Last weekend was supposed to be RAW wine fair in London but it fell victim to the coronavirus pandemic, understandable but disappointing. Nevertheless, having booked trains and a hotel room I decided to go to London anyway and make the most of a bad situation. There’s always plenty to see and do and lots of wine bars and restaurants to enjoy. That makes me sound very provincial!
Highlights included visits to Noble Rot and The Remedy. Noble Rot has been a success story for the last ten years or so in the UK, its wine bar, restaurant and magazine becoming central to the wine scene. One of its founders Mark Andrews was the man who first imported Jeff Coutelou’s wines into this country and when Mark started Noble Rot Jeff was happy to supply wines. The food is excellent, the magazine witty and informative. I enjoyed a 2018 Tissot DD, the equal parts blend of Poulsard, Trousseau and Pinot Noir – the main three red grapes of the Jura. Lovely it was too, a good companion for food.
Continuing the Jura theme I enjoyed two further wines at Noble Rot. Macvin is a style of wine where marc (distilled lees) is added to grapes to stop their fermentation at around 18% alcohol. The resulting drink is similar to Pineau des Charentes, this had a nutty finish after dried fruit flavours and a little alcohol heat. Unusual but very enjoyable.
The other treat was a Chateau Chalon, a vin jaune made in the village of the same name. It must be made from Savagnin which is aged for a minimum of six years and three months in oak barrels which are not filled completely allowing a layer of yeast or flor to grow on the surface of the wine. The result is slight oxidation but the wine is protected by the flor, very much like sherry production but vin jaune is not fortified. One of my favourite wines of last year was a vin jaune and this Chateau Chalon was another delicious treat, and at 34 years old still in its youth. Nutty, fresh and special.
The food, service and wines made Noble Rot memorable, I will certainly return.
The Remedy was another success, good food, a great choice of wines at fair prices by the glass and bottle. It was good to meet Languedoc friend Sue Tigg there and we enjoyed a fresh, juicy Beaujolais Villages 2018 from Karim Vionnet. Afterwards a glass of Adelaide Hills Gewurztraminer from Ochota Barrels, dry and spicy. Best of all was a white from Tenerife. The Canary Island wines are beginning to make an impact on the wine scene and this proved why. Made from the Listan Blanco grape by Envinate it was dry, fresh and had lovely citrus flavours and texture. I’ll be hunting for more of these wines. Small, and friendly, buzzy and welcoming, The Remedy is another easy recommendation to make.
One chance discovery was Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels in Neal’s Yard. I called in to get a light lunch and found an interesting wine list including, to my surprise, more Coutelou wines. There was also a fun listing by the glass where you taste blind and if you guess it right then you get a bottle for free. Nice idea, I failed miserably to identify my least favourite grape Cabernet Franc. A group of sommeliers arrived on their day off and if they choose it, then that should be a recommendation too.
Add in interesting visits to The Photographers’ Gallery, Cartoon Museum and Heddon Street where Bowie posed for the Ziggy Stardust album cover and I enjoyed my trip, despite the obvious disappointment of RAW’s postponement. London was quiet, the immediate future uncertain but wine to the rescue.
Sad to hear reports of widespread frost damage to vines all over France and Italy on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Temperatures plummeted to -6ºC in Chablis and the Jura for example. And at a time when vines have begun to bud and the leaves unfurl. The result, of course, is damage to these buds which will not produce grapes this year. No grapes means no money for the winemaker. And in some regions this is two years on a row. I was in the Loire at this time last year and saw the damage it can do for myself, some vignerons losing whole vineyards.
Jura before and after the frost (Véroselles)
Two weapons have been deployed by some vignerons. Firstly, impressive photos from Burgundy and Chablis where, perhaps more wealthy, vignerons used fires amongst the vines to try to keep temperatures higher.
Burgundy (Ulysse Paris)
Chablis (Titouan Rimbault)
The other tactic, more counter intuitive, is too spray the vines with water so that the buds and leaves are immediately covered in ice and this protects them from further damage.
Chablis spraying (Ulysse Paris)
Large scale producers such as Roederer in Champagne are reporting losses of 10-20% of their vines for the year. Some smaller scale winemakers will have lost proportionally much more. I can only sympathise. Let’s hope things turn better for them soon.
Addendum 3.15 pm
I have seen some photos of the Languedoc being hit too.
It appears that hail also struck some areas last night too. The frost risk will last until Saturday.
And so to the wines at RAW which contain sulfites above 20mg/l, in other words sulfites added. Reading Alice Feiring’s book ‘Naked Wine’ she tells of how the founding father of natural wine Jules Chauvet used SO2 as do some of the movement’s well-known figures such as Foillard and Puzelat if they feel they need to do so in order to protect that particular wine. Natural wine is about more than just sulfites though its reputation seems to be bound with that additive. RAW’s own charter is worth reading on the subject.
I did enjoy many wines at RAW which are above my artificial 20mg/l mark. There are a dozen domaines worthy of mention so I shall be brief in describing them. Again I refer you to the RAW website for more information (via links) and also to David Crossley’s website for more detailed descriptions on some.
Confounding all my prejudices about big, sweet California wines this domaine’s hallmark was freshness and a light touch. Whether a peach aroma Sonoma Valley Chardonnay 2016 or a juicy, red fruit Redwood Valley Carignan 2015 and even a Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 Santa Cruz Mountains – all these wines delivered everything you’d want in flavour and drinkability together with some complexity. Together with The Scholium Project I am converted to West Coast wines.
And Canada too. This is an interesting project where as well as making their own wine new winemakers are helped to make theirs too. Read more at the link above. Their Haywire wines were very good, providing an interesting contrast for me. As stated before I am not the biggest fan of extended skin contact wines, but here was a Free Form Sauvignon Blanc 2015of 9 months maceration which was fruity as well as having texture, very good. I preferred it to a more traditionally made Pinot Gris. On the other hand the red skin contact was outshone by a beautifully fresh Water And Banks Pinot Noir 2015, classic grape character with red fruits and an earthy crunch. Lovely.
Jura wines are very on trend and with good reason, there are many excellent wines being produced there. I visited the region 20 years ago when Jura wines were hard to find because nobody was interested, now they are hard to find because they are in demand. I have had the good fortune to taste many excellent producers before including La Pinte, present at RAW. This domaine was new to me however, and another name to add to my list of must buys.
The Crémant Cuvée Adrian 2014 would certainly fit nicely into any occasion, refreshing tasty sparkling Chardonnay. The Chardonnay Sur Montboucon 2015 was even better with round , green and yellow fruits, great character. Perhaps my favourite wine was the Poulsard 2014, very light like a rosé in colour but packing dense rose and red fruit aromas and long red fruit flavours. One of my wines of the event. A word too for Vinum Paléas 2015, Éric’s straw wine with a slight honey note but dry and refreshing. Skilled winemaking.
I don’t recall drinking wines from Bugey before. I will again. Again wines marked by a freshness and pure fruit . A lovely, fresh Chardonnay les Côtes 2016– more direct and zesty than the Jura style but a good food wine. The Pinot Noir Tradition 2016 made another comparison with the Jura and again it was more direct, good red fruits, ripe and clean. My favourite was the Altesse De Montagnieu “en Chinvre” 2016which is quite a mouthful! Roussette is the grape and there was a grapefruit, citrus attack with a soft finish, really good.
It really is good to see a region fighting back led by a producer who lets nature speak.
I was delighted to bump into Mathieu Deiss again. I have met him at a couple of tastings before when he was showing the wines of the family domaine with his father at the helm. I love those wines and their philosophy of place rather than grape. He is a passionate young winemaker and I am happy, but not surprised, to say that his own wines are crackers too.
Singulier is a blend of various white grapes, mostly Riesling made by carbonic maceration. The 13 was nice but the 15 was even better, singing with zesty fruit and character with mo SO2 either. It was another skin contact wine which made sense adding that characteristic texture to the fruit. Vibration 2013 was a Riesling with quite the best aromas of any wine at the Fair. Classic Riesling, zesty and long fresh flavours which grew in the mouth. Pierres Sauvages 2013 is a blend of Pinots; Blanc, Gris and Noir but made as a white wine so no long skin contact with the Noir grapes. This filled the senses, it is still developing in bottle I would say, lovely.
To the Loire, that hotbed of natural wine and another new domaine to me based in Azay Le Rideau. I liked the reds but Loire reds are often a blindspot for me and it was the white wines which really stuck out, based on Chenin Blanc. The Azay Le Rideau ‘Les Chênes’ 2015 was a classic Loire white with zest and minerality, textured and fruity. I also liked the Blanc Chenin 2015 made in concrete eggs which seemed to have a richer depth. More young winemakers making an impact, the future looks good.
I have bought wines from this domaine in the past and was pleased to see them here at RAW. This is a classic Burgundy domaine and I love good Burgundy. No disappointments here, lovely Savigny and Pernand Vergelesses but there were two stand out wines. Corton Blanc 14 was a reminder of why Chardonnay in Burgundy can be just about perfect. The aromas and flavours seemed to have limitless depth, from apple and green fruits to rich, round hazelnuts. A stunner. And the Corton Bressandes Grand Cru 2014, just makes me smile thinking of it. Still a baby, but delivering forest aromas, dark red fruits, earthy notes – it’s one of those Pinot Noirs which just says this is as good as red wine gets. Tannins aplenty still but in a few years? I would love a supply of these to follow the wine’s progress. Top class biodynamic wine with producers cutting back on sulfites too. Love it.
Wines from classic old world regions and new world upcoming areas too. The world of wine is embracing natural wine.
Whilst making a brief return to the UK I noticed that The Real Wine Fair was taking place in London, a showcase for organic, biodynamic and natural producers. Thus, I endured a 5.30am start to the day to travel down to London, returning home at 11pm – but it was worth the long day. Above all it was an opportunity to taste outside of my usual wine list of France, wines were on show from all around the world. My plan, therefore, was to taste from these other places to give myself a better context and understanding of wines.
I liked the set up where producers were set out across the rooms by country and region. It allowed easy movement and planning, the catalogue was well set out and there were good food stalls available too from the likes of Ottolenghi and Galvin. The seminars were another good feature, I’d have loved to hear Alice Feiring or Jamie Goode on the Sunday but it was a real pleasure to listen to Wink Lorch speaking on the Jura.
Wink Lorch with Kenjiro Kagami and Julien Maréchal
So these were the wines I enjoyed the most, as ever it was impossible to get round all of the producers I would have liked to visit.
Mouthes Le Bihan, Cotes de Duras Les Apprentis 2010 Merlot 60% with Cab Franc, Malbec and Cab Sauv – rich cassis nose and blackberry fruit. Nice whites especially 100% Semillon Pérette et les Noisetiers 14
Roc Des Anges,Maury Blanc Terres de Fagayra 14 (GrGris/GrBl/Macc) dense fresh, a lovely style of vin doux naturel – I liked this white version a lot
Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet (Hervé Souhaut), whole range good especially the 2014 VdP Ardèche wines Roussanne/Viognier and Syrah and the 2 2014 St Josephs, Cessieux and Saint-Epine with great depth yet balanced and fresh
Foillard, Morgon Classique and Cote De Py both 14s both classic Beaujolais, the latter very concentrated
Lapierre, Raisins Gaulois, VdF 2015 – lovely fruit, simple style but extraordinary freshness and flavour from this top Beaujolais domaine
De Moor, Chablis Vendangeur Masqué 14, lovely zesty but round finish with long, dry finish
Derain, St Aubin Blanc ‘En Vesvau’ 14, concentrated, fresh, long and round
Buisson, St Romain Blanc especially the 13 (no so2) and the Meursault ‘Marguerite’ 14 with lovely aromas and fruit and good use of oak
Domaine de la Borde, Arbois. 2014 Chardonnay ‘Caillot’ lovely, 14 Savagnin lively, zesty but yellow fruit and balance, 15 Ploussard Les Charmines looked to be older but very good soft red fruits
Domaine Des Miroirs (Kagami), Chardonnay Sonorité du Vent 13 – terrific, textured, light golden colour with fresh nutty white fruits
Alexandre Bain – all wines especially ‘Pierre Precieuse’ with 30% botrytised fruit yet still dry with roundness and length
Proseccos from Casa Coste Plane di Loris Follador and Casa Belfi especially latter
Princic, older wines, they do need time eg 11 Vino Bianco Trebez (PinotGrigio/Chard/SauvBl) 8 days on skins showed long, stone fruit flavours
Vodopivec, 12 Carso Vitovska Anfore with textured pure fruit, 12 Vitovska Solo MM12 over 6 months skins, 2.5 years in foudre – orange colour lovely minerality, almost liquorice
La Stoppa, Reds best, eg Trebbilo Rosso 14 with fresh cherry acidity and best of all the intense red fruits, long maceration and years in foudre of the 07 Macchiona (possibly my favourite wine of the day)
COS, 14 Rami Bianco zesty and golden, 14 Cerasuolo deep, dark red fruits with lovely acid and best of all 14 Nero di Lupo, darker still, raspberry and cherry
Occhipinti, favourite of the Italian producers; SP 68 Rosso 2015, bright vibrant fruit and colour, tremendous Frappato 14 rounder than COS with red fruits, almost menthol freshness, lovely
Forja del Salnes, Rias Baxas – brilliant wines from old vines Albarino, 13 Leirana Finca Genoveva great concentration and depth (100 year old vines) yet still zesty, 2011 Golliardo A Telleira (60 year old vines at highe altitude) concentration, rich flavours but still clean. Red 13 Bastion de la Luna Tinto (Caino, Espadeiro and Loureiro grapes) – pure red fruits.
Celler Batlliu de Sort, Costers del Segre – reds a bit woody but lovely 13 Biu Riesling pure slatey Riesling, almost piercing citrus freshness
Thörle, excellent range, the dry Rieslings were all good especially Saulheimer Kalkstein 14 and impressive Schlossberg 14 (slate dry mineral). The Kabinett Riesling 15 was gorgeous, green apple with 56g of residual sugar. Spätburgunders too especially Kalkstein 14 and the single parcels 13 Probstey and 13 Holle with good concentration and depth.
I said hello to Messrs. Tscheppe and Muster but did not taste due to time pressures as I had tasted their wines in Montpellier at Les Affranchis. They remain top of the class for me.
Warnung, 2013 Skin Contact Grüner Veltliner and 13 Riesling Berg especially the latter with spicy freshness. Nice Portuguieser Feldspiel 13 with round fruit and 13 Etsdorf Blauer Zweigelt, a rosé wine with citrus freshness and white fruit flavours.
Schnabel, Morillon 14, a golden Chardonnay, mineral / texture and long nutty flavours, good Pinot Noir Hochegg 14 classic Pinot Noir
Okro’s Wines, Rkatsiteli 14 more rounded than some of the other whites, tighter, Rkatsiteli Pet Nat 15 also very good appley fruit
Bitarishvili, 14 Iago with skin contact was actually fruitier than the non contact version, a little reduced but nice
Mandidli, 2015 Mandili Mtsvane grape, fruitier and rounder than other examples of this grape elsewhere, fruity, balanced
Revasashvili, 15 Chinuri clear pear / apple fresh and textured.
Testalonga, lovely range. El Bandito skin contact 15, lovely Chenin Blanc, apple fruit and clean. Sweet Cheeks 15, Muscat d’Alexandrie skin contact, dry, fruity clean (impressive for a grape which can become very blousy). Dark Side Syrah 15, spicy, coloured. El Bandito, Mangaliza apple and pear with lovely balance. Keep On Punching 15 Baby Bandito, Chenin, stainless steel dry, fresh clean apples. Baby Bandito Follow Your Dream (Carignan) 15, fresh, spicy light. Very keen on these wines from Craig Hawkins, a good man to talk with too.
Patrick Sullivan, Haggis 15, assemblage of leftover wines but really good fruit
La Garagista, Vermont – Unusual varieties due to climate. Harlots and Ruffians 14 – Frontenac Gris 5 weeks contact but nice and fresh. Frontenac Noir (related to Aramon) in Loups Garoux 14 lovely aromas but a bit foxy and wild.
Kelley Fox, Oregon – Momtazi Pinot Noir 13 with concentration, depth and flavour. Maresh Pinot Noir 13, lighter colour but more fruit and elegance
Clos Saron, California Sierra Mountains– Carte Blanche 14 (Albarino) green, zesty fruity. Blue Cheer 14 nice blend with Cinsault lifting the Carignan to a lighter feel, spicy. Heart Of Stone Syrah 09, truffley, good deep and balanced. Stone Soup Syrah 12, fresh, tannic but good fruit
Ambyth, California Paso Robles – nice whites especially Grenache Blanc 13 but best was Venustas 11, (Tempranillo/Sangiovese) lovely balance of fruit and spice, complex and long
Overall impressions. Well it was good to see how the world of wine is being influenced by organic, biodynamic and natural ideas. Whatever your thoughts about these influences they are making winemakers think about the way they produce wines. Interesting to see how producers as far afield as Oregon and Georgia, South Africa and Wales have embraced similar ideas and thinking, encouraged by events such as this no doubt.
There were some negatives for me. Skin contact is fine and clearly very fashionable for white wines. However, there were a lot of clumsy wines made in this style with overlong maceration or over extraction. They ended up tasting harsh and lacked fruit or freshness.I know some people like that, but not for me. Other producers did long maceration but kept fruit, freshness and balance. Maybe it is a learning process but I had really heard enough about skin contact wines by the end of the day. There were also some reductive wines, others with brett and mousiness. However, these were few in number in a Fair where I tasted over 300 wines.
There were many interesting wines, there were many very pleasing wines, and some excellent wines. I particularly loved the ranges from Occhipinti, Testalonga, Thörle, Clos Saron, Alexandre Bain and Romaneaux-Destezet. My top half dozen wines were: