Austria at the IOD

As with the Australia Day Tasting the other week, I’d not been to the annual Advantage Austria London tasting for a couple of years, but the 2018 event seemed to suggest a few of the newer, exciting, producers were attending alongside the established classics, making for a potentially more varied and interesting day. And that proved to be the case.

Still, events like these are not without their problems when it comes to writing about them. I counted 95 producers in the catalogue. I marked 38 of them as those I’d have liked to taste, and of course I tasted fewer than that in the four or five hours I had at the Institute of Directors. I’ve distilled it down to a dozen estates here, and at most of these I tasted all the wines on show. There were a number of star wines, but I think my absolute favourites, which you may look out for, were Ebner-Ebenauer Sekt and their “Black Edition” Grüner, Kracher Zweigelt Beerenauslese, Arnold Holzer’s “Orange” and Leth’s Roter Veltliner Fussberg.


Günter & Regina Triebaumer, Rust

There are two Triebaumers in Rust, and I shall cover the other one later on. Günter and Regina, along with the Waldschütz estate below, are represented by Alpine Wines. Although not certified organic, the Triebaumers say they engage in “low-tech” winemaking over more than 20 different cuvées, from over 25 hectares of vines. All of the styles from Rust, Burgenland and the Leithaberg DAC are represented across 45 different parcels, but Blaufränkisch dominates, with 8 hectares.

Although not the most expressive of their wines in terms of bouquet, their 2017 Furmint (a fairly common variety here, just over the border from Hungary’s Sopron region)  has a lovely firm hit of herbs and fruit on the palate. But after that white opener we moved on to the Blaufränkisch with the Rosé von der Blaufränkisch Reserve 2016. It’s made from free run juice from the red reserve and it’s fresh and zingy (and hides its 9g/l of residual sugar).

Of the four Blaufränkisch wines I have to admit that I like the entry level Burgenland Klassik 2016 the best because there is no oak to obscure the fruit. It’s still quite big (and 14% abv), but the fruit wins through. There’s a Burgenland Reserve 2015 which blends in some Cabernet Sauvignon. It is softer, more blackcurrant, still attractive, but 14.5% in 2015. There is also a straight 100% Blaufränkisch Reserve which has some elegance and although oaked, it doesn’t dominate. The single vineyard Burgenland Reserve Blaufränkisch Ried Plachen 2013 is, despite its age, big and tannic, though the fruit is mega-concentrated (it has very big legs). It is actually unoaked, but shows all the chalky minerality of its low hillside location. One to age.


Waldschütz Weinhof, Sachsendorf

This winery is based in the Strass Valley in Kamptal, with wines from here, Wagram and Niederösterreich. Again, no certification here but Reinhard Waldschütz  (who makes the wine with son Markus) says his goal is to be “ecologically friendly”.

There is an entry level Kamptal Klassik Grüner Veltliner, but the Wagram Reserve “Fels am Wagram” 2016 from the same variety had more depth and elegance. The wine I found most interesting here was the Niederösterreich Klassik Frühroter Veltliner 2016. The nose was spicy and fresh and it tastes mineral and dry with a tiny bit of texture. It both ripens and “redens” (a white fleshed, lightly pink skinned, variety at full ripeness) sooner than your standard Roter Veltliner. 

There was also a Kamptal Riesling, a pink Zweigelt and a nice icewine. Wagram Eiswein Grüner Veltliner Ried Hammergraben 2016 (half-bottle) has a very fresh nose, quite exotic. The freshness and acidity balances 223 grams of sugar. At around £20 retail for the half, it represents really good value for the style.

Knoll and Nikolaihof, Wachau

Both of these estates are grandees of the Danube. Knoll, based at Unterloiben (near Dürnstein) is something of a cult producer, at least with regard to some of their smaller production wines. These include some from the terraced hills around Loiben where the rich and ageworthy Smaragd bottlings come from. Emmerich Knoll distills the house style as “detail”, meaning that rather than the ripe and fleshy wines some produce in the region, he aims to express the detail of each specific terroir. The wines are consequently well differentiated and very ageworthy at the top level. Knoll is my own subjective favourite estate in Wachau.

Concentrating on the Rieslings here, and at Nikolaihof, Loibner Federspiel 2016, effectively a village wine for short-term ageing, has massive fruit initially, in a good “federspiel” style. It is light in comparison to the “cru” wines, but exudes class nevertheless.

By way of contrast, Riesling Loibner Ried Loibenberg Smaragd 2016 is quite rich on the nose, but there is depth too (some straw, herb and smokiness). The fruit on the palate is already rounded and very classy, but this is a wine to age.

It is worth noting here that 2016 was, as throughout much of Europe, extremely frost affected. Yields may have been down, quite considerably in some cases, but quality is high and wines like the best of the Wachau should age well. Despite the frosts, 2016 was Austria’s second warmest vintage year on record by harvest time, yet there is no lack of elegance in the best cuvées. Some wines are potentially outstanding from the best producers.

Nikolaihof claims to be Austria’s oldest recorded winery, with 2,000 years of winemaking, according to a document from AD 470. Today the estate is run by Nikolaus Saahs along biodynamic (Demeter Certified) lines. I’ve never visited the estate because of its slightly awkward location on the “wrong” side of the Danube, at Mautern just outside of Krems. One day I shall right that wrong. I have, however, drunk some of the Rieslings from the early and mid-1990s which the estate holds back and releases late, so I know what these wines are capable of. The philosophy here is exemplary and the wines can be truly beautiful.

Nikolaihof produces some delicious Grüners, but for me it is the Rieslings that are the domaine’s standard bearers. Two 2014s were open to try. Riesling Ried Steiner Hund is showing complexity already, maybe more forward than expected, though it is gently made, like all of the Nikolaihof bottlings, which gives it great appeal. Riesling Vom Stein Smaragd is very pure, with rounded fruit surrounding a good, firm, spine. Lime acidity dominates, but there is flesh beneath, and complexity will build as it ages.

That said, the 2014s from Wachau may not be candidates for extended ageing as both 2015 and 2016 might. Vom Stein may go to around 2030 as this is a fine wine from a very fine site, but it will also be drinkable sooner than that.

Wieninger, Vienna

I became a fan of Vienna’s wines many years ago, and I recall a very fine article in World of Fine Wine by Jon Bonné on Wiener Gemischter Satz which turned me on to the region’s amazing traditional field blends. It was actually the wines of Fritz Wieninger which were my first taste of the style, and despite subsequent visits to Austria’s capital and her vines, I have yet to visit Wieninger. I do hope to put that right on my very next visit though.

The basis of the traditional Wiener Gemischter Satz (now DAC, and which Fritz was instrumental in rejuvinating) is the field blend. There can be many varieties co-planted together, up to fifteen in some cases, always a good insurance policy against variable weather in times past. They are all harvested together (at different levels of ripeness), and are processed together in the winery (co-fermented etc). The wines are usually fresh, exotic, sometimes a little spritzy, always unique and highly expressive of Viennese culture – these, at their simplest, are the wines served in the city’s Heurigen bars serving simple food, which are so much a part of the lighter months here.

Vienna has many vineyards around the city but the two hills of Nussberg (limestone with clay) and Bisamberg (sandy loess) are the icons. Nussberg sits on the Danube’s west bank, above the suburban village of Grinzing. Bisamberg, where the Wieninger winery is situated, lies on the east bank.

I tasted three Gemischter Satz wines, though Wieninger makes a much wider range than these. Nussberg Ried Ulm 2017 is quite creamy, with moderate acidity. Alcohol levels here are higher than you might imagine, 14% in this cuvée. Bisamberg 2017 has more of a linear feel and greater freshness. Both wines show what we have come to call mineral characteristics in terms of mouthfeel. Nussberg Rosengartl 2016 is from a particularly fine, old vine, parcel within the Nussberg site. Like the other two wines, it has a very attractive green tinge and citrus notes, but here the nose has an added floral dimension and greater concentration.

These wines are the “crus” of Vienna. There are many lighter examples of Gemischter Satz, which are none the worse for their attractive, spritzy, gluggable nature. These are often described as “Classic”. The three wines above are examples of the more full-bodied, site-specific, wines which will gain in complexity with a few years in bottle. More contemplative. Both styles are delicious, especially in-situ.


Nussberg Ried Ulm, Bissamberg and Rosengartl from a parcel within Nussberg

We now come to two of my favourite producers, both from Wagram, and then to a couple of new discoveries.

Martin Diwald, Grossriedenthal, Wagram

Martin’s wine has been a regular purchase for me for a few years, and regular readers will have seen pictures of his bottles before. I even came across several in Tokyo last year, so his fame is spreading. Two of the best value wines available are his Grossriedenthaler Löss Grüner Veltliner and Zweigelt. The Grüner is dry, light, fruity and savoury. Simple but really good. His Zweigelt is aged in neutral acacia and is all cherry and red fruits. Lip-smacking summer drinking.

Wagram Reserve Grüner Veltliner “Altweingarten” 2015 has a year on lees, half in old oak and half in burnt clay vessels which came from a gin distillery. The result is a little texture/mouthfeel and more complexity.

Martin is also a fan of Riesling and makes a Wagram “Fuchsentanz” from the variety. The 2016 was fermented in stainless steel. At the moment there is citrus and honey, but it ages well, usually taking on a little hint of petrol, but it is subtle and elegant.

Grüner Veltliner “Zundstoff” 2015 had ten days skin contact and just a tiny bit of sulphur. It is bottled unfined and unfiltered. The colour and texture point to the skin contact, but the fruit is there in abundance too. A sort of nice half way house if you are unsure about “orange” wines.

Last but not least is Diwald’s Österreich Sekt 2015. Pure Grüner Veltliner, which some naughty people say doesn’t make good Sekt. Martin gives it 18 months on lees. It is bottled with just under 4 g/l of residual sugar and comes in at just 12% alcohol. A light wine, great fun, but also with a savoury side to balance the fruit, making it very good with the kind of light dishes you might pop a petnat for. I think I drank four or five last summer, which is quite a few bottles of just one wine for me.

       Lisanna of Red Squirrel with Arnold Holzer

Eschenhof Holzer, Grossriedenthal, Wagram

I won’t deceive you, Arnold Holzer is one of my favourite Austrian producers. This may seem odd when he’s not all that well known. But he’s a really nice guy, an intuitive winemaker, who makes wines which all seem to attain a harmony and balance which belies his relative youth and inexperience.

Like his old school friend and neighbour, Martin Diwald, Arnold makes two cracking entry level wines, very cheap for what they are. They are wines I regularly take to non-wine-geeky friends to show what you can get for just over a tenner outside of the supermarket, as well as showing what Austria can do.

I tasted the 2016 Wagram Klassik Grüner Veltliner, although I understand that the 2017 is already on sale. 12% alcohol, fruity Grüner with fresh but smooth fruit. Wagram is known as loess central. Centuries of sandy silt blown from the Alps coat the region’s gentle hills and the terroir produces wines which always have a certain softness.

There was a single vineyard Grüner to try, Ried Altweingarten 2016. This is more peppery with a more finely delineated backbone, but then the fruit really smacks you after the attack and on the finish.

Arnold specialises in Roter Veltliner. As you will know, this variety is not related to the Grüner, and it is a white variety, not red (the bunches do turn pink at harvest time, though). Roter Veltliner Ried Eisenhut 2016 has a richer, spicier, feel than the previous wine. A tiny bit of r/s (3.2 g/l) adds some of that richness, but the frosts in 2016 concentrated the fruit sugars and Arnold says the 2017 is drier. But it’s a delicious wine.

Roter Veltliner seems to lend itself to skin contact, and “The Orange” is one of my all time favourite orange wines. This is a 2015. It is a wine which is liable to sell out pretty swiftly, but it isn’t for the faint hearted. The nose is enormous. Citrus peel and spices like clove and cardamom dominate, and perhaps a smoky essence, or perhaps sandalwood. Three weeks on skins then 18 months in small French oak. Despite all that texture it is also fine and elegant. Perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m sure some of you will think it’s just as brilliant as I do.

A mention for the Zweigelt Ried Eisenhut 2015 before I leave Holzer. Vibrant bright red from a cool 14 day ferment on skins. Few tannins make this a great summer wine to drink cool. Simple…in the best possible sense. A great advertisement for his region and indeed country.

Weingut Leth, Fels am Wagram

So, I mentioned loess soils in Wagram. Leth is to be found right in the heart of the loess terraces and their wines, new to me, display all of the classic character attributed to this special terroir. Even in the generic Wagram Grüner Klassik 2017 you get more peppery spice than in some regions. It is in the single vineyard wines, Ried Schafflerberg 2017 and Ried Brunnthal 2016 where this concentration is dialed up a notch. The former is almost like a federspiel style, for drinking within five years. There is freshness in the fruit but a little depth as well. The Brunnthal cru, designated 1ÖTW (erste lage), is made from vines over fifty years of age which undergo a further strict selection. Aged in large old oak for a year, it shows fine definition between fruit and terroir.

Two Roter Veltliners were both good. The “Klassik” from 2017 was a tasty introduction, but Roter Veltliner Ried Fussberg 2016 is a real step up. Ironically the organisers had made an error in the catalogue. Leth has produced a famous Roter Veltliner from the Scheiben vineyard for many years, and that was what they “corrected” it to, but the “Fussberg” is a new cuvée from a hill where the vines reach 350 metres (quite high for Wagram). It gets 12 hours on skins which gives some structure and texture but not colour. Small bunches result in real concentration of fruit (vines are 50 years old or more), and acidity is overlain with a velvety, plush, mouth feel. Altogether impressive, with real potential to age. I loved it.

I did also like (quite a lot) Wagram Reserve Riesling Ried Brunnthal 1ÖTW 2016 but it was rather overshadowed by the Roter from Fussberg.

                        Franz Leth manning the table

Ebner-Ebenauer, Poysdorf, Weinviertel

Sometimes you kind of know an estate’s wines but not all of them, and it’s the new ones that astonish. I’ve had wines from Marion Ebner and Manfred Ebenauer before, and I mentioned very briefly the Grüner Veltliner I had from this estate at Noble Rot only a couple of weeks ago. So it was really good to meet Marion and let her take me through the range.

Weinwiertel is not one of Austria’s most famous regions. It lies up near the Czech border, on the route between Vienna and Prague, and interestingly not far from Czech Moravia, whose wines I tasted at Plateau last week. The estate was formed in 2007 when well known negociant Marion Ebner (who began working with Fritz Wieninger at the unbelievable age of sixteen) married Manfred Ebenauer, whose family own 15 hectares around Poysdorf.

The wines show startling quality, and the rise of this estate has been swift. But it seems I’m just a little slow to realise quite how good they are. Other more famous critics have beaten me to it. A friend in Austria suggested we drive up there next time I visit. Whilst all the wines tasted on Monday were white, the suggestion by an older writer on Austrian wines that the reds are “elegant [but] they lack some stuffing” actually made me want to visit even more. My kind of reds, you see, less of the old school heft.

We start with the entry level Grüner Veltliner Klassik 2016 which is Weinviertel DAC. This is a delicious opener which hints at the house style…which is indeed elegance. Then comes Niederösterreich Klassik Grüner Veltliner Ried Hermanschachern 2016, from a single vineyard, showing greater concentration, and a long salty core.

There then come four Reserve Grüners. Ried Bürsting 2016 is made from vines over 50 years old now. With 24 hours on skins it has lovely precise fruit, acidity and structure. Ried Sauberg 2016 comes from a vineyard not owned by the domaine but by the Catholic Church. Vines are also over 50 years of age, on a clay and loess mix. The nose seems deeper and the palate strikes with bigger but softer fruit. Alte Reben 2016 has a very mellow bouquet. The vines here are even older, 60 years plus (they survived the devastating frosts of 1985). The soils are different, with more gravel and stones so the roots burrow deeper. The wine has great old vine depth and nascent complexity, but like the Sauberg, softness too.


Last of the Grüners is “Black Edition” 2015. This has very different winemaking, an experiment Marion said. After two days on skins it was pressed and the cloudy juice fermented in 500 litre oak casks. After seven months it underwent a further ten months of lees stirring. No sulphur was added. There’s a green tinge to the wine’s yellow hue, and a lovely nose of deep citrus, ginger and herbs. There’s also the same sandalwood note as we saw on Arnold Holzer’s “Orange”, although this isn’t an orange wine. The palate already has some exotic notes (mango and orchard fruits). Quite stunning, but in a subtle way. The experiment certainly worked.


“Black Edition” Grüner 

Finally out from under the table came the masterpiece which had so wowed one or two people on the Sekt table in another room. Blanc de Blancs Zero Dosage 2010 is a bottle-fermented Chardonnay Sekt which sees seven years on lees and yet tastes so majestically fresh and alive. I’m told that the UK allocation is about two cases, and that the retail price (it goes into restaurants) would be around £75. My wine of the day, it was just so good.


Marion Ebner and her rather wonderful Sekt

To sum up Ebner-Ebenauer, elegant wines, really stark vineyard delineation and definition, and an obvious total aversion to anything second best. There is drive and dedication, yet the wines are given as long as they need, without rush.

Bernhard Ott, Feuersbrunn, Wagram

I am not all that familiar with Ott, despite his fame, the fact that friends rate him, and his very attractive labels (always looking like a woodblock print, since 2016 they have really been reproduced from wood blocks) which are hard not to notice. He’s a Grüner specialist of some repute, making quite singular organic wines. One reason he’s able to do this is the siting of his vines on particularly deep loess soils. “Grüner heart loess” is probably graffitied all over the Wagram region. But he’s also sussed how to make a range where every wine works, whichever end of the price range it represents. All the wines below are from this variety.

Niederösterreich “Am Berg” 2016 is a blend from various sites, fresh and pure. Wagram Klassik “Fass 4” 2016 is often cited as the mainstay of the range and is said to perfectly combine easy drinkability with elegance, which it does. This is a good wine to try to get to know Bernhard Ott. “Der Ott” 2016 (also Wagram) comes from young vines from the three single vineyard sites. It concentrates on the spicy aspect of the variety and has more body than Fass 4.

All three single vineyards are classified 1ÖTW and are all from the 2016 vintage. Ried Feuersbrunner Spiegel has a high tone comprising freshness, clean acids and a mineral-like finish. Ried Engabrunner Stein at 13% has an extra 0.5% alcohol. This site is in Kamptal. It has a more herbal bouquet, and on the palate is rounder and slightly bigger (I noticed the slight step up in alcohol). It has a touch less residual sugar and a touch less acidity than the previous wine, but does seem a touch dryer on the finish. Ried Feuersbrunner Rosenberg takes us back to Wagram. There’s real depth here, a bigger wine, mouthfilling, more spice, and with definite dry texture on the finish. The apple-fresh acidity combines with peach flavours and a salinity which I’m sure would become even more impressive over a bottle, especially one with some age to it.

Kracher, Illmitz, Neusiedlersee/Burgenland

Vineyards on the eastern side of the lake are on flat land, close to the reed beds, and the shallow water creates a perfect microclimate for these concentrated botrytis wines from the master of Austrian stickies. Gerhard is now in charge at Weinlaubenhof Kracher. There are still dozens of cuvées with different levels of sweetness, most within the two categorisations “Zwischen den Seen” and “Nouvelle Vague”. The former wines are traditional, made in a more reductive style and aged in neutral acacia, whilst the latter follow a more “international” path, aged in new oak.

The key with these wines isn’t to obsess too much over what you are drinking and to enjoy the wines for their diversity in style as well as quality…for the quality will always be high. Especially if you can blag a magnum or two.

There are dry wines here too. I’ve drunk a lot of Kracher, and own a number of bottles, but I’d never tried the dry wines. Gerhard’s Welschriesling was listed but not on the table, but I did taste a very nice Burgenland Grauburgunder 2016 before hitting the sweet stuff.

This journey begins with Auslese 2016 and Beerenauslese 2015. The former blends Welschriesling and Chardonnay to give a wine with 84g/l r/s and 11% abv, whilst the latter has 133.5g/l of sugars. Next, a Trockenbeerenauslese 2015 is labelled “Nouvelle Vague” and given the indicator “6” and the epithet “Grande Cuvée”. Every vintage the “most harmonious wine” is thus named. The number represents fruit concentration, so this is very concentrated. You can get the same bottling with different numbers sometimes, very confusing, so that’s why we just go with the flow. This wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Welschriesling and Traminer.

For example, you may see in the photo below that Muskat Ottonel TBA 2001 is made in the “Zwischen den Seen” style, and is a number 2, ie lighter with less fruit concentration (and just 9.5% abv). Still, it has 211 grams per litre of sugar left in it.

The last wine of the Tasting here was one I’d not tried before, hence it being one of my wines of the day, and my first sweet red from this producer. Zweigelt Beerenauslese 2016 is just gorgeous, all concentrated but light at the same time. There is little I can say other than that I love these wines. Whenever I taste them I’m transported to a place I know (a little) and love, and you can’t get better than that.


Gerhard and his Zweigelt BA 

Ernst Triebaumer, Rust, Burgenland

In a sense we finish where we began, both in Rust and with a Triebaumer. Whereas Günter and Regina are represented in the UK by Alpine Wines, Ernst currently has no UK distribution, though I think that may be about to change. I’ve passed the premises of Ernst Triebaumer in Rust, but didn’t visit, so I was happy to be pointed in his direction. I should rather say in Herbert Triebaumer’s direction, because he and Gerhard have taken over from their father, Ernst, now.

The motto here is “work hard in the vines to do less in the cellar”. Their brochure is titled “Holistic Growing”. Green is firmly the colour here. They remind me of André Durrmann who I visited in Alsace last October. They use sheep in the vineyard and trees play a role too, in the concept of “terra preta”, a circular economy where wood is turned into charcoal which is put back into the soil as a form of “climate farming” – a complex process which I sadly don’t have time to bore you with here, but the philosophies chez Triebaumer are well worth exploring further. Oh, and like the Durrmanns, they also have an electric car…and an electric forklift truck. They walk the talk.

Winemaking is as simple as possible. The family have 20 hectares, mostly on the southeast facing slopes behind Rust, with some vines down near the lake. Local varieties and some of the international ones form the core of their viticulture. I tasted nice whites from Grüner and Traminer, the latter Traminer “Urwerk” Reserve 2014 fermented on skins for 14 days giving a wine of darkish colour yet very fresh (no sulphur added).

Herbert was showing three Blaufränkisch. The village wine, named Rusterberg (2016) is full of dark cherry with black pepper, fruit forward and with bite. Ried Gmärk 2016 Reserve comes from a vineyard quite close to the lake with a predominance of limestone. The fruit is rounded and concentrated. Ried Oberer Wald 2015 is off limestone at around 200 metres altitude, with a high gravel content on top, but also high active lime, great for Blaufränkisch which likes limestone as much as Grüner likes loess. This was the finest, certainly the most serious, of the Blaufränkisch tasted here, but all are good in their own way.

There were two sweet wines on show. First is a generic Burgenland Beerenauslese Cuvée 2013 composed from Welschriesling, Chardonnay and Grüner Veltliner. It’s delicious and fairly concentrated, but not over complex. Then, finally, the speciality of Rust, Ruster Ausbruch. The Ausbruch style is supposed to lie between a BA and a TBA in terms of sugar levels. Traditionally, botrytised grapes are fermented with some fresher grapes that have less rot. The style originated perhaps in the Sixteenth Century and has a similar fame to Hungary’s Tokay within the region, if not in the wider world.

This 1999 version blends Welschriesling with Chardonnay and Weissburgunder (I’ve seen it written that sometimes this last variety is replaced with Sauvignon Blanc). The colour is quite dark but the nose is complex: toffee, smoke, as well as rich stone fruit (I’ve read “apricot jam” in one of the wine guides, which fits well) and oranges. It all finishes with a lick of sweet lemon on the palate, like a lemon sweet, along with more toffee as it tails off like the last note on Sergeant Pepper’s. Acidity is still pretty concentrated, as is everything about it, including its length. These wines may be niche, but I love them. Their price is the only reason I own just a couple of Ausbruchs.

                        Herbert Triebaumer

And that is it. Hopefully not the end of Austria for me in 2018. There’s another big Austrian Tasting I hope to make it to in March, very different to this one. I’m also angling hard for a trip out there within the next twelve months. Wish me luck.







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Basket Press Wines at Plateau

Even I, known for my terrible puns, was able to avoid using some awful pun about czeching out Basket Press Wines and Plateau, Brighton’s brilliant natural wine bar/restaurant in The Lanes, in the title of this article, but I would seriously suggest that you do so.

Plateau has been developing a reputation as a lively bar with inventive food, not exclusively but largely based around a pescatarian ethos, but with plenty of vegetarian options. But where it really scores is as a natural wine bar, with an all naturel list containing bottles you’d be happy to light upon in London (you can check them out, and the wine list here). The take away wine prices seem pretty reasonable too.

I was at Plateau to taste a selection of wines imported by Basket Press Wines (contact via Facebook), which Jiri and Zainab bring in from Southern Moravia in the Czech Republic. Basket Press has been going for around a year and I first met them at the Out of the Box Tasting in Clerkenwell which I wrote about back on 5 October 2017 (Out of the Box 2017, Part 2).

Plateau was humming, crammed full downstairs in the bar/restaurant on a Wednesday in February (pretty good), and the Tasting was sold out too, with several dozen attendees.

A bit of background first. Moravia is the main wine producing region in the Czech Republic (with around 20,000 hectares under vine), based around the country’s second city, Brno, in the southeast. The region borders Slovakia and Northeastern Austria. The climate is continental, similar to Alsace but sometimes with much colder winters. Soils are mixed too, with loess and limestone dominating rolling hills with south facing slopes planted to vines.


Grape varieties tend to lean towards Austrian and Germanic for whites with a mix of red varieties, Pinot Noir being quite a speciality. French grape varieties have been in the region for centuries, brought here by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV in the 14th Century.

We tasted eight wines – one sparkler, two whites, two orange wines, and three reds. Naturally I had my favourites, but the wonder of this tasting was that I’d be extremely happy to buy any one of them. The quality of the wine was good, but even more interesting, every wine was stimulating and different, which made the evening exciting (as did the whole atmosphere at the Tasting, a great crowd of people).

The photos are a little grainy/blurry. It was very dark, but they give a flavour, do they not!

Krásná Hora Sekt 2014

We started off with this méthode traditionelle sparkler, which has seen nine months on lees. It was disgorged in November 2016 (so it has had another 14 months in bottle after disgorgement), and has zero dosage. Made from 100% Pinot Noir, it’s a Blanc de Noirs, very fruity indeed with just a hint of toast. Apparently they also produce a version with a little less than two years on lees, but I really enjoyed the fresh, palate cleansing, fruit of the younger cuvée here.


Dobrá Vinice “Kambrium” 2014

The first white comes from right down on the southern border with Austria, and it blends Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. The Grüner adds a touch of peppery spice, the Riesling a spine, and the Sauvignon Blanc a fresh grassy/citrus note. I’d describe this as a lightish, aperitif wine, suitable for lighter dishes, very well made.


Ota Ševčik “Pinoty” 2015

Adding a “y” in Czech creates a plural, I’m told, and this white, my favourite of the two, is assembled from Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and (Pinot) Chardonnay. Ota Ševčik farms just 2.5 hectares, producing 5-6,000 bottles each vintage. Each year the wines he makes are different, but they all endeavour to reflect the terroir, especially of the limestone hills.

The nose is smoky and the wine is relatively low in acid, but the palate is very interesting with building complexity beneath the soft exterior. It sees 24 hours skin contact followed by ageing in acacia barrels (for their neutrality – acacia is commonly used instead of oak in Moravia). It finishes smooth with a tiny bit of residual sugar. Most of his wines go to the USA, Japan and Scandinavia, apart from the little Jiri manages to bring to the UK. A lovely wine.

Ota was a founding member of the Czech Autentisté movement, which promotes natural winemaking and sustainable vineyard management in the country, with a focus on autochthonous and regional grape varieties.


Petr Koráb “Natur Ryšák” 2015

This is the first of two “orange” wines. It’s fairly pale and you can smell the texture and anticipate the mouthfeel before you sip. Very dry with that orange or mandarin citrus that I always think must be some kind of auto-suggestion with wines like this. Quite gentle with a haunting bouquet that builds slowly into something more exotic (cardamom, perhaps).

The blend is Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Grüner Veltliner, grown on the southern slopes of gently rolling hills between 200-300 metres altitude. The Gewurz comes out as a spicy, floral core. Cold maceration on skins is fairly long at 4 months.

Koráb is a mixed farmer, and also specialises in artisan cheese production.


Richard Stávek “Špigle Bočky” 2015

My favourite of the orange wines, and probably my overall favourite of the night, this has just two weeks on skins before nine months in used acacia barrels. The nose is much more immediate than the previous wine, with hints of clove, smoke and mandarin. Despite having less time on skins than the previous wine, this had more colour and was more like a full-on “orange” style.

This is a field blend of (we think) eight varieties all co-planted in a couple of plots. They include both Grüner and Roter Veltliner, Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Welschriesling. Grapes are foot stomped to extract the juice.

The label (below) is fascinating. Printed on handmade paper, the script comes from a document found by the family, which dates back to the 16th Century, which has been reproduced by hand for printing. The wax on the bottles comes from Richard’s own bees, and he also keeps sheep and goats, and manages a forest. Richard was also, along with Ota Sevčik above, a founder of the Czech Autentisté group in 2008.


Stapleton & Springer Pinot Noir “Ben’s Reserve” 2014

Jaroslav Springer is the producer imported by Basket Press who I’ve tried most often. Not only did I meet these wines at the Out of the Box Tasting mentioned previously, but a couple of them (Blanc Pinot Noir and Orange Pinot Noir) made their way to one of our Oddities lunches in 2016. The first “S” here is Craig Stapleton, who used to be US Ambassador to The Czech Republic. He so liked Jaroslav’s wines that he hooked up with him to produce a range based around different interpretations of Pinot Noir. The domaine is fairly big, around 25 hectares of vineyard.

“Ben’s Reserve” is a fairly pale Pinot which has seen a year in barrique. There is good cherry and raspberry fruit on the gentle nose, good fresh acidity and a bit of grip from the wood ageing. It’s a slightly lighter interpretation of the grape, but given a bit of structure from the oak. It will doubtless soften further in time, but personally I’d drink this now with food, served cool. The 14% abv shows just a touch on the nose, but not on the palate.


Jaroslav Osička “Modry Portugal” 2016

Modry Portugal is the Czech name for the Blauer Portugieser variety which, despite its name, is often found in Austria and Germany. Jaroslav Osička has been a pioneer of natural wine in Moravia since the 1980s, and is very much looked up to in the region. His whites are made with full-on skin contact and often in an oxidative style which some have likened to Jura wines. This red is a little different.

First we have more colour than the Pinot above. The fruit is really crunchy and juicy. It sees six months in used wood and then is stored in inert fibreglass tanks to retain freshness before bottling. Another wine to glug slightly cool, perhaps, despite the darker hue.


Tomás Čačik “Cabernet Moravia” 2015

On balance, my favourite red of the night, Cabernet Moravia is a 1970s Czech crossing between Cabernet Franc and Zweigelt. This wine sees 12 months in large oak. It has a much deeper nose than the other two reds, is smooth fruited, with a good smack of acidity and spice to finish.

Čačik is interesting because he trained as a lawyer before switching to being a chef. When he started out making wine, he did it the “wine school” way, using technology. But he just wasn’t happy with the results, so slowly he began to strip everything back, eventually arriving at natural wine, and presumably a degree of contentment. I tasted a few other wines of Tomás’ at Out of the Box and he’s definitely an interesting producer, worth keeping an eye on.


After the Tasting I had a chance to chat with both Jiri from Basket Press, and Ania from Plateau, and a group of eight of us moved down into the restaurant/bar to eat, and drink more wine. I contributed what was their last bottle of Catherine Riss “Dessous de Table” (sic) 2015 which is a co-fermented Pinot Blanc/Auxerrois blend from Reichsfeld and Nothalten, which sees ageing in old barriques. This is a glorious wine from one of Mittelbergheim’s finest producers, fresh and yet with a touch of stone fruit richness too, really interesting, and way more complex than a lot of Pinot Blanc.

Regular readers will probably be aware I was in Alsace in October and Riss was the one vigneronne I really annoyed myself by not having time to visit. But I did buy up a few Pinot Blancs/Auxerrois, because they (along with the quality of the reds) appeared the most improved grape varieties. I drank a magical bottle from Antoine Kreydenweiss (La Fontaine aux Enfants 2016, from the top of Andlau’s Kastelberg) just a fortnight ago.


The next wine was served blind in carafe. I did guess Gamay/Pinot Noir but could not guess the wine (I did hazard Auvergne or Ardèche as a second guess). It was actually a bottle from a producer I’d tried to make a repeat purchase of last weekend, but his “Pink Bulles” had sold out, so karma was working in my favour.

Jean Maupertuis farms around four hectares at St-Georges-sur-Allier and to the really geeky natural wine crowd is one of the most important winemakers in Central France, not least because he has been one of those instrumental in reviving viticulture in the Auvergne, from a state of near extinction.

This cuvée, Les Pierres Noirs, is a name reflective of the black volcanic rocky soils on these high altitude slopes. The grape variety is Gamay, but a strain of “Gamay d’Auvergne”, which Jean insists is different from the Gamay of Beaujolais. The wine has a most striking strawberry glow. There were definitely some noticeable reductive notes initially, quite farmyardy. These blew off to scents of strawberry, gentle cherry, and floral notes. A fun fizz made by the Ancestral Method, reinforcing my increasing view that Gamay is a cracking good variety with which to make fun sparkling wines. Hopefully I’ll drink this again, soon.

I had a brilliant time at Plateau, not least because of the friendliness of strangers, and the genuine warmth and hospitatlity of the staff. Not only that, the Moravian portfolio of Basket Press Wines was, even though I’d sampled some before, quite eye-opening. I seriously suggest that they are worth dipping your toe into if you are looking for adventurous drinking. Everything we tasted retails between £20 to £35, with most within the lower half of that range. I think several will be on the list at Plateau soon.


News just in today that Noble Fine Liquor is to close its Farringdon Road shop on Saturday 10 February. The space is owned by Quality Chop House and was always on a kind of short term loan. Broadway Market and P Franco carry on as usual, and hopefully NFL will have plans for further expansion in the near future. For me it’s especially sad because I’ve heaped the place with such praise recently, naming it as my joint Wine Shop of the Year for 2017.

For those of us who live outside of London, the increasing concentration of the best bars, wine shops and restaurants in East London’s “bus-land” makes for greater effort required to visit them. But I’d like to say thanks and cheers to Ben at Farringdon Road (who has been given a bus map and will be transferring over to Broadway Market once he discovers which routes to alight upon). I’m hoping to make a trip one last time next week, and to discovering the many delights around NFL’s main store (Broadway Vegan Market, folks) as soon after I return to the UK as possible, next month. Goodbye Farringdon Road (“Where the dogs of society howl…”).






Posted in Alsace, Czech Wine, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Bars, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s a Wonderful Life (That You Bring)

I’ve been up to a few things this month that didn’t really fit into any of the other articles, and I thought I’d mention them here. They do amount to a free plug for the places mentioned, but I don’t get anything in return, so the praise is genuinely due to these folks. As the New Year begins,  it can seem like life is tasting after tasting (I have four in the next two weeks and have had to turn down two more because I’d not have time to write them up). I also have a Sherry lunch next week, the first of the year, which I’m very much looking forward to. Then I’m off to Berlin for some natural wine. Life can seem pretty good if you write about wine. Sometimes it’s nice to acknowledge that.

Winemakers Club

I think that Winemakers Club is the most relaxed place to drink wine in London, and if you only want to eat a plate of charcuterie or cheese it’s easy to spend an evening there. The nice thing to do is to rock up, drink a beer, try some wines by the glass with a few nibbles, and then remember to purchase some bottles to take home.

I did just that earlier this month, and bagged a couple of bottles from Domaine des Marnes Blanches, one of the rising stars of the Jura region. We drank the pale, 11.5%, 2016 Pinot Noir last night. Delicious.

Winemakers hosts their next Great Exhibition Tasting on February 12th (Trade etc only) which has become unmissable (and with great luck on the travel front, I am not going to miss it).

Noble Fine Liquor

Right next door to Quality Chop House on Farringdon Road, every visit is a delight. Why? Because it’s one of those rare wine shops where if they don’t have what you came for, there’s always plenty more to tempt you. The only difficulty lies in the wine budget.

Especially good for Loire, Jura, Austria, New Spain and Grower Champagne, this photo is what I picked up on my last but one visit…Péron, Lassaigne and L’Octavin. The Péron wines need to be grabbed as they appear.


67 Pall Mall

It’s good to see how the other half live, isn’t it. 67 Pall Mall is the exclusive Member’s Club for wine lovers in Central London’s Clubland. If you attend one of the tastings there, as I have, you are gently escorted to the basement via a different entrance, keeping you away from the members’ areas, so when an invitation came to go as a guest after the Ozgundians Tasting a couple of weeks ago I won’t lie, I jumped at the chance. Partly because just about everyone I know has already been.

If you are expecting attentive service in comfortable surroundings, this is exactly what you get. In fact it’s the kind of attention you get dining at The Ledbury and other such establishments. The wine list is very long, but does contain a separate and quite reasonably stocked natural wine selection. Prices seemed remarkably reasonable too, although members also have the option of choosing wine from their own private stash, kept in the cellar.

We began with a glass of Knoll Pfaffenberg Grüner whist waiting for another friend, after which we managed bottles of Franck Balthazar Cornas “Chaillot” 2015 (surprisingly approachable) and a very nice Ochota Barrels “A Sense of Compression” Grenache 2014.


Noble Rot

The best lunch this month was at Noble Rot. Normally I would recommend their set lunches, which offer good value for the standard of cooking, but I was there with someone I’d not seen for a while and we decided that as the January set lunches are themed as “Cuisine Minceur” (as a tribute to Michel Guérard), we would plump (sic) for a few more calories.

But not too many. My own choice enables me to point out that the Slipsole and Smoked Butter starter here bears a conceptual resemblance, and an equally close one in terms of quality, to the signature version made by Nobrot’s Consultant Chef, Stephen Harris, at his Sportsman in Whitstable. This delicate but fresh and tasty dish is a must try. Exquisite in its simplicity and as close to perfection as one could expect.

Turbot in London is usually expensive. At Noble Rot you can get a reasonable chunk of it without paying posh prices, if it’s on the menu, of course, which thankfully it was.

We drank another Austrian wine, Ebner-Ebenauer Grüner Veltliner, throughout the first two courses, but with a cheese course we drank the recommended accompanying wine flight – Thomas Morey Bourgogne Blanc 2015El Maestro Sierra Fino Sherry, and Cypres de Climens Barsac 2011 (all 75mil).

The wine list is very extensive, and this includes a blackboard of extra “by the glass” fine wine selections (Puffeney Vin Jaune was tempting, and there was Château-Grillet and Buçaco Palace Hotel among others) at fair but not inconsiderable prices.

Noble Rot was very busy the other week, so that means it’s quite noisy (oddly enough the bar area, where snacks are available, can be quieter) and the tables are pretty small, but it doesn’t bother me. I’ve managed to walk in without a reservation if early enough, though perhaps I’d not chance it. If someone suggests lunch in the week, this is almost certainly where I’d suggest we go.

Solent Cellar, Lymington

Another of my award winning wine shops. I thought I’d back up my frequent claims for this place with a little more evidence. I know people were paying attention when I mentioned they had a little of Martha Stoumen‘s “Post Flirtation” Napa Blend, and that they have become known as somewhere to chance your arm for a few Ganevats, but to show they are ahead of the curve for outside London I thought I’d show a photo of what I picked up this weekend.

Five of the bottles were from Dominique Lucas’ Les Vignes de Paradis. The estate is actually split into two, with Chasselas (along with some Chardonnay, Savagnin and others) grown in Savoie, around the southern shore of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), within the AOP zones for Crépy, Marin and Marignan. These are stimulating wines, fermented creatively – forget your amphora and concrete eggs (which Dominique does use), there’s a cement pyramid here, in which the top Kheops Chardonnay is fermented. I think Les Caves brought only a very few into the country, so I was lucky. But all of the Vignes de Paradis wines are delicious, including those from the other half of the estate, in the Côte de Beaune, above Pommard.

The Burgaud in the photo is the Morgon Côte du Py Réserve 2010, which is drinking superbly, along with a Guiberteau Saumur Blanc 2015 and a not always easy to find Biondi Santi “Rosso” 2008 (the fine wine cabinet is always worth perusing here). Fuchs & Hase you know, I’m sure. This is “Vol 4”, based on Müller-Thurgau and Grüner Veltliner.


The Shipyard, Lymington

The next day we had a visit to The Shipyard in Lymington. The fish here is very good indeed, thanks in part to their partnership with one of the local boats. I’m always grateful to be able, sometimes, to take a few bottles along, and we get looked after tremendously well here by Paul and Lucie, usually with gin in some form or another. They do a truffle gin if you are adventurous.

We began with a really good pét-nat from Bergerac/Monbazillac. Château Barouillet is now under the winemaking hand of Vincent Alexis, who took over from his father in 2010. The estate makes a large range of wines from the wider region in all the local styles, but Splash is a recent addition, a pétillant-naturel wine made from Semillon. It’s dry and cloudy, and very impressive in context. More than that, it provides as much fun as any petnat I’ve drunk in the past year. I know that Wines Under the Bonnet brings in some of Vincent’s wines. I’m not sure whether they import this (friends had brought it back from a domaine visit) but they should.

An old Vouvray from me was next up, Huet “Le Mont” Sec 1995. This was darkish in colour but fresh on the nose with that characteristic appley/tarte-tatin note which older Chenins serve up. It was a good bit richer than I expected of a “sec”, but amazingly fresh as well. You get honey and a touch of waxiness on a very long finish. Exceptional, and drinking well now. Keith Levenberg said of this in 2016: “Spectacular, absolutely lights-out stuff, one of the greatest bottles of Huet I have ever had”. Well Keith, it’s still going strong. My greatest Huet? The 1959 Demi-Sec version of Le Haut-Lieu, drunk at RSJ (we miss RSJ) in 2009, at fifty years of age (but just £125 off the list).

Despite the sheer class of the Huet, it was matched by the last wine, Ganevat Vin Jaune 2006. This is undoubtedly young for this wine, and for Vin Jaune in general, but the bottle had been open for a couple of days. This had really allowed the contents to open up. The lemon acidity and any hardness had disappeared, and a nutty complexity was beginning to accompany a smooth palate of rich citrus fruit. Three ages of Comté would have been perfect, but The Shipyard’s cheese platter was a good second best. The real test of quality for Vin Jaune lies in its length, and this went on for an age.

The beauty of my approach to wine, which looks at what is in the glass rather than what is missing, means that I can sign off Saturday’s wines as absolutely perfect. They will remain unbeatable until the next wonderful meal with wine mad friends. But I do know how lucky I am.

“It’s a wonderful life that you bring, It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing” (Nick Cave, Wonderful Life)

Posted in Dining, Natural Wine, Savoie Wine, Wine, Wine Merchants, Wine Shops | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recent Wines (Dry January 2018, not a sticky in sight) #theglouthatbindsus

Those seekers of a life without fun, who believe all alcohol consumers are binge drinkers, have no time for those of us who wish to sample exciting wines during the dullest month of the year. In the same way as those who break their Lenten fast with wanton feasting, so many will hit February in a frenzy of consumption, whilst those of us who continue as normal find the hangovers far less painful. But “Dry January” seems to have assumed a new interpretation among members of the wine trade. Perhaps it is after all of the calories taken on over the festive season that we try to cut out the sweet wines, in an effort to participate along with the puritan elite? So, here is my Dry January – not a sticky in sight.

The following  wines were my favourites consumed at home during January, except for the first wine, which we drank on Christmas Day.

Unione Nero di Wongraven Barolo 2006

Sigurd Wongraven is the man behind the great Norwegian Black Metal band, Satyricon. Luca Roagna, aside from being one of the great producers of Barolo and Barbaresco, is his mate. Wongraven now has his own range of branded wines from several European countries/regions, including a Champagne (well, why not, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, The Grateful Dead and others have beers and whisky), but he began with Luca, sharing their joint passion for loud music and wine. About six or seven years ago I managed to track down some of the results in Oslo. The branch of Vinmomopolet closest to our apartment stocked the Barbera, and I found some of the Barolo in the main branch in Central Oslo. As I’m a fan of the work of both of these guys, I was thrilled. This was, sadly, my last bottle though.

In the decanter this blossomed. Not complex in Barolo terms, but beautifully scented with varietal typicity, the palate having more delicacy than power. A lovely wine in this moment, both for the occasion, and just as a reminder that Nebbiolo provides such pleasure in all its forms when it gets it right. It doesn’t have to be a big name single site wine to provide a thrill.


La Grande Pièce “Vin Rouge” [2015], Mai & Kenji Hodgson, Rablay, Loire

Mai and Kenji were originally residents of Vancouver. They came to France on a twelve month working visa, and then obtained a “Skills and Talent” visa (they keep these quiet, don’t they) enabling them to start their business, with tremendous help from other Loire natural winemakers.

This is made from Grolleau Noir and the palate is really fruity, fresh cherries with good acidity which complements the bouquet of sweet cherry. Production is tiny and I think there may be just a few odd bottles around. This is not the easiest variety to like, according to some (so be warned), but I had no difficulty. I just love this kind of thing, pure “glou”, plain and simple.


La Bota de Fino 54, Equipo Navazos, Jerez, Spain

Dry January would not be the same without some Sherry. This is a Saca of June 2014 with fruit from Macharnudo Alto, aged at Valdespino in Jerez. As this is an older bottle it has a darker colour, the nose is deep and nutty with an orange citrus twist. Age makes it complex and profound, but it remains incredibly fresh, and goes to prove how wrong the suggestion that Fino Sherry should be consumed quickly can be. A wine to savour slowly with food. Also a reminder that if you have some older bottles of EN knocking about, fear not, but instead, rejoice. Oh, and it’s very dry.


Vino Blanco 2014, Navazos-Niepoort, Jerez, Spain

Equipo Navazos has established a real reputation among connoisseurs of both natural wines and Sherry for its Florpower table wine, but before those wines were released, their collaboration with Dirk Niepoort hit the shelves. Take Palomino grapes from impeccable sources, ferment, and then age under flor without any addition of spirit.

In 2014 the resulting table wine has a golden-straw colour, and a nuttiness from the flor on the nose. The palate, by way of contrast, hits you with a citrus freshness. It’s so alive, and despite 13% alcohol, has a lightness and elegance, with a gentle, almost Chablis-like texture on the finish. It’s not difficult to imagine crushed marine organisms in the bottom of the glass. Superb! With a profile more “classical” than Florpower, it shouts out class, even to those drinkers for whom the funkiness of Florpower might be a little scary.

This 2014 was also bottled in magnums and I bagged a few. The 2014 in bottle is so good that I’ll probably open one of these in the summer. Cannot wait!


Post Flirtation Napa Red 2016, Martha Stoumen, California

I have already mentioned this wine recently (First Impressions, 8 January), but I make no apology for doing so again. Martha made just 330 cases of this blend of Carignan (65%) and Zinfandel (35%). It wins hearts on colour alone, but the bouquet of raspberry and rhubarb intrigues and draws you in.

Just 11.3% abv, but packed with vibrant fruit which almost explodes in the mouth. I think it is absolutely brilliant. The sad thing is that you may not find any around. I know that Solent Cellar, where I found my bottle just sitting innocently on the shelf, had a few enquiries after I wrote about it, but it’s still up on the web site (£22.99)…perhaps if you are swift.


“Orra” 2009, Wind Gap, California North Coast

This blend comprises almost 70% Grenache to which is added 10% Counoise and the rest is Mourvèdre. It starts off very bright on the nose but the palate is rich and spicy, with red fruits, and a hint of orange citrus or maybe iron. Although this is now eight years old, it still has grip and tannins, and this, along with the freshness, balances the 14% alcohol. In fact the odd thing here is that, whilst we are not looking at a low alcohol wine, the fruit was certainly harvested before it became over ripe, hence that great fresh taste. It’s a wine that will benefit from pairing with something like couscous with a touch of harissa, which is what we paired did.

You can pretty much rely on the wines of Pamela and Pax Mahle to come up with the goods at a terrific price, whether their more classic Pinot and Chardonnay, or their more esoteric Trousseau Gris (which I’ve enjoyed a few times). I’m not sure whether Orra is currently produced – this was picked up last summer from Butlers in Brighton. Roberson usually have a few wines from Wind Gap. Indigo import the “Pax” label.


Bourgogne Chitry 2015, Alice & Olivier De Moor, Courgis (Chablis)

The De Moors are based in Courgis, southwest of Chablis. Producers of “natural” Chablis (when the frosts stay away), they also farm in Saint-Bris and Chitry, producing wines from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris and Aligoté (they make some of the most beautiful Aligoté in Burgundy).

This Chitry is a Chardonnay from one of the Bourgogne villages allowed to add its name to the Bourgogne Blanc AOP. If you draw a line directly southwest from Chablis to the River Yonne you pass through Courgis before hitting Chitry, followed by Saint-Bris and Irancy. The terroir is all limestone here, so the wine shares a little bit of the Chablis style, and crafted by such masters, this Chitry is exceptionally good.

There is lemon and a touch of butter, wrapped in a crisp wine which, whilst not complex like a fine Chablis, gets ever more serious as it warms in the glass. It comes from peasant roots, but it shines. I really do think that the De Moors are genius’, and if I were compiling a mixed case of wines from all the nicest vigneron(ne)s in France, they would be near the top of the list.

Their wines are reasonably well distributed, but 2016 was especially bad for the De Moors, who were pretty much wiped out by the frosts which have dogged them over several vintages. They have consequently been producing wines from bought in grapes, largely from Southern France, all organically grown by friends, under the Le Vendangeur Masqué label, which Les Caves de Pyrene bring in, albeit in tiny quantity. You probably read about Melting Potes last year, and now a new cuvée, d’une si belle compagnie méridionale has landed.


La Fontaine aux Enfants 2016, Domaine Marc Kreydenweiss, Andlau, Alsace

This is one of the wines I picked up in Alsace on my October road trip to Eastern France. In fact, the domaine was just a few doors away from where we stayed in Andlau. It is run by Marc’s son, Antoine, who is one of the most gifted biodynamic winemakers in the Bas Rhin. The grapes for this bottling come from the very top of the steep, granite, Kastelberg Grand Cru, which rises above the small place we rented in the village. Those grapes are Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois, hence this is not a designated Grand Cru wine, but it certainly is a terroir wine.

Not pale (as Pinot Blanc can be) by any means, the nose has a smokiness which truly reflects an early morning stroll up the hill to sample the breathtaking views of the village and the dense forest beyond. Think fresh dry acidity with a little mouthfeel of dry extract and then, as it sits in the glass, just a touch of  fruit richness coming through.

This is easily the best Pinot Blanc I’ve drunk in a long time. I regretted just buying the one bottle of this, although I bought a few Pinot Blancs whilst in Alsace. I’d say its main characteristic would be its precision, all through a good length. With only the greatest of restraint do I hold back from using the term “mineral”.


Poulprix Vin de France, J-F Ganevat, Jura

Despite my campaign to convince Jura neophytes that there is more to the region than Overnoy/Houillon, Puffeney, Tissot and Ganevat, I still seem to drink J-F’s wines with some frequency. For me, the estate wines are the world class, serious, numbers (with prices to match). But the negoce wines, under the Anne & J-F Ganevat label, are such fun.

Usually, the negoce wines allow wild experimentation with interesting blends, and here I may need a little help. I was reliably informed that Poulprix blends Jura Trousseau with Mondeuse from Savoie and Syrah from the Rhône, and it certainly tastes like it. A vibrant, palish mid-red which almost glows, it is scented with red and black fruits, and dark cherry, the palate showing rich, ripe fruit and a nice line of acidity running through its spine. Delicious. But just as many sources claim this is Gamay blended with old Jura varieties as suggest the Jura/Savoie/Rhône source.

I’d love to know the answer – but it’s a delicious wine anyway. It also comes in magnums, you know!


Collita Roja 2012, Celler Pardas, Penedès, Spain

This is the last bottle of a pair a friend sold me about a year-and-a-half ago. It’s made from Sumoll, a wonderful Catalan native variety. I never seem to find a wine made from Sumoll that I don’t adore. This natural wine is full of lifted red fruits with herbs and a touch of bitter spice. As with so many of the wines here, where there is richness and alcohol (14%) it is balanced by freshness and vibrancy. On the finish you get just a touch of earthiness, characteristic of the variety.

This comes from the Cellar Pardas estate, Finca can Comas, at Torrelavit, inland from Sitges and Vilafranca del Penedès. Their philosophy, alongside biodynamics of course, is quite unusual for the region – all their vines are dry farmed, the ground is left untilled, and no fertilizers are used. The wines as a result combine the richness associated with the region with a certain pleasing austerity, though perhaps not quite so much austerity in Collita Roja as some other cuvées. If you spot any of their wines (Indigo Wines is the UK importer) they are certainly worth trying.


Blaufränkisch “Rusterwald” 2011, Heidi Schröck, Rust, Burgenland

Plenty of people know I have a soft spot for Heidi’s wines. She may be better known out in the wider world for her dessert wines, both under her own label and for her collaborations with the late Alois Kracher. She also makes a range of red and white dry wines, including a couple from Burgenland’s signature red variety, Blaufränkisch.

Rusterwald is dark-fruited and classically peppery, the fruit concentrated and smooth. Of all the wines in this article it is the most classical in terms of proportions and flavour profile. Heidi’s wines are quite different to the natural wine norm around the Neusiedlersee, but as with all of Heidi’s bottles, there is something about the vitality of the winemaker transferred into the wine. I’m not really sure why these wines are not more widely known? It could be my own subjectivity, although I liked them before I met the producer. But I don’t think so. Alpine wines imports them, though they might only have the Blaufränkisch Külm, from this variety, at the moment.


May February be even drier…and not too cold.



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The Power…and the Glory – Australia Day Tasting, London 2018

I hadn’t been to the annual ADT event in London for a few years and coming back to it didn’t really feel like being away. Crowded (okay, really popular), quite hot (an issue for some of the red wines, with high alcohol wines showing less well as a result), and with plenty of the cliché red wines which put power above all else. But having got the negatives out of the way, there was plenty to try and to like. Some glorious wines alongside the big, powerful, ones.

I’ll start off with what for me were the most interesting and exciting tables, which by odd coincidence were grouped together in a corner of the same room. After that I’ll look at some of the classics, or at least those classics which interest me (those showing subtlety and finesse, perhaps), with a few more new discoveries merged in as well.

The ADT is always a great social event, but quite a few people greeted me with “I didn’t expect to see you here”. I think I’m getting a reputation for writing about natural wines, but I’d like to say that I’m no fundamentalist when it comes to added sulphur. I’d also like to point out that a fair few of the producers I’m covering here are what one might call “naturalistas”, certainly low intervention winemakers, and most of the rest I mention have at least some consideration of what they are using out in the vines and in the winery.


Christian Dal Zotto was over to help Red Squirrel promote his, and brother Michael’s, delicious wines, both sparkling and still. Christian’s father, Otto Dal Zotto, grew up in Valdobbiadene and when he emigrated to Australia Prosecco was always on his mind. Now, two of his sons make some of the most exciting sparkling wines in Australia, not least because they don’t blindly follow their adopted country’s blind affair with “traditional method” fizz. Dal Zotto are based in Whitfield, Victoria, with all fruit coming from the King Valley.

Pucino Col Fondo 2016 is a traditionally cloudy wine made from the Prosecco grape (now known as Glera in Italy). It’s a fizzy fruit bomb, a delicious wine. I’d go as far as saying forget Prosecco and buy this, though you’ll pay almost £30 for this level of quality…and sheer fun.

If fun is the object, Pink Pucino NV is certainly up there too. This gentle sparkler blends “Prosecco” with Moscato. Its 16.5g of residual sugar makes it seem off-dry, but this is also down to the Moscato element adding light fruitiness – “Extra Dry” is the traditional designation of Prosecco in Italy, rather than the dryer “Brut”, and that allows up to 17g/litre r/s. So whether you say off-dry or fruity, it’s a great hot weather fizz, and only 9.1% abv (the white Pucino runs with 11.4%).

There were two dry whites on show, a lovely, refreshing stone fruit and pear flavoured Arneis (more fruity than your average Piemontese version), and an equally fruity Garganega. The red Sangiovese (all 2016) is fruity too, probably shockingly so to a Tuscan native, but with a nice long textured finish. A very Australian interpretation.

Christian is a great bloke and a very enthusiastic advocate for his family’s wines. If you want to head somewhere else in Australia in terms of sparkling wine, this is one route which you should consider picking up.


Christian, with Nik (of importer Red Squirrel)


Pizzini are based in the King Valley too, and lo and behold they are cousins of the Dal Zottos. The wines in this case are imported directly by Vagabond Wines and before writing about the wines on taste, I’d like to mention that Vagabond are also bringing in the wines of my mate Brad Hickey of Brash Higgins (or at least some of them at this point). They are currently on the ocean, so were not available here, but the Brash Higgins range is one to try when they do finally arrive.


Pizzini King Valley Arneis 2016 is a little bit of a contrast to the Dal Zotto version. It has a very big, perfumed, bouquet and finishes with an edge of bitter quince. Different styles but the same quality. The next white is made from the traditional Veneto variety, Garganega (2017). The nose is, by contrast to the Arneis, more closed, but the palate is subtle with nice rounded fruit and another bitter touch on the finish.

Four still reds were on the table. Sangiovese “Nonna Gisella” 2016 is quite intensely meaty with something resembling iron. But there’s fruit too. Sangiovese “Pietra Rossa” 2015 is a year older, spending time in old oak. It has more structure than the previous wine but is actually quite elegant too. I’d give this a little time.

There is a King Valley Sagrantino 2012 which, despite its age (spent in old oak), has been no more tamed by time than you’d expect a Sagrantino from the motherland to be. Deep-coloured, with spice and length, big legs, 13.8% abv, and abundant tannins. Nebbiolo from 2013 is a typical brick red colour, very much varietally recognisable on the nose, and polished. It also still needs time, though. The Nebbiolo is the oldest fruit on the estate, planted in the 1970s, and of course King Valley is an important location for this grape variety in Australia.

Last, but by no means least is King Valley Brachetto 2017. I have a big soft spot for Brachetto, partly from Piemontese holidays, and partly because a 5.5% off-dry fizz makes a perfect lunchtime palate tickler for those who need to hit the keyboard again in the afternoon. Precise and fresh, red-fruited, really very good indeed, and only around £15.



This is a merchant’s table, and you may remember that I first tried David Knott’s portfolio at the Out of the Box Tasting in Clerkenwell last year. David imports a lovely small range of low production, artisan wines, with real excitement on offer. I’m only going to mention five wines, due to space, but if you’ve not tried any of the Knotted Vine wines, take a look. The names will be completely unfamiliar to most people, but bravery and a spirit of exploration is exactly what I know my readers possess.

Koerner is a Clare Valley label, and David was showing a 2016 Sangiovese labelled by its island iteration, Nielluccio, along with a younger Pigato 2017, which I tasted. Pigato is, of course, the Ligurian name for Vermentino (though some Ligurians bottle both, just to confuse us). This was a good opener, fragrant on the nose but with a little more body than the bouquet suggested. Less acidity than your average Ligurian too.

La Violetta “Spunk Nat” 2017 is a pétillant-naturel style of fizz which is a wild blend of Shiraz and Riesling from Mount Barker in Western Australia. It’s basically just a good fun, cloudy glass of wine. At £26 it might put a few people off (and maybe the name might shock a few of the more conservative wine buyers), but that would be a shame. Wine like this, which provides straightforward, yet exciting, drinking pleasure without commercial blandness should be encouraged. £26 for all that pleasure is no big price to pay.

Pick of the still whites for me was David Franz “Long Gulley Ancient 129 Year Old Vine” Barossa Valley Semillon 2015. David Franz is Peter Lehmann’s youngest son and he’s making some cool wines. This has nice rounded mouthfeel, plump fruit and a delicious savoury quality. I also enjoyed his Barossa Valley Grenache 2015 which sees French oak. It had a savoury quality, like the Semillon, with an additional touch of eucalypt.

By way of contrast, the last wine I’ll mention here is arriving in the UK soon, Flor Marché “Longley” Pinot Noir 2015, from Margaret River. Elizabeth Reed Graduated in 2001, and established a wine project in Montsant (Spain). She began working back in Australia in 2010, building a range of wines from around WA. This 2015 is quite classical – earthy, savoury, quite meaty and dark for Pinot, with enticing fruit. It’s something I’d very much like to contemplate a bottle of, rather than a mere tasting sample.


Garagiste is a new label to me, from Mornington Peninsula. They produce relatively small batches of sub-regional specific varietals, and I tried three whites and one red.

Côtier Sauvignon Blanc 2016 has a lovely nose and some depth on the palate, with toned down acids. Côtier Gewurztraminer 2016 has a pale bronze colour and is clearly Gewurz on the nose, but the palate is clean, no hint of the confected quality that can mar New World versions (perhaps underlining that the Peninsula can be quite “cool climate” for Australia).

My favourite of the whites was La Stagiaire Chardonnay 2016. The region produces some very good Chardonnays, slightly leaner than the Australian cliché, but not too lean. This has a balance of calm acidity and good fruit, with length.

La Stagiaire Pinot Noir 2016 is on the bright cherry spectrum, good fruity young Pinot with a bit of grip. The range is not cheap (all wines £25), but the way Mornington wines seem to be going (see later), they are relatively cheaper than most. Alliance Wine is the importer.



Having enjoyed a number of Cherubino wines over the past couple of years, especially the Fiano below, I thought I’d try a few here. First, the Apostrophe Stone’s Throw White from Great Southern Region, WA. It blends Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, is fresh and lively and very good value for £13.49 rrp.

The Cherubino “Laissez Faire” wines combine reasonable commercial quantities with a little artisan flair, and they are all recommended at under £20. The Fiano here was a 2016, which is nicely aromatic and with a little body, and hails from the Frankland River Region. In the same range is a Porongorup Riesling 2015 which has varietal character and depth of fruit. A Laissez Faire Field Blend 2016 seemed the most interesting of the three. The constituent parts are Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Gris. The acidity is fresh to brisk (maybe from the last variety?) and it has a tiny bit of residual sugar. Yet there’s also a teasing hard edge which suggests it might get some interesting complexity in a few months.

I also tried Fox Gordon Adelaide Hills “Princess” Fiano 2016 as a contrast to the Cherubino. Difficult to say which I liked most, but if you want a little more freshness in your Fiano, this is the one to choose.

Hallgarten Druitt import Larry Cherubino and Fox Gordon.


Kooyong is without doubt one of my favourite producers of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, not just on Mornington Peninsula, but in the whole of Australia. Today I had the chance to taste their two entry level wines, which retail around £20. This pair don’t serve up great complexity, but I think they offer pretty good value for Aussie cool climate wines.

Kooyong Clonale Chardonnay 2016 has a certain lightness to it. There’s freshness, and you could say it lacks a little depth, but remember the price. It will also improve a touch, even though the wines at this level are not intended for cellaring. Kooyong Massale Pinot Noir 2016 is a wine with high-toned, tasty cherry fruit. There’s a bit of tannin and it finishes well for this level.


Henschke is a name which needs no introduction, one of the family estates at the pinnacle of Australian wine. We all know the famous wines, but I’ve always had a thing for Julius Eden Valley Riesling. Here we were trying the 2016, which shows off this vintage well, 2016 being described by most commentators as a great classic Riesling vintage in South Australia. This is very young, and such Rieslings should never be consumed at this age, but the concentrated lime and citrus peel is there, with mineral depth (off loam, gravel and clay). Cellaring of up to 25 years is recommended, but being serious, please give it ten, at least.


Mount Pleasant is the family homestead in the Hunter Valley of McWilliam’s Wines. This Pokolbin winery was one of the first wine properties I ever visited in Australia (it was either this or Tyrrell’s on the same day), and looking back on it I had a cracking tasting of some aged Hunter Valley classics (which they always seem to pull out if they know you are passionate about wine).

The Hunter is of course the home of a fantastic, and unique, style of Semillon. Mount Pleasant Elizabeth 2007 is always released with age. For me this is often one of Australia’s best value white wines. Whilst others have rocketed in price, this is still available for under £20. Refreshing lemon and lime flavours  (a touch of Rose’s Lime Cordial – they always used to call this Hunter Valley Riesling in the bad old days and you can see why) are matched with extract and a certain presence which is so hard to describe. Quality has gone up and down, but this is good. The Lovedale Semillon 2011 is altogether bigger, finer, more impressive, but is more than a little more expensive…though still very decent value at £35, for cellaring.

I’d not tried a Philip Shiraz for many years. Named, along with Elizabeth, after our current Royal Family’s first visit to Australia in 1954, it is a small batch cuvée which is said to exhibit the Hunter Valley style. Whilst there is a certain meaty quality to it, there’s also more plum and dark fruit than I recall of old. There’s peppery spice, and a bit of oak. The 14% alcohol actually seems to add character. It’s quite difficult to believe that it comes with a RRP of £14.50.

I’m not sure Scott had a beard when I was at Mount Pleasant, Hunter Valley!

I apologise for passing Tyrrell’s, who had half-a-dozen wines on show, including The Hunter’s other great Semillon. With 77 crowded tables, many with multiple producers, it’s difficult to try everything.


I visited TMBT on Flinders Road, Main Ridge, a decade ago, when they seemed a relatively new name on Mornington Peninsula, but I’ve not drunk any of their wines for a couple of years, so I thought I’d go through the whole range. I began tasting with Julia from importer Bancroft Wines, then owner/winemaker Martin Spedding came back from lunch and I continued with him.


The range roughly divides into three – 10X is a Mornington Peninsula brand, then we move a step up for the “Estate” Pinot/Chardonnay, using fruit just from Main Ridge. Finally we have three single block wines (Judd, McCutcheon and Wallis) for both varieties, with the addition of Coolart Road for Pinot Noir.

The two 10X bottlings are nice entry level wines, the 2016 Chardonnay in a lighter style (though it does show 14% abv on the label), and the Pinot Noir showing pleasant high-toned fruit. The Estate Chardonnay 2015 is a little more serious but also needs time. I noticed the alcohol slightly more, but you also get a lot more for your dollar. The Estate Pinot Noir 2015 seems more serious, and in terms of quality is a step up on the 10X.

All seven single vineyard wines express their terroirs differently. I preferred the Judd Chardonnay 2015 which did feel like a fine wine from a relatively cool climate region (2015 seems to have been hailed as a very good vintage for both varieties on the Peninsula). McCutcheon seemed more mineral and perhaps Wallis showed more fruit?

For Pinot, Wallis 2015 had a breadth of lovely fruit as well (a vineyard characteristic?), McCutcheon had nice fruit too but more grip, and Judd won me over by its latent complexity…but it may need more time than the others. Coolart Road is a vineyard down at Moorooduc/Teurong (“down the hill”), with well drained, warmer, soils and fruit that ripens a little earlier. This is quite different, obviously more accessible with slightly stewed strawberry fruit and an earthy quality.

The Coolart Road wine certainly has appeal, as do all the other single vineyard wines from TMBT, those others perhaps requiring some bottle age to show their complex best. But the prices are eye watering now ~ £30 for the 10X wines, £40 for the estate bottlings and £55 for the single vineyards.


There is also a multi-vintage bottle-fermented Chardonnay sparkler (not listed) now as well (which I never knew existed). Quite full in body and dry (3g/l dosage, Extra Brut style), it’s a little different, and I’d say probably very good accompanying food. I enjoyed my small taste and would be tempted to try a bottle if I saw one.

I should mention, for potential visitors to the region, that the restaurant at TMBT has a very good reputation, and its wine list has won awards (including three stars in the World of Fine Wine Wine List Awards since 2015). The TMBT web site also contains many suggestions for other dining options, cellar doors, and “things to do” on Mornington Peninsula, well worth checking out (and perhaps noting their warning about local taxi services). On balance, considering the food and the beaches as well as the wines, this is probably my favourite Australian wine region to visit, though when in Melbourne I’d not miss Yarra as well.



On the subject of sparkling wines, Fine Wine Partners were showing House of Arras Grand Vintage 2008, an award winning Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend which I think I saw three times, dotted around the tasting halls. It has real class and focus, genuine lees ageing style and at around £35 is another sparkler well worth checking out. A very different style to the TMBT wine above. It was also, sadly, the only Tasmanian wine I got to try, although from previous experience I can recommend Ministry of Clouds Chardonnay (imported by Knotted Vine) as a left-field choice. I missed Dalrymple, and was otherwise engaged on the Liberty Wines spread of tables, where Tolpuddle was located. But with all the press Tasmania is finally getting, a Tasmanian Tasting would be seriously interesting.



I can remember a long time ago, when David Gleave left Italian specialist Winecellars (which eventually, down a long road, became Enotria and Coe), he founded Liberty Wines. Almost immediately one saw some great Australian additions in the range, and their continued strength here was plainly evidenced by them taking several tables along one long wall of Room 2 at the ADT. One of the more recent additions to that portfolio is LAS Vino.

LAS Vino is the label of Nic Peterkin (son of Mike Peterkin, of Pierro, and nephew of Vanya Cullen). Some readers may recall I enjoyed one of Nic’s wines at Brunswick House back in December, his “CBDB” blend of Chenin, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. I was therefore looking forward to a taste of the pair Liberty was showing.

LAS Vino Margaret River Chardonnay 2015 is largely fermented in stainless steel, with 15% in new oak, and is bottled unfiltered. It tasted quite “natural”, with a very tiny bit of volatility, but lots of character and I liked it best out of the two on show.

“The Pirate Blend” 2014 takes three Portuguese varieties, Tinta Cão (for aromatics), Touriga Nacional (for elegant depth) and Souzão (as Nic says, the darkest berries give the sweetest fruit). It is sappy, textured and a little tannic right now. An interesting wine, but a little hard to judge on account of the slightly hard edge there. I’d like to try this with a bit more age, a vigorous decant, and/or something “meaty” to eat. LAS is definitely a name to check out if you haven’t already.


There are a few producers who you have to try at a Liberty Tasting, but here I had to make some choices. So no Shaw + Smith, Tolpuddle, Charles Melton, Cullen…but I did taste Grosset, SC Pannell and Clonakilla.

Jeffrey Grosset has long made my favourite Australian Rieslings, and I do have one or two older wines secreted away. It is well worth making sure that you don’t drink these wines too young, especially the Polish Hill bottling. Back in December I drank a 2013 which a friend brought to lunch at the Draper’s Arms in Islington, which I think was very young. By contrast, I took a 2004 to dinner in August, which was singing.

2017 is yet another in a line of superb vintages in Clare and Watervale, it seems. Polish Hill Riesling is incredibly youthful, as expected, with extract, texture and the most concentrated lime fruit imaginable. I heard someone say they didn’t like it, but you can like Grosset PH at less than a year old no more than you can truly like Chateau Latour at the same age. Likewise, the Springvale 2017, except that this wine always drinks sooner, ages hardly less well in my experience, and as the price seems to become more differentiated over time (£26 as against £34 for PH), there’s a lot to be said for looking here for value.

Alea is the newest addition to the Grosset Riesling range, and they claim that the 2017 is the best yet. It comes from a tiny Watervale vineyard called Rockford, said to measure just 23×30 metres, on red loam. They claim it is a more “European style” and in fact according to The Wine Society, Jeff says it’s his “most Germanic” wine. Right now it is dominated by more of that classic lime acidity, but the technical details suggest that may be hiding a little residual sugar. Very impressive, another great advertisement for the vintage, and as this comes in at just 12% alcohol and a full quid less than Springvale I will be looking out for a bottle or two.


Why SC Pannell you ask? Because way back when, this producer introduced me to my first Australian Nebbiolo, and I bought it regularly for a time. Every occasion when I drink a SC Pannell wine I generally think it pretty good for the money. And remember that Steve has been Australian Winemaker of the Year (2015), and is a Jimmy Watson Trophy Winner (Adelaide Hills Syrah 2013). So with three wines to try here, I ploughed in.

The SC Pannell “The Vale” McLaren Vale Grenache/Shiraz 2016 rather ploughed into me, if I’m honest. I know balance is what’s important but as a lily livered drinker of low alcohol reds, the 14.7% of alcohol (that, at least, is what the label said) was not really for me. But lest you think me a weakling, the other two wines were labelled at 14% and were much more to my taste.

These were McLaren Vale Grenache-Shiraz-Touriga Nacional 2016 and McLaren Vale Tempranillo-Touriga Nacional 2016. I favoured the latter, the perfumed and sweet fruited Tempranillo balancing a bit of heft, and tannin, from the Touriga. This particular wine, winner of many show medals in the past, does have a good long life ahead of it. It retails for less than £20. You can still get the Nebbiolo, but at twice the price.


If you were to ask me to name my favourite “classic” Australian producer I won’t say it would be easy, but I’m reasonably sure that Clonakilla would be my answer. I’ve followed this estate for decades, since a visit to the Canberra Region back in 1988. For many years I was lucky enough to buy the famous Shiraz/Viognier from Adnams of Southwold, then later the wine that became Hilltops, with fruit from Young in New South Wales (just over the State border). A beautiful Viognier (previously, but possibly no longer, seen in Fortnums in London) is one of Clonakilla’s best kept secrets.

Liberty Wines were showing the two reds plus Clonakilla Canberra District Riesling 2017. This is beautifully defined, young but one of the most approachable Rieslings I tried at the ADT this year. It’s not the cheapest at around £30, but if you fancy a change from Grosset…

Hilltops Shiraz has had its ups and downs, especially with regard to fruit availability in the more distant past. It’s also fair to say that some critics have passed Hilltops over when praising the more famous estate wine. This is somewhat unfair. Hilltops will set you back £25 for this 2016 –  high toned, black fruited, spicy Shiraz which is usually relatively easy to drink at just a few year’s age.

Contrast that to the £90 you will pay for the Canberra District Shiraz/Viognier 2016. For me, this is one of Australia’s finest wines, even if it doesn’t have the cachet of a Grange or a Hill of Grace in some quarters. A well aged example is so complex, and it is oddly enough one of the few wines of this type where you truly do see the Viognier influence in both lifting the palate as well as in the perfume of the wine.

It has a much bigger nose than Hilltops for starters, with, most noticeably, more spice and greater depth. I doubt I will be buying this again at this price, but I wish I could. Just a couple of older bottles left chez-moi, and I will have to savour them. Back in 2016 a 2005 vintage was more than sublime.


That’s almost the end of the Tasting. I did visit the room of Australia’s Top 50, a merchant led selection, whittled down from 200 supplier recommended wines. Almost all the bottles were empty. The one I most wanted to reacquaint myself with was Pike’s “Traditionale” Riesling 2016, which I recall used to knock me back about a tenner not too many moons ago (£18.75 now from Seckford). But whilst there were undoubtedly good wines there, the room was full of young men attacking the bottles like the starlings attack the fat balls on our bird feeder, and what summed the room up for me was hearing a couple of guys saying how they’d always wanted to taste Mollydooker “Two Left Feet” (“a regular top-scoring wine with Wine Spectator”).


I’m being unfair, so unlike me. There were plenty of good wines in that Top-50, just not on the whole my kind of kit. Yet the conclusion I would draw is that (I suppose unsurprisingly) the Australian Export Bodies do favour a certain traditional view of their country’s wine, in particular their red wines. What are perhaps the most exciting wines from Australia are often hard to get hold of. They come in through specialist retailers in small quantities.

But we have seen a lot of great wines here, both from among the classics (Clonakilla and Grosset are just two examples of truly world class producers), and some of the new producers (Dal Zotto, Pizzini and the almost obscure producers The Knotted Vine and others are bringing in), which at least show the wider trade that there is a different kind of thrill to be found, if you dig a little. Perhaps we should be happy that the wild men of the Adelaide Hills and elsewhere are, in fact, still under the radar. But if you ask your trusted small independent they will surely have a few tips.





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Ozgundy 2016 (16 January 2018)

This is the time of year when London is awash with Burgundy Tastings as all the agents wheel out their portfolios for the newly bottled vintage, 2016 in this case. There is a lot of positive noise from those who have ever increasingly expensive wines to sell. The general view of the critics is fairly nuanced with the reds getting plenty of highish marks from the best producers, with less enthusiasm in some quarters for the whites. The overall warning, however, is more about price.

What the wines hide well on tasting is the devastating frosts, in particular, of 2016. Frost and hail have hit the region badly for some years, and 2016 was one of the worst. Vineyards were wiped out from Chablis in the North to the Beaujolais Crus in the South, with some pockets of total carnage in between. I know producers, like the De Moors in Chablis, who lost everything, and likewise in Morgon and Fleurie in the far south, where whole hillsides were affected. So even after bigger crops generally in 2017, the 2016 wines will be expensive of necessity. Too expensive for some? I have no doubt that overall, prices present a serious barrier to some people. I hope that those who can afford to support producers in this difficult time will do so.

One of the highlights of the winter tasting round for me is that hosted by Mark Haisma and Andrew and Emma Nielsen of Le Grappin. With Jane Eyre they have collectively become known as The Ozgundians, although the Tasting also includes the wines of two young Burgundian producers now, Jeremy Recchione and Jane & Sylvain Raphanaud, along with a taste of Vincent Paris Cornas and the Romanian wines of Dagon Clan, with whom Mark Haisma is associated.

The London Tasting is always organised by the producers and now seems firmly planted upstairs at Vinoteca, on Beak Street in Soho.


The 2016s provided an interesting contrast to the often fuller wines of 2015. From what other people have said of the event, I think my views are broadly in concurrence with the mainstream, but with perhaps one or two differences of opinion. If you read this and do disagree with my own opinions and assessments, please do feel free to leave a comment. I’m not Robert Parker. I will excuse the fact that this article is rather long, but I’m sure those who are seriously interested in these wines will cut me some slack.


Andrew and Emma suffered from the weather and therefore had to cut their main Côte D’Or offering to four wines rather than six in 2016, but there were a couple of the 2015s on show to compensate, plus a few extras from outside the region. They produced two whites, Saint-Aubin “En L’Ebaupin” and Santenay 1er Cru “Les Gravières”. The contrast was quite significant. Both wines are very good, to my palate, but the St-Aubin is leaner, more citric and mineral, whereas the Santenay is noticeably fatter. Andrew seemed to think people were preferring the second wine, but I really liked the St-Aubin, as indeed did one or two friends. Andrew, of course, shares with me a love of a lick of acidity, but I suppose many like the fatter style. Take your pick.

The reds contrast as well. Savigny-lès-Beaune has a high-toned cherryish scent and freshness with a little grip. Beaune 1er Cru “Boucherottes” has a bigger bouquet (beautiful) but structure to age well. I have a strong attachment to this vineyard, it being the first of Andrew’s wines I bought.

The two 2015s were Beaune Grèves Blanc – developing beautifully on the nose and with the palate not far behind…some complexity but still grippy. One to keep, despite the obvious temptation. Beaune Boucherottes Rouge 2015 shows quite a contrast to the 2016 and may be developing quicker, but it also seems a bigger wine. I’m less sure of where the drinking window will appear at the moment. The 2016 is the prettier wine at the moment.

Of the other wines, I find the 2016 Macon-Villages Blanc Chardonnay a simple wine, but none the worse for that. Simple and refreshing. Côtes du Rhone 2016 in bottle is very juicy with good acidity and fruit (100% Grenache). Of the two Beaujolais, I know Jancis appears to be a fan of the Fleurie-Poncié, but the Côte de Brouilly is actually my favourite of the two, nice and punchy whereas the former has finesse and prettiness without lacking a certain strength.


Don’t forget the bagnums which are not only perfect picnic/beach wines, but also a cook’s delight in the kitchen, a preprandial lubricant for the one doing all the hard work. The Syrah-Grenache (below) is really tasty. For the next vintage, 2017, also look out for some Aligoté and Saint-Amour, the latter adding to the Nielsens’ growing Beaujolais arsenal.


Emma Nielsen and bagnum

Andrew and Emma always give off a really calm vibe. I’ve no idea whether they tear their hair out in the winery? I know the frosts saddened them greatly. These are beautifully crafted wines, often showing great delicacy, always showing a preference for freshness, but I did mention cost? You will pay between £150 and £200 for a six-pack of the Côte d’Or wines if you buy them now, as primeurs. The mixed half-dozen pack they do is a great way to acquaint yourself with these lovely wines, and if you can afford them they are well worth the investment.


Jane actually began her winemaking career in Burgundy back in the late 1980s, before returning to Australia to take a course in Wine Science at Charles Sturt University, Melbourne. Moving back in 2004, Jane worked for Dominique Lafon and Domaine de Montille, and now works part-time at Domaine Newman as well as making her own wines.

Fleurie 2016 is Jane’s first foray into Beaujolais and she’s come up with a cracking wine. Jane looks for perfume and elegance, so this Cru was the obvious choice, but she nevertheless managed to blag some seriously old vine material (from “La Madone” and “Les Labourons”). It sees 500 litre old oak following 18 days in tank and is bottled under screwcap (surprised the AOP allows that, but there you go!). Ten barrels (ie 5,000 litres) made.

A cherry-nosed, savoury, Côte de Nuits Villages 2016 comes from a new grower at Comblanchien. There’s no new oak and 10% whole bunches and it’s a wine which will drink reasonably soon.


Gevrey-Chambertin 2016 is altogether more serious, and comes from old vines (up to 55 years old) in one of Gevrey’s most northerly village sites. The fruit is darker on the nose but smooth bright cherry on the palate. Just four barrels were made. This will probably drink magnificently when young but will also repay keeping, probably longer than the six or seven years some big league critics suggest (in my very humble opinion, that is).

Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru Aux Vergelesses 2016 is from an excellent location, which along with the neighbouring Île, is one of the most under rated sites on the Côte, in the right hands of course. I think this wine is lovely, and it was the first site Jane worked with when she set out as a negoce. 100% destemmed fruit, no new oak, 3 barrels only. Characteristic Jane Eyre elegance, Le Grappin levels of freshness, a touch of spice, but bags of raspberry and a little tannin for grip and structure. Actually my favourite of the bunch.


There is also a Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru from Les Corbeaux, which sits almost right beside Mazis-Chambertin on the south side of the village. Here, Jane breaks the embargo on new oak and slips in 25%. If this was available to taste, I didn’t see it.

A very nice set of wines. Jane isn’t the only producer here who seems to impress more and more each year, and I have no doubt that her reputation will grow to the level where she is much more widely known, as Andrew and Mark’s reputations have. Intuitive, measured and expressive winemaking.




Mark has so many wines on show at these events that I find it really difficult to do them all justice in print. I would say that there are no wines I’d not be happy to own here, although some unquestionably require more time than others. Mark Haisma is also not necessarily the man to go to for “typicity”, whatever that may be. But this uniqueness to his range is what makes for star quality. His “style” is one I find appeals a lot to a younger audience (by that I mean really that traditionalists might pass him by, though I’m probably talking rubbish as there are always plenty of, shall we say, older gents, around the Haisma table). Certainly his loyal fans are legion.

I often joke that Mark’s best wine is his Aligoté. I don’t mean that, of course, but the comment underlines just how brilliant this wine is. Aligoté 2016 is atypical in that there isn’t the searing acidity that even some reliable producers get with the grape. It doesn’t need cassis, being a very fruity version, albeit with fruit that is pretty lively. Did someone say it had a New World quality to it? Purity is the key word here, and just 12.5% abv. I love this year in, year out.


Mark’s Viognier is also a wine made in the fresher and lighter style that avoids the oily apricot which can put some people off the grape. It reminds me a little of Stéphane Ogier’s white La Rosine. It comes from Flaviac, in what Mark calls the “Middle Rhône” (on the way to Privas, if you know the region).

New for 2016 is a Saint-Peray. Blending 50:50 Marsanne and Rousanne, this manages much of the weight of a good Saint-Peray with a mineral freshness and acidity that many lack (Saint-Peray was always quite old fashioned and Mark’s is modern without being bland). This wine did divide a few opinions at the table, but I am a big fan and this would be in my mixed case.


From the Côte d’Or 2016s we kicked off with a Saint-Romain which had almost sherbert fruit, with a fresh acidity which went “pow!” on the palate. Like Andrew’s Saint-Aubin, a wine with a touch of texture which many call minerality.

Of the reds from the Côte, if I am going to stick my head above the parapet and say which I liked the most this time around, I’d go with Nuits-St-Georges (elegant but tannic, with hints of the iron in the soil and very old vines, lots of lift), and the Gevrey-Chambertin, which is bigger, silky, and a good prospect to age, again. That’s not to dismiss Pommard Les Arvelets and Morey-St-Denis Les Chaffots.

Mark was showing Cornas Les Combes 2016, which is beautifully perfumed. It grows in the glass, but is still closed somewhat on the palate. I’m not so sure I find this wine easy to judge. It needs time, but it is more a tenor than a bass. I think it will develop more elegantly than many Cornas, and indeed into a fantastic wine (I still have some 2010/2011 I’ve not touched). If you are looking for beef and bacon it may pay to look elsewhere, but this is very classy stuff. It deserves its undoubted popularity.


Last, probably least, but really worthy of a good look, is the Syrah-Grenache Vin de France, which like the Viognier (with which it pairs) can be had for just £16.50. A fun wine, plenty of juicy fruit but with that signature of skillful attention which Mark gives to all his wines. Throughout the range this is assured winemaking from a true pro in his prime.



Next we come to the two young Frenchmen.


Jeremy’s winemaking is definitely showing the increased confidence of a young vigneron a few vintages in, who knows what he wants to achieve, which certainly includes quality and sustainability (he’s effectively biodynamic by practice but not certified).

There are two wines with no added sulphur in the range now. A 2017 Gamay comes from whole bunches and tastes like concentrated cherries. From the same Hautes Côtes vineyards above Nuits is an amazing Aligoté 2017 (both are Vin de France) which Jeremy gives three days skin contact at 12 degrees and then barrel fermentation. Appley and peachy, it has a little stone fruit texture and is a real contrast to Mark’s version. Yet another fine example of Aligoté, but not as we know it. This wine was proving very popular indeed.


There are three wines from the Côte d’Or in 2016. Bourgogne Blanc Chardonnay is very fruity indeed. The grapes come from a vineyard sited just above Meursault Charmes and are sold to Jeremy as an act of generosity by his former employer. This wine sees just a touch of sulphur after the malo. I’d say that overall it’s quite simple, but nevertheless you can see that it is made from really good material. There’s a certain restrained weight there, which might even lead an expert to guess the source.

Gevrey-Chambertin 2016 comes from Creux Brouillard, sited just east of the D974 on the southern side of the village. The grapes are sorted intensively and dry ice keeps them cold before fermentation starts naturally. The wine has less power than the Gevreys already mentioned, but still has structure.


Jeremy’s Premier Cru is his Fixin “Les Hervelets”. This is a site a little under 4.5 ha, with sandy, stony, soils. The wines can be supple and approachable early (some Fixin vineyards can produce wines which do need more time than you think). This wine is indeed quite supple, but concentrated too.

The main disadvantage is its price- £53/bottle. Call me old and out of touch, but £50 for Fixin is hard to swallow. Don’t get me wrong, much of the northern sector of the Côte d’Or is producing truly excellent wines now, and you would certainly place this wine alongside many Gevrey 1er Crus, but if this is £50 we begin to lose hope for remotely  affordable Burgundy at this level, though it is hard to blame the producer in these times of low crops and rising costs.




The Raphanauds are new to me. The domaine was formed in 1993, and the “Jane & Sylvain” label in 1999, so I’ve obviously been wandering Gevrey (where the domaine is based) with my eyes and ears half closed. They have only around 4.5 hectares to their names, of which over half is on some sort of rental agreement. Practices are organic.

I tasted three wines. Côte de Nuits Villages was from 2015. It has some development already, a touch of farmyard funk on the nose but quite rich and smooth fruit for the appellation. Gevrey-Chambertin 2015 had nice fruit and a higher tone coming through. Structure too. Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “Les Fontenys” 2015 is similarly priced to Jeremy’s Fixin 1er. The best part of this almost four hectare site (the top part) is all owned by Bruno Clair, but it all has a sunny aspect on a very hard limestone base. A wine with more structure than the village wine, probably requiring patience, even with the warmer 2015 fruit.


The Dagon Clan wines are quite different to Mark Haisma’s French wines. Although we are not talking massive commercial quantities, there is a really wide appeal to them, and their pricing is very competitive with less well crafted wines from Western Europe.

Of the two whites, Clar 2016 is fruity and fresh, whilst Clerstar 2016 is a field blend, bottled with a tiny bit of residual sugar to balance the acidity of the Feteasca Regala, Feteasca Alba and Sauvignon Blanc varieties. It is fresh, but well balanced and more rounded than Clar.


There are two versions of Jar which blend Feteasca Neagra, Romania’s most highly regarded red variety, with French grapes. The blend with Pinot Noir has mouthfilling cherry fruit and a brambly finish. The second blend, with Cabernet and Merlot, has quite a bit of plummy Merlot showing through, despite the blend being 40:40:20. The Merlot is also picked a little early to avoid high alcohol. The other grapes contribute a nice black fruit lick on the finish.

The third red from Dagon Clan is what they call their “estate wine”, Orama, and is 100% Feteasca Neagra. This native grape is planted on the sandy soils of Valea Nucetelui in the famous wine region of Dealul Mare (north of Bucharest). Only one 500 litre barrel was made (it’s the wine in the photo below with a temporary label), in which it was aged 16 months. At the moment it has an elegant nose and a good tannic structure.

This more serious wine aside, the Dagon Clan range should have wide appeal and I’m quite surprised not to see it in more small independent wine shops. There may be a slight prejudice against Romanian wines among the wider public, yet this beautiful country has a long tradition of viticulture, and has at least as much potential (if not more) than any other Eastern European wine producer. The wines clearly show the hand of Mark Haisma, with an understanding of the New and Old Worlds. And the prices are still very attractive.

The Annual Tasting of the Ozgundians et ors is now one of the exciting wine fixtures of the New Year. It’s always somewhere I bump into people I rarely see, but I can be sure they will be there to taste what they have already ordered with confidence. Without exception, there are wines from all of these producers I’d be very happy to drink and own. That is really the problem, how to choose, which can only lead to head scratching, soul searching, and looking deeply into the communal purse.


Mr Andrew Nielsen himself



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First Impressions (Two Very Different Wines)

People often say first impressions are important. Many people are quite happy to make important decisions based on first impressions, and it pays to be aware of that in our own lives. The same is the case for wine. So much wine is “judged”, and most judgements are merely first impressions, those of a snapshot in time, a glance, sniff, swirl and spit on a tasting bench.

When we drink wine at home we at least have an opportunity to get to know a wine, to spend a little time together whilst it unfurls in the glass. Just as when we meet another person for the first time, we decide whether we want to spend the evening chatting (another glass or two), or to meet up again (an extra bottle, or do we order a case?).

But first impressions can be, and often are, deceptive. The first two bottles of red wine this year proved very different experiences and are a case in point. The disparity between these two wines when initially poured, sniffed and supped, was startling. One wine was love at first sight and the other was something approaching disgust. But this latter wine was not a complete unknown, at least as to origin, grape variety and winemaking technique. It was that degree of experience which frankly stopped it going down the sink. In both cases the wine was beautiful. It was merely the case that the second wine needed to be listened to.

So, what was wine number one? At the Real Wine Fair last year I reached the American wines on the far side of the room during the second half of the afternoon. I’d been given a number of strong recommendations to go and chat to a winemaker I’d neither met before, nor whose wines I had tasted, Martha Stoumen. As often happens with brilliant wines, word gets out at these big events and bottles get swiftly emptied, so by the time I got there her Post Flirtation Napa Red 2016 was all gone, like the rest of her samples.

It was only a month ago that I spotted some bottles on the shelf at that great source of hard to find wines, Solent Cellar in Lymington, Hampshire. I can sometimes rely on the people at Solent Cellar to tip me the wink when something interesting comes in, but in this case they didn’t. I think they had no idea how desperate I was to try this, but there it was, just a handful of bottles on the shelf when I visited. If Solent Cellar was in London I think they’d have lasted a day there at most, so I was lucky.

“Post Flirtation” 2016 is a blend of Carignan (65%) and Zinfandel (35%), very much a glugging wine of just 11.3% abv (labelled 11% on the overlain UK label). It is all concentrated red fruits like cranberry, redcurrant and pomegranate, maybe a touch of raspberry (like a red fruit sorbet) but with a slightly bitter rhubarb note as well. You serve it cool and knock it back, simple as that. It’s lighter in weight than the colour suggests.

But what charm, what charm indeed. I’m increasingly enjoying wine that tastes like alcoholic fruit juice rather than wine that tastes, in its chewy sweetness, rather more like a very big slice of Black Forest Gateau. Even in winter. If you are with me on this, then you’ll love Martha’s “Post Flirtation”.

There’s only one thing wrong with it, and that is the mere 330 cases she was able to make. If you believe not only in first impressions, but also in love at first sight, then this is what you need, if you can find some. Retail price is around £23, imported by Les Caves de Pyrene. Serve cool or lightly chilled.


The second wine was decidedly not love at first sight. It looked fine but the first sniff showed a farmyard smell that probably is best left not described in detail. In fact a friend told me that he’d experienced the same farmyard bouquet but obviously not as badly as I had. Volatile aromas often affect different bottles in different ways.

I should introduce the wine in question, really, Overnoy-Crinquand Ploussard 2015. The Crinquand brothers are cousins of the much more famous Pierre Overnoy, and they are also, like Pierre, based in Pupillin, near Arbois in the Jura. What do we know about them that might assist us in deciding how to approach this wine?


We know that although you will see a sign advertising their wines as you leave Pupillin in the direction of Poligny (their house is in the centre of the village), they are pretty low key and not all that well known, except for the Overnoy family name. In fact this domaine of around 6ha of vines is one of the most old fashioned still working in the region. We might think of Puffeney, Overnoy-Houillon, or perhaps Lucien Aviet in these terms, but the Crinquand brothers are very old school. Theirs is one of the only truly mixed farms I know of in the region, their dairy herd being as important as the vines.

In the cellar the wines are fermented in large old oak barrels and aged in a wide variety of barrel sizes. They no longer use the old wooden press, but most equipment is secondhand and decidedly low-tech. Sulphur is added at bottling, not a lot, and one suspects that this is merely because that is what was always added rather than any “natural wine” philosophy (though note that they do have agriculture biologique certification). As Wink Lorch says in her profile of the domaine in Jura Wine, this is “perhaps the closest one might find to how a typical Jura vigneron made wine 50 years ago”. Although her notes on the wines are positive, I’m still not sure to what extent that was a compliment?

To appreciate this wine for the potential in the glass required a two-stage process. The first involved action and the second, time and faith. It was in fact Wink Lorch who taught me how to deal with reductive wine, and gave me the confidence to pursue such a course of action.

Reduction appears in wines which have, for whatever reason, been protected from oxygen during winemaking and bottling. If wines are not racked (from one container to another) during ageing in barrel (or tank), then reductive notes can appear on opening.

These reductive (as opposed to oxidative) notes can take a number of forms and are most noticeable on the nose. Struck match or rubber are two common descriptions often attributed to reduction, but worse, such as “sewage” (to put it politely) is at the extreme. Of course the farmyard smells I experienced could have been caused by other things besides mere “lack of oxygen”, bacterial spoilage, for example. One never knows.

But if you find a wine like this, and indeed many natural wines are made reductively, the first thing to do is to treat it a little roughly. The wine lacks contact with oxygen and it needs to gulp some down. Swirl it in the glass. Some people might place a mat, or a hand over the glass and shake it vigorously. Splash decanting (into a decanter or carafe) helps no end, and will usually sort it out.

This is what Wink Lorch did to one of my favourite wines, Domaine de la Tournelle Uva Arbosiana. We were at Terroirs in London some years ago, a few months before she published her Jura book. She glugged the bottle of the Clairets’ gorgeous pink Ploussard into a carafe, stood up, placed her hand firmly over the top and shook it violently. And it worked (don’t risk this anywhere near new carpets, folks…outside the back door in our house, I can tell you, if I want to try this at home!).

The first glass of our Overnoy-Crinquand was fairly disapointing (after merely swirling), but that in itself was clue enough when the first sniffs had suggested it might be sinkward bound. After a while the ugly duckling blossomed into a swan. 2015 is a plush vintage in Jura, as with almost all of Eastern France. When the reductive nature of the wine had dissipated, the fruit here was smooth, and softer than many vintages. But soon there was a lovely haunting redcurrant flavour coming through, perhaps with a touch more raspberry on the nose.

It’s a warning. Knowing a little about how a wine might be made, how it might develop, and how to serve it is not a magic gift, nor intuitive really. It’s a matter of mixing experience with learning from someone who knows the wines better than you do (in my case, Wink). My first impression here was not positive at all. By the time we were half way through the bottle it was as if we were drinking a different wine, and a quite beautiful wine at that.

As far as I know, no one is currently importing Overnoy-Crinquand into the UK. Perhaps someone will tell me I’m wrong. There may be a little in the USA. Domaine visits are strictly by appointment.


Happy New Year!

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Wines of the Year (2017)

I recently read the view of an esteemed wine editor that they are not keen on listing their “wines of the year” because they like to enjoy what is good about every wine they drink. I can agree with that sentiment, but at the same time it’s nice to sort of sum up the year’s drinking highs. It feels a nice way to begin 2018, to look back at 2017, which was certainly a great wine year for me, if not so great in some other respects.

Every year visitors to Tom Cannavan’s Wine Pages site are invited to participate in listing their wines of the year, which Tom publishes, and my list is loosely based around what I contributed there, using the same categories but with a little more freedom. Of course, it’s almost impossible to come up with a definitive list. For a start, my memory is far from perfect, and in at least one category the wine I chose could well have been superceded between Christmas (when I submitted my list) and the end of the year.


Red Wine: a very difficult category to choose one wine for. Austria figured with quite a few possibilities, as did Catalonia and Piemonte. A wonderful 2004 Barbaresco Riserva Paje, Produttori Barbaresco taken by a friend to dinner at Brunswick House made a strong impression, greater than many bigger names, and this helps synthesise the reasons for selecting any particular wine. We are not necessarily looking for greatness. Personality comes into it, for me, and sometimes (as with my white choice), so does finally getting to taste a wine after a long time searching.

So the winner here in the “red” category is Meinklang Graupert Zweigelt 2013, Burgenland. This marvelous producer makes so many great wines it’s even difficult to choose among them, let alone all the reds I drank last year, but this “wild vine” red from the southern end of the Neusiedlersee in Eastern Austria deserves the accolade. Concentrated black fruits from tiny berries on tangled, unrestrained, vines, highly perfumed and concentrated, with a good lick of slightly abrasive acidity and mouthfeel. Personality! That’s what puts it here.


White Wine: This choice was, by contrast, less difficult. Three white wines kind of stood out for me in 2017. The one which misses out, just, was the most astonishing wine I tasted at the Real Wine Fair last May, and then managed to drink a couple of glasses of at a Solent Cellar event in the summer (when I was also able to buy some for myself). That is COS Zibibbo in Pithos 2014, which was only bottled in magnums. I also cannot fail to mention a rather wonderful Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rioja Blanco 1973.

But the winner is a wine I’ve been wanting to try for a couple of years and which had thus far eluded me until a friend brought one to a spectacular lunch at The Draper’s Arms in Barnsbury just one month ago. Domaine des Miroirs Chardonnay Mizuiro 2013, “Les Saugettes” is grown on Limestone and Marl near Grusse, in the southern part of the Jura Region. Kenjiro and Mayumi Kagami are, as I said in the article about that lunch, almost impossible to visit and their wines are tantalisingly difficult to track down. This one was ever so slightly cloudy, all saline citrus, which doesn’t suggest complexity. And yet it has such a unique personality. A very personal choice, perhaps, but I think it is an astoundingingly good wine if you are open to it. Arigato gozaimasu!


Budget Red: The winner here established itself early and every subsequent bottle just delivered. A simple wine, but just fantastic in that simplicity. Claus Preisinger Puszta Libre 2015 is labelled as a mere Austrian Rotwein, and is a blend of Pinot Noir, Zweigelt and St-Laurent, which Claus suggests serving chilled. Simple raspberry and cherry fruit with a touch of spice, and just 12% abv. It goes down a treat.

Already this year I’ve drunk a similarly beguiling simple wine, Martha Stoumen’s Post Flirtation Napa red blend. Whether that wins out by the end of 2018, who knows, but this kind of gluggable juice never fails to thrill.


Budget White: This wine stands up on its own, but I won’t deny there is another reason I chose it. The world of wine does have its dark corners, but generally wine people are incredibly supportive of each other. When the De Moors of Chablis suffered terribly from the appalling conditions of the 2016 growing season, friends in the South of France let them have some grapes with which to make at least something. The resulting wine, Le Vendangeur Masque “Melting Potes” 2016 is the first cuvée (of three, I think) which expresses their thanks.

Blended from Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Viognier, not varieties which I suppose Alice was all too familiar with, this is just lovely. “Budget” is stretching it a little, but it is a genuine tribute to their potes. And writing this has reminded me I still have one left!


Rosé: I’m quite partial to wines of pinkish hue, I must admit. Olivier Horiot Rosé des Riceys “En Valingrain” 2006 came close to this slot, but despite its name I wonder whether “Riceys” is really a rosé, rather than a pale red? But for the second year running I’m giving this accolade to Clos Cibonne Tibouren 2014 , a “Cru Classé” of the Côtes de Provence. I think it helps that this is from magnum but who says pink wine cannot age? Well, obviously no one who knows Château Simone, Musar, and this (okay, and Rosé des Riceys, which absolutely needs to age). It has all the freshness of a pink plus complexity and (perhaps more so) character, which comes from this unusual and rare variety.


Sparkling Wine: The toughest choice lay here. Somehow I have to fit in Champagne, other sparkling wines and the innumerable pét-nats I could have listed. After considering a very fine Piper Rare 2002, and from the same vintage, a stunning (if still not fully mature) Pierre Peters “Les Chetillons” 2002, I awarded the gong to a unique sparkler, Clos Lentiscus Sumoll Ferèstec Reserva Familia 2010, Bodega Can Ramon from Catalonia. 

I love Sumoll, both red and white. This rare wine usually manages to fill between 300 and a touch over 700 bottles, depending on vintage. This superb 2010 was disgorged in 2016, and local honey is used in the dosage. Pale bronze, quite rich and mature, we might be in the territory of Selosse or Prévost. Not your simple Cava (indeed, it’s not a Cava at all), it is richly complex, but with a direct, if elegant, acidity.


In the days before New Year, Clos Lentiscus was, if I’m being objective, surpassed by Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 1996. This is nicely mature and drinking wonderfully well right now. I won’t try to describe this legendary vintage for “Winston”. When I said on social media that this was my best wine of the holidays, someone replied “er, ever”, which did pretty well sum it up. Not my best wine ever, not quite, but they had the right idea. It was all the more appreciated, as it was after an impromptu visit to very good friends following a bracing dog walk when the cork was popped.


I’ve not even mentioned any pétillant naturel wines, and I drank dozens in 2017, a style I find both attractive and at the same time so perfect once it’s warm enough to venture outdoors. I can’t list them all, but one I always adore is Domaine des Bodines Red Bulles. Arbois Ploussard which tastes to me of concentrated pomegranate, redcurrant and raspberry, all enveloped in a gentle fizz and froth. I managed a whole two bottles of this in 2017 (it’s not easy to procure, even were I not obsessed with drinking widely). I do try to have some at home if at all possible.


Sweet Wine: We are moving decidedly upmarket here. We went to a wedding in Tokyo in the summer and the bride’s father had set aside a bottle from his daughter’s birth year specifically to open on this occasion. It was Château d’Yquem Sauternes 1988 served from a 5 litre format (followed by a number of ordinary bottles, just in case anyone hadn’t managed to get a third or fourth glass). Nothing else came close. I’ve never actually got drunk on Yquem before (though the beer, Champagne, gin and red Bordeaux throughout the dinner helped) and I was glad we were only staying a mere four very humid minutes’ walk from the wedding venue. I wasn’t so drunk as to be unable to remember it, and the experience will linger for many years.


Fortified Wine: I don’t drink masses of Palo Cortado, though it’s a Sherry style I’m coming to appreciate more and more as I get older. It explains why I didn’t buy this wine on release, but that has been rectified to a degree – as I type I’m waiting for a single bottle to be delivered this afternoon.

Equipo Navazos Palo Cortado Bota 75 is possibly the most elegant Palo Cortado I’ve ever drunk. It was sourced from Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín in Sanlúcar, and in fact is the same liquid that went into the first bottling of the Equipo Navazos table wine, Florpower. It is smooth in the middle and prettily floral on the finish. It lacks that incredible intensity you often get with a EN Palo Cortado, yet makes up for it with such finesse. Mind blowing…to me, at least.


On the Wine Pages  WOTY entry you get the chance to list a “Thing” (wine related or not). I chose Champagne by Peter Liem, which I have already written about  (30 November 2017). It was my wine book of the year, not least for its concentration on terroir wines, and for the unrivalled Larmat maps of the region (reproduced separately in a drawer, for the first time since their original and very limited release in 1944). Yet there were a couple more wine-related things which I’d like to mention, both vineyard visits.

After a few years of very much wanting to go, I managed a visit to Emilie Porteret and her Domaine des Bodines on the edge of Arbois in late October. It was in fact just days after wonderful visits to Jean-Pierre Rietsch in Mittelbergheim and to Fritz Becker Junior in Schweigen, and indeed it preceded a visit to my favourite Champagne producer, Bérêche, at Craon de Ludes, just three days later. I’ve been drinking Domaine des Bodines for several years and they have crept into my absolute top six Jura addresses. To actually visit and to feel the wonderful energy going into the vineyard and the wines here was a very special experience.

In 2017 I also visited my first ever Japanese vineyard, Domaine Sogga, outside Obuse in the Nagano Region (on Japan’s main island, Honshu). It doesn’t count as the most obscure vineyard/winery I’ve ever visited (that would go to what at the time was Nepal’s only real wine producer, Pataleban Vineyard, west of Kathmandu). But Domaine Sogga, which grows mainly vinifera varieties, from Chardonnay, Petit Manseng and Albariño to Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, makes surprisingly good wines. In fact I was so taken with some of these wines (within context) that I was quite relieved and gratified, on returning to the UK, to discover quite how in such high esteem their winemaker (Sogga fils) is held by those experts here who know Japanese wine. I do plan to return.

Individually protected bunches at Obuse (Nagano, Japan); Emilie Porteret in her tiny barrel cellar in Arbois; and Peter Liem’s Champagne masterpiece

In a world where more and more wines continue to astonish me with their personalities, all of the above provided inspirational moments, reminding me why I’m so passionate about wine, and why I want to continue to share that passion. I hope I can continue to do just that through 2018 and beyond. Happy New Year!


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Recent Wines (Winter 2017) #theglouthatbindsus

As we head for what in our case will be a welcome Christmas break (the usual pre-Christmas colds have reared their heads like the four horsemen this year), I thought I’d be totally predictable and forego a list of Christmas wines. What to drink with the turkey…there won’t be one… Instead it’s high time I gave you another batch of the best wines I’ve been drinking at home, especially as my last lot were two months ago.

Ivag 2015, Cascina degli Ulivi, Piemonte – This is one from Stefano Bellotti, and I think it was sadly the last of his bottles I have in the cellar. I’m sure you’ve spotted that it is cryptically named after that much maligned (often with reason) DOCG on the eastern edge of Piemonte. This is bottled as a mere table wine.

The grape is Cortese, and few do Cortese better than Stefano. Biodynamic, no additives, the nose is marvelously complex and the palate is so fresh, almost spritzy on the tongue yet there is no visible CO2. Citrus acidity and a herby dryness. It has a certain touch of weight and richness beneath the acidity, and we drank it with a risotto of butternut squash and mushrooms. Only the weather failed to transport us to Novi Ligure.

Stockist: Les Caves de Pyrene


Sergentìn 2009, Fabrizio Battaglino, Roero – I mention this wine mainly to give a plug to the Roero region as an alternative source of Nebbiolo. Lord knows, we need one with prices going sky high in the two “B’s”. There were no real signs of age, either visibly or on the nose here. The palate showed it was young and as it was was drunk before going out I didn’t have time to splash it into a decanter.

Yet real Nebbiolo character is here in this wine. I’m so often unable to find that “tar and roses” thing in its pure form with Barolo, but I was getting that here, along with black pepper. It just needs time. Hopefully there’s time for us to explore Roero further before the Barolo boys catch on.

Stockist: Big Red Wine Company (current vintage 2011)


7 Fuentes 2015, Valle de la Orotava, Suertes del Marqués, Tenerife – This gets a mention because as an entry level wine, and as an introduction to the wines of Tenerife, it is excellent. It is based on Listán Negro, an under appreciated variety, though its white form, Listan Blanco, is none other than Palomino Fino. The minor component is Tintilla, which most readers will know better as Trousseau.

Initially there is some reduction and a whiff of volatility, which some people have said has put them off (though I’d not suggest you get it with every bottle). But using a carafe soon sorts it out. The key to this wine is freshness, but with that sort of textured freshness you get from volcanic soils. Sappy, simple, but sensuous, it slips down easily.

Stockist: widely available via importer Indigo Wine


Furmint Vogelsang 2014, Michael Wenzel, Rust – Sometimes you buy something and stick it away and somehow it almost gets forgotten. This happened here. Michael Wenzel’s family grow grapes around Rust on the western shore of the Neusiedlersee. This bit of the lake is historically known for Furmint, grown on gneiss/quartz and mica schist, and Vogelsang was the first vineyard the family purchased in the 1980s. But the grapes were virtually smuggled in from then Communist Hungary, because the variety had almost disappeared from Austria (the border is only a relatively short cycle ride south of Rust, and in fact you can ride the “Iron Curtain Trail” here).

We all buy wine with positive expectations, but sometimes even high expectations are exceeded, and this was the case with this Furmint. Elegance, minerality, character, finesse and presence are what I’d rather say about this bottle than a string of fruit etc related descriptors. This is brilliant, though very sadly all gone. I understand that just 800 bottles of the Vogelsang were made in 2014.

Stockist: all gone, but Newcomer Wines are the people to hassle for the next vintage


Kalkundkiesel Rotweincuvée 2015, Claus Preisinger, Gols – Here we are just moving around the lake from Rust on the western shore, to Gols, more or less on the northerneastern shore. Claus is a regular in these lists of recent wines, but I have tended to drink more of his reds. This beautiful red is an experimental blend of Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent with added white grapes.

There is around six weeks skin contact (other vintages have had longer) for most of the fruit, although some is direct pressed juice, all blended at the end, but the wine is quite smooth and not so textured. The bouquet is of rich darker fruits and spice, quite Christmassy. There’s plenty of acidity, keeping it fresh, and a bit of bite on the finish.

Stockist: another one from Newcomer Wines


Corbières Blanc “La Bégou” 2015, Maxime Magnon, Languedoc – Magnon is a bit of an insider producer and as you are all insiders you might not need me to tell you that he makes exceptional white (and red, of course) Languedoc, which does not always bring to mind this southern region. More, on account of the finesse in this bottle, fine White Burgundy. Funny that, as Maxime is originally a Burgundian. He worked with Jean Foillard in Beaujolais, but his southern influences come via his friendship with Didier Barral.

Based at Villeneuve-des-Corbières, the blend of grapes in La Bégou is 90% Grenache Gris and 10% Grenache Blanc. The bouquet is floral, and this is reflected on the palate, along with pears and a dry stony mineral texture on the finish. The vines here are at least fifty years old, on limestone and schist. Maxime uses biodynamic practices, though I don’t think he’s certified. Very impressive indeed, and even at £30 we are in the territory of a bargain for the quality.

Stockist: Solent Cellar might still have the odd bottle of Magnon’s wines if you are swift


Poliphonia 417 2016, Pheasant’s Tears, Kakheti, Georgia – Few recent wines have filled the mouth with such concentrated sappy deliciousness as this wine. It’s quite unusual, and may well be the most grapes I’ve had in a blend, ever – 417 of the estimated 525 autochthonous red and white varieties in Georgia. They come from a small vine library in Kakheti.

This isn’t complex but that dark fruit coats the mouth. Lip-smacking might be an apt choice of adjective. Not your typical qveri wine as it majors on the fruit more than texture. If you see a bottle then grab it. About £21 retail.

Stockist: also Solent Cellar via Les Caves de Pyrene


Madiran 2004, Château d’Aydie – It has been a good while since I’ve drunk a Madiran. When I was younger I had a bit of a thing for the wines of Southwest France, especially Irouléguy, Cahors and Madiran. Of course all Madiran is not cut from the same cloth. The best is pretty much 100% Tannat and, although micro-oxygenation was more or less invented here to soften these brutes, a good Madiran is generally an old Madiran.

This wine, judging from the back label, is pure Tannat. It won a DWWA Trophy (Decanter) in 2007, but the tasters must have found it hard and difficult to judge if my experience of three year old Madiran is representative. This is still dark and only just showing a crimson rim. The nose is lovely though, broody plum, red fruits and spice/pepper. There are still tannins here, slightly dusty, and enough structure to suggest this is still not fully resolved (though as with Nebbiolo, you don’t always know). But it’s damned good. It really comes into its own with food, a rich sausage and vegetable roast with a little chilli posing no difficulties. With 14% abv it didn’t taste alcoholic, just rich.

Stockist: you may find this in Barcelona or the US Virgin Islands according to Wine-Searcher, but it’s basically long gone


Blanco 2016, Bodega Cauzón, Andalucia – We finish here with a gem from one of the finest estates of Andalucia, though it is little known. The man behind these vibrant natural wines is Ramón Saavedra, who farms a few hectares high in the Sierra Nevada at Cortes-y-Graena. When I say “high” I mean it – between 1,100 and 1,200 metres altitude in this case. But this is not a blend of weird autochthonous Andalucian grape varieties, discovered by Ramón whilst walking the dog. It’s a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier and Torrontes.

The colour is a beautiful yellow. The bouquet is of fresh orchard fruits, plus peach and citrus zest. When you glug this it is ridiculously fruity, in fact it’s real fruit juice for adults. Somewhat worryingly, there is no indication whatsoever than this contains 13% alcohol when you knock it back. Ramón goes his own way but his wines are delicious.

It’s a rather nice way to end this roundup of recent wines because it’s just simple pleasure in a glass, and who cares that I’m drinking a Spanish white in December when three quarters of the country is blanketed in snow (though not my bit). You’ve probably seen the fine wine (sic) I’ve been drinking at lunches and dinners these past months, but this is no less pleasurable, and when the flavours are unexpected, such a wine is just as exciting too.

Stockist: Otros Vinos


Have a great festive holiday break, if indeed you have one. I aim to be drinking moderately and sleeping as much as possible over the next week. I hope to be back in the New Year, but in the meantime, as they say, have a good one!


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Songs From The Wood (Lime Wood)

We were lucky to be part of a group of eight that had the chef’s table at Lime Wood the weekend before last. Lime Wood is a Regency-era country house hotel set in parkland in the New Forest, at Lyndhurst. The team behind Lime Wood’s restaurants is Angela Hartnett and Luke Holder, with an Italian influence to the cooking from Luke. It’s smart but relaxed, and actually a great location for a comfortable break. I wrote about a trip there for lunch in the summer, part of my New Forest Gastronomy series.

The restaurant itself is a reasonably formal affair, as befits the surroundings. The chef’s table, set in the large kitchen itself, not only gave us a taste of the excitement during a busy service, but allowed us to be a little louder than the restaurant would have permitted. If the wooden benches were slightly less comfortable, the atmosphere made up for it. Needless to say, the food was good. Service was also perfect. It was as if the waiters and sommelier were able to relax in the kitchen and didn’t feel the need to treat us with quite the degree of detached deference you would get out in the restaurant.


The meal began with the Smokehouse Board, with culatello, leg soaked in red wine, cured loin and chorizo smoked on site. Fennel and black pepper salami, effectively a finocchiona, was delicate and fine. The salmon is cured ten days before smoking. I should say at this point, with all that dead pig on the table, that Lime Wood caters for vegetarians and vegans, and served up imaginative vegan dishes for the non-meat eaters.


Smokehouse Board

The wines began spectacularly with a magnum of Stéphane and Bénédicte Tissot‘s Chardonnay Gravières 2015. I’d assumed this might be a touch young, but 2015 was a richer vintage in Arbois. Les Gravières is a blend of six sites where the underlying rock and soils are limestone. Whilst Arbois is perhaps famous for its various marnes (marls, which are calcium/lime-rich mudstones with varying amounts of clay and silt), there are outcrops of pure limestone which produce excellent Chardonnays. The most famous must be Stéphane’s own Clos surrounding the Tour de Curon, a steep and stony limestone vineyard rapidly achieving a “Grand Cru” reputation.

The Gravières begins with peachy ripe fruit, more rounded and voluptuous than you expect, but it takes only a little time before other qualities become apparent, and I mean citrus acidity, salinity, and a very long, almost chalky, finish. I can’t say how this wine will age (even in mag), but I found it astonishingly beautiful, especially because I’ve erred more towards Tissot’s single vineyard “La Mailloche” as my favourite, the one off “Les Amants” aside. If I could drive to Arbois tomorrow I’d try to grab a few magnums of this to enjoy over the next two years or so.



Someone called for a rosé, and so we grabbed a bottle from the Lime Wood list, Ca dei Frati Rosato “Rosa dei Frati” 2015. This is a sound wine from the famous Lugana producer. Pale salmon colour, quite muted to begin with (but cold), opening into a nice fruity wine, dry and fresh, not spectacular but enjoyable. At some point a ewe’s cheese salad with young vegetables appeared and it didn’t clash.

Ewe’s milk cheese with young baby vegetables

We soon polished that off and another magnum appeared, San Lorenzo Ciliegiolo 2009, Sassotondo. This is a Maremma wine and is 100% Ciliegiolo, all from vines over 50 years of age in Sassotondo’s home vineyard near Pitigliano. This is always a superb wine, but I’ve never tried a magnum before. This 2009 starts with dark blackcurrant fruit on the nose, and then some rich cherry comes through. The bouquet has great depth. So does the palate. There’s fruit, but also a slight bitterness which seems to resemble black pepper (some also say cloves). There are still tannins present but they just add the sort of structure you want for food matching. There is just a slight note of alcohol (14% abv) on the finish, but it is smooth and long.


The dish we paired this with was a ravioli of rainbow trout and ricotta with walnuts and lemon zest. Like Lime Wood’s famous “double agnolotti”, this is the kind of pasta dish they do to perfection. It doesn’t look much on the plate but its richness suffices to satisfy the stomach until the next plate arrives.


More than just ravioli

The main course was braised duck breast, and offal in a roasted artichoke shell (or a very inventive raw vegan pizza). The pairing was Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe 1999. This was drinking superbly, though not yet at its peak I think. Still dark in colour but with a lovely brick red-orange rim, it is rich and fruity with a pleasant bitter touch. The 13.5% alcohol feels restrained and I’d say this is the most elegant Châteauneuf I’ve had for a while. Of course there’s plump Grenache with rich complexity building in the glass, but there was no “leaking at the edges”. Counter-intuitively it was served in Riedel Bordeaux glasses, but they worked for me.



Duck breast

Another red was called for and someone ordered Leah Pinot Noir 2014, Seresin. This Marlborough Pinot is a blend of the three Seresin vineyards (and named after Michael’s daughter), a wine which drinks well quite soon after release. It nevertheless also has the ability to age. The 2014, the result of a long ripening season, has lightish red fruits but also a herby note on the finish, a touch of early complexity. I think there’s about 15% oak used. Still a fresh young wine, its biodynamic origins showing, perhaps, though I’d say this is good to go now. If you want greater complexity, move up the range.


At this point a pause in the proceedings was called for, and the wilder members of the party decided it was negroni time. It wasn’t the occasion for an interrogation as to the exact contents of this version (most of us had gone past that stage), but it was very good indeed. Always the sign of a good hotel. In my world there are many ways to make a negroni, no single right way, but there is a wrong way. This was not the wrong way.

Negroni time

Dessert came out soon after, a chocolate mousse with chantilly, ale soaked cherries, a white chocolate snowflake or two and mixed red berry sorbet. With this we were treated to Château Fayau Cadillac 2011. Cadillac is one of the old sweet wine regions of Bordeaux. It’s about 30 km upriver from the city, on the right bank of the Garonne, ie the opposite bank to Sauternes and Barsac.

The wine is not as complex as a top Sauternes, and there is little if any sign of the noble rot which adds complexity to the left bank sweet wines. Yet this is very pleasant with honey and stone fruits (peach and apricot). It doesn’t have exceptional concentration, nor length, but as an accompaniment to this type of dessert it works well, neither too rich and cloying, nor adding any jarring acidity. A nice complementary touch.

Mousse and sorbet with the Fayau

This chef’s table experience is to be recommended. I enjoyed the very relaxed atmosphere in the kitchen. I’m sure the fact that there were eight of us helped, and I think we were able to be far more noisy (in a good way) than in the formal restaurant. Eating outside in the summer was also very enjoyable for the lack of formality. The food at Lime Wood is good as well, the influence purportedly being Italian but not to the extent that this inhibits creativity. That creativity was especially evident in the vegan dishes.

In some restaurants, having vegan dietary requirements is sometimes a real nuisance for them, and any vegan dishes are grudgingly prepared. Here we got the opposite response, creativity being given its head. That was rather nice as one of our number was also a chef who goes an extra mile when asked to prepare vegan dishes.

Vegan treats, raw pizza and dessert platter

If there is a down side to Lime Wood dining it is only in the pocket. The meal came to £130-a-head, more than expected (which seems to be my theme for late 2017), but that was possibly in large part down to the wines we took (Tissot, Sassotondo and Beaucastel) at a guess. Corkage is £35/bottle and I’m not sure how they worked the magnums. But the evening, food, wine, service and entertainment, was very enjoyable. If you want to crawl up to bed rather than our taxi back to Lymington, expect relative luxury in (at this time of year) a warm and hospitable hotel.

Lime Wood is at Beaulieu Road, Lyndhurst, in the New Forest (nearest rail link is Brockenhurst, then 15 minutes in a taxi). See link here for restaurant and rooms.

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