The wine challenges preconceptions but in a good way. Sixty-year-old vines on limestone give up grapes then fermented on stems and skins. The colour is sandy, the aromatics herbal with a faint floral top note. The palate is frankly complex and complicated. The wine is serious…and seriously good.

Bertholdi 2020 – the vintage saw a cool spring followed by a hot summer, temperatures dropping for harvest. This old vine Blaufränkisch complements Mechtild perfectly. Remember, this is a very young wine requiring cellaring for it to reach full potential. That said, the bouquet has gorgeous cherry fruit, oddly reminding me of fine Chianti Classico at first. It’s tannic, but the fruit is so good it didn’t seem like a crime to drink a glass. It’s purple colour is deceptive as once more, we are only pushing 12.5% abv. Barrel-aged, after being pressed in the beautiful 200-year-old vertical press, it is then aged two years in used 500-litre wood. Like Mechtild, no sulphur is added. The tannins are slightly soft even now, and the palate is very savoury. The terroir is stamped all over Bertholdi and the 2020 has a very bright future.

That was the tasting, or should I rather say drinking because these were all good half glasses of wine and we’d luckily booked a taxi (not an easy task when the opera festival is on at Morbisch, just down the lake). I won’t lie…on an emotional level this is one of the best wine evenings I’ve experienced. Don’t therefore expect my notes to be constrained by objectivity, but I think in any case the reputation of these wines and their creators does not require my mere words to enhance them. I can afford to drink them so rarely that this dinner was a treat. In any case, the photos are more evocative of the place than my words.

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