London Wine Fair 2018 Part 2 – Drinks Britannia and the Trading Floor

In Part 1 of my review of the 2018 London Wine Fair I concentrated on the small importers in the Esoterica area, where you could find perhaps the real excitement of the event. If you haven’t already read Part 1, you can catch up here. Part 2 takes a look at what was happening on the large “trading floor” downstairs. One of the new additions this year was Drinks Britannia, devoted to a number of producers from the British Isles. This area proved a real success, I think, and is ripe for growth for the 2019 Fair. I will also briefly cover a few of the interesting wines I tasted from some of the larger importers down here. Then I’ll finish off with a few photos to give anyone who wasn’t there a flavour of the event…from the sublime to the (almost) ridiculous, as they say.

This large event, now in its fourth year at London Olympia, claims to present 14,000 wines from 40 countries. Despite a lot of concerns being expressed on the floor about how brexit will affect the drinks industry as a whole, the organisers reported 14,250 attendees over the three days, a massive 17% increase over 2017. Several new attractions certainly helped, including Wine Innovations (with some exciting new tech on show), some impressive Premium Masterclasses, and better communication via a dedicated Wine Fair App and a daily newspaper, plus the aforementioned Drinks Britannia (and the impressive Nyetimber drinks bus). On Tuesday 22nd there was also a Champagne Live event, which was open to consumers in the evening.

DRINKS BRITANNIA

The introduction to the Drinks Britannia area’s booklet claims, quite rightly, that “the country is undergoing a liquid revolution, delivering world-class sparkling wines, internationally acclaimed craft beers [and] outstanding gins”, to which I would also forcefully add, a resurgence of exciting craft ciders.

Just under twenty exhibitors packed this corner of the main Hall, and I am hopeful that the clear success of this small but beautiful new addition to the Fair will be further expanded next year. Those who did show ranged from the big boys (like Nyetimber) to the tiny (Starvecrow Cider, a current favourite, was there for the first time, and just on the Monday). It’s Starvecrow that I’ll begin with.

Starvecrow Cider

I discovered Starvecrow last year, after I met Ben Walgate, who I discovered I knew briefly many years ago. Regular readers will know about Ben, who has made a wonderful English petnat, PN17, from Dornfelder and a little Pinot Noir (distributed by Les Caves de Pyrene), and has the exciting prospect of some Ortega waiting in qvevri buried in his Peasmarsh Oasthouse in East Sussex, waiting to be bottled. His Tillingham Vineyard by coincidence is about to undergo some serious new planting next weekend, a future English wine star in the making, we hope.

Ben is helping to make a range of ciders under the Starvecrow label. These are truly artisan products, with production being a few thousand bottles of the two mainstays, and just a matter of a few hundred for the exciting new cider I shall mention in due course.

Of the three ciders (labelled “Cyder” here) on taste, the first is the gently effervescent Starvecrow Natural Cyder. Hand picked apples are pressed and fermented with native wild yeasts in old whisky casks. Unusually for cider, the varieties used are Golden Delicious, Jonagold and Braeburn, with Bramley adding bite and acidity.

Much as I like the black label version, the red label Starvecrow Pét Nat Cyder is possibly even better. Its wild fermentation in bottle produces a cider with the real definition of a petnat wine, with great appley fruit. The bottles I’ve just finished all had a lovely crispness and acidity to them. Dry and brisk, and just 5.5% abv. The black Label comes in at 7%.

The new cider, so new that it doesn’t yet have a label (on the right, below), nor strictly a name, was made in one of Ben’s qvevri as a bit of an experiment. It has been bottled as a still cider (no bubbles) and has some of the texture and mouthfeel of an orange wine. It’s a truly innovative effort and I cannot wait to get some of it next month on release.

 

Nyetimber

Nyetimber keeps itself at the forefront of the English sparkling wine industry through very slick marketing, exemplified by the Nyetimber double-decker bus, which I must say makes an impressive bar space at festivals. All of that would mean very little, were it not for the fact that the wines are more impressive than ever.

Nyetimber has been perhaps the biggest name in English Sparkling Wine for nigh on twenty years, and has been around a decade longer than that, but their wines have not always impressed me as much as they do now, nor did in the early days. They claim “pursuit of perfection”, and under the ownership of Eric Heerema, this is no idle boast. All the wines come from estate grown Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier, and every parcel of grapes gets treated individually from picking to bottle.

There are five cuvées, of which “Classic Cuvée” sets the standard, and the Blanc de Blancs offers a more gastronomic option. I tasted the Rosé for the first time in a while. It’s a lovely “sunset pink” with strong hints of red fruits on nose and palate (on the palate it’s predominantly raspberries). The style is elegant, with a good backbone and definition. Certainly aperitif material, but also likely to pleasantly surprise anyone who pairs it with white meats, salmon or seafood

Believe it or not, I also had my first taste of Tillington 2013. This is their now famous single vineyard wine, the 2013 Vintage being launched at the Fair, which I only realised when I got to the front of the queue. It’s less easy to get hold of the technical details than from some producers, partly because of the noise around the bus (“busy” does not fully describe the crush), and partly because Nyetimber’s marketing materials are short on detail like grape varieties.

The 2013 is certainly dominated by Chardonnay, but whatever smaller proportion of Pinot Noir there is certainly makes its presence felt through beautiful, intense, summer fruits. You also get treated to soft brioche notes on the palate. It has genuine depth, more than the other cuvées, and real class. Lees ageing is around 37 months, followed by six months post-disgorgement ageing in bottle before release. At around £100 it isn’t cheap, and the price certainly acts as a marker for the industry. But it is a classy, very impressive wine. I’d be inclined to buy some, though it is a shame that unlike Comtes, and DP, I’m unlikely to find it in a supermarket “25% off six” offer.

 

 

Drinks Britannia had plenty more to offer, and I should mention a few other less impressively decked-out tables, which nevertheless had lots to offer in the taste department. Sparklers from BolneyExton Park, and Black Chalk Wines (the latter reviewed in Part 1) were all on the Wine GB tables (the new Association for the English and Welsh Wine Industry). There were more ciders, including those of Little Pomona Orchard & Cidery from Thornbury in Hertfordshire, and on a table of their own, Ambriel Sparkling Wines. Also at the event was the inimitable Julian Temperley and his Somerset Cider Brandy Company, whose range has now grown well beyond the cider I occasionally bought as a young man (with friends nearby), and his very fine Calvados replacement Cider Brandy.

There were also a few gin distillers (Manchester Gin and Pinkster, the latter made pink with raspberries from Cambridgeshire). There must be a real opportunity for the multitude of craft gins to market themselves at this event next year.

All of these are worth seeking out. I actually think Bolney Estate makes a range of still and sparkling wines which are very good value, and although not on show, their slightly crazy red fizz Cuvée Noir, based on Dornfelder, is something I always grab a couple of bottles of if I visit (also currently available in magnum, making a perfect barbecue option).

 

The vast “Trading Floor” at Olympia had stalls pushing everything under the sun, from countries like Uzbekistan to small wine merchants like Oakham’s Bat & Bottle. A lot of this wine might appeal more to those purchasing from the On-trade, or the supermarket, more than most readers of my blog (I saw some “Most Wanted” wines, see in photos below, in Sainsbury’s this week). But there were also some impressive wines to be found at some of the larger importers exhibiting here, nowhere more so than at Astrum Wines.

Here, I tasted a range of nice new wines from an estate called Tavignano, which specialises in Verdicchio, along with varietal white Pecorino, and reds from Rosso Piceno (Montepulciano/Sangiovese blend) and Lacrima di Morro D’Alba in the Marches. Particularly impressive was their Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Superiore DOC “Villa Torre” 2017 with two months on lees, and the older Misco Riserva 2015 (Classico DOCG), aged in clay with twelve months on fine lees. Nicely textured and stony.

Next door, so to speak, Astrum was showing the wines of the Abbazia di Novacella (that’s Neustift if you are a local speaking the Austrian dialect). The wines in this part of the South Tyrol (close to Bolzano) claim a two-thousand year history, and the monks at Novacella/Neustift began their own viticulture in 1142. The two main ranges are the Classic Line (good wines for early drinking) and the Praepositus range. These latter wines are quite exceptional, especially the wines from less well regarded varieties such as Kerner and Sylvaner.

So Classic Kerner 2017 is fruity and clean, whilst Praepositus Kerner 2017 is much more stony/mineral, showing much more depth. Even Kerner here, grown at altitude (up to 900m) on poor soils with very small yields will age for ten years or more. Indeed the Praepositus wines rarely get the ageing they deserve. I would suggest that they merit the effort.

Praepositus Sylvaner 2017 is also very mineral, but with a touch more body than the Kerner. It still has the balancing acidity which will enable it to develop over time. Pinot Nero 2015 is a fruity, cherry-driven, wine with a touch of tannin. It comes from a late harvest in an already warm vintage, with low yields. It’s a little different.

Last, but not least, Moscato Rosa 2016 is a delight. Most wines in this style are generally bottled very sweet with low alcohol. This delightfully scented alternative has 12.5% abv and between 80-100g of residual sugar. It is deliciously sweet, but it is also textured, and much more substantial than the norm on the palate, without relinquishing the amazing floral bouquet which Pink Muscat grapes uniquely provide.

 

Astrum also imports the Austrian wines of, inter aliaJohanneshof Reinisch and Markus Huber, both of these estates being present to pour their own wines, which is always a treat. I drank the former’s Thermenregion Gumpoldskirchner Tradition a few weeks ago, a delicious blend including Rotgipfler and Zierfandler.

Also a “must try” from here are the rare Piemontese varieties from Montalbera, especially Grignolino and Ruché, if you’ve not already tried them. More perfect reds for summer drinking.

 

Seckfords is another stand which merited investigation, with one of Australia’s neglected Riesling producers on pour. Pikes (also with the Pike & Joyce label) were showing some of the best value Rieslings from South Australia. To be fair, Pikes is not only about Riesling, but with vines and a winery at Clare’s Polish Hill, that is obviously the first thing we come to think about.

 

A final mention goes to New Generation Wines, based in South London. They were showing the marvellous wines of one of my favourite South African producers, Boekenhoutskloof (Franschhoek). Their Syrah is world class, but the Semillon is also a classic not to be overlooked. Semillon 2015 was on show.

4D1DC6D8-D75D-485E-9611-C8C4697138BC

I hope that the photos below give a flavour of the wider event, as much as the text gives you some ideas of things to head out and discover. The event is both far more interesting, and also far more relevant, than the previous time I visited the London Wine Fair. I look forward to it being even better next year, and I’m positive that it will be, despite market concerns and uncertainty.

 

 

 

 

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London Wine Fair 2018 Part 1 – Esoterica

It’s that time of year when the London Wine Fair comes to London’s Olympia. For anyone who has never been, it’s an enormous three day event, boasting 14,000 wines from 40 countries. The vast “trading floor” has many gems among the diaspora of larger producers, and I shall bring a flavour of those in Part 2, along with a look at the specialist section of the hall called “Drinks Britannia”. In this Part 1, I will concentrate on one of the areas in the upstairs gallery which I know will be of most interest to my readers, Esoterica.

As the special brochure for this area states, the UK remains “the most diverse wine market in the world…Esoterica offers a snapshot of [that] passion for diversity”. I could not have put it better. If you want to find bravery, passion for wine, excitement and almost a sense of pure altruism towards the wine loving customer seeking new experiences, then the sixty-plus small importers in the Esoterica area offer exactly that. I have chosen just short of a dozen to profile here and all of them are doing great things. Check them out. As there are so many wines, I’ve not written more than a thumbnail sketch of each one, but their selection is a signal of my approval, so to speak.

RED SQUIRREL WINE

The Red Squirrel portfolio was apparently described by The Wine Gang as “most imaginative”. I thought that it was me that said that…well, you get the drift. An innovative range is something all of the merchants here possess, but Red Squirrel have a real eye for both new regions and new producers from old ones. I had to select eight wines to taste at their double table, missing out on some of their well regarded producers like Bellwether, Martin Diwald and Dal Zotto. I think you’ll enjoy what I selected.

Black Chalk (Hampshire, UK)

I should perhaps have included these wines in Part 2 as winemaker Jacob Leadley was down in Drinks Britannia, but this is where I tasted them. It’s another new English sparkler, from Hattingley Valley’s winemaker. Brut 2015 is 50% Meunier plus equal proportions of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with 17 months on lees and a hint of oak to round it out. Rosé 2015 has elegant and vibrant fruit and very good definition. Two very nice new English wines.

Champagne A Levasseur (Marne Valley, France)

David Levasseur makes out of the ordinary Champagnes from 4.2 hectares planted by his grandfather, Albert, in Cuchery and Châtillon-sur-Marne. As far as I’m aware he makes five terroir-distinct cuvées, and I tasted Noir de Terroir Extra Brut. It is labelled non-vintage, 100% Pinot Noir, but as with many Grower wines, it is actually fruit from a single vintage, in this case 2012. It has seen 42 months on lees and has real complexity, with hints of spice as well as apricot/stone fruit and red fruits. Very classy stuff, and quite a gastronomic wine, I’d say.

Pasaeli Wines (Turkey)

Sidalan is a rare variety, even in Turkey but it’s really interesting. Sidalan 2017 combines a soft bitterness here with a lick of refreshing acidity. This is a fascinating producer and this is something a little different. Red Squirrel imports several Pasaeli wines, some of Turkey’s most interesting.

Azores Wine Company (Azores, Portugal)

It is great credit to Red Squirrel that they have taken on importing wines from these volcanic, rocky, vineyards on the island of Pico in the Azores. Arinto dos Açores Sur Lie 2016, made by Antonio Maçanita, is as pure an expression of this rocky terroir, where vines are planted in the cracks in the rock, as you can get. Citrus, grapefruit, stony, and saline, fresh like the ocean winds that sweep the island and the waves that lash it. Not complex, not fruity, just purity in essence. An oddity for sure, but a heritage which needs to be preserved.

Kewin (Kéké) Descombes (Beaujolais, France)

Kéké is one of the region’s rising stars and I have to confess I bought a few bottles of his 2016 Morgon from Solent Cellar only a week or so ago. Cuvée Kéké 2017 is my first taste of his latest vintage. It is wilder than the Morgon, for sure, although it will only scare the more sensitive souls among us (I understand it might be more restrained than the ’16 version). Fruity but with a bit of substance, it’s on my list to buy. A new fave producer in the Beaujolais pantheon.

Black Elephant Vintners (Franschhoek, South Africa)

Someone sent Kevin Swart to the wrong region, but he ended up in Franschhoek rather than Swartland for a reason. This often forgotten region produces fruit capable of showing the more aromatic side of South African wine, and these are seriously different to what some have decided is the norm for other regions (like Swartland).

Kevin is passionate about music (as you will see in the photos, where you’ll also recognise his sense of humour). Five wines were on show, but I’m just going to highlight two blends. Timothy White 2016 and Nicholas Red 2015 both reflect the personalities of Kevin’s children (see labels, one a sporty early riser and one who is more laid back and chilled).

The white blends old vine Chenin, Sauvignon, Semillon and Viognier into a wine which has 13% abv, yet is fresh and elegant. The red, 45% Syrah plus Carignan, Mourvèdre and Petite Sirah (sic) jumps to 14%, but isn’t heavy. An “easy” wine, but it retains that amazing freshness. Definitely pleased I tried this range and got to meet Kevin, a top bloke.

MODAL WINES

Modal is run by Nicolas Rizzi out of North London. I first met him at the Out of the Box Tasting, which serves a likeminded group of importers of low intervention wines. The small range is nevertheless broad, and includes wines from Slovenia and Slovakia, some of which I tried.

Cascina Zerbette (Monferrato Hills, Piemonte, Italy)

Sauvignon Blanc from the Monferrato? This Shan Pan 2017 is seriously tasty. It’s not really a normal petnat, the second fermentation having been started by the addition of late harvest must. The nose seemed a little neutral but the palate made up for it. Fresh, as these sparklers should be, and with nice definition. Steely fizz with bags of flavour.

Atelier Kramar (Gorizka Brda, Slovenia)

Primario 2016 is Rebula with three days on skins before ageing in old oak for six months. A golden wine with massive flavours and a tiny bit of grounding texture. Bohem 2015 is a blend of Tocai Friulano with Malvasia. Here there is 30 days skin contact then six months in barrel. Golden once more, this is also fresh and sappy. Both are very good.

Slobodne (Zemianske Sady, Lesser Carpathians, Slovakia)

Devin is a variety I’ve tried before via Basket Press Wines. It’s a cross between Roter Traminer and Grüner Veltliner. Slobodne’s Deviner 2014 blends this local variety with 70% Gewurztraminer, fermented in stainless steel and aged in two-year oak. Very nice, but I liked Deviner 2015 even more. This has 50% of each variety blended together with six weeks on skins. Just smell it!

Silice Viticultores (Galicia, Spain)

Silice 2016 is a Mencia as we remember them, before the producers went down the “oak” route. Lighter than many, and aromatic, a style I believe that the variety best expresses itself through. Good value if you can find it for £20 or so on the shelf.

Joiseph (Burgenland, Austria)

Among the many Burgenland producers I taste, I rarely come across these wines, but on trying BFF 2015 I should look harder. They are made by a 24-year-old guy who doesn’t own a smart phone and concentrates on making natural wines from a tiny plot near Jois, at the northern end of the Neusiedlersee. Vibrant colour, quite a bit of fruit concentration plus structure without any hard edges.

If you want to catch Nicolas Rizzi and his Modal Wines portfolio, then head down to Brighton’s amazing natural wine bar and restaurant, Plateau, on 30 May (6.30pm, but do book tickets).

BASKET PRESS WINES

Regular readers will know Jiri’s wines by now, at least from my descriptions, but here we have a selection of new additions and wines I’ve never tasted.

Dobra Vinice (Jizní, Moravia, Czech Rep)

Crème de Vin is a pale gold and very fruity petnat from the town of Znojmo. Fourteen months on lees gives it just a little body but it’s basically a fun wine, made principally of a blend including Pinot Noir and Riesling. I’ve enjoyed this producer’s Kambrium white blend before.

Domaine M (Czech Republic)

Cuvée Weinperky 2015 is a smart blend of Grüner Veltliner, Grüner Sylvaner and Rotgipfler made half in old oak and half in a small (250 litre) concrete egg, which has mellowed with a touch of age. Expect a little texture from the skin maceration, but also a really interesting savoury flavour.

Zdenek Vykoukal (Czech Republic)

Veltlinské Zelené 2014 is from a tiny 1.5 hectare plot just outside Brno, right on the edge of the Austerlitz battlefield. You get bags of fruit here and a bit less of the pepper. Austria’s neighbours, Hungary and Czech Moravia, are starting to show that Grüner is not just at home in one country.

Petr Kočarík (Moravia, Czech Rep)

Kočarik Pinot Noir 2016 is from another tiny holding of 2 hectares, from another producer new this year to Basket Press. Lightish in colour but also quite smooth, with just a pleasant grainy touch. It actually reminded me immediately of a good Alsace Pinot Noir from a warm year, which from me should be taken as praise.

Dva Duby (Czech Republic)

Impera 2015 is another smartly packaged new wine, which arrived just a month ago. The blend here is more typical of Austria, being Blaufränkisch and St-Laurent, the latter making up 70% of the blend. It’s pale and smokey with lots of fruit on the nose, really lovely, pretty.

There were lots of wines I’d already tried and written about, reminding me just how good I think this range from (mainly) Czech Moravia and Slovakia really is. I hope they gain a wider appreciation in 2018. Especially as they are nice people here too.

THE KNOTTED VINE

David Knott is another member of the Out of the Box group, with a small list of minimal intervention producers.

Noelia Ricci (Emilia-Romagna)

Bro Forli 2017 is 100% Trebbiano, but the Emilia clone, different I’m assured to “Toscana”. This doesn’t taste like the dull stereotype of the Tuscan variety, not remotely. For starters it’s very fresh, with decent acidity. It also has a nice salinity. Godenza 2015 is Sangiovese with lifted fruit. It seems to combine texture and smoothness at the same time, somehow. It’s quite a big wine at 13.7% abv, but it’s also very juicy so can take it.

Koerner (Barossa Valley, South Australia)

Pigato Vermentino 2017 is how this is listed. It comes from the south end of the Clare Valley, and is suitably nice and tightly wound. It sees ten months in what I believe is a ceramic egg after a three week maceration in open top fermenters. It’s richer than most Ligurian versions, but still fresh, and leaner than many Aussie whites. I do like this producer.

David Franz (Barossa, South Australia)

You may recall that David Franz is Barossa royalty, being the youngest son of Peter Lehmann. Long Gully Ancient Vine Semillon 2015 actually comes from the Barossa Hills rather than the Valley, and when they say ancient vines they are not lying. They are 130 years old. This is probably why this is so concentrated and poweful, yet loses neither fruit nor zing. This is Aussie Sem’ as we like it.

La Violetta (Great Southern Region, Western Australia)

I was persuaded to try this Up! 2014 and I’m glad I did. It’s a good old sweet fruited, savoury, Syrah but as with many wines from this region, it’s not over the top.

MALTBY & GREEK

Maltby & Greek is one of three specialist importers of Greek wines I shall cover here. They work out of the Apollo Business Park down behind London Bridge Station, around where you can find several other wine businesses (Dynamic, Gergovie, to mention just two). They actually claim to represent all the country’s main regions and grape varieties, and their range is unmatched. Add to this, the fact that there is a building impetus and buzz around Greek wines this year, and they are an importer on the up.

Domaine de Kalathas (Tinos, Greece)

There is no question about it, Kalathas is one of my favourite half-dozen Greek estates. They are based on the beautiful island of Tinos, which lies between Andros and Mikonos, to the southeast of Athens. Obéissance 2016 is an unusual blend of Aspro and Potamisi-Rozaki, which are usually considered table grapes. It’s a foot-trodden natural wine with 14% alcohol, and after the malo 20% of Rozaki, fermented later, was blended in. There is 8g/l of residual sugar, and the low acidity and high alcohol make it taste a touch off-dry. But it also has a sea-salt salinity which makes it a singular wine, even for £40-a-bottle.

Rouvalis Winery (Peloponnese, Greece)

Tsigelo 2017 is actually a varietal Mavrodaphne, but this grape is AOP for sweet wine (from Patras) and as this is dry, it can’t include the grape name on the label. That said, Tsigelo is actually the name of the best clone of Mavrodaphne. Antonio and Theodora have made a fantastic wine here, one of several favourites of the day. It’s part made in amphora (30% in 2017, next year they plan 50% as they were very happy with the amphora batch). It’s just a lovely blend of quite concentrated fruits and balanced with a bit of texture.

Alpha Estate (Greece)

Alpha Estate makes wines all over Greece, and can claim to be one of the country’s most famous quality producers. Two wines were on show, Xinomavro Rosé 2016 and Hedgehog 2013, the latter a Xinomavro with some age from the Amyndeon PDO. Maltby & Greek stock a wide range from Alpha Estate and with just the odd exception, they all retail around the £20 mark, and as such, provide a really good ratio of quality and price.

Nopera Winery (Samos, Greece)

Hardly new to me, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sip Nopera Sweet Muscat of Samos again. I didn’t catch the vintage as this was off-list, but last time I drank a 2013. It’s made from sun-dried Muscat grapes which reach 13.5% alcohol, but the wine still retains plenty of residual sugar, and indeed doesn’t lack acidity either. Nineteen months in French oak rounds it out. Honey and Bergamot spice notes dominate a rich palate of unctuous sweetness. More classy than most Samos Muscat I’ve tried.

INDIGO WINE

I chose seven wines from Indigo, most being new vintages of wines I’ve tried before, with a couple of newcomers thrown in. The Indigo portfolio is as diverse as any I know, and, if you read my recent article, packed with vegan wines as well. But whether you are bothered about what’s in your wine or not, this is one of a handful of the best lists in London.

Bengoetxe (Basque Country, Spain)

Indigo’s Spanish offering might be their strongest suit, and they have included a Txacoli that is a bit more classy and dare I say, serious, than many around. Txacoli 2017 from Bengoetxe isn’t one of the more frivolous versions, and I can’t really see it being poured from a great height into a tumbler, so much as more gently, into a Zalto Universal. But saying that it does have that appley freshness you expect from the genre in a blend of Hondarrabi Zuri and Gros Manseng. It’s just more nicely rounded and less angular than the norm, which for many, buying this to drink in the UK rather than in a San Seb’ bar, is a plus.

Bodegas Ponce (Castile-La Mancha, Spain)

Ponce is one of the names of the moment in Spanish wine. Juan-Antonio Ponce is now in his mid-thirties and has been making biodynamic wines in this unfashionable part of Spain since 2005. Reto 2016 comes from Manchuela and is fresh and lovely, and a perfect intro to Juan-Antonio’s wines. It’s made from Albilla grapes from vines planted in the 1960s on chalky soil. Ageing is eight months in large, 600 litre, old oak. Really lovely, and a name to actively seek out.

Weingut Georg Breuer (Rudesheim, Rheingau, Gernmany)

One of my favourite German domaines, Jo from Indigo confided that Theresa Breuer’s Rauenthal Nonnenberg Riesling GG is one of her favourite German wines. She has good taste!. But as entry level wines go, Rudesheim Riesling 2016, the “village wine”, is a pretty good introduction to the wines of one of the most passionate winemakers I know. It has breadth and also definition, a classic Rhein wein, yet with its own personality. And for around £20-a-bottle.

Bio Weingut Birgit Braunstein (Burgenland, Austria)

Like her friend Heidi Schroeck in Rust, Birgit makes often under-appreciated biodynamic wines on the western side of the Neusiedlersee (Birgit is a little further north than Heidi). She makes a range of some breadth, including wines in amphora buried in her garden, but the new vintage of Rosé, 2016, is just gorgeously fruity. I can recall with clarity the first time I realised that Zweigelt makes really good rosé. This has some Blaufränkisch blended in as well, and should be in everyone’s garden this summer.

Delinquente Wine Company (Riverland, Australia)

Most people dismiss Riverland fruit, but I had a chat with Brad Hickey (of Brash Higgins) about it a while ago and was put right. There’s plenty of decent stuff growing there, it’s just about control, and using it right. In the case of Roxanne the Razor 2017 it’s Nero d’Avola with 25% Montepulciano giving lots of fruit and a little texture to make a simple, juicy, inexpensive, glugger made in stainless steel. And let’s face it, it has a great label.

Antoine Sunier (Beaujolais, France)

Morgon 2016…freshness, yes! Beaujolais 2016 is delivering. Antoine shows that 2016 Morgons are quite different to the 2015s from this Cru, although to be fair, I thought Antoine, and Julien, Sunier made some of the best wines from that hot vintage.

Fossil Valle de Capucha (Lisbon, Portugal)

The Fossil name comes from the terroir in the Torres Vedras appellation near Lisbon, where the soils are limestone and Kimmeridgian clay rich in marine deposits (not dissimilar to Chablis), and the heat you might expect here is tempered by breezes off the Atlantic.

I’ve met Pedro Marques a couple of times and he always seems somewhat taciturn, but his wines are nice. I worry in the past that his lack of warmth has led me to under-praise his wines, so I thought I’d put that right. He makes a very good Branco, but Indigo had the red Fossil Valle de Capucha 2015 on taste yesterday. The blend comprises 60% Touriga Nacional with 30% Tinta Roriz and 10% Syrah. Fermentation is in concrete and ageing in old oak. Smokey and mineral, it’s a very nice lighter to medium-bodied red for cold meats etc.

H2VIN

Champagne Dehours (Champagne, France)

I’m sorry to say that I only tasted two wines here, towards the end of the day. Both are excellent Champagnes, though. Champagne Dehours Extra Brut Rosé “Cuvée Oeil de Perdrix” NV (disgorged July 2017) has the faintest hint of partridge eye colour to it. Zero dosage with extended lees ageing, Pinot Meunier dominates a blend (with Chardonnay) which has bright red fruits and, as Peter Liem says about all Jérome Dehours’ wines, clarity and expression. I would add elegance and presence.

I’ve never tried this Dehours cuvée before, nor seen it on their web site, but here we have it, at H2Vin. The fruit is from the Marne Valley around the village of Cerseuil. It’s a lovely wine, and perhaps not as difficult to find as his single vineyard bottlings. Again I will quote Peter Liem: ” If you do [find them], you should buy them without hesitation”.

Larmandier-Bernier (Champagne, France)

Larmandier-Bernier Non-Dosé 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs “Terre de Vertus” is the first Champagne from this house I ever bought, many years ago now. It was in fact part of my introduction, along with Pierre Péters and Egly-Ouriet, into the world of Grower Champagne. Most of their vines are in the northern half of the Cote des Blancs, but this singular cuvée comes from just north of the small town of Vertus at the southern end of the Cote. It’s very pure-flavoured Chardonnay grown on chalk with little topsoil, and yet again, it is a wine of real presence (in fact, more so than the Dehours above). A true classic of the region.

SOUTHERN WINE ROADS

This importer of organic Greek wines is based in Orpington, Kent. They didn’t have a list of the wines on taste, just a blank page in the brochure, so I had to taste the wines that a young assistant suggested whilst her boss was busy at the other end of the table.

I tried two wines from Glinavos EstateLefteris Brut 2012 is from Epirus, bottle fermented, made from the Debina of Zitska grape variety. It is quite broad, frothy, with apple and pear plus a bit of creaminess (18 months on lees). I think it’s good value at £22.50. Glinavos Traminer 2014 is an off-dry Gewurztraminer, 12% abv (50cl) also from Epirus. Aromatic with ginger, orange and pineapple, this was interesting, and nicely packaged.

I won’t argue these were my favourite Greek wines of the day, but they were interesting enough to make me think Southern Wine Roads has a good portfolio, which circumstances on the table towards the end of the afternoon (it didn’t help that I had to find a clean glass) meant I didn’t get to sample in greater depth.

ALPINE WINES

Alpine Wines has long since expanded its range of wines from just Switzerland, but they must be the first stop when looking for Swiss wines in the UK. And it would be true to say that if you are never looking for Swiss wines, then you are missing out. What puts people off Swiss wines is that they are never cheap, but I suggest you blame our economy and currency rather than the Swiss producers, who are not only notoriously generous, but equally, are rarely as rich as the Burgundians and Bordelais…because vine holdings in Switzerland are often tiny.

I sampled five Swiss wines and a couple of Austrian wines here. We’ll go first with the Swiss.

Domaine de Montmollin (Auvernier, Neuchâtel, Switzerland)

If Swiss wines are rare, it is even rarer to see wines from this northern Canton. Oeil de Perdrix 2016 is now seen as the classic regional style, so much so that producers elsewhere in Switzerland can no longer label their ultra-pale pinks “Oeil de Perdrix”, to the annoyance of many. Nowadays, £16-£17 for a rosé doesn’t actually seem too bad, does it? This is scented, light, Pinot Noir from free-run juice.

Very nice, but it was nevertheless surpassed by another wine from the domaine, Auvernier Non-Filtré 2017. This is 100% Chasselas. Now we’ve begun to see very classy Chasselas from Dominique Lucas on the French side of Lac Léman, and a few readers will know how good some of the wines from Lavaux’s steep terraces can be. This Neuchâtel version is stunningly good, for one of Europe’s most maligned varieties. Packed with flavour, it has a slight prickle on the tongue and finishes with a slight herby bitterness which adds a savoury quality. Ben at Alpine says this is the wine that turned him on to the variety. Again, at just under £20, who says Swiss wines are really expensive. I think everyone else just caught up.

Domaine Jean-René Germanier (Valais, Switzerland)

This winery in another of Switzerland’s most beautiful wine regions is now run by Jean-René and his nephew, Gilles Besse. It is among the region’s most highly regarded producers, making the whole range of the valley’s signature wines, from Dole to Cornalin.

The two wines tasted yesterday were Petite Arvine 2016 and Cayas Syrah Barrique 2015, both of which I’ve bought in Switzerland. Both are expensive, the Syrah around £60 now, and the Petite Arvine over £30, so it was nice to have a taste. The Petite Arvine is one of the best examples you’ll find available in commercial quantities of what is my favourite Valais white variety. Simply delicious, citrus and saline, with a creamy edge from partial malo.

I don’t normally go for Syrah soaked in oak, but there are one or two Valais versions I’m quite taken with. The oak sweetens the fruit here, and adds a touch of class. But I’m going to recommend the white, not least because it is a wonderful indigenous variety which deserves wider acclaim.

Cave La Cote (Vaud, Switzerland)

This is a large co-operative from the stretch of Lake Geneva’s northern shore between Geneva and Lausanne. Doral “Expression” 2016 is a varietal-named wine from a 1970 cross between Chasselas and Chardonnay, and oddly it almost tastes a little like a blend between the two. In fact, just a bit like Chardonnay with an unusual amount of acidity. It’s simple, but not lean. It’s just another example of the interesting stuff going on in Switzerland, even at a relatively commercial level. In creating a Chasselas with Chardonnay-like aromatics, it is quite successful. I wish it was closer to £15 than £20, but there you go.

Anton and Elfriede Waldschütz (Sachsendorf, Wagram, Austria)

This couple make reasonably inexpensive classic wines from Wagram and Kamptal fruit. Their son, Ralph, is slowly taking over and the wines are very good value. Riesling Classic 2017 has fruit and a mineral finish. Alpine describe it as “a lesson in crisp Riesling”. Here we are looking at just under £15, but the Reserve version is only £18. Sadly there was none of the Frühroter Veltliner which Alpine stock on taste. I must remember that one!

Stift Klosterneuberg (Vienna, Austria)

If you wander up above the vines of Vienna’s Nußberg and look north, away from the city, the large abbey that dominates the skyline is this one. There are a host of fine winemaking abbeys in Austria but these guys have been doing it longer than most. “Winemaking for 900 years”, they claim. The town of Klosterneuberg is also home to the Austrian Federal College of Viticulture, and the abbey wines are well respected.

All the white grapes here are grown in the vicinity of the abbey itself, but their red grapes are grown at Tattendorf, in Thermenregion. You won’t get bags of complexity for your twenty quid with the Raeflerjoch Pinot Noir 2011, but you do get a smooth, super-fruity Pinot with a bit of bottle age. This is another Austrian producer with a good selection of the less often seen grape varieties. Ripe for plunder.

266 WINES

Totally new to me, 266 grew out of The Sampler’s increased activities in importing their own wines. They aim to specialise in France, with depth in Champagne, along with some “pioneering” Californian, German and Spanish wineries.

Charles Dufour (Champagne, France)

Dufour established his domaine with around 6 hectares at Landreville in the Aube when his father died and the original family domaine was split amongst the wider family. He also has vines at Celles-sur-Ource and Essoyes. Bulles de Comptoir #6 “La Benjamine” (each numbered edition is given a name) is the non-vintage mainstay of Charles’ production.

It has at least a third Pinot Blanc, along with Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, which makes it fairly unusual. Perhaps this is why it has quite forward fruit, and is probably not a wine for cellaring, yet it tastes just brilliant. A singular example of new directions in the region, combining sheer drinkability with high quality. Michiel Demarey at Champagnist.com calls Dufour “the Selosse of the Aube”, but don’t take that to imply an overtly oxidative style. At around £40 it’s silly not to, as they say, though sometimes I wish I kept my mouth shut.

Domaine des Enfants (Rousillon, France)

This Maury-based estate owns 23 hectares, which are all worked by horse and hand. Tabla Rasa 2016 blends four local varieties, Grenaches Blanc and Gris, Macabeo and Carignan Blanc, with tiny yields averaging just 9 hl/ha. The varieties are fermented and aged in wood of varying sizes for 12 months to produce a rich and complex white to rival the more trendy South Africans.

France Gonzalvez (Beaujolais, France)

France makes delicious Bojo, and I will admit that I’ve not bought any for a while. Cote de Brouilly 2016 has the indicative freshness of the vintage, well, compared to 2015. It is unusual in that France Gonzalves often gets along badly with the authorities and has to label much of her production as “Vin de France”, which with a name like her’s is no hardship. Maybe that’s why the moustachioed men in suits and berets relented here. Whatever the reason, its a delicious wine. Made in innox, with less carbonic maceration than usual, so giving a bit of structure, and no added sulphur. Simple.

Binet Jacquet (Faugères, France)

This domaine was founded in 1999, with vines on the schistous part of the appellation, with very thin topsoils. Faugères Réserve 2015 is a very impressive biodynamic wine, a mix of 60% Carignan with 30% Mourvèdre, along with a little Syrah and Grenache. The grapes are fermented gently in different types of vessel, including old oak, concrete tank and egg. It is deliciously fruity for a Languedoc red, but it also has that texture and slight smokiness you can get in wines off slate, which also gives a certain steeliness in the core of the wine.

ECLECTIC WINES

This is another importer of exciting Greek wines, giving adventurous wine explorers no excuse not to start discovering the wines of this mysterious Mediterranean country. Although Maltby & Greek claim they have the best Greek list in the UK, the Eclectic Wines portfolio does have a host of top names, Hatzidakis and Thymiopoulos to name two.

Domaine Hatzidakis (Santorini etc, Greece)

Although Hatzidakis is primarily known for its brilliant range of Santorini Assyrtiko, it makes equally exciting wines in other Greek regions. However, the red wine, Mavrotragano 2014, comes from Santorini itself, although the grapes also include bought-in fruit as this variety is so rare on the island. The grapes see a seven day extraction, 18 months in oak and then six months in stainless steel. The 2014 was actually released after the 2015 as it was felt it needed longer. It has smoky dark fruit and chocolate/coffee notes, and currently has some ripe tannic structure. I would guess it is serious enough to age for a decade, but will drink sooner with decanting.

Thymiopoulos Vineyards (Trilofos, Naoussa, Greece)

One of the most interesting estates in Greece because they make some wines of real quality along with what is arguably the best value Greek wine in the UK.

Thymiopoulos ATMA White 2017 comes from Macedonian fruit, a blend between Xinomavro (as a blanc de noirs) and Malagousia. It has stone fruit flavours and is simple but very refreshing.

Jeunes Vignes 2016 is a Naoussa red from pure Xinomavro, and it is that great value wine I mentioned above. Simple, sappy and juicy fruit with a smooth but mildly structured finish. It’s just £12 to £13 a bottle, and along with a handful of similarly priced Austrians, it makes the perfect wine to take to dinner or lunch with not especially wine obsessed friends. Something different that won’t frighten anyone.

Domaine Skouros (Nemea, Peloponnese, Greece)

The signature grape of Nemea is Agiorgitiko, otherwise translated as Saint-George, and that is how this wine is labelled, Nemea St-George 2014. I think Nemea has always been my favourite red wine region in Greece, perhaps as it’s one of the few I’ve visited. The wines are often not very complex, but this, like the best, has a bit of body and spice. It’s basically a tasty fresh red wine.

Semeli (Nemea, Peloponnese, Greece)

The second Agiorgitiko here is Semeli Nemea Reserve 2012. It’s a bit more serious, having 18 months in French oak followed by 30 months ageing in bottle before release. Although it is fairly tannic, the bottle age has added some complexity already. I’d still age it further, though. An impressive red.

Tetramythos (Peloponnese, Greece)

Eclectic Wines do sell an Agiorgitiko from Tetramythos, but I finished here with a rather special version of that bane of many a teenager’s stomach, Retsina.

Actually, I drank some Ouzo with Greek friends last weekend, but I didn’t drink a whole bottle, and it was well chilled with ice. The same friends gave me a really nice Mastic liqueur once too. Maybe as you get older you can appreciate these drinks more, without excess.

Tetramythos Retsina Nature 2017 is a wholly different beast. For a start, it is totally an artisan product. Roditis grapes grown at 800 metres altitude are hand harvested and fermented in clay amphora. The pine resin is collected by hand from the pine forest which surrounds the vineyard. There is no sulphur added to the wine at any stage. The resinous notes just don’t dominate the bouquet as they usually do. The wine is textured and quite soft. It hardly seems like Retsina, but as you savour it, the resin begins to come through…just a little. Remarkable.

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Canada House

Canada House, not a dance music sub-genre, although a few readers might not be too surprised if I went off on a different subject, but the venue yesterday for the Taste Canada 2018 event, organised wonderfully well by Westbury Communications. It featured thirty-seven producers from British Columbia, Ontario, Nova Scotia and (one from) Québec. It was the largest Tasting of Canadian wines I’ve been to so far, and the quality on show was exciting.

I would guess that most of us don’t know a lot about Canada. We think of it as an enormous country, northern in climate, nice people but perhaps not really all that well known for wine? This isn’t quite true on two counts.

Canada may be “up north somewhere”, but the wine growing regions lie between 41 degrees and 51 degrees latitude. That’s not too different from Morocco to Kent and Sussex. Of course, that means relatively little. The climate is very different, with different climatic influences, but even so, there are parts of the Canadian vignoble, specifically Niagara, which even lie further south than parts of the USA.

Readers old enough to remember the 1990s will have experienced the first wave of Canadian wines to hit our shores in the UK. Icewine, mostly coming from Southern Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula, and principally made from the French hybrid vine, Vidal (as well as some fine Riesling), had an impact based on its sweet concentration and tingling acidity.

Now there is another major player in Canadian wine, British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, east of Vancouver. Here, it is mainly European vinifera vines which dominate production, of which the most successful seem so far to be the Burgundian and Bordeaux varieties (though I’m making a pitch for Riesling too). Okanagan has some very special and specific conditions which, as we shall see, make this long valley ripe to become, potentially, one of the world’s sources of very fine wine.

There is also a nascent industry (though “industry” isn’t really the right word) in the far east of the country, in Nova Scotia, which might have a good future for sparkling wine. But there are only around 300 hectares here. Québec has more vines, but the only producer on show from Québec yesterday uses apples, albeit to make a wonderful “Ice Cidre”.

I can’t write about each and every one of the thirty-seven producers showing. I tasted most of them, but my own favourites might not tally completely with those of other commentators. Read through my notes and seek out what takes your fancy.

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Okanagan Crush Pad Winery (Okanagan Valley, BC)

This is the Canadian producer I’ve written about more than any other, and I suppose the fact that I like their wines so much is attested to by them having quoted some of my writing in their marketing brochure. But that doesn’t detract from what I genuinely think about them. One or two other wine trade luminaries seem to have the same views, although I should add that one or two of the older and more conservative tasters yesterday apparently found the life and energy in these wines a little hard to handle. A bit too “natural”. That shocks me a little.

Seven wines were on show and as I have written about them so frequently I won’t dwell here. But the Haywire Vintage “Bub” 2013 does need a few more words. A bottle-fermented Pinot Noir/Chardonnay, an equal blend of both, with 52 months on lees, it was only bottled (with zero dosage) and released two weeks ago. Dry, mineral, well balanced between weight and acidity, this is very attractive. They also plan to release a reserve version at seven years old.

Which is my favourite of the Sauvignons is hard to pin down. Haywire Waters & Banks 2015 is made in concrete (concrete eggs are a fixture here). It has beautiful aromatics (citrus and herbs), and has an elegance which hides 13.5% abv very neatly. Free Form White 2016 is Sauvignon Blanc made in stainless steel and is really different. The palate is bone dry, but you get an amazing sweet-fruited bouquet which shouted yuzu fruit!

Gamay is always a favourite here. Haywire Gamay Rosé 2017 has a nose which reminds me pleasantly of confectionery, but the palate is dry with red fruits. Haywire Gamay Noir 2016 sees a 4-week maceration before 6 months in concrete. So there’s some grounding texture under the cherry fruit.

Haywire Freeform Red 2016 is Pinot Noir with 9 months on skins in amphora, no filtration and no added sulphur. This has a lot of texture right now and needs a little time, but it is a singular iteration of Pinot Noir, which in this case I think has translated well to amphora (the amphora wine experiments at OCP are rejected if they feel they haven’t worked).

Wines available via Red Squirrel.

Norman Hardie Winery (Niagara Peninsula and Prince Edward County, Ontario)

Norman Hardie’s vines sit on both shores of Lake Ontario, Niagara in the southwest and Prince Edward County (a newish VQA) in the northeast. He’s one of Ontario’s most renowned producers and the wines exude class. They are the products of the microclimates of the lake, where breezes moderate the temperatures in summer, and also of the fine limestone soils (and glacial deposits in Niagara) which dominate the geology, although Prince Edward can suffer harsher winters.

I began by trying the excellent Riesling 2017. Quite restrained at first, then a touch of florality and minerality came through. Nice presence and texture, coming from fermenting with a lot of solids. Expect to pay around £16 for this, excellent value.

Three Chardonnays were all clean and fresh, with the Cuvée des Amis 2015 showing best of all. This comes in at just under 12% alcohol but following 24 months elevage it has genuine personality, with a touch of butter and nuts. The Chardonnays here do see oak, but mostly used wood in larger formats.

Both Pinot Noirs tasted were attractive but different. Prince Edward County Pinot Noir 2016 is pale and bright with nice young cherry fruitiness. Niagara Peninsula Pinot Noir 2016 is also pale but with lovely, elegant, cherry high notes.

This is one address to seek out, wines stocked by The Wine Society and Bibendum.

Norm conducting for his audience, juggling several tasters at once with aplomb

Megalomaniac (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario)

Sébastien Jacquey makes some excellent wines with both the Niagara designation, and labelled from the Twenty Mile Bench, one of a dozen sub-appellations already designated on the peninsula.

Everyone was enjoying Bubblehead NV, a bottle-fermented pink sparkler made from Pinot Noir. Whole clusters see six hours skin maceration, then fruit is pressed gently to preserve lovely aromatics. It only gets two months on lees, before 18 months further ageing before release (bottled sulphur-free at 6g/l dosage). A frothy, fun wine, but not entirely frivolous. It’s seriously tasty as well.

The Bespoke reserve series of wines includes Chardonnay 2016 which comes off shallow soils. Whole clusters see barrels for fermentation (10% new, larger, puncheons) and there is no lees stirring and no maloCabernet Franc 2015 is lovely and floral for a red. It’s very concentrated. Ontario saw a slightly less hot 2015 than BC, but it followed two bad winters where many vines dies, and yields were consequently lower. Pinot Noir 2015 is from a 25-year-old block (like the Cab Franc, from Twenty Mile Bench) with almost no topsoil. Thirty-five days skin maceration sees extraction slowed down as time proceeds, and then 16 months in barrel (15% new). Sébastien says he “builds the bones first and then adds the fat”. It exudes freshness.

There’s also a serious Bravado Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 which is purple, sweet fruited, and in need of more time, plus a very sappy Cabernet Franc called Frank (also 2015) which is not extracted but weighs in at 14%.

A producer to watch carefully. I don’t think they have a UK importer. Sébastien was one of the most engaging producers in the room.

Mission Hill, Martin’s Lane & CheckMate (Okanagan, BC)

This group of three wineries are all owned by Darryl Brooker, but have different winemakers. Mission Hill is one of the oldest and better known in the valley, and from here we tried a very aromatic Reflection Point Pinot Noir 2016 and Vista’s Edge Cabernet Franc 2015. The fruit for the latter comes from right down on the US border. Red and dark fruits both dominate the bouquet, and it reminded me of a nice Loire from a ripe year. You don’t realise it has a shockingly high level of alcohol, at 14.9% (you really don’t).

Martin’s Lane also showed two wines, a Riesling and a Pinot Noir. Simes Vineyard Riesling 2015 was another version of the grape which made me wish I’d seen more Riesling. This is a dry (13% abv) version with perhaps a slight nod to the Pfalz.

CheckMate Artisanal Winery provided perhaps the most interesting wines of the three. Attack Chardonnay 2014 is in a richer style (with 14% abv), made in large 1,500 litre foudres. One is new and the other is a second year cask. It sees just one racking in 14 months. Despite being a bigger wine (a Californian style Chardonnay, perhaps – winemaker Philip McGahan is an Australian born lawyer, turned winemaker, who spent 4 years at Williams Selyem), it still shows freshness.

Opening Gambit Merlot 2014 is a big boy at 14.5%, and indeed is tannic too. But unlike some of Saint-Emilion’s modern monsters, it seems to share that freshness.

On that Okanagan freshness: It does seem a genuine trait of the valley. Alcohol levels can look quite high in these wines, and particularly fruit grown at the southern end of the valley is easy to ripen. Yet other climatic and geographical factors seem to mitigate loss of acids, and the wines seem almost always to taste “fresh”, even in a hot vintage here, like 2015.

It seems that the alignment of the mountain ranges allows breezes to become a major factor in cooling the vineyards. This is coupled with big diurnal temperature variations. Add in long sunny autumns for a longer and slower ripening cycle, and cold winters which close down the vines, and you have a fairly unique set of circumstances which help develop complexity. It is perhaps only a matter of time before the vineyards become more mature, and quality increases even more.

LaStella Winery & Le Vieux Pin (Okanagan, BC)

Another pair of wineries run by one person, in this case Severine Pinte, who was on hand to run through the bottles. LaStella (like Checkmate, no space) is Severine’s “Italian-style” winery, and makes two impressive but pretty big wines. Fortissimo 2016 is her professed nod towards the supertuscans, mainly Merlot (79%) with both Cabernets and Sangiovese. Although fairly tannic, and 14.3% alcohol, it is savoury and classy, and will be food friendly when mature. Allegretto 2014 is, despite the Italian name, 100% Merlot off sandy soil and planted on its own rootstock. Maybe she has Bolgheri in mind? This wine comes in at 14.7%, but like most Okanagan Merlots, seems to be balanced despite that. Both wines require cellaring.

Le Vieux Pin might fool you into thinking this is Severine’s homage to Bordeaux’s Right Bank, but the grape varieties tell you not so. Ava 2016 is based on 50% Viognier with Roussanne and Marsanne. Stone fruit is fresh and aromatic, and the palate is dry and textured (13.9%). The three Syrahs contrast a hot year (2015) with a cooler one (2014), and one in between (2016).

Cuvée Violette 2016 is easy drinking, even for a wine at 14.4% alcohol. Some Viognier is blended in, and it has lots of lifted fruit on nose and palate. Cuvée Classique 2015  (14.3%) has a deeper, warmer, bouquet of plum and violets and the palate has an unexpected lick of fresh acidity, though it has plenty of tannins at this stage too. Equinox Syrah 2014 ironically has more alcohol for a cooler year. It’s quite rich and smooth as well. But it’s a barrel selection, about ten barrels from 150. It will be long-lived, I think.

Severine Pinte’s properties are imported by Flint Wines.

Liquidity Wines (Okanagan, BC)

Liquidity is one of eight Okanagan wineries (including Okanagan Crush Pad) which this year formed the Okanagan Wine Initiative to promote the excellence of Okanagan wines outside of BC. They make some lovely wines, with vineyards once more right down at the southern end of the valley, near the US border.

There’s a good, dry, Viognier 2017, which was followed by two good Chardonnays. Estate Chardonnay 2016 is barrel-fermented (15% new oak) with ten months on lees after malo. It is creamy, and so far, the most aromatic Chardonnay of the day. If it lacks anything, perhaps a touch more acidity? But it is relatively inexpensive (£16 rrp).

Reserve Chardonnay 2016 is a step up. It sees 25% new oak, and is more complex, currently more restrained, and finer than the Estate wine. Quite subtle, I’d say, but with dormant power too. It won top wine in the Chardonnay du Monde 2018 competition in Burgundy, apparently, whatever store one gives…but the wine is certainly very impressive.

Reds included a Bordeaux blend, Dividend 2015, and two Pinots, the entry level version being nice and fruity, and Pinot Noir Equity 2015 being more serious: older vines, and emphasis on clone 828, 35% new French oak and 15 months in barrel. Deeper, a little more earthy, yet polished too. Keep it for five years.

Sadly they didn’t think to bring their Dornfelder-Zweigelt pink! At least they know how to have fun.

Next, a couple more Okanagan wineries, friends with the folks at the Crush Pad, to wind up our British Columbian element.

Painted Rock Estate (Okanagan, BC)

This producer had four reds on show, three of them from 2015, which was the hottest vintage ever in this part of BC. “Dark and Inky” was a frequent note here. You might wonder why I’d write about a bunch of wines coming in at between 14% and 15.3%, but it’s that bizarre freshness that makes them irresistable. The vines here are sheltered by a low mountain range, just a little way up the valley. The vineyards have a gentle slope averaging 6% and the cooling breezes sweep down through the vine rows, blowing the heat off the grapes.

There was a Rhônish Syrah 2015 nodding a little to Cornas in texture, a concentrated and ripe Cabernet Franc 2015, and a Merlot 2014, from that cooler vintage. Red Icon 2015 contains a blend of the five Bordeaux varieties, with 45% Merlot dominant. It has a classic profile of what really seems to be becoming an equally classic Okanagan “Bordeaux blend”.

Had to include the swirly decanter here, which supposedly works. Fascinating, hypnotic even!

Poplar Grove (Okanagan, BC)

Poplar Grove is the friendly neighbour of Painted Rock. Tony Holler’s estate is at Penticton, on the Naramata Bench, but with vines down on the border as well. Tony was one of the most fun people to taste with, truly enthusiastic but not over serious. He makes some tasty wines too.

Chardonnay 2016 is lightly oaked and aromatic for Chardonnay, with melon and pineapple, plus citrus on the finish. A fruity wine which should retail for £15-£16. This aromatic freshness seems to follow over into the reds, especially Cabernet Franc 2014. This despite 13.9% abv. In this case Tony puts it down to the slow maturation of the grapes in the region’s long autumns. The equally alcoholic Merlot 2014 and Syrah 2014 are in a similar style. Legacy 2013 with and extra year in bottle is another classic Bordeaux blend, this time build around 44% Cabernet Sauvignon.

All the reds see oak (a third new, a third one-year-old and a third two-year-old), followed by 18 to 21 months in bottle before release. Classical in style, and once again, although you would expect Canadian wines to be fairly expensive, most are around the £15 to £20 mark, the Legacy rising to around £25.

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Hidden Bench Estate Winery (Niagara Peninsula, Ontario)

We now skip back to Ontario, and Hidden Bench, another reasonably well known producer even outside of Canada. Harald Thiel’s wines are certified organic, and he follows biodynamic methods, and these are serious bottles. The winery is just outside of Beamsville, and part of the Beamsville Bench sub-appellation.

This was another producer of a tasty Riesling, Estate Riesling 2016, fruity with 11g of residual sugar. I was more taken with this than with the Fumé Blanc 2016, but that is doubtless more down to style than quality with me. A single vineyard Felseck Chardonnay 2014 is directly off the Beamsville Bench and hopefully helps to show why the land here is so sub-divided (largely down to geology). It sees 14 months in oak (20% new) and then 8 months in stainless steel to settle, and it undergoes partial malolactic. The result is complex already, and nicely rounded.

There is also a Felseck Pinot Noir 2015 from the same site, which is quite serious too, and contrasts nicely with the pale and vibrant (if slightly leaner) Estate Pinot Noir 2015.

The growing season in Niagara is ostensibly somewhat shorter than that in Okanagan, and it is particularly impressive to see Pinot Noir doing well here, but it may be that climate change is having an effect, as producers report longer summers than usual in recent years (though winters can still be frighteningly cold, despite the ameliorating effects of the water in Lake Ontario).

Harald looking serious for his serious wines

Inniskillin Wines (Niagara, Ontario)

Inniskillin must be the most famous wine producer at the Tasting. In the 1990s it was their Icewines which won Trophies at the major Wine Competitions, and put Canadian wine on the map. True to form, for those of us planning to taste the ultra sweet dessert wines towards the end of the day, they were almost all gone, and the table was unmanned.

The main grape for Icewine production, as I’ve already said, is the French hybrid vine, Vidal. Inniskillin make a still Vidal, and a sparkling version, which I rarely taste and had very much wanted to on this occasion. Riesling is made in generally smaller volumes, but perhaps the least well known Icewine variety is Cabernet Franc.

Cabernet Franc Icewine 2016 was the only bottle left with any wine inside. I was tempted to liberate that bottle, but thought better of it. Suffice to say that these are fine wines, and they combine concentration with a nice acid balance. The grapes are picked frozen, and as with European Icewine/Eiswein/Vin de Glace, that intensifies the sugars as the frozen water is removed in pressing. The wines are refreshing, due to their acidity, but boy are they sweet.

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Mainly empties at Inniskillin, sadly.

Pillitteri Estate Winery (Niagara, Ontario)

This producer makes a range of inexpensive (and quite good value) dry wines, red and white, but was also showing a couple of Icewines. Typically, as Pillitteri are more or less unknown in the UK, the bottles still contained plenty of wine. A Reserve Vidal 2014Reserve Riesling 2013 and a Reserve Cabernet Franc 2015 were delicious examples of the genre. Perhaps not with the concentration that I remember with Inniskillin, but not far off. These wines had slightly more alcohol than those of that better known producer (11% abv, as opposed to 9%), and they both come from the more specific Niagara on the Lake, where you will also find the more well known producers Jackson Triggs, Peller, Stratus and Southbrook Vineyards.

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Lightfoot and Wolfville Vineyards (Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia)

We now come to three quite different producers in one of Canada’s new wine frontiers, Nova Scotia. Peter Gamble, who was pouring the wines, has been creating a bit of a frontier ruckus, being largely instrumental (and vocal) in the formation of Nova Scotia’s Tidal Bay appellation (2012). The estate produces nice Chardonnay and Pinot Noir which shouldn’t be discounted, but I was especially impressed with the Lightfoot Woolfville Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut 2013, Annapolis Valley.

Commentators say that Nova Scotia’s climate, cool but moderated by the Atlantic Ocean, is a shoe-in for sparkling wines. This one is  biodynamic Chardonnay with four years on lees, bottled at 5g/l dosage. Just right, it balances fruit with crispness. As the Winery Association of Nova Scotia declares, “acidity is the signature attribute of Nova Scotia Wine”.

Benjamin Bridge (Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia)

Gaspereau Valley, which lies south of the Annapolis, is described as a “valley within a valley”. The Bay of Fundy moderates the climate producing a longer than expected growing season, with a “longer hang time” for mainly “Champagne varietals” (sic). This is why Benjamin Bridge is able to claim to be “Canada’s most acclaimed sparkling wine house”. I only mention this producer briefly to signal that if you do see any Nova Scotia sparklers, they are worth picking up.

Luckett Vineyards (Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia)

Sophie Luckett was reasonably sure she’d met me before. I don’t believe that is the case, but I have certainly drunk one of the Luckett wines before, back in October 2016. It was their Buried White 2013. The grape variety is the hybrid L’Acadie, and it is conceptually interesting because it is fermented in Hungarian oak which is buried in the vineyard where the vines for this cuvée grow. Only around 200 bottles were produced.

Four Luckett wines were on show, all of them really quite exciting in their own way, because they show a different side of Canadian wine (and they don’t cost all that much money).

Phone Box Fizz 2016 is a tank fermented fizz made from L’Acadie again, with Muscat and Traminer. A floral nose gives way to crunchy grapefruit on the palate, but it is bottled with 25g/l of residual sugar. It’s a simple but refreshing summer wine. The name? There’s a London phone box in the middle of the vineyard. Random!

Tidal Bay 2016 is the appellation wine, but from fruit still sourced in the Gaspereau Valley. Production of this wine, along with the Tidal Bay appellation generally, is seeing rapid growth. This is another wine based on L’Acadie (which covers around 25% of Nova Scotia’s vignoble), this time blended with Seyval Blanc, Muscat and Ortega (the great hope for Kentish white wine). I think you would also describe this as a light, summery, wine, think seafood.

Phone Box Red 2015 is also a blend of a few hybrids based around one of Nova Scotia’s leading red varieties by volume planted, Marechal Foch. It’s quite dark in colour and sees 12 months in French oak. Quite sappy.

Rosetta was an under the counter special and I didn’t spot the vintage. By this stage I admit I was tiring, but it perked me up no end. A simple, fruity, pink but none the worse for that.

It seems that Luckett Vineyards is well geared up for wine tourism, with a restaurant and lovely views which remind me a little of pictures I’ve see taken from New Zealand’s Waiheke Island. I’d love to visit…though Toronto and Vancouver do beckon forcefully.

One more time with feeling: Sophie Luckett communicating with tasters until the bitter end

Domaine Neige (Hemmingford, Québec)

Domaine Neige was the first producer of Ice Cidre in Canada, producing this delicious product from mainly MacIntosh apples planted on 100 acres. I suppose that with the apple-friendly climate, and perhaps, if fancifully, the connection Québec has with Normandy settlers, an apple product which mirrors Canada’s famous Icewine is not unusual.

There are two versions which were on taste yesterday. Both were very fine products, and both reminiscent of Icewine, but with apple clearly the source fruit. Neige Première 2014 is quite light, though 12% abv, with a fresh zip and a touch of apple skin bitterness to counter the sweetness. The fruit here is picked in September and the apples are stored and frozen before pressing. The nectar is then put into tank for fermentation.

Neige Winter Harvest 2008 was quite different. The fruit here is picked in December when the apples are frozen on the tree, just like a true Icewine’s grapes are frozen on the vine. It has a richer and deeper flavour, something akin to toffee apples. You get more complexity but no loss of fresh fruit above the deeper toffee/caramel notes. I’ll tell you, if the guy had a bottle to sell I’d have bought one.

Suggested partners are cheeses (especially cheddar), which funnily enough I’d not thought of, but would work well, I imagine. Or cocktails, it says on importer Cellartrends‘ web site. I’d try cheese, or just drink as a digestif. The winter version has just 9% alcohol. Both should retail at about £26/half, a little expensive to drown in a cocktail.

This was an excellent Tasting, and as with the wines of other countries not sufficiently represented in the UK, Canada should be on the Wine Lists of far more merchants and restaurants. The quality is generally very high. Canada’s profile is growing, and this tasting definitely helped cement the reputation of its major producing appellations and regions.

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Vegan Wine…What?

Yes, Vegan Wine. As my family is vegan, I eat a largely plant-based diet, although the fundamentalists among them are still horrified that I am prone to lapses when out at wine functions, or in desperate need of cheap chocolate. This means I also get to field fairly frequent questions about vegan wines, or rather, wines suitable for vegans. But as often as I am asked these questions, I’m also just as likely to be met by a blank look when I mention the subject myself.

You see, whilst some vegans are vaguely aware that all wines are not suitable for vegans, just as many, if not more, are wholly unaware that there are any issues. I may eat the (very) occasional Kitkat but do you ask the bar tender whether the beer you have just ordered is vegan, or the host when you go round for dinner and get poured a Chilean Merlot?

It’s something that has been niggling away at me for a long while, but I decided to write about it because the subject has been getting a bit of coverage elsewhere of late. In fact Indigo Wine, the importer of artisan wines, who I have written about several times, recently, posted a whole piece on their blog dedicated to this very subject: Smell something fishy? Clarifying the vegan wine debate (25 April 2018). This pretty much tells you all you need to know, but I probably have a few things I can add (and indeed give the subject a slightly wider readership).

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Can I make one thing plain, this is an attempt to clarify issues around wine for vegan readers, and others interested in the subject. I am not passing any judgements on individuals, and I hope you won’t do the same on me. As my vegan daughter put it once, whether you give up meat and dairy for Veganuary, or just for one day a week, you are making the world a little better for both animals and the planet. I can see the health benefits of a plant-based diet, and I am concerned for animal welfare, but I’m no saint. Equally, I have never lost a friend over the subject and hope not to do so now.

Why on earth are some wines not vegan? 

The problem is that whereas vegans generally know quite a lot about animal husbandry or slaughter, what drugs animals are habitually given, or the dairy industry’s methods, they know nothing about how wine is made. Why should they!

The main actions in making wine which might affect a wine’s vegan credentials take place in the later stages of the production process, where animal bi-products can be used to finish a wine before bottling. Specifically, we are looking at how (and whether) a wine is fined and, to a lesser extent, filtered.

Fining is the process whereby solids are removed from the wine to make it look bright and clean in the bottle. We know that non-specialist wine consumers in particular don’t like “bits” floating around in their glass. Even harmless and natural tartrate crystals are approached with suspicion by many of them. So often wine producers, especially those who are not close enough to their customers to be able to explain wine deposits and solids, just get rid of them.

How? Well, there are many agents they can use for this, but the ones we are concerned with from a vegan perspective are egg whites, isinglass (from fish bladders), gelatin (from a range of animal sources) and casein (milk product). Fining agents attract/repel particulate solid matter in the wine as they are passed through it. The agent usually attracts or repels particles by way of a natural electrical charge, dragging the solids in suspension down to the bottom of the vat, where they can then remain as the wine is drawn off for bottling.

If wine is further filtered at the end stage, the producer can ensure (if he/she wishes, depending on mesh size) that not even the finest particulate matter can follow the wine from the vat.

I think a lot of vegans, and indeed perhaps a few non-vegans, might be somewhat surprised at this range of additives. It has to be said that when these are used, only a trace (at most) is left in the wine, but that is still a trace large enough to make a difference to many vegans. Irrespective of whether any residues are left, it matters to many that these products were used at all (though others might take it in the same way as a food labelled “made in a factory which …”, where the food doesn’t contain milk etc but other milk products are used in the same factory, but this appears a minority view in my experience, once people become aware).

How do I avoid these ingredients/additives?

It’s not quite as difficult as it seems. First of all, many producers these days, largely those in the artisan category, don’t fine their wines. Whereas the larger “vino beverage” producers see a need for clarity in their bottles, many wine makers feel that fining and filtration strips away elements of the wine which give it character and personality. They might argue that such a process deprives the wine of its potential to show another dimension. If your winemaker doesn’t do this, then they won’t have added these non-vegan ingredients. Wines are quite often labelled to state that they are not fined/filtered.

The biggest problems come with wines which give little information as to production methods, and also so-called fine wines. It was once habitual in Bordeaux, for example, to fine with egg white, although this is now restricted to some of the finest (pun intended) properties. It is time consuming and expensive, but it is still undertaken by some.

Of course, there are now synthetic fining agents in use as alternatives. They are potentially cheaper and you certainly don’t need to break and split dozens of eggs from their yolks. The problem is that you just don’t know what the producer is using without better labeling, another (wider) subject worthy of debate .

So where will I find vegan wines?

Over the past few years you will have been able to find wines labelled as vegan at the many Vegan Fairs springing up (Vegfest is one you may have come across in several major UK cities). But let’s be honest, one of the problems is that, just as was the case when wines started to be labelled “organic”, we want to buy wine because it tastes nice, not just because it is vegan.

What about the supermarkets? Well, you will indeed find wines labelled as “vegan”, or “suitable for vegans”, on the shelves at most of the major supermarkets now. You just have to take a punt. As with all supermarket wines, some will be good and some will be quite ordinary. In the early days of “vegan recognition” you’d probably find a wine with “Vegan” on the front label, but it would usually be at the lower end of the range. Things are improving. Waitrose has a symbol for vegan wines in its free wine list (and on shelf stickers), and as you flick through the List you may be surprised by just how many they sell, including Waitrose own label Champagnes.

The sector of wine we call natural wine is usually a safe bet because these producers are broadly against the use of additives, whether synthetic or animal, during winemaking. Although what makes a natural wine natural is infamously unregulated, you can be sure that a producer who claims to be a natural winemaker will not use the ingredients listed above. Most natural wines are going to be vegan, and indeed it is only my caution about people trying to jump on the natural wine bandwagon, and the lack of enforceable standards, which stops me short of being more decisive than stating “most”.

The “Indigo” wines in the photos below are guaranteed vegan by the importer, just a tiny selection. Hopefully one day they will all say so on the label.

You haven’t mentioned viticulture though?

Well spotted. This is a more tricky area. Animals are often used in the vineyard, especially the more “eco-friendly” ones (horses for ploughing, sheep for manure and even “pruning”), but that’s not what I mean. Fertilizers may well contain bone meal, and occasionally other animal bi-products, although again, it is unlikely that natural wine will be made using such products.

This producer uses sheep to prune and mow, and the wine from this vineyard is additive free, the only issue being that the sheep will eventually get eaten!

What about biodynamic wine? I know that no cows are killed specifically for the purpose, but all those cow horns in which biodynamic preparations are buried must come from somewhere. Some people might be concerned by that.

Most people, however, are happy to confine the idea of vegan wine to wines where no animal bi-product is used in wine making. If you think your views are more fundamentalist, and you are concerned about the viticulture aspects I’ve mentioned, then I can only recommend further research. But if you are happy to focus on winemaking, then either the increasing use of “vegan friendly” labeling, or looking further into natural wines, is the way to go.

Shouldn’t there be more help out there from the retailer?

Indeed there should, and this is increasing. This is where we return full circle to Indigo Wine. Indigo has an excellent list. They are one of the best small wine importers in the UK. They now state on their Trade wine list which wines they sell are vegan. But the ironic thing is, they almost shouldn’t bother because around 99% (according to one Indigo employee) are in fact vegan.

Veganism is now, like natural wine in fact, far more than the “fad” some observers would prefer it to be. Vegan food has, over the past couple of years in particular, moved from the specialist shops into mainstream supermarkets. Less and less do we see “vegan” paired with “diet”, a kind of double entendre gag implying it lives with the other latest weight loss fads of the moment. Veganism is a choice based on either the health benefits of a plant-based diet, animal welfare issues, or both. To call it a lifestyle choice is equally demeaning. But the major food manufacturers and retailers are not stupid. Vegan food is one of the fastest growing markets today. Vegan substitutes for meat, cheese and milk etc are some of the most profitable lines for both.

Vegan wine is playing catch up as far as labeling and marketing goes, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of great vegan wine around. You just have to look for importers like Indigo (their range is so good you could almost say “look no further than”) who have their finger on the pulse as to what information consumers want. And you have to push your local wine shop into finding out which wines they sell are vegan.

One final observation, Beer. Beer is just as likely, if not more so, to require caution if you are vegan. For starters, many vegans will go and grab a beer at a bar without even thinking of putting their vegan hat on. But ironically this is a market where labeling is perhaps more advanced than wine. Many beers on supermarket shelves are labelled “vegan”, and I’ve drunk own range beers from several major UK supermarkets that are labelled vegan/suitable for vegans.

There are also a number of specialist beer wholesalers (like Biercraft in London, founded by ex-Liberty Wines man Nick Trower in 2013) which specialise in a range of true craft beers where additives are used to a minimum, and where pretty much everything will be vegan-friendly. Like natural wine, “craft beer” is a very wide, and often misused, category, yet true craft beers are made with the same kind of values as true natural wines. If you don’t want to chat to a specialist like Biercraft (who, incidently, are close friends with Indigo and share similar values), then you just need to stop and look at the label more often.

So, the answer is that if you are vegan there’s a whole new set of shelves where you need to spend the time reading the small print on the back labels. If you want to get advice from someone who knows, the alternative is to ask a specialist retailer…your local wine shop. They ought to know, and if they don’t you may just prompt them to learn.

Hopefully, more people like Indigo Wine (and I must say, others) will come forward with this information to help consumers. Many list wines as being “organic, biodynamic, natural” and I’m sure “vegan” will be a welcome addition, if they can obtain that information. I think it will happen quickly. And as a final suggestion, if they don’t know about vegan wines, then ask them if they have any natural wines. They should be a safe bet, but I would not wish to be the one to guarantee that one hundred percent. At the end of the day, what we really need is better wine labeling.

Some of the places you can find vegan wines: The Raw Wine Fairs (London, San Francisco and Berlin); and wine bars like Jaja Berlin (top right) and Plateau in Brighton (bottom). Les Caves de Pyrene is the biggest importer of natural wines in the UK, and is another good source for vegan wines.

Posted in Natural Wine, Vegan Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine and Health | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Otros Vinos, Spring 2018: Spain’s Wild Frontier

Over the past few years there has been a genuine widening of what wine lovers are prepared to consider exciting and ground breaking in the world of wine. The natural wine movement has drawn attention to hundreds of small time artisans making wine without recourse to many of the teachings of the big wine schools. Commercial production and artisan winemaking are moving apart. This is probably also true of the kind of cerebral wine which collectors favour and the “glouglou” glugging wine favoured by the younger frequenters of the kind of bars that are doing so well in the world’s most vibrant cities.

Rather like politics in Europe, there seems to be less of a consensus, in this case as to what wine should be, and those who hold tightly to the certainties of the post-1982 Parker era often get very upset at all the “faulty” wines being glugged by “ignorant” young people in those city bars throughout the continent. But even in the natural wine world there are extremes. A few brave merchants in the UK, like Tutto Wines and Gergovie, have been brave enough to explore the fringes, where natural wine means “additive free”, and additive free means a very strict attitude to sulphur additions.

We all know that Spain is one of the exciting frontiers of European wine. A country which promised so much, but really failed to deliver something genuinely new when focused on “modern” techniques. Yet in its “new” old regions and its young winemakers, it has begun to forge a massive reputation for natural wine. This is where the importer under the spotlight here has stepped in.

Otros Vinos may be a relatively small importer of wines, mainly from Southern, Central and Northeastern Spain, but it is right at the forefront of that new frontier. It is hard to argue against the suggestion that this is one of the most adventurous lists in the UK. The producers are not doing anything particularly unusual. Okay, some are utilising Amphora and Tinajas, but just as many work with stainless steel. Equally, there are a few grape varieties you won’t have heard of, but there are plenty of “international” varieties as well, including lots of good Syrah and Cabernet, not to mention Viognier and Chenin. Sulphur is certainly banned by many. But more than anything, these wine producers all make wines of genuine character and personality. That is what you find here, in abundance.

Eleven producers were shown at the Otros Vinos Spring Portfolio Tasting at Duck Soup in Soho (London), some old favourites and some new. There was a good spread of regions and sub-regions, with clusters of producers close to Barcelona, and around Granada in the broader Sierra Nevada, dominating the show.

VINOS AMBIZ (Sierra de Gredos, Madrid)

Gredos has been a bit of a secret for many decades, and the high altitude vineyards of Spain’s central plateau, perhaps made famous by Daniel Landi and friends, and their Comando G project in particular, have only recently joined those to the southeast (near Toledo, where the Marques de Griñón’s Dominio de Valdepusa is now a pago) as somewhere to watch carefully.

I’ve written many times about Fabio Bartolomei’s domaine in the village of El Tiemblo. Brought up in Scotland of Italian parents, Fabio works mainly  (but not exclusively) with some pretty rare local varieties. His wines are some of the most singular in the Otros Vinos range.

We begin with the darkish coloured, smooth, Airén La Carabaña 2015, which like several wines to come, proves just how much personality can be extracted from one of the wine world’s most disparaged varieties (along, perhaps, with the likes of Ugni Blanc/Trebbiano Toscano).

Doris 2016 made from Doré is more fragrant with a touch of bitter pineapple. The label is exquisite. I’ve enjoyed a bottle of this quite recently, but yesterday I was feeling the love for the next two wines.

Malvar Tinaja 2016 is fermented in clay jars (which are plentiful in El Tiemblo as there was a tinaja factory there until the 1950s). It’s a pinkish-orange hue with a real “skin contact” nose – you can almost smell the clay and the tannins. Lovely.

Tempranillo 2016 is a total contrast, in grape variety and production – it’s made by carbonic maceration. It has a vibrant light red colour, like raspberry when in the glass, which is where the fruit is heading until a little bitter note creeps in to ground it. Concentration and fruity acidity rule, a classic summer tipple you’d think. Indeed, you are going to knock this straight back, but do beware. The abv reads 14%.

BODEGA CAUZÓN (Graena, Granada)

Ramón Saavedra is a cult figure in Spanish wine, perhaps in some ways in the same vein as Stefano Bellotti in Italy’s Gavi region. All you really need to see is a photo of the snow up here at 1,000 to 1,200 metres in winter to know that this is extreme winemaking in every sense. Saavedra is a bit of a guru (I know he’d be cross at me saying this) who makes wines with genuine soul.

Cauzón Blanco 2017 is a nice blend of varieties, including Macabeo, Sauvignon Blanc, Garnacha Blanco, Chardonnay and Torrontès. Whilst I’ve most often concentrated on the reds here, this was my Cauzón wine of the day, 2017 being a brilliant rendition, the best so far.

Mozuelo 2016 is a pale cherry bomb with a luminescent pale red colour to die for. Duende 2016 is made from macerated Syrah which just sees stainless steel, and has more weight. Pinoir 2016 (Pinot, of course) is a 12% cherry glugger with a touch of tannin. It’s another thing altogether, not remotely “Burgundy”. For me, Cauzón Tinto 2015 is still a little tannic (revisit next time).

The top red on show was Iradei 2017. This is a blend from the oldest ungrafted vines. In the past Ramón has aged this in old wood, but the 2017 is the first time he’s opted for stainless steel. It is smooth and rich, but equally, restrained. It should age nicely.

CLOT DE LES SOLERES (Piera, Barcelona)

I sampled these wines last at Raw London, and if anything they were showing even better yesterday in the lovely cool basement at Duck Soup. This producer makes some nice sparkling and white wines, but unusually with this producer it was a pink(ish) wine and two reds which grabbed my attention on this occasion.

Cabernet Rosat 2013 reminds me a little, in its scent and bouquet, of the orange-coloured Fox’s Glacier Fruit sweet, which I admit may not strike a note of immediate recognition for most readers, but perhaps will provide a pleasant Proustian moment for a few. It is just off dry, and age has given it some gentle complexity. It hit the spot, flavoursome but also thought-provoking.

Cabernet Sauvignon Amfora 2014 is a lovely wine, with the added interest of treating Cabernet to a totally different upbringing to what we usually see from this grape. Latour it isn’t, but you won’t find many Cabernets which taste like this. It only sees twelve days on skins though. Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 is made and then aged in stainless steel for a year before further extended bottle ageing, but it gets a longer twenty days on skins. The year in stainless steel seems to impart a freshness that passes into bottle, so that it is quite sprightly for a wine which is just short of seven years old. There is lovely sweet Cabernet fruit here too.

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LOS COMUNS (Priorat, Tarragona)

In many cases I love the slate terroir of Priorat but balk at the alcohol levels, which even the freshness of the wines cannot always counter. Ever since my introduction to the region, via the wines of Scala Dei back around 1990, I have found it hard to get to grips with. These wines are a little different. They do seem more “alive”, but that’s not to say that you don’t notice the alcohol in some bottles.

Estrem 2016 is a blend of “Carinyos” (Carignan, 30%) and “Petxanga” (Garnacha, 70%). It’s a dark wine weighing in at 14.5%, but half of the cuvée is made via carbonic maceration. There is certainly some tannin in this young wine, but freshness too. I preferred it to what is a more expensive parcel wine, Bateta 2015, which undergoes a normal maceration over ten days. Torts 2015 is a little out of my comfort zone (Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon coming in at 15%), whereas the tasty Carinyos 2015 from the same vintage is noticeably lighter at 13.5%.

Of all the Otros Vinos wines on show, these are the ones least to my own personal taste, yet they are rightly proving extremely popular with those looking for a bit of heft with accompanying freshness, so do taste them for yourselves.

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COSTADOR TERROIRS (Conca de Barbera, Tarragona)

This might not be the smallest producer in the portfolio, but it has consistently proved one of my favourites. I cannot really conceive of buying wine from Fernando without including some from Costador. This makes an objective assessment difficult, but I will begin by mentioning a wine I’ve never bought, Xarel-lo “1954” 2015. As you will have guessed, this is made from very old vines. There is white Xarel-lo, and the rare red version, in the mix, harvested from two plots both within 2km of the sea. The method here is direct press of whole bunches, then ageing in acacia. It’s massively fresh, yet the old vines seem to add another dimension.

The Metamorphika range comes in clay flagons. The idea is that as the wines are made in amphora, they should continue to grow in the same medium. As Fernando says, the idea is slightly whimsical because the clay “bottles” are in fact glazed inside. But as with some of the Austrian wines which use the same idea, they do look amazing. Thankfully they also taste wonderful too.

There are white amphora (“Brisat”) cuvées made from the rare Sumoll Blanc, Chenin, Viognier, Muscat and Macabeu. Of these, I always love the Sumoll Blanc Brisat (2015 on show), and yesterday the Chenin Blanc 2015 spoke to me in a way it hasn’t done before.

Metamorphika Sumoll Negro 2015 was just about my pick of the two reds. It has lovely fruit and length. There’s just something about Sumoll I love. But the savoury Carinyena Amfora 2016 isn’t far behind. If you buy some of these you will never want to throw out the empties. Buy them you should.

VIÑA ENEBRO (Bullas, Murcia)

This is a producer I’ve not tried before. Two very nice wines were on show. El Batiburrillo 2016 is a frothy pink sparkler made from Monastrell, which probably needs to settle down a bit (a lot of the new wines were shipped about two weeks ago), but I think it will really hit the spot. Acidity is restrained, there’s a bit of body, but the fruit is light and easy.

Blanco de Negra 2016 is a very fresh white, freshness achieved with direct pressing of whole bunches to avoid skin contact. Forcallat is the variety. I’d never heard of it, but it certainly produces a lovely aromatic wine. Juan Pascual López is a young man to watch.

The Enebro pair with a couple of Ferrer gate crashers

VINYA FERRER (Terra Alta, Tarragona)

Otros Vinos’ newest producer is based in the south of Catalonia. Childhood amigos Marcel Carrera and Ramón Viña came together to make wine around their home village of Bot. They only have a couple of hectares or so and everything is done simply. Plastic containers for fermentation and ageing in stainless steel, and production is tiny, just a couple of thousand bottles or so.

All the wines were lovely, Nar i Tornar Blanc 2017 especially. Nar i Tornar Roig 2017 is a parcel of very clean tasting Garnacha, and it is a close run thing whether I like this more than Bye Bye 2017, a light but textured red of which I can find pretty much no information, but it speaks well enough for itself – fruity, but with texture and a slightly savoury/bitter quality, plus a bit more grip. Although the reds are mainly Garnacha, there is also a little Cariñena and Morenillo, a very rare local variety which a few Terra Alta producers are trying to revive. It may be no coincidence that those who are doing so are those that also have a reputation for quality. Perhaps Morenillo may become the local “Sumoll”?

MARENAS (Montilla, Cordoba)

Eight wines were on show from Marenas, a producer I often forget to buy (my loss), and I’m going to mention four of them. Here in Montilla the grapes get their character from the sandy clay soils and the Atlantic breezes which come in off the coast. These breezes are all that ameliorate temperatures which can reach 50 degrees in summer (harvesting takes place between 2.00am and 8.00am at Marenas). José Miguel Márquez fashions quite remarkable wines in these conditions, but at least disease is not something he often has to contend with. This is why he is able to make the most natural, non-intervention, wines possible.

Mediacapa has often been my favourite wine here. It is made from 100% Pedro-Ximenez (PX). The 2015 is tinged pale orange and it is just off-dry. Whole bunch pressing into stainless steel makes this a very refreshing wine, very different from most other PX table wines in so many ways. Delicious.

Laveló 2015 is 100% Tempranillo, quite tannic and 14% abv, but it has a bit of zip to it as well as the grip. Vides Bravas 2006 shows what this terroir is capable of. Okay, it also manages 14% of inebriation inducement, but it is maturing beautifully and is ridiculously cheap for the quality (£12 to trade). Only 4,950 bottles were produced of this Tempranillo-Syrah blend.

I’ve previously tasted a sweet Muscat from Marenas, and Asoleo 2016 is in a similar vein. Sweet Syrah at just 9% alcohol. It’s smooth, very sweet indeed, almost without structure, but not at all heavy and totally, and decadently, moreish. The texture of cough medicine, but with none of the yuck! On the contrary!

VINOS PATIO (Mota del Cuervo, La Mancha)

Samuel Canos is a fourth generation winemaker in charge of his family’s 35 hectares in La Mancha. The region had a reputation as Spain’s wine lake workhorse, and Airén is certainly Spain’s workhorse grape (still covering about 30% of the country’s vignoble).

Nine wines were on show. Of the four Airén with black labels in the photos below, I most liked the Aire en el Patio “Salvaje” 2011-2015. The “vintage” can be explained by the fact that this is a solera wine. Only 200 bottles are filled every year from a solera started in 2011, and this is from the 2015 batch. As time passes, the wines in the solera will get older. This is very fresh, with just a touch of soy.

The oddest wine of the whole tasting was Aire en el Patio “La Tarancona” 2016 which, for me, had notes of digestive biscuit and the weird Japanese Umeboshi pickled plums you get for breakfast there. Fernando agreed that this is a bit weird and needs time to settle down.

My pick of the Patio wines was Atardecer en el Patio Rosé 2017, made from Tinto Velasco (the V is pronouced as a B, as one does down there). It is beautifully scented, gently floral. The palate blends a raft of savoury notes with underlying fruit of the purest kind.

Paeriza 2015 comes mainly (80%) from the same variety and is zippy, with sour notes adding a savoury quality. Into the Tinto Velasco is blended 20% of Syrah, Graciano and Petit Verdot. It sees a year in cement. The same blend (roughly) makes up Patio 2015, but this is more structured through a year on skins.

There are two sweet wines here. Another dessert Syrah, Atardecer Al Sol Del Patio 2015 has amazing scents and a hint of maturity, but in my view it was eclipsed by Atardecer Al Sol Del Patio “Airén” 2016, a wine harvested in December. Wow! 6% alcohol, pineapple, peach, a hint of fig, and rather a lot of sunshine, with great length. Luscious in the extreme, it probably should be censored and banned.

PURULIO (Marchal, Granada)

Another great name of Granada viticulture, Torcuato Huertas, is behind this label. Here we are back to the tiny production of 3 hectares of mountain vineyard on the north side of the Sierra Nevada, between 900-1,050 metres above sea level. There are two plots, the higher of the two being very exposed. Days in summer are hot, but nights are cold. That’s where you get the purity which these wines have in abundance.

Fernando showed just two wines. Purulio Blanco 2016 has the colour of a skin contact white wine, but with unusual delicacy, made from an array of different white varieties (there are 21 grape varieties planted in these two tiny plots). It’s a wine I really should buy, but I’m more often swayed by the reds. In fact Purulio is one of three producers I knew before I discovered Otros Vinos, and that was what drew me to Fernando’s portfolio.

The red which was not shown, Purulio Tinto, drinks nicely when young, made from grapes in both of Torcuato’s vineyards. But Jaral (2013) comes just from the highest plot, up on the windswept plateau. Seeming to blend the scents and flavours of two very different fruits, pomegranate and blueberry, it is a wine rarely given enough chance to mature. This 2013 is tasting good now, with a savoury undertone, but there is structure and tannin. I’ve cellared a bottle of 2012 which I bought a year or so ago to see how it develops.

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VERDEVIQUE (Cástaras, Las Alpujarras, Granada)

Anyone who has visited Granada and had the opportunity to drive into the Alpujarra Mountains will know that it is one of the most attractive landscapes in Europe. Visiting here is the only reason I would ever be stupid enough again to take a car into Granada (where car parking knocked me back €50-a-day).

The Garcia family has a fairly decent 22 hectare holding here, with vines, many up to 110 years of age, planted between 1,100 and 1,400 metres altitude. Some of the very highest in Europe. Rainfall is very low, but altitude, along with the proximity of the Mediterranean, means that temperatures don’t get as high as you might expect, not as high as at Purulio, further north.

In some respects my favourite wine here has always been their delicious 11%, bottle fermented, Brut Nature “Garcia de Verdevique”. This 2012 is more weighty, and perhaps serious, than much Cava, and its orange tinge is unusual, but it is also very fresh (and dry). It’s made from a really interesting autochthonous variety which Verdevique champions, called Vigiriego. Also grown in the Canary Islands, Vigiriego was often used as a table grape, but there can be no argument that it makes a really interesting wine.

Verdevique also makes a couple of interesting still whites, from Jaen (nicely scented, smooth, but 14%) and Vigiriego. Vigiriego Barrica 2015 merely adds to the interest in this variety. The wood seems to add colour but is not, to my mind, intrusive. The reds (Tinto Cosecha 2015 and Tinto Crianza 2010) were both a little tannic for me, but then age will mellow them.

All of these wines, like in fact the whole Otros Vinos portfolio, are remarkable value, especially as so many of them are made in such tiny quantities. I kind of feel it is my mission to get people to try these wines, and more importantly, to stock them. The best retailers to try (best telephone for availability) are Burgess & Hall in Forest Gate, Theatre of Wine (Greenwich, Tufnell Park and Leytonstone) and Furanxo in Dalston. A list of restaurants which may list some of them appears on the Otros Vinos web site (see below). Outside London you might find it tough to track them down, but if you have a sense of adventure (both private customers and trade), and if any of the wines I’ve described sound exciting, do contact Fernando.

Web: https://www.otrosvinos.co.uk

e-mail: info@otrosvinos.co.uk

Posted in Natural Wine, Spanish Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Nepal – A Month Drinking Differently

Take a fish out of water and it stops breathing, but what happens if you place an avid wine drinker into an environment where there frankly isn’t much wine, or at least not the kind of wine readers of this blog might want to drink. Nepal is many wonderful things, truly, but it is not yet a mecca for great wine.

First of all, there are a few local drinks to slake a thirst for an alcoholic beverage. I’ve written about Tongba before (Tongba: A Study of Emptiness), but this millet-based brew is more mildly hallucinogenic than alcoholic. Okay, I’m exaggerating somewhat, but a session usually ends with me lying on the floor hardly able to move, without feeling the slightest bit drunk. Actually, as an aside, the article linked to, posted in January 2016, still gets several hits every week.

Another Nepali home brew is Chang (sometimes written Chaang). It’s not the well known Thai beer brand you can find in Tesco and other UK supermarkets, but is a traditional “rice beer” drink of the Newari people (sometimes Newar), who are the original inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley.

It’s made by fermenting rice, usually in a series of large, purpose made, metal containers, although home brew versions as often use plastic. As with Tongba, water is progressively added to the brew, and so the first batch tends to be the most alcoholic, with the third batch (the weakest) often being given in small amounts to children as well as the still thirsty adults. It’s milky to look at, like cloudy sake, and it tastes mild and very pleasant. Of course, it smells of rice, a bit like sake without quite so much of the alcohol punch.

The alcohol content of Chang is quite low (not that anyone measures it). Like Tongba, it produces more of a warm glow, though in my case without the mild paralysis. Any inebriation comes from the tradition of drinking it in fairly large quantity. Because it tastes mild and pleasant, this is not hard to do over an afternoon session, but I had no negative effects from the few cups I drank, no hangover. The reason it is allowed to children is because it is said to have health giving properties. It is also said to help stave off the cold in winter.

Drinking Chang at the famous Bisket Jatra festival in Bhaktapur. Chang fermenters bottom left

Beer is ubiquitous in Nepal, and reasonably cheap (less so as time goes by). There is always a selection of international beers, from Carlsberg to Duvel (Belgian monastic beers are very popular). Tuborg is so common that many Nepali people seem to believe it is a Nepalese beer, not Danish. I prefer the real Nepali beers, and my two favourites are Gorkha and Sherpa, the latter describing itself as a craft beer.

Nepalese brewing is taking off and there are always new brands. My son-in-law has been commissioned to design the label for another new one, with a suitably Nepalese themed name. I probably shouldn’t disclose the details, but I love the playful design and will be looking forward to trying the new beer next year.

When you get to the heart of a Nepali man you realise just how popular spirits are in the country. If whisky is the most popular, the Old Durbar brand is seen almost everywhere. This has at least been partly made in Scotland, with (they claim) English Grain Spirit blended with “glacial water from the Himalayas”. A bottle of 8-year-old Old Durbar costs around £14 in a supermarket or liquor store. Old Durbar “Black Chimney” is a smokier version, a few pounds more expensive, still with around eight years ageing in American oak.

A lot of Indian-produced whisky found in Nepal is actually made largely with spirit distilled from fermented molasses with around 10% or so added malt whisky. Rum is very popular in its own right, with Khukri one of the best easy to find brands, an oak vatted dark rum made in Kathmandu. Khukri comes in three versions: XXX, Coronation and “Spiced”. The Coronation, launched in 1974 to commemorate the Coronation of that year, comes in a 375ml bottle shaped like a traditional Gurkha knife, the kukri. Expect to pay around £40 in the UK for the dagger bottle if you can find one. My daughter told me that apparently it was on sale in a London bar for £300. The XXX will set you back a whole lot less in Nepal.

If you happen to be in Kathmandu and you want a really good, friendly bar (I’m not talking smart hotel bars here but somewhere that tourists and locals mix in more gritty surroundings), look no further than Sam’s Bar in Thamel. You’ll need to ask for directions, but it’s pretty central in this backpacker district.

Sam’s Bar, Thamel, Kathmandu

But what of wine, you ask? Wine is popular in Nepal, of course. It’s on sale in all the smarter restaurants, and even in the tiny liquor stores which appear every hundred metres or so on the main roads and in the smaller neighbourhoods. That said, I don’t think the Nepalese get a great deal when it comes to wine. The big brands sit in the sun-soaked shop windows (if you think the spot lighting in some European wine stores is bad for the wine, think what a Kathmandu summer is like). As you will see in the photo, you get French, Spanish, Chilean and lots of Australian branded wines, plus of course the Indian brand, Sula. I found a big pile of empty Lindeman’s bottles hidden away in an otherwise beautiful village in the hills, which I annoyingly forgot to photograph.

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There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with these wines. I’m no wine snob. But these beverages don’t necessarily provide great value, especially when import taxes are piled on. I’ve not seen any “fakes” yet, despite the proximity of Nepal to China, which is at least one source of relief (though maybe I’m not looking hard enough).

Wine knowledge in the country is fairly low, but there are attempts to rectify this. Sometimes the best intentions are slightly askew, as in the helpful poster below, where Pinot Noir is described as a grape variety/wine from “US West Coast, Germany, Australia” (poor Burgundy, and I’m confused by some of those fruit indicators). And as with storage issues, vintage issues are a serious problem. In a shop specialising in French and Italian products not far from the French Embassy, I spotted a magnum of Moulin-à-Vent from the Hospices de Romanèche-Thorins. I was almost tempted, until I saw it was a 2008, which might actually have tempted me (around £12) in a cool French wine shop, but in Kathmandu I was more cautious.

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All is not lost on the Nepalese wine front, though. If you have been reading my blog for a long time you will know that wine is made in Nepal. If you want to read more, follow the link here to Is This the Outer Edge of the Wine World? and scroll down about half way. Pataleban Vineyard is, so far, Nepal’s only commercial vineyard. It was founded in 2007 with outside help and investment from Japan, and at first they concentrated on hybrids and crosses which would work in the climate of the Kathmandu Valley (where winters can be cold and summers steamy…not forgetting monsoon season). But as we saw during our trip to Japan last year, European varieties can also be successful in difficult climatic conditions.

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Now one of the benefits of living in a part of Kathmandu where there are embassies is that the affluent Westerner does get catered for (although there are plenty of affluent locals with their Range Rovers secreted away in smart gated developments). Just up the road from where we were staying (in Lazimpat/Pani Pokhari) there is a very good Saturday farmer’s market. You can buy some delicious local produce (including various yak cheeses), and after an hour’s shopping at the stalls, retire for brunch in a smart cafe set in a Tokyo-esque low rise square of nice shops.

One of the stalls at the market was selling Pataleban wines. I picked up a bottle of their Chardonnay-Sauvignon Blanc white blend. They also had a Cabernet-Merlot, but we only made it there on our last weekend and I was cautious about bringing some home, being unprepared for wine transportation. This means I can’t share the experience with anyone, which is a shame: the wine is actually pretty good, so long as you are not expecting Puligny. I’ve certainly drunk worse in Burgundy in the past.

First of all, it is not difficult to spot the varieties. The Chardonnay is identifiable on the nose, slightly buttery, clean and a little nutty. The Sauvignon Blanc adds freshness but isn’t especially acidic. When I arrived home I reached for my last bottle of the De Moor’s Melting Potes, which blends Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Viognier. We all love this wine, don’t we, but it makes no claims to complexity, just freshness and, yes, glouglou. It struck me that Pataleban’s white blend is the same sort of thing. At £10/bottle at the market I’d not hesitate to buy some more. Had my suitcase not contained a few things I couldn’t risk getting ruined I’d have brought back a couple of bottles to introduce to the world. I kind of wish I’d risked it now.

There is at least one other vineyard project close to Kathmandu, and we had hoped to get out to see it. It will have to wait for another time. But home made wine is no less popular in Nepal than anywhere else. The plum wine below tasted like a sweet Ruby Port with a rich fruitiness and a touch of spirit on the back of the throat, if a tiny touch of oxidisation as well (it was hand bottled and stoppered with, I suspect, corks cut down to make three from one). Now you will say that I’ll drink anything, and to a degree that is true (or, at least, I will try anything…in the name of research). But this was rather palatable (and reasonably alcoholic, though no one was measuring).

Perhaps some palate adjustment on my part will be necessary over the coming days. Normal service should hopefully resume. Next week Otros Vinos has its portfolio Tasting at Duck Soup in Soho. The following week there’s a big Canadian Tasting in London, and on May 21-23 it’s the London International Wine Fair, where I shall mostly be inhabiting the “Esoterica” area. I shall also be trying to fit in a piece about Vegan Wines (which have been getting a bit of publicity all of a sudden), and a visit to Ben Walgate’s setup, Tillingham Vineyard. I want to finally stick my nose into his qvevris.

Himalayan sunrise. Go on, you know you want to…

 

Posted in Nepal, Wine, Wine Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Recent Wines (March/April 2018) #theglouthatbindsus

For my last article for around three weeks I am going to clear the decks with some more fascinating recent wines. What to leave out proved difficult, so there are fourteen here. I’ll try not to waffle too much. I’ve drunk some really cracking wines (and a cider) these past few weeks, so there’s plenty to rave about.

Österreichischer Sekt 2010, Ebner-Ebenauer (Weinviertel, Austria) – the keen-eyed reader will recall that I went rather overboard about this wine when I tasted it at the IOD Advantage Austria Tasting back in February. A friend kindly brought me a couple over from Vienna after a Roberson employee intimated that the couple of cases they get are snapped up by restaurants. However, another friend did manage to bag a bottle from Roberson, so it’s worth a  try.

This is a zero dosage traditional method (bottle fermented) wine made from 100% Chardonnay, which had extended lees ageing of almost seven years. The Gault & Millau Austrian Wine Guide made it their Sekt of the year for 2018, and I’m told that Stephan Reinhardt has described it as Austria’s finest sparkling wine. He’s not wrong. It’s elegant, fine and long, with a freshness which belies its age. A sophisticated wine, which is not cheap but is good value at around €60. Stunning, honestly. I hope to make the trip up to Poysdorf to see Manfred and Marion later this year if I can work out a simple way of getting up there from Vienna.

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Manzanilla Pasada Bota 80 (Bota Punta), Equipo Navazos (Jerez, Spain) – Sourced from Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín in Sanlúcar, this latest Manzanilla Pasada release is stunning. This wine has previously been released as the “Bota” numbers ending in zero (10 through to 70), but the 80th EN release takes it to another level of complexity. Slightly darker, it is incredibly fresh and intense. Dry nuttiness dominates the palate, with underlying citrus gently adding zing. It is very long indeed. It does come in at 16.5% abv, which one observer commented on, but it doesn’t worry me. I don’t think elegance is lost, but there is, as I say, great intensity (which EN fans will adore).

This wine is unique. The butts had been filled to more than the usual level and the result was that the layer of flor was thin. This has enhanced the oxidative effect on the wine, and this also probably helps account for the quite pronounced saline character Bota 80 displays, and the higher than usual alcohol. It needs to open out, so give it air, don’t over chill it and, as EN recommends, use reasonably large glasses. It comes in 50cl bottles.

Watch out for the next “Florpower” release, which, will use up the rest of this source, if my information is correct, in an unfortified table wine. I really can’t wait. Alliance Wine is the UK agent for Equipo Navazos.

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Sylvaner “L’Hermitage” 2015, Domaine Julien Meyer (Nothalten, Alsace, France) – Nothalten is a little to the south of Andlau, where I was staying in October last year. There is no doubt that my first visit to Alsace in five or six years has really reinvigorated the love I had for the region’s wines. I picked up this bottle from the remarkable takeaway list at Plateau, Brighton’s excellent natural wine bar/restaurant.

Patrick Meyer’s Sylvaner vines are planted on Nothalten’s Zellberg, not a Grand Cru but nevertheless a fine site in its own right. For Sylvaner there’s a touch of unexpected richness (the vintage, perhaps), and the freshness and acidity one expects comes in to act as a nice balance. To say this is full of life is not a cliche, but true. Patrick Meyer is making some lovely biodynamic wines, and this really shows how interesting, and good, Sylvaner can be. A domaine I must explore further on my next visit.

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“Dynamitage” Vin de France, Baptiste Cousin (Loire, France) – Domaine Le Batossay is the name for the wines made by young Baptiste Cousin, who is now making the family’s Gamay and Grolleau south of Angers, in Anjou, whilst Olivier now concentrates on the Cabernet Franc. This Gamay comes from the vines from which Olivier made “Yamag” (so obviously Gamay backwards, oh how these poor vignerons have to circumvent French wine bureaucracy).

The label is quite plain and gives little idea of what’s inside. It’s not your standard Loire Gamay, for sure. Sulphur free, it’s packed full of blackberry and blueberry fruit (rather than cherry) from whole clusters, aged in barrique. Enormously concentrated, I suggest that if you grab a bottle you will be in for a gorgeous surprise. Just 11% abv, Loire Gamay at its very best. I think (the label is not very illuminating) that this is a 2015. Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene but possibly available at Noble Fine Liquor and  Solent Cellar among other good independents.

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Ce Marrin 2016, Vin de Pays d’Allobrogie, Les Vignes de Paradis (Savoie, France) – Dominique Lucas makes wines in Savoie and Burgundy, but this is from his 7.5ha near Ballaison, just south of Lac Léman. Ballaison is in the Crépy AOC, which used to be known for slightly spritzy (crépytant as the local negoces used to call it) but anonymous wines made from Chasselas. Such wines are generally over-cropped, under-ripe and heavily chaptalised. Lucas’ wines are somewhat different in every respect.

Only 4,000 bottles of this Chasselas were produced and it is a lot more concentrated than the commercial versions of wine from this variety, from both sides of the lake. Although Dominique is based at Ballaison, the grapes for this cuvée come from the Marin cru, which is further round the lake near Évian. It has promising colour and is softly herby with just a touch of citrus acidity, yet with plenty of mouth texture (the vines are planted on glacial moraine over granite).

This is without doubt the best wine I’ve drunk so far from any of the terroirs south of the lake, whose wines (sometimes for my sins) I know pretty well. In fact all the Marin I’ve previously drunk has been quite close to battery acid. Dominique still makes wine in Burgundy, in the Hautes Côtes above Pommard, but he is surely the king of French Chasselas. I think I have another one, made from older vines on different terrain, to drink at some point. But do also look out for some amphora Savagnin, and the astonishing (if rare and expensive) Kheops Chardonnay, fermented in a concrete pyramid. 🕉

I picked up a mixed pack of the Lucas wines recently from Solent Cellar and they are another producer imported by Les Caves.

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Foam 2014, Meinklang (Neusiedlersee, Austria) – This is an unusually old Foam which had been hidden away in the mess that is my pétnat pile on the floor of my wine stash. It’s a Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) made from fruit grown in Meinklang’s Pamhagen vineyards near the Hungarian border, just south of Austria’s most famous lake.

It’s fairly orange in colour, certainly cloudy (unfiltered), but it still has the zip of fine bubbles and a persistent bead, not having lost its fizz as quite a few older pétnats can. It has a certain edge to it, which I wonder whether results from the wild graupert vines Meinklang own (I’m loathe to say “cultivate”), from where the fruit is sourced.

It’s quite a wild wine in fact, and whilst it still has the “lightness of being” which you look for in pétnat wines, there’s a bit of depth in there as well. Naturally the vintage has moved on, but if you can find Foam anywhere, it will likely be at Winemakers Club.

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“Doris” [2016], Vinos Ambiz (Sierra de Gredos, Spain) – Fabio Bartolomei goes very much his own way at El Tiemblo, with his high altitude mix of rare, Spanish and international varieties, mainly made in amphora which he scoops up from around the village (there used to be an amphora factory there until the 1950s).

Doris is made from the Doré grape variety (which may be Chasselas Doré) . A massive twenty-four hour hailstorm in July 2016 took around 50% of the crop and Fabio said he was only able to make around 700 bottles of Doris. It’s a unique wine, and one which I suggest is for advanced students only. It’s cloudy (unfined and unfiltered) with no additives. If you’ve ever bought an Ambiz wine you will know that the back label is one very long list of what Fabio doesn’t do to the wine. In fact, the wine gets crushed/pressed, racked and is only clarified by gravity. It is fresh, with a very bitter orange peel note. You’d never guess it tops out at 13.75% abv, it’s so fresh.

It really is something very different, but lovely. Don’t let me put you off with a cautionary warning that this is a wine which will make you stop and think. If you can find one of those 700 bottles, it has one of the most exquisitely pretty labels anywhere. Mine came from Burgess & Hall, imported by Otros Vinos.

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Riesling Trocken “Faß 16” 2015, Weingut Peter Lauer (Saar/Mosel, Germany) – Florian Lauer’s Faß 16 is so named because he tries to use the same casks every year for the same wine. The Faß numbers originated when the 1970s German Wine Law removed the right to use the long-existing individual vineyard names, and at Lauer the practice has stuck.

This may be entry level but this really is the dry German Riesling (12%) you want to grab a case of for the summer (I think that the current 2016 is even racier than this 2015). It’s quite intensely fruity, and just so fresh, although it doesn’t have the rapier-like acid spine you can get from many a dry Saar wine. In fact, there’s even a hint of richness in 2015’s ripe Riesling fruit.

This is a truly lovely wine, but it is also something of a bargain at around £15 for the 2016, from Germany and Burgundy Specialist, Howard Ripley.

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Loibner Gelber Muskateller Auslese 2011, Weingut Knoll (Wachau, Austria) – Knoll is one of the producers that sparked my interest in Austrian wines many years ago. Perhaps, as I’ve found new interest in Austria’s natural wines, I’ve been purchasing fewer Wachau wines of late, but I still enjoy them just as much.

This Auslese in 50cl format is a bottle I picked up a few years ago at Vinothek Hubert Fohringer in Spitz. The shop, right on the Danube by the ferry stop, is the best wine shop I know in the region, really worth a visit upstairs. It’s on the Wachau cycle trail and if you hire bikes, be sure to get ones with a basket between the handlebars! But you can also visit the Knoll restaurant in Unterloiben, on the same trail, where the Knoll wines can be sampled in the warmer months outdoors with excellent food.

All the Knoll wines seem to share a common trait. They are always quite tightly wound expressions of their terroir. This Muscat à Petit-Grains is not especially Muscat-like. It tastes drier and more mineral than you might expect, with plenty of fresh acidity. Would I know it was a Muscat? Well, just about. But it’s more “a Wachau”, which is actually what makes it so attractive.

This might be impossible to find, but it should encourage you to think outside of the Riesling-Grüner box in the Wachau. Impressive.

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Malvasia Rose Frizzante “Il Mio” 2016, Camillo Donati (Emilia, Italy) – This is dark pink with a hint of an orange tinge (like you can get in a negroni). It’s basically a simple dry frizzante with only a little mousse and visible bead (drunk from a Zalto Universal), but the palate is packed with secret CO2, which combines with a touch of bitterness to make a very refreshing glass. When it goes down it’s another case of not really noticing 13.5% alcohol, but as it goes down so easily, it does creep up on you (alcohol with bubbles!). This wine has become a classic now, and I’m sure many readers will have tried it. If you want to smell summer roses and spring blossom along with a hint of tea leaf, this may be the place to look.

Doug says that their Lambrusco “would happily unite Klingons…” but I can tell him that the chance of The Klingons reforming is pretty much zero! England’s loss, I’m afraid. Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene and hopefully available at many of the retailers who buy from them.

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Starvecrow Pét Nat Cyder (East Sussex, England) – Many years ago I used to be a frequent visitor to Normandy. I used to bemoan the fact that I was going to a part of France that didn’t make wine, but in the land of the apple I soon developed a taste for Normandy’s sparkling cider (and Calvados, so often to my cost). There really does seem to be a renewed interest in Cider/Cidre in Europe once again, and this is being driven by the “naturalistas”, especially by the success of Eric Bordelet’s Sidre from north of Le Mans in France, and the Cidrerie Le Vulcain, near Fribourg in Switzerland, both of whom make some of the finest ciders in the world.

Ben Walgate is one of the people behind this cider made at Clayton Farm, Peasmarsh. Fashioned like a petnat wine, bottled during its “wild fermentation”, it’s made from an interesting blend of apples, not your normal cider varieties (from Bramley, Golden, Jonagold and Braeburn). It’s unfined, unfiltered, and importantly, unsulphured.

If you like your sparkling cider dry and brisk you should go out and grab this. At just 5.5% abv it’s instantly refreshing. Appley aromas combine with the spine of acidity you get with (good) cool climate Riesling. I grabbed several bottles from Butler’s Wine Cellar in Brighton. Les Caves take Ben’s petnat Dornfelder/Pinot Noir, PN17, so they might have some. This is the red label. The black label “Natural Cyder” has 7% alcohol and was made in old whiskey casks. It has a bit less of the zip and is slightly broader, and less fizzy. Both are good, but this one’s my favourite. It has a lot in common with a petnat wine, but for a mere tenner a bottle.

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Chardonnay 2011, Riverby Estate (Marlborough, New Zealand) – I’ll ‘fess up here that Kevin Coutney, who owns Riverby, is someone I’d count as a mate now. He’s a generous bloke. If you are passing by you should tell him I sent you to see him, and try his wines. I’m sure not many readers will know them, but whenever people try them in Tastings in the UK, opinions are almost always way more than just positive. They are indeed some of Marlborough’s hidden gems. That said, his sweet botrytis Rieslings are well-lauded, and awarded, in New Zealand, among the country’s very finest dessert wines.

This single vineyard Chardonnay, from fruit grown on the gravels of the Opawa River which was diverted in the 1930s, has a bit of bottle age, yet it was so fresh. Lean (almost sinewy) but not mean. Even our non-expert guests knew the variety, but unlike some examples from the region it’s devoid of overt fatness, oakiness and sugariness. You get just a touch of butter, but not “slapped on”. It’s also quite pale. It does pack 14%, yet it seems light, well, relatively speaking.

Riverby Estate doesn’t have that wide a UK distribution, but their importer is Black Dog Wine Agency, a small importer specialising in New Zealand wines, based in Cheshire, who you can contact for direct sales or a list of stockists. Riverby does a wide range of varietal wines, including good Pinot Noirs and equally interesting Grüner Veltliner. Their Chardonnay is most often my own favourite from the dry wines (the ’14 is another winning vintage), but the sweet Rieslings are sensational.

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Côtes du Jura Trousseau “En Rollion” 2015, Les Dolomies (Jura, France) – Céline and Steve Gormally farm  around 4ha at Passenans, to the southwest of Poligny, and just north of Château-Chalon (where they have some vines, but only classified as Côtes du Jura). This glowing bright light red smells of concentrated red summer fruits (raspberry, strawberry, cherry), is smooth, but really lively on the palate, and probably the most gluggable bottle of 13.5% alcohol red wine you’ll find in a region where gluggable wines abound. Amazing stuff.

My bottle came from the region. The Cave des Papilles in Paris is often a good bet for Les Dolomies. I noticed that last year Vine Trail in the UK began to list the domaine (along with two other excellent choices, Marnes Blanches and Domaine de La Touraize), but not this particular cuvée. US distribution is very good. If you come across any of the Gormally wines, grab one.

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La Bota de Florpower 44 (LMMX), Equipo Navazos (Jerez, Spain) – I make no apology for listing another Equipo Navazos wine. In some ways drinking this, just a couple of days ago, was a sad moment for me. Bota 44 was the first Florpower, EN’s Palomino table wine, and this was my last bottle. 2010 was the first vintage of a wine sourced mainly from Jerez’s Pago Miraflores, plus a few other sites in the Sherry Region. It was fermented in stainless steel and aged eight months in butts before blending into steel again for bottling in July 2013.

Visually, this looks old, quite dark. It smells of flor and nuts, and tastes quite nutty, with a saline lick on the finish, like salted almond with a touch of deeper hazelnut. What you don’t expect is its retained freshness, emphasised with a little lemon citrus on the finish. It’s also quite chalky in texture as it trails off, very long and clean.

Florpower is an amazing wine, really. So eminently drinkable, but with real personality. The most recent release is Bota 77, although as I mentioned above when discussing the Manzanilla 80, watch out for the next Florpower which should hit the UK in the next few months, via Alliance Wine.

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See you in May (you can follow me on Instagram)

 

 

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Bursting Bubbles – Robert Walters, and Some Thoughts on the Grower Champagne Philosophy

You will recall that I made Champagne by Peter Liem my wine book of last year. That expertly written book which puts terroir at its heart was the outstanding work on wine, in my view, in the whole of 2017. Bursting Bubbles by Australian author Robert Walters follows a similar route, but with perhaps a more radical message.

Liem’s work is highly detailed, and comprehensive, but it is not over critical of the negociant producers, the so-called Grandes Marques. Walters, in focusing on the small number of committed, high quality, producers he imports and works with, questions the whole focus of the Champagne region, and gets to the heart of what is Champagne.

In his Foreword, Andrew Jefford describes Bursting Bubbles as “The most engaging book about Champagne growers I’ve read…”. Let’s see whether we agree.

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What kind of Champagne do you want to drink? This is the question that Walters asks, and it is perhaps one which most Champagne drinkers have never considered. What he points out is a simple but often overlooked fact. Throughout the rest of France, the finest wines (and he often turns to Burgundy as an example) are expressions of place. They are also wines which use the best grapes, ripe and cropped at reasonable levels and turned, in the winery, into fine artisanal wines which express the nuance of where they come from: Gevrey or Chambolle, Morgon or Fleurie, Saumur-Champigny or Chinon, or Eguisheim or Bergheim, to name just a few examples of my own.

Champagne’s history, and its worldwide market, is one created by the negociant. There were clear historical reasons for this, which Walters outlines. Nevertheless, this has led to two clear differences between Champagne and the rest of “Fine Wine France”. The first relates to production methods, not just the (as some would say) semi-industrial nature of production for the vast majority of Champagne produced, but in blending. The market for grapes has led to Champagne Houses blending their wines from all over the region, from north of Reims right down to the Aube, which borders Burgundy. In effect, they are, it might be argued, blending away terroir.

The other major difference relates to the marketing of Champagne as “a festive drink or, at best, a high-quality aperitif that should not be taken as seriously as the great wines of the world”. How often do wine lovers demote Champagne to the mere prelude to an evening drinking the serious stuff? To a certain extent the new owners of the Grandes Marques, the luxury goods companies, have been changing this perception through their expensive prestige cuvées, but for the vast majority who drink Champagne, it remains, as Walters puts it, “a bubbly drink for bubbly people”.

So how do the “growers” differ? Well, to begin with, we need to destroy any idea that Grower producers make better Champagne than the negociants. There are hundreds of families making wine in the region (aside from those who get an allocation back from the co-operative of which they are a member and stick their own label on it). Some of these wines are among the worst in the region, purely because, whilst using the same methods as the negociants use for the volume side of their production, they don’t possess the expertise, nor the vineyards, nor the equipment, to match them.

There are, however, a group of vignerons working in the wider Champagne Region for whom quality comes naturally, a product of dedication, attention to detail, very hard work, and sticking to a philosophy that is based upon a clear idea of how they want their wines to reflect their place. The father of the movement is Anselme Selosse, and it is no coincidence that he studied, unusually for a son of a Champagne producer, in Burgundy. Several of the producers covered in Bursting Bubbles were mentored by Selosse and his influence, if not always his production methods, has been immense.

In a north-south journey through Champagne Walters’ first stop is to visit Jérôme Prévost, whose own journey to become a producer was directly influenced by Selosse, in whose winery he made wine in his early years. Prévost used to make wine only from Pinot Meunier, which is all he originally had planted in his vineyard at Gueux, on the northern slopes of the Petite Montagne. “Les Béguines” is planted with Meunier vines over forty years old. Rather than crop this later flowering (frost avoiding) variety at the high levels usually produced for the big houses, Prévost keeps yields low.

The soils here are not the cliche of chalk, but express the deeper, unspoken, nuance of the region’s geology – here it’s alluvial sand and clay with marine fossils, covered with a thin layer of topsoil. It isn’t all that hard to see how a unique terroir, an unusual single variety approach using the so-called lesser of the three major Champagne grapes, and a methodology which values working the land, rejecting chemicals, and making sparkling wine with a similar approach and philosophy to a producer of still wines, will lead to something very different.

Indeed, Prévost’s wonderful wines are a paradigm of ageworthy, terroir expresssive, Champagne. More than that, they have become, like Selosse, a symbol of status for a bar or restaurant which has something from La Closerie on its list, and for the Champagne geek who has some in his/her cellar. As Walters says, ordering one “has become almost a badge of honour, a secret sign that affirms your initiation into an exclusive club of those in the know”. But he also goes on to point out the problem we chasers of Grower Champagnes of quality have. The guy makes around 13,000 bottles per year…not a lot to go around.

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Fac-simile is Jérôme Prévost’s wonderful rosé, one of the finest in all Champagne. Initial is Selosse’s entry level cuvée, which costs not much less than many a “prestige” 

I don’t plan to go through all the producers visited in the book, of which there are not that many. Actually, Walters reckons that the really good grower-producers can be counted on your fingers and toes. I think he’s being a little unfair, and this is where Peter Liem’s book comes in handy. He lists more, in particular a new band of quality-focused growers who are trying to make this “grower movement” into the grower revolution that it half promises to be. It would be impossible to talk about this movement, however, without a visit to Anselme Selosse, the “most significant figure in the great grower movement” (I like Walters’ modification, adding the word “great” to distinguish the stars).

Selosse, according to Robert Walters, was always an outsider as a child, and had a difficult upbringing. This led him to go away to school from age twelve, and to study wine in Beaune from age fifteen. It was a pilot ecology course at the Beaune Lycée which fired up Selosse’s passion, along with his discovery of the solera system whilst gaining work experience in Spain. It was his experimental nature, one of careful observation of the results of his actions, which led him first to abandon herbicides, and then to change his winery methods (abandoning filtration and the very important but still controversial technique of cutting back on the dosage, etc).

Selosse, and his impact, is a perfect reflection of how the region works in relation to the dominant houses and their grape growing suppliers. When his wines began to get noticed there was a lot of animosity. People didn’t like his challenge on quality and identity, because grape prices are high enough to make a farmer a good living, cropping high and keeping disease and pests down with synthetic products, without having to strive for perfection. He was accused of many things, including that he was “a fraud”. The “great growers” continue to face such animosity. One such producer I know a little (not one featured in the book) told me some of the things the head of a Grande Marque had said about these grower-producers at an event they were both attending. Arrogant and not pleasant.

Selosse, and all the other great growers for that matter, have always given credit to the Grandes Marques for creating a worldwide market for Champagne. Some of the negociants will (if grudgingly at times) credit these sought after growers with creating a renewed interest in Champagne as a fine wine, beyond the “festive fizz” image, as something more serious, and something to accompany food throughout a meal. In my view, these impacts have benefited the Grandes Marques, but some don’t quite see it that way. They merely see any idea of a “grower revolution” as a threat to their grape supplies, and their control of the market. This, despite the fact that growers in total produce a mere 5% of Champagne, and the “great growers” of the type we are talking about here produce a tiny proportion of that 5%.

I’d like to look at one final grower covered in Bursting Bubbles, Cédric Bouchard. Bouchard is in many ways the archetypal exemplar of the methods we are focusing on. His production comprises, with every wine he makes, of a single grape variety from a single plot. It comes from a total focus on terroir, allied to complete perfectionism. He looks for richness in his wines, and to achieve this he crops insanely low for the region (c26 h/hl in some cases), without any chemicals. This gives him ripe grapes (with potential alcohol of at least 11%, sometimes as high as 13%, where levels for Champagne are more commonly around 9% before chaptalisation, as Walters points out).

Bouchard clearly makes wine first and Champagne second. He tells Walters that he’d rather make still wine but he hasn’t yet been able to produce still wine of a quality sufficiently stunning for his perfectionist approach. Bubbles, he suggests, just get in the way!

I want to use a quote from Bouchard in Bursting Bubbles which for me sums up the region perfectly. “The great problem with Champagne is very simple. You have over-production and it’s a great pity, because we have…an enormously important terroir…when people have in their minds mostly money…it’s hard to see this situation changing”.

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Côte de Val Vilaine comes from a 1.4 hectare plot of Pinot Noir at Polisy, and was once called Inflorescence

The fear is that this movement, of which Prévost, Selosse, Bouchard and others are part, will fizzle out. Many vested interests would very possibly like that to happen. Despite the obvious benefits of having a group of producers in a bright spotlight, bringing kudos to a region for their “fine wine” interpretations of the genre, they are too often seen as a commercial threat, which is ludicrous. Perhaps it is more the challenge to the way in which Champagne is produced by the majority, and the challenge to the whole philosophy behind this sparkling wine, which really upsets people – it hits a raw nerve.

I’ve only really given a flavour of Bursting Bubbles here. There are also chapters on Champagne Myths in which Walters burst a few more bubbles, which I shall allow readers of the book to enjoy on their own. Quoting Andrew Jefford again, “No wine is promoted more pretentiously or mythologically than Champagne”.

Bursting Bubbles is, in my opinion, an important contribution to Champagne writing. It’s an easy read as well, less dense and technical than most books on the Region. As Walters says in his Introductory “Disclaimers”, it isn’t a wine guide. Nor, he admits, is it impartial, and nor is it intended as “an excercise in Grandes Marques bashing”. But it will without doubt help you to answer that question I posed, taken from Robert Walters himself, at the top of my article – What kind of Champagne do you want to drink?

My wife is currently reading a book by an American physician, Michael Greger, called “How Not To Die”. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? It’s a book which both advocates a plant-based diet from a health benefits point of view, whilst at the same time pointing out the very real potential harm to humans which can result from eating industrially farmed and chemically treated meat and dairy products.

This book would be likely to cause a number of different reactions, aside from that of “I’m not going to read that!”. First you might reject his arguments, possibly out of prejudice, or a refusal to consider their validity. If you are an American meat lover (EU regulation currently saves British consumers from some of the methods he mentions, which are outlawed within the EU) it is probably a tough read.

Second, you might read the book and leave with a nuanced viewpoint and a desire maybe to try a few of his ideas (eat more beans and pulses, for example). The third result might be a “Road to Damascus” experience, whereby you feel a light has been shone in a dark place. All of these possible reactions are equally valid for Bursting Bubbles. If you are happy with your bottle of NV Champagne at Christmas or on a birthday, fair enough. If your indifference to Champagne is based on it being, well, not quite a fine wine, then Bursting Bubbles might make you look again.

I think that for me, it is none of the above, purely because the inner geek in me got interested in (Great) Grower Champagne many years ago. My introduction was actually via the wines of Francis Boulard, Egly-Ouriet, Larmandier-Bernier and Pierre Péters, and my long standing passion for growers such as Bérêche is well known. I was lucky, because these wines were far more affordable back then, and I have been able to try bottles from all but a few of the more recent people to come onto the scene. Bursting Bubbles simply reinforces and focuses some of my views and experiences, yet does so in a clear sighted and entertaining way.

The heart of the problem is this. For there to be a “Great Grower Revolution” these wines have to be tasted by lovers of fine wine, or perhaps I should say by those who like their wine to be an expression of the place where it comes from. People need to be able to judge them as such, and appreciate their uniqueness within the world of Champagne. Yet with tiny production, and doubling or tripling of prices in the past several years, they are in some cases no less expensive than the prestige cuvées of the Grandes Marques with which they now compete.

It is also sadly true that where such wines do appear on the shelves of wine stores, or on the wine lists of hip restaurant-bars (especially in Paris), their sale is occasionally refused to mere mortals deemed not worthy. I guess they don’t like the cherry pickers, and Champagne is not alone in this respect, as anyone who has got prematurely excited at seeing some Overnoy on a list will attest when the bartender or sommelier says “no!”.

All I can say is that if you read Bursting Bubbles there is a fair chance that you will be enticed into spending even more money than you can afford on the producers Robert Walters mentions…and if you spend considerably more on Peter Liem’s “Champagne” book as well, then the damage may be considerably worse. I think that’s a good thing. These wines (I use the term “wine” very deliberately) deserve our attention. Walters has done a great job in shining his own spotlight here.

If you have got this far I’m certain you will enjoy the book, or at the very least it will make you think. I’m sure it will be a book I revisit fairly soon. I really enjoyed it.

Robert Walters, Bursting Bubbles (A Secret History Of Champagne & The Rise Of The Great Growers) was first published in Australia in 2016 by Bibendum Wine Co. This edition was published in the UK in 2017 by Quiller Publishing, RRP £18.99 (hardback).

My article on Peter Liem’s Champagne can be found via this link here.

Below, a small selection of Grower bottles from the archive, all worth exploring, as are dozens more, all trying in their own way to reflect a different aspect of Champagne terroir

 

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The Great German Pinot Noir Tasting

Pretty much every time I go to a Tasting of German wines we see a few reds tacked on to the end, and I suppose that’s how reds have been seen in the past when it comes to the UK market for German wine. This is not the case in Germany, of course. Though I’m loath to talk about the phenomenon in these terms, climate change has probably been kind to those wishing to produce red wine in Germany, and the ability to count on ripe grapes is increasingly feeding a culture that has transformed to drinking a lot more red wine at table.

There are many red varieties grown in Germany, from local varieties like Dornfelder, Lemberger and Frühburgunder to international grapes such as Syrah, and even pockets of Cabernet Sauvignon. But Pinot Noir, or Spätburgunder (labelling is a personal choice, and some producers as we shall see use both) has long been Germany’s most promising red variety. It has also been grown in Germany for over 700 years, planted originally in Rheingau, by the same monastic orders who established the variety’s nobility in the Duchy of Burgundy.

Germany has one thing going for it perhaps above all others when it comes to Pinot Noir, and that is terroirs. I use the plural deliberately. In Burgundy, the Cru system of classification allows for nuance between similar plots and lieux-dits to show through. In Germany part of the fun is in comparing the same variety from different regions. Pinot Noir is often called the “Red Riesling” for its ability to adapt to different terroirs and to express those terroirs in the glass.

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Although a vast oversimplification, as well as the limestone of the Pfalz and much of Baden, you have major pockets of Pinot Noir grown on sandstone (Franken), volcanic bedrock covered in wind blown loess (Baden’s Kaiserstuhl Massif), and the Ahr Region’s famous slate, to name just a few highly diverse terroirs.

Another factor which I must bring up is clones. Dijon clones have increasingly been planted by serious producers of red wines, purely for qualitative reasons. That is not to put down the German clones, but the wines produced (even when taking into account terroirs), are usually very different. Some producers prefer French clones and some prefer the German ones (and even Swiss clones too, in the case of our final producer here).

And finally, another twist – a couple of the producers at this tasting have, like Fritz Becker who I visited last October in Schweigen (Pfalz), their finest Pinot Noir vineyards in France.

So when a taster asked a producer which Burgundy domaines he is trying to emulate (hopefully with his tongue in his cheek), you can imagine the answer. German Pinot Noir, or Spätburgunder, is distinctive.

So from this Tasting at Chandos House, off Oxford Street in London, a collaboration between Howard Ripley and ABS Wine Agencies, I think it is fair to say that people could take away a sense of that distinctive variety in German Pinot Noir, and also the leap in quality which producers have made across the board in the past decade. This, as far as I’m aware, was the first ever Tasting in the UK to consist only of German Pinot Noir. I think its time has arrived.

Eleven estates were showing their wines. Four from Baden, two from the Pfalz, and one each from Württemberg, Rheinhessen, Ahr, Franken and Ruwer. Almost a full house of red wine producing regions. There was not a single wine I did not like. I will save my own very personal favourite producer until last, one that ranks in my own top two producers of German red wine. The other wasn’t there, but if you’ve been reading carefully you will have deduced who that is.

MAXIMIN GRÜNHAUS (Mertesdorf, Ruwer)

I’ve known and loved Carl Von Schubert’s wines, with their equally attractive jugenstil labels, since the 1980s, but it is only in the past several years that I’ve been enjoying his reds. Carl’s Spätburgunder is grown in the centre of the Abtsberg, the estate’s finest site, on a plot where there is more topsoil, around a metre-and-a-half deep over the slate. He has a mix of German and French clones, and made his first harvest in 2010, when just a single barrique was produced. Yields are low, around 30 hl/ha, and the aim is to produce elegant wines which are mineral, and fresh.

Spätburgunder 2014 is a lovely wine with which to begin a Tasting, especially as the scent emanating from the glass is so beautiful. It’s a fragrant, lighter style, which one could call pretty, so long as that is not seen as damning with faint praise. It’s elegant as well…but definitely pretty too.

Pinot Noir 2015 is interesting. I only need to say once that 2015 was a hot vintage throughout Germany, as in France. But hot means different things when we are in some of Germany’s more marginal regions, and those of us who can recall the steely Rieslings from the Ruwer back in the day will know that this is not remotely a warm region to begin with. So there’s a deeper nose here and a bit more weight, but it’s not a big wine.

Pinot Noir 2016 was a cask sample, due to be bottled in May or June, and very promising.

I’ve not really made a quality assessment of these wines, have I. I am not going to argue that these are the most potentially complex wines of the day, but I will say that I like them a lot. There is always elegance here and, although the fruit is bright and fresh, there is subtlety too. I’ve written only positive things about the Grünhaus reds in the past, and tasting three together only served to reinforce my desire to drink them more often.

 

FÜRST (Bürgstadt, Franken)

The Fürsts began producing wine here in the Seventeenth Century, and that tradition carries on today. Weingut Rudolf Fürst is named after Sebastian Fürst’s grandfather. Sebastian now helps his parents, Paul and Monika, and their reputation grows by the year. This is based on attention to detail at the smallest level, and a recognition that they have some great terroirs to bring out.

Sebastian is now in charge of all the red wine production, having developed both his expertise and passion at Domaine Marc Kreydenweiss (Alsace) and Domaine L’Arlot      (Nuits). Despite a reasonably large holding of just under 20 ha of vineyard, production here is emphatically artisanal. Foot treading, barriques, minimal sulphuring, all aim to transfer the grapes into wines which display the nuance of the soils, mainly red bundsandstein with pockets of water-retaining clays, warm soils which assist ripening.

Spätburgunder Tradition 2016 comes from 100% estate fruit off 7.5ha of either younger vines, or lesser sites. Don’t discount it, it’s pleasant everyday drinking, and refreshingly light. Spätburgunder Bürgstadter 2014 is what they call their “village wine”. There’s a definite increase in depth and it represents good value at around £30 RRP.

There were three of the crus on show, conforming to the VDP Grosses Gewächs classification, which I suppose the organisation would like to be seen as a Grand Cru equivalent. Each of the next three wines represents a step up in quality.

Centgrafenberg Pinot Noir GG 2014 uses more whole bunches, and there’s great freshness here in 2014, as well as more depth and latent complexity. The GG wines do require ageing, perhaps at least a decade, and it is a big mistake to treat them as wines to open soon after bottling.

Schlossberg Spätburgunder GG 2014 comes from a walled vineyard, about three kilometres of walls protecting what is already a south facing site of red compressed sandstone. There is indeed a touch more ripeness, and the wine has a very appealing dusty or grainy texture.

Hundsrück Spätburgunder GG 2014 is made from fruit grown in the central part of the Centgrafenberg vineyard. When Germany botched its Wine Law in the 1970s, old sites like this were subsumed into the larger named vineyards, and Hundsrück had to be re-registered in recent years. But it is clearly a terroir of genuine class, again south facing, and producing ripe fruit with potential for great complexity. This is a fine 2014, but it should be given the respect of ageing, just like its Burgundian counterparts. Expect to be divested of around £115 for a bottle.

 

JEAN STODDEN (Rech, Ahr)

The River Ahr is a Rhine tributary, 50 km south of Köln. As it is such a northerly wine region, it surprises some that of all wine regions in Germany, it is the one whose fame lies mostly with red wine (indeed, Stodden is not just a “Weingut”, it is a “Rotweingut”). It is also the region which has the distinction of it’s famous Greywacke slate, on steeply terraced hillsides, where the ripeness of the fruit derives (as with Riesling in the Mosel) from the reflected and stored sunshine and heat of the river and the vineyard (assisted in part by the terrace walls made from the same material).

It’s so warm there that some authors have used the term “Mediterranean” to describe the climate. I’m not sure it is quite like Tuscany, or Priorat, (perhaps it is?) but the region does see more than 1,500 hours of sunlight in an average year, and an average temperature approaching 10 degree celsius. It’s also a dry region.

Gerhard and his son Alexander run one of the region’s most highly regarded estates (the other is Meyer-Näkel), farming around 6.5 ha near Rech, with many vines over 80 years in age, some (on the Sonnenberg GG) ungrafted. Alexander was one of the first in Germany to use new French barriques (currently Tronçais oak from François Frères), but it is only the exceptional sites and the ripeness they give which makes this possible.

Four wines, in increasing price and complexity, were offered to taste. Spätburgunder 2016 is all estate fruit, aged in old wood. It’s pale and fragrant, simple and fruity. Like all the 2016s at the tasting, it was promising. Spätburgunder JS 2015 comes at quite a step up in price (from £24 to £38). It is aged in new oak and, although still a pale wine, it has a bigger, rounder, nose with more depth. You can feel the new wood but it isn’t too intrusive, although the ripeness of 2015 no doubt helps.

Recher Herrenberg Spätburgunder 2014 is fresher and benefits from an extra year’s age, but we are getting up to £50-a-bottle here. It still has a slatey intensity of dark fruits and their slight bitterness. Top of the range here was the almost £90 Neuenahrer Sonnenberg Spätburgunder 2015, one of Stodden’s Grosses Gewächs, but it’s quite a different wine. From lower down the river, where the valley is wider and there is more loess and less slate, it has a plumpness to it, and an extraordinary bouquet. It has a lot more body than I was expecting.

I generally find Stodden’s wines very different to those of Meyer-Näkel (which I know much better), but they are absolutely among the most interesting producers of Pinot Noir in Germany, and the Ahr style (to the degree one exists) is a benchmark contrast to much of the rest of the world’s efforts with this variety.

 

KELLER (Flörsheim-Dalsheim, Rheinhessen)

Klaus-Peter Keller needs no introduction, I’m sure. This estate was founded in the year of the French Revolution, but when I began drinking wine Rheinhessen seemed almost a sleepy backwater of industrial production. Now it is one of Germany’s most exciting regions. This is in large part down to Keller more than anyone else (without taking anything away from Philipp Wittmann in Westhofen).

Klaus-Peter is, of course, famous not for Spätburgunder, but for Riesling, some of Germany’s finest and most expensive. But as with Riesling (and the inexpensive Von der Fels), there is a red wine which offers amazing value. The red wine quality here is unsurprising when one realises that this Riesling genius interned at Domaines Armand Rousseau and Hubert Lignier, in Burgundy. His first barrels came from DRC.

There are Grosses Gewächs reds, and Klaus-Peter even grafted some Pinot Noir onto old Silvaner in his treasured Morstein vineyard six or seven years ago, but Spätburgunder “S” is eminently affordable and well worth tracking down. 2013 (£29 RRP) is a fragrant wine which should peak in five-or-so years. It isn’t what I’d call tannic, but it does have a spine of fresh acidity, which seems precise, within it. 2015 (£35) is riper but there are similarities between the two vintages, which I’d put down to freshness and elegance. I said “riper”, but clearly Keller is avoiding any hint of over ripe fruit in a hot year. Like his whites, he’s aiming for the stars. I have this back to 2012, which tells you what I think. They will keep, the best vintages for a good decade if you wish.

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WEINGUT BERNHART (Schweigen-Rechtenbach, Pfalz)

This is the first producer here whose wines I’d never tried, but the keen eyed reader will spot the fact that I know this village, having visited Fritz Becker here last October (yes, Fritz Becker is that other favourite German red winemaker). And if you read my article back in November you will also know that the producers of the border village of Schweigen farm their Pinot Noir, or certainly the best of it, on the hillside slopes over in France, in the former monastic vineyards of the Abbey of Wissembourg. Bernhart owns eleven hectares, of which 60% are over the border, in France.

There is a frustrating anomaly for producers of wine from these French sites. Although the grapes come from France, the wines are made in Germany and have to conform to German wine regulation. The German authorities won’t allow the producers to use the French vineyard names, vineyards which in France are arguably Grand Cru quality (were they under Alsace regulation). The growers of Schweigen have to find another way to label them. Some go for fantasy names, but the most common way is to use a single denoting letter.

There’s a basic wine here, labelled simply as Spätburgunder which in 2015 was very ripe, fruity and tastySchweigen Spätburgunder 2015 is the village wine, with a more high-toned bouquet, but again, fruity.

The quality leap comes with the single vineyard wines from the Sonnenberg, which range from £25 to £45 a bottle and, as such, are pretty good value. Spätburgunder “S” 2014 was described by Gerd Bernhart as an Erste Lage, a premier cru. It sees 50% new oak and has good mineral depth and a touch of salinity. Spätburgunder “R” 2013 is the reserve wine from the same site. It’s Gerd’s oldest parcel with vines planted in 1977. It sees 100% new oak, but that surprisingly doesn’t dominate, and there is lovely smooth fruit underneath.

Spätburgunder “Rg” 2014 is a parcel on the west of the steep slope which rises from the Abbey, called Rädling. This spends 18 months in new oak, and the oak here is more obvious. But the fruit is sweet, and the oak does enhance this.

I’m not so keen on 100% new oak with most Pinot Noir as a rule, but I can’t say that the wines here are not balanced. And they certainly represent good value.

 

WEINGUT JÜLG (Schweigen-Rechtenbach, Pfalz)

I’ve drunk Johannes Jülg’s red wines on several occasions, and it was the homely, atmospheric, Weinstube, which the family runs in the village, where we headed for lunch last year, after our morning with Fritz Becker. Whilst I think the previous producer, Bernhart, represents good value, I think I’d have to emphasise that value for money even more at this address. But it’s all personal choice.

Johannes is another German winemaker who fell under the influence of a Burgundian, in this case Thierry Brouin at Domaine des Lambrays. What he says he took from his time there was to look for elegance and complexity in his wines.

We begin, as at other addresses, with a Spätburgunder 2015, plain and simple (bottled under screwcap, like it Johannes!). Super fruity with a smidgen of spice, this is almost ridiculously priced with a RRP of £12.20 according to the sheet we were given. The reserve Spätburgunder “R” 2012 is from vines exclusively on the French side of the border. It sees a little new wood. A 2013 “R” hails from a cooler vintage, and I’d have to be tricked into using that old chestnut “mineral” here, despite that voice inside my head telling me I shouldn’t.

Pinot Noir 2012 is so-labelled  because these vines are French clones. The style is slightly meatier, but there’s great length and acidity to match. The 2013 version is noticeably different, slightly paler and brighter, as befitting a cooler vintage. The difference in labeling is wholly valid, and it’s nice in fact to see the two styles, “Pinot Noir” and “Spätburgunder”, side by side.

The Jülg wines may have less complexity than some, but they do have a vibrancy, and even with the oak, an approachability. The added bonus is that everything here comes at less than £40/bottle.

 

RAINER SCHNAITMANN (Fellbach, Württemburg)

Schnaitmann is a new addition to the ABS roster, and a relatively new member of the German VDP. Rainer is described as a dynamic young guy, “articulate, intelligent, caring, passionate, detailed (sic)”, a lot of praise. A shame I didn’t get to meet this former architecture student into music and art, as he shares some of my own interests outside of wine.

I’ve never tasted Rainer’s wines before, but the fame of this young man precedes him. Stephan Reinhardt wrote (in The Finest Wines of Germany, Aurum, 2012) that his Fellbach Lämmler Spätburgunder GG 2009 was rated by some opinion leaders “as highly as any other German Pinot Noir”, and describes him as “the most prominent and rapidly rising newcomer of the past decade”.

The wines really live up to that praise from Germany’s most knowledgeable wine writer. More than anything here, you get silky smooth wines with concentrated fruit, giving them instant appeal. Other tasters were impressed by their magic too.

Spätburgunder “Junge Reben” 2015 (£25) is from young vines in this ripe, warm, vintage. The colour is vibrant and the fruit is concentrated. Simonroth Spätburgunder 2014 is from older vines (45-50 years of age) from a single site. Again, the simple description “tasty” is all you need, really. There’s certainly a greater freshness here than with the Simonroth 2015, where the fruit is riper and the tannins softer. The opulence of the 2015 is really appealing, but then so is the freshness of the ’14. Both single vineyard wines here are recommended to be sold at £40, although I have mentioned the GG (not shown), which is presumably a little more upmarket in pricing.

 

KARL H JOHNER (Vogtsburg-Bischoffingen, Kaiserstuhl, Baden)

Karl Heinz and his wife Irene used to run Lamberhurst Vineyard in Kent, but they returned to Germany way back in 1985 to found their Baden domaine. Ever restless, in 2001 they also began farming in Wairarapa at the foot of North Island, in Neuseeland, where they spend about four-and-a-half months of their year.

Karl Heinz is one of the few German wine producers who openly admits his red wines aspire to emulate Burgundy, yet he is no copycat producer. In fact he’s fiercely independent, going his own way on so many issues. Their son Patrick is now working in the business and continues with the fine work being done here, especially with Pinot Noir/Spätburgunder.

Spätburgunder Kaiserstuhl 2014 is a fruit-driven entry level wine. Spätburgunder 2014 is off loess soils and is fresher. A 2016 cask sample of this wine (just ready for bottling) tasted very nice, with slightly more breadth. Spätburgunder 2015 (unfined, unfiltered, matured in wood, 20% new) was a richer version.

Pinot Noir Steinbuck 2013 is made from Burgundy Dijon clones, vines which yield bunches with lots of small berries, and which were planted in 1998. It has a slightly darker cherry colour, and still has some tannins.

The top wine on show was Spätburgunder “SJ” 2013. This is made from vines on the eastern side of the Kaiserstuhl, the volcanic massif which rises to just over 550 metres above sea level from the Rhine Graben, more or less opposite Colmar. This, says Karl Heinz, is their Grand Cru, though he’s way too independent to join any organisation which would allow him to label it as such. There’s a lot of concentration here, but there’s also a good degree of approachability.

 

HOLGER KOCH (Vogstburg-Bickensohl, Baden)

This is another estate at the heart of the Kaiserstuhl, where Holger farms 8.5 ha. His first love, when it comes to wine, was Bordeaux, thanks to a stage at Canon La Gaffelière under Stefan (Graf Von) Niepperg, in Saint-Emilion. Thankfully, Holger didn’t come home and graft all his vines over to Merlot. But he did return with a new found enthusiasm for terroir-driven wine, and he did replant the family vineyard with improved Pinot clones.

There is an interesting philosophy at work here, which differs from some of the estates making Pinot Noir in Germany today. It seems that Holger isn’t afraid of fashioning wines of power, although he looks for freshness too. Unlike some Saint-Emilion, the oak doesn’t dominate completely (which is just as well with Pinot Noir), and Holger has an experimental nature as well. The wines were shown by Holger’s wife, Gabriele.

Pinot Noir Herrenstück 2015 is one of the bigger entry level wines at this Tasting, and it has some structure too. The 2016 version of this wine was deliciously fruity. It’s also tighter and more precise, from what is shaping up to be a vintage of freshness all around Germany.

Pinot Noir * (one star) 2015 comes from a parcel within the Herrenstück, facing southwest. It’s quite different, with very acute freshness and concentration. Pinot Noir *** (three stars) 2015 is another step up. The parcel site here is at 370 metres altitude in a valley which is notably windy. As a result you seem to get the richness of the vintage from what is a south facing site, but tempered by freshness in the fruit, perhaps somehow the result of that wind. A nice wine. Nothing here appears to cost more than £40 (for the 2015 three star).

 

SHELTER WINERY (Kenzingen, Baden)

Hans-Berte Espe met his future wife Silke Wolf at Geisenheim. Hans-Berte cut his teeth in Oregon whilst Silke worked for the State Wine Institute in Freiburg, before they bought their Baden estate, which now comprises 5 ha.

Although this is not a “natural” wine producer, no insecticides nor herbicides are used on the vines. They believe in low yields and hand harvesting, with destemming, wood fermenting in cuve and ageing in a mix of new and old barriques.

Their five hectares is planted to 95% Pinot Noir, along with a little Chardonnay (the latter planted 2009), on soils of mainly loess over limestone. A young vine Spätburgunder 2015 starts us off. It sees oak, but 100% used, and it is still very fruit-driven. Pinot Noir 2014 gave a more elegant version of the grape variety, although there’s still a good degree of concentration. Pinot Noir 2015 has a high-toned bouquet and, for the vintage, is pretty elegant too. The cuvée labelled Pinot Noir is from their eldest vineyards, planted in 1977 and 1978.

It’s interesting that Kenzingen is over on the eastern side of the region and to the north of the Kaiserstuhl, close to the backdrop of the Black Forest. Here, they get quite cold winds which not only reduce the threat of disease, but also seem somehow to keep a certain freshness in the wines.

 

ZIEREISEN (Efringen-Kirchen, Baden)

The three Baden names we’ve tasted so far are probably not among the most famous in the region. Wine is a personal thing. There are some very well known and highly regarded names in Baden, mainly producers who group around the Kaiserstuhl. I’m thinking of Huber, Bercher, Dr Heger, and Franz Keller of Schwarzer Adler fame. But of all of them, Ziereisen is my own favourite.

Hanspeter Ziereisen and his wife, Edel, are only just Baden producers. Their 15 ha estate is only 4km from Switzerland, with vineyards actually overlooking the city of Basel. Hanspeter is a convert to a different way of doing things. He speaks with horror of how he used to chaptalise his wines, and his wines today generally have a good 2% lower alcohol than they reached in the 1990s.

Pinot Noir is a mainstay here, and indeed my introduction to these wines could not have been better, via one of the Jaspis Pinots many years ago. There are other varieties equally worth exploring, though. Hanspeter makes a really excellent Syrah in the Jaspis range (Jaspis is a selection of the best barrels for each wine), from vines planted in 1999. It has a Northern Rhône quality to it, a freshness.

Hanspeter’s vines are relatively protected from the north by the forests around Basel, but he places a lot of importance on the role of the Belfort Gap to the south, which allows ventilating winds to sweep up and over the vines, which grow at between 250 to 400 metres. These cooling winds slow down the ripening process. Seek out the Syrah if you can.

Also seek out Hanspeter’s Chasselas (known as Gutedel in these parts), which is a really thought-provoking wine, made with just short of a year on lees in large old wood. Chasselas is underrated, but its relatively poor reputation is largely justified in this part of Germany and over the border in Switzerland. Yet it is capable of something finer, whether on the terraces of Lavaux, in the finest Fendant of the Valais, or indeed in the hands of Dominique Lucas at the up-and-coming Vignes de Paradis estate south of Lac Léman, near Geneva (see my next article on Recent Wines). But here, it produces something different again, with quite rich stone fruit flavours and a touch of herbiness, allied to a frisky salinity.

But I digress, do I not! We are here for the Pinot. Spätburgunder Tschuppen 2012 is, for me at least, one of the very best sub-£20 reds you’ll fnd anywhere in Germany. A great every day wine.

We get a bit more serious with Spätburgunder Schulen 2015. Hanspeter achieves genuine freshness in a hot vintage, but it’s not just the wind. He told me that the thing they really learnt from the scorcher that was 2003 was canopy management. “The grapes should see the sun but the sun shouldn’t see the grapes”. 50-55% whole bunches also helped retain freshness, as did very gentle extraction, and this wine has just 13% abv.

Spätburgunder Rhini 2015, like Schulen, is off limestone, but in a part of the vineyard with plenty of clay and iron. In 2015 the wine is bigger than in the recent past, a little meaty even (in flavour as much as weight), but is still remarkably fine.

When we get to the three Jaspis wines on show we can see a very clear step up in quality, but don’t let that put anyone off the Schulen and Rhini, which fall into the £20 to £30 range, more or less. Jaspis Spätburgunder 2010 is a fine wine made from old vines (planted in 1958). 2010 was a cool year here in Southern Baden, but this is maturing nicely with a superb bouquet and spicy fruit. Jaspis Spätburgunder Alte Reben 2009 was my favourite wine of the day. It gets an extra three years ageing before bottling over the other version. There is a mere 12.5% alcohol here and it is simply gorgeous.

But what do I know? Hanspeter’s favourite is Jaspis Pinot Noir Alte Reben 2013. To me it was just less developed, but then I know the wines far less intimately than their creator. It’s still bloody brilliant though!

These wines are all wonderful. I know I’m rating this estate above some more famous producers, but I think that the enthusiasm, knowledge, experience, and sheer personality of Hanspeter and Edel do a lot to foster my preference. I’ve loved these wines for years, and this Tasting only served to cement my opinion. I’d love to get down to Efringen-Kirchen one day. Especially as I hear Hanspeter has some Chasselas under flor (is this true?).

 

I’ve no doubt that I have shown a degree of enthusiasm here for the Pinot Noirs of Germany which might raise an eyebrow or two among some (perhaps older) readers. Yet (and it’s not the first time I’ve banged on about this) German red wine in general is in the process of a transformation.

There are plenty of tasty, fruity reds from several varieties, and from pretty much all of Germany’s regions…yes, even the Mosel. There are also some very fine wines being crafted from Pinot Noir/Spätburgunder. They are never cheap, but then when compared to fine Pinot from around the world, they are often surprisingly good value. Please go out and try them, but do give the best of them the honour of some cellar time before you drink them.

My own, wholly personal, selection from the estates tasted would be Ziereisen, Keller and Maximin Grünhaus, from which one can purchase a spread of different wines at different levels, with a variety of drinking dates. In addition, I do want to explore the wines of Rainer Schnaitmann, and to drink some more from Johannes Jülg. Let’s also not forget Fürst, whose wines I’m inclined to pick off the shelf somewhere like Fortnums, as I’m innocently passing through the basement wine department.

I will finally mention that London-based German MW Anne Krebiehl delivered a couple of booked-out masterclasses during the Tasting on Monday afternoon. I was sadly unable to attend one. I’d have loved to hear her speak. Her MW Dissertation was on “The Future of Premium German Pinot Noir” and there is no stronger, nor more compelling, advocate for the German iteration of this variety. In my humble opinion, the future for German Pinot is very bright indeed.

Fürst, Stodden, Schnaitmann and Johner are imported by ABS Wine Agencies. Contact kd@abswineagencies.co.uk

The remaining producers are imported via Howard Ripley Ltd. Contact Sebastian.Thomas@howardripley.com

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Recent Wines (February 2018) #theglouthatbindsus

I’m a little bit behind again with my regular pieces on recent wines drunk at home, so here I’ll mention just eight stars from February, along with a clutch of wines we drank last Saturday night (which deserve not to be left behind). I’ll try to get up to date with some more wines in the next ten days.

I was reading Andrew Jefford in Decanter’s “April” edition. He was talking about the takeover in Burgundy by the big corporates and billionaires, and how the knock-on effect spells the end of small artisans making top-vineyard Grand Cru Burgundy. It’s pertinent to this series on what I drink at home because once upon a time I bought so-called fine Burgundy. I own a tiny bit, and of fine Bordeaux too. My journey outside the box kind of began from Burgundy, when we decided, on our then annual visit to the Côte d’Or, that Arbois looked interesting for a day trip (we never looked back, I can tell you). But I rarely drink it these days, and have not bought any Burgundy, other than a little from young growers and micro-negoces like Le Grappin, for a long time.

Instead, I drink amazing wine of such variety, excitement and quality, yet which, whilst often quite expensive, costs nothing remotely like that of the wines I once used to stretch to buying. The first eight wines here are a perfect illustration of that. Sometimes I think my drinking just gets better and better, wines freed from the shackles of the required typicity and expectations of classical styles. Yet there is still majesty in the classics, as you will see in the pair that took to dinner last weekend (though neither were from Bordeaux nor Burgundy, I must try harder). The third wine, taken by friends, is very much a new classic.

Côtes du Jura Pinot Noir 2016, Domaine des Marnes Blanches (Jura, France)

In the past couple of years this domaine, from the Southern Jura, at St Agnès (just a few k’s north of Rotalier) has become a firm favourite among the group of people I drink with. I do keep repeating that they are Southern Jura’s rising stars. What I didn’t realise until recently was that Pauline and Géraud Fromont were in their early twenties when they set up the domaine in 2006 – I only discovered them about three years or so ago, when Winemakers Club began working with them.

Whilst their whites benefit from a while in bottle to achieve their potential, this Pinot is a palish version of the variety, with low (11.5%) alcohol. The raspberry fruit is adorable now, and it is soft and ever so slightly smoky. Others have suggested that their winemaking allows their wines to age, and perhaps this Pinot would be no different to the whites, given the opportunity. But there’s a rare freshness here which just makes me think it’s fantastic now.

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Örökségül 2014, Hegyikaló (Szomolya, Hungary)

Héjon Erjesztett Zöld Veltliner, or effectively Grüner to you and me. But with 60 days skin contact followed by a year in old wood. Golden-orange colour gives on to a bouquet and palate of honey and soft lemon. It kind of takes me back to some pleasant childhood memories. I say “soft”, but there’s a richness too, all underpinned with the texture of all that maceration, though it’s not intrusive.

I never know which is my favourite wine from Hegyikaló. Adam and Julia only make around 4,000 bottles a year, spread over several wines, but they seem equally gifted in all four colours. This wine is just brilliant, so long, unquestionably wonderful, and certainly my favourite…until I drink something else they made. This is the second of three wines sold by Winemakers Club here.

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Weissburgunder Erdeluftgrasundreben 2013, Claus Preisinger (Burgenland, Austria)

You know Claus from Gols, up at the top of the Neusiedlersee, don’t you. Well this is the first of his orange wines I’ve drunk this year, and this 2013, with a touch of bottle age, was majestic. It comes unfiltered, and you can stand it up to let the deposits and sediment settle if you wish. Claus recommends that you shake it (like a polaroid picture, as the song goes), to enjoy it in its full, cloudy, textural, glory.

If you do decide to be brave, the flavour reward is complex, and you will certainly get more sour/bitter flavours. Nothing is obscured by the cloudiness. It’s rich, long, ever so slightly lactic, citric and probably karmic and cosmic too for all I know. But it ain’t no intellectual beast. Despite 13.5% abv on the label, it’s hard to put down. Almost a glugger! A serious wine, but with the life and joy of Claus’s cheaper wines.

Newcomer Wines at Dalston Junction bring Preisinger into the UK, and in fact he was one of their original producers back in the shipping container days.

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Bugey Chardonnay 2014, Famille Peillot (Bugey, France)

Pushing 2018 as the year of Alpine wines, this is another tasty Bugey, made by Franck Peillot at Montagnieu, which is thirty miles east of Lyon, where the pre-Alps begin, in the département of L’Ain. If you read Part 1 of my Raw Wine review published a little over a week ago, you’ll have read about another Montagnieu producer, Yves Duport.

This is pale for Chardonnay, but the nose clearly has varietal definition – you can tell what you are sniffing. It’s lightness carries through when you take a sip. It is balanced easy going, the acidity is fresh, and the alcohol is just 12% (low for a Chardonnay). I think you might make an educated guess that this is a mountain wine.

This was a sample from Winemakers Club (not a freebie, I did a swap with John as I wanted to try this). Peillot is probably better known as a bit of a Pinot Noir expert and, when it comes to white wine, for his Altesse, but this is an attractive Chardonnay. I’m not sure whether Winemakers will ship it? Vine Trail also sell some of Franck’s wines, but as far as I’m aware, not his Chardonnay. But it may turn up in the UK soon, as Savoie and Bugey get more publicity as the year goes on.

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Pithos Rosso 2014, COS (Vittoria, Sicily, Italy)

The wines of COS go back a long way with me. We have history, one of seeking out these wines wherever I could find them. Although their Zibibbo in Pithos was one of my wines of 2018, I probably drink a fair bit less COS than I used to – there’s just so much that is new to explore. But every time I drink COS I remember how wonderful their wines are, and every time I drink this wine, I recall with utmost clarity why I got interested in amphora-fermented (in pithos) wines. Pithos Rosso was almost certainly my first.

The “pithos” in this case are 400 litre amphora, buried to the neck in the Georgian style. Into them go biodynamically farmed Nero d’Avola and Frappato grapes, the same blend, more or less, as the Cerasuolo di Vittoria of this part of Southeastern Sicily. Everything about this says terracotta, from the distinct whiff of brick dust on the nose, to the slightly bitter edge, to the concentrated nature of the dark and red fruits (morello cherry dominating). Then there’s the vibrant acidity which gives the wine such freshness. Finally texture, not a lot, but enough to slightly dry the tongue with a prickling sensation. Love it!

COS has always been, and remains, a stalwart of the Les Caves de Pyrene stable. I hear there’s some more Zibibbo in Pithos coming soon. Shhhh!

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“Simone C’est Moi! 2014 Vin de France, Julie Balagny (Beaujolais, France)

Julie Balagny is a native of Paris, who somehow rocked up in Beaujolais in 2009 after making biodynamic and natural wine for others in Southwest France. She has a habit of being difficult to visit, and her wines are not easy to get hold of. I used to wear out the soles of my shoes in Paris before Tutto Wines began importing her, but the UK’s allocation is still pretty tiny.

Simone is unusual. It’s normally a Fleurie, but in 2014 the fermentation wouldn’t stop and it ended up being shipped in 2016 (if I recall?) as a Vin de France. It’s pretty pale, so it’s not a surprise to find the most ethereal scent of cherry rising like thin wisps of smoke from the glass, with strawberry joining in as you sniff deeper. The palate is soft and the wine has a calming nature. The acidity is perfectly judged almost as if, after all that extended fermentation, the wine said “ah, yes, that’s just right”. It’s damned near a perfect wine. I now have one bottle left…must share it. Is there a producer in the region whose wines I like more than Julie’s? Probably not.

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Sumoll Blanc Brisat 2014, Metamorphika/Costador Terroirs (Catalonia, Spain)

Here we are in Conca de Barberà, near Tarragona, up in the hills at 400 to 800 metres altitude. Sumoll is better known as a red variety making fabulous wines in Catalonia (try some), and occasionally vinified white as a blanc de noirs. This is the very rare vrai white Sumoll, from bush vines of about 80 years old. The grapes go into amphora for six weeks as whole bunches (so the grapes at the bottom are pressed by the weight of the fruit on top, as in Beaujolais sometimes). This makes for some skin contact, and a pale orange wine (“brisat” identifies skin contact in Catalan). The fermented juice then goes into 500 litre old oak for about seven months.

The bouquet is of flame raisins (sorry, pretentious but it just came out) and herbs (let’s not take it too far by being specific). The palate is quite different. It’s a little creamy and quite “mineral” at the same time, with a tad of citrus on the finish. Despite having skin contact in amphora, it tastes “clean”, and certainly mellow. Quite a wine for contemplation, despite coming in at a very low 10.5% alcohol. Otros Vinos is the man to see (well, Fernando Berry is his name).

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Xarel-lo Ancestral 2015, Clot de Les Soleres (Catalonia, Spain)

I first tasted this wine in March 2017, and in the intervening year it had lost none of its freshness, if perhaps a touch of its fizz, though as an off-dry wine with just 10% alcohol it might have made better summer sipping under the parasol than as an accompaniment to “the beast from the east” (which in the UK was a few days of late heavy snowfall, not one of Boris Johnson’s unhelpful quips about Vladimir Putin).

From Piera in Barcelona Province, it is a pure Xarel-lo, disgorged in October 2016. It’s completely natural with no added sulphur. The nose is quite grapey but if you were expecting any similarities to Muscat, not one bit. The palate has both richness and freshness, with the fruit being slightly candied with this level of sugar. The soils on which this Xarel-lo are grown are a mix of limestone and quartz, and I find it a little hard to dissociate that soil profile from the underlying structure and texture. It’s frothy too.

Clot de Les Soleres specialises in petnat wines, though not exclusively. As they are completely non-interventionists, each one will be allowed to turn out as it wishes, to do its own thing. This means you get different styles emerging every vintage and you just have to go with it. You can read about Carles and Montse Ferrer’s wines which I tasted at Raw Wine London 2018 in the previous article on this site. It’s another Spanish (Catalan) producer imported by Otros Vinos.

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That’s the first batch of the “home consumed” wines, but as I mentioned above, we went to dinner in the New Forest again last weekend. The East End Arms is a nice old forest pub about fifteen minutes out of Lymington (just before you get to East End). It was bought in 1990 by John Illsley, bass player for Dire Straits, who wanted to preserve this lovely pub for the locals.

In fact the restaurant is pretty good, with nicely sourced ingredients, a step above “good pub food”, and it’s name has reached much further afield (I think it got a 9/10 from the Daily Telegraph, and they have rooms too). They were also able, with prior warning, to knock up three very good and inventive vegan courses. Those who have been reading my occasional pieces on New Forest dining should add The East End Arms to the list of restaurants to visit.

We were, as so often is the case, privileged to be allowed to take some wines. All three were right on top of their game, which is why they deserve a mention.

Vino de Parcela “El Tamboril”  2014, Comando G (Sierra de Gredos, Spain) – In the province of Avila, Fernando Garcia, Daniel Landi and Marc Isart got together a little over a decade ago to reinvent the classic wines of Garnacha (the “G”). I love those wines. They have become famous classics, but in some ways I like this white even more than the reds, perhaps for its rarity in coming my way. We are still with Garnacha here, just 90-year-old Garnachas Blanc and Gris. They are planted on a north facing slope of quartz-flecked granite in a tiny parcel (just 0.2ha), “El Tamboril”, at 1,230 metres altitude near the village of Navatalgordo. The great altitude, slightly water-stressed old bush vines and wild landscape produces late ripening fruit, which creates wines of genuine intensity.

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López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rioja Reserva 1994 (Rioja, Spain) – Viña Tondonia is the flagship wine of the most traditional of all of Rioja’s great bodegas. Long wood ageing has given this wine, comprising around three-quarters Tempranillo with diminishing amounts of Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano, the organoleptic patina of an old mahogany table, cherished and polished for twenty-three years (don’t worry, it still looks deep red, not brown). Yet it doesn’t taste old, it tastes remarkably fresh. This is because wood at L de H is a seasoning, not the sauce that overwhelms the dish.

The 1994 vintage in Rioja produced wines capable of long ageing, and it has been said elsewhere that Viña Tondonia from this vintage is probably at the apex of that ageability. I think that despite the age of this wine, it has many years ahead of it. Alas, it was my solitary bottle from this vintage, although I have other Tondonia and Bosconia from the 1990s. Yet I will not complain about not keeping it for longer. This old wine was one of the finest classic bottles I have drunk for some months. Such experiences are genuinely moving.

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Côte Rôtie “Cuvée Du Plessy” 2006, Gilles Barge – I’d taken this as a backup for the Tondonia. Well, you never know, there have been some instances of perhaps poorly stored Lopez de Heredia wines on the UK market in recent years, as friends have experienced. We decided to open it anyway.

The Barge family is old school Northern Rhône. Well, not quite Chave longevity there, but making wine in the 19th Century, for sure. Winemaking is traditional, with tank fermentations before transfer to old oak of varying sizes. Cuvée Du Plessy is sourced from various parcels on the Côte Blonde, and the Syrah (vines now averaging around 50-years and older) has around 5% Viognier added. There is clearly lift and fragrance, which one presumes the Viognier enhances.

The bouquet of this 2006 cuvée is mature, but it doesn’t have any bacon fat or meat on it. There is a touch of peppery spice, but red berries dominate. It’s beautiful, that fragrance providing so much pleasure that you hardly notice the palate developing slowly as it breathes. I’d be pushed to say that it matched the Tondonia if forced to talk of relative quality, but that’s a pointless comment to make.

On its own merits this is a very fine wine indeed. I used to buy quite a bit of Côte-Rôtie, and I suppose that I slowed down when the wines I was buying went consistently over the £50/bottle mark. However, The Wine Society seems to still be listing the 2006 for £39-a-bottle. In terms of cost, it’s the bargain of the three wines we drank.

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I’ve still got several more wines to write up, but I’ll save them. Expect a second “recent wines” article in a week or so. Next up, we have Howard Ripley‘s German Reds on Monday, which I’m very much looking forward to.

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