Here is another “house wine”, when I want a little more power, or “skin”, than a normal white. Swartland, Blackland in the Afrikaans language, because the predominant rhinoceros bush turns dark after the rains. But it’s not only the landscape that is special here; the spirit of the winegrowers is a veritable force.
Mother Rock Wines was established in 2014 by Johan Meyer. I have written about the project before (like here), and I still predict that the producer will rise in fame and his wines accordingly rise. The news are that Johan and his partner Anri moved into their new property Plattenklip (northwestern Swartland) in 2019, and produced their first vintage in 2020 in their own winery. They have now planted new vineyards on exciting sites, so we know that there will be new interesting wines from them.
This wine comes from a single vineyard in Paardeberg planted in 1980, on granite-rich soil. Only chenin blanc, pure chenin. Whole bunches were pressed into steel tanks where the fermention starts naturally. It’s mostly aged in steel, but has seen a small amount of old oak. Unfiltered and without added sulphuur.
Force Celeste 2020(Mother Rock)
Light yellow. Aromas of citrus, yellow apples, peach, a light touch of peel. Good weight in the mouth, creamy lees-character, but with a very fine acidity that cuts elegantly through, and contributes to a long, salty finish.
Food: Tapas and charcuterie, red fish, fried white fish, light meat…
This has been a favourite since I tasted it first time at a London fair. In spite of that it has not been highlighted since the 2015 vintage. (Reed some background information here.)
We are in Swartland, Coastal South Africa. In this generally warm climate winemaker Craig Hawkins harvests early. A very short version goes like this: The wine is made according to quite strict non-intervention principles, and just a little SO2. Also, whole bunches are pressed, and spontaneous fermentation occurs, and it’s kept in big oak vessels and steel. And now in its 2019 vintage it is as alive and “punching” as ever.
Baby Bandito “Keep on Punching” 2019(Testalonga)
Light golden. Aromas of citrus, flowers, yellow apples. A flavourfull wine with light tannin structure and nice acidity.
Here is the last account in this round from A Emoción dos Viños, 10th edition. There were a number from outside of Galicia, from Portugal, even from France – and Titerok-Akaet from even further away, Lanzarote (in the same country though). Here are some great wines from very reliable producers.
Ismael Gozalo is nothing less than a legend within the natural wine world, and famous far outside the borders of Spain. From Nieva (Segovia), Castilla y León, he disposes of centenary pie franco verdejo vines that has been used for the wines of Viñedos de Nieva, and later Ossian. Now he is “travelling alone”, with two lines, one called MicroBio, and the other bears his own name. Well, centenary is here an understatement: Some vines are no less than 280 years old. I have written about his wines many times, so you can search through this pages, and you will find a lot more information. I didn’t taste all the wines either, because I have done so several times. A short post about one of his lovely Nieva York pét nats was published in late May this year (read here).
Ismael is a very hardworking, dedicated bloke. But he also like to play with the rock’n’roll myth. Correcaminos is a lovely unpretentious wine, light, unfiltered, open, “mature grapefruity” and thirstquenching. And naturally enough, because of the name (“roadrunner”), it gave name to his “coronavirus tour”. I guess because of the virus there has not been too much touring, but it’s a cool nod to the rock merchandise business anyway. La Resistencia 2019 (an amphora wine from two different parcels and 4 months on the lees) is also slightly turbid, vibrant, with a lovely acidity. MicroBio 2019 (whole clusters, aged in old barrels): Very light in colour; aroma of green apples, flowers; full, rich, juicy, and tasty with a slight touch of sweetness. Sin Nombre is a favourite, and a house wine by me (when available). The 2017 vintage had some colour, golden with green; aroma of stone-fruit, yellow apples, a touch of cinnamon; it’s creamy, a bit buttery, cidery, juicy, and just lovely. I also tasted a Rufete, (don’t remember if it was the Rufian or a sample), delicious anyway, a light red wine, packed with red fruits, before I moved on.
Marc Isart was there, both on behalf of himself and Bernabeleva, where he is co-founder and winemaker. I have followed Bernabeleva for some years. They are located in San Martín de Valdeiglesias in the Madrid part of the Gredos mountains. They work the land according to biodynamic principles, and in the cellar they use whole bunch fermentation and ageing in neutral wood. They generally use low extraction, and I would say their wines are among the most elegant in the area. For the records: They also make white wines, mostly from albillo. Highly recommended. But because I know them well, I chose to concentrate on Marc’s own range this time.
His own project is further east in the DO. Vinos de Madrid, in the subzone Arganda del Rey. Here he grows both tinto fino, or tempranillo, and the white malvar between 700-800 meters of altitude, on calcareous soil that contains gypsum and clay.
In the La Maldición line we tasted the Cinco Legua Malvar 2019 from calcareous soil, with 40-50 days skin-contact, made in neutral barriques. Malvar is related to airén, but is more aromatic and has more acidity. This wine is technically an orange wine, but is light golden in colour, has a flowery nose (roses), also nuts, lightly textured and full in the mouth. I also liked the clarete of the same name and vintage, made with 15% tempranillo. The majority of the rest is divided between malvar, airén and various other white varieties. The wine is light red;, with aromas of raspberry. In the mouth it is lightly textured, with fruit to the end. The red version, again with the same name and vintage, has 85% tempranillo and 15% malvar, and was blended in the cellar. Cherry red; dark fruits (blackberry), some spice; very clean fruit, and good structure. Gleba de Arcilla 2018 is a wine only from this local form of tempranillo, with one year in used oak. It’s dark red; again with blackberry, some spice and coffee; round in the mough, with a touch of wood, that will easily be integrated.
Germán Blanco makes wine in Rioja and Ribera del Duero. You can read more about this here, in a report from the Simplesmente Vinho fair in February. Albares de la Ribera, just outside the boundaries of the DO Bierzo to the east. Casa Aurora is a tribute to his great-grandmother who handed down the first vineyard. Albares is in a transition zone between the valley and the Bierzo Alto at 850-900 meters of altitude.
Germán grows three hectares of own vineyards. He also buys grapes from two local farmers. These go into the Clos Pepín, a straightforward red fruits-fruity wine that is pure joy, also in the 2018 version that he presented here. Most wines contain many grape varities, including white ones, and I don’t list all of them here. Poula 2018 is a village wine, a mencía blend from various plots. I found it quite fine and elegant, juicy in the mouth with fine-grained tannins. La Galapana is the vineyard handed down from his great-grandmother, almost 1.000 meters altitude. In the 2018 vintage this was darker, with more menthol, but also red fruits, and in the mouth more structure than the previous wines, with an amount of tannins, though very fine-grained. More structured is also Valle del Río 2018, a 60-65% garnacha tintorera: Deep red, blue tinge; red fruits and forest fruits (blackberry), solid tannins and with a vivacious acidity. The most obvious wine of guard among these.
Alfredo Maestro and his wines I have known for some years now. Originally from Peñafiel in the heart of Ribera del Duero, where he has his bodega, but disposes of magnificent vineyards in both Segovia and Madrid provinces. This time I took the opportunity for an update of some of his wines. There is a lot about him on this blog, but I recommend this article as an introduction. El Marciano is a high altitude (1.150 meters) wine garnacha and albillo land, where Alfredo is doing a great job on behalf of the Gredos community. It’s a fresh red-fruity wine, a bit earthy with some texture, generous in the mouth and lovely, lively acidity, and the 2019 is no exception. El Rey del Glam, now in 2019 vintage also, is his take on carbonic maceration. The grapes come partly from the high Gredos vineyards, partly from Peñafiel. There is no pressing, nor destemming. Carbonic maceration is carried out in steel tanks, then malolactic in the same tanks. This wine is also very fresh, with cool, red fruits, and a touch of carbonics in the mouth. It has just a bit of structure, and can be served slightly chilled.
A Dos Tiempos 2019 is from Navalcarnero, a high altitude village in the province of Madrid and the name refers to the fact that the grapes are harvested twice. Alfredo explains that the idea is that the first harvest gives a lot of acidity and low alcohol, while the harvest one month later gives less acidity and a richer alcohol. Then the two are blended and one gets a fresh wine with balanced, ripe fruit and tannins and just enough structure. It was aged six months in used barrels. Here the garnacha is complemented by tempranillo. By the time I got to his table it had been a long day of tasting and accumulated tannins, so Alfredo recommended a taste of his Brut Rosé to rinse the mouth. A delicious strawberry and red fruit-driven sparkler, by the way. Then I tried his classic ribera del duero Valdecastrillo 2018, from various plots between 750-1.000 meters of altitude. This wine had been ageing in half French oak, half chestnut for one year. A super, classic, yet individual ribera; cherry red, potent aroma of berries with a touch of dried fruit (figs), and a long, fruity finish. After this I had decided to leave, but I couldn’t resist tasting a long-time favourite, the lovely fruity, non-oaked Viña Almate. A really interesting one is the white Consuelo 2018, a full-bodied, citric albillo mayor from more than 100 year old vines in Valladolid and Burgos, with 7 days of skin-maceration and fermentation in French oak.
After all these Castilians something from Catalunya: Can Ràfols dels Caus I visited in the Garraf zone of Penedès many years ago, when Carlos Esteva was turning his family estate into one of the most dynamic properties of the region. But they have somehow been neglected by me for many years now, for no particular reason. It’s not that I haven’t tasted any wines, but it was nice to get the chance to meet present manager Rosa Aguado for a real update here. The estate comprises 90 hectares of vines, and other crops in addition. The oldest vineyard is one with xarel.lo from 1948. It was in 2008 that they went organic, and at present biodynamic practises are introduced too.
Here is a brief account of some of the wines: Gran Caus 2018, xarel.lo 50%, chenin blanc 30, chardonnay 20:The colour was light golden, citric on the nose, with yellow apples, and quite fat in the mouth. Xarel.lo Brisat 2019: Brisat is a Catalan name for orange wine, and as the name implies this is deeper gold; it has an aroma of flowers, lemon, wax and honey; full on the palate. El Rocallis 2016, from manzoni bianco: Light golden, greenish; aroma of mature apples, aromatic herbs, lime, mothballs; lightly textured, good acidity, long aftertaste with some nuts. Rosa had brought two vintages of their merlot rosé. Gran Caus Rosat 2019 was very light cherry red; raspberry, some vegetal hints in the aroma; very juicy, with a fresh acidity. The 2018 was more towards peach colour; more forest fruits on the nose; and it showed some evulotuion, some “positive oxidation” we could say. Sumoll 2017: “Fine like pinot, rustic like nebbiolo”, I think this was how Rosa described the sumoll variety. The wine showed cherry red colours; red fruits (raspberry, cherry) on the nose, a little spice too; and surprisingly structured in the mouth. Finally Caus Lubis 2004, 100% merlot, one parcel, oriented towards the mountain: Good colour, a bit brick; good evolution, plums, dried apricot, some cinnamon and tobacco; round, complete, still some fruit and acidity. In good shape. “Pomerol del Mediterráneo”, she called it. Not bad.
João Roseira of Quinta do Infantado I met for the first time in the late 1980’s, after he had become the first one to break the monopoly of the Porto/Gaia shippers and exported directly from his estate in the Douro. I started this series with Antonio Portela, organizer of this fair. And I round it all off with João, who runs what we can call a “sister” event in Porto, the Simplesmente VInho, where Antonio also participates. (Look around these pages for many accounts, you can maybe start here with a report from this year’s fair.) João admits that it’s difficult to sell port wine these days. But while you are thinking that port is out of fashion, I assure you: Quinta do Infantado is different. The Roseiras, João and now his nephew Álvaro, who has taken over as chief winemaker, want a dryer style. They ferment longer than usual, so there is less residual sugar and more alcohol. Therefore less addition of alcohol is needed, and it is also added gradually. This makes them more dry, and the alcohol is balanced with the fruit.
I visited his farm in February, so I just tasted a few wines this time. I simply had to re-taste their fabulous organic Ruby Reserva, that you can read about here. Then I sipped to some of the standard reds and ports (among them the organic tawny) while chatting with João about the times, especially with reference to the coronavirus and the destiny of port in general. Other than that I tasted the wines João had brought from 2010, the year. Quinta do Infantado Colheita 2010, the first ever vintage dated organic port, did not disappoint: Red fruits, figs, dried fruit, a vibrant acidity, balanced alcohol.
This was a much too short report over three articles from this initiative in the wonderful Atlantic environment. Watch out for small reports, wines of the week and other stuff. See you again!
Jean-Pierre Robinot is for many one of the most classic in the pét-nat style, and his wines are for every producer, call it old or new world, or whatever, to look up to and seek inspiration from.
Robinot used to run one of the very first natural wine bars in Paris called L’Ange Vin, implying that he is from Anjou in the Loire. After deciding that he wanted to make wine himself, and searching all over for vineyards he finally ended up in Chahaignes, Coteaux du Loir, the village he was raised, just north of Saumur.
There he makes many different wines from chenin blanc and pineau d’aunis, some from own vineyards, others from bought-in grapes. Everything is without additions. He makes a number of sparkling wines from the methode ancestral, nowadays mostly called pét-nats.
Fêtembulles is made from chenin blanc, mainly from 60 year old vines in chalky clay and old marine soil. They are located within AOC Jasnières, but the authorities consider the wines to be atypical, so Jean-Pierre label his wines just Vin de France.
The yield is low (20 hl/ha.). It stayed almost a year on the lees, was degorged by hand, and only topped up with more of the same wine. Unfined, unfiltered and without any additions.
Fêtembulles L’Opéra des Vins 2018(Jean-Pierre Robinot)
Golden, light amber, small bubbles. Mature fruits (yellow tomatoes), mature apples, breadcrumbs and flowers. Quite full mouthfeel and lightly textured, very clean, lovely acidity, mature apples, long.
Continueing the rock series (a very thin thread really) from early February, Mother Rock is a producer that I have enjoyed so much over the last few years that I just had to leave you a tip of advice here. They are in a way in the shadow of leading lights and neighbours Testalonga and Intellego of Swartland, South Africa, and as such bargains. But there are many insiders who think you should take the opportunity to buy their wines now, because for natural wines their prices are ridiculously low.
Winemaker is Johan Meyer, a young Brit who who shares the values and techniques of the aforementioned producers. He was educated in Stellenbosch, but his visits to Roussillon and Tom Lubbe of Matassa took him in a whole new direction. Mother Rock Wines was established in 2014. The whole range is fabulous, and even their “entry-level” wines (if this is an adecuate expression here) are superb and have a sense of not only terroir, but a raw natural force, if this sounds meaningful.
Johan and the team have a really good hand on the chenin blanc grape, and I can also strongly recommend their “semi-orange” Force Celeste. This week’s pick is their “basic” White in 2018 version, that is made from chenin blanc 61% and lesser quantities of viognier, grenache blanc, sémillon and hárslevelu. The latter is omitted in the 2019 vintage, also in the market now. Each grape is grown in different types of soil throughout this immensly fascinating region that is Swartland.
Half of the grapes are fermented quite cold in steel, while the other part ferments in old barrels. Some, like hárslevelu, sémillon and grenache, are fermented with whole bunches with a four weeks of skin-contact before pressing. The wine stays on the lees nearly a year before bottling – unfiltered, naturally.
Mother Rock White 2018(Mother Rock Wines)
Yellow, cloudy. Aroma dominated by citrus (lemon, lime), yeast, candle wax and a touch of honey. Appley, cidery in the mouth, lightly structured both in terms of tannins and acidity, juicy, a touch of bitterness in the finish.
Food: Salmon/trout, grilled white fish and shell-fish, some Asian dishes, lighter meat…
I went with some musical friends to Vinkontoret, Stavanger. (See also my previous post about the bar.) This is a tradition we have established to shorten the waiting before attending a premiere party for a show (at another place, with a much poorer wine selection).
During the hour or so between the show and the party we had three glasses of wine this time. Vinkontoret (the Wine Office) is a real cathedral of wine, with hundreds of bottles to chose from, and Christoffer Ingebretsen knows more or less what we are after. So we let him chose something, and tasted them blind. The other wines were Heimbourg 2016, a pinot noir from Zind-Humbrecht, Alsace and the Mas la Plana 2015, a cabernet sauvignon from Torres, Penedès. Before this we had this Saumur chenin blanc.
Brendan Stater-West is a young American from Oregon. To make the story short, he was an English teacher in Paris, but had a passion for wine, got married to a French girl, and moved to Saumur in the Loire valley. There he asked the celebrated Romain Guiberteau, whose wines he admired, for a job. Brendan currently leases a one hectare vineyard from Romain, next to his famous Clos du Guichaux in Bizay. It is this vineyard, classified as a lieu-dit, that is Les Chapaudaises. The vineyard’s soil is tuffeau limestone with calcium-rich clay and sand, with many seashell fossils. He has recently met a family who owns an old cellar in Chacé in Saumur. He has begun to renovate this old and magnificent cellar.
This is Brendan’s first vintage, and as such it is very promising. It’s made from indigenous yeast, gently racked from ageing on the lees, and aged for 18 months in old barrel.
Saumur Blanc Les Chapeaudaises 2015(B. Stater-West)
Light yellow. Vibrant citrus-fruit (mandarin peel), yellow fruits, some white pepper, and also a touch of sweetness on the nose. Slender on the palate, with good acidity and a salty minerality.
During the Real Wine fair some food providers were present at the Tobacco Dock to serve the tasters during their breaks. Among them were the DuckSoup wine bar of Soho, Burro e Salvia, pasta place in Shoreditch, Flying Frenchman with their sausages and outdoor raised pork and chicken. The hotel wine bar La Cour de Rémi also came over from Calais to serve delicious flavours from Normandie.
Around town there were several “take-overs”, such as Morgan McGlone of Belles Hot Chicken in Australia cooking Nashville style at Brawn. The Bastarda company took over Leroy in Shoreditch, with wine assistance of Ben Walgate of Tillingham, East Sussex. To mention only a couple.
Claes, Magnus and Nayana of Söl, Norway
To my surprise, the trio behind Restaurant Söl of Stavanger, right in my own Norwegian backyard, were cooking at Terroirs, the most emblematic natural wine bar of all. Obviously I had to visit them and see what they were up to.
Restaurant SÖL opened in Stavanger on the southwest coast of Norway in 2018. The driving forces behind the restaurant are Nayana Engh, Claes Helbak and Magnus Haugland Paaske, all of them with experience from Norwegian and foreign restaurants.
Their main focus is fresh, local, sustainably grown vegetables combined with natural wines and drinks produced by small artisans – to be enjoyed in a relaxed atmosphere. SÖL can be said to be a part of the “new” Nordic wave, which means food inspired by traditional dishes, but with a modern twist and a wink to the world.
That night the wines were paired in collaboration with Terroirs’ master sommelier Kevin Barbry. And Kevin was the one who served me the first wine while waiting in the bar. This was Mayga Watt 2018, a pétillant gamay from Gaillac in the Sud-Ouest region of France: A pink, crisp and juicy pétillant wine, with smell of strawberry and white pepper.
The first thing that was brought to the table was sourdough bread, and delicious organic butter from Røros, a lovely small town in mid-Norway. Grilled squash, fermented tomato, milk curd and ramson capers came next, elegantly paired with Attention Chenin Méchant 2017 (Nicolas Réau). This is a wine from Anjou the Loire valley. Originally Réau planned for a pianist career. Key words here are 15 year old plants, indigenous yeasts, direct press, no fining, light filtering, low sulphur, and ageing on lees in used oak. The result is a yellow, peach and mature apple smelling wine with good volume, luscious mouthfeel and a rounded acidity.
Next was panfried cod, dulse (the sea growth from which the restaurant takes its name), spring greens and brown butter sabayon. White flowers were garnish on top of this plate. Partners in life and crime Nayana and Claes had picked them by a local lake (Stokkavatnet, for those familiar with it) the night before they set off to England. Dinavolino 2017 (Denavolo), an elegant orange multivarietal wine from Emilia-Romagna, Italy, matched the tasty yet delicate dish without problems. The wine: Light amber; peel sensations, white peach and flowers; slightly tannic, wonderfully fresh.
Next was Jersey Royals potatoes, broad beans, sugar snaps, beef jus and lovage, with herbs from the Rogaland region, the trio’s homeplace. It was accompanied by Le Vin Est Une Fête 2018(Elian da Ros), again from the Sud-Ouest of France. The main grape here is abouriou, typical of Marmande. The wine was cherry red, medium deep, smelled primarily of red fruits, and had very light, fine-grained tannins. The dish is complicated, with peas and other tender greens in a powerful sauce. The combination with a very lightly macerated red. It would have been interesting to see whether an orange wine, like the previous one, could have build a bridge between the strong and the tender.
Rhubarb compote (from the organic farm at Ullandhaug, Rogaland), toasted ice cream, rhubarb sorbet and crispy rhubarb. Lovely and fresh! There were two options for drinks, and I chose Éric Bordelet‘s pear cider Pays de la Loire (France). The cider was composed from many varieties of pear, grown on schist. With 12 grams residual sugar it gave a somewhat off-dry mouthfeel, a complex, cidery (what a surprise!), sweetish aroma, a touch of tannin. The marriage wasn’t made in heaven, though the bubbles helped. I was wondering what could have been done differently. I must admit I thought the wind should have been sweeter. With ice cream a PX sherry automatically comes to mind, but it would have been much too powerful here. After having returned to Norway I visited their place and had the same dish. Then Claes served it with an apple cider, this time bone dry, with a penetrating acidity and fresh bubbles. Maybe not perfect, but maybe the closest possible.
To conclude: Fønix Blue, a cheese from Stavanger Ysteri (Norway) and rye bread. With this we could chose to include La Cosa (The Thing) 2017(Alfredo Maestro), from the Ribera del Duero area of Spain. What a wine! Dark amber, or mahogany; complex aroma with rhubarb and plum, and very sweet. I had to come back to this wine the day after, at Alfredo’s table at the fair, maybe to see if this was really true (!).
Remember this is a wine blog, not primarily about food. But once in a while it’s necessary to say a few words about wine-food combinations, and I have given some opinions here. What could be said, as a conclusion, and apart from the fact that it was a big surprise to see these people her is the following. The trio behind Söl are cooking with great passion and creativity, and from good, healthy ingredients. They are also proud to come out among their “audience” and present it, what the ingredients are and how the dishes are made. The drinks are picked carefully among the most natural and sustainable there is.
At the Real Wine fair there were several seminars and guided tastings given by both winemakers and writers. Among the scheduled speakers were Heidi Nam Knudsen and Jon Passmore, who practise an alternative wine education focusing on vineyard practices and winemaking techniques. The topic at the fair was “Retasting Wine: How we can become more informed drinkers.”
Alex Thorp conducted a “German Growers’ Masterclass”. Derek Morrison and Mike Hopkins of the Bring Your Own podcast interviewed a bunch of growers, among them Portuguese artisan Pedro Marques. Speaking of Portugal, Jamie Goode did just that together with Ines Salpico in the program “An Exploration of Portugal’s Wine Revolution.”
While I talked to some of these people on their way in and out of the seminar room, the only seminar I had booked beforehand was Simon J. Woolf’s presentation of his book Amber Revolution through a tasting of five wines from the so-called New World.
His seminar was informative, and there was a two-way communication. Simon answered questions from the audience with great virtuosity, and his short comments about each wine demonstrated how well-chosen the wines were.
Simon’s definition of an orange wine is a wine made with skin-contact that exceeds the “normal” 3-4 hours. In other words, it’s about the technique, more than the colour itself. He compares it to a white wine: -What colour is a white wine? White – as this paper?
Light examples from the tasting were Staring at the Sun 2018(Momento Mori) and Elementis 2018 (Intellego). The first one, a citrussy, lightly spicy wine from Victoria, Australia, was quite light yellow, though it had been 6 weeks on skins. This because winemaker Dane Johns holds back on extraction. Elementis from Swartland, South Africa I know from several vintages; always fresh, appealing, this time very lemony, with green apple. Jurgen Gouws shares his colleague’s philosophy of minimal extraction.
Other than this there was the Pinot Gris 2016(A & D. Beckham), a pink, red-tinged wine from the grape that we know is not white at all. It’s also known from Radikon, one of the natural and orange wine pioneers. This Oregon pinot gris was fresh, but warmer notes appeared after a while, and it was surprisingly smooth, the colour taken into account (also not usual for the variety). Vinu Jancu 2017(La Garagista), an amber, beeswax, onion and plum smelling wine from the unlikely state of Vermont and the rare grape called la crescent and Chilion 2016(Ruth Lewandowski), a lighter cortese with grapes from Santa Barbara, California, but made in Utah, finished the US American trio. It should be said that it’s Evan Lewandowski that is behind this project, but he named the winery after the Book of Ruth.
Regarding a question about what wines work with extended skin-contact, he points out that thick-skinned varieties go well. Aromatic varieties too, can perfom very well, such as moscato and gewürztraminer.
Simon J. Woolf has every reason to be happy with the book release
I have written a more extensive review of Simon’s book in the Norwegian language for the Vinforum magazine. You can read it on my magazine page. Here is a summary:
Simon J. Woolf has written what is referred to as the world’s first book on orange wine. Woolf started his writing career in 2011 with the blog The Morning Claret for which he is still editor. He is also a regular contributor to journals such as Decanter. He is no well-known author though, and this is his first book. So there were no publishers who wanted to go for the project. That’s why he started a crowdfunding through his website, and nearly 400 people contributed to the “Kickstarter” campaign.
Woolf currently lives in Amsterdam. And it can almost seem ironic that it took someone in close contact with the Netherlands, with the historical “Oranje” dynasty, to get the idea to write about orange wines.
The book is partly an introduction to the orange wine world, partly a cultural and history lesson. Woolf writes well and demonstrates early on that he is both the passion and the insight needed. It is fascinating to take part in this journey, from his first, emotional contact with the drink in Sandi Skerks cellar in Friuli. But then he takes us further back in time and goes chronologically from the ancient Georgia, that we know as the orange wine’s cradle, via pioneers in today’s Friuli and Slovenia (with Joško Gravner as the main character) and beyond.
There is also a section on recommended producers from many different countries. Finally, the financial contributors are listed. Among them there are some wineries, although I find no reason to assume that it has affected the journalistic selection. The fact columns contain information about food for orange wine, grapes that respond well to the technique, misconceptions about orange wine, how qvevri are made, etc. Taking these columns out the main story also helps to make the text flow better .
Ryan Opaz, who lives in Porto, is one of the founders of the Catavino site, where Woolf also contributes. Opaz has provided images that depict both landscapes and people in an exemplary manner. The book itself is also made of paper with a certain texture, which responds to the wines the book is about.
Woolf says he could use different names for the same phenomenon, such as skin-macerated wines and amber wines. After a discussion with himself, he has ended up calling it orange wines. His definition is based on the technique, not the colour. An orange wine does not therefore need to be orange, but it has had extended skin contact. It can be yellow, dark mahogany, or even reddish or pink in cases where the grape has a lot of pigment, such as pinot grigio.
Here we have arrived at a point that I assume he has thought about himself, the title of the book. After choosing orange wine as the preferred term, he ends up using amber in the title. The Portuguese carnation revolution emerges in my consciousness when reading the title, and compared with this the term “orange wine” could perhaps have added another dimension. And even though the events of the 1990s and up to the present seem like a revolution, in the long term it will probably be more correct to call what we now experience a “revival,” or maybe a revitalization of a tradition. But none of this “troubles” me; Amber Revolution is a saleable title. And the subtitle, “how the world learned to love orange wines”, puts it all in place.
I will not reveal too much of the content. But I think the sections about Friuli and Slovenia, the multicultural and multilingual area at the intersection of East, West and South – and the political backdrop that is hoisted – is a particularly good section of the book. Here the story of the world wars becomes a necessary part. The families of the leading producers were finding themselves on a veritable battlefield with changing actors, not least Italy, Austria-Hungary and Yugoslavia.
There are many who will enjoy this book. It is a niche book, but it at the same time exceeds the niche, and I would think that the vast majority of people interested in wine will find it fascinating, entertaining and enriching.
Amber Revolution – how the world learned to love orange wine
By Simon J. Woolf, foreword by Doug Wregg (director of import company Les Caves de Pyrène,), photo: Ryan Opaz
I was recently visiting Grimstad, a beautiful small town on the Norwegian southern coastline, where the houses are white, small private boats are moored and the seagulls are part of the scenery. I have a special relationship with the town, because I was born there, and my family has since spent many summers there.
Fresh crabs on offer in the town’s inner harbour
The town could have boasted of its seafaring culture. My late father left from there to work on a ship at the age of 14. And that night I borrowed the house of a friend, the daughter of my father’s captain at that time. But Grimstad is not of that sort, boasting is not part of its personality. It’s just lying there, a southern Norwegian idyll bathed in the summer sun.
These days the small town is home to the restaurant with the most amazing natural wine list on the whole long coastal strip. Founded in 2001 the restaurant has since enjoyed a reputation among the citizens, for its food, its atmosphere, but also as a concert arranger. However the upgrade to the natural wine haven that we know today started after a bankruptcy in 2010. Kjetil Jørgensen, one of the original founders, has a good relation to natural wine importer Non Dos, through his friend Jørgen Ljøstad, also from Grimstad. Sometimes a strong tie to one importer can feel somewhat awkward, or difficult. But here it’s more logic, and has probably helped along the way to success. Having said that, the restaurant also works with other importers. These days they also have their own micro-brewery, led by Mathias S. Skjong.
The food is based on local ingredients. The burgers are made from Hereford cattle grassing only a stone’s throw away, and there is of course delicious fish and shellfish right out of the sea. Pizza or vegetarian options too.
Apotekergaarden translates as the Pharmacist’s Shop, and refers to playwright and poet Henrik Ibsen, who was a pharmacist apprentice in Grimstad before he became famous, and this particular place also formerly housed one of the town’s pharmacies.
Ida Konradsen pulling up a Contadino, her own soft drinks at the table
Ida Konradsen is sommelier and restaurant manager, and strongly contributed to a great evening. She told us with great enthusiasm about her experiences from working at Sebastien Riffault‘s estate in the Loire. She is also involved in a new project creating soft drinks, generally popular in Norway (as everywhere I suppose) with children and non-wine addicts. All have the taste of the basic ingredients intact and come with a lot less sugar than usual for this type of drink. In between our first and second wine she offered us a tasting of three products that are sold locally, a lemon and ginger drink (based on Sicilian lemons), one from orange (and a touch of lemon) – and lastly an interesting take on a soft drink for the Christmas season (“julebrus” in Norwegian), based on biodynamically farmed grape juice of the variety zweigelt from Austrian wine producer Meinklang, well-known for readers of this blog – with some star anise, juniper and cinnamon, and without addition of sugar.
Meinklang is also responsible for some of their house labels, Skolegada 3 (the restaurant’s adress), otherwise known by other names in the market.
But while there are not more than 12-15 wines in their by-the-glass selection, Ida gladly opened three more to us, as she was going to host a special party the next day and could use the rest there. And these were fabulous wines from three natural wine legends.
Robinot’s Fêtembulles, with sourdough bread, olive and truffle oil, and olives
Fêtembulles 2017(J.-P. Robinot), Loire, France
100% chenin blanc, biodynamically farmed, bottled without added sulphites and unfiltered.
Light yellow, small integrated bubbles. Smells of mature apples, citrus (orange), a bit waxy. Tastes of apples, is creamy with a crisp acidity, and a stony minerality in the finish.
Contadino 2016(F. Cornelissen), Etna, Sicilia
This is a field blend dominated by some 90% nerello mascalese, biodynamically farmed. No sulphites added, unfiltered.
It’s light cherry red. Aroma of red berries (cranberry), hint of herbs (basil), some spice. The mouth is dominated by red fruit, but with and underlying carbon or smoke taste (from the Etna volcano maybe), and with a solid tannic grip.
Teroldego 2015(E. Foradori), Vigneti delle Dolomiti, Italy
Another well-known producer for readers of this blog. This wine is from the teroldego grape grown in Trentino, near the Dolomites. It was fermented in cement and aged in cement and old oak.
Dark cherry red. Packed with red berries (cherry), plums, dark fruits (blackberry), with some balsamic notes (menthol). Cool, clean fruit in the mouth, very lively and fruity.
Typical paintings collected in one of the rooms
And on the veranda while the sun goes down we finish the evening with a craft beer from the acclaimed local brewery Nøgne Ø, that takes its name from Ibsen’s poem “Terje Vigen”. And to drink one of their beers in this moment seems more right than ever before.
This wine I tasted recently in London. Simon Woolf has a new book about orange wines in the market, and he presented it at a seminar during the Real Wine fair. (More about the book later.)
The wine in the glass while Simon talks in the background
Jurgen Gouws has both learned from and been a colleague of Craig Hawkins of Testalonga in South-Africa’s Swartland (read about last week’s wine here). He “owns neither vineyards nor winery, but has built a cult following for his delicate, subtle cuvées”, one can read in Woolf’s book. All are dry-farmed (in a country with serious draught problems).
The chenin blanc grapes for this wine were grown on granite and macerated for two weeks on the skins. But it’s only contact to add some texture. The skin-contact makes it an orange wine, according to Woolf’s definition, although the colour is yellow.