Raw London 2018 Part 1

So Raw has been and gone for another year. Raw Wine seems now to be a real community – a group of artisans who know each other, so the vibe is always friendly and buzzing. If anyone doesn’t know Raw Wine, it is more than anything a platform for artisans making low impact and minimal intervention wines and other beverages. All the wines at Raw are almost additive free (some producers add a small amount of sulphur to stabilise their wine), and most should be vegan friendly too, a fact which demands promotion.

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The Festival seems comfortable in its new home for the second year at The Store on The Strand, which is central and very convenient to many of us. I attended on the Trade/Press Day (Monday), which only got crowded by mid-afternoon, at which point a few of the exhibitors were noticeably flagging. But Raw seems to grow in confidence and the vibe is always great, even when there’s a crush around the better known producers. Getting there relatively early, I had a chance to focus on tasting in peace, if not quiet.

There’s a decent food offering upstairs at The Store, which is another reason I like the venue. Retreating up there to take stock over a decent coffee allows a rare moment of relaxation amid the bustle of the Fair. At the end of the day it was especially nice to be able to pick up a couple of bottles from the Burgess & Hall pop-up shop. Forest Gate E7 might not be the easiest place to get to for out-of-towners like me (though having lived there for a few months in my distant past, at least I know where it is), but their selection was enough to persuade me I must get out and visit them this summer.

As usual, I have tried to include quite a few new names along with some old friends, although I’ve missed out some of the big names, I’m afraid. They will probably get plenty of coverage elsewhere. In this Part 1 all the producers are French. Part 2 covers the rest of Europe, plus (randomly) Canada and Sake, and will be slightly longer.

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The lady to whom we owe so much, Raw Wine founder Isabelle Legeron

DOMAINE GESCHICKT (Alsace)

This Ammerschwihr producer is run by Arnaud and Frédéric Geschickt and Aurélie Fayolle. They have been biodynamic since 1998, making “natural wines” since 2012, with a range of vineyards, including on the village’s great crus, Kaefferkopf and Wineck-Schlossberg.

Ten wines were on show, beginning with a fresh and very dry Crémant “Double Zero” 2015 from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Riesling, through a couple of Grand Cru Kaefferkopf and an interesting Pinot Noir, to the orange wines.

Riesling Geschickt 2016 saw a slow eight hour press rather than strict skin contact, so the colour is a little darker. It’s round and rich but also mineral dry.

The two Grand Crus were very good, from a site which wasn’t named in the original Grand Cru designation, but which just about everyone screamed that it should have been. My favourite was a 2015 blend of Riesling with Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer off the part of the Kaefferkopf vineyard on clay and limestone. Fruity and floral yet with good acid balance and structure, this wine is a little different. It will age a decade if you want. It was partnered with a Kaefferkopf Riesling, both 2015.

The skin contact wines were very much to my taste. Le Schlouk 2016 (the sip) is a very orange blend which everyone should try. Blending Gewurztraminer and Riesling, it’s both rich and dry, and would pair with salmon or trout, or possibly even better with soft cheeses.

Last but not least here, Obi Wine Keno Bulle 2017 is a complicated name for a deliciously simple Muscat/Pinot Auxerrois petnat. It’s hand disgorged so a little cloudy/hazy, quite acidic but with a biscuit character not usually associated with pétillant-naturel. The fruit is like refreshing pineapple, so it’s a real thirst quencher.

This is a really good range and I’m quite surprised they don’t have any UK representation…yet (I hope).

DOMAINE LAURENT (Stéphane) BANNWARTH (Alsace)

I won’t duck the issue, Bannwarth seemed to polarise opinion among those I spoke to. As I was extolling these wines, I experienced some agreement, and a little dissention. I’m not sure why, exactly. I thought these wines were brilliant, if slightly “out there”.

Based in Obermorschwihr (south of Colmar and Eguisheim), they make two types of wine, one based on the fruit of the traditional grape varieties, and one style produced in Georgian Qvevri (since 2011). Even the wines made in the qvevri show really good (and very obviously healthy) fruit, which is very much at the heart of viticulture at Bannwarth.

I began with Red Bild 2015. It’s not Pinot Noir, but the pink skinned Pinot Gris, which has undergone two weeks maceration. This ripe vintage yielded good colour from the skins, but it’s a lovely pale hue, almost like a dark partridge-eye. A bit of a one-off, but highly recommended. Riesling Coeur de Bild 2013 comes off chalky soil and has a real lime zest quality…depth, freshness and zip.

The three orange wines all show different winemaking techniques, and all of them are out there on the edge, but in my view were all very successful (if for the adventurous), thrilling even. La Vie en Rose 2016 might mislead a little. It’s not a rosé! Gewurztraminer has two weeks maceration on skins in stainless steel. The bouquet is beautiful, but the palate is as textured as one would expect.

Pinot Gris Qvevri 2014 does just what it says on the label…amphora-made orange wine which is lovely and full in the mouth. Synergie Qvevri 2015 mixes Pinot Gris with Gewurztraminer and Riesling with eight months on skins, all three varieties co-fermented in amphora. It begins as a softer, gentler, wine, but with more underlying skin contact texture.

Like Geschickt, Laurent Bannwarth has no UK importer. I hope someone wakes up to these really interesting, if possibly challenging, wines. They would be well worth a visit for anyone heading over to the region.

LE VIGNOBLE DU REVEUR (Alsace)

Le Vignoble du Rêveur is the domaine of Mathieu Deiss and Emmanuelle Milan, based at Bennwihr. Going his own way, although he still also works with his famous father, Mathieu (with Emmanuelle) has amassed seven hectares, largely from his maternal uncle and grandfather, on alluvial soils close to the northern edge of Colmar. The wine, around 40,000 bottles each vintage, is made at Domaine Marcel Deiss in Bergheim.

There are six wines produced under the “Rêveur” label. The first three are made by direct pressing, natural fermentations, and one year ageing in foudre on fine lees. Vibrations 2016 is a real terroir wine, Riesling off Bennwihr’s alluvial terrain. La Vie en Rose 2016 has the same name as the Bannwarth wine, and guess what, it’s also Gewurztraminer, in this case from 40-year-old vines. Pierres Sauvages 2016 is a blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir. The name kind of does the explaining, I think.

Singulier 2016 is a quite exotic Gewurztraminer aged in big oak after a short ten-day maceration, and no sulphur is added. It has a textured finish. Artisan 2016 is made the same way, but blends Gewurztraminer with Pinot Gris. It has a cloudy, peachy colour, and is rounded with a bittersweet skin texture. Possibly my favourite wine here.

Un Instant sur Terre 2016 is the other contender for me. It’s also made from a blend of Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris but it sees six months on skins in amphora (interestingly, the vessels in which the Gewurz is aged are made from sandstone, and those for the Pinot Gris, clay). Then the components are aged together in stainless steel for six months to knit together. The alcohol in this 2016 is reasonably high at 14.5%, but the wine is balanced and already showing interesting hints at complexity.

Mathieu and Emmanuelle do have an importer, Roberson, so you should be able to find them. They are some of the most exciting wines coming out of Alsace from a young grower who has not taken the easy path of merely shadowing a famous parent. As the domaine name suggests, Mathieu has a dream.

DOMAINE DE VALMENGAUX (Bordeaux)

It’s not too often I write about natural wine from Bordeaux. David and Valérie Vallet make two wines (two vintages of each were shown), but the vines, just under two-and-a-half hectares, are owned by a group of fifty investor-friends. Valmengaux has only been in their hands since 2017, but they are clearly enjoying the challenge. Their primary aim is healthy grapes. Around 90% of the vines are Merlot (they are around 20km from Saint-Emilion, at Verac), with the remainder Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Domaine de Valmengaux is a “Bordeaux AOP” vinified fairly traditionally, and Valmengaux “En Jarre” is made in amphora under the same AOP. I tried both 2015 and 2016 vintages. The more traditional wine from both vintages is clearly an easy drinking natural wine, with delicate tannins, 2015 being (as one would expect) somewhat richer.

The amphora wines were more characterful, aromatic and with a more interesting (for me) texture, but that’s not in any way to dismiss the other cuvée. These are all “drinkers”. There is no pretence at making wine with tannin and oak, meant to sit in a cellar for a decade. Both wines will cost less than £20. It’s the kind of wine Bordeaux needs to produce – affordable wine for actually drinking, not trading.

Amphora Bordeaux is not new. I tried one several years ago (and some of the top châteaux are experimenting), but that one, although a natural wine, was very expensive. These wines aren’t. They currently have no importer in the UK and I think that they would sell.

DOMAINE PHILIPPE VIRET (Rhône)

There are plenty of big names in the natural wine world making wines in the Rhône Valley, but the Virets make wine using a method I’ve not come across before, “cosmoculture”. I am still not totally sure what “cosmotelluric changes” are or involve, but it is something to do with the vines generating their own defence to threats from disease etc. It sounds like a variation of biodynamics, but I think it also involves magnetic lines, underground water, the metal elements in the soil and the way in which earth and sky interact.

Whatever cosmoculture might be, the Virets are obviously doing something right in their vineyards between Gigondas and Châteauneuf. Seven wines were on show, and winemaking is dominated by amphora use. Philippe may have been the first producer in France to dedicate his production to amphora. He now has twenty or so, each holding 420 litres of wine. The move to amphora came after blind tasting Sicilian wines made by this method, but also because there are Roman remains on the property.

The wines all have different personalities, but the one I found immediately attractive was labelled Dolia Paradis Ambré 2, 2016. It’s a deliciously textured amphora wine with subtlety and delicacy, yet equally strong presence. It’s an amazing blend of (if I counted correctly) thirteen Rhône varieties off clay, sandstone and limestone. No sulphur, no temperature control, no intervention, no nothing. These wines are new to Winemakers Club.

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KARIM VIONNET (Beaujolais)

It’s always a pleasure to taste Karim’s wines, and I get the opportunity to do so fairly regularly, and to write about them. But the reason for including him again here is that, when I’ve hardly begun tasting the 2016 vintage, Karim had some 2017 samples at Raw: Beaujolais-VillagesDu Beur dans les Pinards and Chiroubles “Vin de Kav”.

The 2017 vintage has been described as somewhere between 2015 and 2016. Or, as someone put it, “a bit like 2015 but still Beaujolais”. That might be a bit unfair to a few 2015s, but I’m sure Beaujolais fans know what they mean. Vintage 2017 was affected once again by hail, but the grapes that were spared were ripe and healthy at harvest. Alcohol levels are thankfully down on ’15.

All three of these wines will hopefully be on my list to buy when eventually bottled. The “Villages” is very fruity and silky, perfect glouglou, yet it’s not lacking in structure. “Du Beur” gives plenty of deeper, rounded cherry fruit. “Vin de Kav” always seems to over deliver for me. Not one of the famous crus, but it doubles up on great fruit and structure. It needs a little time, but not too much.

A treat to finish with, a delicious and very “off-dry” petnat, Grabuge. It’s a gorgeous bright pink, with quite high residual sugar and 7% abv. A perfect summer afternoon tipple which would also double as a perfect breakfast wine (oops, I see I’m not the first to suggest such debauchery with one of these) once it’s warm enough to stick the table on the patio. I somehow neglected to photograph this, but I think Winemakers Club is only getting around 36 bottles. I hope the promise of one for me is strictly adhered to. I know what some of you dear readers are like (vultures).

L’EPICURIEUX (Beaujolais)

Sébastien Congretel’s wines are not only new to me, but new to everyone I think. 2016 was his first vintage, and from what he was saying, he is totally new to winemaking. Sébastien has worked in the oil industry, being away from home for long periods. For him, it was all about a total change in lifestyle. Despite his inexperience, he’s crafted two lovely wines from his first attempt. Having a father-in-law who made wine in Lantignié helped, not least in providing a chais, but these are not the run of the mill wines of a back to the countryside city type. Sébastien has talent.

His Régnié “Chacha” 2016 is made from 40-year-old vines at 200 metres altitude on sand and alluvial soils. Morgon “Zelebrité” 2016 comes from even older (70-y-o) vines at the top of the Charmes lieu-dit at 450 metres, on pink granite. Both wines come in at 12%, from ten days carbonic maceration, two days pumping over and a gentle press. They are aged in 5 to 7-y-o oak and a 2,500 litre foudre with the assemblage a blend of the two sources for each cuvée. Sébastien adds 2 g/l suphur three weeks before bottling.

Both wines are delicious, the Régnié being the more forward, as expected. The Morgon has really tasty cherry fruit, and is plumper, but with more structure. Sébastien will get his organic certification through in 2019, but he is working using biodynamic principles. He has no UK representation, but I’m sure that will change – so many people were saying “have you tasted…?” and by luck I did as he was right next to Karim’s table. Annoyingly he was relieving himself of a few remaining bottles which he didn’t want to have to lug back to France. If I’d had space and no after party to go to, I’d have grabbed a couple, using my elbows.

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DOMAINE YVES DUPORT (Bugey)

Okay, I know I always taste these wines, but Bugey deserves a plug in the “Year of Savoie”, its near neighbour. Yves and his wife farm around ten hectares, and take grapes from other local growers, to make a relatively small production of 14,000 bottles per year. They are based at Groslée, though I’m sure some readers won’t even know where the AOP of Bugey is. We are effectively southwest of Geneva and Annecy, on the edge of the mountains which follow the right bank of the Rhône as it passes south from Lac Léman and then turns northwest, towards Lyon. We are on the eastern edge of the Bresse plain.

The Duports make a range of Bugey wines, including a nice bottle fermented traditional method sparkler, which takes up about 30% of their production. But it’s the still wines which are the serious business. Altesse de Montagnieu “en Chinvre” 2017 is my favourite white here, made from the Savoie variety (also known there under the Roussette de Savoie name). It makes mineral, floral, fresh wines which after a year or two in bottle take on a touch of beeswax.

There are two red wines from Mondeuse, as traditional here as it is in neighbouring Savoie. Mondeuse Tradition 2016 is a relatively simple wine which undergoes just a short maceration. Dominated by dark summer fruits, especially blackcurrant, it will nevertheless age. Mondeuse “Terre Brune” 2016 sees three weeks of skin contact followed by a year in old oak (approx 3-y-o). It is more structured, and intended to age. In my view, Mondeuse is an under rated variety. It makes wines at this level which are a very good accompaniment to mountain stews, yet more a wine of structure than power and alcohol. Mondeuse should always have bite and freshness.

Totem Wines import Domaine Yves Duport.

ERIC & BERENGERE THILL (Jura)

Eric Thill, along with his wife Bérengère, makes wine in the part of the Southern Jura known as the Sud Revermont, at Trenal, which is somewhat off the beaten track. Most of his vines are at the better known Gevigny, further east, where there is a clutch of better known producers. Eric comes originally from Alsace, where he studied. Bérengère is an oenology consultant. Together they farm a little over 5 ha, with Chardonnay (more than half their vines), Savagnin, Poulsard and Pinot Noir, but around two-fifths of the grapes are sold to the large Maison du Vigneron at Crançot. The domaine is certified organic, but Eric is working with no vineyard interventions.

Poulsard  2016 is a skin contact wine. The skins give it a bitter element, but the sheer fruitiness of the wine makes the balance exciting, rather than a negative influence. Fresh acidity makes for a great glugging Poulsard.

Chardonnay sur Montbouçon (MB) 2015 is tasty, but has the fatness of a warm year. 2016 is more complex, and (although I like both) I prefer it over the ’15. Cuvée Romane 2016 is a ouillé (topped-up) Savagnin which is floral and fruity, with nice definition. Cuvée S 2015 is both unusual and special. It’s made from Savagnin harvested late with around 13 g/l of sugar left after fermentation. Quite delicious. Eric suggests it hints at Alsace in character.

I know Eric also has a little Vin Jaune ageing away, and he makes a Liqueur de Chardonnay, a bit like a Macvin but without the restriction of being aged in oak. It was a thrill to taste the Thill wines. Eric remembered meeting me last year at Raw, when he only had the last drops of his Poulsard left. It was whilst chatting to him that someone walked off with my tasting glass, which he also recalled. Eric has no UK importer, and like those others in the same position here, fully deserves one. If anyone is looking for a Jura producer check them out, though as with many of the new Jura names, production is tiny.

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I look forward to continuing with Part 2 next week. My normal swiftness at getting the words out is being impaired by an unusually sociable week, which continues tomorrow at Noble Rot. In the meantime I thought I’d add in a few pictures of the pop-up shop from Burgess & Hall, which I mentioned above, and a few more from the after party dinner at The India Club, where everyone managed to bring along a delicious raw wine .

The exceptional selection at the Burgess & Hall pop-up shop at Raw this year

Raw After Party at The India Club – It’s party time and where the hell were you!

Posted in Alsace, Beaujolais, biodynamic wine, Bordeaux Wine, Jura, Natural Wine, Rhone, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Festivals, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Learning the Natural Way at Plateau

For those of us who have been interested in natural wine for some time, it may be hard to remember how we built our knowledge and understanding. For me, my journey began when someone recommended L’Insolite in Paris the first time I stayed in Oberkampf, but it was a long time ago. It is easy to take our knowledge for granted, but I recently found out about a great way into the whole subject at Plateau in Brighton.

Of course you could go out and buy Isabelle Legeron‘s book, and indeed you should. But if you are looking for a more hands on and personal lesson, then Plateau Events Manager, Ania (who was formerly at Sager & Wilde), will devote half an hour or so to taking you through five sample pours (a generous 25cl of each wine) on her #winewednesdays. You get the chance to try a diverse selection for £10 with some fantastic bread and oil, plus a dish of olives, to snack on. Having enjoyed the great atmosphere and vibe on a recent night at Plateau, I thought I’d give it a try.

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We began with one of the classic natural wine sparklers, Vouvray “La Dilettante” from Catherine & Pierre Breton. The Bretons farm at Bourgueil, but also have a small vineyard at Vouvray, further east, down the Loire. This is not a petnat but a méthode traditionelle bottle fermented fizz, zippy, delicate and dry. This was one of the pioneer natural wine estates in the region (biodynamic since 1991) and I admit that in recent years I’ve not been drinking their wines too often. Just too much new stuff to try. So opening the evening with this palate cleanser was a delight, and indeed brought back memories of happy trips to visit Les Caves de Pyrene (must return soon, Doug).

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Testalonga Baby Bandito “Keep on Punching” 2017 is, like the first wine, a Chenin Blanc, from vines planted in 1972 (but off granite here from Paardeburg/Swartland, South Africa). In fact there’s a kind of Loire quality to the fruit here, with perhaps just the rich plumpness on the middle palate (and a touch of peach) pointing away from France to a slightly warmer location. Craig Hawkins has made a cracker in 2017 and it was really nice to have my first taste of this new vintage.

Dinavolino Vino Bianco is a classic with which to introduce someone to natural orange wine. From Emilia Romagna and a blend including Malvasia di Candia, Ortrugo and Marsanne, just 11.5% alcohol, it sees two-to-three months on skins. It has texture, but, to steal a phrase from Christine Strohmeier at Newcomer’s RIBA Tasting this week, it’s not a “hard core orange wine”. You get gentle spice, apple-fresh acidity and then a waxy finish. There’s a gentleness about it that won’t scare a first timer, yet it has the colour. It’s also refreshing, not always a given with the genre.

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Anathème was the first of two reds, made by Thierry Forrestier at Souvignargues in the Gard. Plateau take a lot of wine from Les Caves de Pyrene, but they also work with a number of smaller importers, and this comes from Wines Under the Bonnet. This is a blended wine, unusual in that 50% of it is made up from Aramon (with 30% Cinsault and 10% each of Carignan and Grenache). The vines range in age from 100 years plus for the Aramon to 60 years old for the Cinsault (the youngest vines by far), but the wine is still quite vibrant and not a wine attempting complexity (though it does have a little structure). As the only producer here not previously known to me, it was a nice off-beat selection.

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The final wine was a fantastic red from Barranco Oscuro in Andalucia, called Varetúo (2016). “Tinto Varetúa” (sic) is a local synonym for Tempranillo, a variety which Barranco Oscuro do well with. At 14% on the back label, it is surprisingly fresh, and tastes more like a wine with 12% abv. The key is altitude, with the vines for this cuvée growing between 1,250 and 1,300 metres in some of Europe’s highest vineyards. That freshness is retained through just one year ageing in old oak. I love the Barranco wines. Some can have quite high alcohol levels, but these high altitude sites, with their significant diurnal temperature shifts, can nevertheless produce stunning elegance.

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I thought the selection was excellent. Ania is both knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and has the kind of warmth about her which does not always go hand-in-hand with wine education. She explained how she tries to understand the level of knowledge people already have and what they really want to know. She’s not going to go off on one about malolactic fermentation and exact sulphur levels if people would be put off by such geekery, but she knows her subject. More than anything, I can guarantee that tasting with her will be fun as well as an education.

We stayed on to dine at Plateau, eating a great miso and spinach dish, plus one based on roast beetroot and quinoa (both vegan, both delicious), followed by rhubarb ice cream with tofu and apple jam (a star dessert). As I said when I attended the Basket Press Wines tasting at Plateau recently, the food here is very good, based on fresh, local, and preferably bio local ingredients. The Head chef is Will Dennard.

We accompanied these dishes with a wine I tried back in February at that Basket Press Tasting, Krásná Hora Sekt 2014. It’s a blanc de noirs made from 100% Pinot Noir, fresh and palate cleansing, and it was just as good as it tasted a month ago. Try it if you haven’t had a Czech sparkler.

There’s one thing to add here before we leave Plateau, and it is very important. DO NOT go home without looking at the take away wine list. Prices are remarkably generous AND you might be surprised at what you see. I left with a bottle of Patrick Meyer (Domaine Julien Mayer) Zellberg Sylvaner. I was too restrained, on reflection…but I shall be back very soon.

Wine Wednesdays takes place every Wednesday between 5-7pm at Plateau Brighton, 1 Bartholomews, BN1 (right opposite Brighton Town Hall). Booking is preferred but not essential (though it can get busy early evening, with the more discerning post-work crowd). Telephone 01273 733085 (or book online at www.plateaubrighton.co.uk). Note that the wines selected by Ania will change every week, and usually feature bottles which have just become available by the glass. Plateau is open seven days a week for food, natural wines and cocktails. Well worth the effort, and only a little over an hour from London…and you can have a nice stroll by the sea before you head home.

 

 

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Newcomer at RIBA

Already this year there have been some astoundingly good Tastings on the London circuit, but Newcomer Wines’ “The Old New World” at the Royal Institute of British Architects was right up there with the best.

I remember my first visit to Newcomer Wines soon after they had opened in a small shipping container in Shoreditch Boxpark. The shop was tiny, but I remember walking away with several bottles, and returning for more every time I passed by.

Now, Newcomer has moved to a larger store at Dalston Junction. I’m slowly getting used to the bus journey out there. Visits are less frequent, but I try to take a suitcase to make it worthwhile. It may be harder to get to but the new shop has allowed Newcomer to expand, not just in the number of producers they represent, but also to expand beyond their original focus, Austria. Austria remains their specialism, but now we have wines from the Czech Republic, Switzerland, NE Italy, Germany and Hungary.

The RIBA Tasting was the first major showcase for the whole range, and most of the producers were there (happy to be in London when there was a major artisan wine event on in Vienna at the same time). We were blessed. There were just so many astonishing wines to try.

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MARKUS ALTENBURGER (Burgenland)

Markus has 10 hectares on the slopes of the Leithaberg mountains, which ring the western and top part of the Neusiedlersee. His winery is at Jois, which is located pretty much directly north of the lake. These low mountains are mainly limestone, here known as Leithakalk (which the local Blaufränkisch variety loves), and mica schist.

Blaufränkisch is perhaps the signature variety at this domaine, yet Markus is also doing interesting things with white wines, the perfect example being his varietal Neuburger called Betont, fermented and aged in concrete eggs. It’s an easy drinker, whereas Kerne und Schalen (skin and stones) is a field blend (Traminer, Welschriesling, Grüner Veltliner and Neuberger) fermented in egg (two days on skins before pressing) but aged in the traditional 2,000 litre casks.

The three Blaufränkisch are well differentiated. Vom Kalk is a 2016 vintage from limestone, lighter in style and fruit driven. It’s a mix of old and young vines from six different sites, once again aged in 2,000 litre cask. Helden 2015 is half from limestone and half schist, which sees two years in mixed old oak. It gets a tiny bit of SO2 before bottling and has more structure.

Gritschenberg 2015 is a single vineyard on limestone planted with old vines. Here you get a beautiful floral, violet, perfume and great concentration. It’s a wine with the capacity to age, and currently has plenty of grip.

Markus is also quite well known for his Chardonnay, though there was none to taste yesterday. The reds here are very good, with genuine terroir expression, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try the whites too.

JUTTA AMBROSITSCH (Vienna)

Jutta Ambrositsch is typical of pretty much every producer at yesterday’s tasting, in that she is vehemently against doing anything with her wine, other than watch it make itself, unless she absolutely has to. To achieve this, and thereby to achieve a true expression of terroir, requires perfectly healthy grapes.

Jutta came to wine in 2004 from a career in graphic design. She, along with her husband, farms around 4 hectares on the hills north of the city of Vienna. She has 3 ha in the 19th District around the Nussberg cru, and 1 ha over at Stammersdorf (near Bisamberg) in the 21st District. The city keeps these vineyards relatively warm and frosts are rare around Nussberg (but possible over the Danube in the 21st). Hail has been more of a problem in recent vintages.

Jutta brought with her four whites and one red. The whites are Kosmopolit (young vines from both sides of the Danube); Satellit (Jutta’s first site planted mainly with Grüner, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay); Sieveringer Ringelspiel (single vineyard, planted 1952 with 12 varieties, some unidentified) and Rosengartel (a site on the Nussberg cru). The first three of those whites are all Gemischter Satz field blends, picked together at different degrees of ripeness, and co-fermented. Rosengartel is a 100% Riesling.

The Rosengartel site is just eight rows next to vines owned by Fritz Wieninger. One thousand vines produce just one bottle each. It’s one of the best viewpoints in the vineyards, Vienna in the foreground surprisingly close, and on a clear day Jutta says you can see Bratislava down river.

I also had my first taste of Rakete, a pale but glowing red Gemischter Satz from Zweigelt, Merlot, St-Laurent and a little Blauburger, plus a smattering of co-planted white grapes. The wine is direct-filled into bottles from tank, so unfiltered, has a deposit. It’s light, fruity, and served chilled, will be a wonderful summer drink (on my “must buy” list).

These are brilliant “non-intervention” wines which are among the very best in the Vienna Region. Although Vienna can be the source of many excellent wines, Jutta is one of a handful of winemakers there who can be described as inspired. In fact , I’d say, none more so.

MYTHOPIA (Valais, Switzerland)

Mythopia was the creation of Hans-Peter Schmidt and his wife Romaine, located in the Swiss Valais Region, at Arbaz (up in the mountains above Sion). They specialise primarily in Fendant (Chasselas) and Pinot Noir (which makes up around 70% of plantings). A mixed ecosystem includes the introduction of bees, apricot trees (the Valais produces the best apricots known to man) and herbs, whilst the vines are all planted on steep calcerous schist at altitude. Hans-Peter says the wine is just grapes and air, and nothing else.

The two Fendant-based wines on taste were Jadis 2013 (blended with some Rèze, better known if at all for the Vins de Glacier it makes in nearby Sierre), which is orange, with an amazing scent of orange citrus and soft fruit with an acidic core, and Disobedience 2013. Both see a month on skins and then around four years in 400 litre oak. Disobedience has a bigger nose and something strangely like hickory. It’s mouthfilling with a very long finish, both nutty and smoky.

With Pinot Noir, we begin with the pale but vibrant Illusion 2013, which it must be said has an unusual nose. Pi-No 2014 is basically fermented on skins and left in barrel. It tastes fresher with a touch more acidity. Finally, Imago 2009 is quite pale and looks older. It’s a little cloudy, softer, and has some tannin still (it also sees a month on skins).

There is no question that these are quite difficult wines, and they divide opinion among people I know. I personally like the fact that they challenge preconceptions. Sometimes the zero sulphur regime might lead to some volatility on the nose, although the palate doesn’t seem affected. But these are exciting wines and the adventurous explorer will come to appreciate what Hans-Peter and Romaine are doing here. Their reputation suggests they have little to prove.

MILAN NESTAREC (Moravia, Czech Republic)

I’ve been tasting Milan’s wines for a few years, and until 2018 he was the only Moravian producer I knew well. This young guy farms on mainly windblown loess soils in Moravsky Zezkow and Velké Bílovice close to Austria’s northern border. Milan belongs to the Autentiste group of Czech wine producers, which I name checked in my article on Basket Press Wines recently. This group are trying to express a Moravian character through low intervention agriculture and winemaking, describing their philosophy as “making the most honest wines possible”.

There are two wines in the distictively, and colourfully, labelled Forks and Knives range. The white 2016 is Müller-Thurgau (off clay, 50% of the fruit undergoing carbonic maceration) and the red 2016, Pinot Noir. Both are light, easy drinkers, the Pinot showing pure, simple, cherry fruit with a bitter finish. Really fun wines.

The next white is even more fun. Danger 380 Volts 2016 is a cloudy blend of Müller-Thurgau, Neuburger and Gelber Muskateller…delicious, vinous, and zippy, which screams fresh pear juice. Killer Thurgau 2015 is a slightly more serious version of the grape, limestone soils adding to the mineral definition.

TRBLMKR 2015 (Troublemaker) is pure Neuburger which gets 8 days on skins. Really good and a little different, it’s mouthfillingly fruity, but there’s texture too, and a nice linear diminuendo as it fades out. Another under appreciated grape variety, perhaps.

CHRISTOPH NEUMEISTER (Graz, Steiermark)

Steiermark has a great reputation for Sauvignon Blanc, producing wines to rival the best of The Loire, but in a different style. Even in a land of fine SB, Christoph Neumeister is a true meister of the variety.

Four of them were on show, Steirische Klassik 2017Ried Klausen 2016Ried Moarfeitl 2015 and Alte Reben 2013.  The first is a scented introduction, the middle two are single vineyard wines, well differentiated (elegance versus complexity and concentration). The “old vine” cuvée is made from 60-to-80-year-old vines. Here, the bouquet is toned down and less open, yet you can see the complexity starting to build.

The essence of his wines is texture and mouthfeel, plus complexity. Healthy grapes are a prerequisite, and sorting is fanatical. The fine lees play their part to give that texture and complexity, producing Sauvignon like nothing you’ve tried before.

Christoph also produced a zippy Gemischter Satz blend from seven early ripening varieties of quite old vines, and a nice Gelber Muskateller (both 2017) which was grapey yet dry on the finish. But my interest was pricked by his Roter Traminer “Ried Steintal” 2016. It hints at Gewurztraminer (but is less spicy and with different aromatics) and also Roter Veltliner, but it finishes dry. It’s a plump wine but well balanced, and I thought it had something special, even though you are probably going to come here primarily for the very fine Sauvignon Blancs.

WEINGUT ODINSTAL (Pfalz, Germany)

When the original vines here were planted by a Mayor of Wachenheim, Johann Ludwig Wolf, locals thought him mad to plant at 350 metres, but what interested Wolf were the unique soils in a former basalt quarry, volcanic terroir of the finest sort. There are other soils here, calcarous clay, shell limestone and red sandstone, and Andreas Schumann uses these to fashion different site-specific expressions of fine Riesling (and Weißburgunder).

The first of four Rieslings, 120NN (2016), is named after its altitude, though it’s the lowest of the Odinstal sites. It’s fruit driven and juicy. Three of the higher altitude single vineyard wines, all 2016, showed how different wines can be off these different soil types (their names are self explanatory). Muschelkalk at 350 metres is so different to Buntsandstein (vines in the latter were planted in 1978 and 1983), which has a spine-tingling bitter streak, truly delicious.

Yet it’s Basalt which is the most singular wine, from that unique volcanic core of the ancient Pechsteinkopf volcano. These wines mature more slowly and the nose is noticeably more closed, but the Riesling fruit has great density and the wine is intense and fine. There is also a very fine Weißburgunder off basalt, clay and sandstone too, 350NN. 

Winemaking is biodynamic (since 2008) and the estate makes all its own biodynamic preps. Cows and bees make up a mixed polyculture, and agriculture is very much the focus, rather than “winemaking”. The wines are stunning and I’m glad a couple of people steered me to this producer.

WEINGUT PRANZEGG (Bozen, Südtirol, Italy)

Martin Gojer took over the family estate in 2008 and immediately began conversion to biodynamics. The passion here is for the traditional varieties of the South Tyrol, especially with the reds (Vernatsch and Lagrein). Here, close to Bozen, the vines are at altitude, with white varieties in the highest vineyards.

Tonsur 2016 comes from the highest site, at a lofty 700 metres, just one hectare exposed to the south. This is a field blend, with 70% Müller-Thurgau, all picked and fermented together and basically left to do its own thing for seven months (50% on skins with 25% stems). Caroline 2015 is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Manzoni Bianco. This site is only at 200 metres above sea level, exposure north on richer soils. Both wines have the crisp flavours of mountain wines.

Vino Rosso Leggero 2016 is a bit of a star in the glouglou sense. It’s made mostly from Vernatsch, fermented on the skins of “Caroline”, which gives a touch of texture and structure. It’s just 11% abv and lipsmackingly delicious.

Campill 2014 is 100% Vernatsch, and is the Gojers’ most important wine. Old vine fruit (up to 80 years old) undergoes a five week maceration with stems, ageing in a mix of concrete and old wood. There’s a lot more body here, but it is still elegant and fresh, a beautiful example of this once maligned Südtiroler variety. Laurenc 2014 uses the slightly better known Lagrein (40 to 50-year-old vines) to make a slightly more complex wine with a deep cherry bouquet, equally deep concentration, mouthfilling fruit and acidity. I prefer the Vernatsch, but only just.

One gets the impression that this young couple are brimming with enthusiasm for their biodynamic project. This type of approach is definitely a minority one in the region, although there are notable “bio” domaines to follow. It is especially their passion for the autochthonous varieties of the region which makes them so worthy of support…along with the quality of the wines. The Vernatsch was a revelation to me, and the  Leggero is something I hope to be glugging this summer.

CLAUS PREISINGER (Gols, Burgenland)

Claus was one of the producers I purchased back on that first Newcomer visit. I’m not sure how I’d heard about him, but his wines, at all levels, have been part of my drinking for quite a few years. He began his own venture only in 2000, but in that time he’s amassed 19 hectares from an original three. There’s a lot of variety in there, and his technique is totally instinctive, so that the more expensive wines are usually very interesting and sometimes a surprise. Claus was in fact the first producer in Austria to use Georgian amphora.

ErDELuftGRAsundreBEN is the label for the skin contact wines. Weißburgunder 2016 is superfresh and light, whereas the Grüner Veltliner version is quite different with a bit more depth. There is also a Blaufränkisch 2015 which is lightish for a 13% abv wine, but has great cherry depth. There’s also real texture, in part from the limestone soils, and also from amphora fermentation. This is a great amphora red to try if you’ve never had one.

At the cheaper end of the range Claus usually produces a number of single variety wines, of which I think the Zweigelt is my favourite, but yesterday we had Kalk und Kiesel 2016 to try. It’s a field blend of 70% red grapes (Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch) and 30% white (Müller-Thurgau and Welschriesling). A cherry-red fruit bomb with a little texture.

I love every wine of Claus Preisinger I’ve ever tried, but there’s a special place in my heart for Puszta Libre! as some readers may know. The inspiration here is the simple wine once sold in large bottles with a small label, which Claus describes as the sort of wine his grandfather drank. The 2016 version blends Zweigelt and St-Laurent. It is concentrated but light and therefore a great quaffing juice to be drunk slightly chilled. I know people who got through several bottles of this last summer, myself included.

RENNERSISTAS (Gols, Burgenland)

Stefanie and Susanne have only made three vintages (and aside from their petnat, the 2017s are not yet in bottle, due to be released in May, so the rest here are all 2016), but few Austrian  producers have created such a storm over the past couple of years. I’m sure this is in part down to the fact that their enthusiasm is really infectious, and they have a great sense of humour between them. You never see them not smiling or joking.

That solitary 2017 petnat is called In a Hell Mood and it’s a blanc de noirs made from Pinot Noir. This sample was disgorged a week ago. It’s fruity-fresh with a pale peachy colour to it, and a lively bead and frothy mousse. I adore it.

Of the still whites it’s hard to choose between Welschriesling (20 days on skins, 70% whole bunches and a tiny 2.5mg/litre of sulphur at bottling) and Weißburgunder (same 20 days on skins but no stems and no sulphur). But it’s even harder to choose between the reds.

Waiting for Tom is the Rennersistas cuvée I’ve drunk the most. Blaufränkisch (with some whole bunches) is joined by St-Laurent and Pinot Noir to give a light, crisp, slightly acidic red with lovely refreshing fruit.

Zweigelt is fermented with 50% whole bunches and is dark and full of vitality. In fact “full of life”, the wines seen unnervingly to reflect their makers. Blaufränkisch is very concentrated with high-toned fruit, but the fragrant cherry nose seals it for me in choosing this (but only just) as my favourite red here.

The sisters are really beginning to hit their stride, but they were well tutored, working with Toms Lubbe (Matassa) and Shobbrook (both, apparently, prone to lateness!), and now they have a close friendship with Claus Preisinger. With the lighthearted atmosphere when tasting with the “Rennersistas” it’s easy to miss what they are achieving in the bottle, though their success keeps growing and growing.

STROHMEIER (St Stefan, Steiermark)

Franz and Christine Strohmeier make wine in a part of Styria famous for an unusual grape variety, Blauer Wildbacher. This variety makes Schilcher and Schilcher Sekt, a speciality which until recently was pretty much unknown outside of Austria, unless, like me, you are blessed with friends there. Our Austrian friends love it, but they admit that most of their foreign friends they serve it to are less enamored. It is often searingly acidic. I like it, but you know I’m slightly “odd” when it comes to obscure wines and flavours.

The odd thing about the Strohmeiers is that they export around 95% of their production (Japan and the USA being their main markets), because Austrians on the whole, despite the notable natural wine movement in Styria, just don’t get what they are doing…and what they are doing is quite incredible. What was also interesting is that, meeting Franz and Christine for the first time, they turned out to be (like me) a little older than many of the “natural wine” crusaders in Austria.

The Blauer Wildbacher wines here are very fresh, undergoing no malolactic fermentation. Rosé Sekt sees no added sulphur and is an uncompromising sparkler. But that doesn’t have any negative connotation. It’s frothy, a little smoky and tastes of sour cherry. No true wine adventurer could fail to adore it. TLZ Karmin No 6 is a palish pink still wine from the same variety, strange in some ways, but where the bitter acidity is balanced by concentrated soft fruit. TLZ? Trauben (grapes), Liebe (love) and Zeit (time) – what it takes to make the wine here.

There is a nice sparkling Sekt made from Sauvignon Blanc to try for those seeking adventure from a better known grape variety, and Sauvignon is also the variety for TLZ – Wein der Stille No 8 (wine of silence). Nine months on whole bunches, which Christine called their “hard core orange wine”. Tannic structure and “pow!”. It may be hard core, but fans of hardcore will love it.

We finished with an off-list “Schilcher”, a Siassa No 7. Harvested on 2 November, it’s another Blauer Wildbacher but made sweet(ish). Riper fruit yielded just 300 litres which was made into a pale orange/pink wine which basically tastes like the most beautiful strawberry juice, but with 11% alcohol.

I have to say I am looking forward to adding to the single bottle of Strohmeier I currently have in the cellar. Wines of purity, excitement and soul.

CHRISTIAN TSCHIDA (Illmitz, Burgenland)

I’m going to try not to categorise Christian, even as someone who goes very much against the grain of local winemaking. He’s an individual, and he makes wines of genuine greatness. And he’s been doing so with vineyards which his family planted in the 19th Century. But when I say makes wines, I’m misleading you a little. Christian is one of the masters of “hands-off” wine production.

There is only one negative thing I can say about Christian’s wines, and that is that I can’t afford to buy them too often. At least the Himmel Auf Erden (Heaven on Earth, the Alfred Hrdlicka labels basically explain the name) range can be less expensive, and we began here with that line’s Maische II 2016. Scheurebe is the mainstay, with Pinot Blanc and Gelber Muskateller (…possibly). Anyway, it’s quite sensuous with citrus and herbs, dry on the finish, made from vines over 50-years-old with fermentation on skins.

As we rise through the whites they just gain in complexity. Non-Tradition 2015 is a pure (in every sense) Grüner Veltliner, Laissez-Faire 2015 has amazing ripe fruit but again finishes dry, with zest.

The reds Christian makes are quite imposing, but via their fruit more than anything. Cabernet Franc is the variety in the fairly tannic and structured Non Tradition 2015, but the fruit underneath shows it just needs time. Kapitel I 2016 also has lovely refined fruit with a textured, grippy, finish. Both wines are crushed by foot and left to do their thing in large barrels. Christian picks for acidity and he wants to make wines that age.

There’s a story, by the way, that the person who planted the Cabernet Franc thought he was planting Merlot. Christian, I think, was fortunate. The Franc is much more in the Tschida style than I imagine Merlot could ever be.

Blaufränkisch is the basis for Felsen I 2013, cloudy, tannic, but showing signs of development and nascent complexity. But it also tastes as if it has 300% concentrated fruit in there too, amazing juice!

To avoid stupid cliche I must stop there. It is easy to make the same comments as everyone else, but at the end of the day Christian is an ordinary bloke going his own way. It’s just that he knows exactly what he wants from his wine and achieves that magnificently. It was a privilege to meet him again.

WERLITSCH (Leutschach, Steiermark)

Ewald Tscheppe is another favourite producer of mine from the Newcomer stable. He is a proud member of the biodynamic association, Demeter, but his whole philosophy takes the idea of holistic farming as far as possible. The soils in this part of Styria are known as “Opok”, a sandy loam blown from the Alps. On a variety of complex soils, Ewald grows mainly Sauvignon Blanc and Morillon (the local Austrian name for Chardonnay) and, through various blends, fashions a range of expressive white (and orange) wines.

A pure Morillon 2015 starts off the range and is delicious with softer fruit and a savoury, almost saline quality. Vom Opok 2015 comes next, a pure Sauvignon Blanc. Then comes Ex Vero, which are a series of blends of the two varieties in varying proportions. Ex Vero I 2013 comes from vines at lower altitude and is fresh and mineral. Ex Vero II 2012 is from the mid-slope and has more Sauvignon Blanc to Ex Vero I’s greater Chardonnay content. Ex Vero III 2013 is from the highest vines, up to 500 metres altitude, and is dominated by Sauvignon Blanc. Ex Vero III 2006 is marvelous. It’s a wine of even greater concentration, a little nuttiness coming through, but with still fresh acidity at over a decade old.

All these wines range from really very good to exceptional, but the most singular example of the Werlitsch oeuvre is Gluck. We tasted the version from the tricky (in Austria) 2014 vintage. Gluck sees a couple of weeks on skins and is a lovely golden colour. It’s a fairly tentative wine, not as assertive as it looks in its by now famous brown flagon. Fresh and sour, a wine to contemplate over as much time as you can give. Possibly a legend in the making, although as with a wine like Vin Jaune (which it does not resemble), it won’t be to everyone’s tastes.

CHRISTOPH HOCH (Hollenburg, Kremstal)

Christoph makes what was once the weirdest wine I’d ever drunk, although in the few intervening years the sparkling Kalkspitz has been superseded for outright craziness (Tom Shobbrook’s cider and Mourvèdre blend has to be up there). Take some Grüner, Zweigelt, Sauvignon Blanc and Blauer Portugieser and apply for a patent on the blend. Kalkspitz is the non-vintage, Kalkreich is the vintage, in this case 2013. Here, Christoph gets to blend Weißburgunder, Grüner and Riesling.

Whilst the sparklers are slightly weird, I love them, not least for their shock value. But all Christoph is trying to do is to understand his terroir of chalk and gravel on Kremstal’s Hollenburg. His still wines, named for this site, are varietal examples of his two main grapes. Grüner Veltliner and Riesling not only blend grapes from around 40 different plots at different altitudes, and with different exposures. They also blend vintages. Some of the batches may also be aged under flor. What is going on here is complex and complicated, but it’s well worth paying attention.

ATTILA HOMONNA (Tokaj, Hungary)

Attila Homonna worked in advertising, then as a New York DJ, before turning to wine since 1999. His winery in the village of Erdöbénye produces tiny amounts of wine from Tokaj Region stalwarts Furmint and Hárslevelú. The focus is on dry wines from old vines with very small yields. I was really zipping through here, as you can tell (and it didn’t help that the table was somewhat blocked by expansive gesticulation on the public side), but the wines were impressive, and I shall have to take another look when the opportunity comes along.

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So, as I’ve said, an amazing Tasting. There are some wonderful producers covered here, and I hope my notes are useful. Do go out and try these wines. There are, if my counting is up to scratch, fourteen producers profiled, but a further eighteen I have missed out, and around half of those I’ve bought wine from. But if there is one I’m annoyed at leaving out, it is Rudolf Trossen. Rudolf, with his wife Rita, farms vines of up to a hundred years of age at the lesser known village of Kinheim in the Middle Mosel. The buzz around his wines made me cross I didn’t try them. In all my time reading about Mosel wines, I’d never come across his name, yet he’s been farming biodynamically since 1978 (one of the pioneers in Germany). Sulphur isn’t required because long lees ageing “stabilises” the wine. Another bit of detective work required, I think.

 

 

 

Posted in Austria, Austrian Wine, biodynamic wine, Czech Wine, German Wine, Hungarian Wine, Natural Wine, Neusiedlersee, Swiss Wine, Vienna, Wiener Gemischter Satz, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Raw Wine Week Events 2018

With Raw Wine London just over a week away (11/12 March), Raw Wine Week 2018 begins on 7 March. This week of natural wine, culminating in the 13th Raw Wine Fair, this year back at “The Store” on The Strand, sees a whole raft of exciting natural wine themed events, some in London and some outside. I thought you might be interested in a list of those which particularly appeal to me. It’s a completely personal choice, with apologies for any events which I just don’t know about.

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Antidote, just off Carnaby Street, is a great restaurant, but it is also one of the best bars in the West End. It has a healthy appreciation for artisan and natural wines, with possibly my favourite Jura domaine (Domaine de la Tournelle) having a financial interest (making it one of the few places in London you can find their wines).

Antidote will pour wines by the glass throughout the week (7-14 March) from producers at the Fair. Watch out especially for Karim Vionnet (on 10 March, 6pm), Radikon, Gravner, Meinklang, and the wonderful but rarely seen Domaine Ligas.

Sager & Wilde at their Paradise Row venue in Bethnal Green will be operating an amazing offer throughout Raw Week. You will be able to buy wine from selected growers attending the Fair at cost price. There are a couple of caveats though. First, the offer is open only to Raw Wine Fair wristband holders, and second, the offer is limited to one bottle between two people. Still, it’s a great offer. Eligible hours are Sun-Weds 12-3 and 5-12; Thurs-Sat 12-2, 5-7 and 9-12 (worth double checking those). S&W Paradise Row is just one minute from Bethnal Green Underground.

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Burgess & Hall Wines in Forest Gate (Arch 353 Winchelsea Road, E7), have one of my favourite producers imported by Otros Vinos taking over the bar on 9 March, 7.30pm. Fabio Bartolomei is the Scottish accented winemaker/owner at Vinos Ambiz in Spain’s Sierra de Gredos. Fabio is a great bloke (he actually grew up in Scotland, his parents having emigrated from Tuscany), and his wines are fantastic examples of high altitude viticulture in the New Spain.

The folks at B&H will be laying on cheese and cold meats, Fabio will be expostulating, and his wines will be available both by the glass, and by the bottle to take away. If you are able to get over there, this will be worth the effort.

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Elliot’s is also having its Raw Wine event on the same night (9 March), and it’s a tough call between this and Burgess & Hall. Elliot’s is close to London Bridge, just south of the river, so it may be easier for the southerners.

Meli Ligas will be there, from Ktima Ligas, one of Greece’s best wineries (and probably their best natural wine producer). The domaine, in the Pella region of Northern Greece, not far from Thessaloniki, only uses autochthonous grape varieties (Xinomavro, Limniona, Assyrtiko, Roditis and Kydonitsa) and farms in a very special way, on which I’m sure Meli will elaborate. Everything about the wines is wonderful, even down to the presentation and labels. Naturally a selection of Meli’s wines will be available by the glass. These wines can be difficult to source, so this is a brilliant opportunity to taste a few.

Furanxo is somewhere I’ve written about several times, just up Dalston Lane from Dalston Junction (E8). It’s the easiest retail source for me for obtaining wines imported by Otros Vinos, a selection of which they stock. It’s also a fantastic place to stock up with Iberian delicacies.

Clot de Soleres, in the form of owners Montse and Charles, will be taking over the bar on 10 March from 7.30pm (although they’ll be heading to Dalston straight from the airport, so let’s hope the snow has gone by then). Clot de Soleres is based at Piera, in Catalonia. Whilst they talk about their journey towards natural wine, you will be able to buy the wines by the glass, along with a menu of small tapas made by Xabi.

Furanxo will be able to sell wines to go on the evening, and as well as listening to a couple who are making some of the loveliest natural wines in Catalonia, it’s a great chance to see what else Furanxo has on the shelves, and to stock up. They sell a selection of some of Spain’s finest natural wine producers.

Terroirs was London’s first bar/restaurant devoted to natural wines, and how we all flocked there when it first opened. It is rare to go there and not bump into someone I know or recognise, even today. It has lost none of its popularity over the years, even though it now has so many fantastic rivals.

Terroirs will be hosting what they are billing as the Raw Wine after party on 11 March (although I think I’ve been invited to one at The India Club). Terroirs is just a swift stroll along The Strand towards Trafalgar Square (at 5 William IV Street), so it must rank as the second most convenient place to head to when Raw closes.

From 5pm there will be wine, bistro food, and music, and they say no booking necessary, so hopefully they won’t be turning anyone away. I imagine it will get pretty crowded but these events here generally turn into great parties, usually involving some pretty cool magnums.

If you are outside of London and can’t make Raw, there are other events going on around the UK. My two picks would include the one at Timberyard in Edinburgh, Scotland’s most famous natural wine venue. They will be celebrating Raw Wine week between 6-9 March by poking around in their cellar to find what they say will be some special bottles. Knowing the wines Timberyard have served up in the past, there’s a good chance of a few unicorns in there.

The other event is closer to home, and to be honest I’m quite sorry to have to miss it. On the evening of Raw’s Public Day Plateau in Brighton’s Lanes will be putting on a Greek Wine tasting (11 March, 5.30 to 7.00pm), hosted by Southern Wine Roads. The Tasting costs just £15, which includes six wines plus “nibbles” (which, if those offered at their recent Czech Wine Tasting are anything to go by, are likely to be pretty tasty). After the Tasting you can grab some food at Plateau and sample a natural wine list that puts many London bars to shame. Booking for this is required – for more info call Plateau on 01273 733085.

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Of course, Raw Wine 2018 has it’s day for the general public on Sunday 11th (Press/Trade Monday 12th), and tickets are selling fast. £45 allows you to taste the wines of 150 natural and low intervention producers, and includes a catalogue of all the wines at the Fair and a tasting glass to keep. I look forward to seeing many friends there on 12th.

If you can’t make the March date in London, there’s always  Raw Wine Berlin on 13-14 May.

Finally, although not strictly connected with Raw Wine Week, Newcomer Wines, Britain’s Austrian natural wine specialist, is having its “The New Old World” Tasting at the Royal Institute of British Architects (66 Portland St, London W1) on Monday (5 March, 10.00 to 18.00). Over 150 wines, not just from Austria but also Czech Republic, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Hungary. Tickets are £25. I’d call it unmissable, but then I am a mega fan of Austrian wine. It’s also your only opportunity to taste the new wines from the likes of the Rennersistas and others who will not be at Raw this year.

 

Posted in Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Festivals, Wine Shops, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“I remember, Standing by the Wall” (Berlin Bars)

With Raw Wine Week coming up here in the UK, my attention was turned to Berlin’s own Raw Wine in May, when a friend said he was thinking of going over for it. I’ve just come back from a week in Berlin, and I thought I’d share a few bars with you all, just in case you are going too. I can’t claim them as my own discoveries – they came via Dave Stenton, who used to organise the Oddities lunches with me.

There is no doubt that Berlin is an exciting city, and one on the rise. In a sense, it comes as London’s Olympic glow is subsiding, and all too many Europeans I know are leaving. As one person in Berlin sadly told me of an Italian friend of theirs, they are “not feeling it any more”. There’s a lot of building going on in Berlin in the cultural sectors, but at the same time, there feels as if there’s a real influx of young people to the once impoverished parts of the city where the real cultural life seems to be happening, away from the tourist centre.

This isn’t surprising. In the most interesting districts, Eastern Kreuzberg and especially Neukölln, you can find an apartment for a fraction of the cost of the nastiest flats in London, and people tell me it’s a city where you can get by okay on a part time job, leaving time for some more creative pursuits. And there are plenty of those going on in Neukölln.

When people talk about Berlin bars, the first on most people’s lips is Cordobar, but that’s north of the centre, and probably full of tourists. Not that the three bars below won’t be, but they do have the advantage of being in the area around where Raw Wine Berlin will take place. They all share the fact that you will get a very warm welcome. The first two can certainly be called “natural wine bars”, and the third has many natural wines, and a very interesting selection from Germany itself.

Wild Things at Weserstraße 172 is in the heart of Neukölln, between Sonnenallee and the canal…and in fact just five minutes walk from where we were staying last week. It’s rather like a small English corner pub, with a bar room and a separate room with tables. You can eat the sort of small dishes common in Parisian and London bars, and drink a very small selection of natural wines (as the wine list shows in the pic below, just nine wines and a cider last week). We drank the Normandy Cidre from Fournier Frères, and Franco Terpin‘s Quinto Quarto ramato wine from Friuli (in fact, Terpin farms vineyards both in Italy and over the border in Slovenia).

Wild Things was fairly quiet on the days we visited, which gave the staff a chance to chat with us. I was even able to recommend Winemakers Club in London to one of them, who was heading over to DJ in a couple of days. Although you’ll spot some “usual suspect” natural wines as empties dotted around the bar (a large format Gut Oggau or some Partida Creus), don’t expect them necessarily to have any. Just go for the very relaxed, laid back, atmosphere and friendly service.

Take a look here.

 

JaJa is also in Neukölln, just off the Sonnenallee at Weichselstraße 7. We went here on Saturday night, without a reservation, and we were quite lucky to get a couple of seats at the bar. The place was humming. That didn’t stop the owners from being extra friendly, chatting to us as they dashed around the tables to serve a multi-national clientele.

We drank 2Naturkinder “Kleine Heimat” 2016. It’s the first vintage of this skin contact (10 days) Silvaner, so my first taste, and it’s delicious. It comes from a vineyard at Rödelsee, quite close to the winery, and one of the few actually owned by Melanie and Michael. Then we moved on to Alsace (JaJa seems to have a good selection from the region at the moment), with Jean Ginglinger Riesling Cuvée Bilh (from Pfaffenheim’s Steinert vineyard). Somehow some Banyuls appeared as we were paying the bill. Friendly hospitality of a very high order here.

You can eat at JaJa. The menu on the board doesn’t look much, but people were definitely getting an assortment of plates that I couldn’t see listed. Useful, because I could see myself settling down here for the night. Several nights, actually.

Take a look here.

 

Ottorink is a bit further northeast at Dresdener Straße 124, quite close to Oranienplatz. We approached from the Kottbusser Tor U-Bahn, and we had to resort to Google Maps to lead us through the shopping centre to find Dresdener Str. This is the Turkish district, which was in full jubilatory mode because the journalist Deniz Yucel had just been released from prison in Turkey.

Ottorink was founded by “Otto” (see photo below), who has a story so typical of many in the last century. Moving to Alsace as a child, he was forced to leave after WWI, when the region was returned to France, because he had been born in Germany. In WW2 he had to fight in the German Army, whereas his uncle, who had remained in France, had been conscripted into the French Army. One is never far from the reasons why the European Union was created when in Berlin.

Ottorink is less comprehensively “natural wine” focused than Wild Things and JaJa, but it does have an excellent and fairly wide selection of wines from which to choose. It is probably also fair to say that it is the most sedate of the three, but no less friendly.

We drank a refreshing orange wine made by Weingut Nigl from the heart of Kremstal, Austria. We noticed they had a good selection of bottles from the Pfalz producer we visited in October 2017, Fritz Becker (highly recommended). The selection of dishes on offer at Ottorink is perhaps a little wider too.

Take a look here.

 

Berlin is a great City to explore, and for people like us, an even greater one to dine in. My family is vegan, but the two places I’m going to mention below will appeal to anyone.

Brammibals not only sells the biggest selection of vegan donuts I’ve ever seen, but also the best donuts I’ve tasted, vegan or not. They also make the only vegan cheese toasty I’ve ever had where the cheese drips out of the bread. It’s a bit of a Neukölln institution.

Soy requires a trek out of Neukölln, to the area just north of Alexanderplatz and the Fernsehturm, to Rosa Luxembourg Straße. It’s a Vietnamese restaurant, right opposite the famous Volksbühne Theatre. No meat available, but brilliant food. Best to book on the weekend.

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Naturally Berlin is full of things for the Tourist, but here are three offbeat ideas for places I really like.

East Side Gallery is a section of the old Wall which stretches over about two kilometres, and is covered in graffiti art. Easiest to get to (5 minutes) from the Ostbahnhof, follow the wall along the banks of the Spree eastwards until you hit the Oberbaum Bridge (where you are close to the well known boutique Michelberger Hotel, which is where I’m guessing a fair few Raw attendees will be residing).

The DDR Museum is on the banks of the River Spree just opposite the Cathedral (by Museum Island). We wandered in here one evening, on a whim, and thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the mock-up rooms and the Trabant. Fans of Goodbye Lenin will certainly enjoy it.

Grunewald is a large forest to the west of the city, accessible by both U-Bahn and S-Bahn (the suburban lines). You can combine a trip there with a visit to one of Berlin’s best small art galleries, the Brücke Museum (German Expressionism from the early 20th Century, including works by Kirchner, Schmidt-Rottluff, Heckel and Emil Nolde). It’s then a short walk through woodland to the Jagdschloss (where there is a cafe) and the Grunewaldsee lake. It’s where Berlin’s residents go to walk their dogs, and it does provide a bit of fresh air if you want to get out of the city. The other popular green spaces are found in the Tiergarten Park (west of the Brandenburg Gate) and the gardens behind Charlottenburg Palace.

My final tip – Get a Berlin Transport Pass (from the Berlin tourism desk at the airport). Berlin’s U-Bahn, suburban trains, trams and buses integrate so well. Once you get used to hopping between them, the city is simple to navigate. A Pass costs about €30 for seven days, so it not only makes financial sense, but saves the faff of finding change for the machine each time you hop on a tram.

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Even Berlin has vines 😉

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Mood Indigo – Indigo Wines Portfolio 2018

The Vinyl Factory is a nostalgic venue for any music lover. Even the entrance has its charm because you go in via Phonica Records on Soho’s Poland Street, past the vinyl and CDs, before descending. I always enjoy an event there, and the Indigo Wine Portfolio Tasting yesterday was the best yet. Indigo’s portfolio contains so many brilliant wines that I was forced to leave out some old favourites. You’ll have read about some of Indigo’s stars several times on this Blog before, so whereas a few old friends appear below, I’ve tried to introduce many new names as well.

I plan to run through the producers in the order in which I tasted them, but some of the best discoveries are towards the end. Javier Revert was massively impressive in his first solo vintage, and Eulogio Pomares makes some of the best Albariño wines I’ve tasted…ever. A wine of the day is really difficult to isolate, but Frederick Stevenson (aka Steve Crawford) makes some particularly impressive stuff, and his Barossa Grenache gets my vote among a host of great wines snapping at his heels.

 

Hoffmann & Rathbone, East Sussex

We begin close to home with an impressive small producer of English Sparkling Wine, based at Mountfield in East Sussex. They make an excellent Classic Cuvée 2013 from the three main Champagne varieties (60%PN, 30%CH, 10%PM) which sees around three years on lees. There are nicely developed flavours of orchard fruits with a touch of the more exotic peach and ginger spice.

Rosé Réserve 2011 blends 85% Pinot Noir with 15%  barrique fermented Chardonnay, and this has been given 40 months on lees. The lovely salmon pink colour comes from a little skin contact. It combines genuine depth with massively impressive freshness. The fruit has a little plump weight, but is well balanced with lifted red fruit flavours on top, and real length. It retails for around £50. Whilst it is so much more difficult to judge a wine on two sips than on a bottle with food (I see this as an excellent gastronomic sparkler), I was extremely impressed by the quality here, and the attention to detail. Definitely one to watch, and try.

There is also a Blanc de Blancs which was not on taste.

 

 

Fossil Vale Da Capucha, Lisbon

Pedro Marques makes lovely, terroir driven, wines, so I won’t hold it against him that he has seemed a little bored and disengaged on both occasions when I have tasted with him (here, and at Real Wine last year). The wines are also very inexpensive, and come from a part of Portugal from which we rarely see wines with this much interest.

Fossil Branco 2016 blends Arinto, Gouveio and a little Fernão Pires into a very mineral white with a bitter herby twist on the finish. Fossil Tinto 2015 is largely composed of Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz, with 10% Syrah. Dark coloured, it has nice peppery fruit with a touch of tannin and texture. Again, this is a wine focused on savoury minerality, with a bit of grip.

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Eduardo Torres Acosta, Etna, Sicily

Eduardo has a fascinating CV. Born on Tenerife, he decided to make wine on Sicily after a stage with Arianna Ochipinti, followed by a winemaking stint at Passopisciaro. I tried three superb wines, all Terre Siciliane IGT (the vines are all parcels on Etna but the wine is made outside of the DOCG).

Versante Nord 2016 white is made from a mix of co-planted varieties up to 700 metres on volcanic ash – five north facing sites, as the name suggests. This is a typical Etna white with zip and a herby focus.

The red Versante Nord is a year older, from 2015. It is made from 80% Nerello Mascalese with 20% Nerello Cappuccio (with a few stray old vines from other varieties in the mix). This has nice high-toned cherry fruit in a tasty pale red. Pirrera 2015 is a single vineyard wine, again at altitude on the slopes of Etna. The varietal mix is the same, but with the Nerello Mascalese upped to 90%. It has a deeper and more powerful nose, bigger tannins at present, and a bit more concentration. Potentially impressive but needs a little time.

These are wines to watch. An interesting guy with a clear talent, who knows what he wants to achieve. Probably Tenerife’s loss and Sicily’s gain.

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Vina Čotar, Kras, Slovenia

Many will probably have tried these beautiful wines from the chalky hills of Slovenia, mirrored in Friuli’s Carso Sub-Region, over the Italian border. A large range is produced here, from both local and international varieties. All of them are good. If you want to taste a very different interpretation of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, you could very well find the Čotar versions, always sold with a decent amount of bottle age, a perfect place to start.

This producer makes an additional interesting red from the local variety, Teran (also found in Croatia and, as Terrano, in Italy). Teran 2015 saw ten days on skins followed by thirty months in big old oak. A deep colour gives out a bouquet of perfumed blackcurrant, gorgeous but easy fruit on the palate, matched with high acidity and low (11.5%) alcohol. Perfect with fatty dishes.

The reds are very good but for me it is the whites which hold the greatest interest. Malvazija 2016 (a sample) saw a week on skins. Its nose is exquisite, already showing plenty going on in there. Rich but dry, textured rather than tannic. Vitovska 2015 is less fragrant with a greater citrus element, but like the Malvzija, it is dry and textured from one week’s skin contact. I finished with a Malvazija 2015, which seemed a little paler than the 2016 but had already developed more depth.

All of these wines taste super pure. The terroir clearly dominates, but they are all unsulphured and their vibrancy is in part down to that. They are classic examples of how no-sulphur wines can age. All of these would go 20 years…but why would you wait?

 

 

Weingut Georg Breuer, Rüdesheim, Rheingau

I’ve been a fan of this estate for some years, and I won’t deny that it was exciting to meet Theresa, who had to take over the estate in sad circumstances in 2004, aged just twenty. Her story is one of determination leading to well earned success. The philosophy here is no herbicides, organic manures, low yields and largely old casks made from German oak. Every wine in the range exhibits a vibrancy which one doesn’t always find in the Rheingau, yet they don’t lose their regional identity, especially at “Grand Cru” level.

The entry level village white is simple but refreshing, dry and 11.5% abv, setting the tone for Terra Montosa 2016. This cuvée is a dry blend of the “second best barrels” from Theresa’s top sites. Here you get more weight, depth and texture and, if I’m honest, great value too.

The single site dry wines are a big step up in quality, of course, and the price leap isn’t as significant as it might be, but you do have to pay for the best. Two of them were available to try. Berg Rottland 2015 is pale and green-flecked, has a well defined Riesling nose, and crystal clear fruit, with even a hint of lime. It’s both mouthfilling and delicious.

Nonnenberg 2015 is a Rauenthal site, a monopole of just under six hectares on loam over slate, planted with old vines. For me this is Theresa’s most impressive wine, but of course it needs time and yesterday the nose was, as one would expect, more muted. The slate seems to give this dry wine a firmness and structure, but it will develop more exotic notes with the years. Of course, I’m speaking subjectively, as a fan.

 

 

Birgit Braunstein, Purbach, Burgenland

I’d not tried Birgit Braunstein’s wines before, but I knew her as a member of an Austrian Association of women in wine. Heidi Schroeck, who I have visited, is also a member, and I wasn’t aware that they are good friends (both have twin sons, another point of contact). I could really see some acute similarities between the two women.

Birgit runs a little over 20 hectares in the part of the Leithagabirge on the northwestern side of the Neusiedlersee. She farms organically and biodynamically, using minimal sulphur at bottling. Indigo don’t import her range of exciting looking amphora wines (perhaps they will…hopefully), which see eight months in Tuscan terracotta buried in her garden. The wines on taste were described by Birgit as her “more classic range”.

Welschriesling 2017 was a lovely start, fresh and zippy, perfect summer drinking (as this variety often is from this region). Chardonnay Felsenstein 2017 is a mineral, dry, savoury wine made interestingly on a similar latitude to Chablis (hint!). With Pinot Blanc 2017 you get even more of that terroir texture, but the fruit is more rounded here. The finish has bite.

A very nice Rosé 2016 is made from a blend of equal proportions of Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt. I think this simple wine has the fruit and zip to make a perfect summer sipper, though I’m quite a fan of pairing Austrian pinks like this with a plein-air schnitzel.

Pinot Vom Berg 2015 is of the lighter, cherry-fruited style of Pinot Noir, hand punched with minimum cellar work. A nice wine, but I could not help finding Birgit’s Blaufränkisch Heide 2015 even more impressive. White pepper and cherry fruit from vines planted on that chalky limestone which this variety so loves. A characteristic purity is always found in these Burgenland Blaus, with great acids and freshness. Gorgeous.

The final red, Wildwux 2015, is a project on biodiversity, where cherry trees are being planted at the end of vine rows, chickens roam the vineyard and nesting birds are encouraged, among a raft of measures to enhance nature. This Zweigelt/Blaufränkisch blend is lovely and precise.

I was very happy to make Birgit’s aquaintance. I felt a positive passion coming through for what she describes as a “perfect place to live”, which is something that I can honestly agree with one hundred percent.

 

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Peter Wetzer, Sopron, Hungary

Peter Wetzer farms just five kilometres from the Austrian border, and I realised we have therefore cycled so close inside Hungary that we could have visited him. I’d previously tried his Kékfrankos (the Hungarian name for the Burgenland classic, Blaufränkisch), so it was great to meet him and try a few more wines. Peter pretty much uses natural winemaking techniques, an old family press and open-top fermenters, and there is no doubt that his wines have real personality.

Furmint 2016 is slightly unusual – whilst this Hungarian grape can be found all over Burgenland (of which Sopron is geographically part), the grapes here come from friends in the Tokaj Region. The wine is fermented in new oak and is pale and fresh, with a mix of herbs and underlying citrus. Very good.

Kékfrankos 2016 has more bitter cherry fruit and less of the pepper than some versions. It’s a grape that can perform as well in Sopron as it does in Austrian Burgenland. Very characterful and quite an individual expression of the variety, plus a natural wine vitality.

There were two vintages of Pinot Noir. The cuvée comes from two sites, on limestone and slate, which both add very different characteristics to the wine. The fruit (30% whole bunches used in the fermentation) is clean and precise in the 2015. The 2016 definitely seems younger on the nose but has a translucent quality to it. The tannins are more youthful and grippy.

Peter says he just wants to make wine as naturally as possible, wine which exhibits a sense of place. He surely achieves this.

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Pax, California

Pax Mahle, with his wife Pam, source fruit from organic vineyards largely in Mendocino and California’s North Coast. Winemaking is based on low intervention, letting old vine fruit speak for itself.

Buddha’s Dharma Chenin Blanc 2015 is a good example. It doesn’t really taste like a lot of Loire Chenin. It is very fresh, acidic and bitter-savoury (it comes off volcanic soils, which of course you don’t find in The Loire). It’s a wine full of life, which sees just a tiny bit of sulphur added at bottling.

Carignan 2016, like the Chenin, comes from Mendocino fruit, this time from the single site Testa Vineyard. Again, we have very old vine material, planted in 1912 on light volcanic sand. A touch of earthy/iron texture complements carbonically macerated fruit. A lovely wine, I really like it.

There were three Syrah on show. The Hermit 2014 is from the North Coast. It’s amazingly fresh with a bouquet of violets and lavender. Sonoma Hillsides 2016 is a carbonic maceration cuvée which has been aged in concrete. It has a dark, dense but vibrant colour and real fruit intensity. Both are different but equally exciting. The one bottle of Griffins Lair 2013 had all gone, but Pax told me this was 100% whole clusters off alluvium (coarse sand and gravel) at San Pablo Bay (Sonoma Coast), crushed by foot. It used to be a Wind Gap wine, which is Pax’s other label (and some of you will know I’m very partial to the Wind Gap wines). Superb low intervention winemaking characterises all of Pax Mahle’s cuvées.

 

 

Raúl Pérez and César Márquez, Bierzo

This set of wines spans the Castro Ventosa label (the Pérez family estate), those made by Pérez and Márquez as a joint venture, and the wines César makes on his own. César was there to show them all.

From Castro Ventosa you get two extremes in a way. El Castro de Valtuille Mencía Joven 2016 may come in at 13.5% abv, yet it happens to be an excellent, refreshing, example of this fantastic grape variety, and makes lovely summer drinking with berry fruits to the fore and just a slightly bitter texture on the finish. In contrast, Valtuille Cepas Centenarias 2014 is a classic old vine cuvée where the concentration comes through. At 14% abv it only has half a degree more alcohol, but it feels a bigger wine, albeit more tamed than some of Raúl’s other efforts.

Of the joint project, there are three 2015 single vineyard Mencía reds (La Palousa, El Rapolao and Las Gundiñas), all finely crafted with textured acidity and tannins, almost chiseled in fact, and all capable of a rest before drinking. There is also a white from Godello, La Vizcaína “La del Vivo” 2015 which struck me as very refreshing, but with a little depth to it as well.

César Márquez’s family vineyards are at Villafranca del Bierzo. Their first vintage was 1989, which by coincidence was the year I visited this beautiful part of Northern Spain, when the wines of Bierzo, and the Mencía variety, had no profile beyond the region.

Tasting César’s Godello, La Salvación 2016, was a good contrast to the jointly-produced white. It is slightly more fruity with a nice citrus finish. The name reflects the old and almost lost strains of the variety rediscovered by César and the vines here are as old as 120 years of age. All four Mencía reds are equally good, my favourite being El Llano 2016. Velvety texture in the mouth finishes with a tannic bite.

All César’s wines are microvinifications from tiny vineyard parcels which reflect the different soil types around Villafranca and Valtuille, and as others have said, this young man is a rising star of the region.

 

 

Eulogio Pomares, Rias Baixas

Eulogio Pomares is the winemaker at Bodegas Zárate, and Indigo imports some of those wines. The wines below are Eulogio’s personal project.

There was a very nice pair of reds here, Caiño Tinto 2015 (zippy acidity and ribena fruit) and Penapedre 2015 (blending Mencía, Palomino and others, fermented in open-topped vats, just 1,600 bottles, really vibrant and also grippy). Fine and interesting wines, both of them (and worthy of exploration).

Eulogio has been called the “King of Albariño”, an epithet of which in my humble opinion he is wholly deserving. Carralcoba Albariño 2016 is the wine I’ve tried before. Made from 70-year-old vines it is magnificent. Good as that wine is (and it is extremely good), Maceración con Pieles 2016 was a revelation. Four weeks on skins, then nine months in acacia barrels, it’s a wine of some complexity and real presence, with a fascinatingly soft sour note on an incredibly long finish. I’m not a wine scorer, but these would be up there with the best of the best. In some ways it’s pointless to say more. The wines speak eloquently enough for themselves.

 

 

Envínate (Tenerife, Almansa, Ribeira Sacra)

Envínate is pretty well known now. The projects of four friends who met at university in Alicante centre on “Atlantic” wines. Roberto Santana leads the Tenerife winemaking and produces wines which highlight what the Canaries are capable of just as well as Suertes del Marques, the bodega which put the island on the viticultural map. All wines shown were 2016 vintage.

There are red and white wines named Táganan, which is a vineyard on the north side of Tenerife, on volcanic soils close to the Atlantic Ocean. Both are blends of several local grapes from vines grown between 100 to 500 metres altitude, and both see 8 months ageing in stainless steel and neutral oak. They are fantastic drinking wines.

Benje also comes as white and red. The white is mainly Listán Blanco and the red, mainly Listán Negro, from old vines grown at even higher altitude, up to 1,000 metres. Like Táganan, these are wild vines, untrained. Fermentation is as natural as possible, using ambient yeasts.

They are characteristically textured like all volcanic wines, but they are also complex. If you look at the photos of the wild landscape of Tenerife in John Szabo’s book, Volcanic Wines, you can almost taste the terroir. If you haven’t tried them (and I’m guessing many readers will have), then do so.

 

 

Javier Revert, València

Javi Revert was my “producer find” of the day. He’s the winemaker at Celler del Roure, but 2016 is the first vintage for his solo project. He was showing four wines, though sadly Clausus (amphora aged Tortosi and Trepadell varieties) was all gone when I got to his table.

Micalet is a five grape field blend which Javi’s grandfather planted in 1948 on white chalk. There is citrus here, but the overwhelming quality is salinity. It is one of the most arresting first tastes of a producer I’ve had for some time, I think.

Sensal is made from Garnacha Tintorera with Monastrell. It’s a one hectare single parcel of old vines on limestone aged in neutral old oak. Only 1,200 bottles made. Simeta, by contrast, is a parcel on sandy soils planted in 1970 at around 650 metres. The grape here is 100% Arcos, which I don’t think I’d ever tasted before. Ageing is in demijohns and earthenware jars. The fruit intensity is superb, acidity is fairly high, but there is a nice roundness as well.

Javi is a new grower for Indigo, and his production is fairly small so I don’t know how much wine they will be allocated. But he is a real find for the importer and I have no doubt he will be just as big a star in the future as some of their bigger names. Pricing is currently pretty reasonable, especially for the quality. The labels, not that it should matter, are fantastic too. As well thought out as the wines themselves. Again, I should caution that a few sips are not the best circumstances in which to make a reasoned judgement like this, but I feel sure these wines will be highly sought after in a year or so.

 

 

The final tables at this Tasting were lined up with “free pour” wines – a selection of bottles where the producer wasn’t present. These tables were crowded, but rightly so because there were more gems here. I tasted through a lot, and feel bad that I can’t list them all. But in a long piece like this, the few wines mentioned below deserve a big plug.

Mother Rock Force Majeure Semillon 2017 gets a mention for delicious Swartland fruit, more concentrated than the wine’s sub-£10 trade price suggests.

A wine of contrast to the fruit in the above is Channing Daughters “Clones” 2013 from Long Island, New York State. Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Tocai Friulano and Muscat Ottonel makes for an interesting blend aged in French and Slovenian oak hoggsheads, and majors on spice and texture.

Ochota Barrels is a fantastic Adelaide Hills producer who seems fairly well represented in UK independents and you can’t go wrong with their innovative wines. Three wines were on show. Weird Berries in the Woods 2017 is Gewurztraminer from Ironstone and red clay with two-to-three days on skins. It’s dry but with some weight (but just 11% alcohol), and rather than the more traditional flavours of the variety, it majors on nutmeg and ginger.

Texture Like Sun 2017 is presumably Taras Ochota’s ode to the substance described in the lyrics of the Stranglers song “Golden Brown”? Another unusual blend of Pinot Noir, Merlot, Grenache and Gewurztraminer. It’s a field blend off clay over limestone, just 12.2% alcohol, and it really maxes on full fruit refreshment.

The Green Room 2017 blends 82% Grenache with 18% Syrah from a McLaren Vale single site (planted 1947) of mixed red loamy clay and ironstone sitting above a limestone base. Fermentation is 85% whole bunches which, depending on batches, see between 30 to 90 days on skins. It’s another massively fruity wine, but with a little more depth and spice than “Texture Like Sun”. You cannot go wrong with Ochota.

 

 

I’m finishing here with the wine I’ve already described as my “WOTD”, Frederick Stevenson Hongell Grenache 2016. This is classic Barossa old vine Grenache from a vineyard south of Tanunda, off clay. It’s initially very fruity, then a hint of pepper, then a snapping crocodile of a bite and grip as it pulls you under. At 14.3% abv it has punch, but it’s in perfect balance and doesn’t taste at all that strong on account of the bright fruit. A fantastic wine, as is everything of Steve’s I’ve ever tried. The label here is also beautiful. It’s designed by Lucy Bonnin, but all of the Frederick Stevenson labels are excitingly different.

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I’m very impressed with the wide range imported by Indigo, who continue to seek out innovative new producers when, with some stars in the portfolio, they could easily rest on their laurels. A lot of importers might look at them with a degree of jealousy. I will end with a list of  Indigo producers I’ve not mentioned here, but who I think are special. Some you may know better than others:

António Madeira, Alvaro Castro, Evening Land, Coto de Gomariz, Fedellos de Couto, Daniel Landi, Celler Pardas, Nin-Ortiz, Terroir Al Limit, 4 Kilos, Jamsheed, Rafael Palacios and (I had no idea Indigo imported his wines) Antoine Sunier, whose 2016 Morgon I somehow forgot to taste. I’m sure there are other producers in the portfolio who I have criminally forgotten to mention.

 

Posted in Artisan Wines, Volcanic Wines, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Great Exhibition 2018 – with the emphasis on Great

Yesterday was the Winter 2018 Great Exhibition Tasting in the arches under Holborn Viaduct, this time featuring Winemakers Club and Carte Blanche Wines. These Tastings are always good, but there must have been something in the air yesterday, because there were some truly astonishing wines on show. Although I’d love to mention a lot more wines than I have, I don’t have the time to do so, and you might not have the patience, so I plan to give each winemaker a little sketch this time, rather than a tasting note for every single wine.

Note on the photos: If you’ve been under the viaduct you know that it’s quite dark in there. Some of the photos below are not all that good, and where they are missing it’s because they turned out too poor to include.

THE SPARKLERS

Perhaps the most exciting part of the show was tasting the fizz. We have four Champagne producers, one Welsh producer, and a guy from Sussex who you are going to hear a lot about, certainly on this Blog, over the next few years. Of the Champagne producers below you will be pushed to find anything written about three of them, even in the latest books on the region. Things are moving so fast in the world of Grower Champagne that it’s difficult to keep up, even for those with both eyes focused on it.

Adrien Dhondt (Dhondt-Grellet), Avize

Adrien Dhondt took over the family’s six hectares in 2012. They have vines around Avize, Cuis, down at Sézanne and up in the Valley, with their oldest vines at Cramant. Adrien uses wood, around 25% of it new, and the results certainly show a bit of this character. The other notable thing about this estate is the use of a “solera” system for ageing wines, and Adrien is one vigneron who doesn’t mind using that term.

I tasted six wines, getting off to a very good start with the non-vintage Dans un Premier Temps Brut, which blends all three main grape varieties from the range of Adrien’s sites, and is dosed at 5g/l, a disgorgement here of July 2017. Lovely and fresh. 2014 base with 30% from the solera reserves.

All the wines here were very good, but I really have to mention the Rosé Brut Premier Cru NV (Pinot and Chardonnay) from the same 2014 base with some Coteaux red added for colour. A lovely gastronomic pink with a strawberry/raspberry bouquet. Pick of the whole range was unsurprisingly Le Bateaux Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs 2013. This was a sample but it had deep fruit and arrowroot biscuit developing into something deeper. Made from the oldest vines Adrien owns in Cramant, it had real punch and it will be interesting to try when bottled. The presumably less expensive Vielles Vignes 2011 from Cramant (also 100% Chardonnay) looks great value.

These wines might not yet be in all the books, but Adrien’s customers include some very smart restaurants. They are highly recommended.

Benoît Déhu, Fossoy 

Fossoy is in the Valley of the Marne, and I must admit I’d never heard of it until I came across Benoît’s biodynamic wines a while ago. He took over the long running family estate in 2000 and although he owns around 12 hectares of vines, he only makes his own wine from barely three hectares. The unusual thing about him is that as far as I am aware, all he uses in his wines is Pinot Meunier.

All three Déhu wines on taste are called La Rue des Noyers, named after the walnuts which used to line the road beside this site. The whole of the left bank of the Marne here is Meunier country. I had a rare conversation recently where I was asked why top producers bother with Meunier. Generally my reply is that if it’s good enough for Krug (who obtain Meunier from Leuvrigny a little way east of Fossoy)…but to be frank it is the Growers who are transforming the image of this one time heavy cropper, supposedly only planted for its frost resistence, into a variety capable of producing wines of singular character..

The proof is in the drinking. La Rue des Noyers Brut Nature NV is brisk (no malo) but is a fantastic, dry, food wine par excellence. Benoît’s Rosé de Saignée is even better. He gives it an eight hour maceration for colour and it’s an amazing bright pink. Quite broad and “winey”, another food wine, albeit with great delicacy.

There is also an unusual Coteaux Rouge Pinot Meunier (2013 here) from the same site off Marnes Gris (with sand and clay). The red is certainly not cheap, but it has a singular savoury and mineral quality which makes it very different to any Coteaux Pinot Noir red wine, and indeed to any Pinot Noir.

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Benôit Déhu

Éliane Delalot, Nogent L’Artaud

Nogent L’Artaud is also on the Left Bank of the Marne, but much further west than Fossoy. The extreme west of the Marne Valley actually lies in the Aisne département, and the vineyards are not too much further from Paris than they are from Epernay. The small (1.07 hectare) vineyard Éliane farms is on the Coteaux de Charly (Charly-sur-Marne) and Saulchery.

Éliane farms organically, but the philosophy goes way beyond organics. Labour is manual and almost petrol free, Steiner’s biodynamic preps, and essential oils, are used on the vines and animals keep the grass down. Each cuvée is a tiny production, just a few hundred bottles.

There were just two wines showing here, Pléiade Extra Extra Brut (sic) Blanc de Noirs NV (very fruity), and a vintage Brut Nature 2013 which is contrastingly savoury. Both blend Pinots Noir and Meunier and the vintage costs about twice the price of the NV. Both are pretty special, the vintage being easily in the same league as the best wines of Dhondt and Déhu.

Olivier Horiot, Les Riceys

So at last a producer we know, and indeed one I know very well. There was a time when this Aube/Côte des Bar producer claimed he really only wanted to make still wines, but I have always loved the Pinot Noir cuvée, Sève (here presented in the 2010 vintage) since he began making it in 2004.

My picks of the day would first be Soléra, which is a new wine which I’d never tried before. It is a blend of seven varieties, including the rare Arbanne, and Pinot Blanc. It sees a year in oak before it goes into a solera. Off grey marnes soils over Kimmeridgean limestone, it is singular and quite profound, but with notable solera characteristics which make these wines a little less clean for some drinkers (slight oxidative quality with truffle and curry spice in this case).

I’m also a big fan of 5 Sens which we had from 2011. It’s a Brut Nature and includes 20% Arbanne in the blend. This has a savoury nose, and a similar quality on the palate, but there is a fruit-driven quality to it as well. A very individual Champagne, but so are all of Olivier’s cuvées.

The Horiot single vineyard Rosé des Riceys were shown, both En Valingrain (with bite and fresh acidity) and En Barmont (softer). Both require ageing to get that tea-like quality which this rather special (if obscure) appellation can take on with time. Valingrain is the sunnier site, yet as true terroir wines, the rich soils of En Barmont result in the softer wine with more body. The En Valingrain 2006 I drank in December last year had taken on the wonderful, ethereal, perfume for which this vineyard is justly renowned, even though 2006 produced some plusher wines.

Ancre Hill, Monmouth, Wales

Ancre Hill Estate currently farms around 13 hectares in the Wye Valley, and Richard and Joy Morris are currently doing everything they can to double that. Why? Because their biodynamic wines are gaining the reputation they deserve, and if we are honest, probably have not had due to them being somewhat remote from the epicentre of “English” viticulture on the South Coast. Right now they can sell all they can make.

Ancre Hill is not exclusively a sparkling wine producer. They do make still Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the former made by carbonic maceration followed by a period in Austrian oak, the latter 50:50 in tank and barrel for 12 months. If you like your Chardonnay “Tasmanian” in style (very pure), and your Pinot light and fruity, these are well worth a try, seriously.

Blanc de Noirs NV is based on 2013 and 2014 fruit (’13 is organic and ’14 is also biodynamic) with two years on lees, zero dosage, and only disgorged three days before the Tasting (a sample). Fresh, lively, very dry, delicious. An equally good Rosé 2012 blends 60% Pinot Noir with 40% Chardonnay and is packed with fresh red fruits. The colour comes from a six hour cold soak.

Ancre Hill has previously made a still red from Triomphe (aka Triomphe d’Alsace), a riparia/rupestris/vinifera cross which does well in cooler climates. Last year a little CO2 remained and it gave them the idea to make a petnat. And very successful it is too. It’s a mix of 2015/16 fruit, blended before the end of the latter’s fermentation so that the 2016 remained sparkling. The pressure is around 3 bar. Quite floral, deep red, and fruity, it’s a fun wine which I’d have no hesitation buying on those terms (and hope to do so). It’s also half the price of the Blanc de Noirs.

Tillingham/Ben Walgate, East Sussex

Originally from a farming family, Ben Walgate has been working in wine in various capacities most of his life, and not so long ago headed up Gusbourne as its CEO. He has now flown solo to create what I think is an inspirational vineyard outside Peasmarsh, in Sussex. At the moment Ben is buying in grapes from half-a-dozen local sources, whilst preparing the ground to plant his own vines in May (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, plus, as Ben says, a load of Germans like Bacchus, Siegerebe and Ortega, and then a little Gamay too will be part of a larger mix).

Ben’s big project is a qvevri (well, two in fact) full of Ortega which he’s opening with some ceremony next week, but he’d slipped into Winemakers yesterday to show two still wines along with his rather marvelous petnat.

The still wines are a Chardonnay aged in second fill Mercurey barrels, fermenting on gross lees and going through full malo. It is lean but fascinating and quite unique, in a good way, very much out on the edge. Ortega (not the qvevri version) is incredibly fresh on the nose but a five day maceration gives a little waxy texture on the palate. No doubt the chalky soils of the South Downs play their part as well. No sulphur is added.

The undoubted star wine of the moment is Ben’s petnat, PN17. Two-thirds Dornfelder and one-third Ortega, or not quite. As both fermented to dryness whilst Ben was waiting for his bottle delivery, he added some Pinot Noir (still fermenting) to give it some sparkle. This is a delicious wine (you can almost tell that just from the photo below). Ben is really just getting to grips with what he wants to do at Tillingham (there was also a very natural cider last year), and he’s a very creative and intuitive winemaker. Potentially a fantastic talent in the making.

The still wines were samples, however PN17 is available from next week via Les Caves de Pyrene. But sadly you will need to be very quick – just 600 bottles were made. I’m having several!

Moving more swiftly through the rest of the producers…

I am increasing impressed by La Grange de L’Oncle Charles, the Ostheim (Alsace) domaine of Jérôme François. Ostheim is in the Haut-Rhin, a little north of Colmar and east of Beblenheim and Riquewihr. Jérôme farms three hectares which produce for him a meagre 5,000 bottles every vintage. Sittweg 2015 is a blend of 30-year-old, co-planted,  Riesling and Pinot Gris on granite, from a warmer vintage. It’s clear that the Riesling adds freshness here to the slightly fatter Pinot Gris, but the wine’s component parts sit well together. It’s basically dry, but with a little gras.

You’ve probably read enough about Domaine des Marnes Blanches, Pauline and Géraud Fromont’s brilliant rising star of a domaine at Saint-Agnes in the Southern Jura. I drank their super Pinot Noir very recently. Yesterday it was the turn of the whites, Chardonnay En Levrette and Savagnin Muscaté En Jensillard (both 2016). Both could benefit from a little time in bottle, but they are hard to resist. I do recommend trying this producer if you haven’t already. They are joining the Revermont firmament.

Likewise, you’ll know the Beaujolais wines of Karim Vionnet. Both Du Beur dans les Pinards and Chiroubles “Vin de KaV” are available in magnum from 2016, and are great in that format if you can get some. But Beaujolais-Villages 2016 must on no account be dismissed. Pure glouglou!

On the same day I first tasted Jérôme François’s wines a couple of years ago, I also tried those of Stefan Vetter. He runs just 1.5 hectares in three leased plots at Iphofen, in Franken (Germany), although after Geisenheim he began his winemaking career working for Nittnaus in Burgenland (Austria). All his wines are wonderful, but a little unusual too – most Sylvaner is pretty bracing with high acids. Stefan makes a more chalky version, but it isn’t at all one-dimensional, it’s almost complex and simple at the same time. Subtle, in other words.

Of two Sylvaners, Longue Tongue 2016 is lovely, but Rosenrain 2015 is, wow! A step up for Sylvaner fans who are not afraid of something different. His Spätburgunder Steinterrassen 2016 is a wine in the same vein, a pale bright wine, with haunting red fruits filling out the bouquet. I don’t think any of Stefan’s wines reach a thousand bottles per cuvée.

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From Australia you’d be surprised if I didn’t mention Tom Shobbrook of Seppeltsfield in the Barossa Valley. Unlike so many producers here, Tom manages around 80,000 bottles. These are spread all over the world. Few natural wine hangouts want to be without one or two. But we do at least get a good sniff of the range in the UK, thanks to the Winemakers Club connections, through all those who made wine with Sean O’Callaghan at Riecine over the years.

Of the four on show my favourites were Sammion 2016 and Novello 2016, although I love all his wines. Last time I bought a few bottles I had to toss a coin between Sammion and Giallo and Sammion lost. Undeserved, but one can’t have everything. The vines for Sammion are all between 65 to 110 years old. It gets a 15 day skin maceration in 2016, followed by seven months in concrete egg. The wine builds slowly…wait for it, and you do…into something long and profound.

Novello 2016 blends Nebbiolo, Grenache, Syrah and Muscat. The perfume is so good, gorgeous floral notes, then sweet cherry. It makes for a characterful, yet easy drinking, red.

Winemakers Club’s selection ends with Hungary. Every single wine from Hegyikaló deserves a try. If you follow me on social media you’ll notice I drank a skin contact “Zold Veltlini” 2014 the other day, and we tried the 2015 Zold Veltlini on Friday night after the Sherry Lunch. It is impossible for me to choose between all their wines, but if you want a slightly more straightforward Blaufränkisch, go for Orökségül Voros 2011, which blends Kékfrankos with some Turán (quite peppery with bright cherries). For something further along the curve, perhaps Czeresznyeérés 2015. It’s made from the unusual Medina variety and has a pale pinkish hue. It tastes of bitter macerated cherries.

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Meinklang is Austrian of course, but Pamhagan is on the border, and their brilliant H15 Hàrslevelu 2015 is from the volcanic vineyard they have at Somló in Northwest Hungary. It was the pick of their wines on show, but I didn’t find the listed Foam 2017. If you find this blended petnat from the same vineyard, grab one.

Alma Pálinka, an apple grappa of 44% alcohol, comes from Pelle Pince in Tokaj. Fresh, clean and appley, rather smooth and rather more powerful. Will aid digestion, toothache and overwhelming sadness.

Moving swiftly(ish) over to Carte Blanche (though we’ve seen their Ancre Hill Estate already), one of the wines which struck me out of the blue was Christelle Guibert‘s Itata Muscat Orange Wine. Christelle is Tastings Director at Decanter Magazine, but she has also been making rather good Muscadet. In 2016 the frosts made this impossible, but with the help of Leo Erazo, she sourced fruit from some amazing 150-year-old vines from Itata, Chile (Leo works in Argentina, but it helps that he is an Itata native and knows the region as well as anyone).

Christelle wanted to do something “out of the ordinary” and she has. The grapes come off granite and after six weeks on skins they are made in a concrete sphere (eggs are so 2015). The nose is floral and fruity and it doesn’t particularly smell like an orange wine. The palate has great texture, but it isn’t too tannic. Another low production wine, just 900 bottles made. For me, at least, I thought this was astonishingly good.

Vincent Caillé makes some excellent wines in the Muscadet Region under the Domaine Le Fay d’Homme label. The “Melon” wines are all superb, but I’d seen a new label on Instagram and here I had a chance for a first taste of it. It turns out that Je t’aime mais J’ai soif is a Vin de France “Melon” that Vincent makes for a local wine merchant friend. Pure glouglou and great fun.

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Fred van Herck now runs Domaine L’Ecu (made famous by Guy Boissard) in the same region, and also largely eschews the Muscadet AOPs in favour of the freedom of Vin de France. The estate, around 22 hectares, is fully biodynamic, and as far as I’m aware everything is bottled without sulphur. There are few domaines in the world who can match the beauty of L’Ecu’s labels, and the wines live up to the same kind of excellence. What to select from a range where I like every single wine I’ve ever tried (and eight were available to try).

If I had to select one of the Muscadet-like wines it would have to be Carpe Diem. On taste we had a 2013 which sees 15 months in amphora. Quite a musky perfume overlays a soft texture in the mouth, with rounded acidity. It’s a pretty complex wine.

Of the reds, I’m going for a tie between Astra 2016 (amphora Gamay, quite big and certainly textured) and Mephisto 2014 (a floral Cabernet Franc). Nobis 2015 is Syrah. To me it doesn’t particularly smell like Syrah, but it tastes like it. Very fresh. But to be fair, all of these wines are really good.

Some readers will know the wines of Maxime Magnon who is based in Corbières. I’ve written about his white cuvée, Le Bégou, in the recent past. He farms around eleven hectares split into almost as many parcels, on steep slopes at altitude. All Maxime’s wines are made using biodynamic methods, though I’m pretty sure he’s not certified, and the terroir really seems to shine through.

Rozeta 2016 is an old vine field blend (mainly Carignan, but with Grenache, Syrah and even some white varieties) off limestone and schist with vines over 50 years of age. Campagnes 2016  is also a field blend, but 95% Carignan off clay and limestone. Both wines have their grapes fermented together, after which ageing is in old Burgundian oak.

The methods chez Magnon are exemplary, with, in addition to biodynamics, the use of sheep in the vineyard, all vines planted separately en gobelet, and vinification is with whole clusters for these reds. Maxime trained with Foillard, and Jean was something of a mentor to him. So it’s not surprising that his reds are deep and bright fruited, but with a depth as well as a pinpoint vitality. Great wines, and personally I think the whites are perhaps even better (though not everyone will agree).

Fabien Jouves is almost a legend now, though I’m not sure he’d be happy being called that. Well, he did choose to call one of his vins de soif You F**k My Wine, which has led to a certain notoriety. His glugging wines are indeed brilliant. You F**k… 2016 has a bright new label and is a bright blend of Malbec, Merlot and Jurançon Noir. It’s superb value, as is the Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Franc Tu Vin Plus Aux Soirées 2017 (fruity Merlot nose with a bit of grip on the palate).

The Cahors wines begin with an easy to drink Les Escures 2016 (aged in concrete), before getting more serious. La Roque 2016 and Les Acacias 2015 differ in soil type (marnes versus red clay/limestone) and vessel (concrete versus foudre), making for two well differentiated cuvées. Basically the first is like pure metal and the second has greater depth and richness (the vintage style difference and the extra year of age must play a part, but La Roque is showing great purity).

These wines from Cahors are all from fruit grown at several hundred metres altitude up on the plateau. They are also all made from Malbec. B763 2014 is Fabien’s best parcel of this Cahors signature grape. From red clay/limestone, it’s made in concrete egg. It has amazing fruit concentration and a rich intensity, but right now it is tannic. Give it 5 to 8 years, says Fabien. Only 3,000 bottles made.

Les Agudes (Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Chardonnay and Semillon) and Les Pièces Longues (Chenin aged in foudre) are the delicious whites, both Vin de France. They should not be overlooked, despite their plain labels, as Fabien evidently knows full well how to make white wines as well as magnificent reds.

I want to just make time to mention that Carte Blanche are now working in association with Gudfish Wines. Gudfish is the baby of Thor Gudmundsson and Bobby Fishel, who are bringing in the wines of the so-called Swartland Revolution. A lot of the wines will be completely new, even to those who have a passing interest in the New South Africa, and they are generating a fair bit of excitement.

One of the producers who has piqued my interest over the past year, ever since I ended up sharing a few quips on social media with “Bob” (real name: Craig Sheard) is Elemental Bob. Craig has gained an image as a skateboarding winemaker out on the edge of what is happening in Swartland…and that is a very precipitous edge, to be sure, especially for the flat earthers of the classical wine world. Craig describes the philosophy he follows as “old world style with new age attitude”.

There are 3,600 bottles of White Blend 2016, which contains 44% Chenin Blanc with Semillon, Roussanne and Verdelho in descending order. Three days on skins, it’s a savoury, “natural”, intriguing, wine. A touch of plumposity too. I’m not a points man, as you know, but I can see why Tim Atkin scored this 94 (and it’s cheap, trust me).

“Bob” (or Craig, if you prefer) is possibly best known in the UK for his Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir 2016 blends equal parts of fruit from Hemel en Aarde and Overberg, with sixteen days on skins, then into old oak with the lees for ten months’ maturation.

Basically, if you can grab anything by Elemental Bob, do (there’s also a  80:20 red blend in 2016 from Cinsault/Pinot Noir, and white varietals from Grenache Blanc and Chenin). The wines are a bit mental, but completely in a good way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in biodynamic wine, Champagne, Hungarian Wine, Natural Wine, Sparkling Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Merchants, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sherry Baby (Pizarro Sherry Lunch)

At least once a year the treat of a Sherry-focused lunch comes around, and I’m sure some of you have read tales from our “Fish & Fino” lunches in the past. This week we went to Pizarro, one of José Pizarro’s venues on Bermondsey Street in London, for a lunch covering all the Sherry styles and more. With so much alcohol on the table (twelve bottles between eight diners), we were glad of a fairly prodigious quantity of food to soak it up. The fact that the food was delicious and well matched, and that the service was warm and attentive (though we had to use a rolling pin on the crab), was an added bonus. We were so unfathomably sober, and the food was not too heavy, that a few of us even managed a couple of glasses over at Winemakers club afterwards.

Tio Pepe Una Palma Fino, González Byass

Tio Pepe is probably the most famous name in Sherry (at least to my mother). On the market since 1844, there are more than 30,000 casks in the Tio Pepe solera. Most goes to produce that well known Fino, but some sees a different life. There is En Rama, of course, and there are also the Palmas, of which we were opening with the first of four. Una Palma is the youngest, with around six years of age. This was a winter bottling (25 October 2017), and like all of the Palmas, it is bottled without (or with a light) filtration.

Although relatively light as a wine as well, there is a hint of richness, with a bready/nutty note adding to its savoury character. A serious aperitif, but also a fine accompaniment for the first of our pica picas to share, the padron peppers. Una Palma should not be ignored in favour of the more complex (and complicated) older Palmas, especially as it’s pretty good value and relatively inexpensive.

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Inocente Fino, Valdespino

Inocente may not be as famous as Tio Pepe among the general public, but I’m sure it is among Sherry lovers, and I’d wager that many who discovered the delights of Fino did so over a glass of Inocente and a few salted almonds and olives. As with all the Valdespino soleras, Inocente’s now resides safely at the Grupo Estévez bodega on the edge of Jerez.

The wine in the Inocente solera has traditionally come from Jerez’s fine, chalky, Macharnudo Alto vineyard, undoubtedly the region’s most famous site. With an unusually high number of criaderas for Fino (ten) and the very pure albariza soils in Macharnudo Alto, the wine is singularly pure, perhaps less obviously biological in character than many Finos, yet also showing the depth of its average ten years of age when bottled.

This bottle tasted very fresh, without especially pronounced flor character. It was restrained, with a touch of glycerol showing, doubtless as it was left “uncovered” by the wine’s finesse. It gives a dry wine with a glimmer of false sweetness, which is very attractive.

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Manzanilla En Rama “La Gitana” Aniversario, Hidalgo

La Gitana is Hidalgo’s classic Manzanilla, and its label is possibly the most easily recognised in the whole region, equally a classic. Aniversario is a limited edition (fewer than 2,000 bottles), released to celebrate the 225th anniversary of Hidalgo, founded in 1792. The average age of the wine is 15 years.

This is easily the most striking wine on the nose so far, very concentrated. It has a real saline character (it is aged very close to the sea at Sanlúcar), but also real almond nuttiness and something almost bitter-sweet. The other quality, perhaps the most noticeable of all, is a genuine smoothness which sets it apart. A wine of real complexity, and although unusual for a Manzanilla, it is extremely good, and indeed it excelled at the table with food.

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La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada 59 “Capataz Rivas”, Equipo Navazos

This was the first of three EN wines on the day, and a fine start, of course. I won’t repeat the EN story here, but it is clear that when Jesús Barquin and Eduardo Ojeda are selecting wine for bottling under this label, what they are looking for above all else is wine of a singular character and personality. That does mean that some bottlings can be very intense, yet others exhibit finesse and a lightness of being which you rarely find. All are, in my opinion, of genuine world class.

Bota 59 comes from Hijos de Rainera Pérez Marín in Sanlúcar, and 3,500 bottles were filled from 15 butts in June 2015. The uniqueness of this wine, which has an average age of around fifteen years, is in its slightly different method of production. The casks were filled higher than usual for the style, and so the flor layer is thinner, allowing for the wine to take on slightly more of an oxidative character. Add that to its strong salinity and you get something very complex, which almost approaches an Amontillado. Concentration, complexity, yet freshness. Stunning.

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La Bota de Amontillado 37, Equipo Navazos

From the same source as “59”, this is from a run of 3,000, bottled in August 2012. Twelve butts out of 100 were selected from one of the solera’s criaderas. The average age here is eighteen years, but in style it leans back towards the previous wine in some respects. By that I mean that whilst there is a caramel note on the finish, and an intense nuttiness which is a step up in style terms from the Finos and Manzanillas, it is also a wine of exemplary restraint and aromatics (almost herby, which I don’t often find showing above the nut intensity). We are talking about a wine here which is complex and long, and very elegant too. I don’t think I’ve owned any “37” so I was very happy to drink it.

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Amontillado 30-year-old, Bodegas Tradición

Bodegas Tradición is a specialist in fine old Sherry. It is perhaps no coincidence that this is the Bodega chosen by The Queen’s grocer, Fortnum & Mason, to represent their own label Sherries. The label itself only came into being in 1998, with the first releases in 2003. All the bottles released by the bodega itself are hand numbered, as you will see in the photo below (this was 1,576 of 3,600).

As old wines go, this lacks none of the concentration you’d expect, but there is also a fine spine of acidity which gives it structure.You can add to that acidity a eucalyptus note on the finish which is very distinctive. This is an expensive wine, perhaps around £60 retail, but one well worth seeking out. There is also a 40-year-old.

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La Bota de Palo Cortado 72 “Pata de Gallina”, Equipo Navazos

The last of our three EN wines, 2,100 bottles were filled in January 2017 from butts at Rey Fernando de Castilla. The wine is about 30 years old and it is almost a classic rendition of Palo Cortado, sitting between Amontillado and Oloroso in style. As you might expect, there is concentration here, but not at the expense of elegance. What really makes the difference is that finesse, expressed through very fine citrus notes of orange, lime and waxy lemon peel. This gives the very long finish something different and special. It also made a wonderful contrast to the other Palo Cortado which was paired with it, and with the exquisite slow cooked lamb (which, as a very rare eater of meat, I can taste even now).

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Lustau “Fine Old Rare Sherry” Palo Cortado Vides, Bottled Berry Bros & Rudd

This is an almacenista Sherry, which originates, according to the label, “from the solera of Vides”. As we know, the Almacenitas were the wholesalers who maintained their own stocks. They are declining rapidly, but Vides (founded 1958), from whose butts this wine comes, is still going. When Lustau release this wine under their own label, the average age is twenty years, and presumably this is the same wine as released as a 37.5cl bottle under  BBR’s own-label. Lustau has specialised in the release of wines from individual almacenistas, and although the wines vary in style, and perhaps quality, this Palo is quite a bargain in this BBR bottling…if you can still find some.

As I said, it contrasted well with the Equipo Navazos. It’s a smooth wine with hints of caramel and a tiny suspicion of sugar, even. What leaps out of the glass on the nose is a hint of apricot, and on the palate, deeper toned nuts, with coffee/caramel and a salt and pepper finish.

Although difficult to pick out the best flight, I’d be tempted to select this one for class, contrast and food matching. I’m drinking more Palo Cortado than I used to, and this is down to my increasing delight in the style for drinking with food. I’m sure most wine lovers would think of something very different to accompany lamb, even if limited to Spain. But Palo Cortado makes a surprisingly good match. The alcohol is high, of course (19% for the Lustau and 20.5% for the Navazos), but it is both savoury, and a surprising aid to digestion.

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“Medium Old Harvest”, Ximénez-Spínola

What is this? Amazing, that’s what. And, well, it does say “made respecting family rules” (emphasis added). It is unfortified PX grown in Jerez, produced by a bodega which has the reputation of producing the tiniest quantities of wine in the region. This is doubtless why it isn’t a producer I see very often. In fact one might almost suspect that they want to remain a secret.

“Medium Old Harvest” was certainly one of the wines of the day. You don’t often see dry PX from Jerez itself. Some people will try to tell you there isn’t any. I know that the famous “Añina” vines once owned by Hidalgo are gone, but there are still a few hectares owned by González Byass in its “Esteve” vineyard, and there are probably other patches. But X-S has a whole 16 hectares, allegedly, in two vineyards, Carrascal and El Tablas. In fact, they only grow Pedro Ximénez.

This particular wine comes in at 17% abv, and how one would classify it, I’m not sure. Is it dry or not? The palate gets slightly confused by the  prominent drying ginger spice, but technically it has 45 grams of sugar. Of course it is (yet again) complex etc (which can sound like a sticking record at a Sherry lunch, but it’s no less true), but this wine is also just so drinkable. I’m not sure I’ve had a wine at this high alcohol which is so damned gluggable before.

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Old & Plus Oloroso, Romate

Bodegas Romate’s oldest wines appear under the “Old & Plus” label (formerly “Sacrista”), and they are marketed in an unusual bottle shape (as you will see below), in an antique style which reminds me of an early Port bottle, and similar to a wide-bottomed ship’s decanter.

The wine inside is something special. Around 30 years plus, it is dark mahogany in colour with enormous legs and 20% abv. It is aged in American oak. Here we are into new olfactory territory. Figs are not so unusual, but there’s also leather and wood smoke on the nose, and a touch of coffee bean on the palate, leaving it to trail off with intense nutty notes. You are probably looking at paying about £50 for this, although I can’t find any current UK stock. But it would be well worth the punt if you find one. A glorious wine.

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Antique Oloroso, Fernando de Castilla 

The wines of Fernando de Castilla are reasonably easy to source on the UK market, which kind of belies their immense quality. They produce a small range of exceptional wines. The Antique Oloroso contains wines of at least 20 years of age, and so it loses nothing in elegance and finesse whilst providing just the right degree of complexity, intensity and drinkability. It was interesting to see the bottles of Fernando de Castilla arrayed in a cupboard in the room in which we were dining.

I’ve read the word “burnished” used to describe this wine, and it fits very well. My notes use something very similar, “polished” and “classy”. In some ways these descriptions make any other adjectives redundant. But it is important to clarify a little. It is neither too light, nor too heavy. It has character, but not a personality that dominates. It has length, but length which diminishes on a gentle curve, without falling off a precipice. I think that “classy” sums it up.

Pairing these wines with the cheese course really highlights how well they perform with such a match. Rather as Vin Jaune is perfection with walnuts and Comté, a selection of Spanish cheeses, almonds and cubes of quince jelly provide all the flavours to set the Olorosos off rather nicely. We could have stopped here…but we didn’t.

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Solera Fundacion 1830 PX, Navarro, Montilla-Moriles

I last drank this wine just over a year ago, and it is interesting to read my notes from that occasion. I wrote “how can a wine with so much sugar, velvety rather than acidic, not be cloying?”. The same question is just as pertinent today.

This wine from Bodegas Navarro comes from Montilla-Morilles, a good 100 miles to the east of Jerez, but source of most of the Pedro Ximénez grapes grown in Southern Spain. This bottle contains wines with an average age of 25 years, although from a solera founded in 1830 there will be small but concentrated quantities of much older juice.

Indeed, the wine itself is very concentrated, but we all noticed how well it poured. Some PX can seem hardly a liquid at all. So as well as the intense sweetness you get something fresher, which I would describe as a note of bitter orange. It balances the sweetness on the nose, though the palate is dominated by rich caramel and toffee. It was very much at home with the unusual cream cheese ice cream Pizarro served up before a reviving coffee.

I know plenty of Sherry lovers who won’t touch PX, but this has the kind of extra dimension that just might change the minds of one or two of them.

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As I have already intimated, this was a fantastic lunch, one of the highlights of the year so far. I certainly couldn’t do this once a fortnight, but once or twice a year is not really enough. Although I knew several of the wines, others I didn’t, and there must be some gems out there for us to discover (one or two at the lunch are regular visitors to the region). Not only was the company congenial, but the breadth and depth of knowledge around the table was impressive. And to repeat what I have said before, the restaurant did us proud in quantity and quality. I would be very happy to go back there for another lunch or dinner.

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Les Vignes Retrouvées – The Story of Plaimont

If you remember the commercial wines of the Plaimont Co-operative in France’s Gers Region from back in the 1980s (okay, well maybe your parents drank them), when Colombard made in almost a New World style hit our shelves in the generic Côtes de Gascogne, you might decide to look away, but don’t. Those wines were commercial, but they were part of a longer and more complex story, one which highlights a miracle of rejuvenation for some of the poorest winemakers in France, but even more importantly, one which tells a tale of a rediscovered ampelographical and viticultural heritage from which we need to learn lessons for the future.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend a Tasting and two Masterclasses at Carousel Restaurant  in London, organised by Westbury Communications and the Plaimont Producteurs. The first of these, facilitated by Jamie Goode, with Olivier Bourdet-Pees (Plaimont MD) and Nadine Raymond (Plaimont Technical Co-ordinator/Oenologist) looked at the Heritage of Saint-Mont. The second was an instructive, hands-on, blending excercise led by Christine Cabri (Plaimont Oenologist).

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The foothills of the Pyrenees were climatically perfect for the rapid spread of the wild grape vine, and it made its home climbing trees in the forests there long before it was discovered by humans. Its roots competed hard for nutrients, its bunches sought sunlight in order to ripen, and there were plenty of birds to spread its seeds far and wide.

The Côtes de Saint-Mont, where the Plaimont co-operative is based,  lies in the foothills of the Pyrenees, west of Toulouse and north of Tarbes and Pau, and sits adjacent to Madiran. The region benefits from very sandy soils. We know how phylloxera devastated the vineyards of France in the second half of the Nineteenth Century, but we also know that the phylloxera louse cannot live in sandy soils. This is one reason why The Gers has such a wealth of pre-phylloxera vine material.

The Gers has always been one of the poorest regions in France, with an agricultural economy close to subsistence level before the latter part of the 20th Century. The nature of viticulture, with much of local wine production being geared towards home consumption rather than commercial sales, means that older, often less productive, vines were not pulled out in favour of more famous, more hardy, or more productive, varieties. This leaves many old varieties dotted around the region which, in more established viticultural areas have long been grubbed up. It also means that the region still has some of the vinifera hybrids planted after the eradication of phylloxera.

The region’s producers embraced modern viticulture and winemaking in the late 20th Century, but some obstinate individuals kept their strange old vines. Seen as mad men then, they are now hailed as heroes. Why is it important that this great heritage is preserved?

  1. In 1958 twenty well known grape varieties occupied 53% of the French vignoble. By 2012 those same 20 varieties occupied 91% of the vineyards. So much for diversity.
  2. With climate change comes greater ripeness, something which is being experienced throughout all of Europe’s vineyards. The Southwest’s viticulture is based, especially in red wines, on varieties like Tannat, whose alcohol content at ripeness is increasing. If there are autochthonous varieties which will help freshen the Tannat, these need to be discovered.
  3. Diversity is a wonderful thing. When we visit a French region we enjoy regional foods, like cheeses for example. No matter how good Comté and Roquefort may be, we still want our Mont D’Or, Livarot or Abondance. We should embrace the diversity in regional grape varieties too. It’s all part of culture.

Although Gers had a winegrowing history going back even further than when Benedictine Monks planted a vineyard for the Abbey of Saint-Mont in 1050, when the Plaimont co-operative was founded sixty years ago the region was in a poor state and the future looked grim. Even the local mainstay, Armagnac, was falling out of favour.

But in the 1970s André Dubosc, who had studied in Bordeaux under Emile Peynaud, came back to the area with a plan to breath life into Saint-Mont, and today the co-operative group has 800 growers producing 40 million bottles of wine a year. Much of that is good commercial wine, but some of it is quite special. Saint-Mont took a big step with the granting of VDQS in the 1980s, and became full Appellation Contrôlée in 2011. In 2012 the historic, 200-year-old Sarragachies vineyard within Saint-Mont, source of many of these old grape varieties, became the first piece of agricultural land in France to be designated a “Protected Historic Landmark”.

The main grape varieties of the region are Gros and Petit Manseng, Petit Courbu and Arrufiac for white wine, plus Tannat and Pinenc for red (Pinenc is a local synonym for, and mutation of, Fer Servadou/Mansois/Braucol as seen in Aveyron (eg Marcillac etc) and Gaillac). These varieties possess great individuality, but equally, they are capable of making wines of genuine class. This is especially the case with the Madiran AOC (Plaimont makes 55% of all Madiran), but the best wines of Saint-Mont are not far behind.

I’m going to run through a selection of Plaimont’s top wines, then take a look at some of the micro-vinifications made from the long lost grape varieties, before finishing with some notes from the blending masterclass.

Dr Jamie, Olivier and Nadine (note beret and scarf obligatory at Plaimont)

The Top Wines of Plaimont

You might have seen the bottles with a wooden label, called Le Faîte. I will admit I always thought this was just a marketing gimmick, but in fact these wooden blocks, attached to the bottle by wax, have an historic precedent. In the past when wine was mainly drunk from cask, wine was set aside in bottle for future special occasions, such as a wedding or baptism. The region didn’t have cellars (probably all that sand) so bottles were burried, to be dug up when needed. The wine was well conserved in the cool earth, but paper labels would not have survived. A wooden one served perfectly.

Le Faîte Blanc is a blend of Gros and Petit Manseng, Petit Courbu and around 2 to 3% Arrufiac, grown in the best terroirs of Saint-Mont, Aignan and Plaisance. A little cold maceration (8-12 hours for GM and 2-4 hours for the others) is followed by vinification in stainless steel tanks, followed by six months on lees (with stirring).

The 2014 is yellow with green glints showing a lovely lemon freshness from the Gros Manseng, with the grapefruit flavour characteristic of this variety (which adds a lovely bitter touch and salinity on the finish). It is a remarkable wine which on first taste I had as a kind of cross between Chablis and a Clare Valley Riesling. Delicious, but with the obvious potential to age. The 2010 still has that trademark freshness, but the nose is more developed with complex notes of other fruits and herbs. The palate shows impressive depth. Of all the wines tasted, Le Faîte Blanc was the one which surprised me most with its quality and potential.

Le Faîte Rouge blends Tannat with Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinenc, aged in 225 litre oak (30% new). It’s a classy wine, though I was more impressed with the white version, but even the 2010 was still developing, with soft but persistent tannins. Among the reds I preferred Monastère Rouge, a mix of Tannat, Pinenc and Cabernet Franc. It sees similar oak treatment (eleven months, 40% new) and the 2014 was dark, with big legs and tannins galore, yet it has nice fresh dark fruits as well, plus some peppery spice on the finish. Tannat is very high it rotundone, which gives a characteristic (green) pepper note.

Les Vignes Préphylloxériques Saint Mont “1871” is a very special wine. It’s made from 99% Tannat and just 1% Pinenc, from a vineyard of just under half a hectare, planted in 1871 on soft gravelly sand, with two vines per stake. Propagation is by layering. Fermentation is in oak with regular oxygenation (syphoning), followed by ageing in oak for a little over one year before bottling.

Pure fruit combines on the nose with flowers and iron filings, with a hint of red meat juice for good measure. It’s tannic but pure. It certainly tastes different to the other reds, that is in part down to the varietal mix. But the difference must also be in part down to the pre-phylloxera vines, which remain on their original root stock.

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Château de Sabazan is run along the lines of a Bordeaux château, with nine of its eleven hectares under vine reserved for the Grand Vin. Around 80% Tannat is seasoned with Cabernet Franc and Pinenc, with each plot vinified separately. It is château-bottled after 12 to 15 months in oak (30% new). We were treated to a taste of the 1998 vintage, which had a lovely deep claret colour and an almost floral bouquet. There is some maturity as one would expect in a 20-year-old wine, but it has a dense, firm, spine which with good ripe tannins suggests it will improve further. Quite majestic.

There are plenty of other wines of note, including an attractive Madiran Plénitude (Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc). The 2012 (14.5% abv) had some meaty complexity on the nose, with violets following. Tannins are silky, and it’s a big wine. But that’s Madiran. You have to wait, as the 2004 Château d’Aydie I drank back in December last year proved.

There was also a sample of Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh “Saint-Albert” 2014. Saint Albert’s Day is 15 November, and it is around this day that the final trie for this cuvée is picked. Produced by fifteen growers from the AOC, Saint-Albert is sold by lots at a charity auction. It is pale, with green glints, which is a little deceptive because the nose is powerful – exotic apricot jam and sweet confit lime with a touch of honey. There is a nice saline quality about the finish, which goes on and on.

Madiran Plénitude and Pacherenc “Saint-Albert”

The Long Lost Vines

These lost varieties are the heart of the ampelography work going on at Plaimont. They classify vines (DNA analysis is used where necessary), grow cuttings, and make microvinifications. The aim is not just to conduct research for fun. One of these varieties, Manseng Noir, has gone from one vine to 20 hectares, and will have a commercial release in May of this year (100 hectares are planned). Yielding a wine of just 11.4% alcohol, it is clearly an insurance against climate change.

Morenoa means “brown-black” in Basque, but the grape is related genetically to Cabernet Franc. With Pédebernade 5, discovered in that historic Sarragachies vineyard (mentioned above), it shares a very fresh taste. The latter variety is strong on black pepper, on both nose and palate.

The nursery has 37 vine varieties in all, seven of which were completely unknown and unidentifiable. One of those, Dubosc 1,  has been named after the co-operative’s founder as it was discovered on his 150-year-old vineyard at Viella in Madiran. It is related to Gros Manseng, but is a black variety. Like several of these long lost vines, it is a female plant, so very difficult to propagate. It is again incredibly high in rotundone.

The Manseng Noir mentioned above was also discovered in that same Dubosc vineyard at Viella and is genetically linked to the abovementioned variety. The name “Manseng” is linked to “Manse”, manse varieties generally making wines reserved for sale rather than merely home consumption in the past. It is currently being used in the red blend “Moonseng”, but as I have already stated, release of a 100% Manseng Noir is expected this May.

It has a deep colour which stains the glass, a lovely floral and fruity perfume, and concentration, but it isn’t at all heavy. It should release for around £12 retail and will be well worth seeking out.

Even more interesting, for me, was Tardif. This was also discovered in Sarragachies, and is related to another Pédebernade variety, Pédebernade 4. It ripens late and at lower alcohol levels, and also exhibits the spicy, peppery, results of high rotundone levels. There are currently a mere 20 vines, propagated from just one parent, and the 2017 microvinification was just 12 bottles. Alongside the massive pepper aromas it is eye-openingly fresh (but not over acidic). It has obvious potential as a blending partner for the bigger varieties, but even though not especially multi-dimensional, it was strangely attractive on its own after all those tannic reds.

Blending Les Vignes Retrouvées Blanc 2017

Of the white varieties, Petit Manseng is the best known, and perhaps wrongly, the most highly regarded. Its fame rests on the glorious late harvest sweet wines from Jurançon and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, but it fares so well in these wines partly because it is prone to high alcohol levels (it also needs masses of rain). When the juice is concentrated and the sugars do not ferment to dryness, this is not an issue, rather something of a plus. But in a dry wine, not so good. So the backbone is formed by Gros Manseng in the dry wines, fleshed out by Petit Courbu and spiced up with a little Arrufiac.

Arrufiac was described by Olivier as “horrible” and “a monster”. It has high yields requiring green harvesting one year, and low yields the next. It tastes of green apple and is acidic. Growers always want to pull it out, yet it has been proved to contribute something to the blend in small proportion and the co-operative insists growers all keep a little.

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Christine takes us through the blending process

We sat down with oenologist Christine Cabri to play around at blending a white. We had three grape varieties to play with (Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu and Arrufiac, which we tasted as individual components first), and samples of some older vintages to inform our experiment. The aim was to blend a wine not for immediate consumption but for ageing. This was the difficult part. It isn’t difficult to blend a wine that tastes good now, but it takes experience to know how each variety fared in each vintage, and what it can contribute to the blend for the future.

This was clear when we discovered from Christine what her 2017 blend is comprised of. In between we had considerable fun trying to put together something creditable…and being rebels, my blending partner and I found a great deal of interest in trying out blends that were obviously wrong. Well, that is surely how you learn?

This was best illustrated when we tried 30% Arrufiac, though little did we know that the final blend for 2017 would include 15% Arrufiac (more than usual, along with 65% Gros Manseng and 20% Petit Courbu) because “this year it was quite mallic, neutral and balanced”.

I’m not sure our results matched the experienced palate of Christine Cabri, but the potential of the grapes was shown when we tried the 2007 vintage of the Vignes Retrouvées. It was shockingly fresh for a ten-year-old white wine, quite brisk even. But it had also become deeper and more complex. The nose showed white truffle and the finish had a gentle chalky texture. Astonishing for a wine that is pretty cheap (around £11 retail in the UK for a current vintage).

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The rest of Plaimont’s portfolio

I tasted my way through a couple of dozen Plaimont wines before the Masterclasses. Of course it’s easy to dismiss them when set against the more serious, and interesting, wines mentioned here. But we shouldn’t be snobby about it. These are extremely well made commercial wines which are affordable for all wine drinkers. In white, pink and red, they provide accessible drinking and expert modern winemaking. There isn’t time to talk about them here, but I think if you were to try one when you come across them in a chain restaurant, local bistro or supermarket, you’d be quite pleasantly surprised.

Someone said on Twitter that yesterday’s Tasting was a “perfectly pitched piece of brand promotion”, which was true. But marketing will only get you so far. Sometimes it is easy for the so-called expert to see the marketing and to ignore or dismiss it. But in getting to know the wider story of the Plaimont co-operative, as well as marveling at their commercial transformation and success, it is impossible not to be impressed with the work they are doing, both to preserve their viticultural patrimony, and to plan for their future in an uncertain world of changing climate and destructive weather events. They gave me a fascinating insight and an afternoon of discovery.

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Austria at the IOD

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

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

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Günter & Regina Triebaumer, Rust

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

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

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

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Waldschütz Weinhof, Sachsendorf

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

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

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

Knoll and Nikolaihof, Wachau

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wieninger, Vienna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Diwald, Grossriedenthal, Wagram

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

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

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

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

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

       Lisanna of Red Squirrel with Arnold Holzer

Eschenhof Holzer, Grossriedenthal, Wagram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weingut Leth, Fels am Wagram

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

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

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

                        Franz Leth manning the table

Ebner-Ebenauer, Poysdorf, Weinviertel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Black Edition” Grüner 

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

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Marion Ebner and her rather wonderful Sekt

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

Bernhard Ott, Feuersbrunn, Wagram

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

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

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

Kracher, Illmitz, Neusiedlersee/Burgenland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gerhard and his Zweigelt BA 

Ernst Triebaumer, Rust, Burgenland

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

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

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

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

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

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

                        Herbert Triebaumer

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

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