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.
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.
After my everyday case it is time to select my case of wines representing my favourite wines tasted (and drunk) in 2015. It has been a fantastic year for me, I love my life in the Languedoc and the opportunity to spend time alongside someone I consider to be a truly great winemaker and, I am fortunate to say, my friend. Through various tastings, meals and purchases I have also been fortunate to discover many top class wines. So here is my final selection of twelve. I have omitted Jeff’s wines as that will form the next article and they would fill much of this case. It should also be said that my choice would probably vary day to day, I was torn between a number of great wines.
The Languedoc Roussillon is perhaps best known for its red wines and yet looking through my notes it was often white wines which excited me most in 2015. Indeed I will start with two wines from the region.
Mas Gabriel, Clos Des Papillons 2013. No surprises here, this also featured in my everyday case. It has been a favourite wine of mine for many years, I love the Carignan Blanc grape with its freshness and white fruits and Peter and Deborah Core have mastered a wine which brings out its best. Every vintage from 2010 to 2014 tasted at the Domaine’s tenth anniversary dinner was excellent but the 2013 stole the show for me.
The 5% Viognier adds a little mystery but it is the Carignan Blanc which gives the fruitiness, freshness and longevity. The reds of Mas Gabriel are lovely too but this remains my favourite and I’m also looking forward to the development of the new white wine Champ Des Bleuets. It is not just loyalty which earns Clos Des Papillons its place here though, the wine genuinely thrills me no matter how often I drink it. It claims first place ahead of another exciting Carignan Blanc from Caux, Lune Blanche of the Conte De Floris.
Clos Du Rouge Gorge, Sisyphe 2014. Cyril Fhal produces great red wines especially his Carignans in Latour De France in the Roussillon. However, this year it was his white wine Sisyphe which really captured me. Grenache Gris is the cépage behind most of my favourite wines in the region and this wine adds a clean, fruity yet racy edge. A wine you could drink alone or with food and one which leaps out as something special from the first sniff to the last sip.
Domaine Montesquiou, Terre De France 2014.I could probably include every wine made by Montesquiou, so high is the quality of this Jurancon domaine. It was a thrill to visit Fabrice and Sébastien in Monein and to tour the vineyards and cellars, I had long been a great fan of their wines. The excitement and enjoyment found in the wines is so obviously a reflection of the land and the family, the brothers are passionate about their vines and restless in seeking to make their wines even better. The raciness of the dry wines, the skilful use of oak, the tightrope balance of the sweet wines, every bottle offers a treat. I chose this wine as it walks that fine tightrope with lime, lemon and white fruits just offset by a trace of sweetness. Masterful.
With Olivier Humbrecht
Zind Humbrecht, Clos Windsbuhl Riesling 2011. I love Riesling, I love Alsace wines. Most of my favourite Rieslings are from the Mosel, others from Australia but this wine blew me away, apt on a day when gales were threatening the tent where the tasting took place near Montpellier for Biodyvin. I had tasted some Zind Humbrecht wines before and enjoyed them but this was one of those moments when the lightbulb lit above my head. Classic fresh aromas, so clean tasting and those flavours of fruit with a thrilling edge of acidity and, yes I know it makes no sense, minerality. There really is a texture and saltiness which reminds me of minerals. It is a very young wine, it will age for decades I would think but it is already packed with so much complexity and pleasure. It is everything I would ever want from a white wine.
Domaine Huët, Clos Du Bourg Demi-Sec 2005. At the same tasting as the Zind Humbrecht I tasted this beauty. I admit to some bias as Vouvray was my first wine village visited in France and long a favourite. The sweeter style moelleux which I tasted that day were excellent, a 2008 Haut Lieu for example but I love the demi-sec style which balances the dry appley side of Chenin Blanc with its capacity to produce a sweet side with hints of honey balancing the zestiness. This Clos Du Bourg was so deep and complex and so long lasting, it was like tasting several different wines in one glass. This will again age for a long time, I’d imagine it will develop more sweetness but right now I love this balance of dry and sweet. I often resist the big names of a region but this Huët just stood out as an example of great winemaking.
Pierre De Sisyphe of Joe Jefferies
Other dry white wines close to selection included Pierre De Sisyphe 2014 from Bories Jefferies (again from Caux!), the Greco 2013 from Giardino (Campania, Italy), Casa Pardet’s Chardonnay 2013 (Costers del Segre, Spain), Loin D’Oeil 2014 from De Brin (Gaillac) and a lovely Chenin Blanc from Testalonga (Swartland, Soith Africa), tasted on a beach in Marseillan, called El Bandito but no vintage noted whilst there I’m afraid.
I’m including Champagne Franck Pascal Quintessence 2004. Long, yeasty, rich but with a great freshness which cleansed the palate and left me wanting more. Yet another biodynamic producer, I loved all the wines I tasted but this vintage champagne with its Pinot Noir dominance had the extra complexity and depth which marks great wine of any type. The 2005 was almost as good but this 2004 was extra clean and long. I tasted a lot of very good champagnes this year, Barbichon, Leclerc Briant, Drappier, Lassaigne being some, but Quintessence was special.
So, six white wines which have given me great pleasure in 2015. Next the reds.