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Articles and Wine bars and restaurants

Plateau still delivers

Plateau has been Brighton’s palace of natural wines for many years now. Since my last visit Jake, from the bar 1909 (see here), has taken over as a manager. His partner Jon has taken over as bar manager after Johan (see another report from Plateau here), who is now at Cincin Hove (more about that later). The kitchen team is led by James Mcilveen, and takes great pride in serving good, organic food from local farms. To jump to the conclusion: Plateau still delivers!

Our waiter Alex led us safely through the menu with its bites and plates. If my memory doesn’t fail me we ended up with cured trout, lobster bisque, beef tartar, bavette steak, everything with a creative twist, and concluded with a board of five English cheeses.

Here are the wines that we enjoyed this dark October evening in Brighton, everything chosen from their by-the-glass offer.

Pétillant Naturel 2017 (Famille de Conti)

A charming, straightforward pet nat from the de Conti family’s château in Bergerac, in the French Sud-Oest. It’s made from varieties sauvignon blanc (90%) and chenin blanc, according to biodynamic principles, unfiltered and with no added sulphur. The colour is light yellow. Smells of red apples and some light tropic fruit (litchis). Appley fruit, and quite high acidity to balance some residual sugar.

Impera 2015 (Dva Duby)

This is a wine grown in stony soil in southern Moravia (Czech Republic), close to the Austrian border. The grapes are well-known in their neighbouring country too: 70% St. Laurent (here called svatovavrinecke) and blaufränkish (here: frankovka). It’s a cherry red (light, I think – it was difficult to see the colour in the room), delicate and fruity (raspberry), and luscious, smooth and fruity in the mouth, with just a slight touch of oak (almost too little to mention).

Continuing with two wines from La Clarine Farm, Sierra Foothills (California), both called jambalaia (sic!), blanc and rouge respectively.

In the sparse light of the bar the picture became as unclear as the wine itself…

La Clarine Farm Jambalaia Blanc 2015 (La Clarine Farm)

The ‘blanc’ was not exactly white, but sorted under orange, as the skin-contact had been quite prolonged. Dominated by Rhône grapes, mostly viognier, but also marsanne, and with small percentages of petit manseng and albariño.

Smells of white flowers, citrus, peach, pineapple. Juicy in the mouth, but also with a high acidity, and a slight bitterness in the finish.

La Clarine Farm Jambalaia Rouge 2015 (La Clarine Farm)

Here all grapes are known as Rhône grapes, although the main grape mourvèdre is of Spanish origin (and known as monastrell).

Cherry red, cloudy. Good fruit, raspberry, cherry, somewhat earthy. A bit tannic, quite high acidity.

3 Barriles “El Objeto Imposible no. 27” 2015 (Bodegas PolOpuesto)

A wine from Valle de Uco inside the bigger region of Mendoza (Argentina). The winemaker is Pol Andsnes. Being Norwegian, for me this name can evoke distinctive classical piano chords, but this Andsnes is a wine punk born in San Francisco, who wants to challenge established ways to make wine, according to his own website. ‘Polos opuestos’ is Spanish for ‘poles apart’, and as I read him, Pol is satisfied if the ideas from the opposition once can be the norm. Something like that. Anyway, this wine is made from three barrels of Chardonnay vinified in three different ways. You can read from the drawing on the label that they are one barrel of direct pressing and reductive ageing on lees, one barrel of one year skin contact, and one barrel of direct pressing aged under flor. They were blended after two years.

The colour is obviously quite dark (a better description is difficult in this -lack of- light). It’s fresh, with flowers, orange peel and yellow apples; quite full-bodied, with a solid backbone, and an oxidative character from the flor. It’s an interesting experiment and a wine with lots of vitality, and the winemaker’s energy shines through.

Plateau has many natural wine classics and many of my personal favourites on their current list. Some are Foillard, Ganevat, Landron, Matassa, Frick, Maule, COS, Alfredo Maestro, Barranco Oscuro, Testalonga, to name only a few. Sniff around these pages, and you will meet all of them. And you have understood by now that this natural wine bar is highly recommended, it never disappoints – and if you get the chance: Go there!

Before going for a stroll on the black Brighton november beach, we rounded it all off with a well-known champagne. It was the Cuvée Réserve Brut, from Pierre Gerbais, whose son Aurélien I met at a London wine fair a couple of years ago (see here). This red and white grape champagne is a lightly coloured, apple and citrus scented wine with a contribution of red fruits (strawberry, raspberry), and bisque, that ends off with an inspiring acidity.

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Wine bars and restaurants

Plateau: On a high level in Brighton

I heard about this Brighton winebar from Fiona Beckett, blogger with many years in the business, and whom I met at the RAW fair a couple of years ago. You can see her blog here. Strange though, as I have been there a few times because one of the world’s best sax shops is just around the corner, in West Sussex. Sax, yes. Now after two visits to Plateau this year I must share my experience.

Plateau is a word play on French plateaux (platters/dishes), says bar responsible Johan Claesson, who is on duty the during my second visit. But at least for me it also signifies the high level of cooking, the selection of natural wines and the presentation of it all. Located just opposite the city hall it is easy to find in the heart of the town, near the beaches and the pier too.

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Shelter for the evening rain

Plateau is for people with a pleasure in eating and drinking. The staff take pride in good quality ingredients, served in a friendly and fun environment. Their ‘bites’ are based on ingredients that are fresh, local and organically grown. Today’s main menu is written on a chalkboard on the wall, and the dishes are built around the idea of sharing (they can be made into main courses also).

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Christian & Johan

Among my choices were mackerel with beetroot puree, green apple and walnut, a lamb carpaccio with broad beans and dukkah (a nutty dip from North Africa), and from the chalkboard: duck with springroll, melon and more, and a delicious goat’s cheese gnocchi.

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The wine list is full of unpretentious, easy-and-fun-to-drink organic, biodynamic and natural wines, always with as little additives and corrections as possible, some of them none, and many by the glass.

The wines are not listed by origin, but by style. The whites for instance, come in categories like «mineral, citrus, zingy», «aromatic, fragrant», «skin contact, oxidative», and «rich, nutty, fullbodied» while among the reds you can chose between «carbonic maceration, fruity, gamay», «pinot noir, jura and friends» or «aussies gem» etcetera.

I have mostly chosen from the by the glass selection, and several wines on the staff’s recommendations too. I tried some new and interesting wines, but I also took the opportunity to taste new vintages of old favourites.

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The first wine, La Pythe 2013 (a grenache rosé from Dom. Les Deux Terres) was new to me, but a very light, fresh and delicious wine made by natural principles in Ardèche, France. I was surprised to find the Gabriela manzanilla (Sánchez Ayala), a natural, grapey fortified wine I didn’t expect to be sold very far from their bodega in the center of Sanlúcar (Cádiz, Spain). One last example of the many unlikely starter wines here: La Perle Noire 2014, a sparkling wine from Dom. de l’Ocre Rouge to the north of Nîmes, France, a pinot noir with 5 months on the lees. At my second visit I went for a champagne, Pierre Gerbais Cuvée Préstige Brut NV, a very tasteful non dos, no added SO2 wine, with notes of mature apple, some marmelade, and a nice acidity to go with it.

Among the whites I went for a very light coloured sylvaner from Alsace, Dom. Rietsch Sylvaner 2014, that was smelling of flowers and some apricot, and was round and grapey in the mouth. Then an orange wine with some brown, oxidazed tones, Dinavolino 2009, from the unlikely combination of malvasia and marsanne grapes, a nutty, mature apple smelling, lightly spicy, richly textured wine from Denavolo Rivergeno in Emilia-Romagna, Italy.

For the reds I tried several Spanish wines. The Gran Cerdo 2012 (a declassified rioja, which is a good thing for several reasons) a pure whole bunch fermented, unfiltered tempranillo, with lots of fresh fruit, blackcurrent, green pepper, good acidity and quite slender in the mouth. This one went well with «goat’s cheese gnocchi» with wild mushrooms and hazelnuts. They also had a wine from the interesting Maybri project, 1.700 meters above sea level in Bullas, Murcia – only in bottle though – that I chose for an ox tongue bite. Interesting to have tasted, the Maybri Wild 2012 was on the oaky side though. Other Spanish wines I tasted were the Tragolargo from Rafa Bernabé (Alicante) and Partida Creus Vinel.lo 2014, a garnatxa/ull de llebre (tempranillo) from Penedès, Catalunya.

 

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A Murcian highland red

I could have dropped many more names down here, but lastly I wish to leave you a few details about one wine, as I have a special interest in wines like Beaujolais these days. Vielle Vignes 2012, a Beaujolais Village from Jean Claude Lapalu was in a delicate style somewhere between the Sunier brothers and Foillard. Based in his native southern Beaujolais he makes six different Beaujolais gamay wines. Like many others he was influenced by Jules Chauvet, and is now going strictly biodynamic.

Lastly, Johan serverd me an «Eiswein» (from apples) from his native Sweden! A very interesting experience and a very nice conclusion of another memorable visit.

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Beach promenade

At Plateau they also feel that music is neglected. Here it is carefully selected, so keep the beat, don’t miss the bar – and have a bite too.

I round off with a cheap wordplay inspired by the famous writer (there are several to be found around town, my favourite being a bar called The Greene Room):

Brighton rocks, and on a very high Plateau too!

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Wine bars and restaurants

Brighton & Hove: Scenes from an Italian restaurant

Before London’s Real Wine fair I usually go down to Brighton for a couple of days. Here is a new discovery.

After having been a bartender at Brighton’s excellent Plateau wine bar Johan Fredrik Claesson, Swedish-born, took a job in the newly opened Cin Cin in a “chain” of two. Here at Cin Cin Johan has total control over the selection of wines, and the closing time is earlier – that would be the two main reasons that he decided to move.

Cin Cin Hove is a neighbourhood restaurant, in Hove to be accurate, that since 2000 has formed a city together with Brighton. It is an Italian restaurant, with carefully prepared small plates. I had Agnolotti (a type of pasta typical of Piemonte) of garden pea and smoked ham hock and Crème brulée (an exception to the Italian).

Johan suggested a flight of four wines. First came the Arcese 2017 (VIttorio Bera), the name put together from the arneis and cortese grapes that normally make up this wine. It’s a skin-contact white from the Asti area in Piemonte, golden in colour, aroma of white flowers and some peel character, a cool acidity and some carbonic that adds to the freshness. Quite easy to drink, after all. The second was an aged Barolo, Boscareto 2007, that we soon shall give some special attention. Then, the Bianchdùdùi 2000 (also from Bera), a moscato aged like a sherry under ‘flor’ for 16 years. Despite of this it’s very fresh. It shows nice herbal aromas, it’s quite dry in the beginning, it’s full but not heavy, some texture, and with a touch of bitterness in the finish. Bukkuram Sole d’Agosto, a Passito di Pantelleria 2016 from Marsala based Marco de Bartoli, was the last wine according to the original plan. The colour is amber, it’s concentrated and intense, with scents of dried apricots, dates, but also some citrus (orange). It’s sweet of course, but beautifully balanced by a long acidity.

Some “obscurities” were thrown in along the way too, among them Therìa 2017 (Alberto Loi, Sardegna), a yellow coloured wine, slightly pétillant and rich at the same time, with notes of flowers, dried fruits, spice, made from the vermentino grape.

When I started to write this piece my plan was to present the Barolo in my wine of the week column, and I had a look at the background of the producer and the wine. So even if my focus shifted I still want to give it a special mention. Here we go.

Principiano Ferdinando is a young winemaker, third generation, and in charge of the family estate in Monforte d’Alba since 1993. In 1946 the six hectares were planted in Serralunga d’Alba, that were to become the plot where they source the grapes for their top wine Boscareto. In the Serralunga very few take the risk to run the plots organically, but Principiano’s vines stand out. The only treatments are copper, and some sulfur only when necessary. The soils are calcareous, with very good drainage, and various crops are planted to help creating a functioning biodiversity and to add to the health of this south-west facing vineyard. In the cellar only natural yeast is employed for fermentations, and the sulphites are kept to a minimum. The barrels are big and old, Slavonian and French oak.

Boscareto 2007 (Ferdinando Principiano): Developed, cherry colour; intense aroma of mature red berries (cherry), forest fruits, spice and smoke; in the mouth it’s concentrated, yet with fine silky tannins, long. A lovely wine with still some years to go. The price is quite high, but worth it.

Next time in Brighton I suggest you pay Johan and his collegues a visit. It’s less than half an hour’s walk from the city centre, and the buses go west along the Western Road all the time. There are passionate wine people who gladly share of their knowledge and enthusiasm. Recommended.

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Wine of the Week

French Fusion

I am back in Brighton for the Real Wine fair that is coming up, starting on Sunday. And I am back at Plateau, the natural wine temple close to the city hall. (See one of several write-ups here.)

This time one of the wines is the Fusion 2017, a varietal gamay made by Vincent Marie of Domaine No Control, in Auvergne, some 150 km west of Lyon.

He explains on the website that the wine is named after a music style that he likes very much, in this case it’s the mixing of hip-hop and energetic rock. The wine is pure gamay, but it’s a fusion between gamay from Auvergne and gamay from Beaujolais, and also between two types of vinification.

The parcel is south-facing, and the vines between 15 and 110 years old. The wine is made using whole bunches in two vats of fiberglass. In the first vat the grapes were trodden to make som space in the vat, then maceration of whole bunches. In the second there was carbonic maceration. Then the two were blended, and macerated for three weeks – without any additions.

Fusion 2017 (Vincent Marie, Dom. No Control)

Light cherry red. Fruity, violets, red fruits (raspberry, cherry) and blueberry on the nose. Juicy, kind of soft, but has also some fine-grained tannins.

Price: Medium

Food: Light meat, charcuterie, salads, bacalao and grilled fish

 

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Articles

Exciting Moravian wines tasted, Czech

This year’s RAW adventure had an unlikely start for me. It was down in Brighton, a beautiful seaside town that I take every opportunity to go back to. One of the reasons is the superb wine bar and restaurant Plateau. I can always discuss with the staff what to chose according to my taste and what I have tried before. This time they were excited about their Czech wines. I soon learned that other restaurants in the area had also listed several authentic, exciting Moravian wines. At the RAW wine fair there were also a couple of visiting producers.

Moravia is the most important wine region in the Czech Republic, and borders Slovakia and Northeastern Austria. The climate is continental, with cold winters, and the soils are dominated by loess and limestone.

Many of the varieties for white wines are German or Austrian. The reds are more varied, with an emphasis on French ones, brought to the region Roman Emperor Charles IV in the 14th Century.

(Credit: J. Osička)

My experience is that the quality is in general very good, and there are several interesting individual growers. There is even a movement of natural winemakers, called Autentisté, parallel to groups in other countries. The movement was started by winemaker and winebar owner Bogdan Trojak some ten years ago. Most of the wineries are in Moravia, the most traditional area for vinegrowing in the Czech Republic, with some in Bohemia, and also a few from Slovakia.

Here are some good, authentic wines from the country, all from the Moravia part.

The Osička family at RAW, London

Jaroslav Osička has worked for a long time as an educator at the wine school in Valtice, the largest Moravian wine-growing village in Velké Bílovice. He works completely organically. He says he tries  not to make wine, only to assist in its making. He uses some batônage and enjoys the influence of oxygen along the way.

Chardonnay 2012 (J. Osička)

This wine comes from a small vineyard in the small town of Velké Bílovice, at 200-250 meters altitude, with southwestern and eastern orientation. The soil is loess and loam, and the vines are a little more than 20 years old.

Skin-contact was 6 months, then two more years in old barrels, until it was bottled without fining or filtration. Just 20 mg/L sulfur was added before bottling.

This wine is light golden in colour, somewhat cloudy. Aromas of citrus, orange peel, yellow apple, and some pineapple. Rich on the palate, oxidative tones shine through, but though the vintage was warm, the wine has a fresh, natural acidity.

Pinot Gris 2015 (J. Osička)

Here is a still, dry wine from clay and loess soil. Three days skin-contact in big oak vats, some whole bunch added, then almost a year on lees, before it’s bottled unfiltered.

Light golden colour. Complex nose with pear, melon, lime and some sweet elements (like caramel). It plays with oxidation, especially in the aroma. Quite full in the mouth, but juicy too, and with an integrated acidity.

Tramín Červený 2016 (J. Osička)

Dry, still wine from clay and loess soil, like the previous wine.

Golden yellow, slightly turbid. Flowery, slightly sweet nose. Dry and structured, adecuate acidity.

Modry Portugal 2016 (J. Osička)

Blauer portugieser (here called modry portugal) grown on clay and loess. It’s made in old wood, then goes into fiberglass tanks. It’s bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Deep purple colour. Aroma of flowers, plums, cassis and some spice. Full and juicy in the mouth, fresh acidity. Lovely for glugging.

Dobrá Vinice has 15 ha vineyard in Znojmo in the Podyjí National Park. They use biodynamic preparations, and have a very natural approach, with spontaneous fermentation and only tiny amounts of sulphur added, if any. Extended grape maceration is carried out both in new oak barrels and qvevri from Georgia.

Velinské Zelené Qvevri Georgia 2012 had been through nine months of maceration on skins in qvevri from Georgia. As a result the colour was deep, orange. The aromas were dominated by orange peel and flowers, and in the mouth it had a big texture, with good fruit acidity.

Cuvée Kambrium 2014 is a lovely blend of veltlín (grüner veltliner), ryzlink (rhine riesling) and sauvignon blanc. It was fermented 10 weeks in new oak and acacia barrels, then aged for a further 14 months in the same barrels, and bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Lighter in colour, gooseberry dominating the aroma, some citrus, combined with white pepper. Quite light in the mouth, luscious, lovely wine for glugging.

Andrea and Petr Nejedlik

Two wines from the restaurant scene before we leave: The first one from the Krásna Horá winery was probably tasted at the Noble Rot, near London’s Russell Square, but I’ll find it out for you.

Sekt 2014 (Krásná Hora)

This winery dates back to the communist days of the early 1960’s. Things have changed since then. Now they focus on high quality fruit and individual wines from small parcels, backed by biodynamic principles.

This all pinot noir sparkler is made with the traditional method, and had nine months on the lees. And since it is a 14 it has had some time in bottle after that. It has no dosage. It’s clearly on the fruity side, with apples and citrus, and just a little bakery stuff. A rather simple, appealing wine with a refreshing acidity.

(Credit: Krásná Hora winery)

Back in Brighton’s Plateau I was offered a digestive on the house:

Cerné starosvětské 2015 (Petr Koráb – živá hora)

živá hora means something like living hill, or “Live Hill”, as dubbed by the winery. It consists of 4 hectares of vineyards, some more than 80 years old. This Moravian family of winemakers started their venture in 2006 and took on an organic approach, now supplemented with biodynamic philosophy. Vinification varies, but they try to do what they call authentic and in respect of tradition.

This one is made from frankovska (blaufränkish), a traditional grape from here and over in Austria.

Light cherry red. It smells a little like Christmas: Plums, cherry compote and a touch of marzipan. It’s medium sweet, rounded, but with a fresh and vibrant finish.

These wines could maybe be regarded as a “new” world in the middle of the old, well worth czeching out… Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun. Anyway, if you get ike chance, please do check them out!

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Articles

Vicenza province III: Contrà Soarda

From Siemàn in Colli Berici it was almost an hour’s ride back on the north side of the motorway, to Bassano del Grappa, in the extreme east of the Breganze DOC. Here is Vignaiolo Contrà Soarda, whose wines I had been familiar with since a few years ago. I had tasted their wines in London, both at the Raw fair, including the tasting that Fiona Beckett talks about here, and in natural wine bars.

I came half an hour early, so I started to make myself comfortable, as I believed I was going to meet the person with whom I had corresponded. So I started with a short tasting in the shop. It turned out that it was nobody else than one of the owners, Gloria Gottardi herself, that kept the shop going at that time.

The first wine was exactly the one that Beckett started her tasting with, as an alternative to sauvignon blanc to match with a goat’s cheese. And it stood the test with its crisp, citrussy flavours. That time it was the 2012. Now the Soarda Vespaiolo is in the 2017 vintage. Vespaiolo is a wonderful grape, one of the great Italian V’s (alongside verdicchio, vermentino, a.o.).

Vespaiolo (or vespaiola), named after the wasps (vespa in Italian) thrives especially well in this area of Veneto. -it’s our star grape, the whole family agrees. It is often used for passito (dried grapes) style dessert wines, such as the Torcolato, and the wasps have also found out that the sugar levels can be very high because of the sweet aromas in the vineyards. The grape is often fermented to dryness, and produces wines with high acidity and other aromatic characteristics.

Contrà Soarda’s Vespaiolo 2017, fermented and raised in steel and bottled unfiltered, was light straw coloured, with green apples, pears in the aroma, and a high, but well integrated, acidity. Vignasilan 2013 (made in the same way, also 100% vespaiolo); light straw, apple and citrus aromas, but it also goes towards peach and apricot, and a touch of honey. The great concentration and elevated acidity makes the finish long, and at five years of age it keeps very well. 121 B.C. Time Flows Bianco 2014, named after a fabled vintage a long time ago, is also a varietal vespaiolo, I tasted before I left for Italy, and it’s convenient to mention it here. It’s spontaneously fermented, with 7 days of skin-maceration, and stayed 12months in oak barrel (with steamed, not toasted staves), and no added sulphur. Nice golden colour; complex aroma with floral components, honey; concentrated and structured (high acidity and some tannin).

121 b.C. Time flows Bianco 2014

 121 B.C. Time Flows Rosso 2012, is the red version. Here the variety is carmenère. It’s aged for 18 months in steamed oak, the rest is similar. Deep cherry red; mature fruit (blackberry, dark cherry), with some herbs and spices; luscious and fresh in the mouth, with a light tannin structure.  Veneto Rosso 2009 is a blend of  marzemino 30%, merlot 25%, pinot noir 20%, and the rest teroldego and groppello, fermented in steel and barrel before blending, then matured 24 months in barrel and steel. Deep purple; fresh aromas of dark berries, cherries, morellos, herbs, and some underwood; fresh, immediate and juicy in the mouth, with a nice integrated tannin.

Back to the Bassano tasting, the last wine I tasted with Gloria was Musso Riserva 2007. A lovely wine from marzemino and merlot, and the first wine that really showed development: Brick nuances; developed aroma somewhere between cherries, dried fruits and smoke; quite slender on the palate with plums and some lickorice. -Musso is a different project, explains Gloria. -Musso means donkey in Venetian dialect. When thinking about terroir images of vines, soils come along. And our philosophy is based on the respect for our land, but alto the animals that live on it. So Musso offers a none ironic perspective, suggesting that the animals are in fact part of the terroir. Donkeys are much more than workers; they are gentle and intelligent companions, curious and with an incredible memory. While horses often will run away from any danger, donkeys are cautious and steadfast.

Anyway, in comes Marcello, the wine maker, and his father Mirco Gottardi (Gloria’s husband obviously), and we have a chat and a brief tour around the premises.

Mirco (left) and Marcello Gottardi

The hill was bought in 2000, and 2004 was the first vintage. They started with a 4 hectare vineyard, now it’s 18. A successful traditional restaurant in Bassano centre, that the family has been running for three generations, has been important for the project’s overall economy, says Marco. In 2011 the restaurant, Pulierin, was moved to the hills where the winery is located.

Down to some basic information: Contrà Soarda, meaning ‘on the slope’, is located in the hills at the foot of the Asiago plateau in San Michele of Bassano del Grappa, a place dedicated to vines and olive trees since ancient times. The soil here is volcanic, often called “onion type”, because it’s old lava solidified in various layers. This makes the rock easy to break, thus it’s easier for the roots to go deep. We also find clay and rocks with fossils here.

A green manure is used to improve the biodiversity. The vines are normally trained in ouble guyot. Only own grapes are used, growing and vinification is all natural, with natural yeast, spontaneous fermentation, and also natural temperature control. The first harvest is normally done in the 2nd week of September, three weeks later for the sweet wines. The winery is modern, but based on traditional winemaking techniques, such as gravity, and wisely integrated with the environment.

They come back to the vespaiolo, -our star grape, the family rejoices. -It’s versatile; we use it for sweet wine (torcolato), natural wine, basic wines, cuvées, and special selections. We love it for the high acidity and the citrus notes, the mineral character. And after ageing it gains in hydro carbon, like truffle.

Time flies, or flows, as the labels say. I take a look at the watch, appologize that the visit became shorter than intended. But the good impression I had before I came here is confirmed, and I am already looking forward to next time, when a visit to the restaurant should be obligatory.

 

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Wine of the Week

A brilliant South African “Portuguese” in Brighton

I will recommend a place that will close down in a couple of weeks. I can do this because I feel confident that Jon and Jake will find a new place to fulfill their mission. The blues… sorry, wine brothers, also work in the bar and in the kitchen respectively, of Plateau, Brighton’s temple of natural wine.

1909’s mission is quite simply to serve delicious organic and natural wines with bites to match. The cuisine could be called modern European, with influences from other places (Asia not least) and former times (such as fermented ingredients).

Their wine list is a small but fine selection, from a few selected producers, to to five or six references from each.

Jon Grice (left) and Jake Northcole-Green

 

This week’s pick is from their “by the glass” selection.

It’s supposedly the only planting of Portuguese grape fernão pires in South Africa, planted as unirrigated bushvines 40 years ago near Darling town in the Swartland, only 700 bottles made. Pieter H. Walser started his first winery in his friend’s garage during his agriculture studies in Stellenbosch, and his wish to make wines where the content inside should tell it all, lead to the winery with the name BLANKbottles. He has a rather free approach to both styles and grapes.

Kortpad kaaptoe in Afrikaans means something like short-cutting one’s way to Cape Town. As the story goes: In 2011 Walser was visiting a carignan grape vineyard. He received an text message from someone who needed him to be in Cape Town within the next hour. He asked the farmer the quickest way, and was told, the “kortpad Kaaptoe”, drive towards the Carignan, past the Shiraz and Fernão Pires…” He had to ask about the latter, the story about our wine had started, but I don’t know if Walser ever made it to Cape Town in time.

The label is designed by Walser himself with the AC/DC font on Microsoft Word

 

Kortpad Kaaptoe 2016 (Blank Bottle)

Intensely gold yellow in colour. Ripe, concentrated exotic aromas, peaches, apricots, a touch of anise and spices. In the mouth it is full, almost fat, grapey, with a light tannic dryness too, and wonderful acidity. Very pure, with lots of energy.

Price: Medium

Food: I had it with 1909’s herb dumpling, with dill and fermented spring onions. But it should go to a variety of fish and seafood, light meat and more…

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Wine of the Week

Puglia Primitivo

Primitivo is one of Puglia’s most prominent grapes. We haven’t focused much on primitivos on this blog. I don’t know, it’s maybe easy to ignore the often slightly warm wines from this corner of Europe and Italy. This remarkable wine I enjoyed at the excellent restaurant and natural wine bar Brawn of London East. (Read about it here.)

Primitivo is an early ripener, hence the name. The Gioia del Colle plateau, with its sea winds and cool nights, is one of the most favoured terroirs. We are 400 meters above the plains where all the boring stuff originates. It’s up here that we find Cristiano Guttarolo, who works his 1.5 hectare vineyard (biodynamically. The vines here are planted on a base of limestone and clay. Fermentation is done with natural yeasts in stainless steel fermentation tanks. Maceration is carried out for 16 days and aged in steel. Bottling is without clarification, filtration or the addition of sulphur dioxide.

Lamie delle Vigne 2014 (Cristiano Guttarolo)

Very dark, young colour. Aroma of berries from the woods (blueberry), and also berries bathed in the sun, and a salty minerality. Round and tasty in the mouth, with a good acidity for a Puglian wine. A hint of volatile acidity maybe, but in tiny quantities it’s ok, as it adds to the freshness in a southern wine like this.

Price: Medium

Food: At Brawn’s it came with their magnificent crispy and tasty black pudding. But it goes to a variety of light meat, salads, vegetarian, vegan and light desserts.

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Visiting Finca Montepedroso, Rueda

At Finca Montepedroso we met winemaker Lauren Rosillo and Marta Martínez Bujanda (of the family that owns the winery).

Montepedroso is a beautiful farm on a plateau overlooking the Rueda village. It was bought in 2008, and a functional winery built in the typical materials of the area opened four years later.

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They manage 25 hectares of vineyards with an average of 20 years, at an altitude of 750 meters. This is a one wine farm, dedicated to one single variety, the verdejo, and only 120.000 bottles are made annually.

Here are three types of soils: alluvial soil on top of the plateau accounts for 70%, clay soil in the gorge where the oldest vineyards are planted, and a soil with a large quantity of lime and clay sediments.

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We are on the central Castilian meseta, with cold and long winters, short springs with late frosts and hot and dry summers. The vines find water and nutrients deep down the  subsoil, and the wide temperature gives freshness and acidity to the wine.

The fermentation starts without addition of yeasts. Lauren says that for him this is the only way. And worth mentioning here is that the typical features for the verdejo are green apple and grass, and that the tropical aromas found in many verdejos are from added yeasts, according to the winemaker. The fermentation at Montepedroso lasts typically for 19 days at 16ºC. Then the must rests over its fine lees for five months with weekly stirring. The wine is completely dry, but the lees add a sensation of sweetness. Lauren says that he aims for acidity, varietal character – and a low alcohol (here typically 12-12,5).

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Marta and Lauren, with Rueda village in the background

We first tasted the most recent vintage, Finca Montepedroso 2016. This is light yellow with a greenish hint, aromatic with notes of green apple, apricot, fennel, white flowers and hay. It has both volume and structure in the mouth, and a fresh balancing acidity. In sum a personal verdejo, but in a traditional line.

We also tasted the 2010, the first vintage of the wine, to see the development. 2010 had frost during spring, and the production was low. This wine was more golden, still flowery, but with mature sensations of honey and a touch of petrol. Very fresh and appealing.

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We also tasted a few wines from Martínez Bujanda‘s other projects. Their single estate in Rioja is Finca Valpiedra, 80 hectares between Fuenmayor and Cenicero at an altitude of just over 400 meters, where we find alternating Atlantic and Mediterranean influences. This is the only Rioja estate to be included in the organization Grandes Pagos de España. Both wines are predominantly tempranillo, but with presence of other Rioja varieties, such as graciano.

Cantos de Valpiedra 2013 had a cherry red colour, an aroma of dark fruits, blackberry, fennel with slight hints of vanilla. In the mouth it was quite full, and a decent level of acidity gives freshness and contributes to the balance. The Finca Valpiedra Reserva 2010 had a slightly darker, intense black cherry colour. The aroma was complex with red and dark fruits, balsamic, a touch of smoke, and some vanilla, spices and tobacco from the oak-ageing. The tannins are still there, but they are rounded off by age, it’s fresh and delicate, and with a good balance between fruit and wood.

20171015_105231 Lauren and Marta with some of the visitors

During the travels through the many great vineyards of Spain Finca Antigua was a “love at first sight” experience, according to both Marta and Lauren. This is close to where the winemaker lives, in the Cuenca province towards the border of Toledo. We find scrubland, vineyards and forest, and it’s easy to maintain the eco-diversity. It’s a vast farm in Castilla-La Mancha with an altitude over 900 meters, one of the coldest part of the meseta, and extreme variations between day and night. They decided that varieties well-apted for this land were merlot, syrah, petit verdot and cabernet sauvignon, together with tempranillo (formerly known in Central Spain as cencibel) and other national grapes.

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The wines have cool elegance and freshness, and the wines improve with age. But even with full phenolic maturity the alcohol levels rarely exceeds 14, not even in the hottest years. The Finca Antigua 2012 (a crianza of 50% tempranillo, and the rest merlot, syrah and cabernet) was a dark, cool wine, with aromas of chalky minerals, almost milky (from the malolactic, I guess), fresh berries, and in the mouth it had a creamy structure and then a wonderful acidity. The Reserva 2010 (70% merlot, complementet with cabernet and syrah) was also a dark and cool wine, with cherries and berries from the woods, balsamic (mint, eucalyptus), herbal (thyme), with a slightly tougher structure than the crianza.

Sidestepping: Please read here about Lauren’s solo project in Málaga, where I met him for the first time.

Coming back: These days when we speak a lot about the changes of Rioja (Norwegian readers can read a couple of articles on these pages), it’s no doubt that the Martínez Bujanda family is in the vanguard. And it’s no better place to experience this than the tasting table where are sitting right now, with a view of the picturesque village of Rueda.

 

 

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The Real Wine fair III: Some stars, and some comets on the rise

Here is my last report from this year’s edition of the Real Wine Fair. You may also read the first two articles that cover the sparkling wines and some Spanish producers. I will just give you some of the many highlights.

Jo Landron was there with some of his magnificent Muscadet whites, biodynamic since 2008, with their citric edge and steely minerality. Le Clos la Carizière 2015, a light and fruity wine  from a rented single vineyard, partly on gneiss soil, that gives a flinty hint, and the Muscadet Amphibolite 2015, from amphobolitic soil, that gives a slightly more smoky character. The Melonix 2015 is his most natural wine, with no additions and only 10 mg sulphur. It stayed 3-4 months on the lees; citrus, peel, it’s round and delicious, but the acidity carries it over.

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Jo Landron

In the corner was the lovely Marie Lapierre, whom I have never met before. The family is almost legendary, leading the way in the beginnings of the modern natural wine movement. Their vineyards cover 13 hectares in the Ville-Morgon area of Beaujolais. They used compost and ploughing to preserve the natural yeast of the grapes. The wines are unfiltered, and only given a small amount of sulphur before bottling. The Vin de France Raisins Gaulois 2016 was the only wine she had brought from the Domaine Lapierre this time, a light and delicious, raspberry/strawberry-scented wine from young vines. From their Château Cambon between Morgon and Brouilly on clay-granite and calcareous soils, she had brought three wines. The Château Cambon 2016 was more aromatic, both light and concentrated at the same time, smooth, long and so very elegant. The Cuvée du Chat 2016 was just as elegant and with a raspberry lusciousness. Brouilly 2016 was made for the first time this year. It showed a somewhat darker side, a little broader, more earthy wine, and with more structure.

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Marie Lapierre

Right beside her was Jean-Claude Lapalu, of Brouilly, Beaujolais. I have tasted some of his wines over the past few years, and I find them a bit more on the wild side. He favours some more extraction, and the wines stay at least 6 months on the lees. Among his selection the Brouilly “Croix des Rameaux” 2014, from 80 year old vines and aged in 3-5 year old barrels, is a pure wine with lovely raspberry fruit, but with an underlying earthiness, some leather and tar behind there too. The Vin de France “Eau Forte” 2013 is a bit more developed, but by no means fading. It shows some etheric, almost pinot’esque character, with some raisins, and a touch of figs, drying towards the end. The Brouilly “Alma Mater” Amphora 2012 was also interesting. It was not surprisingly vinified in amphoras, the grapes destemmed: Developed red, aromas of red fruits, cherries, and a bit raisiny too, concentrated and serious.

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Jean-Claude Lapalu

From Sicilia came Arianna Occhipinti, who has taken the wine world with storm with her stylish, fresh wines, such as the SP68 2016 Rosso and Bianco, named after the main road in her part of Vittoria. She seems to have a magic tough in her frappato grape, but the nero d’avola and the white albanello and muscato. Low yields and natural farming are two key-factors. The white SP68 is simple as it’s good, with its flowery aroma with hints of peel and nuts, and is just on the way to become an orange wine, even it the light colour suggests something else. Its red counterpart (frappato and nero d’avola) has a somewhat lighter body than the previous vintage, quite dark in colour, but with a very supple and fresh fruit, with elements of blueberry and herbs. Il Frappato 2015 was extraordinary, of course, with its pure, elegant dark cherry fruit with apricot and some spicy notes. I also liked Il Siccagno Nero d’Avola 2014, light in colour for a nero d’avola, but delicious, pure, red fruits, blueberry and flowers aroma.

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Arianna Occhipinti

Cantina Filippi owns the highest vineyards in Soave, up to 400 meters. Most of the vineyards were planted in the 1950’s, and the 16 hectares are divided into three “crus”, Castelcerino (the highest one), Monteseroni and Vigne della Brà. The Vigne della Brà 2014, from clay soil, was light and very delicate. I also liked the Montesoroni 2014, from limestone. It’s more open, with white flowers and herbs. In a way it feels mellow and smooth, but with a very “Italian” grapefruity, slightly bitter aftertaste.

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Filippo Filippi (left), and Emma Bentley (right) from Cant. Filippi

IMG_4198 Meinklang 

Nicolas of the Winemakers Club representing Meinklang

Meinklang is a big estate, some 1.800 hectares, 70 of them vineyards. They are Demeter-certified biodynamic. They started over the border in Somlo, Hungary. This is a plateau formed by a volcano. Angela and Werner Michlits of Meinklang were represented by their importer The Winemakers Club, that showed a great variety of wines, such as the J 2013, (the J standing for the juhfark grape) from the aforementioned Somlo of Hungary, a cider, and many lovely wines from various Austrian grape varieties. If I then should give myself the task of mentioning only three wines among those that I never had tasted before, I would this time stick to the whites: The J was an exciting wine one and a half days skin-contact and that stayed for 12 months in big Hungarian barrels. It was quite light, fruity with some peel and some tropical notes, with a good acidity and a slightly bitter aftertaste. The Graupert Weiss 2015 from an unpruned grauburgunder (pinot gris) with ten days skin-maceration, and Konkret Weiss 2014 of red traminer, yellow traminer and geewürztraminer, of 28 days skin-contact in concrete eggs especially designed for Meinklang. After pressing it went back to the egg for a 9 months ageing. No sulphur at any stage. A dark wine that plays with oxidation, quite structured.

were both darker wines with more skin-contact, both flowery with aromas of peel, smooth textured lovely wines..
Konkret Weiss 2014.

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Pedro Marques

Pedro Marques at Vale da Capucha, Torres Vedras, is among the young squad that is currently revitalizing the vast Lisboa region. I have knowed the man and his work for some years, and I love his full, expressive whites and some of his fresh reds too. In the monarchy of Arinto it’s he who is king, and occasionally his alvarinho and gouveio deliver on the same level. He looks for maturity and a rich texture, and he uses only a minimum of sulphur. All wines could be mentioned, here I will limit myself to the two entry-level wines he shows in the picture, called Fossil, that denote that the farm is located only 8 km from the sea, and in the ancient times under water.

Fossil Branco 2015 was full and glyceric, but energetic and complex, salty, with citric notes, pineapple, and some smokiness, and good acidity from the arinto (fernão pires and gouveio also in the blend, all three in equal parts). The 2014 was also brought to the table. Clearly in the same family, but not as bright. Fossil Tinto 2015 (touriga nacional 60%, tinta roriz and some syrah) was dark, smoky with flowers and green herbs, fresh, and with a nice tannic grip.

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Craig Hawkins

Craig Hawkins is a leading figure in South Africa’s dynamic Swartland region. I have tasted his range several times and cannot recommend it enough. The wines tend to be very natural and with little extraction. I really like the entry-level wines called Baby Bandito. His Testalonga El Bandito “Cortez” from 35 year old chenin blanc vines on granite is always brilliant, now 2015. Lively, iodine, mineral and with that steely edge from the grape. “Mangaliza” 2015, from the Hungarian grape of that name, was a new find. “Monkey gone to Heaven” (on bicycle, according to the label), now 2016, is as always concentrated. But there is a lot more to it, a floral and grapey mourvèdre with red fruits and fresh aromatic herbs.

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Most of the range, Testalonga Bandito and Baby Bandito

 

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Sebastiano de Martino

De Martino has been around since the founder came over from Italy to Maipo in the 1930’s. Today they are among the leading organic producers in several regions. Some of their most interesting wines are results of dry farming in the southern Itata region. The Muscat and the Cinsault aged in clay are the two that come to my mind. Here they came in various versions; a muscat/corinto was interesting. So were some of the cheaper ones such as fruity, wonderfully balanced cabernet sauvignon under the Legado label (2016).

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Wine bar Ducksoup of Soho had a stand with marvellous small dishes

 

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