amarchinthevines

Learning about wine, vines and vignerons whilst living in the Languedoc


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10 things I think I think

As a fan of the writing of NFL journalist Peter King I have ‘borrowed’ the idea for this post from his FMIA articles.

1. An update from Jeff. Mildew hit badly in late May early June and Jeff sent countless hours treating the vines with his organic prophylactics and treatments. As was the case in 2018 it was the Carignan of Rec D’Oulette (Flambadou) and the Grenache of Ste. Suzanne which was most affected. This suggests the spores are well embedded in the soils there perhaps and Jeff must take extra care when working in these vineyards. Fortunately he reported to me last week that he seems to have mastered the outbreak and rescued the crop. Good news.

Photo from Jeff showing mildew on a leaf

2. I have read a few books about wine recently, here’s a couple of recommendations. ‘Vignette’ by Jane Lopes is one of the more interesting books. It made me feel uncomfortable at times as it is very honest and open about her own personal life but this was combined with recommendations, pictures and information about wines which were presented in a fascinating way. Max Allen’s ‘The Future Makers’ is not new at all but I found it a very useful guide to how Australian wines are shifting in light of climate change and the organic/biodynamic culture.

3. I am conflicted about the role of sommeliers, their influence seems to be ever growing in the wine world. I know some and they are passionate about their work. I recall one or two who improved restaurant experiences for me, a New Zealander at The Ledbury for example, but I have met some poor ones too. Sommeliers such as Pascaline Lepeltier are extremely knowledgeable and their writings teach me a lot. However, I have read some amazingly entitled social media posts from certain sommeliers (and writers to be fair) recently, for example demanding samples be sent in half bottles at extra cost to the producer.

4. Lots of wines tasted during this period, I have assembled a montage of photos of some but it is certainly not exhaustive. Producers such as Testalonga, Valle Unite in Barbaresco and Jeff have been regular sources of good wines. The Muster wines are always a pleasure.

I am very happy to report that English wine goes from strength to strength with Westwell and Davenport both reliable and exciting.

5. As we emerge from lockdown I hope that customers continue to support the local independent merchants who have gone out of their way to provide a service during these extraordinary months. Caves De Pyrene, Buonvino, Vintage Roots are three whose services I shall continue to use. Please give them your custom. One more I need to mention is Leon Stolarski. Leon is a friend (full disclosure) and it is no coincidence that he has Jeff’s wines in the UK. Leon has a very good range of wines and his service is second to none. New in are the Coutelou 2018s Couleurs Réunies, La Vigne Haute and L’Oublié. All recommended of course.

The two on the right came from Leon

6. Sherry continues to provide me with great drinking pleasure and value for money. The Gonzalez Byass Una Palma was a lovely rich fino with more depth than many other of that type. I tasted the full range of Palmas wines (special barrels) a few years ago and loved them but they are expensive and hard to get hold of. I especially enjoyed the Cesar Florido Fino En Rama. En rama sherries are very lightly filtered, if at all, and in my view, this leaves more flavour in the wine. It was delicious.

7. Hybrid grapes are being discussed more and more. The effects of climate change are bringing more examples of disease and heat stress and winemakers are exploring grape varieties which are bred and engineered to resist these problems. Many have proved to be pretty undrinkable with odd flavours, I have tasted a few myself. However, there are signs of promise with other hybrids. One to watch. These articles might offer you more insight than I can provide at present, by Simon Woolf and Shelby Vittek.

8. Good to see Jancis Robinson leading the way in addressing the Black Lives Matter issue. At Jeff’s we are used to seeing people from all backgrounds, races and religions but that appears to be unusual. Robinson wrote an article for The Financial Times highlighting the under representation of black people working in the wine industry. I was shocked and saddened to read some of the comments from readers. There is a long way to go.

9. A website to recommend. Little Wine is the work of Christina Rasmussen and Daniela Pillhofer. Packed with articles, interviews and sales of natural wines in particular it is beautifully presented and well worth the £24 annual fee. I am finding a lot of fascinating information there including one article to which I shall return soon. There is free content too, so have a look.

10. On a personal note. Thank you for the various emails asking whether I am ok due to the length of time since the last article. It is appreciated that you show concern. And what joy with the 19th league win for Liverpool. I was fortunate to witness a number of league wins in person but after 30 years of poor teams and near misses it finally happened. I ought to have opened a German Riesling to honour Jurgen Klopp who has transformed the club but what else would I choose? La Vigne Haute 2018.


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2019 – Favourite fortified and sparkling wines

I really like Champagne and whilst I had some good examples this year nothing stood out especially. Two sparkling wines made an impression however. I have enjoyed a number of PetNats but my favourite of the year was Les Vignes de Babass Brutal 17, made by Sébastien Dervieux in the natural wine hotspot of Anjou. Part of the pleasure of sparkling wine is sharing it and the circumstance in which it is consumed and this admittedly benefitted from being drunk at a vendanges lunch. I loved the fresh citrus flavours and a richness from the Chenin Blanc. Cleansing yet satisfying.

When I first moved to the Languedoc Crémant De Limoux wines always seemed to disappoint me. I discovered the very good sparkling Limoux wines of Monsieur S a few years ago and they changed my opinion of the are and this more favourable impression was confirmed by Gilles Azam’s Les Hautes Terres Crémant De Limoux Josephine. Lighter than the Babass with fresh citrus flavours this was a really successful wine.

Again the Crémant wine benefitted from being drunk between those of us who worked together with Jeff Coutelou in the vendanges.

A trip to the Douro in February was one of the year’s highlights and I tasted a number of lovely Port wines. A very good lunch at Graham’s lodge in Porto culminated in a splendid tasting of old tawny ports including this splendid 6l bottle of the 20 year old tawny. High in the hills of the Douro valley I was able to taste a magnificent Quinta do Beijo 1963 white port which was liquid gold, incredibly rich and fresh.

A real contestant for my wine of the year was from the magnificent Cota 45 range. These are sherries made without being fortified and I was unsure whether to include them in the white wine selection or in this post. They are made from Palomino grapes and aged in barrel and taste like a sherry but without fortification they are lighter and fresher and incredibly long. This is a traditional method of making sherry which has all but disappeared. I loved them, bought some and continue to love them. Agostado Palo Cortado 2016 was my favourite but it could be any of them.

However, even this magnificent bottle was surpassed by another wine shared at a vendanges lunch. My friend Steeve brought along a bottle of Michel Gahier’s Vin Jaune 2010 from his native Jura. It was truly amazing. Every drop had a fresh salinity to balance the rich oxidised notes. Golden in the glass, mouth filling with amazing complexity which grew on the palate for a long time. We were all stunned into silence as we drank it. When Jeff is blown away by a wine you know it is something special. A very special bottle, one I will remember vividly for a long time.


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2019 – favourite white wines

A year of classic regions for white wines. Let’s start outside of France with a wonderful Riesling from the Rheinhessen. I declare my bias as Rhine and Mosel wines were what sparked my first interest in and love of wines. Riesling would also be my white grape of choice for my desert island.

Weingut Schmitt Riesling M 2017 I tasted at The Real Wine Fair in May and it made a lasting impression. This is how I described it at the time, “Bianka Schmitt explained to me that this was picked slightly later than their other Rieslings and spends a year in old oak. It was a stunner. Aromas ranging from floral to citrus, initial flavours of zest, yellow and green fruitgums. However, what made the wine stand out was what happened next. The wine continued to release flavours even after I had swallowed the liquid (some wines you just do not spit). Lingering melon, grapefruit and even tropical fruits grew and developed for a full minute. I love Riesling and this was a truly special example of its complexity and generosity.”

Another Riesling, this time from just across the border in Alsace. Christian Binner is a long established natural producer and I enjoyed tasting through his whole range of wines, including some lovely Pinot Noir. However, my favourite was the Riesling Grand Cru Schlossburg 2016, lean, steely fresh but with a lovely apple and pear fruit on top. Superb example of the grape and also the value of a great vineyard site and its terroir.

Riesling GC Schlossburg centre

Whilst tasting the Schmitt’s Riesling I was alongside Alice De Moor and one of her wines comes next. Chablis 1er Cru Mont De Milieu 2017 was everything you would want from a Chablis. This outlying area of Burgundy is renowned for its steely, flinty Chardonnay and this wine provided all of those elements but wrapped around with fruit and a creamy nuttiness. Right at the top of my favourite white wines of recent years, showing again how good natural producers bring out the best of their vineyards and grapes.

Two other Burgundy whites reignited my love of that region. A basic Bourgogne Blanc 2016 from Fanny Sabre punched well above its humble label, classic Burgundy with freshness and generous fruit. I must seek out some of the domaine’s more celebrated wines as this showed great winemaking talent. As did AMI is a newish domaine which buys in organic grapes. I liked all their wines but best for me was another more humble label, St. Romain Blanc 2017. Citrus, creaminess, freshness and a hazelnut note – more classic Burgundy Chardonnay. These two show that excellent wine is still available at good prices in Burgundy.

The Jura has become a very fashionable wine region in recent years, very different to when I first visited 20 years ago. I love the wines though their popularity makes them increasingly expensive and difficult to find. I came across the wines of Domaine De La Touraize at RAW and they were a highlight of the year. Bets of all was the Savagnin 2015 which spent 2 years ‘sous voile’ i.e. under the yeast flor. The wine is nutty, stony and had lovely apricot flavours – all of which lingered long in the mouth. Exciting wine.

Jura stars

Two wines from outside of France merit mention here as I enjoyed them greatly. Patrick Sullivan makes wine in Victoria, Australia. I tasted some of his excellent wines in Australia last year and sought some out upon my return to the UK. His Baw-Baw Chardonnay 2018 had great concentration and power and, whilst still very much in its infancy, offers good fruit and drinkability already.

One of my favourite producers in recent years is Casa Pardet from the Costers Del Segre region in Catalonia. One of their Cabernet Sauvignons tasted 4 years ago was one of the greatest wines I have ever had. This year I revelled in their Chardonnay Amfora 2016. Almost an orange wine (perhaps it ought to have been in that section) it has lovely grip and dry, stone fruit flavours with almost liquorice afternotes. Great.

Finally to the Languedoc and the only domaine in Faugères producing only white wines. La Graine Sauvage is the domaine of Sybil Baldassarre. Sybil is an oenologue by profession but now has her vineyards and works with her partner Alexandre Durand whose red Dynamite I chose amongst my red wines of the year. A talented couple as well as being great people. Sybil’s The Velvet Underschiste 2016 shows off Grenache Blanc with apple and pear fruit flavours and a freshness from the schist soils of the Faugères. Lovely now but with long life ahead of it if I can resist drinking my remaining bottle for a few years. Excellent wine.

Reviewing my selections the predominance of Chardonnay and Riesling came as something of a surprise, the predominance of France perhaps less so. I found this the most difficult of all the categories to select a final list. There were so many great white wines which I was fortunate enough to taste this year and apologies to many other producers whose talents I could easily have highlighted on another day.


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2019 – favourite orange wines

One of the key features of the wine world in recent years has been the rise to prominence of orange or amber wines. What was a traditional method of making wines on skins, for example in amphorae, in places like Georgia and Slovakia has become a trend around the world. Orange wines do not have to be based on organic grapes though that is often the idea many people have. Orange wines are simply wines made from white grapes but where the juice is left in contact with the skins to extract colour and tannin, they are sometimes referred to as skin contact wines.

So widespread are orange wines that I have decided to split up my long list of white wines of the year to post a fourth article focussed on orange wines. I tasted many such wines this year including Jeff Coutelou’s OW which is great. That is based on Muscat grapes and I often prefer orange wines based on aromatic grapes. One such is the Hungarian grape Rozsako and I was really impressed by the 2018 Rozsako of Bencze Birtok when I tasted it at The Real Wine Fair. The domaine of a young Hungarian couple produces a wine with great stone fruit character, apricots for example. Fresh, clean and with a little bite from the tannins. Very good indeed.

Still in central Europe but this time from the Franken region of Germany was another excellent wine, this time based on the often derided Sylvaner grape. In Germany and Alsace this grape often used to make dilute, flavourless wines but modern winemaking and climate change have helped to improve its reputation. I described Andi Weigand’s Skin 15 like this after tasting it at RAW in London, “Fermented in whole bunches for 8 weeks, kept in old barrels for 3 years then refermented using 20l of juice from 2018’s harvest. The result was a perfumed, peachy and clean, fresh wine, a real joy.”

I mentioned in the post on red wines of the year how much I liked Testalonga‘s range this year and Stay Brave 18 was another great wine. Chenin Blanc macerated for a shortish period of 11 days. Golden in colour with a fine texture of tannin this was my favourite orange wine this year because of its fruit and balance. Chenin is forging a new identity in South Africa, wines like Stay Brave suggest it has become the equal of its traditional Loire home.

Finally, closer to home. Ancre Hill is based in the Wye Valley in Wales, close to the English border. Its Orange Wine 2017 is predominantly based on Albarino grapes, traditionally from northern Spain. They are macerated in whole bunches for up to 50 days and aged for a minimum of 10 months on lees with no SO2 added. This is very much orange in colour but was fresh and full of flavour and lingered long in the mouth. Da iawn Cymru. It is good to see English and Welsh biodynamic wines emerging in such style.


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2019 – my favourite wines

Three posts to celebrate the great wines I have enjoyed in 2019 which I would recommend without hesitation. Obviously I could include lots of Jeff Coutelou’s wines but I will restrict myself to just one, I shall keep that choice for the last of the posts.

I shall start with red wines and a classic region. Bordeaux and Burgundy are still the benchmarks for world wines, steeped in tradition. However, Chateau Le Puy is in the Cotes De Francs, east of Pomerol and Saint Emilion, not one of the higher regarded regions. Being right bank Merlot is the dominant grape and my choice of wine is an example of that. Barthélémy 2016 showed great fruit as well as classic Bordeaux weight and depth boosted by the 15% of Cabernet Sauvignon. Where this wine differs from classic Bordeaux is that this long established biodynamic domaine used no sulphites.

To Italy, more specifically Gambellara between Verona and Vicenza. Angiolino Maule was one of the pioneers of natural winemakers in Italy and his La Biancara domaine is now run by his three sons. I met Alessandro and his partner Emma Bentley in London and loved their wines but one stood out to me. This was what I wrote at the time, “Star of the show for me was So San 2016, made from Tocai Rosso grapes, the local name for Grenache. Aged in barrel for 15 months this was a big wine with lovely fruit up front backed by ripe tannins which will surely allow the wine to age for many years. It was perfectly balanced, a terrific wine from one of my favourite grapes.”. Congratulations to them too on their first child in 2019.

Around the world again, this time to South Africa whose wines are starting to make a big impact. Testalonga is the domaine of Craig Hawkins and I have had their wines before but the 2018s really were a breakthrough. Chin Up is a Cinsault wine and this example was full of lovely fruit with a nice fresh acidity and light tannins. Very pleasurable and very drinkable. On similar lines was Dynamite 2018 from Peira Levada the domaine of Alexandre Durand in Faugeres. Pure Cinsault too but this time grown in soils with an unusually high percentage of marble. I loved this, a wine to simply enjoy but also with a serious side. Definitely the year of Cinsault for me.

Staying in the Languedoc, Gregory White is based in Aspiran, one of a number of very good producers there. His White Is Rouge 2017 was my favourite red wine this year for sheer pleasure. A blend of Grenache and Syrah the wine is fruity with a lovely aroma of blueberries and strawberries too. There is a depth with hints of liquorice and more red fruits. Just lovely.

One more light red which carries more weight than might be expected. Gamay from Beaujolais is famous for its light, fruity juice. The region is a hotbed of natural winemaking and one such is Charly Thévenet, son of one of the original Gang Of Four producers Jean-Paul Thévenet. His Régnié Grain et Granit 2017 was classic Beaujolais, fun but with a serious side, good tannins and well structured.

I shall finish with a wine from the Adelaide Hills. I first encountered Gentle Folk’s 2018 Village Pinot Noir when I visited Gareth Bolton’s domaine in the Hills and this very wine was newly harvested and fermenting away. This Spring I tasted the wine in London and was hugely impressed. Pinot Noir is my favourite red grape and this showed that Aussie producers can rival any in making the most of it. You will have noticed that I like red wines with a serious, contemplative side but also with pleasing fruit to make the wine enjoyable. The best Pinots have red and black fruit flavours, lots of rich aroma but also have tannins and a minerality. Gareth’s wine is all that is good about Pinot Noir.

Next time, on to the white wines.


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Still here

It has been a month since my last post, time spent back in the UK with family and friends. I will update on the state of the vines and what has happened with Jeff Coutelou upon my return there next week. Meanwhile, I have been enjoying some bottles from my ‘cellar’ and decided to share some of my favourites.

For a week or so it was actually hot weather here and white wines have taken centre stage.

Valentin Morel is a Jura producer with whom I am unfamiliar. This Savagnin is made in a ouillé style which means that the wine is topped up in the barrel. Jura wines can be made sous voile where the wines are left to age under a layer, or flor, of yeast in the same method that sherries are made. This ouillé style makes for a fresher flavour rather than oxidative notes and, though I like the oxidative style for which the region is more celebrated, I do think the fresher wines suit the cool climate wines. This was green apple and pear flavours with lingering acidity. Very nice.

Peilhan 2016 from Jeff was another success story. Pure Carignan blanc, looking like an orange wine but as fresh and clean as the Jura wine. White fruit notes, delicious.

Testalonga Keep On Punching 2017 is a South African pure Chenin Blanc. Grown on bush vines, the grapes made, you’ve guessed it, a fresh clean and dry wine, purer in style than the Loire Chenins which I also like a lot. I have had a few of the domaine’s wines recently and they are on top form. I enjoyed one of those Loire Chenins too. Vincent Carême’s Vouvray Spring is made from grapes grown by friends but made by him. Lighter than many Vouvray wines and with a clean lick of apple acidity. Very good, different to the Testalonga but still enjoyable.

Red wines also featured on my list. Star was probably the Brouilly 2017 of Jean Claude Lapalu, a classic light, fruity Beaujolais with strawberry and raspberry notes. Lingering, mouth filling and just lovely.

Charlotte and Louis Pérot of L’Ostal make excellent wines in Cahors and their Obras Completas 2016 was a prime example. Cahors wines can be dense and tough but the Pérots manage to produce a lightness of touch, fruity and drinkable wines. I have been lucky enough to know their wines almost from the start of their domaine and to see their development as top class winemakers.

Finally a point of interest from this bottle. Australian wines were long my reference point, my introduction to wine. I often bought wines from Tim Adams because he didn’t make the big blockbusters for which Australia became infamous. The Fergus is a pure Grenache, this bottle was the 2004 and stored under screwcap. It was often said that screwcaps would not allow wines to age so well as cork. This was evidence to the contrary, the wine was still bright red, fruity and full of flavour. Cork may have the romance but screwcaps seem to be able to mature wines equally as well without the risk of cork taint.

Some lovely wines, some points of interest. There were some less interesting wines too but let’s be positive.


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Real Wine Fair #3 – the beat goes on

A final gathering of thoughts on the Real Wine Fair 2019. Enjoyment featured a lot in the course of the two days. Wine tastings can be pretty straight, serious events but there was a lot of laughter and appreciation going on in Tobacco Dock. The producers I spoke with said that it had been a successful event commercially and they too had enjoyed themselves. The variety of countries, regions, soils and grapes added to the enjoyment.

As well as all those producers and wines I recommended in the two previous posts I liked the following wines very much, described in order of their catalogue number.

Austrian wines have become a favourite of mine in recent years and they were to the fore. Grabenwerkstatt produce in the Wachau, I used words like pure, fresh, fruit for a number of their wines. Two which stood out for me were Wachauwerk Gruner Veltliner 18, the vintage adding depth to the wine. The other big hit was Ried Bruck Riesling 18, single vineyard, very dry but with a hint of residual sweetness.

Muster and Jurtschitsch

Other Austrian producers to impress included Jurtschitsch, Muster and Tscheppe, a favourite of many previous tastings. Andreas Tscheppe‘s wines are consistently top quality, characterful, pure, flavoursome and thought provoking. All of Tscheppe’s bottles are worth buying, my favourite three were: Blue Dragonfly 17, a fruity, round Sauvignon Blanc; Green Dragonfly 17 from a single, higher vineyard giving more direct, melon flavours; Schwalbenschwanz Muskateller 17, a skin contact wine with lovely character of the grape supported by a dry, grippy mouthfeel, lovely and another wine to convince me that skin contact often works best with aromatic grapes.

Tscheppe wines

 

The German contingent at RWF were of particular interest to me, I have already praised the Schmitt wines. Marto Wine from Rheinhessen was also the source of some good wines, especially their 2018 Pinot Gris. Another skin contact wine, another aromatic variety, another success. Spicy, fruity and with lovely texture.

Close to my heart now and Clos Fantine from Faugères. Declaration of interest of course as I consider the Andrieu family as friends and wrote about their beautiful vineyards and wines on here a few years ago. The 2017 Faugères Tradition was on top form, fresh, fruity and with a serious side too. The 2017 Courtiol of pure Carignan was big and bold with nice tannins backing up the dark fruits, a wine to keep for a few years and enjoy. Valcabrières, the white of Terret Blanc and Terret Gris was made from 2 vintages 2016 and 17 and is one of my favourite wines, rich, fruity but dry and spicy too. I include them here on merit believe me.

From Savoie I very much enjoyed the wines of Les Vignes De Paradis and especially the 2017 IGP Savagnin, a deceptively simple wine of clean fruit with a nice acidic backdrop. On to the Loire and another old favourite, Hervé Villemade from Cheverny. His Cour-Cheverny ‹Acacias› 16 was refreshing, clean, fruit gum and citrus. Made from the Romorantin grape which 30 years ago was so scorned and is now finding recognition – climate change, better vinification and probably other factors too make the wine world ever evolving.

TWR wines

To the Southern Hemisphere. Whilst in New Zealand in 2018 I tried to visit Te Whare Ra in Marlborough but they were closed that day. So I was pleased to get to know their wines at RWF with Anna Flowerday presenting them. They are lovely wines, freshness and fruit to the fore with nice complexity. Lots to recommend including Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Syrah. However, it was their 2018 Toru Single Vineyard Blend which I enjoyed most that day. A mix of Gewurz, Riesling and Pinot Noir are co – fermented and the result was a dry, clean wine with all kinds of fruit and spice.

I tasted a number of Patrick Sullivan‘s wines in Australia, bottles such as Rain and Ada Chardonnay were much appreciated. This time though it was the 2018 Baw-Baw Chardonnay which stood out for me, a wine of real concentration and power but elegant and fine at the same time. A wine to keep and cherish.

I was fortunate to spend a good half hour with Julian Castagna of Castagna Wines. He has worked in films and now wines and made a success of everything. He’s a real character as were his two sons wowing the crowd and pouring generous samples. So many wines to enjoy here, a clear Savagnin 16, Segreto 16 of Sangivese and Shiraz for example. There were also magnificent vermouths and sweet wine too. Stars for me were 2017 Quasibianco Grower’s Selection in magnum, a delicious, full flavoured skin contact Riesling. Full yes, but elegant and refined too, bravo. And Genesis Syrah 2015, rich, round and full in a Rhone style, powerful but not heavy with flavours which lasted for ages. Top wine.

On to Italy finally. The wines of Dario Princic from Friuli are in the syle of Gravner and Radikon. I have a number of these bottles at home and was glad to taste even more at RWF. The use of skin contact has to be balanced to be successful in my view, too much and the wine can become hard and bitter. Princic consistently hits the sweet spot of extracting tannin and power whilst keeping fruit. I particularly liked his Jakot 2016, the Friulano grape. Ampeleia on the Tuscan Maremma coast is another well established natural producer, a collaboration of producers such as Foradori, Widmann and Podini. Their Unilitro bottles are a staple in my house, white and red. Here I want to end on a bombshell as my favourite wine was a Cabernet Franc, a grape I really struggle to like. 2015 Cuvée Ampeleia was a big, concentrated wine but the grapes from the highest of their vineyards have a natural freshness which enlivens the wine and never makes it tiring.

So many great wines, so many I no doubt did not get around to tasting. To taste so many great wines in all forms, red, white, skin contact, sparkling, sweet was a treat. Not to mention that wonderful Cota 45 sherry. Lessons? That there are many exciting young and new producers spreading the natural wine philosophy around the world. That more established producers should not be forgotten, their wines are often reaching new levels of excellence. That skin contact wines are appealing more and more to me, especially those aromatic varieties. That wine is fun and should be enjoyed as well as studied.

Thanks again to all who organised Real Wine Fair 2019 and to the producers for such a high standard. To the next time.

Cota4

 


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Buzzy Bs – Real Wine Fair #2

B

So many good wines at Real Wine Fair, I include a selection of wines worthy of anybody’s attention and money. How to order them for this blog was the difficult choice.

The buzzy, busy Bs? Binner, Bain, Ballorin were amongst more established natural producers whose wines showed up very well.

 

Gilles Ballorin is based in Morey St. Denis in the heart of the Côte De Nuits. I liked the freshness of his wines, plenty of characterful fruit flavours, supported by a cleansing finish of acidity in the Marsannay wines but especially the lovely Fixin “Les Chenevières”. Fixin was the first Burgundy village I visited, it has happy memories and this wine lived up to all hopes.

 

Christian Binner is based in Ammerschwihr in Alsace. Yet another village which was the centre for my early visits to that region. I have been trying Christian’s wines for many years and, to my taste, they get better and better. The whole range was excellent, a lovely rosé (Si Rose) made from Pinot Gris, the beautifully named Amour Schwihr, but above all, the tremendous Rieslings, the 2016 Grand Cru Schlossburg being as fine an example of place and grape as you could ever taste. Lovely guy, and give a listen to his fun interview on the Bring Your Own podcast.

Alexandre Bain from Pouilly in the Loire is another firm favourite. His Pouilly Fumé wines are brilliant proof of how Sauvignon Blanc is a noble grape. It is mad that the authorities there make life difficult for him to get the Pouilly Fumé label because he doesn’t meet strict guidelines. The wines are superior to virtually anything else in the area. 2017 Terre d’Obus from young vines gives a real taste of the region, sharp, flinty (yes I use that word deliberately). The Pierre Précieuse 17 from older vines has more concentration and elegance whilst keeping the freshness, precious indeed. Mademoiselle M 2015 has a hint of sweetness even, very ripe, very fruity and just lovely.

Bain

Sometimes the wine world rushes to the new and more established figures such as Christian and Alexandre can be overlooked. Do not make that mistake. These men are making wines with love and precision based on experience. Buy, buy, buy.

Other Bs were new to me but well worth sharing with you.

Social media and a mutual friend in the Languedoc, Guillaume Deschamps, meant that I have got to ‘know’ Emma Bentley without ever meeting her. It was a pleasure to finally do so along with her partner Alessandro. He now manages La Biancara after the retirement of his father Angiolino Maule, running it with his 3 brothers. The range of wines was excellent including the main Masieri white and red wines. The Garganega grape is to the fore in the whites, showing its quality in the 2017 Sassaia and Pico Bianco, the latter with oak age. Both fresh, fruity and lingering. Star of the show for me though was So San 2016, made from Tocai Rosso grapes, the local name for Grenache. Aged in barrel for 15 months this was a big wine with lovely fruit up front backed by ripe tannins which will surely allow the wine to age for many years. It was perfectly balanced, a terrific wine from one of my favourite grapes.

Gareth Belton (it begins with a B!!) and his wife Rainbo make Gentle Folk wines in the Adelaide Hills and I wrote about them last year after visiting with my friend James Madden of Little Things winery. Indeed, it was exciting to taste some of the wines because they were the very 2018s which I saw being made during my visit as harvest came to an end there. There is a terrific range of juicy, fruity and complex wines from classic Riesling (Clouds) to fresh Sauvignon Blanc (Schist), smashable rosé (Blossoms) and serious reds. Tiersman Syrah 18 from bought in fruit was one of my favourite wines tasted all weekend. Round, characterful, Rhone like rather than typical Aussie Shiraz. Lovely wine. Favourite of all though was the 2018 Village Pinot Noir with classic Pinot flavours, lovely freshness and deceivingly complex for such a joyful wine.

Bencze Birtok wines come from Hungary and left me eager to try more wines from there. Clean, fresh whites such as Riesling 17 (the 18 was even better), Kek 17 made from Bokator grapes. A lovely amphora raised wine called Keknyelu 18 with fresh stone fruit flavours. Round, enjoyable and lingering Pinot Noir 18, even better Pinot Atlas 18 from higher vineyards with more complexity, drier and purer. Best of all 2018 Rozsako (a local grape), an amber or orange wine with full, round apricot and stone fruit flavours. One of the best orange/amber wines I have tasted. This was a real discovery for me, great wines from a lovely couple.

Finally, Serbia (there’s a stressed b in the middle!). I had never tasted wines from there before but I am glad that was rectified at RWF. Oszkar Maurer is a 4th generation winemaker and I really took to his wines, highlighting 3 which was just about the highest number of any range at the Fair. The 2017 Furmint was cracking, balancing generous fruit with clean acidity, one of the best white wines of the tasting. Kadarka is one of the local grapes which Maurer specialises in tending and it provided 3 excellent wines. The oldest vines are 138 years in age, and the Kadorka 1880 was structured, fruity and generous. However, perversely enough the other two Kadarka wines were my favourites on this occasion. the 2017 Kadarka was fresh, fruity, round and just very drinkable, really good. Even better was 2017 Kadarka Nagy Krisztus, giving strawberry aromas and more fruit. There was a hint of medicinal tonic in there, it makes no sense but it’s true, which highlighted the fruit profile and added to a very successful wine.

So many great wines, believe me.

 


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Real Wine Fair 2019 #1

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One of the best wine tasting events I have attended, perhaps the sunshine and warmth put me in a good mood but I know that my thoughts were echoed by many others. Real Wine Fair is organised by Caves De Pyrène the merchant which has done so much to promote organic, biodynamic and natural wines in the UK. It took place in Tobacco Dock the same venue as a couple of years ago when I attended. There are two large halls offering plenty of space, break out areas for food stands and a useful shop as well as rooms for masterclasses. It was interesting to read tweets by Jamie Goode and Oz Clarke, probably the two wine writers who have influenced me most, praising the event, the enthusiasm of the producers and the way in which natural wines are continuing their growth and influence despite the expectations of some that they would fall away as a fashion trend.

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Chatting with the excellent Julian Castagna (more next time)

I tasted just under 200 wines from producers in 17 countries of the 23 represented at RWF. That such a broad spectrum gathered together is, I believe, proof of how wine is changing, producers are looking to make wine in as clean and environmentally sound ways as possible all around the world. Countries such as Germany, which were well behind the natural wine trend of France, Italy and Spain, were well represented. Interestingly most of the producers from these countries were young, enthusiastic and eager to learn.

One of the welcome sights of the Fair was to see the number of producers tasting around the stands of colleagues from different countries. I was privileged to be in a discussion with producers from New Zealand, Australia, and the Languedoc comparing their thoughts and methodology. I saw many other such exchanges. This can only be a benefit. A well known French producer lauding a German Riesling to its young producer was one more example.

Gareth

Gareth Belton

It was also good to catch up with friends. Corinne and Carole Andrieu from Clos Fantine and Gareth Belton of Gentle Folk are people I have visited with in recent times and got to know a little.

I do not intend to publish long descriptions of dozens of wines though I shall write about some of the many wines and producers which excited me. However, let me start with just 3 wines, my podium wines for the event. Bear in mind that I tasted with less than a quarter of the producers present, I imagine that I missed out on some other fabulous wines.

My wine of the event was a sherry, though not a typical sherry. Cota 45‘s Agostado Palo Cortado 2016 is not fortified as sherries are these days. Is it a sherry? Is it a wine? Whatever, it is brilliant. This is an old, traditional method of wine production and its producer Ramiro Ibanez Espinar explained to me that he is making wines rooted in history. I would add that he is making wines of immense quality. The other Cota 45 wines were excellent but Agostado stood out for me.

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A Palo Cortado in style but made from only 10% Palomino , the usual sherry grape. Older varieties make up the majority, grapes such as Mantuo Castellano and Perruno. That is music to my ears of course, being a devotee of rare grapes. The wine is made under flor but then allowed to age oxidatively, hence the obvious sherry style. Since it is not fortified though Agostado is lighter, fresher than other Palo Cortados, much as I love that style of sherry. This was a revelation to me but my ranking as wine of the Fair is based on sheer quality rather than novelty.

De Moor

Alice De Moor in demand

Alice De Moor has built an enviable reputation in the natural wine world for her excellent Chablis. I had tasted some before, I particularly enjoy her Aligoté wines. However at this event it was the Chablis which really shone and the Chablis 1er Cru Mont De Milieu 2017 in particular. The De Moors have suffered from frost damage a lot in recent vintages so this is a welcome example of their own skill in growing and making top Chablis. Fresh, zesty and mineral. Yes, mineral. I know the science says soils don’t make it into the flavour of wine but this Chablis reflects the limestone soils of the vineyard. It doesn’t make sense but it’s true. And then plenty of fruit and a round, almost creamy, nutty flavour. This will age well for sure and develop more complexity but it is a superb wine even in its relative infancy.

Schmitt

And completing the podium? Another white wine, the Riesling I mentioned above (which incidentally was being praised by the very same Alice De Moor). The wine was Riesling M 2017 from Weingut Schmitt. Bianka Schmitt explained to me that this was picked slightly later than their other Rieslings and spends a year in old oak. It was a stunner. Aromas ranging from floral to citrus, initial flavours of zest, yellow and green fruitgums. However, what made the wine stand out was what happened next. The wine continued to release flavours even after I had swallowed the liquid (some wines you just do not spit). Lingering melon, grapefruit and even tropical fruits grew and developed for a full minute. I love Riesling and this was a truly special example of its complexity and generosity.

I shall focus on more top bottles and ranges of wines in the next couple of articles. Interesting to note that my friend David Crossley selected the first two of these wines amongst his favourites, that gives me confidence that I made wise choices.

I should register my thanks to Doug Wregg and his team for such an excellent event.


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April, not the cruellest month

T.S. Eliot believed it was the cruellest month but my selection of April wines proved to be generous and pleasing. Here are my thoughts, including my early front runner for wine of the year.

My first real wine tasting was in a small village in the Rhine Valley called Bacharach, in 1982 I think. It is therefore a doffing of my proverbial wine hat to open a bottle from that village. Toni Jost is one of the biggest producers there, this 2009 Kabinett was a classic Riesling, dry with a nice streak of acidity but a sweet fruit finish. I do love German Riesling, my fondness steming from that first experience 37 years ago of how diverse wine could be. In truth this was fairly routine wine, nice enough without being noteworthy. The nostalgia quotient is my only reason for its inclusion here.

 

Compare that to the 2016 Bourgogne from Fanny Sabre. I often forget how good Burgundy can thrill the tastebuds like very few other regions. There is a reason why prices have gone through the roof and my hopes of tasting Romanée-Conti have sailed off into a horizon never to be reached. My brother in law was amazed that this was natural, it was a pure Chardonnay, classic buttery and hazelnut flavours and, quite simply, very satisfying. This is a basic regional wine, nothing special about the vineyards or terroir, yet it was very well made and I am on the hunt for more of the Sabre wines.

Catherine Riss is another winemaker attracting attention in recent years, this time in the Alsace region. This 2016 Riesling De Grès Ou De Force was a bright, zesty, joyful wine. Catherine’s vineyards are spread around northern Alsace including Nothalten home to Patrick Meyer (and another of my early holiday bases). Made from vines on sandstone (grès) it delivers pleasure and has a serious side too from the acidity, a winning combination. Last time I was in Nothalten talking to Patrick Meyer he praised Catherine Riss and bemoaned that there were not more young winemakers starting out in the region because of the high price of land. On this evidence his faith is being well repaid. I’d choose this every time over the Jost. Great labels too.

By contrast the wines of Jean Foillard are well established, he is one of natural wine’s pioneers and greats, one of the major factors in the renaissance of Beaujolais as one the world’s greatest wine regions. This 2014 Morgon epitomises those points. Foillard wines imprive over several years in my experience and this was at a peak. Delicious Gamay fruit supported by fine acidity and light tannins. This is classic Beaujolais made naturally as it used to be generations ago. Classic wine.

Two other great red wines need to be saluted on here. Louis and Charlotte Pérot make wines in Cahors and (disclaimer) are personal friends whom I admire greatly. I first met them in 2015 at La Remise in Arles, one of their first big wine tasting events and, proudly, I was one of the first to praise them. Understandably they have received many plaudits since and their wines get better and better as their vineyards respond to their care. The labels change annually based on book prints, a reminder of their previous work in Paris. L’Ostal is able to make Cahors’ Malbec (or Côt) into approachable, fruity, delicious wine but with the typical backbone and structure of that region. I love these wines, this was another April success.

Sylvain Bock’s wines from the Ardèche are one of my ‘go to’ picks for enjoyment and reliability. Neck is pure Grenache, ripe but with a serious side. I have seen reports that this 2016 was the best vintage of this cuvee and I can believe it because, like all the wines I have lauded in here, there is a combination of pleasure and reflection. By that I mean, there is a serious side which makes you look closely at the wine, and think about its making not just drink it unthinkingly. Lovely bottle.

The pleasures which April wines showered upon me were greatest from one bottle however. La Paonnerie is based in the Coteaux D’Ancenis in the western Loire. The Carrogets work naturally and I have enjoyed their wines in the past. However, the 2017 Vegyes was on another level for me. Golden in colour I was convinced that there must be extended skin contact but no. The colour is the result of vines over 100 years old which provide Chenin Blanc of great purity. The vineyards have been organic since 1997, the wines are made without anything added. The result was complex. Quince flavours certainly, other fruits too but with texture and classic Loire Chenin acidity. This was a great bottle of wine.

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