For Part 2 of the “wines I drank at home” in January we have another select but diverse bunch, from Beaujolais as natural as it comes, to South African Chardonnay, “Noir and Meunier” from Kent, Wiener Gemischter Satz and a wine made from Heathcote grapes but created by a cult producer based in Gippsland, Victoria.
B…j.l..s 2021 Vin de France, Julie Balagny (Beaujolais, France)
Oh the lengths producers have to go to in order to enable you to recognise what their natural wine “Vin de France” should be allowed to be called, were it not a significant improvement on most of the dross which goes out under the equivalent appellation (and therefore of considerable annoyance to the arbiters of taste on the local appellation panels). Of course, in this case the said Vin de France will cost you a little shy of forty quid, possibly six-to-eight times more than AOP Bojo from an industrial scale producer would cost in a French Intermarché or equivalent, so it had better be damnedly good!
This is expressive (capitalised), unfiltered Gamay from seventy-year-old vines planted on sandy soils at Émeringes, which is right on the border with the Juliénas Cru. It’s very easy going, having seen a cold carbonic maceration without any remontage, nor pigeage. It underwent a very slow and gentle press into old oak, and that’s it. Bottled without any added sulphur, of course. Strawberry aromatics dominate, with ripe cherry fruit sweetness riding over the savoury palate. It’s just so perfect. Julie’s wines are regrettably rising out of my price range for many, indeed most, of the cuvées.
It’s always sad to see this happen, where natural wines become the playground for the wealthy wine collector, but costs and artisanal scale of production makes such price rises inevitable…though let’s not forget the significant extra costs UK importers are facing via transportation price increases and post-Brexit paperwork. These wines are definitely cheaper in France. But this delicious cuvée is still accessible to me, and hopefully for a few vintages to come judging by the pleasure given by this bottle.
£38 via Noble Fine Liquor, or from the online shop of importer Tutto Wines.
Luuks 2020, Blank Bottle Winery (Stellenbosch, South Africa)
Although I try not to write multiple times about a wine I’ve mentioned before, this one deserves it. It’s extremely good, perhaps an understatement. Luuks is Afrikaans slang for luxury and in this case, it refers to Pieter Walser’s first ever brand-new barrel, from Burgundy, in which he put the debut 2020 vintage. I believe the 2021 was made in the same barrel, so that would make it second fill for the 2021 if you find that in the shops now.
The 2020 has matured very well indeed since I first drank a bottle in August last year. The 2020 for some reason never felt as overtly oaky as a lot of Burgundy would have tasted from new oak. For me it is more harmonious now, though, the plush fruit and acidity being balanced nicely. The first thought which comes to mind is opulence, but the acids keep it real. The bouquet has a strong floral element, but the oak gives the palate a creaminess which is starting to become more complex than it was almost six months ago. I definitely plan to grab some of the 2021.
The importer is Swig Wines. Butlers Wine Cellar (in Brighton) has the 2021 for £27.95. The Good Wine Shop (various branches in London) appears to list it for £33 if you can’t pick up the phone to Butlers.
Double Pinot 2021, Westwell (Kent, UK)
When I posted a photo of this Pinot Noir and Meunier blend on Instagram I got a number of messages saying how exceptional this perhaps unobtrusive wine from Adrian Pike is. It came out of Adrian’s desire to make a red wine in 2021, in what was not the easiest of vintages. His answer was to use layered carbonic maceration as a way of breaking down some of the malic acids.
Harvested in late October, he used a mix of whole bunches, destemmed whole berries and crushed grapes in a ratio of 20:40:40. After the maceration, which took place over one week, the fruit was very gently pressed into a split of barrel and amphora for six months ageing. Bottling took place in July 2022 without any manipulation and with no added sulphur.
Cherry red in colour, the nose blends cherries and ripe strawberry. The palate is all chewy smooth fruit except for a distinctly peppery finish. It’s worth noting the alcohol – just 10.5%. That makes for a great summer red, one that you can glug freely like a thirst-quenching juice. But it was ten degrees up here when I drank this (as it is today, as we bask in glorious sunshine), and it was perfect. Very fresh indeed.
Uncharted Wines has this available for £25. It’s worth considering a look at their “New England” offer of six bottles (three from Westwell and three from Matt Gregory) for £120. You can also buy “Double Pinot” direct from Westwell for the same price.
Wiener Gemischter Satz Nussberg DAC 2021, Weingut Zahel (Vienna, Austria)
This is a traditional co-planted and co-fermented field blend, so traditional, and culturally intrinsic, to the beautiful vineyards which ring Austria’s capital, mostly to the east. In this case the blend, from vines on the Nussberg hillside, is made up from Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Chardonnay, Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Gewurztraminer. Alex Zahel follows biodynamic practices and is Demeter-certified.
The vines on the Nussberg are planted on cracked, weathered, limestone with sandy loam. Ageing is mostly in stainless steel and this keeps the freshness, and perhaps helps enhance the mineral streak in the wine, which appears on the nose (along with citrus and floral notes) and goes right through to a stony texture on the palate. As with most Gemischter Satz, it has a savoury bitterness, gentle but lifted by the tiny carbon dioxide bubbles in the glass (protection from oxidation).
Once you come to know the field blend wines of Austria’s capital you soon come to realise how versatile they are, either as an aperitif or with food. We took this, for example, as our “BYOB” to a Sri Lankan popup down the road. The wine’s zippy freshness allied with its mineral texture made it a good foil for moderately spicy vegetarian food.
This came from The Solent Cellar (£22). The Good Wine Shop (branches in West London) should have the single site “Nussberg Ried Kaasgraben” for £25.50. Expect a touch more weight and ageing potential from the latter, but drink this wine over summer for zesty freshness.
Etcetera, Etcetera 2019, Momento Mori (Gippsland, Victoria, Australia)
I’ve mentioned Dane Johns, who began his career under the tutelage of William Downie, a few times before, not least when I was trying to track him down last time I was in Australia. Then I wrote about his Tolone Riesling back in September, one of the new wines from his home vineyard, Nikau Farm. I was especially happy to be able to drink this Momento Mori cuvée as the last bottle I’d bought was the victim of my kitchen floor and the appalling packaging used by one UK bonded warehouse in which to deliver my wine.
“Etcetera” is a blend of the Friulian grape variety, Schioppettino (aka Ribola Nera), with Syrah. It isn’t a wine from Dane’s Nikau Farm (in Gippsland’s Baw Baw sub-region), but is made from grapes originating from the Chalmers Family Vineyard at Heathcote, some way to the northwest. This may explain the Syrah, a famous stalwart of Heathcote, a region where several famous names (including the odd French one) grow it. Don’t ask me how Schioppettino ended up there, but I know Dane has a penchant for such varieties, including other gems originating in Friuli.
As with all Dane’s offerings, we have nothing added, especially not sulphur. Totally natural wine is the goal of a man who I believe is the only non-European producer allowed to use the official label of the “Brutal Corporation” for one of his cuvées. We get a deeply-coloured wine but one which on first sip is quite light. Deliciously mixing abundant red and darker fruits with a little texture and grip, but a wine which overall is smooth and sensual. Mega-delicious for sure.
My bottle came from Noble Fine Liquor in London (£29), though the importer for Momento Mori and Dane’s Nikau Farm bottlings is Les Caves de Pyrene. It’s worth giving a heads-up here that whilst the Nikau Farm wines are at first sight horrendously expensive (usually more than double that for the Momento Mori wines), The Solent Cellar has some pretty hefty discounts on their obviously limited stocks (these wines are in any case unicorns made in achingly tiny quantities) of four different Nikau Farm cuvées. You will need to get on the phone swiftly I suspect, as one or two restaurants are often quick to snap up any unicorns which Simon and the team get hold of. My own suspicion is that reading this article you are going to be slightly ahead of the curve.
The wines in Part Two were all delicious, it goes without saying, but the labels were all a bit monochrome, weren’t they. That’s not a criticism. I really love Galia’s labels for Westwell, likewise the drawings by Delphine Chauvin (for Julie Balagny), which always bring a smile to the face. I guess I just noticed the lack of colour on the labels compared to those staring at me when I go to find a bottle. I just need to work harder to add colour to their backgrounds.