Time for More Swiss Wine

Last night Wringer & Mangle just south of London Fields hosted a reception organised by Westbury Communications for four Swiss producers from the Valais Region. The space was packed with people who came for the wine and the exhibition of label art created for the producers. We were treated to excellent canapés and sounds, and the wines were flowing freely too. Not many people were spitting. There was even a Swiss TV team there to record our reactions.

The buzz in the venue made it quite difficult to have any meaningful conversation with the producers, but the wines were perfectly able to speak for themselves. The four producers were ProvinsDomaine Jean-René Germanier, Domaine des Muses and Domaine Thierry Constantin. I already knew the first three producers, who would certainly count in most people’s top dozen best known domaines from the region (I’ve got a couple of wines from Provins and Muses in the cellar), but Thierry Constantin was a bit of a discovery.

UK availability is not widespread. Provins wines are available via Alpine Wines, as are Domaine des Muses and Domaine Jean-René Germanier. Some Germanier is also available through Hedonism Wines in London’s Mayfair. I’m told that Oddbins carry two or three of the Provins wines. Thierry Constantin currently has no UK importer, but there was a note in the list of wines from the event to the effect “if interested please contact Thorman Hunt“.

A note on Tasting: These wines are, within their context, all young. Some of the reds, in particular, can taste slightly unripe. When wines are grown at altitude they aim to exhibit a purity, and lack of heaviness. The tannins can make them seem unripe (someone said green). Of course when they have aged (I’m talking about the best producers’ wines) and the tannins have softened, the purity of the fruit should come through. I’m sure we all know how to taste young wines, but I often find people expect Swiss reds to be more or less ready on release. This is rarely the case and we are in danger sometimes of judging them in the wrong context.

PROVINS VALAIS

Provins, founded in 1930 and headquartered in Sion, is actually the largest wine producer in Switzerland. Although that is very much relative, 10% of all Swiss wine is made by this organisation which, with 3,200 members, functions as a co-operative. They control 800 hectares of vines, but more importantly they produce 110 different wines. This means that whilst much of the Provins production is of everyday quality, and consumed in situ, they are able to produce several ranges of top quality cuvées.

In my view they are most effective when vinifying the traditional Valais varieties. Of the twenty-two ranges produced by Provins, “Les Domaines” are terroir wines which come from single sites, usually the terraced high altitude vineyards which make this region one of the world’s most beautiful to visit. The “Maître de Chais” range is Provins’ premium label (despite perhaps sounding generic to British drinkers). These are selections from the best plots. Both form the apex of the Provins quality pyramid.

Heida Chapitre 2017 (Les Domaines) – This is a single site wine, beautifully expressive of Swiss Heida. This variety is of course “Savagnin”. It is more towards the lighter style that some Jura producers would label “Traminer”, but even then you don’t quite get the full picture. Grown on the mountain terraces of the Valais, where you can find some of Europe’s highest vineyards, the variety takes on a purer air about it. It has a lightness. It is pale, crisp, clean, dry and mineral. A nice example.

Petite Arvine 2017 (Maître de Chais) – Petite Arvine is possibly the most distinguished of the Valais white varieties. It also seems to me that it is the most consistent across producers, and I’ve been drinking Petite Arvine from the Valais and the Val d’Aosta for certainly over twenty years. The variety usually shows quite floral aromas (as this wine does). The palate is dominated by white peach, but the finish comes with spice, quince-dryness and a little grapefreuit acidity. It tastes clean and fresh but has a little body, fleshing it out.

Humagne Rouge 2015 (Maître de Chais) – The colour is a lovely, bright, ruby red. The bouquet has cherry fruit and a touch of earth. There’s still some tannic grip which will soften after a further year or two (although this is not particularly a vin de garde), and there’s bright (but not dominant) acidity. Along with Cornalin, Humagne Rouge is one of the most important, and interesting to connoisseurs, autochthonous red varieties in the Valais. You can tell by the wine’s lifted quality that it comes from altitude, and you need to understand that this is not a wine where the fruit will show surmaturité. In youth, it shows a more floral side, and with age it can develop a more animal nature. Expect to pay a little over £30/bottle for the Petite Arvine and Humagne Rouge.

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DOMAINE JEAN-RENÉ GERMANIER

The Germanier domaine, founded in 1886, is one of the Valais’ best known producers, including internationally, but you will see these wines in top restaurants and wine stores throughout Switzerland. They are based in the village of Balavaud, in the commune of Vétroz, just west of Sion. Jean-René currently runs the domaine with his nephew, Giles Besse. The domaine has always tried to produce wines with minimal pesticides but now they are in full conversion to organic viticulture.

Johannisberg Chamoson Grand Cru 2017 – Johannisberg is the Valais synonym for Silvaner (originally a Savagnin x Traminer cross, I believe), and this is a solid nod to that variety’s typical characteristics. It is a fresh, herby wine with a lifted bouquet which seems to reflect the glacial moraine on which the vines grow. The palate is also redolent of that minerality in a fine spine, finishing dry with slightly bitter quince. A fairly light wine, but as the Chamoson Grand Cru designation suggests, it has the potential to show a little more than it was showing on the night with perhaps an extra six months-to-a-year in the cellar. Retail approx £34.

Dôle Balavaud, Vétroz Grand Cru 2017 – This comes off gravels with alluvial deposits and large “galet” stones. Dôle is always a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay (like a Bourgogne Passetoutgrain). Generally I have found it difficult to discover really satisfying Dôles, although the appellation is very popular throughout Switzerland. This one is better made than most, and I suspect yields are not so high as in many. The scent is high-toned cherry and the wine has a medium to light body, but it does not, I think, aim for great complexity. The fruit has a silky side and there’s a bit of grip. It’s only around £26 UK retail, a Swiss wine many of us can afford.

Cayas Reserve Syrah 2016 – It’s funny. I drank a bottle of this from an earlier vintage around a year ago, a bottle which Swiss friends had brought over among half-a-dozen stuffed into their suitcases. I had little idea that this wine retails at over £50 in the UK. It’s not that they are mean…they are very generous, but I doubted they would bring a £50 wine among a generous six bottle gift. What I find worrying is that this backs up everything that is said about Swiss wine being so expensive in the UK. The Germanier web site lists the 2016 for CHF42 (currently around £32).

In the Valais 2016 was a late vintage, saved by a long, fine and warm autumn. The grapes come off schist on slopes on the right bank of the Rhône. They see a 22-day maceration, and after fermentation, 24 months in barrique (50% new oak). The wine is coloured dark burgundy red. The fruits are more black than red, quite plush, and there’s a clear smokiness at this stage. The wine is young and still shows the wood not fully integrated. It needs time, perhaps a minimum of five years. It will be very good with longer in the cellar. It does show the brightness and structure you’d expect off schist. I think many would find this hard to judge because of the oak at this stage. Pop it away.

Cornalin Reserve 2015 – This off-list wine somehow appeared on the bar. This native variety is, to my mind, potentially as good as the perhaps better known Humagne Rouge. It also gets a different treatment to the Reserve Syrah, being fermented in 400-litre open top vats, and then aged 12 months in the same vessels (with a lid attached). It has a violet colour and more cherry fruit and smokiness on the nose. It’s also more animal and meaty on the palate than the Syrah, with a bit of texture too. A wine to age for less time, and one to pair with game.

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DOMAINE THIERRY CONSTANTIN

With all of these long-established producers, it’s quite nice to find someone more recently established doing well, although 2001 is not all that short a time to have been working the vines. Thierry makes wine at Pont-de-la-Morge, close to Vétroz (and therefore, to Sion). He only possesses 5.5 hectares of vines, but they are situated in some of those two communes’ finest locations. Quality is the only focus here, and as well as pursuing careful and thoughtful vineyard management, the domaine is noted for its very low yields. All the wines here fit the hand made, artisan, mould. Despite the small size of the estate, Thierry does manage to fashion around fifteen different wines each vintage.

Fendant 2018 – Fendant is the Valais synonym for Chasselas. Generally it is not a variety beloved of classical wine critics (who have clearly never tasted the versions made by Dominique Lucas, or Hanspieter Ziereisen). Swiss Chasselas performs remarkably well, both around Lake Geneva’s north shore (Vaud), and here in the Valais. It’s almost always a pale wine, bright and herbal with a dry acidity and a stony texture. The latter quality, which can sometimes remind me of stones inside the apricots for which this part of the Rhône Valley is justly famous, is particularly prominent here. It has crisp acidity and a quite light finish, but is an immediately attractive wine.

Petite Arvine 2017 – is a step up, with a deeper bouquet of lemon-lime citrus and pineapple. The wine shows a nice tension between nervosité and a little fat on the bone. The finish is nice and long, and there’s a good touch of salinity along with the stony texture. This, I think, will improve further with a little time in bottle.

Cornalin 2015 – was one of my wines of the day. The yield is around 35hl/ha, which is very low in a Swiss context. The nose has lifted dark cherry and a lick of red fruit acidity. The fruit is quite plump and plush (ripe too, 13.4% abv), but there is grip and tannin, which suggests that this will age well despite the attractiveness of the fruit. Thierry’s suggested food pairing? Saddle of deer. There you go.

All three of these wines retail in Switzerland for between 25 to 32 CHF, and seem good value at or near those prices, but as stated at the top of this article, they are not strictly available in the UK at the moment.

DOMAINE DES MUSES

This estate was founded in 1992 by Louis and Nicole Taramarcaz at Sierre, which is further up the Rhône Valley, below the twin ski resort of Crans-Montana. A decade later they were joined by their son, Robert, who has slowly taken over winemaking following his studies in Burgundy (Dijon). The vines are farmed ecologically, with minimal (but not no) use of synthetic applications, but they are committed to protecting indigenous flora and fauna.

Heida “Tradition” 2017 – is fermented, and then aged on lees, in stainless steel. The wine has a lovely lime citrus attack, showing nice balance between acidity and a little flesh. There’s a lightness to the wine, and yet I was told that this wine has ageing potential (conversely the Provins “Maître de Chais” Heida I own, not tasted here, is supposedly meant for consumption soon, so it can be hard to judge). Whatever its potential, I like it now, and I’ve been a fan of this domaine for several years.

Cornalin “Tradition” 2016 – As with the Heida above, this is a right bank wine. Imagine the sun-baked terraces above Sierre, perhaps facing the Val d’Anniviers on the other side of the river. Vinification is also in stainless steel, but here the similarities end. You get quite pure cherry and blackberry fruit which seems as lifted as the altitude at which the grapes are grown. There’s also a floral element, not so much with the bouquet, but oddly, on the palate. It adds something, neither herby nor mineral, but nice. There’s also a good lick of tannin, making this a wine to age for three or four years, if not a little longer.

Syrah “Réserve” 2016 – The four Reserve wines from the domaine are all made with French varieties, although both Syrah and Pinot Noir are very common in the Valais, and can produce fine wines. There are around 170 ha of Syrah planted in the Valais. This may be one of the smallest Syrah vignobles in any major Syrah-producing nation (there is little elsewhere in Switzerland) but it’s still not bad, and not massively behind the whole of New Zealand up until fairly recently.

This is a wine both fermented and aged in oak, with an élèvage of 18 months. It is quite dark-fruited, flavours accentuated by a little spice and a hint of liquorice. It’s a wine of depth and a wine (again) for ageing. It will certainly go a decade, I would suggest. But that said, it’s still a very attractive wine, a shame to open too soon but not a disaster if you did. Some Valais Syrahs get the oak wrong, in my opinion. This one doesn’t, unless you are perhaps very oak averse.

I’ve really concentrated on the wines. Some of the art is represented in the photos below, interspersed with some of the bottles. I always enjoy drinking Swiss wine, but there are far too few opportunities to actually taste Swiss wines in the UK. If the Swiss are serious about entering the UK market then tastings like this one are essential. They won’t crack things off the back of Alpine Wines‘ hard but lonely work, and the rare appearance of the wines of Domaine de Mythopia when occasionally shown by Newcomer Wines.

Of course, if you are the kind of adventurous wine drinker who I know reads my blog, you could always grab an exploratory six-pack from Alpine. That’s what my wife bought me for Christmas. If you do, go for the native varieties such as those tasted here, with some Chasselas from Lavaux’s steeply terraced Crus in the Vaud. It is time we encouraged more of them onto our market. Watch this space.

From top left, Joelle Nebbe-Mornod of Alpine Wines and a selection of the IWArtChallenge labels and assorted bottles at Wringer & Mangle 

 

Posted in Grape Varieties, Swiss Wine, Wine, Wine Labels, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Recent Wines March 2019 #theglouthatbindsus

I was overloaded with lovely bottles at home last month. Here are the fourteen I couldn’t leave out, wines from Catalonia, Jura, Côte-Rôtie, Burgenland, New Zealand, Alsace, McLaren Vale, Piemonte and Vienna, so let’s not hang about.

Sumoll Ferèstec Clos Lentiscus 2010, Bodegas Can Ramon (Catalonia, Spain)

The vineyard of Clos Lentiscus produces what for me are certainly the best Spanish sparkling wines I know, from Can Ramon’s base at Sant Pere de Ribes, inland from Sitges and southwest of Barcelona. Sumoll Ferèstec is made from the red Sumoll variety, grown biodynamically and vinified as a blanc de noirs. This bottle fermented wine spent thirty months on lees and was disgorged in April 2016 (just 720 bottles were made of this very special cuvée.).

The colour is something between pale pink and light bronze. It’s bottled as an extra-brut, so is dry, but local honey is used as a dosage at disgorgement. The red fruits are concentrated with a lifted iron-rich note on the bouquet. I last drank this same wine in April 2017, and it only seemed slightly more mature here than that previous bottle. I’m sure that this is because it has retained an elegant structure. Despite some notes of maturity, it equally remains very fresh. This proves that Sumoll is a remarkably versatile, and top quality, variety. This was stunning.

I’ve seen some Clos Lentiscus wines at Furanxo on Dalston Lane, although this cuvée came from Barcelona.

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Metamorphika Moscat Brisat 2015, Costador Terroirs Mediterranis (Catalonia, Spain)

Costador is Joan Franquet’s umbrella for a host of magical wines, including the Metamorphika range in their distinctive flagons. “Brisat” denotes a skin fermented wine in Catalan, and this one was a beautiful luminous yellow (not orange) colour. The bouquet has that obvious Muscat/Moscatel florality, but with an earthy, herby note as well. For me, beautifully scented. It’s dry, and has the firm structure of a wine which spent eight weeks on skins and then seven months in barrique, and the texture gives a solidity to a very smooth palate, surprisingly long for the variety. Adorable stuff.

This is available, along with a large range of Costador wines, via importer Otros Vinos.

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Mont D’Alicante Vin de France, Domaine L’Octavin (Jura, France)

I can usually find out where Alice Bouvot sources her grapes for her negoce wines, but in this case I’m stumped. The blend is Alicante Bouschet (I know Alice sourced Muscat in Roussillon for Betty Bulles but there is a bull on the label), and the last time I saw her was the day after collecting some grapes from Savoie…the other variety here is Mondeuse.

This moderately alcoholic wine (12.5%) is just so alive it almost sets your mouth alight. Zippy-fresh, there was an initial volatile note but nothing scary, and it went with a shake. This wine is basically a pure fruit bomb, easy drinking but a tour de force of juicy simplicity. Wish I’d bought a six pack.

I’ve not see Mont d’Alicante in the UK, and I purchased this in Arbois in December last year.

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Côte-Rôtie 2003, Michel & Stéphane Ogier (N. Rhône, France)

I have quite a few of the vintages of this wine from the 2000s. I was advised that I should drink the 2003 pretty soon, and as I recall it being a plump vintage (even a magnum of 2003 from Jasmin being ready a few years ago), I thought I should pop it open before the weather gets too summery. I was pleasantly surprised.

This is Stéphane’s blend of Côte Brune and Côte Blonde fruit, and hails from the period when he was taking over from his father and beginning to make a real name for himself. The wine is quite rich, with ripe plummy Syrah fruit. Perhaps the fact that this bottle hasn’t moved since purchase helped, as other drinkers suggest this peaked at the latest last year. It certainly has depth, though only a little meatiness. Intense, fragrant (violet top note) and long, not the best Ogier by any means but a very good bottle. Best to drink soon, though.

I bought pretty much all my Ogiers from Waitrose during 25%-off promos.

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[Wiener] Gemischter Satz 2017, Weinbau Sackl (Vienna, Austria)

This is the first of two Wiener Gemischter Satz in this month’s selection, but they are very different. What they do have in common is their derivation, from the Bisamberg hillside on the left bank of the Danube, just before it flows through Vienna. Patricia Sackl is the oenologist here, husband Florian (a trained geologist) generally looking after their biodynamic vineyard. The wines are made with minimal intervention at all stages.

This field blend has a slight initial spritz which dissipates quickly. It was also slightly reductive, and a carafing might be worth contemplating. Straw coloured, it has a straw-like bouquet too, also herby, and then a floral strand comes in. The palate is fresh and flowery as well. It’s a simple kind of Gemischter Satz, in what many call the “classic” style, with elderflower and apples combining nicely in a very glugable wine.

This came from Vinifero, one of Vienna’s “natural wine” shops.

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Müller-Thurgau “Skin Fermented” 2017, The Hermit Ram (Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand)

Another orange wine, and very orange this time (actually, more the colour of pale caramel when the lees are all shook up, but please don’t let that put you off). Someone described it to me as “brutal” but I’m massively impressed by everything Theo Coles is doing, and everything he does is “skin contact”. He takes a variety here that used to be New Zealand’s mainstay before Sauvignon Blanc was planted. I’d say he strips it of varietal character, but Müller-Thurgau never has a lot of that. Theo can therefore use it to express terroir. The vines are one of the oldest plantings of MT in NZ.

It’s a rugged wine, all apples and oranges with a bit of that terracotta whiff, slightly dusty (though it isn’t made in amphora but a mix of vessels including a concrete egg). Wine in an open top fermenter had six weeks on skins, after which it went into very old oak for malo, whilst that in the egg remained in contact with the skins for 168 days. There’s a good bit of zip, assisted by its cloudy lees, some texture and structure. At the same time it’s incredibly fresh, and surprisingly refreshing. It is ferociously cloudy, and here the lees certainly add to its character. It comes in at a mere 9.5% abv and is bottled under crown cap.

The Hermit Ram is easily one of my top dozen new (to me) producers of last year. Imported by Uncharted Wines. I’m not sure of retail outlets, but I know Vino Vero in Leigh-on-Sea (Essex) has some Hermit Ram. Pinot Noir is a speciality (several cuvées), and Theo makes a Sauvignon Blanc like no other in NZ. These are astonishing wines. Astonishingly different, to be sure, but astonishing!

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Pinot Blanc 2017 “Cuvée Nature”, Anna, André and Yann Durrmann (Alsace, France)

The Durrmann family occupies a winery on the edge of Andlau, in the less well know Bas Rhin, but Andlau is next door to the most vibrant village for Alsace natural wine, Mittelbergheim. The Durrmanns, with son Yann now taking over, have always been ecologically minded. If you read about my visit there in 2017 you would recall their electric cars, their use of sheep and encouraging bird life in the vineyard. But not all of their wines yet fit a stricter interpretation of the category “natural wine”. Those that do, and which are bottled with no added sulphur, are labelled “Cuvée Nature”.

That fact is interesting because a few people have suggested that this no added sulphur version of their Pinot Blanc is better than the other (which I have never bought). This is another wine that showed a little reduction on opening, but it blew off without need for a vigorous swirl. The acidity is quite high, but the wine is zippy and mineral, so it is very refreshing. Definitely more a summer wine than one for March, except that we did open it during a spell of very warm weather. You need to enjoy acidity to like this, and it is one of the lighter Pinot Blancs you will buy (just 11.5% alcohol), but obviously as I felt it worthy of making the cut for March, I enjoyed it very much.

This bottle came from the take away wine list at Plateau in Brighton, but the importer is Wines Under The Bonnet. Restaurant take away lists can be an excellent source for even more hard to find wines. Some wines are pretty much only distributed to restaurants, but the take away list often allows a few lucky punters to carry something exciting home with them after lunch or dinner. Always remember, as I said in my last article (on lunch at Silo), to take a long peek at the list if take away is an option. Plateau prices are, in my opinion, particularly generous (and intentionally so).

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NDV 2016, Brash Higgins (McLaren Vale, South Australia)

Brad Hickey continues to make some relatively undiscovered wines (on the UK market). Several are as exciting as any of those made by the younger guns of the Adelaide hinterland, if perhaps slightly less wild than some. NDV is the Brash Higgins acronym for Nero D’Avola, here sourced from Brad’s Omensetter Vineyard where it was grafted on to existing root stocks in 2009.

NDV is an amphora wine (a nod to COS, perhaps). It is kept on skins for 180 days in 200-litre, beeswax-lined, amphora which are made locally. Just as well when it comes to accidents – I remember seeing a photo a year or so ago after Brad had driven the fork lift into one. There’s bags of fruit here, which is dark and dense, but the amphora gives the wine an amazing freshness. Imagine a fruit smoothie with lavender, ginger and half a teaspoon of coffee grounds, but all blended together and lifted by nice acidity. At 13.5% abv it nevertheless, perhaps surprisingly, doesn’t taste remotely heavy or jammy.

It’s in my top three Brash Higgins wines. I just need to get near enough to a branch of Vagabond Wines in London to buy some more. All of Brad’s Amphora Project wines should definitely be on anyone’s list to try.

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Barbera d’Alba “Reis” 2014, Marchesi di Barolo (Piemonte, Italy)

I had a phase in the 1990s and 2000s of going to Piemonte quite a few times. It’s one of Italy’s most beautiful wine regions, and completely overshadowed in terms of general tourism by Tuscany, unfairly I think. Those Piemonte lovers I know tend to think mainly of Barolo and Nebbiolo, but Barbera has long provided excellent food matching potential, as you will discover in any restaurant in the region.

Barbera tends to get second rate sites in the Langhe, where Barolo/Nebbiolo reigns. The material for Reis does come from the Barolo and Barbaresco zones, but it is a well thought out wine, quite commercial but well made, and that’s why I’ve included it here. Ripe grapes are aged in small French oak. I said “material” above because, in full conformity with the DOC rules, this wine is 85% Barbera and contains 15% Nebbiolo.

Reis is quite full-bodied for a Barbera, the oak filling it out, but it does have the grape’s characteristic lifted acidity. The dark fruits are crunchy and the finish bites. I’m not sure how the Nebbiolo contributes but perhaps it softens that finish a little.

I’m not sure whether this is available in the UK. I can only see German retailers online. This bottle came as a gift from a Norwegian visitor a couple of years ago, doubtless via Vinmonopolet. Retail in Europe is probably just sub-€15. For that price I thought it was pretty decent.

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Josephine Rot 2012, Gut Oggau (Burgenland, Austria)

I tried the new vintage of Josephine at Raw Wine London, and it was so good it made me crack open this 2012 from my stash of Gut Oggau in the cellar. I say it often enough, but this biodynamic estate in the village of Oggau, a kilometre or two north of Rust on the Neusiedlersee’s western shore, is one of my favourite in the whole world. This is one of the freshest and most alive reds you will find in Burgenland. The blend is Blaufränkisch with Roesler (a 1970 cross between Zweigelt x (Seyve Villard 18-402 x Blaufränkisch)).

Josephine’s vines are 35-to-40-years-old, off gravel. The grapes are simply fermented and then aged in large oak, and after around eight months are bottled with no sulphur added. Low intervention is the key, with not even any batonnage/lees stirring. Josephine is dark-hued and the fruit is super concentrated, mainly blackcurrant. The wine is, however, light on its toes whilst also pleasantly grippy. I find it the most refreshing of Gut Oggau’s red wines.

There are many biodynamic estates which provide solid evidence that the renewed life of the vines comes through loud and clear in their wines. There are a handful where this “life” is seemingly enhanced even further, somewhat fancifully perhaps, as if the obvious passion of the farmer, in this case Eduard and Stephanie Tscheppe, glows in the glass. This is one of those estates. I find drinking their wines life-enhancing. And if you think I’m on something (only caffeine, I assure you), then I can tell you, I’m not alone.

Bought from Dynamic Vines.

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Côtes du Jura Ploussard “Point Barre” 2016, Philippe Bornard (Jura, France)

Bottled as a Côtes du Jura, you can probably locate the Bornard winery to Pupillin by the choice of Ploussard rather than Poulsard on the label. The Bornards farm around 7 hectares, with a little under a hectare outside of the Arbois-Pupillin appellation, and therefore labelled Côtes du Jura, at Buvilly, down the road. Philippe has retired now, and winemaking is in the very capable hands of his son, Tony, but in 2016 they were a team. The quality of the Bornard wines has been up towards the top rank in the region for some years, evidenced by the rather elegant and fine 2011 Vin Jaune I drank a couple of weeks ago (see my “Sportsman” article of 2 April).

This is one of those Ploussards that are unimaginably attractive just to look at, a vibrant palish red-pink, verging on luminous, rather like looking through a cardinal’s cloak in the stained glass of a French abbey church on a sunny day. Of course, there is undeniable reduction on first sniff, but that is frequently the case with modern “natural” Ploussard. Whether you splash or merely swirl, the most lovely, almost exotic, fruit does come through. The mouthfeel is smooth but the “fruit acidity ” balances the wine perfectly. This is unashamedly a natural wine, but I’m just so glad I have more of this.

This came from Solent Cellar in Lymington.

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“Les Dentelles” 2017, Anne & Jean-François Ganevat (Jura, France)

As if J-F didn’t have enough to keep him busy farming his famous ten hectares at La Combe de Rotalier, way down south of Lons-le-Saunier in Jura’s Sud Revermont, he, and sister Anne, produce an astonishing array of different negociant cuvées based in some cases on Jura’s ancient grape varieties, and in others, on grapes from outside the region.

Les Dentelles is an equal blend of Syrah and Grenache. Ganevat has a strange knack of disguising alcohol, and although this bottle had 14%, it tasted remarkably fresh, nimble and even light(ish). The grapes spent twelve months in amphora, which is always the perfect vessel if freshness is at the top of your list of requirements, because if properly lined the terracotta has a degree of contact with the wine, allowing in air (micro-oxygenation), but also imparting an edge to the juice. No sulphur is added, which most of those who eschew its use feel mutes the wine somewhat. The fruit is massive, and that’s what shines here, mainly red fruits with violets and a bit of added spice.

Friends brought this when stopping over, actually before a trip to Arbois, this year. They seem to have censored the label. Maybe this isn’t the place to join the debate on Fanfan’s rude ones, but this one in the flesh is mild (and there’s minimal flesh).

I’ve mentioned before that Solent Cellar almost always has a selection of Ganevat. The importer is Les Caves de Pyrene.

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J12, Meinklang (Burgenland, Austria)

The “J” here stands for the Juhfark grape (and “12”, the vintage). Meinklang is a famous biodynamic mixed farm at Pamhagen to the south of Neusiedlersee, but Juhfark is a native variety of the small volcanic plug known as the Somló Massif, situated in Northwest Hungary pretty much between the Austrian border near Pamhagen and Tokaj. I’ve told the story (more than once, I’m sure) of how the Michlits family owned vines there before the Iron Curtain came down, and how the current generation bought land there to continue that tradition after the fall of communism.

The Meinklang holdings in this smallest (just over 800 hectares) of Hungary’s wine regions sit below towering lava columns. They have both Hárslevelű and Juhfark varieties planted. This was a bottle I’d owned for maybe three years and had forgotten about. I’m glad I had. This poured golden with a beautiful bouquet of lime and nuts. It had the mouthfeel of a Chardonnay and the acid bite of a Savagnin, with a bit of skin contact texture to ground it. The underlying fruit was quite rich. The variety seems perfectly suited to Somló’s volcanic soils, and on this evidence seems to age well too, perhaps age softening the grape variety’s innate acidity (Meinklang call Juhfark “fiercely masculine”). Stunningly different.

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Wiener Gemischter Satz “Bisamberg” DAC 2015, Wieninger (Vienna, Austria)

Whilst the Gemischter Satz made by Patricia Sackl (see above) is a reflection of the old heuriger tradition of serving a simple field blend wine in the local inns, a wine of vivacity and simplicity, this is altogether different. Like Nussberg on the opposite side of the Danube, Bisamberg has a DAC. Wieninger is known for making the most serious of the wines from these two sites, wines with a fuller body than the “classic” version (which they also produce in greater quantity).

This is a wine to age at least a few years, as this 2015 shows. It blends Chardonnay (20%), Weissburgunder (40%) and Grauburgunder (40%). Bisamberg is covered in sandy loess on a base of chalky limestone, and the Wieninger vines, planted on a site called Ried Hochfeld here, have been farmed biodynamically since acquisition in 2012. As for all Gemischter Satz, the grapes are all harvested and vinified together.

The 2015 has delicate grapefruit aromas with a smoky note. The palate has stone fruits and herbs, with a soft mineral texture which may derive from the chalk content, the limestone giving brightness and lift. At 13% abv, higher than the “classic” Gemischter Satz wines, it is better suited to accompany food rather than as a summer thirst quencher. It’s a classic old vine cuvée, showing complexity, and also if you sample the other site-specific bottlings from Wieninger (Ried Rosengartel and Ried Ulm, for example, both off Nussberg) you will see very clear terroir differentiation. These are very fine wines, as well as the purest expression of a modern interpretation of the long Wiener Gemischter Satz tradition.

Wieninger’s UK agent is Liberty Wines. 

If you’d like to read my longer article about my visit to Wieninger in August 2018, follow the link here.

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Missile in the Silo

There’s a fantastic new restaurant heading to London later this summer. Brighton’s loss will be Hackney’s gain, because when Silo‘s lease ends they will be moving north. Silo is many things, but its claim to fame is as the UK’s first zero waste restaurant. Before I write about the lunch that three of us ate in the Brighton venue last Friday I think it’s worth telling their story, and outlining their philosophy too. It might not be easy for others to follow their lead in all its aspects, but many restaurants could incorporate some of these ideas.

The Silo motto is “Reuse, Reduce, Share, Repeat”. They aim to respect not only the environment, but the produce they use and cook. They make their own soft drinks, mill their own flour to make their own (wonderful) sourdough bread, churn their own butter and make almond milk. Silo also follows a nose-to-tail philosophy with meat and aims to source ingredients as locally as possible.

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All deliveries must be in reusable containers, and any waste is composted in Silo’s “aerobic digester” (which they share with commercial and residential neighbours), although the menu is conceived in a way which minimises waste, and surplus usable food goes to the charity FareShare, supporting local vulnerable people. Upcycling is another aspect of the Silo philosophy, to reuse rather than recycle where possible. Check out the tables and chairs.

The menu uses a changing array of in season (including foraged) and “cleanly farmed” ingredients, avoiding unnecessary processing, and where processing is required (for example, milling flour), it is carried out using pre-industrial methods, on site.

All of this is worthy, but would matter not one bit were the food not of the highest order. I went to Silo not all that long after it opened in Brighton, but I always felt that it didn’t quite stimulate my need for the wine offering to be just as exciting as the food. More recently, the wine list has been revamped with the help of Ania Smelskaya, ex-Sager & Wilde and Plateau. Silo now has a frankly stunning list of natural wines.

The dishes at Silo are half way between small plates and larger selections. One of our number is vegan, so we selected three vegan plates and two meat. Radicchio salad was a feast of sweet and bitter fresh leaves. Shitake mushrooms were firm and fresh, and chick peas with hispi cabbage and caramelised onions was sweet and substantial. The crispy breaded pig’s ear, which lit up the face of one guest, was frankly the best ear of pig I’ve ever tried. Pork belly was again more substantial but tender. The quality of the ingredients shone through here, but I think this was equalled by the kitchen, who cooked the food with great sensitivity to the dishes’ innate flavours and textures.

 

We drank what was a perfect aperitif on arrival, Rio Rocca Frisant Bianco, Il Farneto. Il Farneto is an eight hectare estate in Emilia-Romagna, and this white frizzante is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc with local variety, Spergola. The second fermentation is made with must from the same grapes and the wine is fragrant, light and dry, made cloudy from the lees. The alcohol level seems low, but is actually 11.5% on the label. I’d never tried this wine before, but Silo currently has it by the glass.

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The first wine gave us the chance to read through the now more substantial Silo list. The task was to select natural wines which would interest a friend who doesn’t drink a lot of natural wine, though is very open to try them. I went for a classic, despite having drunk this fairly recently, and having a bottle left at home. If Jura (okay, along with Burgenland) is where my wine heart lies, then this Arbois producer is certainly in my top half-dozen producers in that region.

Betty Bulles, Domaine L’Octavin is a petnat, a blend of direct press Gamay from the Ardèche with Muscat sourced near Perpignan in Roussillon. The wine has persistent tiny bubbles which carry the slightly bitter red fruit of the Gamay. The Muscat doesn’t dominate the bouquet, but it must add to the floral lift that is undoubtedly there. Alice Bouvot began making wine from grapes harvested outside the Jura region several years ago after some very small harvests, and she now makes a lot of negoce wines. The gnome motif is however home-based. Several live, and perhaps watch over her ageing wines, in the garage which serves for L’Octavin winery in the back streets of Arbois.

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Our final wine was another from the by-the-glass selection. λ13, Ktima Ligas (the wine is generally called Lamda) is one of Thomas, Jason and Meli Ligas’s wines from Pella in Northern Greece, made using permaculture techniques which require almost no vineyard interventions (certainly no chemicals, and minimal if any pruning, just repositioning of shoots). The wonderful ecosystem Thomas has created does pretty much all the work.

This particular version of Lamda is a blend of 60% Assyrtiko and 40% Roditis. The fruit is gently peachy, underpinned with a gentle minerality, expressing the terroir, which is part limestone and part sand and clay. The grapes see a short three day maceration on skins before ageing in old oak, adding just a little texture.

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This is another wine with no added sulphur, yet it tastes (at least to me) clean and fresh without any frightening volatility. I genuinely believe that if you drink natural wine that has been shipped and cared for properly, there should be minimal issues with spoilage and volatility.

Two of us finished with a cheese selection (British, from Neal’s Yard…Silo does not yet have its own herd for cheese making), whilst the other enjoyed pumpkin ice cream.

 

Altogether, a spectacularly good lunch. Silo is at 39 Upper Gardner Street in Brighton’s North Laine, perhaps a ten minute stroll from Brighton Station. It seats 40, and serves lunch only on (currently) Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Dinner is served Wednesday to Saturday, 6pm to 9.30pm.

Booking recommended: http://www.silobrighton.com

I would strongly recommend a visit before Silo moves. They close in Brighton at the end of May (2019) and will open in Hackney perhaps in late July or August (follow them on Instagram for updates @silobrighton ). As for Londoners…I come up to London week-on-week for lunch. I think that it’s hardly any more difficult for Londoners to come to Brighton for the same. There’s Silo, and there’s Plateau. And there’s sunshine and there’s sea. Come on down. And whether at Silo or Plateau, don’t forget to raid the take away wine lists.

 

 

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Sportsman March 2019

My annual trip to The Sportsman at Seasalter came early this year. I always look forward to lunch in this self-styled “grotty pub” in an out of the way location on the North Kent coast, which serves what for me is a tasting menu that hasn’t yet been surpassed anywhere I’ve eaten in the UK. The creativity in the kitchen, coupled with the quality of the ingredients, almost all sourced locally, is astonishing. It takes me more than three hours to get there, and usually longer to get home, probably not aided by a couple of bottles of wine, but it is wholly worth it.

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The group of us that headed down to Kent a little over a week ago was slightly smaller than usual, just five of us, taking two bottles each, although I took a bottle of Champagne plus the two halves at the end of the meal. We ended up with a really nice mix of classic wines and a couple of natural wines, from a group that drinks widely and is completely open to any style. The wines were quite fluid between courses, and especially with the whites we tried different things with different dishes to see which worked best. I’ll just weave the wines in as they came.

Thirsty from a long journey we popped open my Champagne to start with, Vouette & Sorbée Fidèle, Bertrand Gautherot’s Blanc de Noirs cuvée. Like all his wines it is biodynamic, vinified in oak, and bottled with minimal sulphur. This was disgorged in February 2017 (with a 2014 Lot number). The vines are on Kimmeridgian soils at Buxières-sur-Arce on the Côte des Bar. This cuvée is notoriously closed immediately following disgorgement, but after two years it has opened a lot, mouthfilling, with secondary autolytic character over red fruits.

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The first oyster course (there were two) was frozen oysters with brown butter, honey, lemon and apple. This dish was created knowing we were bringing a Chablis Montée de Tonnerre 1er Cru 2012, Raveneau, so we quickly switched to that bottle, which had been given a little time to breath. It was indeed a match made in heaven. Although not a Grand Cru, this 2012 was “classic Chablis” and very fine indeed.

Very mineral, with an almost Riesling-like spine of taut acidity from which hangs lean but vivacious stone fruit and pear flavours. You get a classic whiff of graphite and an equally classic oyster shell texture on the palate. Montée de Tonnerre is one of the larger Premier Cru sites in Chablis, and the wines don’t always live up to expectations from all producers, but in this case it did, and more. A reminder that top Chablis can be a remarkable drink.

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Between the oyster courses we were treated to something with spice and bite, by way of pork belly with mustard, accompanied by an apple and sorrel foam. The pork belly was crispy and the mustard fresh and piquant, the foam providing a nice foil, drying, contrasting.

 

 

The second Champagne was a big contrast to the first, and oddly this was the only wine which two of us had independently suggested bringing. Jacques Lassaigne Les Vignes de Montgueux  Extra Brut is a Blanc de Blancs made by Emmanuel Lassaigne in the tiny region of Montgueux, effectively one hill of a little more than 200 hectares of vines to the east of Troyes. This is 100% Chardonnay, partly vinified in oak. It’s “big”, but more in the way it fills the mouth than the roundness and near opulence of the Vouette & Sorbée. It is quite linear and tight, but also amazingly fresh.

The vines at Lassaigne face mostly south and can get very ripe, sometimes exhibiting quite exotic fruits, but the acidity and structure are held in place by the class of old vines and Emmanuel’s careful winemaking. These are stunning Champagnes from a producer I rate really highly. “Les Vignes…” is the entry level NV here, but it is a true terroir wine. He also makes the House Champagne for the Cave des Papilles in Paris, another Blanc de Blancs which I think may have no added sulphur, and currently costs a mere €31, quite a bargain for a producer whose top cuvées cost five times that. Naturally stocks are limited.

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The second oyster course appeared as we were all vocally admiring the Lassaigne. Native oyster with chilli paired with a rock oyster with beurre blanc, cucumber and caviar was so well constructed, and so totally different to the frozen oyster we opened with. The chilli in the native oyster was perfectly judged to prick the palate like a needle, but not to coat it. The beurre blanc was smooth and heavenly.

 

 

We were a group who, none of us, regularly drink Sauvignon Blanc. This is not prejudice, but perhaps a reflection of our diverse interests in regions which don’t grow it. But when the opportunity comes along to drink a good one, whether from The Loire, Bordeaux, New Zealand or even Styria, then we are glad to take it. I certainly don’t own any Blanc Fumé de Pouilly “Silex” 2014, Didier Dagueneau. “Silex” is one of two barrel-fermented Sauvignons made by Didier’s son Louis-Benjamin (Didier of course died in a micro-light crash in 2008), and comes off pure slate (or silex).

It’s big for a Sauvignon Blanc, not just because of the oak, but it is very ripe too (13% abv). That said, the varietal character does meld with the obvious oak influence in what is a relatively young vintage for this wine, coming through as vivid freshness and firm minerality on the palate. The quality of the fruit, and the terroir, is perhaps reflected in the way that whilst you undoubtedly get oak on the nose, there is also what whiff of flint, so fine that it cuts right through it.

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The next two courses show so well how inventive the kitchen is at The Sportsman, although photos of the food do not come close to explaining the subtle but thrilling flavours of these two plates. Pot roast black cabbage on a bed of stewed apple purée and raw crème fraiche sounds simple, but it was a dish where everything was in perfect proportion and perfect harmony.

Mushroom tart with celeriac blends perfect, wafer-thin, buttery pastry, and rich meaty mushroom (dried ceps and chestnut mushrooms) in a celeriac foam. I think it was sprinkled with black truffle and possibly some cep powder. There’s a recipe for this posted by the chef, Stephen Harris, on the web site “thestaffcanteen.com”, but I’m not sure I could get close to this if I tried it out, one of The Sportsman’s most magical creations.

 

 

I think it was about then that the Ganevat came over. Les Cèdres 2015, J-F and Anne Ganevat is a negoce wine, despite wearing the domaine-style label. The Chardonnay vines are 80 years old, a limestone and marl parcel somewhere within the Côtes du Jura (nothing more forthcoming than that). Ageing was for 30 months, first in larger demi-muids and then in barrique.

It’s a beautiful Chardonnay, quite tight and young on opening, but it blossomed into a beautiful mixture of purity and concentrated fruit. Although the wine saw almost no sulphur, it didn’t have any volatility, nor really any reduction. Just an impressive old vine Chardonnay and I think in a unique style. You might still find the odd bottle of this around, even though it was not produced in anything but tiny quantity. Solent Cellar lists some (£40) and The Good Wine Shop (£44).

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The Ganevat, and the remainder of our preceding wines, with the exception of the Ravenneau, which had been drained by this stage, paired with the two fish courses. The first must be the classic signature dish here at The Sportsman, slip sole grilled in seaweed butter. This dish is almost embarrassingly good, cooked to absolute perfection every single time I eat it. It falls off the bone and melts in the mouth.

It is also the catalyst for a comparison with the Noble Rot version. The kitchens are overseen by the same man, Paul Weaver in charge in Lamb’s Conduit Street, with Stephen Harris from The Sportsman as Consultant Chef. The Noble Rot version is cooked in “smoked butter”, where the flavours are from sweet smoked paprika and a nip of chilli powder. I cannot decide between the two, and the pleasure comes in knowing you can have the same fish cooked two equally exciting, different, ways.

 

 

Although the slip sole is hard to beat, if anything were to surpass it I think my dish of the day might have been halibut braised in Vin Jaune with a single morille and an asparagus tip. The sauce here was so concentrated and of perfect consistency, and for a tasting menu the halibut was a nice, firm chunk. It made a lovely change to the turbot we usually eat here, much as I swoon over turbot. The Vin Jaune in the sauce was subtle, which didn’t overpower the fish.

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We started out with three reds with which to accompany the single red meat course, but sadly the first of these, Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes 2011, Sylvie Esmonin, was corked.

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Barolo Bussia “Romirasco” 2004, Aldo Conterno had been waiting in a carafe and so was ready to leap in. Classic tar and (for me) violets rather than roses on the nose, the fruit was smooth and fresh, despite 14.5% alcohol. Even now it still has a youthful touch to it, assuming you like your Nebbiolo mature. This is a good example of the vintage. If you read my recent article on “Nebbiolo Day”, where all those young Nebbiolos were on show, you would appreciate how a wine like this reveals what all the fuss is about. This one took fifteen years to get to where it is, but such careful cellaring pays mighty dividends.

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The red meat course was not, for once, the Sportsman classic of lamb from the salt marshes, but rib of Sussex beef in a red wine sauce with powdered roast garlic and watercress purée. The beef was wonderful, and so good I could have gone for seconds. The seasoning gave it an umami note that added another dimension, but subtly.

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The second red wine, not in any way to diminish the Barolo, was a privilege to drink. Before trying to describe Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1990, Casse Basse di Gianfranco Soldera sensibly, it would be wrong not to repeat my thoughts on my first sip, “holy mother of…”. A special wine on a special occasion is a winning combo, but will I drink a better classic red wine this year? I will be hard pushed (though I’ve got nine months left to give it my best shot).

This wine is nowadays labelled as an IGT Toscana, but back in the 1990s was still labelled as Brunello. A Riserva was only produced in top years at Casse Basse, and I dread to think what the bottle cost. 1990 is one of the estate’s most famous vintages. The wine was served from the bottle. The late Gianfranco Soldera always insisted that his wine should be tasted when the bottle is first opened, and then left to open out in the glass. This way, he said, you won’t miss anything.

The fruit is rich, both fresh and dried, with figgy, plummy, cherry complexity. The next level of tertiary flavours and aromas cover coffee and new leather, with a touch of spice, perhaps nutmeg. It’s complexity can be dissected, but to be honest the way this wine sits in your mouth is just so silky, that the experience is primarily a sensual one, in the most positive way. Some have said that this is one of the greatest wines of all time. It’s probably not far off the mark.

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The next course demonstrated The Sportsman’s inventiveness and willingness to perfect an idea. How to give these guys something different to go with their Vin Jaune? Home made hot cross bun with comté and black truffle proves tasting menus can leave you full. This astonishing dish could have been lunch on its own, almost, in other circumstances. Very intense, rich, flavours, contrasting sweet dried fruit with dripping cheese savouriness. Just look at it!

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Vin Jaune 2011, Philippe Bornard, Arbois-Pupillin was certainly a young wine, but one of those VJs which can be broached young. By this, I mean that the acidity and texture does not completely dominate the glass. I’d call it “light to medium”, with nice vibrant fruit. It has a savoury edge, but it isn’t wholly over in the nutty spectrum. The lightness and acidity made it a good match for the hot X bun, cutting the richness of the butter and melted Comté.

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The final two wines were served from halves to accompany the classic, ever successful, bramley apple soufflé with salted caramel ice cream, a dessert of the absolute highest order, with the purity of the slightly lifted bramley fruit coming through in a pure, clean, line to act as a foil for the richer, salty caramel. And then the cheese course.

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Château Rieussec 1996, Sauternes looked somewhat darker than I’d expected it to when removed from the cellar. It’s not a top Rieussec vintage, but the bottle, with good provenance, didn’t concern me. It was reasonably mature, with some burnt toffee notes, perhaps molasses, but it had, by now, a restrained sweetness, a lightness of touch, an elegance, all demonstrating its pedigree.

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I did find it immensely enjoyable, but I would grant the coup de coeur for this pair to La Bota 51 Palo Cortado Viejísimo, Bota “GF”, Equipo Navazos. This was the oldest EN Palo Cortado currently in my posession. It is a saca of February 2014, originating in Sanlúcar and from Gaspar Florido (GF), moved later to the warehouse of Pedro Romero.

The key to this bottling’s amazing complexity is the age of the wines in the butt, between fifty and eighty years of age. It is very much in the style of similar EN releases, in that its alcohol content is certainly no less than the 22% on the label, and the wine’s intensity shocks many not used to wines like this. Perhaps I have grown to love them a little too much. Far from shocking my palate, I get one of the biggest thrills in wine when I taste them. This is a venerable wine, yet has all the freshness and acidity which you’d associate with youth. For me, it’s a stunning way to end a meal. Nothing can follow it, unless either highly fortified, or intensely caffeinated.

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It’s truly difficult to beat a meal at The Sportsman. The view, whether towards the sea over the shingle, or in our case usually over the salt marsh, adds an extra dimension to the meal. When you finally exit after four-and-a-half hours of gastronomic pleasure, a blast of fresh air and iodine is a lot more welcome than the exhaust fumes of Central London. All of which helps make a trip to Seasalter something which every food lover should try to experience.

 

 

Amuse and the beautiful bread which The Sportsman continues to perfect

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Howard Ripley’s Truly Great German Tasting

On 13 March 2019 Howard Ripley Wines held their biggest ever tasting at the China Exchange in Soho, London. For this tasting, thirty producers’ wines were on show, and I believe that twenty-six of them were actually there to pour for us. I think Sebastian and the team really surpassed themselves this time, giving press and private clients the opportunity to taste dozens of wines from a range of recent, and in a few cases not so recent, vintages, most of which are available to purchase now. There were even one or two 2018 samples to try in a few cases, and it was interesting to hear, for the first time, the producers’ enthusiasm for this vintage. A couple of them called it one of their very best in the past fifty years.

I worked hard for you, to bring a review of sixteen out of the thirty, not bad going for a long afternoon in Soho, but of course these wines are not difficult to taste, certainly easier than the young Nebbiolo tasting a week before, much as I love both. And on that subject, love of these wines, I truly hope the tasting was successful. These wines are more classical than many I drink these days (though look out for Andi Weigand from Iphofen towards the end of this article). But I find German wines, especially Riesling and Spätburgunder, impossible not to love. They shine like diamonds if you select the best in each style. I make no apologies for being evangelical.

JULIAN HAART (Piesport, Mosel)

A few years ago I might have called Julian “up-and-coming” but I think it’s fair to say he’s arrived. He owns just 5 hectares of vines in Piesport and Wintrich. He worked with Egon Müller and Klaus-Peter Keller, and despite remaining close friends with Klaus-Peter he makes classic Mosel. In his eighth vintage, Sebastian suggests that his wines are as exciting as any in the Mosel. Having discovered them in the 2011 vintage, from which I still have some Schubertslay Spätlese, I agree one hundred per cent.

Mosel Riesling 2013 is simple and fruity, as one would expect from an entry level wine, but its class comes through via good acids and a bit of backbone. For this level you get pretty decent length too. Look at the vintage!

Piesporter Riesling 2015 also has lovely fresh acidity, and is tighter, more mineral. For the Wintricher Riesling 2015 we move up a gear (and expect to pay £50 more for a case). It’s rounder than the Piesporter, and has a savoury note, perhaps one might say “sour”, but in a pleasant way that adds interest.

Piesporter Goldtröpchen 2016 is the magnificent conclusion to the J Haart wines on show. The nose is a little surly to begin with but a good swirl brings out grapefruit, soon followed by a whole lot more…nascent complexity from this famous site. On the palate the fruit is just beginning to meld with the slatey minerality which underpins the wine’s structure.

KELLER (Flörsheim-Dalsheim, Rheinhessen)

The Keller wines here are what some might call his “lesser” offerings, but in truth these are wines we should not ignore, far from it. If the top wines of Klaus-Peter are becoming both expensive and difficult to source, these wines represent amazing value, evidenced by the fact that some commentators openly rate Von der Fels as, in a good vintage, of the same quality as a GG.

The great thing about the wines below is that they are available in decent quantity. Klaus-Peter now farms around 20 ha, and produces 120,000 bottles a year. From top to bottom, K-P ensures every wine produced fits the estate’s current philosophy: elegance, purity and intensity.

Riesling 2016 might be simple compared to some Keller bottlings, but the quality is exceptional. The fruit is rounded, and even a little plush. For a Riesling, of course.

Riesling von der Fels 2016 is more mineral, and the nose is a little closed. But you sense that under the slate and mineral structure there is a flower about to unfurl. For a dry Riesling at just 12.5% abv, this is exceptional. Don’t be fooled into drinking it too soon, it needs a year or two.

Riesling Kabinett “Limestone” 2017 is a wine I’ve never got round to buying, but I should. It’s a little different. The terroir gives it a brightness and an edge. The fruit is quite ripe, almost like a pure fruit juice, and is surprisingly concentrated.

FORSTMEISTER GELTZ ZILLIKEN (Saarburg, Saar)

This 12 ha vineyard, focused mainly on the Saarburger Rausch, directly above Saarburg, was taken over by Dorothee Zilliken in 2016, and she’s the eleventh generation of the family to run this historic estate. These are classic wines off pure slate with pockets of basalt and quartz, made in a style which demands cellaring. It would be wrong to call them old fashioned, however. They are as bright and fresh as any modern producer, but perhaps potentially a little harder to judge in their youth.

This is an estate which compared their 2018s to their 2005s and 1976ers.

Butterfly 2018 is intended as an earlier drinking Riesling, off-dry with around 16-17 grams of residual sugar, well clothed in the Saar’s ample acidity so that it tastes much drier. It is quite mineral as well. This sample was bottled just a week-and-a-half before the tasting and will be released in June, as will the next wine…

Saarburger Alte Reben Trocken 2018 is made from vines ranging from sixty years old to a magnificent 130 years. With 11.5% abv it shows a nice dryness, but for a Saar wine actually seems quite ripe (and 2018 was certainly a year for ripeness). It’s textured and the fruit, from the old vines which have small berries, is very concentrated. Very impressive.

Saarburger Rausch Kabinett 2014, available in magnum for the wise, has fresh lime on the nose and a fine mineral palate. 50g/l r/s and only 7.5% abv, it’s a classic Saar Kabinett with some of that old school rapier-like thrust. Love it!

Rausch Auslese 1999 is also wonderful, and you don’t get to taste a 1999 Auslese at every wine tasting. I was religiously spitting but sometimes I do wonder why! An amazing bouquet has white flowers, apricots and honey just to begin with, along with an ever so tiny petrol note. The palate, sweet yet almost savoury as well, is sublime. Of course, it will get even better, or maybe just different. £113.52 on a magnum, inclusive of duty and VAT, would be money well spent.

Anyone spot the typo in the photo below?

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VON HÖVEL (Konz, Saar)

Max von Kunow now runs Von Hövel, taking over from his father in 2010. He has instituted an organic regime which has benefited the wines, especially those from the most famous Saar sites. The future for this estate is looking good now and it may be an equally good time to revisit the wines.

Hütte GG 2017 is a 5.8 hectare monopole, owned by the estate in its entirety. The wine is dry with lots of savoury character.

I admit I found the bottle of Kanzem Hörecker Grosse Lage 2012 a little difficult to assess, but I did take a shine to Scharzhofberg Kabinett 2014. This wine can be long lived, perhaps not quite as long as Egon Müller’s (when should I pop a 2008 Müller?), but still, this is slatey, almost tannic in its grippiness, and young. Yet it is also pure and fine. Scharzhofberg Spätlese 2014 is even better right now, though. The extra sugars make it easier to judge, and potentially easier to drink early.

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HOFGUT FALKENSTEIN (Konz-Niedermennig, Saar)

This is a new Saar producer for me. Johannes was pouring and he’s the son of the estate’s founders, Erich and Marita Weber, who built up nine hectares mostly in a side valley at the beginning of the Saar. The vines are at altitude taking the force of the cold west winds, giving cool conditions even for the Saar. They are also blessed with old vine stock. All this leads to only one conclusion as to what the wines may be like, and if you add in an uncompromising search for quality, you have an exciting new name. Sebastian told me to visit this estate above any other when I’m next in the region.

Krettnacher Euchariusberg Kabinett 2018 comes from a site which seems almost unknown today, yet I’m assured was famous in the past. In any event, this wine is gorgeous, and also a brilliant reflection of the special conditions here in what was a hot vintage for those at lower altitudes in other regions. If you want a “racy” 2018 Kabinett, this is probably the place to come, when the wine is released in June.

Niedermenniger Herrenberg Spätlese Feinherb 2018 is elegant with excellent acidity to balance 20-30 g/l r/s. There’s a crystalline purity even at Spätlese level (though a feinherb, of course), and real elegance. Intervention is almost non-existent with these wines, and so you’d expect them to evolve slowly. However, I found them to be wines one could happily guzzle now, so hard to resist.

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PETER LAUER (Ayl, Saar)

Ayl come clean and say that Florian Lauer is my personal favourite winemaker in the wider Mosel, although that’s not to say that others are not snapping at his heels (not least the five producers which follow him in this article). His estate is relatively small at 9 ha, but he manages to produce a fine selection of wines, including (well, actually his dad made the older museum releases) Germany’s finest Riesling Sekt.

The Lauer estate benefits from some particularly old vines, which are able to reflect the nuance of terroir. I think this is Florian’s true aim. In succeeding he has won praise from the world’s foremost Riesling experts, propelling his estate into the very top rank in a mere decade-and-a-half. We begin with the fizz.

Saar Riesling Crémant Brut 2016 is 100% Riesling and has a lovely line and length, to borrow cricket terminology. Speaking of terminology, Florian is keen to point out that “Crémant” and “Brut” are terms applicable across the whole of the EU, and are chosen here to emphasise the style of wine he’s making. This would more than match most Crémant d’Alsace, and some of you know that I’m a particular fan of two or three of those wines, so I do not say that dismissively.

The Reserve Sekts are magnificent, truly on a whole new level. Florian was showing two. Reserve 1987 had around 30 years on lees with zero dosage. It is just a massively complex wine, with far too much going on to list at length, but expect to be guided down a gentle path towards caramel, coffee and walnuts. Reserve 1991 is somewhat fresher and may appeal to those who find the complexity of the ’87 just too much. Mind you, I still got a little bit of leather…

Saar Riesling Fass 16 is a delicious entry-level Riesling, simple but fruity, and elegant, all for less than £100/case. The next three wines, however, all grosses gewächs dry wines, are a significant step up (in both quality and price).

Saarfeilser Fass 13 GG 2016 is clean, dry, elegant and with real texture. Unusually for Lauer (and for the region) this comes off gravel soils.

Schonfels Fass 11 GG 2016 is from the Lauer family’s oldest site. It has a stony and peppery intensity right now, which age will lead into a deeper complexity.

Kupp Fass 18 GG 2016 is from Ayl’s most iconic vineyard (back in the day known as the Ayler Kupp, but these days the VDP prefers to stress the vineyard names in order to affirm their “Grand Cru” credentials). It’s even more strongly mineral, but floral too, the most approachable of the three, I’d say, at this stage.

On the subject of the Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (VDP), it has just published a directory of its members, via Dielmann Axel Verlag. This new book, titled simply “VDP Grosse Lage – The Book” was published in an English Language version in January 2019, £38.61 from a well know web site.

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CARL VON SCHUBERT/MAXIMIN GRÜNHAUS (Mertesdorf, Ruwer)

This 34 hectare estate, once the site of a monastery dating back to 966AD, has been in the von Schubert family since the nineteenth century. Carl’s son, Maximin, is now in charge of things, along with winemaker Stefan Kraml. This is a contigious estate, the vines occupying one strip of land, including the old monastic sites delineated for their potential quality as Bruderberg, Herrenberg and Abtsberg (the last being reserved for the abbot’s wines). This was one of the first German estates I focused interest on back in the 1990s.

Maximin Riesling 2017 is made from bought in grapes originating with neighbours, and is dry, and considering the care with which it is made is seriously cheap.

Maximin Riesling Alte Reben 2016 shows a bit more depth from older vines and an extra year in bottle. The Ruwer style here, cool climate yet with acidic fruit intensity, begins to show.

Abtsberg GG 2016 is a “now we’re talking” wine. With 12% abv, it has good structure, more length and you sense it needs time before complexity and elegance will flourish.

Herrenberg “Superior” 2010 has an almost surprising 11% alcohol and sugars are around 15 g/litre, well hidden of course. I used to buy this cuvée quite often, and tasting this reminds me I should do so again. In my experience it ages wonderfully, and although you get nice differentiated peach and gooseberry (ripe) fruit, with it comes an almost dusty minerality.

Herrenberg Kabinett 2016 has a more citrus line of acidity. It’s a light and summery wine at 7.5% abv. The acidity is balanced, and I will readily admit I can quite easily drink these young. Few wines better suit lunch in the garden when the sun is shining, as it is today.

Spätburgunder 2014 is our first red of the day. Anyone with a fabulous memory may recall that I always seem to have good things to say about the Grünhaus red. It may not be the most complex, but it does reflect what for German Pinot is a different sort of terroir. It has cherry fruit up front, but a savoury side as well. This 2014 shows a nicely rounded wine after a few years age, but it is still grippy, with bite.

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FRITZ HAAG (Brauneberg, Mosel)

The first of the Haag brothers here, Oliver, runs his famous estate with 20 hectares on the famous Brauneberg slate, with fortuitous holdings in the Juffer. Oliver manages to reflect this auspicious terroir at every level, from GG through all the prädikats, making his wines some of the most sought after in the Mosel.

Juffer GG 2015 Is a top class dry Riesling expressive of a vintage where quality is good but yields were down up to 10% in the Mosel. So there’s concentration and potential from this great site.

Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr GG 2015 is extremely mineral, and holds all the promise of vines grown on the famous “sundial” segment of the Juffer, which no doubt many others like me will have ridden past going downriver from Trier on the wonderful Mosel cycle trail.

Brauneberger Kabinett 2016 was slightly difficult to judge – there might have been a tad of reduction perhaps, but although you’d think this a step down (and it is half the price of the previous wine), it has some of the hallmarks of the vintage, generally higher acidity and lower alcohol. This makes it more like the leaner Kabs of old, which I like.

Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Auslese 2012 is an increasingly rare example of a commercially available Auslese from this vintage, where the higher prädikats were made in much smaller quantities. An elegant Auslese, quite fresh with no heaviness, beautiful balance.

SCHLOSS LIESER (Lieser, Mosel)

The other brother, Thomas Haag, owns the estate of the rather dark and imposing schloss on the opposite bank to Bernkastel, a little way upstream from Kues. His vineyard now totals 23 ha, in 180 different plots. With all due respect to Oliver, it is Schloss Lieser which pushes Lauer hardest in the subjective world of German Riesling I inhabit.

Schloss Lieser Kabinett Trocken 2013 is an example of a style I only ever buy from Thomas Haag. This ’13, from a generally less lauded vintage  (by the generalists who generalise) screams lime and grapefruit. In this cool vintage the acidity is pronounced, for sure, but the wine has a savoury and saline twist as well, which for the acid hound gives it genuine interest. And the acidity is softening a little.

Niederberg Helden GG 2012 is a dry wine from a riper year. It has a creamy texture and strong minerality, with the (relative) weight and bone structure to carry it. It’s a favourite vineyard for me, ever avoiding the obvious when possible. I say that, but although it lacks general fame, it is probably Haag’s best site. It rises almost gently for the Mosel, to the top of the hill, with the higher parts being fairly flat, if only in comparison to the norm. The vineyard’s majestic sweep is best seen driving towards Lieser from the southwest. As a result, Helden has good water retention and avoids drought stress in a hot year. The fruit from it always has a touch of exoticism, if constrained by its slatey corset.

Schloss Lieser Kabinett 2013 is a true Kabinett, 8% alcohol, with quite ripe, lifted, fruit, mouthfilling acidity, and at this stage a decent amount of concentration, making it so utterly moreish.

Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Spätlese 2012 tastes sweeter than some Spätlesen, in part because the acidity has diminished with time. This is very impressive, and for me, verging on “spectacular”. It’s lovely, and so long as well.

WILLI SCHAEFER (Graach, Mosel)

Christoph and Andrea Schaefer now run this domaine, and Andrea was on hand to pour. Their small 4.2 ha estate comprises vines in Graach’s two famous sites, from which the five wines on show were drawn. I used to buy these wines quite often but I seem to have stopped in recent years, for no explicable reason. I appear to have done so just as Willi Schaefer has been receiving greater acclaim than ever, especially in the most recent two or three vintages.

Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett 2016 was poured from magnum (about £50 each) and it’s a brilliant, classy, classic Kab with perfect balance, showing superbly even now from the large format, but I’d be in no hurry whatsoever. It is said, so the whispers go, that the following vintages are even better.

Graacher Domprobst Kabinett 2014 is another classic wine, elegant, delicate and precise. It has a zippiness to it, showing nice lemon-lime acidity, with an equally delicate floral bouquet.

Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese 2014 has a little more weight, as you’d expect, and a bit more texture. Longer too. Graacher Domprobst Spätlese 2018 (to be released in June) is quite bright, but at this stage is driven by the fruit ripeness of the warmer vintage. The potential for a mature wine of considerable richness for the prädikat is all there.

Finally, Graacher Domprobst Spätlese 2011 showed the greater complexity of just a little more age. There’s minerality and a saline twist, complex and a little savoury as well as a little sweetness. A wine to pair with duck.

JOH. JOS. PRÜM (Wehlen, Mosel)

There’s not really a lot I need to say about Prüm. I may have left them out in my listing of subjective favourites, Lauer and Thomas Haag (not forgetting Julian Haart), but you should know that I own a lot more Prüm than any other German producer. These are, as the Ripley team states, “the benchmark” for Mosel wine, by which we measure all the rest. They also retain a focus on the prädikat wines, eschewing the popular move to dry Riesling in their home country. It is partly for this reason that they have such a loyal and admiring following in the UK. Katharina Prüm is now slowly taking over from her father, Manfred, but there are no signs of change in the estate’s century-long traditions.

All of the JJ Prüm wines, at whatever level, benefit from, even demand, good long cellaring to show at their very best. They deserve that degree of respect. They also benefit from being given air. Open them as if they are a red wine, and don’t serve them over chilled.

I’ll let you into a small secret. If I was offered a visit to Prüm or DRC, neither of whom I have ever visited, I’d choose Prüm…shhh!

Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett 2015 is a good example of a wine that is still a little closed, and some consequently find the estate’s wines hard to read young. Some people prefer to stick to the Wehlen wines at this level, but I think that would be wholly misguided. This is a classic wine merely needing time.

Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese 2015 is a wine which illustrates how Prüm seems to truly excel at this prädikat. It’s not over sweet, like some modern versions in the age of global warming. It’s young, but more open than some (than the Kabinett). By way of contrast, Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese 2012 has a touch more maturity, but great purity. It still needs time.

Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese 2010 is just beginning to show its potential. There’s a little petrol developing on the nose, and all it needed was to be a little warmer, and to be given a bit more of a vigorous swirl in a good glass, to be broachable now.

Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese 2007 was a stupendous way to finish with JJP. It comes from Prüm’s most lauded site, perhaps, the other sundial just downstream from Bernkastel. The wine is quite gentle for Riesling, maybe “majestic” is a better choice. It’s certainly an elegant, smooth, Auslese, not yet fully mature but for most, drinking very nicely if pressed to open it. At least it gives an indication as to just how great this estate’s wines can be. I think it also shows the benefits of a long growing season which stretched into autumn, which always assists the Mosel’s slow burners.

DÖNNHOFF (Oberhausen, Nahe)

We finally move away (Keller excepted) from the Mosel and for our only Nahe estate today we select the best, Weingut Hermann Dönnhoff. Helmut Dönnhoff started to build the estate’s reputation through the 1970s, so that today it is probably the estate known by more people who are interested in German wine than any other, except perhaps that of Ernie Loosen. Today, the Dönnhoff estate is run by his son, Cornelius. There are 180,000 bottles of Dönnhoff wines to go around the world, and every one is of high quality, whether sweet or dry, generic or from the finest grosses gewächs site. Some of the lesser known sites here can be marvellous bargains.

Roxheimer Höllenpfad Trocken 2017 comes from an aptly named site which kind of  translates as “half way to hell”. It is a steep, hard to work, vineyard on red sandstone and it is very bright in the mouth and exhibits an interesting savoury, almost salty and certainly soily flavour. I like it because it’s a bit different. It does make some people sit up, though.

Kreuznacher Kahlenberg Trocken 2017 hails from a slightly better known site. It is also mineral and saline, but more so. The soils here are mainly loam with a bit of quartz. I’d say it is tighter, or “stricter”.

Norheimer Dellchen GG 2013 is a dry Riesling with a little bottle age. The soils here are volcanic, with slate. This makes the wine very fresh, with lifted acidity, but again it shares with the Kahlenberg a tight structure.

Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Spätlese 2013 has both freshness and (within reason) a touch of sweetness. A very fine Spätlese.

The cream of the crop here was Oberhäuser Brücke Auslese Goldkapsel 2011. We are in a vintage which produced some remarkable sweeter wines. This one is both rich and zippy at the same time, probably the best Auslese of the day. Lemon, honey, herbs and so much more. You can have twelve half bottles for a touch less than £350. It may not be cheap but compare that to wines from some other regions.

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WITTMANN (Westhofen, Rheinhessen)

Philip Wittmann heads up an estate which certainly me and my friends feel is as good as the best in the region. Quality has almost certainly been taken to a new level since conversion to biodynamic viticulture in the mid-2000s. Four wines were shown.

Weisser Burgunder 2017 is our first non-Riesling white wine of the day. It’s beautifully fresh with a little stony texture. I’ve often reiterated recently that I’m drinking more and more Pinot Blanc as a food match in the warmer months, and you should try this classy example to see why I’m keen.

Riesling 2017 is quite steely, a good restaurant choice, I think, though I might actually go with the Weisser Burgunder myself. When we move up to Westhofener Riesling 2017 we do notice the difference. It’s effectively the “village wine” if following the Burgundian model. It comes from the younger vines in the Morstein “Grand Cru”. The fruit is given six-to-ten hours of skin contact (depending on which block is being vinified), fermentation being in traditional old oak vats. It has great structure.

Aulerde GG 2016 is from one of Philip’s four top sites, a “Grand Cru” of great presence and class. Structured with a fine backbone and the acidity to give a long life, it has the fruit too to keep going for years, long enough for the acidity to yield to it eventually.

ANDI WEIGAND (Iphofen, Franken)

Andi apprenticed with one of my favourite German winemakers, Hanspeter Ziereisen, in Southern Baden. He then muscled in on his family’s small vineyard and now works eight hectares at Iphofen. His neighbours are 2Naturkinder, well known as producers of German natural wines, and Andi is following a similar path. He is one example of the exciting revitalisation of vineyards in less expensive (to buy vines) parts of Germany, and of the trend for more and more exciting young producers to be seen on export markets. These are wine bar wines par excellence, but of course worthy of your table at home just as much.

Scheurebe “Der Wilde” 2018. The “Der Wilde” range are estate wines made fresh and lively for more or less immediate consumption. Scheurebe performs this task very well on the keuper soils around Iphofen, where citrus-fresh acidities are highlighted through the gypsum content.  It has a lovely flowery bouquet but the palate tastes quite dry. It tastes much “cleaner” to me than the commercial versions of this grape which were ubiquitous in the 1980s.

Silvaner “Der Wilde” 2016. Silvaner seems to be having something of a renaissance in Franken, where it has always been a speciality, especially a renaissance among the young naturalistas. Its lively acidity seems to suit low, or zero-sulphur wines. That said, I’m more of a fan of Silvaner (and indeed of Alsace Sylvaner) than most people. Some do find the acidities troubling. Here you get a bit of straw on the nose, a bit of spring hedgerow, but basically its a simple wine full of the joys of “glou“.

Silvaner “Der Küchenmeister” 2017 is next level. The vines average 45 years old and the wine is aged a year in oak, bottled unfiltered. It has an extra dimension, which includes a more savoury, gourmet, element. It’s also quite open.

Silvaner “Die Kalb” 2017 is made in the same way as the previous wine but comes from one of Andi’s best vineyards. Right now this is more closed than the “head chef”, more raw and herbal. I’ll bet this will be a cracking wine in a few years.

Andi was at Raw Wine London, but I enjoyed tasting with him in the relative quiet of the China Exchange. However, it was a shame his table was, at least during the hours I was there, a lot less busy than those of the usual “stars” of a Howard Ripley tasting. This is a great young talent, full of passion. His transformation of the family estate has the full support of his father, Werner, rather like the Renner sisters have the support of their father, Helmuth, in Burgenland. I strongly applaud Howard Ripley placing faith in such a talented young winemaker from Franken.

WEINGUT JÜLG (Schweigen-Rechtenbach, Pfalz)

Weingut Jülg is located about as far south in the Pfalz as it is possible to get without being in Alsace, and as with their neighbour Fritz Becker, they have vineyards within Germany, but also in France. The old monastic sites sloping down towards the abbey church at Wissembourg would almost certainly be classified “Grand Cru” were they owned by French producers. These sites make up 50% of the Jülg vignoble. 

The French connection is further enhanced because current young winemaker, Johannes Jülg, did a stint at Domaine des Lambrays, in Burgundy. Mind you, as at Becker, there is an interesting differentiation between the reds here, as we shall see.

Two whites were shown, both examples of how well the other “Pinot” grapes grow just inside Germany, in this part of the Pfalz. Grauburgunder 2016 is simple but fresh Pinot Gris with definite varietal flavour, and decent acidity for a wine from this grape with 13% abv. Weissburgunder Sonnenberg 2017 is a step up, being from a fine single vineyard. Plump, stony and lemony.

Spätburgunder 2015 is the tasty entry level red, but still from reasonably old vine fruit. Spätburgunder “R” 2013 is a reserve wine, grapes coming from the French vineyards (which are always bottled under German wine law, in Schweigen). It is palish in colour but has a much bigger bouquet and super fruit. There’s still a little tannin, even at five-and-a-half years old. It’s a warning not to assume German “Pinot Noir” can be consumed young at anything above the basic level.

Pinot Noir 2013 is so labelled because it is made from French clones, and it is a chance for Johannes to put into practice what he learnt in Burgundy. What he learnt was to search for elegance and complexity more than merely fruit. Seeing a mix of new (50%) and second use French oak, this wine retains its fruit, but also shows a little savoury meatiness. It has an elegant cherry bouquet and the fruit on the palate is super smooth, with equally silky tannins. It still has a bit of structure which suggests ageing it further, but with food it might open now.

I’m forever in the bad books of Jülg for not paying them a visit when I was in Schweigen, but I did have lunch in their restaurant. Truly home-cooked, hearty, food and a wonderful atmosphere (seemingly full to bursting with locals), I will surely go back, after making sure I taste some wine beforehand.

WEINGUT ZIEREISEN (Efringen-Kirchen, Baden)

The Ziereisen estate lies a (long, well 4km) stone’s throw from the Swiss border, and some of their vines do actually overlook Basel. Hanspeter and his wife Edel were not there to pour on this occasion (though family friends managed ably to deputise). That was a shame because they are two of my favourite people in German wine. In fact the aforementioned young friends told me that they are even more fun in their own home. Their wines are wonderful, and noting my subjective approach to favouritism, they certainly make as good red wines as anyone in Germany (top three, if not top, position at the very least).

Ziereisen has 19 ha of vines, all on slopes somewhere between 200 and 450 metres above sea level. The vines are partly protected by forest, but they are subject to the winds which blow north through the Belfort Gap, near Mulhouse. This ensures a long and cool growing season and slower ripening, usually resulting in wines of great elegance, whatever the grape variety. Winemaking can be summed up in one word: gentle. A little new wood is used, usually near to 10%, perhaps 20% for the top wines in a suitable year. This use of new oak has been considerably reduced over the years.

Huegumber Gutedel 2016. Hanspeter is famous for his reds, but we begin with a white. I overheard someone say they had never tried Gutedel, but it is none other than Chasselas (as it is called in France and Switzerland’s Vaud, and Fendant in the Valais/Wallis). It begins light and dry, but slowly some complexity builds.

Steingrüble Gutedel “Unfiltriert” 2014 has even more presence, with genuine mineral complexity and a stony/herbal and slightly salty mouthfeel, lean but I mean that in a good way…not an ounce of unwanted fat to mask the purity. It has almost a year on lees in large wood. This single vineyard is a high density planting, with 10,000 vines to the hectare. It is a terroir wine, and trust me, it is hard to find a better version of this unfairly maligned variety. I’d call it “stunning”, but I know you’d laugh. But you pays your money, as they say. And you can pay way more than £117/6 for a mediocre Swiss Chasselas…I know.

Spätburgunder “Tschuppen” 2015 is the Pinot to go for here if you want value. It doesn’t have the complexity of the finer Pinots (Rhini and Jaspis), but it does have the urgency of lovely fruit, which drives it.

Spätburgunder “Rhini” 2015 is off limestone with a fair bit of sand, in a site protected from those winds we mentioned. Although this cuvée can often see more new oak than the norm at Ziereisen, it is not what you’d expect. It has a somewhat haunting elegance, with lifted soft red fruits on the nose. But that does belie a structure which is built for ageing. It’s a really fine wine that tastes delicious now, but will transform itself in the cellar.

Syrah “Gestad” 2015. This is a great wine with which to end a German tasting. There cannot be a better German Syrah, and I say that emphatically as those of you with little faith snigger on the back row. It both looks and smells like Syrah, and some would say like a Côte-Rôtie. It has a bouquet perfectly split between plummy fruit and a developing savoury nature, though not approaching the full bacon sandwich by a long way. The palate has tannin…acidity…and POW! Fruit! Oh, and 13.5% alcohol. If I’m honest I would place it in olfactory terms exactly where it happens to be geographically: somewhere between a Côte-Rôtie and a Syrah from the Swiss Valais, where I might add you can find some very good Syrah.

As I said more than five-and-a-half thousand words ago, this was a brilliant tasting. Almost without exception, great wines. The standard of winemaking in Germany is universally high, though you need to like Riesling, I guess. I genuinely don’t get why some people don’t. But more than that, the number of truly thrilling wines is always higher than at most tastings, too.

What needs to be done to give these wines a much bigger audience, I’m not sure? One could argue that the future lies with the young iconoclasts, similar to those who have helped pull Austrian wine into the 21st Century. Yet in Germany we don’t need to smash the idols. The top estates making classic wines are doing their job better than ever. I’m rarely in favour with just plugging away, but in this case, maybe that’s just what we need to do.

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Small Importers at Winemakers Club

On the Monday of Raw London 2019, Winemakers Club hosted a tasting of ten importers. I managed to get to taste a handful of wines from eight of them, before heading thirty minutes down the road to Raw on The Strand. It was brave to hold a tasting on the same day as Raw Wine, but then they did have the advantage that a lot of people were on hand. The tasting appeared to be pretty well attended, meaning a bit of a crush around some of the tables.

The importers I missed out were Roland Wines, who I included in a recent article, and Kiffe My Wines, who I unforgivably missed through a mixture of me running out of time and their table being just too crowded for me to push through (apologies there). I spent a little over two hours here, and these are the best of what I tasted. If this article feels like a fairly quick romp through the wines without the usual detail of background info, it’s because there are plenty of wines to get through. I hope I do the wines justice.

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A word on the photos here. Someone said to me the other day that my pics aren’t that good, which I thought was slightly mean, but to be honest I only use my iPhone. I like to show you the wine, but I’m more about the words if I’m honest. I find Winemakers Club continually hits the high notes whenever I go to these multi-agent tastings there, but it must surely be the darkest tasting venue in London. If the photos here fall below my usual moderate standard, I hope you will forgive me. I have tried to edit them a bit, but my hand is just not steady enough in poor light, in some cases.

WINEMAKERS CLUB

I tasted quite a few wines here, but then John had organised the tasting so it would have been rude not to.

MicroBio Verdejo 2017, Ismael Gozalo, Rueda was a perfect wine to begin with. This cuvée was both fermented and aged in the same old barrels. With medium weight and rounded fruit, this is a little bit mineral and grippy, but with total fruit purity.

Ammerschwihr 2016, La Grange de l’Oncle Charles is a blend of four white Alsace varieties, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Muscat. It’s a new release from a producer I’ve tasted a few times but frustratingly have not yet bought. This saw a very slow and gentle press and nine hours’ skin contact, and no racking during élèvage. It has structure but is a delicious, mouth-filling blend with building complexity. Lots going on, and I will try to grab a bottle of this for home consumption if they have any left next time I go to Farringdon Street.

Rosé des Riceys “En Valingrain” 2014, Olivier Horiot is one of Olivier’s two single vineyard Pinot Noir rosés from this unique Aube terroir. As with every vintage of this wine, you need to allow them to age properly to understand what the fuss is about. This already shows gorgeous strawberry and cherry fruit, and also some depth of colour, but it has a way to go to achieve maximum value. There was also a touch of reduction, but even when this is mature, it will benefit from air. These wines are not mere oddities. They can become some of the more ethereal Pinots you can find.

Sputnik 1 2017, L’Acino is a new (this vintage) wine from San Marco Argentano, Calabria. Let’s face it, you’d try a wine called Sputnik 1 whatever, but this lives up to the fun label. It’s textured, with a certain bitterness which would lead me to match it with spicy, even robustly so, food. It’s only bottled and available in magnum. You have to admire that, truly.

A couple of wines were open from the wonderful Contra Soarda. The Gottardi family farm 12 hectares of vines in Breganze’s volcanic hills near Bassano del Grappa (Veneto). The highlight was a wine I’d not tried before, Musso Terra 2015. The blend is Marzemino with Pinot Nero and Merlot. The vineyards are at 350 metres altitude and are in the path of cold winds blowing down from the north. The vines enjoy a long growing season and the wine has clean, almost bitter, fruit and a textured mouthfeel. You sense a brambley acidity from the Marzemino, but the other grapes shine through adding a smoothness, and a Pinot noir fragrance. Smoky and spicy. Delicious.

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I’ve not tasted a lot of Loire wines this year for some inexplicable reason, but I enjoyed Tête Red NV, Les Têtes from Azay-le-Rideau. Blending Cabernet Franc, Grolleau, Merlot and Braucol (which I normally expect only to see in Southwest France), it was fairly simple (in a good way), majoring on tasty fruit. Another simple but attractive wine was Trebbianno d’Abruzzo “Fortuna” 2017, Caprera, a producer in Pietranico in, of course, the Abruzzo. It is more piquant than most of the Trebbiano you come across (of whatever clone), with a nice texture from what I would say is obvious maceration on skins (?).

Two remarkably brief comments to finish, on Karim Vionnet Beaujolais-Villages 2017 and Meinklang Graupert Rot 2015. Both were as superb as you’d expect from two of Winemakers Club’s finest producers.

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NEWCOMER WINES

Newcomer had plenty of new stuff on show which was impossible to pass by, despite this table being particularly crowded right from the off.

Weissburgunder 2016, Rennersistas, Burgenland is not strictly a new release, but Newcomer kept some back to give it a little more time. A good move. Dry and stony, it’s a delicious Pinot Blanc. I have a 2015 left which has been waiting for some spring weather, which appears to have arrived.

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Newcomer had brought along three wines from the increasingly lauded, fantastic, Styrian producer, Franz StrohmeierTrauben Liebe und Zeit “Weiss” No 8 is a blend of Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc made via direct pressing with no skin contact. The wine is consequently super fresh, with a little citrus acidity and a nice twist of pear on a long finish.

Trauben Liebe und Zeit “Lysgerön” No 5 is made from the estate’s best Weissburgunder grapes grown on gneiss (with a high iron and silica content). As with everything at Strohmeier, it is made naturally, seeing a year in old 500 litre oak barrels before bottling. More complex than “No 8”, and consequently more expensive, this is a fine white from an often ignored variety.

Blauer Wildbacher “Lyserod” No 29 is one of the Strohmeier cuvées I’d not tried before, although I am a big fan of Strohmeier’s wines made from the Blauer Wildbacher grape, the classic Styrian red variety famous initially through Schilcher Sekt. This wine has the characteristics of the variety in abundance. Grippy, intense but still lightish dark fruit squash with more zip than you can imagine. A bit of a cult, not for the many but for the few…including me.

“Trauben, Liebe + Zeit”, by the way, translates as “grapes, love and time”, which is also exactly what the whole philosophy at this amazing producer stands for.

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Stepping out of Austria for a brief foray into Germany, Pinot Noir “Baden Nouveau” 2018, Wasenhaus (photo above, sort of) is exactly what you’d expect. Alexander Götze and Christoph Wolber worked at some posh Burgundian estates (De Montille, Leflaive and Comte Armand) and farm old vines at Staufen and on the Kaiserstuhl, which might lead you to expect wines of a certain style. I don’t yet know what their other wines taste like, but this one does exactly what it says on the label. You only need one word, and that’s “fruity”.

Kalk und Kiesel Rot 2017, Claus Preisinger, Burgenland. This might actually be the first wine from Claus that I’ve sipped since he became a dad, so cheers, Claus and Susanne! Claus first made this experimental red in 2015, from a field blend of Blaufränkisch, Zweigelt, plus lesser quantities of the white varieties Welschriesling, Muskat and Müller-Thurgau. He uses three different methods for fermentation – direct press, carbonic macerations and a three day maceration on skins. Then all three batches are blended together for ageing in 500 litre oak. This has very lively, fresh, fruit but seems just so perfectly balanced.

Martin Nittnaus, like Claus and the Rennersistas, is also from Gols on the northeastern edge of the Neusiedlersee, and he was on hand to show some of his own wines, bottled alongside those of his family (for whom he is also the winemaker).

Grüner Veltliner “Manila” 2017 begins fermenting in tank for two weeks on skins (no stems) and then gets pressed gently into 500 litre oak to finish. It has more structure than the more simple versions of Grüner many may be used to, and it even has some tannins. A wine for food.

Grüner Veltliner “Elektra” 2017 is a new project. The grapes come off limestone, and fermentation is in open vat with no skins. It spends ten months on lees. It has that bright freshness limestone imparts for Grüner (and Blaufränkisch), and it also has a waxed lemon texture. It’s very long, and aptly named, whether you have in mind electricity or the Richard Strauss opera.

Zweigelt “Fux” 2017 is from a single vineyard. Jeez this is interesting. Tank fermented, it is complex even now. Earthy, with forest fruits and a zippy freshness that I found massively attractive.

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Blaufränkisch “Manila” 2016 is from a single vineyard on slate, with quite young (15-y-o) vines. This didn’t taste or smell like your standard Burgenland Blau, with almost Provençal notes of lavender, lilac and black olive, which I wasn’t expecting. Martin said that despite the cool and wet 2016 vintage he harvested after the rain had finished. This unusual and fascinating wine is the result.

Altogether, a bunch of brilliant wines, both from Newcomer and from Martin Nittnaus. And I didn’t even try Christian Tschida’s “Kapitel” 2014!

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WINES UNDER THE BONNET

Having missed the WUTB guys at Antidote some weeks ago, I was pleased to have the chance to taste half-a-dozen of their wines here, especially as I was getting an opportunity to stray beyond my current UTB favourites.

Château Barouillet made classic, standard, Monbazillac, Bergerac and Pécharment wines until Vincent Alexis took over from his father and grandfather (who still both work in the winery) in 2010. He has injected a sense of fun via “Splash“, a Sémillon petnat. I tried this in its first vintage three years ago, when friends brought some back from a domaine visit. The 2018 vintage has seen production climb to 26,000 bottles on the back of its success. It’s dry, and a bit cloudy if you shake up the lees, which gives a bit more texture, and it’s basically a fun wine. That is all that’s intended. But a very good one.

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La Ferme des Sept Lunes is a producer I first came across several years ago in La Buvette de Camille in Paris. They have since found their way to the UK via WUTB, yet another excellent choice by this small setup. Jean Delobre owns ten hectares in the higher reaches of Saint-Joseph. He has all four of the main varieties of the Northern Rhône, plus Gamay.

Lune Rousse 2017 is Roussanne, no added sulphur, brilliantly redolent of fresh peach on a summer’s day. Simple, but gorgeously gluggable. St-Joseph Blanc 2016 blends Roussanne with Marsanne, which are fermented separately and blended together after a year in large old oak. It’s naturally more serious, waxy and mineral, with a dash of salinity on the finish. A St-Joseph Blanc 2012 was produced from behind the table, which was darker in colour and head-turning. It turns out that the wine developed flor as it aged in barrel for twelve months. Nutty and oxidative, but lighter than a Vin Jaune, intriguing, one for the connoisseur.

Finally I tasted the estate’s St-Joseph Rouge “Premier Quartier” 2015, a pure Syrah with nice fruit, but also good structure, built for ageing (I suspect in any event, aside from the vintage). Black fruits with a bit of a peppery finish. This is a blend of different parcels.

Laurent Roger and Melissa Ingrand are producers at Rivesaltes, in Roussillon. I’ve not come across them before and I’m pretty sure they are new to the WUTB portfolio. I was told that 2018 was their first vintage. Three wines were shown, but I particularly liked their Otium 2018, a pure (in both senses) Grenache, pale and bright. It had a lifted scent of sweet strawberry and cherry fruit with good acidity, making it one of those very refreshing Grenaches which the natural wine movement has almost invented. Well priced, this should prove popular.

Roberto Henriquez is a top-knotted genius who left commercial wine production to do his own thing in Chile’s Bio-Bio Valley. He farms just three hectares, but is able to buy in grapes from various different sites in the region to widen his portfolio. Roberto uses a very old and traditional method of winemaking known as pipenos, which involves, inter alia, skin maceration for the white wines.

Pais 2017 is a superb example of this traditional South American red variety (known as Criolla over in Argentina). It has been treated as a third-tier variety, good only for jug wine, but Roberto isn’t the first to recognise its perfect suitability for mimicking the glouglou of French natural wines. He manages somehow to get lovely fresh beetroot acidity from a low acid variety, making a light wine with texture and bite. He manages it via very old vines off alluvial soils, and gentle winemaking (in stainless steel) at every stage. Very successful.

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TUTTO WINES

Frédéric Cossard Saint-Romain “Combe Bazin” 2016 is a label known to many by now. Over the years the “lesser” villages of the Côte de Beaune have become better known as Meursault and Puligny have jumped in price, but Saint-Romain, high in the hills above Meursault and La Rochepot has taken longer than most. The climate here has always been that bit more marginal.

Frédéric Cossard began Domaine de Chassorney from scratch, without a background in wine, and now owns ten hectares. In addition, he produces a range of negoce wines under his own name. Combe Bazin is his most iconic wine, a single vineyard Chardonnay from high slopes with an equally high proportion of limestone in the soil. It helps give the wine genuine zip and a liveliness, balanced by the weight of fruit direct-pressed into barrel. Fine Burgundy, but also excellent value.

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Skerlj Malvasia 2014 comes from a tiny two-hectare estate hidden in the woods of Friuli’s Carso Region, just two kilometres from the Adriatic. This is a skin contact wine, macerated for five months without pigeage, then pressed into old tonneau for two years. 2014 was a cold and wet vintage, but oddly this wine has magnificent fruit, more so than it has the expected Carso minerality. A subtle, elegant, wine.

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Jean-Pierre Robinot Lumière des Sens 2015 comes from the natural wine legend of Jasnières. Here, he demonstrates his magic on that resurgent Loire red variety, Pineau d’Aunis. The wine is whole bunch fermented on skins before pressing into barrel for two years, perhaps a relatively short élèvage chez Robinot. The 2015 is quite spicy with a lovely bitter, sour-cherry, note. It shows freshness and also the nascent complexity of a wine that is just coming out of its shell. Worth putting into a carafe if you plan to serve it now.

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ArPePe Grumello “Rocca de Piro” 2015, Valtellina Superiore comes from what is not only my favourite producer in the region, but in my opinion one of the finest producers of Nebbiolo in Italy (yet how many Barolo drinkers have never heard of ArPePe?). The vines here rise to as high as 700 metres on steep granite terraces, which require serious dedication to work them.

Grumello is one of the Valtellina crus, and the vines for Rocca de Piro are situated at a mere 350 to 500 metres above sea level. Maceration on skins took place in 50 hectolitre wooden vats for 110 days in 2015, after which the wine was aged eighteen months in a mix of large oak and concrete. The wine is named after the spectacular fourteenth century castle under which the ArPePe winery is situated, and onto which the vines look down. The Grumellos usually drink sooner than some of their other crus, a softer wine, but still with a little grip. It’s not Gamay, after all.

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Gabrio Bini Agricola Serragghia, Fanino 2017, Pantelleria is a magical wine. If this producer’s name is not immediately familiar, then his vibrant “arrow” labels may well be, from social media. Fanino is not one of Pantelleria’s famed Zibibbo dried grape sweet wines, but a blend of red and white varieties, mainly Pignatello and Cattaratto, made in Spanish amphora buried under ground, outside in the vineyard. The soils here are the blackest of black volcanic, and they have a direct mineral spice which must come as a result. But the bouquet is just so exotic, that alone is worth the somewhat significant entry fee (over £40 to the trade). Crazy winemaking, crazy wines, yet unquestionably fabulous if you have joy in your heart.

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Who is that naughty man photo-bombing Ruth?

GERGOVIE WINES

I only tried a couple of wines from Gergovie. Their table was the first one in, manned by just one person, and time was sadly too short on a “Raw” day to queue for long. A shame because I can always recommend this “sulphur free” importer once I know the person I’m talking to has a sense of adventure and an open mind. Just head to 40 Maltby Street where you can try their wines (and take them away) at what I think is currently one of London’s finest kitchens. Gergovie sells the fine natural wines of Andalucia pioneer Barranco Oscuro, along with a remarkable selection from two of France’s hottest regions, Auvergne and Ardèche, just to mention a few.

Michel Guignier Fleurie “Au Bon Grès” 2014 comes from Gamay vines close to the village of Fleurie, and reminds me of the work of one or two of the region’s famous old timers. Michel’s 7 ha farm is also close to forest and his philosophy, based on biodiversity, is well served here. This 2014 is very fruity, light-ish but grippy, more so than many 2014s that I drink at the moment. A lovely iteration of purest Gamay.

Le Petit Gimios “Rouge Fruit” 2016 is the domaine of Anne-Marie Lavaysse and her son, Pierre, at St-Jean-de-Minervois in Languedoc. The limestone soils are rich in fossils, and the yields are incredibly low on this harsh terrain. “Rouge Fruit” is a blend of Aramon, Cinsault, Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Muscat and other co-planted (in 1906) varieties, a field blend. It has bright lifted red fruits, a perfectly refreshing wine, but with a little backbone as well.

These were lovely wines, and it was great to try them, neither being wines I’d necessarily know to order at 40 Maltby Street.

TOTEM WINES

I was at my most pitiful here, trying just one wine from the Totem table, but then what a wine. Didier Grappe Savagnin Ouillé “Longefin” 2016 comes from Didier’s three-and-a-half hectares of vineyards around the Jura village of Saint-Lothian, southwest of Poligny. His wines are largely topped-up, rather than oxidative, and that is the case with this Savagnin from north facing vines on grey and red marl. I don’t see the Grappe wines an awful lot, but I always enjoy them. This 2016 did have a tiny bit of reduction on the nose, but I’m positive that will blow off. The palate shows the zingy, lemony, side of Savagnin amazingly well. All Grappe’s wines are thoughtfully made.

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MODAL WINES

Nik Rizzi’s portfolio is an exciting mixture of Central Europe and Spain, but several of the wines on show I had tasted and written about a few weeks before…there’s no point in repeating myself, no matter how amazing wines like Joiseph Fogosch and Silice’s Mencia may be. The first two wines below are from producers I tasted at that particular event, but wines that were not shown. The following two were from yet another new Kamptal producer.

Slobodne “Eggstasy” 2017 is a Riesling from Hlohovek in the Lower Carpathians region of Slovakia. Some readers will remember that I’m a big fan of this couple’s Cutis Deviner. Here we have a small production cuvée of just 1,400 bottles of Rhine Riesling, which underwent skin contact for ten days followed by nine months in concrete egg. The colour is very orange, with a nose both big and stunningly elegant. There is certainly texture, but also a smoothness, with fruit too. So good, so long, and sulphur free.

Nibiru Alte Reben Blauer Portugieser 2015 is an incredibly small cuvée, just 300 bottles, and is in its first vintage. This old vine bottling from Kamptal (but not bottled under the DAC) was fermented with 30% whole berries before gentle pressing into 300 litre oak. Concentrated, deeply fruited and a tiny bit spiky (in a nice way).

Malinga is a producer whose wines I’ve never tried. Christoph Heiss is a young man based in the Austrian region of Kamptal, but actually in Engabrunn, right on its eastern border with Wagram. He took over the family estate in 2013, and Malinga is his natural wine project, which is growing in success (and volume) every vintage.

Malinga Riesling 2016 is from a single vineyard just inside the Wagram Region, mainly on loess soils. The vines are 45 years old, so there is good fruit to work with. It is given a year-and-a-half in barrel on its lees following a long and slow fermentation, during which it has two rackings. Just a little sulphur is added at the time of the first of these. There’s a lot going on…great acidity, a creamy texture and a little structure, both of the latter from the mouthfeel created by the extended lees contact, no doubt. Some Kamptal Riesling can be a bit too plainly mineral (okay, some can be as complex as the best from Wachau too), but this seems a little different.

Malinga Zweigelt 2017 is made in an early drinking style, which frankly I think suits Zweigelt so much better than any attempt to make hyper-serious wine from the variety. Christoph says this wine is inspired by Beaujolais. It has just 11.8% abv and is totally “glou“. He succeeds in his stated aim magnificently. Both of these Malinga wines impressed me a lot for a first taste.

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CARTE BLANCHE

Carte Blanche had some seriously good kit on show, and the wines I’ve selected are really quite impressive. However, if I may I’d like to draw particular attention to the wines of Ancre Hill, from Monmouth in Wales. Ancre Hill first came to my attention quite a long time ago as a producer of Welsh sparkling wine, and they continue to make excellent wines from the “Champagne” varieties, albeit with a training system suited to their brave project, creating biodynamic wines in the Welsh climate. But over time they have diversified. The two wines below are examples of “out of the box” thinking, wonderful wines for a very different market. In fact the second of these was also a major hit down the road, at Raw.

Ancre Hill Triomphe is what I would call a slightly frizzante wine made from the hybrid vine more accurately called Triomphe d’Alsace. 40% of the grapes see carbonic maceration, the rest a classical fermentation, before bottling with 12 months on gross lees. The fizz is light and gentle but it accentuates the fruit, a blend of an array of sweet red fruits and bitter rhubarb on the finish to give a nice acidic kick. Frivolity like this is absolutely what you need for an English spring and summer, not to mention autumn. Buy some if you can, although I fear they only make around 1,000 bottles. Almost as bad as Ben Walgate!

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If you think that sounds good, I assure you this next wine is even better. First, I have to say that the label, depicting a lady’s head in Welsh National Costume in the style of A Clockwork Orange is genius. Ancre Hill Orange Wine is made from Albarino, in this case a blend of 2015 and 2017 vintages. It gets its orange colour from 45 days on skins and is both fermented and aged in oak (as I was told at the tasting), or in Stainless Steel as stated on the Raw Wine web site (I couldn’t find this wine on the Ancre Hill site).

Anyway, what matters is what it tastes like. “Gorgeously sour” would be my answer to that. I’d never tried an English or Welsh Albarino before, although I believe Chapel Down make one. I’m guessing it’s nothing like this little ripper (channelling my inner Adelaide Hills, because tasted blind, that’s where I might have guessed it originated).

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Bodegas Fulcro, Rias Baixas – Manuel Moldàs Murana farms around three hectares spread around 22 plots in Rias Baixas. Aliaxe Furtivo 2017 blends 60% Caiño with 20% each of Loureiro and Espadeiro off shale, granite and clay. It is a fresh, acidic and slightly bitter gourmande red, a wine to match with oily fish or even goat. It may not have pretensions but it does have genuine personality, like the best reds of this part of Spain.

Fabien Jouves, Cahors – I didn’t know the Fulcro wines, but I do know the wines of Fabien Jouves pretty well. This young producer has vines on Cahors’ plateau, on a mix of limestone causses and clay with some sand in places. Fabien Jouves Amphore 2017 is a beautiful example of the purity which runs through the full range of his wines, which are all biodynamic. This is full of dark fruits with the texture of amphore expressed through a very slight bitterness, reminding me of coffee grounds, though the grittiness is not really physical texture. These are wines that will age, but Fabien believes wines are for drinking, and his wines do drink superbly from the off, with food. Rather cheekily Fab has put the grape variety on the front label – Malbec, of course.

Manoir de la Tête Rouge, Saumur – this biodynamic estate run by Guillaume Raynouard is in the new Puy-Notre-Dame zone of Saumur, where the family farm 13 hectares of several local Loire grape varieties. Enchantoir is a fine Chenin Blanc from a single site on limestone and tufa, which was really singing, with waxy lime, quince and grapefruit with white flowers on the nose (quite complex but fresh) and a palate where honey and dried fruits come through. Despite its innate freshness, it seems like the type of Chenin Blanc that will age very well. Just 2,400 bottles are made. I’d definitely love to try more of the estate’s wines.

Mouthes le Bihan, Côtes du Duras – We finish with an estate I knew many years ago when they were imported by Adnams. Then Les Caves had them for a while, I think. Duras isn’t really known for great wine. It’s located sort of between Bergerac and the east side of the wider Bordeaux Region (Castillon and Ste-Foy). Nowadays the range is split between cuvées labelled “Apprentices”, made for keeping, and “Pie Colette” for glugging (whilst “Pie” is a magpie in French, “Pie Colette” means to “knock back a few”). The red is 80% Merlot plus Malbec and the white is 50% Sémillon with equal parts Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, quite a pleasant if unusual blend. The red is juicy and fruity but it does show just a little tannin.

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If any of these wine importers had a portfolio tasting on their own, I would try to go along, and I was well rewarded for devoting some of the time I could have been at Raw to the arches under Holborn Viaduct. It was particularly worthwhile for the opportunity to try some new wines from familiar, and not so familiar, faces. I know that once again, there’s a lot to read here, but if you made it this far I hope you are inspired to explore some of these lovely and exciting wines.

 

 

 

 

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Bordeaux – The Risk Takers (Vine Trail)

This fascinating tasting took place at Carousel on Blandford Street, London, on 6 March 2019. I say fascinating and I’m guessing that might elicit a snigger from those who are used to very traditional, conservative and expensive Bordeaux. However, Vine Trail are not your ordinary purveyors of ordinary claret. The ten producers listed below (out of seventeen exhibitors) are all doing something a little different, and doing it differently in Bordeaux, where there’s a conservative orthodoxy from the very top to the bottom of the heirarchy, means that by definition you are taking a risk.

Those risks mean at the very least, organic practices, but many of the estates here are biodynamic. It may also mean doing something different in terms of grape varieties, or ageing (traditional concrete and even amphora will get a mention), or it may mean cuvées from individual vineyards over blending. There are even some venturing into natural wine in this damp Atlantic climate. But the biggest risk taker must be Vine Trail. Why?

There is no doubt that Bordeaux has an image problem. That image is the one carefully fostered by the estates at the top end of the 1855 Classification of Bordeaux, and the subsequent classifications of Saint-Emilion and Pessac-Léognan/Graves. It is an image that paints a picture of unsurpassed quality, leading to generally unsurpassed prices. Those prices, albeit for a relative minority of wines in this large and sprawling group of appellations that make up the wider Bordeaux Region, have driven away all but the very wealthiest collectors.

Where did the Bordeaux lovers go? Some to the Cru Bourgeois, some to Burgundy, then the Northern Rhône and Piemonte. But the general opinion has been that Bordeaux is snooty and too expensive. That’s not good news for the thousands of small farmers who are finding it increasingly difficult to make a living selling their hand crafted, artisan Bordeaux wines, squeezed by the Cru Classés on one side and the large Bordeaux negociants on the other.

The obvious strategy for the artisans is to court younger wine drinkers. It’s been successful in other places, after all. But to so many people, Bordeaux has that old man image, and in a world with so many other more exciting wines to try, that’s not good, is it! But Bordeaux does have one thing going for it. I remember how Bordeaux used to come in at 12.5% alcohol, and this, combined with those classic varieties, grown in a climate generally so benign to the vine in more years than not, made for a delicious, savoury and fruity beverage that was hard to beat as an accompaniment for more traditional dishes. Bordeaux can be a food wine par excellence, although faced with a 14.5% Merlot from the Right Bank you might not think so.

Vine Trail is an intelligent importer. The selection of estates here are on the whole unknown to most people (you’ll have heard of one or two). What Vine Trail are banking on is that people will give the wines a chance and enjoy them. There’s no reason why the pendulum should not swing, and “ordinary” Bordeaux should not regain its popularity with “ordinary” drinkers. It’s really up to us wine writers to explore these wines and to put them out there.

If that pendulum does begin to swing back, it would be nice to think that this tasting is where it began to do so. It was certainly, taken as a whole, the most interesting tasting of Bordeaux wines I’ve been to in some years.

NB – I felt that it was important to stress the good value here, considering my comments about prices in the region. I have given a price per bottle in each case that I have been able, and these are taken from the “Price List – Private Customers” handed to me on the day. Hopefully these were correct on 6th March 2019 and will remain broadly so for a while. After 29th March, who knows? These prices do not include VAT. Please check current prices with Vine Trail before ordering.

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CHATEAU DU CHAMP DES TREILLES (Sainte-Foy-Bordeaux)

Ste-Foy-la-Grande is the town which dominates an enclave which sticks out to the east of the Bordeaux Region, and is surrounded by Dordogne in the north, and Lot-et-Garonne to the south. When I first went to Bordeaux you could buy wines from this zone, but they were nothing to write home about.

Corinne and Jean-Michel Comme began farming their own estate in this outlying sub-region when they bought five hectares of 60-year-old vines in 1998. They have since been able to plant a further 5 ha, doubling their holding. They farm by organic and biodynamic practices, and never use a tractor on their soils. Sulphur additions are completely down to what they perceive as the needs of the vintage (the ph/acidities in the region do make sulphur-free wines more of a challenge according to Corinne). All the wines here are under the Sainte-Foy-Bordeaux AOP.

Vin Passion 2014 is a blend of Sémillon, Muscadelle and Sauvignon Blanc, aged in a mix of stainless steel and concrete. This is a nice wine to start the tasting with. It tastes pure and fresh, certainly not over sulphured as can be the case with White Bordeaux. It has good fruit and nice balance of weight between the fatter Sémillon and the brisker Sauvignon. £10.28

Le Petit Champ 2016 is Corinne’s young vine red cuvée, made up of 50% Merlot, with a mix of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot in similar proportions forming the rest. Again, the vessels used for fermentation and ageing are a mix of stainless steel and concrete vats. The wine is fresh and of medium body with a little tannin, and there’s a nice blend of cherry and darker fruit with notes of coffee and chocolate. A wine to drink in the moment, not to cellar. £10.44

Grand Vin 2016 – The best parcels on the estate are selected for the Grand Vin and ageing is for 13 months in barrique. It has much more structure than the young vine cuvée, and is quite savoury. Yet the fruit is slightly more plump, perhaps because this cuvée has 60% Merlot, instead of just 50%. £12.48

Jean-Michel works at perhaps the Médoc’s most famous fully biodynamic estate, Pontet-Canet. It’s a two-way exchange of information and experience between the two, but Jean-Michel and Corinne have learnt one thing above all others from the relationship – the pursuit of excellence. This applies whatever the AOP you are producing under.

CHATEAU BEYNAT (Côtes de Castillon-Bordeaux)

Alain Tourenne is the winemaker behind this small (19ha) estate at St-Magne-de-Castillon, on the other (western) side of the zone from Castillon-la-Bataille (famous for the battle in 1453 at which England was driven from her French lands, and the Hundred Years War finally came to an end). These are hillside vineyards, of limestone and clay, with vine age averaging around 25 years. Farming is biodynamic.

Côtes de Bordeaux Castillon 2016 is a blend of 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc. It is aged 12 months in concrete tank and sees no oak. This wine is bright and fresh, with a salinity which must either come from the concrete or perhaps most likely, the limestone. But it is worth noting that Alain uses a small number of amphora too, albeit currently for a tiny part of his production. The fruit is a mix of red (raspberry) and dark (blackcurrant), and some nice spice as well. Medium-bodied, drink within two years. £9.64

Cuvée Léonard 2016 was an unlisted wine blending two varieties, Merlot (60%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (40%). The vines are older here, averaging 55 years in age, from a plot closer to Castillon in the east. It sees a longer ageing, 18 months, in a mixture of second and third use barrique. The bouquet is fairly concentrated, slightly smoky, and the wine itself has a nice savouriness over darker fruits. POA

CHATEAU CRU GODARD (Francs Côtes de Bordeaux)

This AOP, which I grew up knowing just as the Côtes de Francs, lies in the northeast of the region, neighbouring the Saint-Emilion satellites of Lussac and Puisseguin, and Bordeaux-Côtes de Castillon to the south. Like the previous AOP, there are a lot of high quality, small estates, run by owners of grander Saint-Emilion and Pomerol properties, and most vines are situated on gentle chalk and limestone hills and plateau.

The Duclot family, owners of Château Cru Godard,  are one of those with interests in  prestigious estates, including Château Pétrus, so the focus here is naturally on quality. But there’s also a learning process, because this estate is also biodynamic.

Francs Côtes de Bordeaux 2015 is dominated by 65% Merlot with the remainder of the blend comprising Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec (in proportions 20/10/5%). Just fifty barrels are made. There is very plush fruit, and it is approachable, rich and long. Alcohol is a hefty 14%, but although you can tell it’s not as light as many tasted here, neither is it remotely like a jammy Saint-Emilion fruit bomb. Perhaps the more marginal appellation helps somewhat. £9.98

There is a white wine from the estate which wasn’t shown, but of which I’ve read some good things.

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CHATEAU LA GRAVE FIGEAC (Saint-Emilion Grand Cru)

You might have heard of La Grave Figeac, not to be confused with Figeac tout-court, of course. It’s a small, 6.5 ha, vineyard distinguished by its rather grand immediate neighbours, the said Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classés Château Figeac and Château Cheval Blanc, and La Conseillante (in Pomerol).

The key here is vine age (something like a hectare of Cabernet Franc vines are over 100 years old), very low yields for the region, and sensitive vinification.  Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2012 is aged in one third new oak, one third second passage oak, and one third in concrete cuve. It has structure but is very drinkable, and it will probably peak in two or three years. It’s a classic wine with plummy Merlot fruit and notes of mint. Alcohol is 13%. £23.37

Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 1996 is not on Vine Trail’s list, but it gave a good idea how this might age in the right vintage. By now it has become more savoury, more complex too, enjoyable with food, but in no danger, seemingly, of falling off a cliff.

Cuvée L’Essai 2015 is a very interesting wine. It is labelled Saint-Emilion Grand Cru and in many respects it tastes like one, with a blend of 65% Merlot plus Cabernet Franc and 13% abv. The bouquet is lovely and fresh and although there’s a little structure, in essence it makes very easy drinking. The catch? This wine sees no oak and no added sulphur. For me this is something new and something different, and in this case I’d call it a real success. Other producers in Bordeaux should take note. £18.53

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OSAMA UCHIDA (Haut-Médoc)

Osama Uchida’s story is fascinating. How he came to own a vineyard here would be a long one, but imagine – he’s in one of the most prestigious appellations in the world, and Mouton-Rothschild is literally within a stone’s throw of the garage which has to suffice for his winery. It can do so because Uchida owns a mere six-tenths of a hectare of Cabernet Sauvignon vines hidden away surrounded by pine trees, which, if he’s very lucky, might produce just less than 2,500 bottles each decent vintage. Do the maths. Based on what he gets for the wine, that isn’t an income, even before costs.

Haut-Médoc “Miracle” 2016 is aptly named. Farming organically, the wine is half fermented by carbonic maceration and there is no pigéage or pumping over. For ageing, it sees a year in 500 litre old oak. The nose really stands out, with very pure blackcurrant, blackberry and blueberry fruit, almost reminiscent of a New World Cabernet. A dark wine, to say “brooding” would be a cliché, yet it is 100% approachable. So pure and lovely. £25.87

“Phénomone” 2018 is to be released as a Vin de France. It is a parcel of Cabernet Sauvignon which Osama says has had “no ageing at all”. The bouquet is all lifted fruit with blackcurrant dominating what to me tasted like cherries. If the aim is to bring some glouglou to Bordeaux, he’s succeeded, although I can’t choose between these two very different wines. POA

Although some of you would think I’d go for this wine, “Miracle” is such a lovely “Haut-Médoc”, which gives me hope for Bordeaux. And “Miracle”, I forgot to mention, has just 11.6% alcohol!

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CLOSERIES DES MOUSSIS (Haut-Médoc)

Laurence Alias and Pascale Choime own two hectares near Arsac, close to Margaux on the Senejac Plateau in the Haut-Médoc. They farm their vines biodynamically, and plough with their Breton draft horse, Jumpa.

Haut-Médoc 2015 is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon with 20% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Elèvage is in 400-to-600 litre oak, 10% of which is new, to seven year old barrels, this following a very delicate extraction and only occasional pigéage. This lovely, fruity, wine is just 12.5% abv, very balanced, and it reminds me how Bordeaux used to taste, once. £18.32

Haut-Médoc “Baragane” 2016 contains 70% Merlot, with a mix of all the other four Bordeaux varieties, plus some rare Carmenère. Some of the grapes for this come from 150-year-old pre-phylloxera vines, unusual in Bordeaux. This is also very pure-fruited, but more black fruits rather than the red and black mix of the generic wine. In colour, this was one of the darkest wines on show, and has an extra 1% alcohol over the Haut-Médoc, but both are lovely wines. Sulphur additions are very low, which may be why the wines have a standout brightness (sulphur can flatten a wine, which you don’t always notice when a whole row of wines have been similarly treated). £40.76

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CLOS DU JAGUEYRON (Haut-Médoc and Margaux)

I’ll come right out and say that this producer was a bit of a discovery for me. This is in no small part because I didn’t expect to be trying wines from Margaux that tasted a little bit different to the norm, although Margaux being Margaux, the top wines here are not cheap.

Haut-Médoc 2014 is a pretty good place to begin. Unusually dominated by 60% Cabernet Sauvignon (with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and some Petit Verdot) it is actually quite rich. There’s more fruit and concentration than you might expect from an entry level wine, and it’s a good price for this level of quality. £19.43

Margaux “Nout” 2014 is a special parcel of 25-y-o vines on very gravelly soils. Farming here is biodynamic, and the yield is kept below 30 hl/h (that’s low even for a cru classé). It is given structure through oak (50% new, 50% one passage), in which it is aged for a year. You do get a whiff of oak on the nose. The wine is nicely rich and approachable, perhaps because this cuvée is made from 55% Merlot (the remainder Cabernet Sauvignon), but as well as the fruit you get a savoury, mineral, saline lick on the finish. £29.87

Margaux “Clos du Jagueyron” 2014 is dominated by 70% Cabernet Sauvignon’s dark fruits. It has structure from its oak élèvage (85% new, 15% one year), giving it good tannins, nothing harsh. The wine needs to age, certainly longer than the “Nout”. I’d be extolling the virtues of this wine if it were not for the “off-list” cuvée which followed. £44.57

Margaux “Perrain” 2014 blends 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Cabernet Franc from a one hectare parcel. It sees no wood, rather, small concrete vats, in which it is both fermented and aged (33 months on lees). After a year it was given a further twelve months in bottle. This is still youthful but it’s quite magnificent. A superb example of a serious wine made without oak influence. The bouquet is more floral than most Margaux, very noticeable. The fruit is present but I reckon the concrete helps its more earthy side to come through. An American importer called this “terroir transparent”, which sums it up so well. Only 2,500 bottles made. POA

I’m indebted to English winemaker, Tim Phillips, who pointed me towards this bottle, and told me it was his Wine of the Day when we met in the tasting room. He wasn’t wrong. Very possibly mine too, but all the Clos du Jagueyron wines are very good indeed.

CHATEAU BEL AIR MARQUIS D’ALIGRE (Margaux)

I lose track of the “Cru Bourgeois” terminology these days, but I believe this estate is classified as Grand Cru Exceptionnel. That might make the estate sound grander than it is, but grandness is not what it’s all about. Jean-Pierre Boyer’s Margaux Château makes what I have seen called “old fashioned” Bordeaux. To a degree, that could refer both to the style of the wine and to the winemaking here. After a long fermentation the wine remains in cuve for several months before it completes its élèvage in cement vats, two or three years depending on vintage and the whim of Jean-Pierre.

The vines at BAMA are over 100 years of age in some cases, and are all genuinely old. But so is Jean-Pierre, an octogenarian who still takes on the cellar duties. What will happen here when he retires, I have no idea, but if you like what you read do consider trying them. Vine Trail imports direct from the Château. They have imported several vintages between 1996 to 2005, wines which in any event are usually only released by J-P after at least ten years in the Château cellars.

The wines on show at Blandford Street were out of the ordinary, in that we were therefore shown three old vintages. All of the following are a blend of mostly Merlot (35%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (30%), with Cabernet Franc (20%), Petit Verdot (10%) and Malbec (5%), with some slight vintage variations.

Margaux 1998 is, above all, fragrant. Quite un-Bordeaux-like. Margaux 2000 has more structure and (although only relatively speaking) heft. It has great fruit and “personality”, a word I could have used far more in this article but not one you will always see in relation to Bordeaux. Age it further. Margaux 2001 on the other hand is drinking quite nicely now.

Generally, you can expect these wines to be lighter than any modern Bordeaux, the alcohols being commensurately low (only 12.5% for the ripe 2000), yet like that Bordeaux of old, these wines will age as well as any oak-infused wine from the region. The 1998 is POA, the 2000 and 2001 being a little over £43+VAT.

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CLOS 19 BIS (Vin de France)

Vincent Quirac owns around two hectares of vines, both within the far south of the Graves AOP, at Pujols-sur-Ciron, and in Sauternes. Clos 19 Bis 2015 is classified just as “Vin de France” because the intention is to make an easy drinking wine, pure, fresh and glouglou. It sees no wood, with ageing just in cuve. The wine is 80% Merlot, which gives sweet plummy fruit, whilst the 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, vinified without oak, gives a hint of darker fruit, but also pronounced herbs and spice. There is oddly a very tiny hint of Nebbiolo about it (but I had been tasting Nebbiolo all the previous day). I’d be thrilled to find this little gem on a restaurant list. £13.12

Sauternes 2016 is a classic blend of Sémillon, Muscadelle and Sauvignon Blanc. The style is light and fresh, in what I’d probably call a pleasing aperitif style. It has a genuine liveliness but lacks the weight and complexity of the top estates. Very nice, though. £19.48

ROUSSET-PEYRAGUEY (Sauternes)

This “domaine” (there’s no Château here) lies just 500 metres from Yquem, not that this means anything in quality terms. The domaine has 14 hectares of vines, divided into a staggering 58 parcels. Winemaking here could be described as “natural”, with no chemicals used. It can’t be stressed how difficult it is to make natural wine in the wider Bordeaux region. The regional wine bodies want to (as they see it) protect a certain picture of what Bordeaux should be. Whereas in the past plenty of wines would have been make without synthetic agrochemicals, the power of all the different interest groups makes natural wine the great satanic craft which might upset their dream of conformity. In reality they do not see the role of sustainable viticulture in revitalising a region which, aside from the rich estates, is fairly moribund. Rant over!

“Aither” IGP 2010 is a Sémillon-dominated blend (80%) aged in 50-y-o acacia barrels for three years. The acacia helps retain acidity more than oak, I was told. There’s a nice complex array of flavours like apricot, peach and honey, with a mere whiff of botrytis£21.21

“Crème de Tête” IGP 2010 is made from the first press juice, and is given five years in barrel. It is more savoury and concentrated, as is the sweetness, a step up in complexity. Coffee cake or chocolate cake were suggested food matches. £29.59

Sauternes “Eplasen” 2008 spent eight years in old oak and is consequently much darker (already as dark as the Rieussec ’96 I’m taking to lunch tomorrow). It has a deeper nose and, despite the previous wine being pretty complex, goes just a bit further. £29.79

Sauternes “Sélection” 2007 was possibly the strangest, but also most interesting, wine on show, a fascinating glass to finish with. It’s a “Vin de Voile”, made similarly to a Jura Vin Jaune, aged without topping up under flor. The barrels were buried under sand in a trench in the winery. They were dug up after six years, with strict adherence to a fruit day in the biodynamic calendar.

In colour, this wine is dark amber. The bouquet is remarkable with more fig and nuts than the usual fruits sensed in Sauternes, along with an oxidative note from the flor, which perhaps does not dominate as much as in some Vins Jaune. It seems to combine delicacy and elegance with richness and length. Words like “exceptional” come to mind without fear of hyperbole. POA

Hey, natural wine from that bastion of sulphur, Sauternes. Who would have thought, and what a pleasant way to end an equally exceptional tasting. My eyes were genuinely opened. I taste a lot of wines month on month. There are many which I think I’d like to buy. The difficulty is that I own a lot of wine, and I rarely have time to order it and take deliveries. A lot of what I buy in the UK is just grabbed in independent wine shops these days, even if I can fill a small suitcase in doing so. But this is one instance where I could see myself ordering a mixed selection of some of these wines. I feel that the time is ripe to look at Bordeaux in a new light. What a great idea for a tasting, Vine Trail.

 

 

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Nebbiolo Day 2019

On 5th March I spent the day at the Royal Horticultural Halls in London, at Walter Speller‘s second Nebbiolo Day, the first being in 2017. Imagine, 92 Nebbiolo producers showing more than 500 Nebbiolo wines from 18 denominations in Northern Italy. That’s a lot of exciting wines, if equally an awesome lot of tannin.

How many of us really know Nebbiolo? For many years, to those it meant something to, it meant Barolo and Barbaresco, situated either side of Alba, east of Turin, in Italy’s Piemonte Region. A few vinous adventurers will have come across, or even sought out, Nebbiolos from other regions, especially from Valtellina, where the variety is known locally as Chiavennasca, or perhaps from Aosta’s Donnaz. There’s a fair bit of Nebbiolo grown in wider Piemonte, of course, which we shall come to soon, but pretty much the only place you will come across a reasonable number of examples of the variety outside of Italy would be Australia, and there one might suggest that top quality only comes from a handful of producers.

There’s no doubt that in recent years, quite recently as a matter of fact, the two famous “B”s of Barolo and Barbaresco have finally become fashionable, and (more ominously) collectable. With that, prices have risen, dramatically in many cases. This has coincided with two things. First, the end of the so-called (and to a degree wine media-hyped) war between the barrique-loving modernists, and the so-called traditionalists, who continued to rely on large old oak. Most people would call it a draw, and it is totally pointless repeating the tired old stories. The producers will only yawn.

Secondly, a great deal has been achieved in mapping the vineyards, and Barolo in particular, is fully mapped (a prodigious task) with official crus. After realising that Nebbiolo makes wines of haunting scents and subtle flavours, the mapping project has drawn Barolo in particular to the attention of lovers of Burgundy. They can see at least some similarities and, importantly perhaps, more ageable relative bargains, from micro-terroirs not dissimilar to those on the Côte d’Or.

The beauty of having such an erudite and well-respected organiser is the quality and depth of exhibitors, from top estates to lesser known producers from lesser known regions. In this article I shall cover the wines of just a few more than a dozen producers out of those ninety-two. This is still a good number of wines and it was certainly necessary to wash away the tannin with a beer at the end of the afternoon.

As with my Raw articles, I’m only intending to give a snapshot, to go with what you may have already read elsewhere. And you will also note that I do not remotely focus on Barolo and Barbaresco exclusively, including here wines from less fashionable regions. That is wholly intentional. One of the joys of Nebbiolo is that you can still find relatively inexpensive wines, certainly wines of good value, elsewhere in Northern Italy.

SANDRO FAY (Valtellina)

My favourite Valtellina producer (no points for guessing) was not at the tasting, but I did taste the wines of two of the best known. Sandro Fay began on a small scale in the early 1970s, growing his vineyard to 15 hectares today. Vines grow on a mix of sand, silt and granite at high altitude (between 350 to 900 metres) in the mountain valley which spreads east and west of Sondrio. The vineyards are on steep terraces rising above the River Adda, and are as hard to work as any in Europe.

Sandro Fay and his sons like to focus on individual cru wines. Of the four wines on show it is perhaps helpful to look at two different styles. At the region’s entry level is Valtellina Rosso DOC, but we will begin with a wine from the smaller, and generally higher quality, “Superiore” sub-region (two enclaves, one being central and one in the east of the wider Valtellina Region), which is DOCG.

Valtellina Superiore “Valgella Costa Bassa” 2016 is pale-ish, fresh, and with terrific varietal character but with the addition of a touch of youthful tannin and 13% abv. It’s described as the estate’s “classic” wine. It comes from the Valgella sub-zone, and specifically the Costa Bassa vineyard. It is fermented in stainless steel and then ages for twelve months in oak casks.

Sforzato di Valtellina “Ronco del Picchio” 2014 is at the other end of the spectrum.  Sforzato (aka Sfursat) is a dried-grape Nebbiolo wine. Grapes are dried for around three months on racks, during which time they shrivel and lose a good 40% of their weight. There is no doubt that this method can make very fine wines, almost certainly Italy’s most interesting reds in this style, but at the same time you have to watch the alcohol. This one, for example, weighs in at 15%.

It has very big legs and is a little darker in colour than the “Superiore”. It is still pretty tannic after just over four years from harvest, during which it spent a year in a mix of 25 hectolitre and 500 litre oak. Although the wine is undoubtedly big, it is unquestionably classy, and a style everyone ought to try. It comes from a tiny 2.5 hectare vineyard at 750 metres, in the commune of Teglio. The altitude makes this a true mountain wine, imparting a freshness along with its rugged power.

Passione Vino is the UK agent.

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NINO NEGRI (Valtellina)

This old estate was founded in 1897, but is now part of the large Gruppo Italiano Vini (which is also the UK importer), and is run by Danilo Drocco. I’ve drunk many Nino Negri wines over the years. Their output covers all of the region’s Crus (Valgella, Mazèr, Inferno, Sassella and Grumello), and I will begin with the one I’ve drunk by far the most times, one I have a bit of affection for as a result.

Valtellina Superiore DOCG Mazèr 2015 is the latest vintage of the first Valtellina wine I ever bought, in Venice around twenty-or-so years ago. 100% Nebbiolo, it is savoury with a bitter touch, very structured at this stage, but with nicely balanced fresh acids which, along with the smooth fruit, suggest it will be at least approachable before too long, if better kept. It is almost certainly my favourite wine from this estate, although, of course, it is not their most famous.

That accolade is reserved for Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG “Sfursat 5 Stelle” 2015. For me, this is a difficult wine. Unquestionably a wine of genuine world class, but equally a wine with alcohol (16% abv), body, power and structure which makes it suitable only for the most robust dishes, perhaps wild mountain game.

The colour is once again dark, although there’s a lovely brick edge. The bouquet is deep within a long tunnel of scents, with fruit, but more complex aromas of mocha, spices, herbs, and even treacle/molasses. The key is, as perhaps with Madiran or traditional Sagrantino, very long ageing indeed.

CANTINA DEI PRODUTTORI DI CAREMA (Carema)

Carema is a DOC region few Nebbiolo lovers will know. It sits in the far northwest of Piemonte, and Carema’s vines border the Valle D’Aosta’s best Nebbiolo at Donnaz. Carema is often lumped together with Ghemme and Gattinara whenever writers think to mention it, although there are many even less well known DOCs in Alto Piemonte. Nebbiolo here is sometimes called Picutener by the older locals. There is only one private estate of note, but the co-operative has a very good reputation for those in the know.

Carema (there’s also a Riserva designation) requires two years of ageing. This is because, contrary to what you might think, these wines are not merely some lighter style of Nebbiolo, but wines that age remarkably well in bottle. The first twelve months must be in wood, which is usually a mix of oak and chestnut, and a further year in bottle makes the wine approachable.

Carema DOC Classico 2015 is a pale wine, an attractive colour between brick and orange. The bouquet has a haunting quality, of fruit and flowers with a little spice. The palate has what I call a fruity acidity, where the acids are fruit acids rather than something tacked on and separate. It finishes with a textured dryness, but you could drink this with food now, certainly. It will age as well. I can’t give you a price for this (Astrum want me to login to see the prices), but I liked it and I’m pretty sure it’s not expensive.

Astrum Wines is the importer.

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FRANCESCO BRIGATTI (Colline Novaresi and Ghemme)

The Novaresi Hills DOC and Ghemme DOCG are neighbours in Eastern Piemonte, somewhat south of Lake Maggiore. Pre-phylloxera these wines had a genuine fame, at least in the regional capital, Turin. Now Ghemme has shrunk to a mere 26 hectares. The main differences between the two wines are in ageing and grape varieties. Colline Novaresi is the overarching DOC where ageing requirements are shorter, and where the vartieties Uva Rara (aka Bonarda) and Vespolina are permitted.

Francesco’s grandfather started this small domaine in 1900 and Francesco makes six reds and one white. He was showing three reds, two Novaresi wines and one Ghemme.

Colline Novaresi DOC Nebbiolo “Mötziflon” 2015 comes from one of the first hillside sites planted by Francesco’s grandfather. It is in fact 85% Nebbiolo with 10% Vespolina and 5% Uva Rara/Bonarda. It is aged in 21 hectolitre Slavonian oak casks for 20 months. There is a touch of hardness to it, and these wines are notorious for needing a bit of time, but there was something promising about it.

Colline Novaresi DOC Nebbiolo “Mötfrei” 2015 is from a different hill, and shows good differentiation of the terroirs. This wine, 100% Nebbiolo in this instance, spent 18 months in medium-sized, French oak tonneaux, and it seemed a gentler wine with a good, vibrant colour, more elegance and a touch of spice.

Ghemme DOCG “Oltre Il Bosco” 2013 is 100% Nebbiolo which saw 24 months in used oak. The bouquet is more what you’d expect from a traditional Nebbiolo, with red fruits and violets on the nose, and a good structure with a bit of spice on the palate. More savoury. It has 13% abv, and is a wine to age like a Barbaresco. It feels a bit more old fashioned, but none the worse for that.

No one is currently importing Brigatti.

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PODERE AI VALLONI (Colline Novaresi and Boca)

Boca is another old Piemontese DOC, which lies on the northern border of the Colline Novaresi DOC, but today there are less than ten hectares within the appellation. Valloni has vineyards sited on the edge of the Monte Fenera Natural Park, and produces around 10,000 bottles per year from both DOCs. I would say that personally I found the wine from Boca to be more interesting than the Novaresi wines (as was the case with Brigatti to a degree).

Boca DOC “Vigna Cristiana” 2011 is a nicely aged version. The grape composition here is just 70% Nebbiolo with 20% Vespolina and 10% Uva Rara. It is aged for a significant three years in large old wood plus a further year in bottle before release. Garnet colour, it is floral and spicy, even smoky on the nose. The palate shows red fruit under a rich and savoury tannic structure.

Boca DOC “Vigna Christiana” 2010 with an extra year of age (and, I’m guessing, perhaps the better vintage) had lovely peppery spice coming through (apparently from the Vespolina). I thought this was a nicely rounded, complete, wine. The vines are grown at 450 metres, perhaps explaining the freshness, and the fact that it has a beautifully balanced alcohol level of just 12.5%. Quite delicious, I thought.

FortyFive10° imports.

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VALLANA (Boca and Gattinara)

Vallana is famous in the UK for its Spanna, which at one time was available in quite old vintages, amazing value wines back in the 1980s/1990s. The estate goes back much further, to the mid-18th century. The vineyards here are not unlike Barolo’s, with steep hills and a cooler climate, but the strata and soils are largely volcanic, this zone being within the large Valsesia super-volcano, which (I didn’t know this) is a UNESCO-protected geopark.

I began by tasting an exciting sparkling wine, a VSQ Rosato. This is made from Spanna must which when disgorged had a natural 9g/litre of residual sugar, so no extra dosage was added. It had seen 13 months on lees and the disgorging was only about three weeks before I tasted it, yet it was just very good. Very fruity, but it tasted fairly dry, the acids balancing the sugar. It hasn’t yet been commercially released, and I’m not sure whether Vallana’s UK importer, Fields, Morris and Verdin, will list it, but it is well worth trying if you see it. Great fun for summer, and how can you not try a sparkling Nebbiolo, even if it is a pink one?

Of the still red wines, I did enjoy the Colline Novaresi DOC Spanna 2015, but I did feel it really must have a bit more bottle age. This was reinforced when tasting Gattinara DOCG 2009, which felt a step up. It’s a bright wine which was fermented in cement tanks before seeing two years in large old oak. 100% Nebbiolo, it has a certain austerity, and even perhaps some Patrician qualities normally associated with Barolo. The bouquet is more savoury than fruity, and it’s sort of old fashioned, but once again, that is not a criticism. I like the fact that we can still find wines which have not been over-modernised. It does also need a bit more age but it’s getting there.

NERVI (Gattinara)

This is a major “new” producer in terms of quality in the whole of Alto Piemonte. Roberto Conterno (of Giacomo Conterno) has purchased this already promising estate (one which was instrumental in obtaining the original DOC for Gattinara in 1967), with vines on those steep Gattinara hillsides, only accessible with the right type of vehicle. and a pair of stout boots.

The volcanic soils here (see under Vallana, above) are rich in iron, manganese, zinc and copper, with clay and an absence of chalk. This means acidic soils, well suited to Nebbiolo. The estate is not small, currently having 28 ha planted. Three wines were shown.

Gattinara DOCG 2015 is a blend of Roberto’s Molsino and Vigna Valferana sites, which importer Corney & Barrow describes, aptly, as like a Burgundian blend of village wine with premier cru. Red fruits hit the high notes here, deliciously so, plus there’s a savoury note and a touch of salinity. There is a little tannin as well, but the exuberant fruit does a good job of masking it. This wine is significantly cheaper than the next two (£225/6 IB as opposed to £395/6 for the other two), so represents special value, and earlier drinking.

Gattinara DOCG “Vigna Valferana” 2014 is a step up, though the previous wine is a true winner on innate drinkability. The plump fruit is defined by a tannic frame, yet there’s once more a savoury note which develops strongly as you taste. This could easily be broached now with food, but it would be a shame to do so.

We end with another step up the quality ladder, Gattinara DOCG “Vigna Molsino” 2014 with vines sited in a natural, south-facing, amphitheatre. This is distinctively cherry-fruited, maybe slightly more tannic, certainly savoury again (peppery?). For me, this will keep longer than the “Valferana”, certainly maturing in perhaps a decade, maybe longer.

This is one of those occasions when you try something new and are genuinely wowed. It happened, I remember, when I first tasted the wines of Guido Rivella at a Ultravino tasting last summer, and it happened here. Corney & Barrow are both lucky and astute in being able to represent these wines in the UK.

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CASCINA VAL DEL PRETE (Roero)

This producer is represented by the abovementioned Ultravino, whose list I can strongly recommend. Roero is much closer to Nebbiolo’s heartland than the previously covered regions, and instead of being in Alto Piemonte, is instead usually described as being in Southern Piemonte. Walter Speller calls Roero “the novice’s introduction to Nebbiolo par excellence”. It is also possibly the best place for price-to-quality ratio for the variety.

There are a surprising number of very good producers here, though they are usually with small importers in the UK. Roero has around 200 ha of Nebbiolo, and a lot of the white variety, Arneis (often very good). Soils in general are far more sandy than the more famous regions to the south and southeast. This means the wines are often a bit less long-lived, recognised in ageing requirements of (for the normale) two years, of which only a minimum of six months needs to be in wood. Riservas require an extra year. Since 2017, like Barolo, all of the Roero vineyards have been mapped and legally delimited.

Val del Prete is now under the guidance of father and son Mario and Giovanni Roagna (yes, cousins of Luca, I think). They claim to make “hippy wines”. I’m not sure what they mean? They are organic, and are fairly critical of the DOCG, but they do work within it.

Roero DOCG “Bricco Medica” 2016 is a hilltop site on limestone and red clay (unusual for Roero, having mentioned the sand above). Fermentation is in concrete tank and then ageing is in concrete for ten months before transfer to very old oak for the remainder of the élèvage. There is tannin here, but nothing harsh or hard. You can tell from this wine that Roero is a little bit different…and this is quite delicious.

Roero DOCG “Vigna del Lino” 2015 is a cuvée named after Mario’s grandfather who planted the vineyard only in 1977. Fermentation is in stainless steel this time, with ageing for 16 months in old barrique, then six months in bottle before release. The colour is brighter, and both bouquet and palate show more savouriness. The clear difference with the “Medica” is not just down the the winemaking, but also because this vineyard has that Roero sand, and a southwest exposure (afternoon and evening sun). It’s a wine which has a nice complexity building.

Roero DOCG Riserva 2015 is a selection of the best grapes from the very top of the hill, those vines which get the most sun. That means riper fruit that can take more oak, so after fermentation in stainless steel, it sees 24 months in a mix of 2nd and 3rd passage barriques (no new oak). You get pronounced legs, and a big bouquet with fruit intensity. The palate has the fruit too, fruit to match the tannic structure. It has an austerity in youth that the two previous wines don’t have, but it is built for a longer haul.

The “Lino” represents very good value…the 2013 was only £85/6 IB, and I don’t suppose the price for the 2015 has risen enough to make me change that assessment. Quite a long time ago a Danish importer of Piemontese wines introduced me to Roero and its producers, and I bought a few. I kind of wish I’d continued rather than taking my eye off the ball, looking elsewhere. But the value I found then seems to still be there if you are looking for earlier drinking Nebbiolo of increasingly good quality. Roero is not just for novices.

SOTTIMANO (Barbaresco)

This well known Barbaresco producer is based in the village of Neive, at the top of the southeastern arm of the DOCG. They farm a number of prime sites around the village and in most lists of the DOCG’s top producers you will find the name Sottimano.

Langhe Nebbiolo 2015 represents an interesting DOC. Because the Langhe Hills are associated with Barolo in the minds of many consumers, it gets a relatively easy ride in terms of name association, which can be misleading. It is often the case that DOCGs like Roero are much better value. But with a top producer you get a wine made from young vines, only around 15 years of age, but from a very top site. In this case it is the Basarin vineyard, a high altitude cru on the border between Neive and Treiso, and also on the southern border of the appellation. It has a lightness, and a touch of licorice. Quite classy, it sees around 16 months in oak.

Barbaresco DOC Pajorè 2015 is the first of the crus. It is closer to Treiso than Neive and the vines here are quite old, up to seventy years. The wine undergoes a 25-day maceration on skins and, after fermentation, is aged in French oak (15% new), coopered by François Frères, for 24 months (12 months of that on fine lees). It’s tannic and firm now, even slightly dusty, but the fruit is quite silky and the wine is impressive.

Barbaresco DOCG Cottà 2012 is made no differently to Pajorè, and the vines are of a similar age, but the nose here is more muted/backward and the tannins are firmer. It seems very rich in extract, dense and chewy, despite being three years older, suggesting good ageing potential.

Barbaresco DOCG Fausoni 2012 is also made the same way. The tiny vineyard is right outside Neive and indeed is so small that it doesn’t appear on some of the more cursory maps of Barbaresco. The vines are a little younger (45-50 years old) and the bouquet is a lovely classic blend of florality and concentrated fruit. It is firm of structure, yet also elegant.

Barbaresco DOCG Pajorè 2012. This is the same site as the first Barbaresco above, but with an extra three years in bottle. It is a little pale, beautifully so, and the floral element of the bouquet has developed nicely. At 14.5% abv it does show heft in the tannic structure, but it is a classic top notch Barbaresco.

Barbaresco has a shorter ageing requirement than Barolo before release, but it is very much down to producer as to how long to age the wines after that. In the case of Sottimano I think probably longer rather than shorter. Classic wines to rival Barolo if you follow that advice.

Lea & Sandeman import for the UK.

GD VAJRA (Barolo)

This is one of the best known producers of Barolo, but making wines which always represent such good value. I, like many others, have drunk many bottles of their Barolo “Albe” over the years, and it is also true that Giuseppe Vaira (below, and he seems to prefer that spelling) is one of the friendliest and warmest men in the Barolo DOCG. The company was established by Aldo Vajra in 1972 and named after his father, Giuseppe Dominico. It has grown to a large 60 hectares, but only ten hectares are within the Barolo DOCG.

Barolo DOCG “Albe” 2015 is the current vintage of that wine I cut my teeth on all those years ago, via UK importer Liberty Wines. The wine, from three sites within the Barolo commune, with its bright label (for Barolo, where the labels are generally pretty conservative), sees a temperature controlled fermentation (with a 20-day maceration) before malo in a mix of 25-to-50 hectolitre Slavonian oak. This was a sample as the 2015 is, of course, not yet released (it remains in oak for 42 months before bottling). It has a richness, and the approachability of every vintage of this wine, and it remains one of Barolo’s great values.

Barolo “Bricco delle Viole” 2015 comes from a 4.8 ha vineyard located in the commune of Barolo, between 380-450 metres altitude where the vines average 60 years old. Fermentation is standard, if prolonged, in stainless steel for around 40 days, after which the wine is aged in Slavonian oak for four years. The fruit is darker than Albe, with cherry too, and a hint of mint leaf in the high notes. The altitude of the vines, and the consequently longer ripening, help establish greater complexity. The tannins are quite silky, but this does need to be kept.

Barolo Luigi Baudana “Baudana” 2015 is the first of two Luigi Baudana single vineyard wines here. Luigi and Fiorina Baudana created a highly reputed but tiny (2.4 ha) Serralunga d’Alba estate over thirty years ago, but they brought in the Vajra family to run it in 2009. The wines retain an artisanal quality and are distinctive.

The Baudana cru (and Cerretta which follows) is around a kilometre north of Serralunga. It’s a lovely wine showing some early development, softer than Vajra’s Viole above. The soils here are largely marls, which give the wine these distinctive qualities. Production is tiny, but I was very taken with this.

Barolo Luigi Baudana “Cerretta” 2015 is actually remarkably different, despite the two vineyards being neighbours. It has a lovely floral bouquet, yet the palate has a bit more structure, even a touch of austerity, which will serve it well as it ages. There’s a lot of latent depth, you sense. It probably needs more than a decade, whereas the Baudana might be worth trying a little sooner.

Liberty Wines imports the GD Vajra wines into the UK.

ARNALDO RIVERA (Castiglione Falletto)

Arnaldo Rivera was a primary school teacher who both went on to be Mayor of Castiglione Falletto, and, in 1958, founded the Terre di Barolo co-operative. The Arnaldo Rivera Winery today has contracts to buy grapes from local Castiglione growers and others around the region. The wines have nice, sparse and modern labels, and the wines themselves seem to have an equally modern approachability.

Barolo “Undicicomuni” 2015 is the only wine here with a significant (50k bottles) production. It is, self-evidently, a blend from eleven different Barolo communes. After fermentation this sees only 24 months in assorted French oak, none new, and some of the wine sees six months in concrete. The fruit may not be as plush as, for example, the Bussia below, but the tannins are smooth. It may be the least expensive of the six wines shown, but (and I normally won’t quote scores) Suckling gave the 2015 92 points, which is at least indicative of its quality.

Barolo “Ravera” 2015 is the first of the crus. This saw longer in oak, 32 months. Only 5,600 bottles were produced. It has more ample tannins and is notably bright-fruited with nice acids.

Barolo “Monvigliero” 2015 comes from a Verduno cru which is, I think, the second most northern vineyard in the Barolo DOCG. Winemaking is similar to Ravera, and production is around 5,000 bottles. I found it less tannic, less structured, but nice and savoury.

Barolo “Boiolo” 2015 is the most approachable of all the crus here. Once more, there’s nothing unique about the vinification and ageing, but the vineyard, on the border with Roche dell’ Annunziata, replanted in 2002, is at 420 metres above sea level. This gives it a long growing season and a certain ripeness. Only 2,400 bottles produced.

Barolo “Castello” 2015 is a Rivera monopole, which I believe to be in that tiny northeastern commune of Grinzane Cavour. It’s a lower site, 250 metres altitude, and we are back to 5,000 bottles. This has medium tannins, a little structure, but fantastic fruit, all leading to noticeable length. Delicious.

Barolo “Bussia” 2015 comes from one of the region’s best known, and also largest, vineyards which, with all its sub-plots, stretches more than three kilometres north and south, to the east of Barolo. This wine comes from two different sites within Bussia, with south west exposures at around 410 metres above sea level. Yields are low, at 25 hl/ha, and the wine, after a two week fermentation in stainless steel, sees malolactic and ageing for 32 months in French oak tonneaux. Production accounts for 4,500 bottles. It’s a delicious, concentrated wine which despite being aged in larger oak, just needs time for the oaky tannins to integrate.

My own favourite? Probably Castello, but I’m sure that a true expert might choose something else. Arnaldo Rivera is imported by Raeburn Fine Wines.

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ELVIO COGNO (Novello)

This producer, based in the commune of Novello in the southwest of the region, farms around 15 hectares of vineyard. I get the impression that the vineyards are important, and a lot of store is placed in how they manage them, and work the land. The winery is easy to find as it sits right on the top of the Ravera hill.

Barolo “Ravera” 2014 is a rare entry for this vintage. The cru is Novello’s best known, a five hectare site where Cogno has vines at around 380 metres. The soils are chalky here, and Cogno’s vines are directly south facing. This wine is fermented in stainless steel with a 30-day post-fermentation maceration. Then it is aged for 24 months in 25-30 hl Slavonian oak. The fruit seems nicely rounded, plummy and brambly, with that hint of mint again coming in the higher register. There are tannins, of course, but the vintage perhaps lessens the austerity. The ’14s do often seem approachable.

Barolo Ravera “Bricco Pernice” 2014 is an individual two hectare plot within Ravera. Winemaking is the same, but this wine tends to be given longer bottle age before release. This makes it effectively a Riserva, The site is more oriented southwest than south, so the vines get the evening sun. It’s also worth noting that vine density in this plot is 5,000 vines per hectare (usually 4,000 for the rest of the estate). There’s much more concentration and this is certainly the more serious wine. Which you choose will depend on how long you are happy to keep the wines and how much you are prepared to pay. But this is a very good producer.

UK agent – Flint Wines.

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PARUSO (Monforte d’Alba)

Tiziana and Marco Paruso run the estate founded by Marco’s father, Armando, in 1971 in the commune of Monforte. There’s a sense of tradition and pride here, but I also thought to include them because, despite the current popularity of Barolo, they do not currently appear to have a UK representative/importer. Six wines were on show.

I began with Langhe Nebbiolo 2017 which was exactly what I hoped, not attempting to be anything more than juicy, smooth and fruity. Barolo 2014 is a generic blend of DOCG vines in Monforte and Castiglione Falletto. Aged in barrel, it has at least 18 months lees contact. This is a genuinely drinkable wine, full of sour cherry, very approachable. It’s softer than many.

Next, three Barolo crus. Mosconi 2015 was also quite genuinely approachable. The plantings are high density (6,000 vines per hectare) on marl and tufa. The bouquet tends towards quite intense herbs and the tannins are a little chalky in texture, but again, quite soft. It’s a wine you might call “ample”. Mariondino 2015 is a vineyard sited on marls and sandstone. This shows more spice, a touch of licorice, and then cherry fruit coming through. I think this cru sees some small, new, French oak, which is noticeable at this stage. Bussia 2015 is from sandstone, marls and silt. It has structure, noticeably so, but undoubted elegance too. Also matured in small French oak, there’s an interesting juxtaposition here between a certain earthy quality and a touch of finesse.

Finally, there’s a Riserva wine, Barolo “Bussia Riserva Oro” 2010. The vintage is one I’m happy to taste as I bought a few 2010 Barolos, including from the next producer below. The wine is a careful selection of the best grapes in the estate’s Bussia plots. The colour here is a lovely pale brick and bronze. It has possibly the bouquet of the day, haunting and sweet-fruited. It is unexpectedly delicate and long on the palate with savoury tannins to finish. 14% abv. After ageing 18 months on lees in small French oak, it is bottle aged for five years before release. The fruit seems a complex mix of blackberry, cherry and plum, with savoury notes including mint and a hint of coffee. Have I missed the floral bit? Yes, I like this.

I am 99% sure that Paruso will be available in the UK soon.

GIACOMO FENOCCHIO (Monforte d’Alba)

The Fenocchio brothers own 14 hectares of vines and make around 90,000 bottles each year from all the main Piemontese varieties. They are particularly export-focused, and around 90% of their production goes overseas.

Langhe Nebbiolo 2017 is worth a mention first. The grapes come from a two-hectare Monforte plot from young vines around 15 years old. They see just ten days fermenting in stainless steel, then a year’s maturation split between steel and Slavonian oak casks. The result is fragrant and fairly light with nice plum and cherry fruit. A good example.

Onto the Barolos and there were three crus to taste. Barolo “Bussia” 2015 sees a long forty day maceration and then three years in large Slavonian oak. I like the colour, quite pale garnet, and the bouquet is classic Barolo with licorice spice (it always seems more licorice than tar to me) and violets (more than roses). This is lovely, but it does need ageing, after which it will be a translucent wine where the scents will transport you even more than the palate.

Barolo “Villero” 2015 comes from the famous Castiglione site, a southwest facing slope close to the village. For me, this wine offers more structure, more tannin, and perhaps a different kind of more powerful complexity? It’s a good choice for game dishes, after the required decade or more in the cellar.

Barolo “Cannubi” 2015 comes from the site just north of the village of Barolo itself. Soils are complex – tortonian marls, tufa and sand, the latter helping it to be a dry vineyard. Production of this cru is a slightly miserly 3,000 bottles most vintages, and at this stage (both for the wine and for my palate) it was quite hard to judge. It felt as if it were just bedding down for some considerable ageing. But there’s nice spice here and, beneath the tannins, genuine prospects of great elegance. I can only judge this by what I know, but I’d suggest it’s really promising.

Armit Wines imports Giacomo Fenocchio.

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So, by this stage my palate was beginning to suffer from tannin fatigue. I adore Nebbiolo as a variety, and I’ve been lucky enough to visit the region quite a few times (more visits than to Tuscany). The fatigue is probably why you don’t get anything here from La Morra. I’d have liked to bring you Marcarini and Ratti for old time’s sake, and Michele Chiarlo from Calamandrana (because outside that village, on the road to Nizza,  is where we’ve most often stayed in the region). But by 3pm I was done.

I’m pleased with how many wines I did manage to taste (most but not all were mentioned here). There were very few poor wines and I didn’t taste any howlers. I hope this article adds to the general amount of information available for what I hope was a very successful day for the producers. As Nebbiolo gains both recognition and popularity, we are lucky to have such a well organised and fairly comprehensive event established in London. My final words go back to the beginning. The satellite regions do have something genuinely interesting to offer, at a good price. Much as we love the two Bs, Nebbiolo’s not all about Barolo and Barbaresco.

 

 

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Raw Wine 2019, Part 2

If Raw Wine has changed over the years, it is no more so than in this respect: whereas once the writer or blogger could identify the best producers with relative ease, now it is much harder. Of course, there are more producers, but there’s no doubt that quality has risen too. I know, speaking to the exhibitors, that many were desperately trying to cool their often sulphur-free wines during Monday afternoon’s session, yet I didn’t taste any signs of spoilage really.

This makes it doubly difficult to choose the best wines for inclusion in this second part (if you missed Part 1 you can link to it here). I don’t claim to have all the best, but I am sure my own selections will add to those of others to form a broader picture of this big event. What I would like to mention are two “Raw” exhibiting producers I don’t cover here. Ancre Hill, you will probably know as a fine producer of Welsh sparkling wine. In recent years they have diversified, and I tasted two genuinely inspired wines from them at Winemakers Club on the same day, which will feature in a future article.

Second, Andi Weigand is (to me) a new and strong voice in the increasingly innovative Franken region in Germany. I had the opportunity on Wednesday this week to taste his wines in slightly calmer circumstances, where I was able to have a nice long chat with him (no one else at the table!). He’s next door to 2Naturkinder, in Iphofen. If you like their wines, then read about Andi in my piece on the Howard Ripley tasting when it eventually appears.

DOMAINE BRAND (Ergersheim, Alsace)

Ergersheim may well be a village you’ve never heard of, but the stretch of outlying vineyards in the north of the Alsace Region, about 20 kilometres west of Strasbourg, and known as the Couronne d’Or, has been getting attention from Alsace lovers for quite a few years. Domaine Brand, with Philippe now the young third generation winemaker following a natural wine philosophy, can probably be regarded as a torch bearer for this increasingly exciting part of the Alsace vignoble.

The 10 ha domaine has been organic since 2001 (Philippe joined his father, Charles, in 2006). The first natural wines were released in 2013, and Demeter Certification came in 2015. All six of the wines on show were excellent, but I will single out three.

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Philippe

Crémant d’Alsace Brut Nature “Flêche Saignante” 2016 is a blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir off clay/limestone soils. The name means “bleeding arrow” which might point to something of the wine’s nature. The second fermentation (prise de mousse) uses the must of the following year’s harvest. Only indigenous yeasts are used, of course, and no dosage is added. What can I say? Jean-Pierre Rietsch makes my benchmark Crémant, but this one is nothing short of brilliant in my opinion. And some Crémant d’Alsace is becoming very good these days, trust me.

Fleurs de Macération 2017 is a pure tasting Pinot Gris (with a little Pinot Noir) off the clay/limestone of the Kefferberg, that spent two weeks on skins and eight months in barrique. It is effectively an orange wine and so is a little tannic, with a bitter or savoury finish. In fact it’s very savoury, with a touch of salinity. But it is also wonderfully aromatic, and you’d be pleasantly surprised to know this comes in at just 12.5% abv. In my humble opinion this is how to do APG, folks.

Apolllinaire “La Dame au Chapeau” 2017 represents the original range of natural wines from this domaine. Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay from the same clay and limestone soils are blended 60:40. The vinification is different here, gentle direct pressing of whole bunches which are fermented, and then aged 15 months in demi-muid. It seems lighter/fresher than the previous wine, yet packs 13% alcohol. It’s also beautifully cloudy (yes, beautifully!). The bouquet is floral, with a touch of woodsmoke. The palate offers apricots and plums, with some of that florality coming through as well. A super contrast.

These are three exceptional wines. Sometimes I cannot believe those three words –  “currently seeking representation”.

DOMAINE DE LA TOURAIZE (Arbois, Jura)

I’ve known the wines of André-Jean and Héléana Morin for a few years now, ever since friends brought me back a bottle of their petnat. I’ve been meaning to visit them on each of three subsequent weeks in Arbois but to my shame there has always been too much to do. I promise to put that right next time.

André-Jean only left the Arbois co-operative when he was in his forties, his first solo vintage being 2010. He farms around 12 hectares.

This is another producer who needs good UK distribution. I highlighted Touraize on Instagram and got a lot of feedback saying people agreed that these wines were very good indeed, so I shall give you the full half-dozen.

Dix Bulles 2018 is the new vintage of the Touraize petnat. This is 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Trousseau, quite an unusual combo for Jura fizz, as far as the Trousseau component goes. Direct press after cold settling is the vinification method, with second fermentation in bottle, of course. There’s actually about 18 g/l of sugar left here, but the acidity masks it. One of the better value wines from Arbois in this style as the top producers get more expensive.

Chardonnay “Arces” 2017 is one of two Touraize Chardonnays. This comes off limestone, and from vines over 40 years in age. Whole bunch pressed and aged on fine lees, in old oak for around 18 months, this errs slightly to the lighter side, but it does currently show a bit of structure. Very gourmande.

Savagnin Terre Bleu 2017 is one of the estate’s pair of Savagnins. It comes from two plots (Petit Curoulet and Chenaillotte) totalling 0.7 ha, at 300 metres altitude, where the soils are on the blue marne (marls) so characteristic of Arbois. The vines here aren’t as old as those for the previous wine, but yields are low, at 25 hl/h. This is an ouillé wine (topped up) in a fruity “Traminer” style. A good example of a more refreshing, less overtly nutty, Savagnin.

Poulsard “La Cabane” 2018 is an old vine cuvée with vines between 30 to 50 years, off grey marl here, in two vineyards – the previously mentioned Curoulet, and Touraize itself, which is up above the Arbois cemetary, visible from the marked town circuit walk from the Eglise Saint-Just. It has some tank ageing before three months in demi-muid. It’s lovely and pale with soft red fruits set off by a nice texture. A very “pure” wine, it is made to perfectly accompany cold meats or crudités. I can’t imagine leaving the domaine without a few of these.

Côtes à Côtes 2017 is made of Trousseau and Pinot Noir, which is another blend characteristic of the lovely style the Morins produce – there’s a lightness to the wine without it being in any way insubstantial. There’s lovely fruit, but it doesn’t lack the architecture to hang it off.

Trousseau Corvées 2017 comes from perhaps Arbois’ best known vineyard, a southwest facing hillside just outside of town where gravelly soils sit on top of complex marls. André-Jean gives the grapes a two day cold soak under SO2 before a 30-day vatting (no punchdowns but two or three sprayovers each week). The cuvée is split for ageing between tank and 600 litre demi-muids. Delicious, not too firm so approachable now with its fresh red and dark fruit combination and soft tannins, but it will age.

Where do I rank them? This is hard to say, but what I can say is that they have shot up without UK consumers really having taken notice. The wines are excellent, and like Domaine des Bodines, they represent incredible value. For those who do want to explore further, Domaine de la Touraize has a small shop in Arbois. If you are walking out of town, you will find it near La Balance and the Pasteur Museum, on the same side of the road.

André-Jean, Héléana, and their lovely wines

MÔRELIG/WIGHTMAN & SONS (Swartland, South Africa)

I discovered Môrelig last year and since then they have undergone a name change. The current vintage is labelled Môrelig and the next vintage being shipped is Wightman & Sons. The reason – because Andrew has been joined by his son, Brandon, and he wanted to express that partnership.

The vineyard, at the foot of the Paardeberg Mountain just 90km north of Cape Town, has been owned by the Wightman family since 2011. The vineyard consists of old bush vines grown on decomposed granite, producing low yields. When I last wrote about Môrelig I suggested that this was a great new South African producer, and tasting again at Raw only strengthened that view.

We began with two exceptional Chenins, Môrelig Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2017 (under the old label) and Wightman & Sons Chenin Blanc 2018. The former, picked early with a quick but light pressing is delicious and worth grabbing whilst you can. The 2018 is massively fresh and at least as good, with just a little vintage variation.

Skin Contact 2018 is pretty self-explanatory, a skin contact cuvée. Chenin Blanc had 13 days on skins. Young vines from a hot year with low yields give an intense wine all round, bouquet and palate. Typical Chenin flavours come through the structure of the skin contact. Very successful.

The Gentleman and his Small Brother 2019 was probably my personal favourite on the table here, despite loving all three Chenins. This is gorgeous glouglou Cinsau(l)t weighing in at just 11% abv. It’s what Jamie Goode would call “smashable”, yet there’s a little structure to keep it standing up straight. So good.

Môrelig Syrah 2017 is another bush vine cuvée from granite soils. There’s depth here, and lift as well. It’s that kind of fresh-fruited Syrah that seems to express the soil in the glass, as a certain Rhône Wine expert would say. There’s certainly a European quality to the fruit expression but it has its own South African style (though I’ve tasted many more massive Syrahs from Swartland).

Red Squirrel is the lucky importer of these boys.

Andrew Wightman was on hand to pour his wines

TILLINGHAM (East Sussex, England)

I’ve written plenty about Ben Walgate’s Tillingham Wines, more or less documenting Ben’s journey to becoming one of the UK’s most interesting, and innovative, artisan winemakers. He’s come a long way since leaving Gusbourne. As his vineyards come on stream he is purchasing fruit to make an ever changing array of wines, each one as interesting as the previous.

Tillingham looks south over some stunningly beautiful countryside towards the Romney Marshes and the picturesque town of Rye. This is a large mixed farm, rearing high quality livestock. Ben has big plans. Along with the vineyards, most planted a year ago, a restaurant, tasting centre/shop and eleven rooms will be ready for visitors hopefully by July. As many readers will know, Ben has an ever growing collection of qvevri buried at the winery, and some wonderful ciders too, but on Monday he was just showing his new baby, Tillingham Rosé.

Tillingham Rosé 2018 is a three grape blend of Rondo, Madeleine Angevine and Orion. It’s an aromatic pink with zesty raspberry and strawberry fruit, super fresh and smooth, with just a touch of plushness. Another winner from Ben, and one to drink this summer (and whilst we wait for that almost elusive Tillingham red). Try Les Caves de Pyrene, but be quick: quantities are always tiny.

Ben Walgate and his nicely labelled Rosé

OKANAGAN CRUSH PAD (Okanagan Valley, Canada)

OCP has grown massively in reputation since I first began tasting their wines several years ago. This is in part down to the drive and innovation of owners Christine Coletta and Steve Lornie, and the work of their excellent winemaker, Matt Dumayne. It’s probably also in part down to their two very famous consultants, Alberto Antonini on wines and Pedro Parra on soils (Parra is a genius who seems to know the right variety for every location).

The Crush Pad is another producer I’ve written about a lot, and will no doubt do so again when the Wines of Canada Tasting comes around again in May. Here I only plan to cover one wine, but don’t let that put you off trying absolutely anything from their HaywireNarrative and Free Form ranges.

Free Form Cabernet Franc 2017 is a wine I’d not tasted before. Listen to this…Cabernet Franc from the Kaleden vineyard (silt with glacial rock and gravel) was fermented in two clay amphora and three large oak vessels on skins for eight months. It was then all pressed-off in June 2018 and blended in tank before bottling mid-August 2018. The bouquet is beautiful, but complex too. There is that Cabernet Franc florality of violets, with an almost metal/mineral, iron-rich, note from the amphorae. The palate has smooth black fruit with a hint of coffee, which adds a pleasant bitter note to the richness. At the moment there’s tannin and texture as well.

This is a very interesting red wine, taking a classic variety and seeing where you can take it. It doesn’t taste as if it has 13.5% alcohol because the richness is balanced by the freshness inherent from the terroir and the winemaking. I like it a lot. Red Squirrel imports.

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DOMAINE LIGAS (Macedonia, Greece)

Fame is relative. I was speaking to a friend the other day, suggesting that Ktima Ligas is pretty well known, but she pointed out that they are only really so well known to, and highly sought after by, a very small group of natural wine aficionados. Domaine Ligas is one of my two favourite Greek estates (Kalathas, from Tinos, is the other among quite hot competition), yet it is perfectly true that most wine purchasers will not have heard the name, and are not likely to have seen one of their often distinctive, if hard to track down, bottles.

Ligas (minus Meli, who had flown back to Greece leaving the pouring on Monday afternoon to their importer, Dynamic Vines) showed ten wines. From me you get mention of my favourite five, but on any other occasion I might well choose different wine. There is literally no Ligas wine I would turn down.

Thomas Ligas, with his son Jason, started to follow a unique form of permaculture propounded by Masanobu Fukuoka (who died in 2008). Although it has been called “do nothing farming”, Fukuoka’s methods are intended to create a sustainable ecosystem which will last for generations. This is central to the Ligas wine philosophy.

Assyrtiko 2017 is made from Greece’s most famous white variety, but here of course it is from Macedonia, not Santorini, so stylistically it is different. And, of course, this is Ligas. The vinification is very simple. Vines of around 20  years of age grown on clay and limestone. Fermentation and ageing is in old oak for just six to eight months. The vivacity in this wine is amazing, it just feels alive.

Roditis “Barrique” 2017 is, like the Assyrtiko, labelled PGI (ie IGP) Pella. It’s a more complex wine. Slightly older vines (25-y-o) off sand and clay get a twelve month stint in old barriques. Although the wood isn’t new, the wine does have structure. The fruit is simple but there’s a creamy texture. I bought some and I shall have to think carefully what to pair it with, but I might be thinking in Chardonnay territory. Anyway, lovely wine. The lady on the label is Melina Mercouri, a famous Greek Socialist politician, and before that a singer and actress, who died in the mid-1990s.

Yomatari 2017 is another 100% Roditis, aged in oak, and according to the Dynamic Vines guy pouring, it is infused with “retsina”. The problem sometimes with tastings like this is that it’s often too noisy to take in all people say. Normally you can check facts after, but I can’t find a lot of info on this wine, and certainly no mention of retsina or resin. That said, it’s a more lifted style of Roditis here, whether due to resin or not, I don’t know? A lovely wine with a biting freshness. It was the first time I’d tasted this cuvée.

Spira, after fermentation in stainless steel is made in a solera up and running since 2012. The cuvée tasted this time was extracted in 2017. The variety is 100% Xinomavro and the colour is almost perfect bronze. This is very complex and quite exotic. I’d say there are hints of caramel and toffee, nuts and orange, and plenty of richness. It was one of my wines of the day.

I should just give a quick mention to another favourite from Ktima Ligas, Pata Trava. I didn’t see it on taste, but it’s another Xinomavro which takes a little colour from the skins, so that it becomes a “vin gris”. Definitely one to seek out for the coming months.

You’ll have gathered that Dynamic Vines are the folks to go to for Ligas in the UK.

DOMAINE TATSIS (Macedonia, Greece)

A new domaine to me, run by brothers Stergios and Periklis Tatsis, who farm around 13 hectares in Goumenissa, Macedonia, at the foot of Mount Paiko. Biodynamic since the early 2000s, they also generally use zero sulphur (the exception being the final wine here, which has 35 mg/l).

Roditis 2015 gets 15 days on skins and 13 months in old French oak. The skin contact gives it a nice texture but the fruit and acidity are nicely balanced. A good beginning here. Roditis had a reputation in Macedonia, perhaps in Greece as a whole, for being a second division variety. I think that today, some superb examples are being made. As with so many varieties, quality depends how you treat it.

Resin Flavour Roditis 2015 (not listed in the Raw Wine Catalogue)  is fermented in steel, where resin is added in a sack, before the wine is aged in wood. I know that sounds a bit like oak chips, but that’s not the effect. You do notice the pine resin on the nose, but it’s not at all pronounced on the palate. To me this is a top quality wine. In fact I tried to buy a bottle at the Burgess & Hall shop in the hall, but they didn’t have any, so I settled, quite happily, for the next wine.

Malagouzia 2015 sees 34 days on skins. The variety (sometimes “Malagousia”) was nearly extinct but was revived in the 1970s at the famous Domaine Carras, and by Vangelis Gerovassiliou. This is a genuine orange wine with that classic orange citrus bouquet and flavour. Malagouzia is notably aromatic anyway, and so the nose on this wine is complex and so inviting. There’s a softness, but structure too. My only difficulty, now having a bottle of this, is whether I need to keep it a while, just because of the structure. I probably won’t as I’m keen to try it again.

Goumenissa 2017 is a PDO (ie “appellation”) wine, a 50:50 blend of Xinomavro and Negoska. It has a gorgeous, big, bouquet of dark and red fruits, and is savoury, even oaky, on the palate (although the oak used for ageing is not new). Alcohol is 13.5%, and it is reasonably powerful. Their varietal Negoska 2013 is a nicely aged wine, but it doesn’t seem to have lost its freshness. The purple colour suggests a heavier wine than that which appears on the palate, with plum and red fruits, and it only packs 12.5% alcohol. It would be difficult to choose between these two reds.

Domaine Tatsis was yet another excellent Greek discovery. They seem to come thick and fast, which is why I think Greece’s time has come for a genuine breakthrough. Whether it will happen, I’m not sure, but I hope it does. There are so many pure and exciting wines to try from all sorts of new varieties.

The Tatsis wines are imported by Southern Wine Roads, based in Orpington (London Borough of Bromley). Tatsis might be the best producer I’ve tasted so far from them.

Stergios Tatsis with his Negoska, assisted by Ania of SWR gripping the Malagouzia and Resin Roditis

 

 

Posted in Artisan Wines, biodynamic wine, Greek Wine, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Festivals, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Raw London 2019, Part 1

Mad March, that time of year when wine importers think we are capable of getting to four or five tastings a day trundles on (no exaggeration, as well as Raw yesterday there were at least four other “unmissable” wine events). I have eight articles waiting to be written since Nebbiolo Day on 5th March. But Raw Wine is an important event, and I know that a lot of people want to read about it, so that’s why I shall give you a couple of pieces first.

Raw Wine seems to have found its place at The Store X on The Strand. No venue is perfect, and this one seems to have found its imperfection in being quite hot when there’s a big crowd, yet it scores on being far more accessible, especially to those of us who live outside London, than some of those outlying events spaces which take a while to get to.

I’m going to focus on far fewer producers this year, only five in Part 1 (more in Part 2). There are plenty of other people who will write about Gravner, Radikon, Cornelissen et al. They make amazing wines, but they are famous already. My featured wine makers are either less well know, or come from less appreciated wine producing countries, certainly the case with the Czech Republic here, and Greece in Part 2.

DOBRÁ VINICE (Moravia, Czech Republic)

Dobrá Vinice should properly be described as one of the top estates in Moravia. As Simon Woolf, in his brilliant Amber Revolution, reminds us, their wines appear on the list at three London Michelin-starred restaurants. They farm a relatively large 15 hectares near Znojmo on the boundary of the Podyjí National Park, close to the Austrian border (maybe 90 to 100 km northwest of Vienna).

Winemaking here is biodynamic, and the wines are made in a mixture of oak and qvevri, with an emphasis (usually) on extended skin macerations. They follow a production method called “Kartuli”. By producing healthy grapes, this Georgian technology (maybe not the right choice of word) uses very long fermentations and ageing on the skins (often for many months) to promote longevity and to give the wine stability without recourse to any chemicals. After all, it’s what the Georgians were doing for around 7,000 years, barring those decades when the Soviet Union held the reins of production.

Narodní Park 2017 – this is a white wine made largely from Müller-Thurgau. It’s one of those wines which kick sand in the face of preconceptions about this variety, one which, perhaps along with Airén, is wine’s most maligned grape. There is plentiful acidity, but the acidity of freshness, not the battery acid kind. Along with acidity there’s a good deal of nice, rounded, almost plumpish, fruit.

Cuvée Kambrium 2015 is a blended wine, combining Veltlín, Ryzlink and Sauvignon Blanc. The first of those varieties should be self-explanatory, but the second, it should be noted, is Rhine Riesling. It’s rounder than the first wine, and pretty chalky (as the name might indicate). The texture is attractive. At 12.5% abv it has a lovely balance.

Blanc de Pinot Noir 2016 was a nice surprise. It’s direct-pressed Pinot Noir, so made without skin contact. The wine is not complex, but it sure is delicious and thirst quenching, though it does kick back 13% abv without you realising it. Pinot Noir made as a still white wine seems not uncommon in Moravia, and I’ve had two or three. This may well be the best yet.

Chardonnay Qvevri Georgia 2013 is self-explanatory. It sees a nine month maceration in qvevri and then a year in oak. It shows from the colour, the nose and the textured tannins on the palate. Iron-rich would sum up the flavours, a lovely “orange” style.

Nejedlík Orange Qvevri Georgia 2011 also sees time in Georgian qvevri, but this time it’s a little different. The wine, a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, is aged a year in old oak, and then moves to qvevri, where it macerates five months on the skins of the following year’s harvest (in this case, 2012). If you like orange wine, it’s a cracker.

VDC 2015 (aka Velké Dobré Červené) is a red, 80% Pinot Noir with 20% Zweigelt (I hope) and a little Frankovka (aka Blaufränkisch). The Pinot Noir gets 9 months in qvevri and the other varieties are aged in oak. Like most of the wines from this producer, it is quite structured, and this red has a firmness to it which suggests it will benefit from a little more age, though I’d hazard that it will match some Central European cooking quite nicely. It doesn’t lack the acidity to cut through fats.

The UK importer here, and for the producer below, is Basket Press Wines, who I must say (and I have no connections here) is importing a raft of these truly exciting Moravian wines. I hope that 2019 will be the year of Greek and Czech wines.

JAROSLAV OSICKA (Moravia, Czech Republic)

Jaroslav Osička is less well known than the previous producer, perhaps because they only farm three hectares of vines at their base at Velké Bilowíce, which is in that corner of the Czech Republic near where the borders of Slovakia and Austria meet, and a little to the north of the town of Břeclav (for those with a map obsession). Wood ageing is the method here, but they use both oak and acacia. Sulphur additions are tiny, between 5-20 mg/litre.

Akácia 2018 is a fairly simple wine, fresh and light with bright acidity. It’s a very nice wine, and introduction to the range, but with Milerka 2018 we get a little more serious. 80% Müller-Thurgau, there are just 800 bottles of this wine from the Velkopavlovická sub-region, where the soils are loess and clay. After ageing in 500 litre oak this wine has complexity combined with drinkability, and versatility.

There’s a variety common to Moravia which I always enjoy. Modry Portugal (2017) is strangely named. Modry means blue, and the vine has no known ampelographical connection to Portugal. It seems reasonably well dispersed along the Danube and surrounding areas, where you may well have come across it under the name of Blauer Portugieser.

This one sees fermentation and ageing in both 228 litre and 500 litre wood. It has a fairly identifiable bright bouquet of dark fruits, with more vibrant fruit on a palate that additionally has a savoury finish. It reminds me a little, in terms of colour, of teinturier varieties like Alicante Bouschet. It is a lot less heavy than its colour might suggest, and its tart finish is actually very pleasing to those of us who enjoy freshness and acidity in our reds. I’ve drunk this variety quite a few times now, and I can recommend seeking one out if you like what you’ve read.

GUT OGGAU (Burgenland, Austria)

Although I’m prone to writing about this favourite producer of mine quite often, I think the last time I did so in detail was on the release of the unusual 2016 vintage, where the different wines were blended into the “family reunion” cuvées, due to tiny yields. At Raw I had the opportunity to sample a few 2017s.

Winifred 2017 is the Gut Oggau rosé. If occasionally it is the simpler wines which can provide pure sensual joy, this is an example. I know that Stephanie and Eduard sometimes give a wry smile at how popular this wine is, but I have to say that in 2017 Winifred is singing like a choir of angels (and that’s as close as you’ll get me to a tasting note that sounds as if it was constructed in a creative writing class for twenty-somethings). The blend is Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt off limestone and slate, the vines being around 35-40 years old, so this is no throwaway pink. Fermentation is in large oak with no punching down. It is pretty close to being the definition of glouglou.

Theodora 2017 is a white wine blending here 60% Grüner Veltliner with 40% Welschriesling. The soils Theodora grows on are limestone and gravel, and the limestone really shines through with the Grüner Veltliner. Timotheus 2017 is from limestone, gravel, and slate. Some of the grapes are fermented on skins in wooden vats, the rest in barrel without skins, and here there is further ageing in oak. There’s a bit more depth as a result. A delicious cuvée in 2017.

I’m quite a fan of the red cuvée, Josephine. Josephine 2015 blends Roesler (a 1970 Austrian cross between Zweigelt and Seyve-Villard 18-402 x Blaufränkisch) with Blaufränkisch. The soils are limestone, so you get absolutely stunning brightness once more, this time through the Blaufränkisch. The fermentation is the same as with Tim, so some skin contact in vat. Although you might not mark this one out as complex, there’s just an incredible vitality to the 2017. Ooh, they do this in magnum, you know!

Dynamic Vines imports Gut Oggau. 

MEINKLANG (Burgenland, Austria)

The must try new wines from Meinklang from the 2018 vintage are Mulatschak – there’s a Roter and a Weisser. Take the white, a blend of Pinot Gris and Traminer with 50% Welschriesling from their Austrian vineyards at Pamhagen (southeast of Neusiedlersee). It’s a light wine which is super-fruity, with maybe a touch of spice. As with all Meinklang’s wines, it is vegan-friendly, and just 11.5% abv. The red blends Zweigelt and St-Laurent. Both are made in stainless steel and see a week on skins to add a bit of texture. The white in particular, with a little colour from skins, is brilliant.

The other 2018 wine to look out for is the Graupert Weiss. Pinot Gris (or Grauburgunder) is harvested from Graupert vines, these being vines which are effectively allowed to grow wild and find their own equilibrium. Perhaps there’s less weight than the Konkret cuvées (fermented in egg), but the Grauperts don’t lack complexity and subtlety.

There was also one of the cuvées to taste from Meinklang’s vineyards on the Somló volcanic massif in Hungary. This was J15, the variety being Juhfark. This sees about five days maceration on skins and after a few years in bottle it is wonderfully creamy and fairly exotic. It ages pretty well, or at least I hope so – writing this prompted my discovery of a J12 in the cellar which must have escaped opening some time.

I buy my Meinklang from Winemakers Club. Vintage Roots also has some of the wines. Somehow I managed to avoid taking photos here…and I know who to blame. Sorry!

SALVATORE MARINO (Sicily, Italy)

I always find it’s a good idea to turn up to big events like Raw Wine with a list, in this case pulled from the online catalogue, helpfully available in advance. Without a list your day will be hopeless. It’s all too easy to be swayed from your path because almost every time you look up there’s someone to say hello to, but that does have one advantage – you get a few tips. I’d have never tried this producer without a tip-off from Alan March, who some readers will know from his illumination of viticultural life chez Jeff Coutelou over the past few years.

Salvatore owns a mere 1.5 ha of vines near Pachino, which is right down in the southeastern corner of the island, within the Eloro (Rosso) DOC. He only began this enterprise in 2017, following a regime of dry farming and biodynamic principles (including using the lunar calendar, though Salvo is not certified).

Two wines were on show. My favourite, but perhaps only just, was Turi Bianco 2018. This is 100% Catarrato labelled IGT Terre Siciliane. You get soft, well sanded lemon, grapefruit and a little pineapple with nice acid balance. Turi Rosso 2017 is under the Eloro DOC and is made from a special local clone of (Pachino) Nero d’Avola (we are also pretty close to the town of Avola here). This has a bit more ripeness to the fruit (and 13% abv). The regime is six days skin contact before fermentation in stainless steel. The dark cherry fruit is clean and bright, not at all jammy, as some Nero d’Avola can be.

Salvatore Marino is currently seeking a UK importer. There can’t be a lot to go around from 1.5 hectares, but hopefully he will find one.

 

The amply stocked shop at Raw was, as always now, provided by Burgess & Hall (Arch 353 Winchelsea Road, London E7). I know they work really hard through the fair, but their offering seems to get better every year. Of course, it’s advisable to grab a few things before they sell out, but it’s also good to go back and grab a bottle which really impressed.

 

Posted in Artisan Wines, Austrian Wine, biodynamic wine, Czech Wine, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Festivals, Wine Tastings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments