amarchinthevines

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


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May wines

A sad month with the death of Bruno Rey, a lovely gentle man who made me smile whenever we met.

That sadness was compounded by the loss of winemakers Olivier Lemasson, Pascal Clairet and Laurnet Vailhe, all in tragic circumstances. May all four rest in peace.

At home my second vaccine gave me some hope that I may yet get over to Puimisson this year. I do miss the vines and the cellar as well as my friend Jeff.

So, to the wines of the month starting with the white wines. Firstly a new grape to me Nosiola, native of the Trentino region near Lake Garda. Its name suggests hazelnuts apparently and there was a hint of nuts as well as smokiness from this 2017 wine from producer Vilar made with a couple of days of skin contact and low SO2. The grapes must have been picked with good ripeness as the wine was quite full and juicy. I enjoyed this, slightly unusual wine and would certainly buy it again. Thierry Puzelat of Clos duTue Boeuf in the Loire was one of the natural pioneers in France, Le Petit Buisson 2019 is a regular cuvée from him, pure Sauvignon Blanc aged in old barrels. Fresh, good acidity but not harsh at all, a classy Loire SB, very enjoyable as ever. Clemens Busch were similarly one of the pioneers of organic production in Germany and I bought a selection of their wines a couple of months ago. This Riesling Trocken 2018 was very dry as the name suggests with clean, direct acidity. Ideally a wine for food but perfectly enjoyable on its own with its green fruit flavours.

To my two favourite white wines of the month. Firstly Portuguese Branco 2018 from Filipa Pato, made from Bical and Arinto grapes, I do love the Portuguese varieties being used so well. Slightly golden, perhaps due to a small portion of the grapes being aged in barrel, this gave generous aromas of herbs and yellow fruits. Fresh, round and slightly nutty notes with long lasting flavours. Very good. Then came Deboutbertin’s Achillée 2017, a natural Chenin Blanc from the Anjou. Loire Chenin was one of the grapes which first attracted me to wine, it seems to be finding its way back to the fore of my wine racks again, supported by Chenins from South Africa. This golden coloured wine was spritzy to start with though this disappeared by the second glass. Fresh citrus with surprising herby and spicy flavours, Achillée took me by surprise a little but I loved it – those flavours somehow worked. It’s not the cheapest wine but it was well worth the money.

There were a few red wines, let me start with ones I wouldn’t buy again though others would enjoy them I am sure. Hoffstatter Lagrein 2016, from the Trentino Alto Adige region of Italy. I have had Lagrein before and liked it, I found this perfectly enjoyable, another food wine, but lacking real depth. I liked the first glass of Wassmer Spatburgunder 2017, there was plenty of Pinot fruit but then it went mute and dull on me. Disappointing. Daniel Ramos’ El Berrakin 2019, a natural Garnacha from the Gredos region in central Spain was raspberry fresh, quite light. I liked it but no more than that. These three are perfectly drinkable wines, any that I really don’t like I don’t even mention.

Wines I preferred. Testalonga Follow Your Dream 2020 is a Carignan from one of my favourite producers anywhere. Bright purple in colour, fresh acidity – things you would expect with such a young wine. But there’s a lovely red fruit profile which Carignan can give with good intensity and I like the acidity as it balances the fruit sweetness. Lovely wine, I recommend any wines from this South African star. Scintilla wines’ Shiraz 2019 is made by my good friend James Madden in the Adelaide Hills. Completely natural wine this is another raspberry fruit wine but there was more depth to this than the Garnacha, I hope there will be more of James’ wines here in future. Herdade do Rocim has featured here before and I very much enjoyed the 1 litre bottle Fresh From Amphora 2019, made in the Alentejo region of Portugal from more local grapes, this time Moreto, Tinto Grossa and Trincadeira. Two months of skin contact in amphorae, this offers a juicy, light red with plenty of enjoyment to be had from the fresh fruity profile. The litre size is a real bonus.

Arianna Occhipinti’s SP68 wines are another regular favourite of mine. Sicilian natural wine, the Rosso 2019 made from Nero D’Avola and Frappato another producer making the most of the excellent local grape varieties, this time in Sicily. Frappato, as I discovered on my visit to the island, adds a cherry freshness to wine softening the Nero D’Avola and making a wine to enjoy with and without food. Berry fruits, a hint of liquorice perhaps and freshness (you may have spotted a theme here!). I will certainly buy this again. Jeff Coutelou’s Flower Power 2015 is, of course, a wine I know well. Made in the small Font D’Oulette vineyard from a field blend of twenty plus grape varieties, red and white. This is now at its peak full of red fruit flavours but with a lightness of touch and clean acidity, delicious.

Red wine of the month though, indeed my favourite of all this month, was Rennersistas Grauburgunder 2019. The two sisters are young winemakers but they are fast developing into top class producers. This Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) was fermented on skins for four days, so it is probably an orange wine. Yet, as you can see in the photo, the wine is a light red in colour. This is the result of the pink tint of the grapes which adds that hue to the wine. I love Pinot Gris grapes, they are so distinctive. Jeff has some and I enjoy seeing them develop their colour. This wine was the Renner sisters’ first production from their Grauburgunder vineyard, what a way to start. Lovely aromas of roses and raspberries, fresh red fruit flavours with nicely balanced acidity – this makes for a good wine for food but also to drink alone. Really classy wine, big recommendation. Was it a red wine? I’m saying yes.

Pinot Gris at Jeff’s


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The cruellest month

T.S. Eliot described April as the cruellest month in his epic poem The Waste Land, a phrase which seems very apt for 2021. The frosts of April 7th have created wastelands throughout French and other European vineyards, winemakers will be reliant upon stocks of wine from previous years, many of which were challenging in themselves. Simon Woolf’s The Morning Claret contains an insightful, moving and challenging article by Hannah Fuellenkemper based in the Ardeche region. I hope you will read it.

On a more personal level the phrase struck me again as I reviewed the bottles opened during this month. A corked bottle, an oxidised one and a lovely wine that turned mousy by midway were three blows. I should add before the natural wine haters start to nod in ‘what do you expect?’ mode that only the latter was a natural wine. I opened six bottles of conventional (though organic) wine and two were faulty. Maybe I should stick to the more reliable natural side.

In truth the month was short on wine excitement. I bought a few different Chablis wines a few months ago and though they have been ok they have left me a little cold, rather like the April weather here in the UK. Similarly an organic Rioja, New Zealand Syrah and a number of Italian wines (another attempt to expand my wine horizon). There was nothing wrong with these wines and it was good to try Teroldego, Tempranillo and Pecorino for example, grapes not usually part of my drinking. Nothing wrong, but nothing exciting.

Back to Ariana Occhipinti, mentioned in the March review, for better things. The SP68 Bianco 2019 was refreshing, dry, flavourful and another hit from this excellent Sicilian producer, a blend of Muscat and Albanella grapes. Muscat was again the feature of another enjoyable wine, this time an orange wine from Alicante, Bodegas Vinessans Tragolargo 2020. Bright orange in colour, characteristic orange wine light tannins and more typical of Muscat with its floral notes than the SP68. It is an easy drinking, light and enjoyable wine, a good introduction to skin contact wines for anyone unfamiliar with the ever increasing range. Another successful wine was the vinho verde from Folias de Baco Uivo Loureiro 2018. Loureiro is the grape, biodynamically grown with no SO2 added. Sappy, fresh but with a round aftertaste from being aged on its lees this was very enjoyable, one of my favourite Portuguese wines of this year, another project I embarked upon. However, I had a better vinho verde this month, Niepoort’s Nat’Cool Drink Me Branco 2019. More Loureiro, blended this time with Alvarino, Arinto and Trajadura and producing a sappy, aromatic wine which was delicious on its own as well as with food. Slightly cloudy, tasting of citrus and apples and in a one litre bottle!

To a limited number of reds. Jeff Coutelou’s Couleurs Réunies 2018 has become a firm favourite in his wide range. A blend of over 20 different grape varieties, red and white it produces a vibrant purple wine with full on fruit which calms as the bottle empties to add a depth of plummy complexity, slightly sweet and sour. I love it, but then you knew I would. A real treat now. I have recommended Little Wine on here many times in the last year, a terrific, ground breaking website and bottle shop. After a year on business they gave away a bottle with purchases and I gladly accepted the enticement. The bottle was lovely, Claus Preisinger’s Puszta Libre 2020. Blending Zweigelt, St Laurent and Pinot Noir with 20% undergoing carbonic maceration and the rest destemmed for a short maceration the result is alight red, almost rosé, but packed with fruit and pleasure. The Little Wine website describes it in Claus’ words as a ‘homage to good Beaujolais’ and it is certainly that. And more.

Wine of the month though went to Marcel Deiss’ Rotenberg La Colline Rouge 2013. A blend of Riesling and Pinot Gris grown biodynamically from a beautiful hillside in Wintzenheim, Alsace this was classic Alsace wine. Dry, clean flavours with a slight sweetness on the end, apples and pears, lemon and a little honey. Someone told me this was heavily filtered which surprised (and disappointed) me, but there was no denying how well this tasted. For purity of the natural wine drinker I should have chosen the Preisinger as wine of the month. By Alsace standards Deiss was a biodynamic pioneer and adventurous and this wine was just lovely.


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March on March: Part Two

As a Francophile and French part time resident I make no apologies that the majority of my wine drinking is based on French wines. My time with Jeff Coutelou clearly bolsters this with his wines making up a good portion of the bottles I have in all shapes and sizes. However, I do try to expand my experience and visits to Sicily and Spain, as well as tastings with winemakers from around the world, encourage me to discover wines and grapes from outside the Hexagon.

March, as you can see from the photo saw a focus on Portugal and Italy. The latter was purely coincidental, I hadn’t realised how many Italian wines I had opened. Portugal was much more by design. A few years ago I was delighted to be able to support the excellent wine writer Simon Woolf with his Kickstarter project for his Amber Wine book. He is a really good writer and enthusiast, the book a delight. His new project with Ryan Opaz is about Portugal and I mentioned to Simon that on my visit there a couple of years ago it was difficult to find many organic or natural wines. Simon gave me a list of producers and I was able to order some wines from Bar Douro in London. Their new Kickstarter project has been a huge success so I am eager to read the book.

Italian reds first. I’m a big fan of Sicilian wines since my visit in 2013 and Arianna Occhipinti‘s wines are amongst the best. Her SP68 red and white are widely available and well worth buying. Nero D’Avola and Frappato grapes in the red version, fragrant aromas and lovely soft cherry and red fruits, Frappato so often adds roundness and sweet fruit. The Nebbiolo was disappointing. I remember having a Langhe Nebbiolo in Valvona and Crolla in Edinburgh many years ago and really liking. I have tried a few since and never found one so good. It is Burgundy pinot like in so many ways and finding the good ones seems to be just as difficult. The Valpolicella Ripasso was better without exciting me. The grapes are dried before being made into wine and this was sour cherry and classic Italian red flavours. Good but I wasn’t convinced. Much better was the Bera Le Varrane 2017. Barbera grapes from 50 year old vines in Piedmont made naturally and aged for two years on lees produce a rich, fruit packed wine with soft tannins. Lovely wine, I will certainly seek out more.

On to Portugal. Filipa Pato was one of the names Simon provided and this Dinamico 2018 red was good. 100% Baga grapes from the Bairrada region the name may reflect the biodynamic winemaking. It was certainly full of life, fresh and fruity with a nice solid structure I should maybe have kept it a while longer but it was enjoyable now. The Folias de Baco Uivo Renegado 2019 was even better. Natural wine made from a field blend of up to 25 different grape varieties. I love field blends especially when they have a mix of red and white grapes. Often looking like a dark rosé they often produce soft, very drinkable wines with good acidity. Well, this one certainly does. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I love the grapes being names I know not at all such as Viosinho and Gouveio. To me this is a true USP for Portugal as the wine world regularly seeks out the different . Lovely.

Best of the reds though was from Battliu de Sort in the Costers del Segre region. I had heard good things about the producer based in the same region as one of my favourite producers, Casa Pardet. Pinot Noir from vines high in the mountains. The result is fresh, light but fruity Pinot, as good as many much more expensive Burgundy wines. Confirmation that Alsace, Germany and now Spain are going to be the bulk of my Pinot purchases. This Nero de Sort 2018 was delicious.

Herdade do Rocim ‘Fresh from Amphora’ 2019 is made from organic grapes fermented in clay pots for two months. Fresh and very drinkable, I didn’t find the texture I was expecting from skin contact wine. it was certainly clean and zingy. One of the things I love about Portuguese and Italian wines is the treasure trove of grape varieties, often unique. This was from Perrum, Rabo de Ovelha and Mantuedo. No, me neither. The next Portuguese white was Aphros Loureiro 2018. Loureiro is the grape produced here through biodynamics with low sulphites. Pleasant enough, clean and fresh without exciting me too much. Back to Filipa Pato this time FP Branco 2018. Bical and Arinto grapes, this is also produced biodynamically but was more yellow coloured and fuller, rounder than the Aphros with more mouthfeel. Very nice.

Sicily again and a winery I like a lot in Ciello, Baglio Catarrato Antico 2019. An orange wine, subtly done. I saw this described as an introduction to orange wines and I understand that description, the skin contact evident but not powerful. Very fruity, very enjoyable.

I tasted two Chenin Blancs together, a classic Anjou version, Chateau Pierre Bise 2018 and South African Testalonga’s Stay Brave 2019. The Anjou was conventional, clean and had the classic Loire Chenin flavours of dry, appley fruit with a hint of sweetness on the finish. Pleasant enough. Testalonga’s was drier, with more spice and fruit. I have praised Testalonga many times, another success here and the one I would buy again for sure.

On the subject of classic French dry white wines with a hint of sweetness, another of my favourite regions in Jurancon. I loved this, Lapeyre Evidencia 2018, a blend of Gros and Petit Manseng and Courbu all aged in large oak vats. Fresh, full of peach and apple and a slight sweet tang but clean and refreshing. A definite one to buy again, very well made and delicious. Indeed, this would have been my wine of the month but for….

OK, I am biased. But Jeff Coutelou’s Macabeu 2017 is amazing. The Macabeu ( also known as Macabeo and Viura in Spain where it is widely grown) is from Peilhan vineyard. Jeff was so pleased with the 2017 grapes that he put them into a second hand barrel and left it there for two years. We tasted it in 2019 (the photo top left shows Jeff taking a sample from the barrel) and it was really singing, round and full, the barrel adding creaminess and the merest hint of wood which filled out the wine. I am not a great fan of oak but when it is subtle there is no doubt that it does boost a wine, concentrating its flavours. Spice, fruit. freshness. The flavours lingering long. One of the best wines I have tasted from Jeff’s and I have been very fortunate to drink many great wines there.


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March on March: (mainly) France

March seemed like a long month in lockdown though, after three months, the end of the month saw a family reunion in my sister’s garden. Together with beautiful Spring flowers in the garden that brought some optimism at last. Sadly, the news from France was not so good as they enter another lockdown to fight a third wave of COVID. Jeff keeps me up to date with what’s going on and his niece Flora has sent some lovely photos, I shall share both in the next week or so.

Let’s start with Jeff Coutelou and, after that opening paragraph, Flower Power 2015. This was, of I recall correctly, the first Flower Power made from the field plantation of Font D’Oulette with added grapes such as Castets from Peilhan. The wine received high praise in La Revue Des Vins De France magazine back in 2016. It was lovely, the 5-6 years of age bringing it to its apogee with fruit and complexity and lingering flavours of plums and blackberries. The tannins and acidity have softened nicely, a lovely bottle. Flambadou 2015 was also at its peak, classic Carignan notes with red fruit and then darker notes coming through. This is consistently one of the best wines from Puimisson and the 2015 is a fine example.

Jeff and Louis

L’Ostal “Plein Chant” has a connection with Coutelou too even though it is a Cahors through and through. There is no vintage clearly marked but it is a 2016. I have recounted how I first met Louis Pérot at La Remise in Arles where he was one of the new producers. I fell in love with his wines, praised them to the high heavens enough that he was able to get some listed in good restaurants. Jeff was also taken by the wines and the strict natural approach of Louis and Charlotte. They became friends and Louis has visited us many times. This pure Malbec (known as Cot locally) has deep berry flavours, the power of Cahors and benefits from decanting in softening out the tannins a little. I loved the wines back in 2016 and I still do.

Brigitte Chevalier of Domaine Cébène in Faugeres has become a renowned producer, praised widely in wine circles for the purity of her fruit and excellent work in the vineyard. I bought her wines from Leon Stolarski long before moving to the region and whilst there met Brigitte on a number of occasions including visits to her vineyards and cellar many times. These are precise, structured wines expressing the schist soils beautifully. Les Bancels 2016 is Syrah and Grenache and a classic example of why the Languedoc. and Faugeres in particular, is my favourite wine region. Fruit, depth, tannins, pleasure.

If you ever needed an example of how wine has changed during my lifetime then the Rieffel Pinot Noir Nature 2018 is it. I first started visiting Alsace 35 years ago or so and Pinot Noirs were largely thin, acidic and fairly undrinkable. Maybe I just didn’t find good examples but at several tastings I left shaking my head even from some famous producers. Nowadays I love Alsace Pinots in general, they have fresh fruit, usually red fruit flavours, they are softer and just enjoyable. I’d rather drink an Alsace Pinot such as this very good example of the grape, region and producer than most Burgundies of similar price. Very enjoyable. Climate change? Better vineyard and cellar management? Winemaking improvements? Probably a combination of all, but heartily recommended.

Morgon 2018 from celebrated producer Jean Foillard was the wine we shared when my family met up again on the 30th. Morgon in Beaujolais is traditionally the most serious of the ten crus producing more structured wines than the typical regional light, juicy wines. This is usually attributed to the schist soils marked by red iron oxide and manganese, most famously on the Mont du Py. This wine is certainly in that tradition, probably opened a year or two early. The Gamay fruit is masked at first by the power though comes through, more ageing should release it sooner in the glass. Foillard is one of the natural pioneers of the region and a source of benchmark wines.

Finally, to balance out this post with a second I have added Franz Weninger’s Ponzichter 2018. Weninger is Austrian but his father bought some vines in Hungary when communism ended and this bottle is made from those vines. A blend of Pinot Noir and Zweigelt this was a lighter style with very enjoyable red fruit showing through and soft tannins to balance it and add a little depth. Very enjoyable and well made.

Garden Spring flowers, optimism for better times ahead.


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February red wines

Let’s start with the Jeff Coutelou wines first. 5SO Simple 2018 has really found its feet now, which is probably too late for the vast majority of bottles opened as it is usually a wine opened for early drinking as a ‘glou glou’. Cinsault is light, the grapes tend to be large and juicy and not have too much acidity. Jeff likes acidity in his wines to help maintain their condition and health, without SO2 as a preservative the acidity can be a useful substitute as well as adding freshness to the wine. The acidity of this 18 bottle was calmed and the fruit was showing more roundness than the last bottle I had. It’s in a very good place, very enjoyable.

I opened two bottles of La Vigne Haute, my favourite wine. A 2013 was in excellent shape, the Syrah black fruit and spice still prominent, the tannins soft and the age was adding another layer of complexity and depth. No rush to drink up but definitely ready. However, the 2017 was on another level. I opened it on my birthday and it was a highlight of the month. It is ready to drink now and very enjoyable too but I’ll hang on to my other bottles a little while. The acidity is fresh but well balanced, the fruit is open and mouth filing. It has a youthful energy but it’s also round and enjoyable from the outset. On this evidence La Vigne Haute 2017 has the potential to be one of the best vintages of this great wine.

Amicis is the wine I made at Jeff’s in 2015 with grapes from Rome vineyard, the three types of Grenache. Aged in three different containers (old barrel, newer barrel and glass). You can read more here. I opened a bottle of the older barrel aged wine meaning the staves were tighter and so there was less exchange with air, the wine is more youthful than the wine in the newer barrel. Cherry red, fresh acidity and the residual sugar giving a sweetness. It is more an aperitif wine than a food wine and it will age for years.

Let’s stay in the Languedoc and near neighbours and friends the Andrieu family of Clos Fantine. Their vineyards are high in the Faugères hills and the vines are gobelet to give them a freedom and energy, described by Corine here. The Fantine reds need time, they have concentrated fruit and tannin which take time to marry and mature. Give them that time and the rewards are plentiful. This bottle of the traditional Faugères is non vintage. They had some Carignan from 2016 and 2017 which took their time to finish fermentation, they were a bit stuck. When they finally completed Corine added some Grenache and Syrah from 2017 and also some Cinsault and Mourvedre from 2019. The blending is therefore similar to what Jeff does with his L’Oublié bottle. The result was excellent, a full bodied, complex wine with a freshness from the 2019 wines. Power and elegance. I must order some more.

Still in the Faugères area and a young winemaking couple whom I first visited in the snow! Simon and Sara Bertschinger have a few hectares around Fos with unusual grape varieties for the region, the Armélot 2015 I opened contains Merlot and Petit Verdot, they also have some Sangiovese. Like the Fantine wine this is unmistakably Faugères, depth, power, freshness to the fore. The 5-6 years of age have brought a lovely maturity, another bottle at its peak. The Merlot adds a roundness to the wine, it is lovely.

Heading down towards Spain, Banyuls. I tasted La Cave des Nomades wines for the first time at La Remise in Arles in 2016 when Jose (Zé) Carvalho was the talk of the town. The wines were exciting and fresh with incredible depth. I haven’t had the chance to drink many since then and was pleased to find Camino Rojo 19 available. Grenache and Syrah (taken direct from pressing) produces a light coloured wine but it is packed with flavour, red fruits and cleansing acidity. More please.

Two examples of Gamay next, both French. I recall visiting and holidaying in the Forez region in central France many years ago and the local wines were a rarity and simply a quaffing wine in local restaurants. Some producers have worked hard to add quality to the region and the leading domaine is Verdier-Logel. They work organically and this Poycelan Cuvée des Gourmets 2019 is made from grapes grown on granite soils, they also have Gamay on volcanic soils. I enjoyed it, there is plenty of fruit though it was fuller and a little heavier than most Gamays. Interesting and good to try wines from less well known areas. More classic Gamay in the form of Beaujolais, indeed a Beaujolais Nouveau 2020. Guy Breton is one of the great producers of the region, I remember a P’tit Max I had in Paris a few years ago as one of the bottles which converted me to a love of natural wine. Cuvée Fanchon was lovely, round, soft red fruits – absolutely classic Beaujolais and Gamay – delicious.

My biggest surprise of the month though was a Malbec from Argentina, Familia Cecchin 2019 no added sulfites. Argentinian Malbec has become very popular in supermarkets with a range of big, powerful wines – I usually find them too big and heavy for my taste. This, though, was a really pleasant surprise. There is a lightness and freshness to the wine as well as plenty of big flavours. Very good winemaking, a real deftness. I decided to try wines from further afield this year and this bottle really supported that decision, a genuine treat.

Wines were purchased: direct from producer, Leon Solarski wines, Buon Vino wines, Petites Caves, Little Wine


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February white wines

February in the North East of England was certainly white. We had snow for most of the time, often quite deep. A time for hunkering down, comfort and red wines? Well not altogether.

Let’s start with the sherry, it doesn’t look white I know but it is a Fino en rama 2017 from the excellent Equipo Navazos. En rama means raw, the sherry is bottled straight from cask without filtering, causing a little cloudiness but more of the natural flavours to be captured in the bottle. This was lovely, salty fino characters, freshness and a slight texture from the non filtering which helped preserve the flavours in the mouth. More and more sherries are being produced like this, a welcome trend. However, few can match the excellence of this producer.

Still in Spain one of the month’s highlights was Casa Pardet’s Chardonnay 2017 which I opened on my birthday. This estate in the Costers del Segre region of North East Spain has been a favourite of mine since I met Pep Torres and his wife at La Remise in Arles back in 2015. Their Cabernet Sauvignon wines at that wine fair were amongst the best wines I have ever tasted. Sadly they are next to impossible to find, the Cabaret Sauvignon bottle is good but not the same. The Chardonnay was macerated, orange wine in colour and style. Lovely herbal, fruit flavours with a liquorice note too. I have bought their wines from a company in Spain, sadly after Brexit they aren’t shipping here for now.

Let’s stick with the Mediterranean and head to Italy whilst remaining on non filtered wines. Fattoria di Vaira’s Vincenzo Bianco 2019 is an orange or skin contact wine produced from biodynamically farmed Falanghina and Fiano grapes in the Abruzzo region. I really enjoyed this, it’s not the most complex wine in the world but had lots of fruit, good texture and the dry aftertaste of many orange wines. It is a very well made wine, a great introduction to skin contact wines if you don’t know them well. It hasn’t got the depth of the Casa Pardet but was very good value at around £13.

Costadila is a producer whose wines have become favourites in a very short time after being recommended by my good friend Vincent, a friend and former colleague of Jeff. Costadila make PetNats in the Prosecco region of the Veneto. No filtering (again) no additions, no SO2. Glera (the main Prosecco grape), Verdiso and Bianchetta grapes fermented in bottle and capturing a sheer joy for life with sparkle, fruit, freshness and lingering flavour. As with most PetNats there is a fair amount of sediment so be careful on that last glass as you try to eek out every drop. (The 280 refers to the altitude of the vineyard, you will have seen me mention other numbers before.) I really like these wines, again I was sourcing them from abroad, again Brexit is making it hard to restock.

The Pebble Dew New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Australian Semillon were wines bought as everyday drinking from Les Caves De Pyrène, both offer good value.

Davenport has been one of my favourite English wineries for some years, I was converted by their excellent PetNat but have enjoyed everything they make. Hux was new to me. In 2018 the Huxelrebe grapes were top quality and retained a little unfermented sugar making for a wine with a slight hint of honeyed sweetness on top of the stone fruit flavours. Fresh and clean but just off dry like a well made Mosel wine. Lovely.

German wines were what first made me realise that wine was interesting. I still love them, a well made Riesling from the Mosel would be my choice of desert island white wine. Clemens Busch is a biodynamic producer about which I have been reading god things for some time and I spotted a half case of a range of their wines online and bought it. The first I opened was this 2018 Trocken, a Riesling fermented dry, ironic after the Davenport wine. It is a treat. Flinty, clean with a grapefruit like note. I have another bottle and will store it away for a while as I have no doubt it will develop. However, this one was very enjoyable now.

Finally two more Riesling wines from across the border in Alsace including a 24 year old white wine. Christian Binner is a source of very good natural Alsace wines from one of my favourite villages there, Ammerschwihr. His Riesling Salon des Bains 17 had appley, zesty fruit, long lasting flavours. It’s not the most profound Riesling but good quality and one I’d happily buy again.

I visited Patrick Meyer in Nothalten 4 years ago and spent a very enjoyable couple of hours with him. An early pioneer of natural winemaking in the region I loved talking with him and tasting his wines. What was remarkable about the visit was the number of old wines which we tasted from bottles often opened for a few days already and which tasted fresh and full. No need for SO2 when you make clean wines. Patrick offered me some older bottles and this Julien Meyer 1997 Riesling Grand Cru Muenchberg was one of them. It was aged for four years in barrel and the slight oxidation of the barrel no doubt plays a part in keeping the wine fresh and youthful. There was no sign of fatigue, just pure Riesling flavours with a roundness of oak. Saline, appley, joyful. A memorable wine for a forgettable lockdown month.

With Patrick in 2017, fortunately I have lost a fair amount of weight since then!


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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.