Recent Wines January 2023 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

For Part 2 of the “wines I drank at home” in January we have another select but diverse bunch, from Beaujolais as natural as it comes, to South African Chardonnay, “Noir and Meunier” from Kent, Wiener Gemischter Satz and a wine made from Heathcote grapes but created by a cult producer based in Gippsland, Victoria.

B…j.l..s 2021 Vin de France, Julie Balagny (Beaujolais, France)

Oh the lengths producers have to go to in order to enable you to recognise what their natural wine “Vin de France” should be allowed to be called, were it not a significant improvement on most of the dross which goes out under the equivalent appellation (and therefore of considerable annoyance to the arbiters of taste on the local appellation panels). Of course, in this case the said Vin de France will cost you a little shy of forty quid, possibly six-to-eight times more than AOP Bojo from an industrial scale producer would cost in a French Intermarché or equivalent, so it had better be damnedly good!

This is expressive (capitalised), unfiltered Gamay from seventy-year-old vines planted on sandy soils at Émeringes, which is right on the border with the Juliénas Cru. It’s very easy going, having seen a cold carbonic maceration without any remontage, nor pigeage. It underwent a very slow and gentle press into old oak, and that’s it. Bottled without any added sulphur, of course. Strawberry aromatics dominate, with ripe cherry fruit sweetness riding over the savoury palate. It’s just so perfect. Julie’s wines are regrettably rising out of my price range for many, indeed most, of the cuvées.

It’s always sad to see this happen, where natural wines become the playground for the wealthy wine collector, but costs and artisanal scale of production makes such price rises inevitable…though let’s not forget the significant extra costs UK importers are facing via transportation price increases and post-Brexit paperwork. These wines are definitely cheaper in France. But this delicious cuvée is still accessible to me, and hopefully for a few vintages to come judging by the pleasure given by this bottle.

£38 via Noble Fine Liquor, or from the online shop of importer Tutto Wines.

Luuks 2020, Blank Bottle Winery (Stellenbosch, South Africa)

Although I try not to write multiple times about a wine I’ve mentioned before, this one deserves it. It’s extremely good, perhaps an understatement. Luuks is Afrikaans slang for luxury and in this case, it refers to Pieter Walser’s first ever brand-new barrel, from Burgundy, in which he put the debut 2020 vintage. I believe the 2021 was made in the same barrel, so that would make it second fill for the 2021 if you find that in the shops now.

The 2020 has matured very well indeed since I first drank a bottle in August last year. The 2020 for some reason never felt as overtly oaky as a lot of Burgundy would have tasted from new oak. For me it is more harmonious now, though, the plush fruit and acidity being balanced nicely. The first thought which comes to mind is opulence, but the acids keep it real. The bouquet has a strong floral element, but the oak gives the palate a creaminess which is starting to become more complex than it was almost six months ago. I definitely plan to grab some of the 2021.

The importer is Swig Wines. Butlers Wine Cellar (in Brighton) has the 2021 for £27.95. The Good Wine Shop (various branches in London) appears to list it for £33 if you can’t pick up the phone to Butlers.

Double Pinot 2021, Westwell (Kent, UK)

When I posted a photo of this Pinot Noir and Meunier blend on Instagram I got a number of messages saying how exceptional this perhaps unobtrusive wine from Adrian Pike is. It came out of Adrian’s desire to make a red wine in 2021, in what was not the easiest of vintages. His answer was to use layered carbonic maceration as a way of breaking down some of the malic acids.

Harvested in late October, he used a mix of whole bunches, destemmed whole berries and crushed grapes in a ratio of 20:40:40. After the maceration, which took place over one week, the fruit was very gently pressed into a split of barrel and amphora for six months ageing. Bottling took place in July 2022 without any manipulation and with no added sulphur.

Cherry red in colour, the nose blends cherries and ripe strawberry. The palate is all chewy smooth fruit except for a distinctly peppery finish. It’s worth noting the alcohol – just 10.5%. That makes for a great summer red, one that you can glug freely like a thirst-quenching juice. But it was ten degrees up here when I drank this (as it is today, as we bask in glorious sunshine), and it was perfect. Very fresh indeed.

Uncharted Wines has this available for £25. It’s worth considering a look at their “New England” offer of six bottles (three from Westwell and three from Matt Gregory) for £120. You can also buy “Double Pinot” direct from Westwell for the same price.

Wiener Gemischter Satz Nussberg DAC 2021, Weingut Zahel (Vienna, Austria)

This is a traditional co-planted and co-fermented field blend, so traditional, and culturally intrinsic, to the beautiful vineyards which ring Austria’s capital, mostly to the east. In this case the blend, from vines on the Nussberg hillside, is made up from Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Chardonnay, Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Gewurztraminer. Alex Zahel follows biodynamic practices and is Demeter-certified.

The vines on the Nussberg are planted on cracked, weathered, limestone with sandy loam. Ageing is mostly in stainless steel and this keeps the freshness, and perhaps helps enhance the mineral streak in the wine, which appears on the nose (along with citrus and floral notes) and goes right through to a stony texture on the palate. As with most Gemischter Satz, it has a savoury bitterness, gentle but lifted by the tiny carbon dioxide bubbles in the glass (protection from oxidation).

Once you come to know the field blend wines of Austria’s capital you soon come to realise how versatile they are, either as an aperitif or with food. We took this, for example, as our “BYOB” to a Sri Lankan popup down the road. The wine’s zippy freshness allied with its mineral texture made it a good foil for moderately spicy vegetarian food.

This came from The Solent Cellar (£22). The Good Wine Shop (branches in West London) should have the single site “Nussberg Ried Kaasgraben” for £25.50. Expect a touch more weight and ageing potential from the latter, but drink this wine over summer for zesty freshness.

Etcetera, Etcetera 2019, Momento Mori (Gippsland, Victoria, Australia)

I’ve mentioned Dane Johns, who began his career under the tutelage of William Downie, a few times before, not least when I was trying to track him down last time I was in Australia. Then I wrote about his Tolone Riesling back in September, one of the new wines from his home vineyard, Nikau Farm. I was especially happy to be able to drink this Momento Mori cuvée as the last bottle I’d bought was the victim of my kitchen floor and the appalling packaging used by one UK bonded warehouse in which to deliver my wine.

“Etcetera” is a blend of the Friulian grape variety, Schioppettino (aka Ribola Nera), with Syrah. It isn’t a wine from Dane’s Nikau Farm (in Gippsland’s Baw Baw sub-region), but is made from grapes originating from the Chalmers Family Vineyard at Heathcote, some way to the northwest. This may explain the Syrah, a famous stalwart of Heathcote, a region where several famous names (including the odd French one) grow it. Don’t ask me how Schioppettino ended up there, but I know Dane has a penchant for such varieties, including other gems originating in Friuli.

As with all Dane’s offerings, we have nothing added, especially not sulphur. Totally natural wine is the goal of a man who I believe is the only non-European producer allowed to use the official label of the “Brutal Corporation” for one of his cuvées. We get a deeply-coloured wine but one which on first sip is quite light. Deliciously mixing abundant red and darker fruits with a little texture and grip, but a wine which overall is smooth and sensual. Mega-delicious for sure.

My bottle came from Noble Fine Liquor in London (£29), though the importer for Momento Mori and Dane’s Nikau Farm bottlings is Les Caves de Pyrene. It’s worth giving a heads-up here that whilst the Nikau Farm wines are at first sight horrendously expensive (usually more than double that for the Momento Mori wines), The Solent Cellar has some pretty hefty discounts on their obviously limited stocks (these wines are in any case unicorns made in achingly tiny quantities) of four different Nikau Farm cuvées. You will need to get on the phone swiftly I suspect, as one or two restaurants are often quick to snap up any unicorns which Simon and the team get hold of. My own suspicion is that reading this article you are going to be slightly ahead of the curve.

The wines in Part Two were all delicious, it goes without saying, but the labels were all a bit monochrome, weren’t they. That’s not a criticism. I really love Galia’s labels for Westwell, likewise the drawings by Delphine Chauvin (for Julie Balagny), which always bring a smile to the face. I guess I just noticed the lack of colour on the labels compared to those staring at me when I go to find a bottle. I just need to work harder to add colour to their backgrounds.

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Recent Wines January 2023 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

A somewhat reduced number of wines were consumed at home in January, not, I should stress because of any “Dry January” leanings, but down to the “Not Covid” virus that struck me down for most of the first two weeks of the month. Still, ten wines are here for me to tell you about and it is still worth me splitting them to make them easier to consume. In Part 1 we have a fine white Burgundy, a star from Slovakia, A Languedoc, an Australian Savagnin, and a very interesting find from Alsace which has recently led me on an interesting journey, following a little detective work.

Saint-Aubin “En L’Ebaupin” 2015, Le Grappin (Burgundy, France)

Andrew and Emma Nielsen remain good wine friends, despite my seeing them perhaps once a year nowadays. I joined the Le Grappin story at the beginning, with a six-pack of Beaune Boucherottes purchased at their former winery within the walls of Beaune, located in an old gunpowder store. It was wine bottled from their first vintage, I believe, 2011. I can’t afford to stay on board, but I remain a loyal fan.

The older vintages I’ve managed to cellar are treasures for me. This 2015 is an example of a nicely matured wine from a village I have a special fondness for, because we used to stay in a very cheap Chambre d’Hôte, a short walk over the hill, on our first visits to the Côte de Beaune in the 1980s.

This comes from a small parcel of west-facing vines behind the village, off very chalky soils. The vineyard is described as “late-ripening” (which used to mean difficult to ripen until climate change changed all that, but the grapes still ripen late).

The Nielsen way is to tread by foot, into a basket press, spontaneous fermentation with natural yeasts and élevage in traditional Burgundian used oak barrels, of which five were filled from this vintage and this vineyard.

The scent is a mix of white flowers for the high notes and toasty, buttery, hazelnut for the bass. More than anything this wine shouts place, with a mineral core from the high chalk content of the soils. I would suggest that this is not 100% mature, but it was glorious. Such assured winemaking.

Purchased direct from Le Grappin, this bottle almost certainly from one of their pre-release mixed cases.

“Carboniq” 2020, Magula (Slovakia)

Magula is very much on my list of favourite producers from Central Europe. If you are thinking of exploring what Slovakia has to offer there are certainly a number of fine estates, a few having perhaps a higher profile, but Magula is up there with the best. The wine region known as the Little Carpathians in English is certainly beginning to show its potential, managing to adapt modern winemaking (and marketing) to tradition.

Carboniq is a pale red, a product of this estate’s biodynamic practices. The variety here is Modry Portugal (aka Blauer Portugieser). It’s a variety which you may have tasted from Germany, where it is mostly planted in the Pfalz, but you will increasingly find it in Lower Austria, Czechia, Slovenia and Croatia (it is also permitted in Hungary’s Bull’s Blood), as well as here in Slovakia. In this cuvée it undergoes carbonic maceration and so produces a light red with just 10% abv, quite delicate but packed with flavour.

The whole berry ferment lasts for two weeks before the grapes are gently pressed. A small dose of sulphur is added before bottling. The terroir is deep loess, rich in minerals, and this is very much reflected in the character of the wine. I’d describe it as a mineral-rich cherry bomb with zesty fruit acidity. The low alcohol makes it dangerously gluggable, a splendid adult fruit juice if you like. I’m known for peculiarities such as drinking pink and light red wines in winter, but if you are more conventional with the seasons, I would strongly recommend getting some of this for when the temperatures climb and the sun comes out (though I should say that it seems to be sunny about 75% of the time where I live now).

 Imported by Basket Press Wines.

La Buvette à Paulette 2019, Mas Coutelou (Languedoc, France)

Jeff Coutelou (Jean-François if you prefer to be formal) makes probably my favourite Languedoc wines at Puimisson. Not all of the wines suit my mood all of the time, some being pretty alcoholic, but Jeff makes a wide range from which I can choose those which, as I grow older, make me more able to stand up after consuming.

“Paulette” is a blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Merlot, creating a wine with layer upon layer of plush, smooth, fruit. You might think I’m contradicting myself when I say this is an easy drinker despite its 14.5% alcohol, but it’s made very much in the style of a bistro wine. It’s simple in the best sense of that word, satisfying, nourishing even.

It is lifted in every sense by classic dark fruit acidity so that the alcohol actually feels negligible. It’s what Coutelou does so well. You’d never guess a bottle could leave you under the table. I think it’s a wine which actually might benefit from some time in bottle to settle down, at least on the evidence of the bottles I have drunk. This is my third (possibly even fourth) of the 2019 vintage and I’d say it was definitely the best bottle, fully ready to drink. Really good.

Purchased from Winekraft, Edinburgh. It is quite widely available through various indie wine shops in the UK.

Savagnin 2018, Castagna (Beechworth, Australia)

Beechworth is less well known than it ought to be, at least compared to some regions in the State of Victoria (Mornington Peninsula, Yarra, Geelong etc). Way up towards the border with NSW, northeast of Melbourne, it is the home to some of Australia’s finest producers, such as Giaconda, Sorrenberg, and of course Castagna (as well as a host of new stars, not least Dane Johns, of whom more in Part 2).

Julian Castagna’s wines have impressed me a lot since I first came across them, and the man himself, at a tasting in Lymington’s Solent Cellar, what must be almost a decade ago. Since then, I’ve occasionally met up with Julian and his son, Adam, at London’s Real Wine Fairs, and continued to obtain the odd bottle of his wines. This is my first Castagna Savagnin.

This wine is labelled “Growers’ Selection” and it indicates fruit which doesn’t come from the Castagna estate sites, but from local growers with whom they work. The grapes are grown on neighbouring properties, but the wine is made and bottled at Castagna.

Green-gold, such a lovely limpid colour, this initially shows peach and pear richness in the bouquet which almost hints at Chardonnay. After a while the nutty dryness comes into play. It’s another wine with weighty alcohol (14.5%) which you don’t really notice to begin with, on account of the wine’s freshness. Crisp acidity overlays, and complements, the richness. It’s gorgeous, honestly, though not really comparable in flavour to most Jura Savagnin.

This cost £40 from The Solent Cellar, but worth every penny. They don’t show any stock left, but I’d inquire as to whether or when they might get some more. Imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.

“Terre” 2019, Du Vin Aux Liens (Alsace, France)

I love discovering new wines, and I bought this on a whim, spotting it on a shelf a couple of months ago. It’s why I like the physical act of shopping, whether that be in a wine, record or book store. You spot things that you may well miss when “browsing” online.

This wine has actually taken me on a voyage of discovery covering Alsace, The Loire and Lorraine’s Côtes de Toul, all based around a winemaker who helped Christian Binner establish “Les Pirouettes”, Vanessa Letort. I have a fascinating (I hope) article to come, later this month, on Vanessa and her partner, which tells a common story for so many young winemakers from a non-wine background establishing themselves in France right now.

Vanessa shared a cellar in Rosheim for a year with Yannick Meckert, and he bottled this wine under Vanessa’s Du Vin aux Liens label, although the pair no longer work together (Vanessa has now relocated to Beblenheim…and Lorraine).

It’s a skin contact Riesling with destemmed fruit seeing a seven-day maceration, followed by ten months in amphora. I like this a lot. It’s zippy with a mineral, skin contact, texture, one of Dr Goode’s “smashable” wines (though it does come in at 12% abv). I mean, how many “orange” wines are truly smashable, and how many Rieslings for that matter?

It’s a bit of a unicorn in that I don’t think this is a wine to be repeated, at least not in this form. I have Winekraft in Edinburgh once more to thank for this discovery, its proprietor I’ve recently discovered being something of an Alsace fan and advocate. We will get on well. £26, cheap, a shame it’s all gone (unless they found a few more bottles).

Posted in Alsace, Artisan Wines, Australian Wine, Burgundy, Languedoc-Roussillon, Natural Wine, Slovakian Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Recent Wines December 2022 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

The eagle-eyed reader will have noticed that when I published Part 1, I called it Part 2. The brain fog lasted a day before I corrected it. This is the real Part 2 with, I promise you, a different set of wines.

My Part 2 selection from December covers most of the wines I drank at home during the second half of the month, from 18th to 26th. After this there’s a large gap until 8 January as I was struck down by that awful “Not Covid” virus. Nevertheless, this selection covers the festivities of Christmas Day and Boxing Day, so we start out with some natural wines (two English, one Swiss and one from Alsace), and then we throw in a few classics from Burgundy, Tuscany and Rioja. That Rioja may have been the last alcohol I drank in December, but I did manage to enjoy another one of the Euforia birch saps, which are very interesting indeed. I’ve tagged that onto the end.

Seyval Blanc 2017, Charlie Herring Wines (Hampshire, England)

This is, I guess, a sample bottle of Tim Phillips’s Seyval, the first of which I’ve tasted. I don’t think this is available (prod me if I’m wrong, Tim) but he does plan to release the 2018 vintage around Easter time. The vines aren’t grown in Tim’s own walled vineyard, but on a plot close to his winery at Pennington. They were planted in the 1960s, so really before the first planting boom in the county, by Mark Turley, on his Black Barn Vineyard.

The key to this wine is Tim’s usual reticence to let go until he feels it’s good and ready. This is often down to his gut feeling and intuition rather than analysis. This vintage was dosed at 5g/l which to me seems well judged for the variety. At five years post-harvest (but disgorged October 2020, so two years pda) it has some autolytic character which has rounded out the variety’s natural acidity, yet it keeps its spine intact. There’s also nice weight on the palate to balance the acids.

Initially I saw some similarities to Tim’s Riesling, perhaps in the mineral edge, but then his Sauvignon Blanc came to mind. You probably know that, for me, Breaky Bottom is the benchmark for sparkling Seyval Blanc. This 2017 isn’t quite a match for Peter Hall’s still available 2010 (I’m sure Tim will agree), but it is extremely good and coming up on the rails. I wonder what Tim’s 2018 will taste like. Knowing Tim, he’ll be aiming for something even better (he always has something in mind to aim at), but if it were merely as good as the 2017 it would come more than highly recommended.

I don’t know where the 2018 will be available when released. I understand there may be around 250 bottles, so as with Tim’s other wines, unicorn alert.

Ham Street Wines Petnat 2021 (Wiltshire via Kent, England)

This blend of Pinot Gris, Bacchus and Pinot Noir comes from a regeneratively farmed vineyard on the periphery of Kent’s Romney Marshes. Lucie Swiestowska and Jules Phillips (no relation to Tim) planted 16,000 vines on an original 4-hectare site in 2019, near the village of Hamstreet, just south of Ashford. These include the varieties in this blend along with Meunier and Chardonnay. They began to supply their fine organic fruit to Daniel Ham for his Offbeat Wines, made in Wiltshire. In 2021 Daniel made and bottled some of those grapes for Jules and Lucie’s first wine under their own Ham Street label.

The farming is now effectively biodynamic, though not as yet certified (organic certification due this year). At the winery all the grapes for this cuvée were vatted together and the wine was made with no added sulphites. The Pinot saw a little foot treading, the rest were macerated overnight with pressing the next day. The result is a pink petnat which is simple but lovely and fresh, a genuine thirst quencher. The scent of gentle strawberry and other red fruits is mirrored on the palate, which rides on a line of brittle acidity at a mere 10.5% abv.

The wine was not disgorged, so the bottle contains sediment, which one can invert to distribute and thereby increase the wine’s texture and flavour, or which the less adventurous can stand up and let it settle in the bottle and enjoy clear. A classic English petnat in so many ways. Lightly sparkling, it’s a very nice treat, especially as I grabbed one of only 484 bottles made. One to look out for from the 2022 vintage when bottled this year.

This came from Cork & Cask in Edinburgh, and cost £25. The ’21 is, of course, sold out. The wines are distributed by Wines Under the Bonnet.

Blauburgunder 2018, Bechtel Weine (Zürich, Switzerland)

One of Mathias Bechtel’s wines appeared in my recent “Wines of the Year”, so I won’t repeat everything I said there. Mathias is a very highly regarded winemaker who works the slopes of the tiny but prestigious enclave of Eglisau in the Canton of Zürich. His Pinot Noirs are becoming famous, and expensive. Blauburgunder, using the Swiss name for the same variety, is how he labels his entry level wine. This is the penultimate bottle of four.

Over time this 2018 has matured in bottle and become more assured. It doesn’t taste “entry level” to be honest. It is in the darker-fruits spectrum of Pinot, quite ripe fruit with an added smoky quality. I’d call it structured still, but not really tannic. As such it is drinking nicely as an accompaniment to food, but will age a little further for sure. I’ll see what happens with my last bottle.

I’ve purchased Bechtel mostly from importer Alpine Wines, although this bottle, and the one I have left, both came from The Solent Cellar in Lymington. They no longer have any (though I’m pleased to see they do have four Swiss wines in stock), but Alpine Wines (online) should have the 2019 or 2020 for £33.60. That isn’t inordinately expensive for Swiss wine, which, as so many commentators seem to be saying, might just break through properly this year on account of impending support from the Swiss government for wine exports.

Riesling sur Grès Cuvée Nature 2021, Domaine Durrmann (Alsace, France)

The Durrmann domaine occupies a fairly central position in the lovely wine town of Andlau, a town of which I am especially fond of not just for its wines but also for the walking (a day’s walk from Andlau can take you up to a number of ruined castles hidden away in the forest). The domaine was founded by André and Anne, but is now effectively run by their son, Yann.

I met André when I visited the domaine in 2017 (only meeting Yann later at the Real Wine Fair in 2019), and according to him I was the first English wine writer to do so, and to write about their wines. Since then, Yann has taken the wines more in the “natural” direction, a direction commenced by André, who began to use sheep in the vineyards, encouraged birds as natural insect predators, and drove around, whether locally or to Paris, only by electric vehicle.

“Sur Grès” is a direct pressed Riesling off sandstone (grès). As 2021 was a cooler vintage this is citrussy, precise and nicely textured. The fruit is quite appley. I am sure this will flourish further in bottle and I may try to pick up another to prove my point, but sometimes its nice to drink a Riesling which stands out for its purity, as this does right now. Not currently complex, but certainly dynamic, it hits the spot. It is lifted by a little dissolved CO2, making it lightly “perlant”, an old French phrase I’ve not seen used for a good while. “Nature” on a Durrmann label indicates their unsulphured cuvées.

Imported again by the excellent Wines Under the Bonnet, and purchased at Cork & Cask, Edinburgh (£23). Very good value.

Morey-Saint-Denis “Clos Solon” VV 2006, Domaine Fourrier (Burgundy, France)

This is another wine I don’t intend to expand on too much, in this case because it was among my Wines of the Year (see article 10 January 2023). It shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me. Although I tend to buy natural wines, and increasingly wines which cost somewhat less than this domaine now costs, Fourrier was always one of my favourite producers of fine Red Burgundy back in the day. Clos Solon, an old vine lieu-dit, in the village of Morey-St-Denis on the Côte de Nuits, has always outshone its “village” designation, producing wines which age as well as many a Premier Cru. An insider wine, so to speak.

Jean-Marie Fourrier, who took over the running of the domaine in 1994, learnt his art with Henri Jayer, and subsequently in Oregon at Domaine Drouhin. He espouses a low intervention regime throughout the farming and winemaking process. There’s a touch of old school in what are nevertheless certainly not old-fashioned wines. This bottle has purity and balance, developing in the glass into a savoury, smoky, yet structured and restrained example from a vintage the critics and charts don’t rate up there with the best. Very good for whites but patchy for reds, though some nice ones from the Côte de Nuits, was the post-harvest generalisation, though the ever-optimistic Berry Brothers web site says that the 2006s “have developed significantly since…immediately after the harvest and are now a delight”.

I tend to think Berry Bros are right in this case, although they list the 2004 (not the 2006) for an equivalent of £300/bottle (3,600/case) in bond. Sadly, I won’t be buying Clos Solon again. That was my last bottle, and my penultimate Fourrier (I spotted a Gevrey, the domaine’s home village, in the rack). This one came from The Sampler in London many years ago.  I don’t know what it cost, but I could afford it. It was, as you will have guessed, a fitting centrepiece for our family Christmas lunch.

**I only learnt today that Jean-Marie Fourrier took over as winemaker of the famous (or should I say cult) producer, Bass Phillip, in Victoria’s Gippsland, Australia in 2020. Ironically, or perhaps pertinently, Bass Phillip founder Phillip Jones is known to have wanted to create Pinot Noir in the image of the Henri Jayer wines he had loved in this oft-windswept region southwest of Melbourne. I can attest his initial success via a few rare bottles from one-time Australian importer par excellence, Vin du Van. I presume Jean-Marie is still involved at Fourrier.

Montecarlo Vin Santo 2003, Fattoria del Teso (Tuscany, Italy)

Vin Santo is a wine style I used to drink far more frequently when I was younger. I really enjoy it, and I think I got the taste for Vin Santo travelling in Tuscany in the late 1980s, when a glass with some cantucci biscuits, the classic combo, made a good substitute for dessert in the cheap restaurants we frequented on the road. I used to get to drink some at the Tuscan lunches I used to go to every year (latterly at the sadly now defunct Glasshouse in Kew), and most often at Christmas. Our tradition of leftovers with nuts and snacks in the evening always seems a good pairing.

This wine comes not from Chianti, but from Montecarlo, in the Province of Lucca in Northern Tuscany. The estate dates back to the 13th century. Today they farm a considerable 70-ha, Francesco Bartoletti consulting. This Vin Santo is made in the traditional way, whereby ripe Trebbiano di Toscana grapes are dried on reed mats and aged in an assortment of small wood (both oak and chestnut) in an attic room for two years. Heat rises and thus creates a warm environment, unlike the cool cellars more normally used for ageing wine.

The result is a sweetish and highly concentrated wine of dark amber colour and considerable complexity. Indeed, this complexity can contain contradictions, all to the wine’s benefit. The sweetness is echoed in scents and flavours of apricots and dried raisins, but the sweetness is matched by an intense savoury edge with almost a hint of bitterness. Such wines are very long-lived and this 2003 certainly tastes fresh and youthful. It is also rich, complex and long.

Living as I now do up here in Scotland, I can tell you that shopping at Valvona & Crolla near the top of Edinburgh’s Leith Walk is such a pleasure, especially at Christmas. This 500ml bottle (c£25) came from here, and it was far from being the only item I left with on that particular visit. Indeed, we only finished the last pieces of panforte at lunchtime on 15 January. I shall be back for more (of both).

Prado Enea Gran Reserva 2004, Bodegas Muga (Rioja, Spain)

This was our Boxing Day wine. From one of Rioja’s great Bodegas, this is a top cuvée made from 80% Tempranillo, the rest comprised of Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo. Only made in the best vintages, it spends twelve months in vat, three years in barrel and a further three years in bottle before release. It seems I’ve had this in my cellar for a long time.

Muga was founded way back in 1932, but the company really took off in the 1960s. Although they make a very modern version of the DOCa in Torre Muga, the Prado Enea Gran Reserva is the epitome of fine, traditional, wood-aged Rioja. Grapes are sourced from high altitude sites of their own, along with some exceptional parcels owned by other growers with whom they have worked for decades.

It showed a dark garnet colour in the glass and the bouquet was pretty complex once it began to open up. I’d say that tobacco notes dominated, though you also find hints of liquorice and peppermint. The palate has very deep fruit, not distant but neither is it in your face, with savoury dried fruit undertones. It’s quite a giant of a wine, not in the sense that its 14% alcohol dominates, nor that it is tannic. It just has a broad and sturdy structure.

Barquin, Gutiérrez and De La Serna, in The Finest Wines of Rioja etc (Aurum Press, 2011) call Prado Enea “intellectual” and I can see exactly what they mean. There are vintage sites that say the 2004 is at its peak, but I’m not sure it is. If I had a second bottle I’d try it after another decade, but as a word of caution, I’m very partial to old Tondonia.

Purchased from Majestic Wine. Do they still sell it? I think they have the 2015 for £54.99. Waitrose Cellar claims to have the 2014 for £59 (you can never be sure of the vintage with supermarket purchases). Berry Bros lists older vintages and overall, it’s not a difficult wine to source.

Euforia Fermented Birch Sap, Blackthorn (Bohemia, Czechia)

A few readers may have seen me write about these birch sap drinks a couple of times last year, and indeed in my article about Autentikfest, in Moravia, in the summer. It’s both a unique and unusual product made by a skilled and dedicated couple, Jan Klimeš and his wife, in the Bohemian Highlands of Northern Czechia (very close to Utopia Cider, with whom they are great friends).

The sap is collected from birch trees and then macerated, usually with fruit and in this case with wild blackthorn berries. The maceration takes place over a whole year before bottling and release. Although a type of fermentation does take place, it is a kind of malolactic, not alcoholic, fermentation and the product has zero alcohol. Nor are there any additives, so it is completely natural.

The taste has been described as akin to coconut water with a hint of aloe vera, but the macerated fruit gives the drink its taste profile. Some are enhanced, as this is, by a gentle effervescence. I think it tastes a little like some kombucha, and it certainly has a similar gently uplifting quality. The importer of these drinks, Basket Press Wines in the UK, says they are “considered to have great health benefits, very hydrating, diuretic, detoxifying, with high levels of manganese, amino acids and magnesium”.

I have now tried a good few of these and blackthorn remains one of my favourite flavours, alongside blackcurrant, rose hip and orange. In fact, I was personally less keen on non-fruit macerations, such as the pine, but that’s just me. They are all worth a try. They definitely make you somehow feel good after drinking them and seem, for me, to aid digestion. It’s something different to pull out when you don’t want alcohol for lunch, or in my case when you just couldn’t face a glass of wine. At £16 they are not cheap, but remember this is a natural artisan product, cheaper than wine and these days cheaper than much artisan cider. They are certainly unusual, but I’d definitely recommend giving them a try.

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Recent Wines December 2022 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

Straight from my Wines of the Year we move swiftly on to the wines I drank at home during December 2022. I say wines, but of the eight bottles which form Part 1 (lots consumed in December), one is a Sake (but from London!). The seven wines are from Rheinhessen, Champagne, Moravia, Sanlúcar, Leicestershire, Savoie and Eastern Hungary. It doesn’t get any less eclectic in Part 2, I must warn you. And yes, you did read Leicestershire correctly, a very interesting producer I’m just beginning to get to know.

Weisser Burgunder Trocken 2018, Weingut Wittmann (Rheinhessen, Germany)

The Brilliant Philipp Wittmann (Stephan Reinhardt’s description) heads up the family winery, now a leading VDP member, which goes back to the mid-1600s in the famous village of Westhofen, in the Rheinhessen sub-region of Wonnegau. Wittmann is best known for the fabulous Riesling Grand Cru bottlings, including Morstein and Kirchspiel, but Weisser Burgunder (aka Weissburgunder or Pinot Blanc) is close to Philipp’s heart. If you want proof that this variety can produce genuine class, try this relatively inexpensive version.

The whole estate has been biodynamic since 2004. The grapes for this cuvée come from predominantly chalky soils on classic sites. You’ll find this lemony, waxy and stony, with a pebble-like texture. In the glass, initial apple acidity is replaced with pear and apricot as it opens out, all the while backed by a ground bass of mineral texture.

Although most would drink this on release, my experience of buying a bottle or two every year is that it will benefit from 12-24 months in bottle. It’s a hidden gem of a wine for, I think, around £15 for this 2018. Wholesale stockists are Howard Ripley and Roberson. I usually pick mine up from The Solent Cellar, though it is only periodically in stock.

Campania Remensis Extra Brut Rosé 2010, Champagne Bérêche (Champagne, France)

Whether Bérêche remains a “grower” or now qualifies as a micro-negoce as well remains a moot point among those I speak to, but for the many years I have idolised these wines made at Craon de Ludes on the Montagne, I have always concentrated mostly on the estate-grown fruit. I have long considered Raphaël and Vincent’s wines among the absolute finest in the region, and this, their Rosé, would rank amongst my top four pink Champagnes.

The grapes come from a specific 0.7ha site at Ormes, west of the Montagne, and the blend comprises 60% PN, 30% Ch and 5% PM (=95%) with the addition of 5% “Coteaux” rouge. This all undergoes spontaneous fermentation in both oak and small vats with lengthy (36 month) lees ageing. Fruit picked in 2010 was disgorged in May 2014, dosed at just 3g/l.

A darkish salmon pink, the bouquet is redolent of fresh ripe strawberries but there’s a savoury spiciness alongside the fruit on the palate. Like all Bérêche wines, it has a nice spine of well-focused acidity and great length. Also, plenty of post-disgorgement development but it retains freshness. My last bottle of the Rosé, sadly. From Vine Trail.

“Kumo” Cloudy Premium Sake, Kanpai (London, England)

Kanpai is one of two sake producers I know of in the UK (the other being in Cambridgeshire). They are based in Southeast London, at Peckham. Lucy and Tom Wilson set it up in 2016/17. Their product is all what one would call “Premium Sake”, vegan-friendly and like natural wine, without any added sulphur.

Kumo is a cloudy (kumo is Japanese for cloud) nigori junmai, nigori indicating cloudy (using a wide-mesh filter) and junmai meaning pure rice sake without added alcohol spirit. The rice is polished to 70%, which may mean little to the uninitiated, and to be frank matters not one bit for the enjoyment of this sake, but polishing ratio talk is the ultimate geekiness for sake aficionados. You get a lovely pure taste alongside a leesy texture, a touch of acidity and a milky/yoghurt-like finish. Very smooth and deceptive (15% abv). You can either drink this style cool (circa 10 degrees as we did) or heated warm to 40 degrees. Be sure to invert the bottle before opening to distribute the sediment.

If you haven’t tried sake this is a fairly traditional style to begin with. Kanpai’s products are mostly found in London. You can visit the brewery or buy direct from the web site. This bottle came from Cork & Cask in Edinburgh. I can highly recommend further research via “Sake and the Wines of Japan” by Anthony Rose (Infinite Ideas, 2018).

Ex Opere Operato I 2017, Dva Duby (Moravia, Czechia)

Jiři Šebela farms in the valleys around Dolni Kounice, close the the Austrian border in Southern Moravia. This is rocky, volcanic, terroir and the red wines from these biodynamically-produced hillside vines are remarkably intense. They have that characteristic mix of iron and blood which is common among volcanic wines.

The grape variety here is St-Laurent, farmed and made as a natural wine with only a little sulphur added at bottling. Lowish alcohol and the terroir make this an overtly fresh wine, in some ways not overly complex yet brimming with personality. You get a rare combination of intensity and lightness. Dva Duby was partly founded by Moravian guru Jaroslav Ošicka, so you know we have a producer worth checking out. I’m a big fan of these wines.

Imported into the UK by Basket Press Wines.

La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada « Bota Punta » 80, Equipo Navazos (Sanlúcar, Spain)

This Manzanilla Pasada comes from a long line of fine releases including Bota’s 20, 40 and 60 before it. This is a saca of December 2017, a thousand 50cl bottles taken from a single cask at the very end of this solera at Hijos Rainera Peréz Marín. The butt was filled to the “tocadedos” level, ie well over 5/6ths of the cask. The flor is therefore only a very thin layer, kept alive only through sporadic topping-up. The average age of the Sherry in this rather singular cask was fifteen years old.

The thinner flor means this pasada has more oxidative notes than is usual for a biologically aged wine. There is also 16.5% alcohol. The result has a little more weight but it hasn’t sacrificed elegance and finesse. The bouquet reflects the chalky texture layered on the palate, along with nuts, lime, quince and a tiny balsamic note. This is a complex wine and it needs air. Also, not one to serve chilled, but just cool. A direct purchase, but EN’s UK agent is Alliance Wine.

Field Blend 2021, Matt Gregory Wines (Leicestershire, UK)

I’d been hearing about this crazy guy making wine up near Loughborough, in the East Midlands, long before I got to try any. Late last year I heard he was about to get a deal with an importer I buy from when I can, so I was finally able to get my hands on some of these. I had spotted that Matt had worked in North Canterbury with my favourite NZ producer, Theo Coles (The Hermit Ram), which frankly only piqued my interest more. Matt also makes wine in Piemonte, but I’m yet to get hold of any of his Italian bottles. Jamie Goode has (he met Matt in NZ with Theo as far back as 2019).

Field Blend is what it says on the label, a more-or-less co-planted blend of Seyval Blanc, Bacchus, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Regent and Solaris. It calls itself a pink more than a light red, but it’s kind of somewhere around the darker Rosé spectrum. It has the fruit of a red wine and the refreshing qualities of a white and clocks in at just 10% abv. Although most people would call this a summer wine, I am not averse to wines like this in winter. I may not be able to match my wife in sea-swimming in the North Sea throughout the year, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do “bracing”, and this wine’s fruitiness keeps its head above the waves. I’ve a couple more from Matt to try. This was pretty exciting stuff. Good luck to Matt with the weather around there.

£18.65 from Uncharted Wines.

Monfarina 2020, Domaine Giachino (Savoie, France)

This estate is based in the hamlet of La Palud, above Chapareillan near the famous Col du Granier and to the west of the Isère river. Run by David and Frédéric Giachino, the brothers are now assisted by Frédéric’s son, Clément, who I met in London a couple of years ago. I’ve purchased their wines for some time, including their “Prieuré Saint-Christophe” label, the vines for which they were selected to take over, via a rental agreement, from the region’s most famous vigneron, Michel Grisard, when he retired a few years ago.

Monfarina is Giachino’s entry level white wine, made from what is usually considered the region’s workhorse variety, Jacquère. The vines for this cuvée grow on the scree slope of Mont Granier, which collapsed in 1248 with significant loss of life locally. The legacy of this tragic event, a very fine terroir for viticulture.

If the wine is relatively simple, it is classy. Biodynamics are practised at the domaine. The wine has great texture from the limestone scree and you get apple blossom, apples, gooseberry and more. Wink Lorch (Wines of the French Alps, 2019, p192) suggests there might be small amounts of Mondeuse Blanche and Verdesse in the mix, two autochthonous varieties which are seeing a glimmer of a revival.

£24 from Cork & Cask Edinburgh, the importer is Dynamic Vines.

A Change of Heart 2020, Annamária Réka-Koncz (Eastern Hungary)

Who would have thought a few years ago that one of the producers I drink most often would be a complete unknown making wine in Eastern Hungary, right up on the border with Ukraine. Maybe you get fed up with reading about these wines, but I like them so much for a number of reasons. Firstly, of course, they are very good. Secondly, they are affordable, and thirdly, this is a producer I discovered near the beginning of their journey into export markets and have travelled along an increasingly confident path with her. This is pertinent because her new vintage will be arriving in the UK fairly soon and there will be a window of availability once more.

This red wine is made from Kékfrankos (aka Blaufränkisch), and I first drank this vintage almost exactly a year ago. Has it matured? Well, it retains that freshness typical of the variety (when not over-extracted), and it has not lost any fruit. The bouquet is still vibrant cherry and the palate also has some dark fruit lurking beneath. Perhaps the acidity has toned down a little. It feels just a touch more bedded-in.

Only 1,750 bottles made, of which I snaffled three. Imported by Basket Press Wines.

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Wines of the Year 2022

My Wines of the Year were meant to follow my Review of 2022, in the first few days of the New Year, but I was struck down with the nasty “Not Covid” virus, which frankly lasted longer than my bout of real Covid did. So, somewhat delayed, here we have them.

I’m broadly following the same format as last year. This means a wine selected from each month. These are not the poshest wines I’ve drunk. Okay, one is a classic Burgundy, but frankly I don’t want to see another list of Pétrus, DRC and DP Plénitude. I’m not in any way trying to knock people who are wealthy enough to drink (and then write about) these wines, not even those journalists who can’t afford them but whose status leads to them being invited to taste them. Lord knows in the past I’ve had my opportunities. It’s merely that those are wines which no normal wine lover can afford, and the majority of my readers are, I know, ordinary, if passionate, wine lovers. The wines I’ve selected here are almost all wines which you can go out and buy, albeit potentially a more recent vintage. Some of them are priced well under £30.

I’ve obviously got my favourite producers, and I’ve tried hard not to include all of the obvious ones, those I bang on about every other month or two. So, no Gut Oggau, no L’Octavin, no Réka-Koncz. I’ve also tried not to repeat what I wrote last year, although whilst no wines are duplicated, some producers are (interesting). This has made it even more difficult to make my selection, and I had to make some hard choices. First, there are not twelve but thirteen wines. We call it a “baker’s dozen” in the UK. It simply means that I just couldn’t choose between two wines from November, so I decided to include them both. One producer has two wines (May and October). Again, I’d have liked to avoid that, but in all honesty both wines deserve inclusion. I did have to stop this list being half-filled with Alsace though.

So, here we go, thirteen wines from 2022. Not the “finest”, but those I found the most interesting, stimulating, exciting, and with the best stories to tell, so-to-speak. Also, I hope, not the same old wines as trotted out in other people’s selections.

Where possible I’ve listed the importer and/or retailer. All of these are wines drunk at home and will have appeared in one of my “Recent Wines” articles throughout the year. The relevant month and part are listed in case you wish to read a little more because it’s not my desire here to repeat a whole tasting note or give fuller details about production etc.

January – Vieille Vigne Sylvaner (2015/16 blend), Jean-Pierre Rietsch (Alsace, France)

J-P is a producer of whom I’m a long-standing fan. Based in one of the most exciting wine villages in Alsace (Mittelbergheim), Sylvaner may be much maligned but this is probably the terroir that produces the best in the region. The argilo-calcaire soils and lees ageing produce a wine of profound minerality, yet it is also one of the kindest Sylvaners on the palate you’ll taste. Stunning with some age. This came from source, but the UK importer is Wines Under the Bonnet. Find it in “Recent Wines January 2022 Pt 1”.

February – “VO” Mencia 2016, Veronica Ortega (Bierzo, Spain)

Veronica’s wines impressed me when I first tasted them in numbers in March 2020 at the large Viñateros tasting. This is 100% Mencia from very old vines off limestone (not slate). Gorgeous ferrous cherry flavours, violet bouquet and mineral texture. Purchased from Vine Trail, you can find it in “Recent Wines February 2022 Pt 2”.

March – Field Blend 2018 “Skin Fermentation”, Hermit Ram (N Canterbury, New Zealand)

Theo Coles makes my favourite wines in New Zealand and this one comes from his Limestone Hills vineyard in one of the most talked about, newer, cool climate regions on the South Island. It’s a zero-additives wine blending five international (both red and white) varieties, which see six weeks on skins. Intoxicating wafts of red fruit. Imported by Uncharted Wines, and found in “Recent Wines March 2022 Pt 1”.

April – Complètement Red 2020, Lambert Spielmann (Alsace, France)

I can’t help thinking that Lambert is a star in the making, although to be fair I could say the same of rather a lot of young winemakers in Alsace at the moment. Based in Epfig, this cuvée is made from 25-y-o Pinot Noir from Nothalten, fermented as whole bunches. It’s a pure, zero-added sulphur, wine with bright red cherry and hints of spice. Imported by Tutto Wines, see “Recent Wines April 2022 Pt 1”.

May – “Ambero” 2020, Petr Koráb (Moravia, Czechia)

The first of Petr’s wines to feature here, a skin contact Orange Traminer from vines near Boleradice, where we stayed later in the summer. The 2020 saw extended lees ageing in robinia (false acacia) casks (I think the ’21 moved to ceramic vessels). I noted peach, tarte-tatin, Lucozade…and amazing depth. Imported by Basket Press Wines, see “Recent Wines May 2022 Pt 2”.

June – Cuvée David Pearson 2015, Breaky Bottom (Sussex, England)

I made my first visit to Peter Hall’s idyll of a vineyard folded within the South Downs last year so it’s not surprising I drank a good few bottles of Breaky Bottom. “David Pearson” is a blend of the three major Champagne varieties. It has a filigree spine of brittle acidity, like a frosted spider’s web, on which hangs intense fruit. You can buy older (and more expensive) bottles, but this is a remarkable wine, all the more so for what I paid (£35.50 from Butlers Wine Cellar, Brighton, and they still have some). See “Recent Wines June 2022 Pt 1”.

July – Federweiss 2018, Bechtel Weine (Zurich, Switzerland)

Mathias Bechtel is one of the rising stars of Swiss wine. Based in the tiny Zurich sub-region of Eglisau, with vines reaching up to 500 masl, he’s best known for his stunning, and mostly expensive, Pinot Noir cuvées. Federweiss is the name most usually given to a “Blanc de Noirs” cuvée of no special note, but Mathias makes his as an orange-tinged Rosé via a light berry maceration which is mineral and fruity. Available periodically from Alpine Wines, see further “Recent Wines July 2022 Pt 2”.

August – Neuburger 2018, Joiseph (Burgenland, Austria)

Luka Zeichmann is the winemaking partner of an exciting venture based on vineyards around Jois, at the top end of the Neusiedlersee (the cellar is a trek south, in Unterpullendorf). Neuburger is a rare variety, once considered a peasant grape but now seeing a lot of interest. This is textured with pear fruit and considerable complexity with age. One of those wines with thrilling tension. Only 800 bottles made. Imported by Modal Wines (£38 for the 2020 currently), see “Recent Wines August 2022 Pt 2”.

September – Tolone Riesling 2018, Nikau Farm (Gippsland, Victoria, Australia)

Nikau is the home farm of Dane Johns and his wife, Hannah, whose Momento Mori wines you may know. The 1.5ha of vines currently in production have never been sprayed. There’s a touch of Chardonnay in here too, all off silica and sandstone exposed to the weather off the Bass Strait. Seeing 48 hours on skins, the mere 500 bottles made are both singular and remarkable (and show only 9.3% abv). Light, quite acidic, but something else. From Les Caves de Pyrene, see “Recent Wines September 2022 Pt 2”.

October – Raspberry on Ice 2021, Petr Koráb (Moravia, Czechia)

Blending Pinot Noir and Saint-Laurent, Petr’s second offering here is probably the most joyous wine I drank last summer. I was introduced to it under the trees on the green outside his winery, but have since drunk all too few bottles at home. It’s just the purest pale raspberry juice with a hidden 12.5% kick, the most complete embodiment of gloglou you could imagine. It was imported by Basket Press Wines. I hope Petr made some more in 2022. See “Recent Wines October 2022 Pt 1”.

November – Bugey Cerdon 2019, Renardat Fache (Bugey, France)

I love this wine for its simplicity and for forging ahead despite its unfashionability (a demi-sec sparkling pink) and the ignorance of the public as to just how perfect this style is for summer (and just 8% abv). Bugey is a sleepy region between Jura and Savoie, but this artisan producer exports to Japan. They, at least, know great wine when they sniff it out. An Ancestral Method, bottle-fermented, blend of Gamay and (rare nowadays, but very traditional) Poulsard in this “Black Label” estate bottling, with zippy red fruit. The acids counter the residual sugar. Imported by Raeburn Fine Wines, see “Recent Wines November 2022 Pt 1”.

As I said, I can’t split November’s top-two, so we also have:

Superglitzer 2018, Rennersistas (Burgenland, Austria)

Stefanie and Susanne have since been joined by Brother Georg in taking over their father’s well-established winery on the edge of Gols, on the top eastern corner of the Neusiedlersee, and they have turned it into a fine natural wine estate on a par with the many other estates following this path in this singular village. Superglitzer was new in 2018. Blending Blaufränkisch, St Laurent and Zweigelt with a drop of Roessler, it’s a light red with fruit, depth and spice. As I said in my original note, you can always trust a Renner wine to put a smile on your face, this one especially. Imported by Newcomer Wines, see “Recent Wines November 2022 Pt 1”.

December – Morey-St-Denis “Clos Solon” Vieille Vigne 2006, Domaine Fourrier (Burgundy, France)

This is the only so-called classical wine in my list, I suppose. It was also my penultimate bottle from a domaine I have adored as much as any over the decades since I discovered the wines of this region. I used to visit every year until I came to prefer the quiet of Arbois to the increased traffic around the Côtes. These wines are expensive now, but back around the mid-2000s this single vineyard’s old vine cuvée was considered especially good value, relatively speaking of course. Smoky, savoury, this is not at all showy, just beautifully balanced, almost understated. Perfect with Christmas lunch. Purchased from The Sampler (Islington) in London around the time of release, see further “Recent Wines December 2022 Pt 2”.

A few more things remain to be said before we begin embarking on another year of wine. I often try to bring in my other passion, music. I’ve been so much focused on my vinyl collection that it is certainly impacting the wine budget, as has whisky. Moving to Scotland, I’ve definitely increased my appreciation, and consumption, of whisky, but really good whisky gets expensive. I’ve been drinking widely here, but for very subjective reasons I’ve been getting to know and enjoying the different bottlings from Kilchoman, an authentic farm distillery at Machir Bay on Islay’s wild west coast.

For what it’s worth, going back to the music, my album of the year is Dublin band Fontaines DC’s “Skinty Fía”. I’ve also been listening to Stanley Clarke, Dream Theater, Robben Ford and Green Tea Peng (among a few hundred others). The opportunities to purchase vinyl are worryingly numerous within striking distance of where I live. Edinburgh is less frequented on the touring circuit than Glasgow, but my gig of the year was, without doubt, seeing Wishbone Ash perform Argus in its entirety on the 50th anniversary of its release (Queen’s Hall, 28/10/22).

I like to tell you what I want to be drinking in this coming year. It occasionally encourages the odd importer to be brave. My tastes only change slowly so I still want more Bugey, Alsace and Swiss wine in my cellar please. I would also love to see more Japanese wine imported. I don’t mean the obvious labels, but the artisan wines which one is seeing reach Scandinavia, and even France, I notice. I continue to find real excitement in Hungary and Czech Moravia and I hope to widen that interest out into more Slovakian wines and further afield. I think 2023 will also be the year when a new raft of Jura names you’ve never heard of will begin to appear.

When it comes to fingers on the pulse, I think our once broad-church wine scene is losing out a little. There are many reasons, not least new markets picking up our allocations. Brexit, with its increased and complex paperwork for producers as well as importers, is the main reason we have to fight for what we do get. There’s a kind of symbiotic link between Japan and Scandinavia in that both seem to be right on the button, especially in spotting talented new natural wine producers in the field.

That said, I am eternally grateful that we do still have importers like Les Caves de Pyrene, Basket Press Wines, Vine Trail, Newcomer Wines, Tutto Wines, Indigo, Wines Under the Bonnet, Uncharted Wines and others, and we have an ever-growing throng of wonderful indie wine shops, which have even grown in number in 2022, despite the economic climate. Let’s support them. Use it or lose it, as they say.

Wishing all my readers a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2023.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Natural Wine, Review of the Year, Wine, Wine Agencies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Review of the Year 2022

I shall tell you my Wines of the Year in my next article, following last year’s popular format of twelve wines, one from each month. First, here, I’ll list the dozen most popular articles of the year on wideworldofwine. A few readers might be tempted to check them out. You’ll also get to discover my books of the year. Although we have a winner, there are most definitely a silver and a bronze as well. I’ll also recap on one or two wine trips or vineyard visits, along with my tasting of the year. If any of that sounds interesting, read on.

Top 12 Most Read Articles

The following are the twelve most read articles between 1 January this year and the time of writing. These stats are only as accurate as the fact that these articles were searched for, or linked to, directly. There were around 9,500 further general site visits where I can’t distinguish what was read, almost certainly whatever was the current new article at the time.

  1. Tongba, A Study of Emptiness (04-01-2016)
  2. Tourist Jura – A Brief Guide to Arbois and Beyond (29-07-20)
  3. Extreme Viticulture in Nepal (27-11-2019)
  4. Breaky Bottom – A Different Perspective on English Wine (15-03-2022)
  5. Food for a Change…the Wonderful Cuisine of Nepal (30-11-2021)
  6. Regenerative Viticulture by Dr Jamie Goode (Book Review) (07-06-2022)
  7. The One Straw Revolution (Masanobu Fukuoka) (Book Review) (18-08-2021)
  8. Paradise Lost – A Eulogy for Two Great Natural Winemakers (21-06-2021)
  9. Pergola Taught (16-02-2021)
  10. New Wine Leaders 1 – Christina Rasmussen (03-08-2022)
  11. Appellations – Who Needs Them? (06-12-2021)
  12. Central Victoria Part 2 – Bindi (15-12-2019)

Tongba is a Tibetan drink brewed from a millet paste. It has very little alcohol but except for at altitude, it seems to have a mildly hallucinatory effect, and induces a strong need to lie horizontally. I say except at altitude because the last time I drank it there was no such effect, and I was on a mountain in Nepal. The article has been a favourite since I wrote it in 2016, and I suppose this is because it gets picked up by a different type of reader, not necessarily a wine lover. It has been read 1,299 times this year.

The Arbois Guide is now more than a couple of years old and may have a few inacuracies. La Balance, my one-time favourite restaurant there, has finally closed, and I know some opening hours have changed. Jean-Paul Genet is now called Maison Genet, I think. I’ve not been back since 2019, though we used to visit pretty much every year before Covid. Hoping to get there soon, though 2023 looks pretty busy already.

As someone lucky enough to have been to Nepal quite a number of times (we have a number of strong connections with the country, including family ties), I’ve written a few popular articles. That in which I wrote about the Pataleban Vineyard, a little way west of Kathmandu, has remained popular and hits the #3 spot, and I’m equally pleased to see the article I wrote about Nepalese food last year up there too at #5 (a surprise). I am a very big fan of this cuisine (or cuisines to be accurate), the glorious Momo being possibly my favourite dish in the world. Britain has some outstanding Nepalese restaurants, Edinburgh having a special concentration. Perhaps a future article.

Momos – they may look simple…

Between those two articles at #4 we have an article about my visit to see Peter Hall at Breaky Bottom this year, in March. More of this later.

Two book reviews made it into my top dozen for popularity. It won’t surprise many to see my review of Jamie Goode’s book on regenerative viticulture there. Perhaps it was more surprising to see the seminal work on this subject appearing beneath Jamie at #7. Masanobu Fukuoka’s small book is not only highly instructive, it’s also a lovely read (in translation).

Finally, we have five very different articles forming the second half of the list. Paradise Lost is a eulogy for the sadly departed natural winemakers Pascal Clairet and Dominique Belluard, both of whom sadly took their own lives during the Covid pandemic. I cherish the bottles of Belluard I own, but Pascal’s death saddened me a great deal. His wines were among the first natural wines I drank. I had only been chatting with him in February 2020 when he came to London for his importer’s winter tasting. He died that May (as indeed did another great Jura vigneron, Lucien Aviet. Lucien was 84, Pascal only 58).

My last photo of Pascal, London, Feb 2020

Pergola Taught was an article I was inspired to write by Trink Magazine, the greatest new wine resource to come out of the pandemic years, and covering what they call “umlaut wines” (Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Alpine Italy). It does what it says on the tin – it looks at the renewed interest in the pergola. Who would have thought an article about a vine training system could be so popular.

For anyone who doesn’t know Christina Rasmussen, well we live in an age of the “influencer” and she is one of the very few who could, if they so wished, truly own that name. Among many achievements she co-founded Little Wine, and she has also now planted a vineyard. The specific title hints at more to follow. There are in fact a number of individuals I’d like to write about. The modesty of some, combined with lack of time, and now distance, has stopped me in my tracks, but I shall try to twist some arms next year.

Christina and Phoebe at the annual Bojo tasting a few years ago. They do love Gamay.

Appellations…who does need them indeed? It began with the “Vin de France” natural wine rebels and spread. If you are creative, experimental and focused on quality then why comply with outdated rules which hold you back and encourage mediocrity, whilst patently not upholding quality?

Finally, Bindi. If there is one “absent” wine producer that I wish I could see imported into my country it would be this one. Michael Dhillon makes some of the very finest wines in Australia from complex but magnificent terroir in Victoria’s Macedon Ranges, within striking distance north of Melbourne. I know a few readers will have tasted these wines, but if you haven’t, I promise you they are up there with the very best that large country has to offer. I visited Michael towards the end of 2019.


It will not be a surprise to anyone that my “Book of the Year” was Jamie Goode’s Regenerative Viticulture. Although he’s allegedly writing an in-depth tome on the subject, something with more detailed science, this is the book I felt was the most important of 2022. It’s an easy-to-read paperback/soft cover of just a little over 160pp, the text brightened up by plenty of colour photos. Jamie is a scientist by training, but a gifted communicator above all. So, if you want to get a handle on this buzz phrase, this is your man.

I said that this year there is a Silver and a Bronze, but in truth I can’t split them. Ed Dallimore’s The Vineyards of Britain may not be comprehensive, but he does visit a lot more vineyards than any author before him (somewhere close to 140 appear in this book). The book is greatly enhanced by some superb photos, most of them taken by Ed himself. I’m really turning more and more to English and Welsh Wine, especially as the momentum is building up in the low intervention/natural wine category. I discovered some important new names here.

I have followed Aaron Ayscough for a long time. He was the first person to introduce me, via his blog, to the natural wine scene in Paris. His long-awaited The World of Natural Wine is a large-format hardback which covers just about every angle you can think of on French natural wine, from viticulture and winemaking, the wine regions (with key producers and recommended wines) and final chapters on how to taste, serve and find natural wine. He only dips his toe outside France, into five other European countries plus Georgia, but it is for his unrivalled knowledge and insights into his adopted France, the country which more than any other popularised natural wine, that you will buy this book.


Wine travel can be far-flung or close to home. I made one visit very close to my then home in the first quarter of the year. I’d been drinking the wines of Breaky Bottom for a very long time. After all, Peter Hall had been farming his vines here on the South Downs since the mid-1970s (although I don’t go back quite that far). I’d never visited, but I had walked several times along the South Downs footpath which passes above and along the side of the vineyard, house and winery. Nestled in a chalk hollow (Bottom), this is for me unquestionably the most beautiful vineyard location in England. The wines are its equal.

As always, the most special visits are insightful. I was invited along with friends of the Halls, Henry Butler and his wife, Cassie. We tasted, we chatted, we walked the vines and we chatted some more. Every bottle of Breaky Bottom I have drunk since has been even more meaningful. That’s what the best vineyard visits do for you. It’s as much soaking in the atmosphere as learning the facts. He may hate me for saying this, but Peter Hall is a truly remarkable man, and I do not say that lightly.

I had been invited to Autentikfest, Moravia’s natural wine festival, before Covid struck, but it took until 2022 for me to be able to go. We were invited by the UK’s Czech wine specialist, Basket Press Wines (although it’s always good to make clear that flights and car hire were paid for by ourselves and we stayed in a room belonging to winemaker Petr Koráb). We visited four producers (there’s an article about each of them, all published in August), prefaced with one about the festival itself. Each and every visit was as good as it could have been and there’s no doubt that Czechia’s natural wines are arriving in style.

The main tent at Autentikfest

After the festival I headed over to Rust for a couple of nights in order to fit in a visit to Gut Oggau. This is a Top-5 producer for me. I mean not just in Austria, anywhere. Their wines are magical, as are their creators, one special couple in what they have achieved. Actually, not only their wines but their restaurant in Oggau as well. This article follows the Moravian batch (published 19 Sept).

I did manage a few other visits in 2022, and there’s never time to mention every one of them.


I think for many, the tasting of the year would be the Real Wine Fair at Tobacco Dock, organised by Les Caves de Pyrene. I think it meant even more to people after the Covid break. It wasn’t my first tasting after the Covid pandemic had eased, but it was the first one where literally everyone was there. I could easily have chatted all day on the trade day and tasted no wines. As it was, there was plenty that was new alongside old liquid acquaintances. Very tiring but it could not be bettered. Especially seeing Doug Wregg and Wink Lorch again after a couple of years.

Basket Press Wines also held a portfolio tasting in March, a chance to try their whole range (much more than just Czech wines). I should also give a shout for the Cork & Cask Winter Wine Fair just gone, in Edinburgh. It was my first tasting since moving up here at the very end of August and it was thoroughly enjoyable and very well organised…but massively popular, making it slightly more difficult to taste “professionally” (think I saw only one other person spitting). Thanks India and team for such a warm welcome.


I wanted to make one special mention of an importer who has really captured my imagination this year. I’m always wary of doing this because I don’t want to upset others, both those who I have managed to buy wine from and those who I would certainly have bought wine from had I been able to afford to. Of course, throughout the year you can see from my monthly “Recent Wines” articles where I’ve been getting my wine from, with direct purchases from people like Newcomer Wines and Basket Press Wines, and indie wine shops extraordinaire, like The Solent Cellar (Lymington) and Butlers in Brighton. They all provide an excellent online service, and a friendly voice at the end of a telephone when required.

That merchant I’ve singled out for special mention is Tutto Wines. I don’t know the folks who run Tutto very well but I know their wines. I guess my favourite person on their list is Alice Bouvot (L’Octavin), along with Julie Balagny, whose Beaujolais has a special place in my heart too. My most recent discovery from Tutto has been Lambert Spielmann, having been nudged in his direction by David Neilson (Back in Alsace). He’s a rising star with a fascinating selection of music-related labels on exciting wines. I keep telling people that Alsace, especially its northern (Bas Rhin) part, is the most exciting wine region in France right now for low-intervention winemaking. There’s an abundance of new talent, but I’ve taken to Lambert’s wines. We have much in common and visiting him is firmly on my radar.

Lambert’s “Red Z’Epfig

Tutto continues to innovate and have a finger on the pulse, even when it’s a faint pulse. Case in point, The Doubs, that part of France where 99% of experts will tell you they don’t make wine. They do, and there are a few worthwhile producers. One is George Comte in Émagny. This is a producer who the fearless explorer will find more than interesting. Tutto has some older vintages too. If you like the Jura old-timers take a peek at something similar. Burgundy prices though.

I have published 49 articles so far this year before this one makes it a round fifty. That’s one more than last year, though not as productive as the 64 articles written in 2020. We shall have to see what 2023 brings. I shall certainly enjoy bringing you my wines of 2022, but that will most likely have to wait until the first article of the New Year.

“I was born with a heart of Lothian” as the song goes. Well, maybe not born in my case, but I am a fast learner.

Have a great Christmas. Hope to see you all in 2023 for my Wines of the Year. To all of those wine friends I am missing, it’s rather wonderful up here, you know!

Posted in Artisan Wines, Natural Wine, Review of the Year, Wine, Wine Agencies, Wine Books, Wine Festivals, Wine Merchants, Wine Science, Wine Tastings, Wine Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Recent Wines November 2022 (Part 2) #theglouthatbindsus

Part 2 of December’s wines (and a cider) drunk at home starts off in Czech Moravia, then we hit closer to home with Hampshire, try a brand-new Sherry (bottled in a flute!), before the run home with Burgundy/Tuscany/Burgundy.

“p.a.n” 2020, Jaroslav Osička (Moravia, Czechia)

Will I ever stop telling you about the time I visited this legend of Czech natural wine this summer? You know, I’ve spent more time in The Jura than any other wine region, but I’ve never met Pierre Overnoy, nor Jean-François Ganevat (though at least in his case I’ve met his sister a couple of times), but at least I’ve met this guy. A couple of hours with him taught me a lot, including the importance of humility.

Now working with his son, Luboš, he still farms the same small domaine at Velké Bílovice with as much thought for the fauna he shares these slopes with as for his vines. The result is wines which clearly have soul as well as substance. He is certainly one of perhaps three Czech producers I feel should be up there on the international stage with all the other greats in the field. Increasing numbers of sommeliers are coming to the same conclusion.

This is a blend of Pinot Noir and André. Developed in Moravia in the 1960s, André is a crossing of Blaufränkisch (aka Lemberger) and Saint-Laurent. The André grapes in this blend come from a site, Panský, only planted in 2014. When the vines are mature there may be a varietal cuvée to look forward to, but currently these grapes are blended with Pinot. On my summer visit I tried the 2021 from barrel (3-4-y-o oak), and this is the previous, but current, vintage in bottle.

Garnet red in colour, it has a lifted cherry bouquet. The palate has the same vibrant cherry fruit, but with a savoury edge to the finish. The acidity is noticeable, but it’s that concentrated fruit acidity which is really nice. I think this is a wine you’d find really interesting. Vibrant. It’s also under £20 a bottle, just £19.50 from Basket Press Wines.

Perfect Strangers “Bojo Hack” 2022, Charlie Herring Wines (Hampshire, England)

Tim Phillips is not only a perfectionist and a wine philosopher, but he’s also an inveterate experimenter, which makes having a relationship with his wines and ciders so exceptionally exciting. His secret plan for 2022’s Beaujolais Nouveau Day was to release a cider from newly pressed apples with the idea that it could be sold inexpensively, by the glass, at the Bojo celebrations.

Tim has made cider before by adding a dash of his own South African Shiraz to the bottle, rather as Tom Shobbrook did in Australia. That is what we came to expect from Perfect Strangers. Next level for Tim was to ferment his apples on his Pinot Noir skins. The crush was on 12 October, immediately after harvesting from the orchard. Pressing was on 29 October, so after just over two weeks spent on the grape skins. Bottling was just in time to be ready on Bojo Noovo day.

The result was raw and fresh, in fact as fresh as you can imagine possible. I can imagine some could find it a bit left field, but you cannot deny it’s a crazy idea that has really worked. I loved it, and in fact I wish I’d got more than one bottle. It shows 7.5% abv, which whilst low for wine is actually higher than many ciders, so that alongside the freshness and rawness of it, there’s no lack of substance. Definitely genius at work.

This bottle came directly from Tim. I know his local indie wine shop, Solent Cellar, had some for their Beaujolais Nouveau night. I suspect it all went, so it’s probably one to jump on next year. They do nevertheless have some of the 2021 Perfect Strangers (SA Shiraz dosed) for £18 at the time of writing.

Manzanilla, Diatomists (Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain)

Only a couple of articles back I wrote a piece about Diatomists, whose wines I tasted for the first time at the Cork & Cask Winter Wine Fair in Edinburgh in November. If you want to read more about this new Sherry bottler, and to get some more details about this particular wine, take a look either for the article in the most viewed list (to the right), or search Diatomists using the search box above it.

Suffice here to say that this is a single vineyard Manzanilla from Miraflores Baja, a site with especially fine albariza soils producing very fine grapes with a characteristic chalky-mineral streak. The colour is pale yellow and the bouquet doubles as both floral and saline. The palate unquestionably has that expected saltiness, but it is also surprisingly fruity for a Manzanilla. This is exactly what they have intended. It’s also fairly smooth as well, something a little different but extremely appetising.

Cork & Cask, Edinburgh, is my source, although I’ve since seen it listed by other independents. The Manzanilla is £12.95 for a lovely 37.5cl flute bottle. The other Sherries in the range (Amontillado, Oloroso, “Medium” and PX), are all £17.95 per half.

Love and Pif, Recrue des Sens/Yann Durieux (Burgundy, France)

Yann Durieux has four generations of winemaking in his blood, and in fact legend has it that he bottled his first vintage age thirteen, but that has not stopped him following a unique path to fame, at least in the natural wine fraternity.

Yann was mentored at the famous Domaine Prieuré-Roch, where he began making the wine in 2008. After a couple of years Yann began to create his own cuvées from vines in the then very much under-appreciated Hautes-Côtes-de-Nuits. Such are the boundaries between appellations on the Côte d’Or that despite this lowly origin for his vines, his neighbour is the famous DRC. The vines sit below the abbey of Saint-Vivant, from which one of the famous appellations bottled by the DRC is of course named.

This is a completely natural wine, aged in vat, and made from Aligoté. I like this grape, and in fact I wrote an article about Aligoté in 2018 which, although perhaps a little dated, remains a popular read even today. So, bearing that in mind, I’d say that this is the finest bottle of Aligoté I have drunk. It is bottled as Vin de France, but a batch code suggests the vintage may be 2015. I know I’ve had it a long time. It reminds me more of Chardonnay than the usual profile of Aligoté with that cliché of searing acids. This is especially noticeable in its smoothness and velvet mouthfeel. It also has a kind of “unpasteurised” freshness to it. The depth and length here are close to profound.

Certainly, the age of the vines (45 years plus) has made its mark, as has prolonged bottle age, and initial skin contact and lees ageing. It’s one of those wines I’d planned to save to open with someone who would really appreciate it. You know how it is, sometimes you are wondering what to open and you just think what the hell…

This was purchased in the natural wine shop, Les Jardins de St-Vincent in Arbois, at some point before the Covid pandemic.

Chianti Classico Riserva “Rancia” 2004, Fèlsina Berardenga (Tuscany, Italy)

Here we have another wine, rather like the Aligoté above, which I opened without guests, wondering whether it would be over the hill. Crazy! This is one of the great Classico estates and Rancia is the single vineyard Riserva. The estate has been in the hands of the Poggiali family since England last won the World Cup, something I can now sadly say with no fear of being wrong.

Made from 100% Sangiovese, so no Merlot to see here folks, the wine is pure essence of the variety at the heart of the Chianti region. The vintage, certainly in the village of Castelnuovo Berardenga, was an exceptionally good one, but I had heard mixed reports of ’04 Rancia. Some of my Tuscan-mad friends, who are very picky indeed, had mentioned bottles either out of condition or over the hill.

This was nothing short of magnificent. Vines for Rancia are at 400 masl on limestone-derived alberese soils, more than 50 million years old, with galestro marls. They produce grapes which see a twenty-day maceration with punchdowns. Ageing is in new French oak for 18 months, followed by eight months further in bottle before release. The result has a classic brick red rim with a darker core, some cherry fruit but an abundance of tobacco and spice. There’s still a tiny bit of tannin, which coats the tongue with the fruit riding on top. The palate is complex and savoury, but that fruit has a sweetness which comes through.

Where from? I’m not sure. The Sampler, possibly, but it has been cellared by me since release.

Beaune 1er Cru “Cent Vignes” 2005, Albert Morot (Burgundy, France)

I’ve always had a soft spot for a raft of Premier Cru vineyards from Beaune. Of course, they often lack the structure, might, complexity and seriousness of the red wines from the Côte-de-Nuits, but the best, with age, from a good vintage, can have a silky-smooth texture which envelopes the fruit. If they lack structure, they can nevertheless often have a lovely sensuous quality to them.

Albert Morot is a leading name on the Côte de Beaune, but aficionados would not place the firm in the top rank. The 8-ha they farm is all in Premier Cru sites (so whilst they have no Grands Crus, nor do they grow vines in the village AOPs). Cent” Vignes” (spelt singular by Morot, but plural for the official AOC, and by author Jasper Morris) is an easy to remember vineyard name, yet it is not considered a producer of the finest wines, with Morris saying that it can suffer in drought years (which 2005 was), and that its light and sandy limestone can produce wines which “lack punch” and can “lack energy if the fruit gets overripe” (Inside Burgundy, BB&R Press, 1st edn 2010).

I’ve seen some tasting notes in this wine’s early years calling it forward, so things didn’t bode well. Yet it was far better than I expected. It’s certainly still going strong, even having travelled by lorry to Scotland a dozen weeks previously. There’s no tannin to speak of but the wine still has definition. What it also has is gentle, Beaune-like, plump cherry fruit on a smooth and silky palate. No old-fashioned farmyard or chicken shit thing going on, just the slightly faded cherry, which went down very nicely indeed.

This bottle came from Majestic Wine, bought on release. No idea how much it cost.

On a final note, we also drank another bottle of Breaky Bottom Cuvée David Pearson 2015. I don’t plan to say much as I’ve written about this wine before, but boy is it drinking well and I really am starting to be very content that my BB stash is well stocked.

Posted in Artisan Wines, Cider, English Cider, Natural Wine, Wine, Wine Agencies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recent Wines November 2022 (Part 1) #theglouthatbindsus

How the year flies by! That’s rather a cliché, but this year does seem to have passed very quickly for us with our move to Scotland taking up rather a lot of the time. But I do look forward to this time of year, not only because it will be Christmas soon, but because it’s a time when I can begin to reflect on the past year’s drinking, reading and other wine-related activities. In the coming weeks I shall write about my wines of the year, always in my case the most interesting wines I’ve drunk, not the poshest or most expensive. It’s also pleasurable to reflect on what you readers have found most interesting on this site over the past twelve months (my chance to delve into the stats).

First, however, we have a few wines from November to write about. It’s a short drinking month in some ways, but with twelve wines selected I shall still divide it into two parts, six bottles in each. It makes it far easier for you to skim through. Part 1 covers the first half of the month with wines from The Jura, Burgundy, Mosel, Bugey, Burgenland and England. The last of these is a very old friend which I may well have mentioned in other articles but haven’t managed to drink for a year or two.

Corvée de Trou-Trou 2018, Domaine L’Octavin (Jura, France)

This cuvée was many years ago now my first taste of a wine from Alice Bouvot and formed the start of a genuine passion for her wines. We were staying in Arbois, in the tiny little house we used to rent there (sadly now sold…we were given an option to buy it and only Brexit put us off). We were cooking a meal for friends visiting from Geneva and I remember it was the time of the Fête de la Biou, when an enormous bunch of grapes is hung in the church to celebrate the harvest. Hirsinger, Arbois’ famous pâtissier, makes an enormous “tarte de la biou” and we bought one (more than 40€ for a dessert is a lot, but this was worth it). Not sure what we ate otherwise, but this wine from L’Octavin is what we drank.

Although a Vin de France, as are all of Alice’s wines, you can guess that this is a Trousseau, originating in her plot of 40-y-o vines in the Arbois lieu-dit of Les Corvées, one of the town’s best-known sites which sits on the slope between the main N83 north and the D107 route to Montigny-les-Arsures. This is, of course, a natural wine, or as Alice puts it on the back label, a wine made from “pur jus de raisin”. Brick red with darker cherry glints in the sunlight, the bouquet is high-toned cherry essence and the palate adds in some plum. There’s certainly a touch of volatility but when the nutmeg and cloves kick in you soon forget about all that. Challenging but, dare I say, magnificent too. Two months on skins, bottled in spring 2019.

Domaine L’Octavin is imported by Tutto Wines in the UK. The current vintage is 2020.

Saint-Aubin 1er Cru « En Remilly » 2011, Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey (Burgundy, France)

Before we discovered Arbois we used to stay in Burgundy every year, though this really is going back into the mists of time. Initially we stayed in a very basic chambre d’hôte at La Rochepôt and Saint-Aubin was just a walk or a short drive over the hill. Its wines fascinated me, but back in the 1980s the village wasn’t really considered in the slightest bit posh. This was, after all, a good seventeen years before “PYCM” became a well-known secret to Burgundy lovers. Now his bottles can command very fancy prices.

Pierre-Yves, the son of Marc Colin, set up a negoce operation with his wife, Caroline Morey in the mid-1990s, and by 2005 he finally broke from his family domaine and set up on his own. Six hectares grew to fifteen, with vines in Chassagne, Meursault and Saint-Aubin. Although based in Chassagne, it is their St-Aubin wines I know best.

This 2011 Premier Cru tastes fresher than I could possibly have imagined. It was made with careful fruit selection, grapes being picked if anything on the early side (we have a very satisfying 12.8% abv here). New oak is around 25% for this particular wine and Pierre-Yves tends to favour a larger barrel than many (350-litres being his norm). This leads to less overt oak, especially over time.

This bottle smells as fresh as it tastes, and one isn’t surprised by the green-gold colour suggestive of a much younger wine. There is not one hint of premox here. There is still a buttery note, although the oak is very well integrated. This buttery texture sees a lovely counterpoint in soaring jasmine aromas. The palate is almost unctuously smooth, as fine Chardonnay can be with the weight of wood behind it, but there’s enough lemon-fresh acidity to balance it. Very long, very fine.

This came from Uncorked near London’s Liverpool Street, in the days when you could walk into the shop and grab a bottle of PYCM. I’ve seen later vintages at eye-watering prices, but I can see why. This may be the oldest I’ve had from Pierre-Yves, cellared since release, and it was everything White Burgundy so rarely is at 1er Cru level. And from Saint-Aubin!

“Mad Dog Warwick” 2019, Madame Flöck (Mosel, Germany)

I last drank a bottle of this vintage of Rob and Derek’s “Mad Dog Warwick” (named after the mate who brought this winemaking partnership together) back in December last year. It’s mighty hard to track down, coming from just a couple of terraces above Winningen, but I wanted to see whether this could age a bit, and the answer, as the guys might have said when they were originally working together in Australia’s Barossa, “obvo”.

The key to this wine, as with many made by young winemakers buying vines on steep slopes few people want to farm (Rudolf Trossen once told me you couldn’t give them away at one time), is that the vines are often old. In this case certainly over 40-years. In addition, these vines are in a side valley, once neglected, but windy enough to keep them disease free, and also botrytis free. Climate change means it’s a touch warmer than when this land first became marginal. This is all very much assisted by very particular canopy management to ensure the retention of acidity.

“Warwick” is a lovely dry Riesling, and in fact it is almost more like a Clare Valley version, albeit with German terroir. Grapefruit with quince and a hint of lime, 12% abv. This was from Butlers Wine Cellar (Brighton) from where I’ve sourced all my Madame Flöck, but quantities are small and this is currently out of stock. Well worth keeping your eyes open for the next vintage.

Bugey-Cerdon 2019, Renardat-Fàche (Bugey, France)

I was introduced to Bugey some decades ago by friends nearby. Back then, the wines were generally not much to shout about, but there were some interesting oddities, one being the ancestral method light sparkling wine, Bugey-Cerdon. In the intervening period Bugey has become home to some gifted young winemakers, many with a preference for very low intervention viticulture and winemaking,

I have long asserted that Bugey’s time will come, but more in hope than expectation. Despite a healthy fifty pages being devoted to Bugey in Wink Lorch’s seminal “Wines of the French Alps”, one has to admit that the region is neither large enough, nor are there enough wine producers, for it to take off in the way that the nearby Jura has.

Alain Renardat-Fàche established this 12.5-ha domaine at Mérignat by turning his own father’s mixed farm (with Gamay-based sparkling wine) into a fully-fledged wine estate following wine studies in Beaune. It is now run by his daughter Christelle and his son, Elie. It is he who makes the wine whilst his sister deals with marketing, pretty successfully judging by the dozen or more export markets where you can find their wines.

There is a negoce Cérdon (grey label) and this black-labelled estate bottling. The former is 100% Gamay, but the family are keen to include the traditional Poulsard in their estate cuvée, a variety which has almost died out in Bugey, but of which they still have around three hectares themselves. The usual 30% Poulsard was increased to over 40% in the 2019.

As I said, this is a méthode ancestrale wine, bottle-fermented but by using refrigeration technology first developed in the Diois, a lightly sparkling wine could be made with an arrested fermentation, leaving between 50-60g/l of residual sugar in the wine. The result is a light and frothy pale pink wine with the sweetness disguised by deliciously brisk but restrained fruit acids. Yes, I know this is yet another 2019 I’ve written about before (April this year), but this is a very high-quality version of a unique gem, and now available in the UK via Raeburn Fine Wine. My bottles came, of course, from The Solent Cellar (Lymington). It’s still up on their web site so presumably they have at least one. If you haven’t bought it by Christmas, it’s mine.

“Superglitzer” 2018. Renner und Rennersistas (Burgenland, Austria)

You know, I think Superglitzer might just be the best name for an individual cuvée I’ve seen in many years, and its label is just perfect. No matter that when I first saw it, I thought it would be a white, possibly sparkling, wine. It’s made by my favourite people in Gols (which is saying something as it’s probably the village with the highest concentration of natural wine mega-stars on the shores of the Neusiedlersee).

We have here a blend of the three super red varieties of the region, Blaufränkisch, Saint-Laurent and Zweigelt, allegedly with a splash of Roesler, a complex 1970s crossing of Zweigelt with, if you really need to know, Klosterneuburg 1189-9-77 (= Seyve Villard 18-402 x Blaufränkisch). More useful is to visualise it as a ruby red with a darker, purple, core. The scent of red fruits is joined by spice on the nose, with the palate still showing brisk acidity. We drank this with a spiced North African dish and it wasn’t too fruit-driven for the spice level. The zesty freshness complemented the mild spice, and 12% abv is just spot on.

As I think I said on IG at the time I drank this, it’s hard to think of another producer whose wines put quite as big a smile on my face (Bouvot, Oggau, Spielmann?). The massive fun factor perhaps reflects the personalities of its makers.

This bottle came from Littlewine back when they had their online shop, but Newcomer Wines is the importer for the UK, from whom you can buy direct.

Cuvée Noir Brut NV, Bolney Estate (Sussex, UK)

As English Sparkling Wine goes, this must be one of the more unusual. Bolney is an interesting wine estate sited not far from the A23, around fifteen minutes by car north of Brighton, so when I lived down that way it was one of my most local producers. They make good quality white and pink sparkling wines and a range of still wines at various price points, and I believe they also do some contract winemaking. It’s effectively a quality producer who, for some reason, can fly a little under the radar, at least in the circles I move in. Then again, I’m pretty sure they’ve no idea who I am either. The heritage is certainly there. Current owner Sam Lintner’s parents planted vines here fifty years ago.

Cuvée Noir is perhaps not what you’d expect, though. First, this traditional method sparkling wine is red. It’s made from the Dornfelder variety, more commonly used in parts of Germany for everyday still wines. They don’t really shout about this on their web site, but they shouldn’t be shy. I think there are many people like me, like “us” in fact, who might seek this out if we knew about it.

The concentration of red and dark fruits is amazing, very aromatic with cherries and deeper blueberry aromas. The palate is made creamy by the purple mousse, with, like the Renner wine above, a mix of concentrated fruit with a spicy twist of black pepper. You drink it chilled, but frankly it’s versatile, good for summer picnics or bbq, or with a cheese platter on a November evening. It’s a good deal lighter than say an Australian Sparkling Shiraz. It reminds me more of the old fashioned “sparkling red burgundy” I occasionally drank in the first flush of my twenties, but that might be before most people’s time, and as a bottle-fermented wine, this is way better quality.

Cuvée Noir is great fun and I reckon a lot of readers would find it really interesting as well. Now where did I buy it? I wish I could remember. Certainly you can buy from Bolney Estate direct.

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Diatomists at Cork & Cask Winter Fair – A New Name in Sherry

Diatomists is a completely new name in Sherry to me. I think I remember spotting some Sherry in unusually-shaped half bottle flutes on the shelf behind the counter in the Cork & Cask shop in Edinburgh, but Cork & Cask’s Winter Wine Fair was the first time I’d tasted them. Immediately on walking into the Fair, there on my right at Table 1 was Antonio Morenés Bertrán, Diatomists Sales Director and Founder, who by coincidence I had bumped into just that morning.

The name is unusual. What is a Diatomist, indeed what is a diatom? Diatoms are single cell algae that form complex patterns when they fossilize, and a diatomist is one who “masters the art of diatom arrangement”. Diatoms are the reason why the soils of wider Jerez are unique. They lock in sparse moisture providing essential water reserves for those very hot summers.

Jerez and the wider Sherry-producing regions have long focused on the Bodegas which make the wine. Labels like Equipo Navazos began to highlight the best vineyard sites in their exceptional fine Sherries, and a new wave of producer has followed in their footsteps, placing the vineyard and viticulture at the forefront. This has often gone hand-in-hand with producing a more modern style of Sherry. This style emphasises the individual terroirs of the region, and especially “fruit”, something that may previously have gone unremarked about the versatile Palomino grape variety.

Diatomists set out to emphasise the floral and fruit elements in all their styles. Wines are aged in barrel but created to preserve freshness. The emphasis on the terroir means that all the wines here are from a single vineyard (Pago). This, for all bottlings apart from the Pedro Ximénez (PX), is the Miraflores vineyard at Sanlúcar. The PX is, of course, from Montilla.

Manzanilla de Sanlúcar

From Miraflores Baja, this lower part of the pago is at around 50 masl or below. The grapes are 100% Palomino Fino, sourced from growers selected for the quality of their fruit. The solera, consisting 500-litre Spanish Chestnut barrels, is 30 years old and this individual wine has an average age of five years. The standard abv for Manzanilla, 15%, is present. This is conventionally farmed fruit, and the wine underwent a light filtration.

I bought a bottle at the shop after the Fair and drank it a couple of nights later. It is indeed a fruit-driven Manzanilla, smooth and perhaps less acidic than most, but it’s lack of austerity doesn’t mean it lacks the salinity we associate with the style. Being biologically aged (under flor) it has that salty tang and I’d identify it as Manzanilla for sure. It proved to be an excellent food wine, and a few centimetres left for the next day enhanced a paella no end. This retails for just £12.95 for 37.5cl, the rest of the range retailing for £17.95/half bottle. It may be the cheaper option but don’t let that put you off, because it’s very good and a little bit different. I think you’ll be intrigued by its sheer fruitiness.


This comes from what Antonio called his Singular Bota range. I can spare the marketing description because the wine speaks for itself. This is from a solera of over 100 years of age, and this wine is over 12 years old. It is fortified to 18% abv.

You do not get many dry Amontillado wines that are as obviously fruity as this. It’s a style I used to skip but this was one of my favourites of the five Diatomists wines I tasted. Dried apricots and toast, their notes say. I can’t disagree. Naturally with an Amontillado there’s a certain nuttiness as well, along with a nice lick of salinity. Freshness and depth combined.


This oloroso is also aged for 12 years, from a similarly old solera. This time the abv reaches 19%. Maybe I’m used to the enormous concentration of the Equipo Navazos Sherries, but this was quite easy to drink. I’m not saying it lacks concentration, just that the smoothness and fresh fruitiness are to the fore. It makes a nice contrast. It shows more citrus character than the Amontillado, but the depth comes from the silky texture on the tongue. The finish is more characteristically oloroso, with hazelnuts and vanilla pod coming through, plus a touch of caramel, but dry. Great length.


Here we have a style which many confirmed Sherry lovers might be unsure about on paper, but in this case, it works quite magnificently. It’s another wine with 19% abv and with 80 g/l of residual sugar, aged for 19 years. This time I’m getting walnuts, and a Proustian memory of my wife’s homemade Seville Orange marmalade (it’s almost that time of year too). That marmalade flavour on the palate is a mix of sweet (on the attack) and slightly bitter (on the finish). I was really won over. The big positive is that it isn’t too sweet and it’s not at all cloying. In fact, the balance is what makes it attractive to someone who probably hasn’t sipped a “Medium Sherry” since I was in my late teens (and that purely because it was alcohol). Now dare I buy one?

Pedro Ximénez

If the “Medium” does fall down my list it would only be because I will find it hard not to grab a PX, preferably before Christmas. Taken from a solera over 200 years old over in Montilla Moriles, this sweet PX has been aged for five years. Alcohol here is a natural 15% and there are 420 grams of residual sugar per litre. Again, I don’t normally buy PX. I find it goes pretty well on ice cream, but I can’t really afford £17.95 for a half bottle of sauce, and the amount one can often drink is limited to a thimble-full. This one is somehow different.

It has that concentrated raisin and fig nose and palate. It’s certainly very concentrated yet not cloying, which I usually find with PX. There are two reasons, I think. First, it’s not one of those full-on, pow in the nostrils, PXs. There’s a subtlety here. Secondly, there is acidity. How many times does a PX seem to be devoid of any acids whatsoever? I’d love to see a tech sheet and compare the acidity to others. The finish is lovely because the sweet raisins give way to spices, definitely nutmeg, possibly ginger, which was a pleasant surprise when fig and raisin are all you often expect to find.

These are Sherries well worth trying. I shall be looking to get another Manzanilla, and an Amontillado, plus a PX if I can stretch the budget without having to give up that Vin Santo I promised myself as another Christmas treat to go with the hidden Panforte stash. I was very impressed, and it’s great to see a new name in Artisan Sherry appearing on the shelves of independent retailers.

All styles are currently available at Cork & Cask, Edinburgh.

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Cork & Cask Winter Wine Fair (Part 2)

Part 2 of the Cork & Cask Wine Fair notes follows on from where we left off in Part 1. It is back there that you will find my introduction if you haven’t already read it. You’ll find some nice bottles from Modal Wines and Wines Under the Bonnet if you take a look.

I promised a look at the fine Sherries from Diatomists. This will follow, but it will take at least a week to publish if anyone is waiting for that.


Theodora 2021, Gut Oggau (Burgenland, Austria)

I suppose regular readers would expect me to re-iterate my enormous enthusiasm and passion for Gut Oggau, especially if you happen to have read my article about my visit to the estate in August this year. I had an exceptional tasting over dinner back then, but among the many wines tasted I didn’t get to try the new vintage (2021) of Theodora. The last time I drank this Grüner Veltliner and Welschriesling blend from the Western shores of the Neusiedlersee was the 2020 vintage, back in April. With just a couple of hours on skins you get a vibrant white with flavours of melon and spice. This latest vintage is sensationally good. The only downside is that even as one of the less expensive Gut Oggau cuvées, it will still cost around £40. It’s certainly worth the money for me, but a tough ask for many impoverished Brits. All I can say is please try to taste it.

Cahors “Le Combal” 2017, Cosse Maisonneuve (Cahors, France)

Matthieu Cosse and Catherine Maisonneuve have been farming around Prayssac, within the Cahors AOC, since 1999, specialising in the Cot variety (aka Malbec) for which the appellation is famous. “Le Combal” comes from the chalky gravels of the Lot Valley’s river-terraces, fermentation in stainless steel, subsequent ageing for a year in used barrels. It’s a fruit-forward wine but with some complexity. A wine to drink on the lovely fruit that is still there after its extra time in bottle, but yet a wine which will certainly age further. It’s too long since I’ve bought this producer’s wines, which is why I recommend this. For £24 you get something with a touch of seriousness, yet that lovely natural wine zip as well. And a more savoury side to Malbec is most welcome.


Graue Freiheit 2020, Heinrich (Burgenland, Austria)

Heinrich is one of many excellent natural wine producers in Gols, on the northern shore of the Neusiedlersee. There’s definitely something in the water here, when you run through the names in the village (and nearby) who uphold a non-interventionist approach in the vines and cellar. Gernot and Heike Heinrich have been doing their own thing since 1985, long before some of the new stars appeared (or in some cases were even born). They converted to biodynamics in 2006 and helped found “Respekt”, the Austrian certifying body.

Bottled in a terracotta flask, this is a very interesting, unique style, blend of Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Neuburger, and Chardonnay. The soils are crystal-laden schist and calcerous clay, with fermentation on skins in amphora. Ageing is for 17 months in large old oak. No sulphur is added. Unfiltered, shake before serving, and see what you taste. It’s a complex whirl, for sure. Around £40/bottle. Well, I have some…

Cathedral Pinot Noir, William Downie (Victoria, Australia)

Downie makes this Pinot by blending fruit from the Mornington Peninsula (70%) with 30% grapes from the more inland (but cool-ish climate with cold night temperatures) King Valley. All the fruit is destemmed and goes into a mix of stainless steel and wooden open-top fermenters. Ageing is for a relatively short two-months in stainless steel. The fruit is all red berry with a spicy twist. Acids are fresh and I think it speaks of the Mornington’s maritime climate. There’s even a touch of sea salt (well, salinity, minerality, whatever you wish to call it). It certainly has that definition which you get from coastal fruit in Victoria. Very nice, though it costs around £30. Aussie wine prices are not all bargain basement as you find in the bulk imports. This isn’t natural wine, but it is finely crafted artisan wine.

Rioja Reserva 2014, Remelluri (Rioja, Spain)

Indigo has always been “the” great Spanish specialist for me. I know there are others, but Indigo has a finger on the pulse. Much of their Spanish range is incredibly forward looking, and in terms of their own list, Remelluri seems slightly conservative, despite being one of the great forward thinking, experimental producers in the Rioja region.

The estate’s flagship wine is the Reserva. The vinification is not really out of the ordinary, but the grapes (mostly Tempranillo with small additions of Garnacha, Viura and Malvasia, grown between 500-to-700 masl) are immaculate (farmed organically). It sees 17 months ageing in oak and then three years in bottle before release. This means the oak influence is there but not dominant. It will, of course, enjoy further bottle age if you allow it. I must add that I’m a massive fan of their Blanco as well. This red Reserva will cost around £30, which does again show great value for a serious wine.


This table represented a trio of artisan/natural cider makers but was staffed by Robbie Fleming, who makes cider over the water from me, in Fife, and whose products I’m yet to try (sadly not being shown). My first desire was to try a couple by Little Pomona, which was launched in 2017 by Susanna and James Forbes towards the start of what I see as the British craft cider revival. Their original Thornbury farm in classic Herefordshire cider country has 120 trees split between four varieties of apple. They have since moved their operation to Brook House Farm, just south of Bromyard (in time for the 2019 harvest), where they have opened a tasting room.

Bright Lights is new from 2021, mostly made from Bramleys, but there’s a secret added ingredient, a little locally grown pear. It is exactly as the label says, a cider with very bright acids, a real palate cleanser, with a great deal of purity. The Bramley “cattle prod” (they say) acidity was toned down by adding a touch of 2020 Dabinett and Michelin from barrel, followed by bottle conditioning (as they call it in the cider world) to add a little sparkle. Exceptional. £15.

At least as good was Hard Rain Hot Pink, made from Kingston Black apples, but by a unique and almost lost method. The second pressing is used, in other words a pressing of the pomace. The result used to be known as Ciderkin. This version adds in Chinook hops from the field next door, owned by Brook House Hops. The result is then bottle conditioned with local organic blackcurrant cordial. You get a 4.5% drink which is the perfect summer refresher. The hops bring grapefruit notes, the apples, acidity, and the cordial adds a riot of dark fruit. £10 makes it what some might call a no-brainer.

“In Touch” is a “keeved” cider made by Pilton Cider at Shepton Mallet in the heart of England’s other famous cider county, Somerset. Keeving is an artisanal way to make sweet, or semi-sweet, cider with just apples. The method prevents all the sugar being converted into alcohol. The fermented keeved cider here, made from Egremont Russet apples, is soaked with the skins of Regent red grapes. The result is a low-alcohol cider (4.5%) with light apple flavours and a definite hint of wine (Tim Phillips does a similar trick in Hampshire with his version of “A Fermament” macerated on his Pinot Noir skins). Off-dry, smooth, quite lovely in fact. £9.95.

I always have so many wines I want to buy at Cork & Cask that I rather neglect the ciders. I must put that right. I am, as you know, a great lover of petnats, and these ciders are pretty much interchangeable for social slurping.


Bergkloster Riesling 2020 (Rheinhessen, Germany)

This is made from mostly direct press fruit with a little time on skins. The bottle I tasted was slightly reductive, and a taster next to me wasn’t impressed (“farmyard”, she said). I don’t mind reduction, it usually blows away. The grapefruit-like fruit here was plumpish in a wine of 12% abv, and once the nose cleared of slightly off odours it had a quite exotic bouquet of kiwi and peach. £19. Don’t be put off.

Kovidinka, Oszkàr Maurer (Serbia)

If you haven’t yet tried Serbian wine, Maurer is a name to look out for. The first offering is his delicious orange wine. It comes from vines approaching a hundred years old near the Croatian border, on mostly loess and limestone. Kovidinka is the autochthonous grape variety. All methods are natural in terms of inputs, and these old bush vines are also cultivated by horse. Skin contact lasts for six days, with eight months in large format oak for ageing. Zero sulphur is added.

The bouquet hints of apricot, peach and lemon, the colour being very peach-like. The palate reflects stone fruit, citrus and oranges, with a textured finish and a herbal twist. £19.

Crazy Lud 2021, Oszkàr Maurer (Serbia)

The second wine from Maurer is another old vine blend, this time of Blaufränkisch, Kadarka, Cabernet Sauvignon and Prokupac, here off mostly volcanic soils in the Szerèmsèg Region. Once again, old bush vines produce very low yields and the grapes undergo a seven-day cold soak to leech out colour before fermentation in 350-litre old Hungarian oak casks. All varieties are fermented separately and blended at the end. There is no fining/filtration but a little sulphur is added here at bottling. The result, from a cool vintage, is a refreshing fruity red with zippy acids. Possibly not quite as “different” as the orange wine, but still very good. Around £20.

Zweigelt, Martin Obenaus (Weinviertel, Austria)

Back into Austria now, and the region, in the northeast of Lower Austria, which stretches from close to Vienna as far as the Czech border with Moravia. Weinviertel is still quite underrated as a region, but the profile of top producers like Ebner-Ebenauer (Falstaff Magazine Winemaker of the Year 2022) is changing this. Here we have a fairly simple red made from a variety which is also underrated, but when vinified concentrating on the fruit can produce some of the best glugging wine in Austria. Bright cherry fruit combines with fruit acidity to give us a 10.5% abv light red for easy drinking. Simple yet super-tasty. Around £18.

Strekov 1075 “Fred” #9 (Strekov, Slovakia)

Strekov 1075 is the label of one of Central Europe’s great characters, fellow drummer Zsolt Sütö. The region itself is Strekov, with vineyards at around 150 masl on clay and loam soils over a bedrock of limestone and marine sediments. I’ve often seen people say this is a Blauer Portugieser wine, but there is actually more Alibernet (a Cabernet Sauvignon x Alicante Bouschet cross) at a ratio of 30% to 50%. The remaining 20% is the local Dunaj variety.

Half the Portugieser was foot-trodden, but all the rest was destemmed, and fermented in open top vats. Then, the Portugieser (fermented separately) went into 300 and 500-litre Zemplén oak whilst the rest was aged in 2,500-litre Austrian oak. After six months the wine was bottled without fining and filtration, and without any added sulphur. Zsolt uses a number to denote vintage and I think (??) #9 is from 2020. It has ripe cherry fruit and an earthy touch. Personally, I think this wine is brilliant, love it. For me, one of the best two producers on Roland’s list. £25.

Rét 2021, Alex & Maria Koppitsch (Burgenland, Austria)

This is my other favourite producer on Roland’s list, one I go back a little way with, even before they had their first British importer (they since changed to Roland Wines and it’s fair to say they now have a wider retail distribution). This is a lovely family operation making natural wine in the town of Neusiedl-am-See (accessible on the train from Vienna and the local station has a cycle hire shop right next to it. You can easily get to Gols and beyond if your legs are good and the wind off the Pannonian Plain isn’t too strong).

Rét is the entry level red wine, the name expressing the region’s Hungarian heritage. It’s a blend of 80% Zweigelt and 20% St Laurent off gravel, farmed biodynamically. The vines have a very reasonable age of thirty years. It sees eight days on skins, the varieties being fermented apart, and then six months on lees, varietal blending occurring at bottling. No sulphur is added. I drank one recently and to describe it perfectly I must borrow a great term from one of our best tasters, Jamie Goode: “smashable”. Especially at £23.

Kadarka, Bott Frigyes (Garam Valley, Slovakia)

Frigyes was possibly the first name in Slovakian wine I came across. This is another biodynamic producer making wines in relatively small batches off complex volcanic soils with Andesite, Chalk and clay on rolling countryside at around 250 masl. The Kadarka is harvested last of the varieties and half was fermented on skins and half destemmed. Each part was fermented separately before being blended together into 500-litre oak for nine months.

Red fruits (raspberry, strawberry) dominate, along with something a touch darker. The palate has a more complex nuttiness, with tobacco and a little cherry fruit. The colour is magnificent, the bouquet deeply fruity and the palate really interesting, not simple. Around the £26 mark.


Here we have a few wines presented by the Cork & Cask team because the importers couldn’t be present. It was a good mix, but I want to highlight four wines, the first of which was very possibly my WOTD.

Vulkàn Nr 2, Meinklang (Austria, Hungary)

I’m not sure how this works, but you probably know that Meinklang is based in Austria’s Burgenland, at Pamhagen, but have some parcels on the Somlό Massif, an ancient volcanic plug in Central Hungary. The grapes here are from Somlό. Nevertheless, this is bottled as an Austrian Table Wine. It’s the second release of this “still wine” version of Vulkàn (there’s a fizzy “Foam”), Nr2 being from, presumably, 2021. The two varieties here are Hárslevelű and Juhfark. A zippy but soulful wine with a touch of CO2 and a whole backbone of tense minerality. Refreshing, yet savoury more than fruity. Definitely my kind of wine (I bought one because Meinklang’s UK agent Stone Vine & Son don’t usually import this, but Cork & Cask went out there, fell in love, and got a few cases added to their pallet). Be swift! c £27.

Rosso di Montalcino 2020, Casanova di Neri (Tuscany, Italy)

Affording decent Brunello these days is almost impossible, but a good “Rosso” can be a perfectly acceptable alternative, and may even be more to our liking, with less (if any) new oak. This Sangiovese has had only 12 months ageing and I think benefits from it because it keeps the freshness I so like in the variety. The nose has great typicity and you can identify the grape, a pleasant experience for me because I drink far less Tuscan wine than I used to. Classy, and probably ought to see a bit more bottle age. £32.

Beerenauslese “Terrassen” 2020, Domäne Wachau (Wachau, Austria) (37.5cl)

I saw a very interesting article recently, asking (inter alia) whether Austria’s most famous wine region is falling behind, stuck in a conservative past and, rather like Bordeaux, is resting on that fame and the prices its top wines still command with the older generation. This Domäne (sic) has, to some extent, moved with the times more than a number of the bigger private estates, despite its very long history (est 1774). I should add that the terraces from which this wine comes are some of, for me, the most attractive vineyards in the world. The region also boasts one of the best cycle routes through vineyards in Europe.

This wine is quite traditional, a sweet, botrytis, Riesling with Pinot Blanc, Grüner Veltliner and Muskateller added, grapes harvested in November, with just 9.5% alcohol and sold in half-bottle. Farming is organic and the wine is certified vegan. Honey, lemon and good acidity, not at all cloying, qualities which make Austrian Beerenauslese good to drink from the off. There’s an open quality to the harmonious fruit and acidity. You’ll get complexity if you cellar it, but ageing will not follow the same profile as a Mosel Beerenauslese, which usually starts with way higher acids and needs age to balance that. Mind you, the producer says drink after 6-8 years. Whatever you do, you get a good deal, a proper dessert wine, for a touch over £20 for 37.5cl. It’s expensive to make.

Rivesaltes Grenat 2018, Immortelle (Roussillon, France) (50cl)

Rivesaltes Grenat is an appellation for Vin Doux Naturel made from the region’s old bush vines. Fermentation starts in a 500-litre open-top barrel. Fortification takes place after five days, arresting the fermentation, leaving plenty of sugar in the resulting wine. The combination of the sweet, ripe, fruit that has not fully fermented and the bite of the fortifying spirit makes this a unique sweet red, with 18% alcohol.

After 12 months ageing you get concentrated red fruits with cherry and clove. The received wisdom is that these are the perfect wines to accompany chocolate desserts, and this is true, but they also go extremely well on their own. As a smooth and sweet after dinner drink, it replaces a liqueur pretty well, and it will indeed last forever. There used to be a fair bit of VdN knocking around from 90-100 years ago at one time.

*NB Some retailer sites will tell you this is made from Grenache, as “Grenat” would suggest. However, the Immortelle web site confirms this as 100% Mourvèdre. £24 or thereabouts.

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