A visit at Apotekergaarden, Grimstad on the southern coast of Norway is always a highlight. This is a popular place in every sense of the word, with a fascinating mix of people coming for great natural wine served by manager and sommelier Ida Konradsen, and people coming in from the street for burgers and pizza, served by the staff, some of them really talented. There are also concerts in the backyard during the summer season. We were there last Sunday, when our meal was followed by a gig with Norwegian folk-rock band Valkyrien Allstars. I have played there myself too, in fact it was one of the last things I did before the lockdown in March. A more detailed background to the restaurant you can read here.
On Sunday they made a special plate of Italian cheese and ham, olives and other stuff for us, followed by a main course of duck with a compote of red onion and a burger with spicy mushroom and onion, and on Tuesday we shared various pizzas.
Here are some of the wines, some of them in fact outside the official menu, but generously offered by Ida and the staff.
Foam Somló 2019(Meinklang), Somló, Hungary, made by Meinklang of Burgenland, Austria who owns vineyards on both sides of the border. This is a pét nat from Hungarian grapes hárslevelű and juhfark.
Light golden; aroma of yellow apples, hints of pumpkin and gooseberry; concentrated, with a sweet-irh sensation, inspiring indeed.
Brut Nature Reserva Anne Marie(Castell d’Age), Cava, Catalunya, Spain
A traditional cava from one of the pioneers in organic farming in the Penedès area, named after Anne Marie Onyent, one of today’s leading ladies of the company. The grapes are the three usual cava “suspects”.
Slightly bubbly; fresh and appley; fine natural acidity.
La Croix Moriceau 2018(Complémen’ Terre)
A full and concentrated, mineral muscadet full of character.
Yellow; waxy, with mature apples and white peach; quite full, mineral (chalky), a nice bitterness in the aftertaste.
Palmento 2019 (Vino di Anna), Etna, Sicilia, Italy
Skin-contact wine made from the Sicilian carricante grape in fiberglass tanks.
Golden towards orange; aroma of citrus peel, clementine, apricot, mango; full in the mouth and slightly textured. Not too acid, low alcohol (11,5) and perfect while waiting for the main course.
Light yellow; aromas of apple, citrus (lime), with a mineral touch; rich, with a good acidity and splendid concentration. Superb with the duck plate.
A light, fruity barbera that comes in a full litre bottle (hence the name), made by the producer behind the famous “donkey wine” Asinoi. At best when chilled.
Lght cherry red; light berries (strawberry), herbs; lively in the mouth (slightly pétillant), juicy, with a good natural acidity.
Montesecondo 2018(Montesecondo), Toscana, Italy
Located in the Chianti area, but not always classified as such. This is an entry-level wine, with 2% of trebbiano blended in with the sangiovese. If my memory doesn’t fail me it’s a light vintage for this wine.
Rather light cherry colour, aroma dominated by red berries; juicy and refreshing.
Made from tempranillo grapes in Arnedo in the lower part of Rioja. Not completely natural, but with a low amount of sulphur added.
Dark red; blackberry and spice; full, fresh and fruity.
After a few wines I often like to round it off with a beer, to “stabilize” the stomach that by now feels like full of acidity. So I asked Mathias S. Skjong, the in-house brewer, if he had something special, maybe something personal. So he produced Terje (made by Mathias himself in collaboration with Grimstad’s successful brewery Nøgne Ø and given a wide distribution by them, for the restaurant’s 10 year anniversary. It’s a very very hoppy, citrussy and dry India pale ale. Perfect to round off another good meal at Apotekergaarden.
This Franken wine is maybe perfect to exemplify the natural wine movement. Not only are the words Pure & Naked that make up the name among the most dominating when describing these wines. It’s also a pét-nat, a style that has come to prominence in this era, and it’s un-filtered, murky as a morning mist.
Ludwig and Sandra Knoll can be found in Würzburg, on the river Main, where they practise bidynamic vituculture. Among their most important vineyards are Würzburger Stein, and maybe even more famous: Stettener Stein, hence the name of the company.
The wine is made from sauvignon blanc and cabernet blanc (a Swiss hybrid) in equal parts. It was cold-macerated 6 days, un-filtered and un-sulphured.
Pure & Naked2019 (Weing. am Stein – Ludwig Knoll)
Cloudy yellow-greenish, lightly bubbly. Aroma of pineapple, going towards lime and grapefruit, a flowery component too. Juicy, lovely acidity, nice grapefruity aftertaste. Pure fun!
Food: Fish, shellfish, sushi, salads, some strawberries, on its own…
There were several wine fairs that were postponed due to the uncertainties around the coronavirus outbreak. But as far as I know this was the first major fair, and the only one so far that I planned to attend.
Luckily there were many danger-seeking people like me, who decided to go anyway. One of them was Carles Mora Ferrer of Penedès, one of the heroes in this story.
As readers of this blog may know, Raw is a fair for natural, artisan producers and seeks to highlight the “poetry” in the wine. And it has become something of a worldwide community, as the fair has expanded to places like Berlin, New York and Toronto.
Sager & Wilde, Ries & Shine, Antidote and Dandy were among the restaurants that were registered in the #rawwineweek program. And Lady of the Grapes was hosting an event on Women’s Day 8th March. I used the opportunity to visit Elliott’s, as you will soon hear more about, but also favourites like Flor, the Spanish tapas place Brindisa, and the Portuguese Bar Douro (read a post from my visit here). I attended two tastings held by several importers. And the first thing I did was making an appointment with a rising star of British wine, the Tillingham winery. (There will be more about this in the next post from the “fair”.)
At Elliott’s Café, Borough Market I had four wines this time, the two from Clot de les Soleres offered in the by the glass-selection. Allow me first a few words on the winery. In Piera, close to Sant Sadurní (the Cava capital) lie Carles Mora’s family vineyards, abandoned since the 1960’s. Many years later Carles planted some cabernet sauvignon there, and the intention was clearly to make natural wine aged in amphora. Today he and his partner Montse hav 5-6 hectares of not only cabernet, but also chardonnay, and the local varieties macabeo and xarel.lo, that they tend organically, and there are zero additivies in the vineyard or cellar, except for a little copper/sulphur in the vineyard when absolutely necessary. The vineyard lies around 300 meters above sea level, on calcareaous soil, with small stone and pebbels. There is a Mediterranean climate with a lot of sun, but also a breeze from the sea that regulates the temperature so the grapes will not be “baked”. They want to express the terroir, but also the grape variety. So for that reason, only varietal wines are made.
Clot de les Soleres Macabeu 2018 was a pale, slightly pétillant wine, pears and flowers scented, with lovely lemony acidity. The red Clot de les Soleres Cabernet Amphora 2018 was deep dark, dominated by black fruits like blackcurrant, but also with a mineral touch, and well-structured and very vibrant in the mouth.
Aside from this I had the V&S Bacchus 2018, from 2naturkinder of Franken, Germany. This was golden in colour, with orange peel and flowers as dominant aromatics, and full and “orangey” in the mouth. Last this afternoon was Rivera del Notro 2018(Roberto Henríquez), from Bio Bio of Chile, made from the país variety. The wine was light cherry red, with raspberry and some ethereal note. Quite firm in the mouth, and moderate acidity.
Elliott’s has delicious small dishes to go with the wines too. After recommendations from the sommeliers I chose stratiacella (an eggsoup with cheese and nutmeg) culatella (a cured ham from Parma) and hake ragu with the four mentioned wines.
Tasting at Weino BIB
Fernando Berry from Elliott’s is involved in the import company Otros Vinos. Together with a couple of other importers they invited some of the visiting producers to the small wine bar Wineo BIB near Dalston Junction.
So let’s go back to Clot de les Soleres. At Weino BIB Carles served both white, rosé and red wines, still and sparkling. Some were samples, as far as I remember. I hope I have got the names and vintages right. All the whites have been pressed before they ferment in steel, spent the winter in tank and bottled in spring. After the same Macabeu as at Elliott’s the other afternoon there was the Chardonnay 2017, a light, clean and citric wine, mellow in the mouth and with a year more it has achieved a good balance between alcohol and acidity.
The Xarel.lo pét nats (Ancestral I think the name is), vintage 2015 and 2017, were fascinating. With 30 grams in the 2015 when it was bottled (less in the finished wine because it continues to ferment) golden yellow in colour, with an aroma of mature apples and lots of bread from the autolysis; rich and mouthfilling, with a sweet touch, but nice acidity to match. The 2017 was made in the same way, but behaved differently. There were muh less bubbles, more green apple character, citrus and pineapple, some ginger and herbs too, and also some toast, and an excellent acidity. The Chardonnay 2018 pét nat came from two tanks. It showd ligh yellow, more fruity and citric; still with an unfulfilled potential, but with time this will also get a good balance between sugar and alcohol.
I tasted the Rosé Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, a very pale, peach-coloured wine (pressed less than one hour), flowers and strawberry-scented, quite soft but with good acidity, before turning to the reds. The Cabernet Saugivnon 2014 (from 22 year old vines) had only been in tank. It was dark after six years, with typical cabernet aromas such as blackcurrant and a vegetal component; slender in the mouth with a nice structure. Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 had stayed 13 months, then bottled. Also dark, and very fruity, with blackcurrant, green pepper, sour cherries, and an inspiring acidity. It comes with 14% alcohol, but it’s well integrated. The Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 were made in the same way, except for a period in three amphoras of 700L (from Extremadura, because of the quality and type of clay): This one was a little more on the “wild” side; more sour cherries, also with more red berries; quite big in the mouth (13% alc.).
Near Clot de les Soleres, in the tasting room but also the Catalan bodega itself, is Ferrán Lacruz. He runs the Bodega Clandestina in the village of Sant Martí Sarroca, not far from Vilafranca del Penedès. The farm has 8 hectares, of which 3 is planted with vines. The bodega name has inspired the titles of the wines too, Blanc Sence Papers, Fugitiu, Censurat and Confiscat. I think there is no need to translate, please tell me if the contrary is true. The first vintage was 2018. It’s an organic and natural project, no additives, not even SO2, and he works outside any appellation.
All the wines are samples from the 2019 vintage, so I will just go briefly through them. Blanc Sense Papers 2019 comes from a more than 50 years old xarel.lo vineyard. The grapes from the three plots were harvested seperately at different times to ensure perfect ripeness, the different harvests are fermented in steel and aged in demijohns for different periods of time, and the last harvest kept in oak for 4 months, before blending it all and bottling unfined and unfiltered. -I base my wines on acidity, says Ferrán, -and I like Bourgogne Aligoté, he answers to my question what he tries to achieve. And acidity he has managed to retain. It really is acidic. I am not sure if it has the body to match, but time will show. The Blanc Fugitiu is another varietal xarel.lo with three weeks maceration. The skins are always inside the wine, as it is held down with an inox net. It finishes in 500L barrels and amphoras from the French side of Catalunya. This one is much more textured than the former, in the sense of tannins. It’s a bit more funky too, but has nice flowers and citrus peel aromas. Orance Censurat is a carinyena blanc with 4 weeks skin-contact, then aged in amphoras for 5 months. Also a bit on the funky side, but very nice citric notes and quite floral too. The Ancestral Confiscat is a xarel.lo sparkling wines with one year and three months ageing in bottle. The colour is yellow, and there is an abundancy of bubbles; very fruity, appley character with evident autolysis. A promising sparkler.
Le Quais á Raisins is a producer from Aubais in the Languedoc, started in 2015. They are Imogen and Robin, from England and Alsace respectively, who met there while studying. They have also worked abroad, being inspired by and have worked with the Swartland Independent Producers of South Africa, to name just one of the places they have experienced. Imogen was represented here. They only own 1.5 hectares, but use grapes from friends in Languedoc, Roussillon and Rhône. Everything is organic, and some places biodynamic practises are also employed.
Among the wines were Umami 2019, a pét nat with 9 months on the lees from muscat and grenache with no sugar, and no SO2 added. A very nice wine with aroma, a bit peachy, some brioche; it was mouthfilling, with nice acidity, and a saltiness at the end. Méridional 2018 from rolle, grenache and muscat, was floral, but also mineral, and very fresh, – fermented in tank, and some 15% in neutral wood. Embruns 2018, made from macabeu in alluvial soil, was light, pear-like in aroma, there was a little more oak-influence there, and some smokiness. A really interesting one was Syrault 2018 (from syrah and cinsault) from calcareous loess: Cherry red; aroma of blueberry, flowers, mint, pepper; a little sweet sensation in the mouth, but after all an easy-drinking wine. Then a delicate, yet fleshy amphora-aged cinsault called Lopin 2018. Before we rounded off with the Garmatcha 2018 (a grenache, or garnacha grown on limestone and gneiss): Darker colour (because of small yield, more extraction, more punch-down), 18 months in 400L oak (some young, some neutral): It had a intriguing smell of chalkiness, red fruits and herbs, a fruity and well-structured, concentrated taste with some coffee/lickorice towards the end.
Matthias Hager is located in the northern part of the Kamptal, and is known as one of the most creative producers in the area. He produces terroir-driven wines from his 14 hectares of vineyards, from Mollands, his hometown. He has had a biodynamic certification since 2005. He works with different soil types, like loess and clay. He uses different product lines, literally speaking: A label with a blue line represents a fresh and young wine, while a brown line denotes more earthy, flavorful characteristics. Red line stands for no sulphites.
Here are the wines he brought, in brief: Grüner Veltliner Mollands 2018: Light colour; fruity, with pepper and other herbs; smooth, quite concentrated, dry and salty. Grüner Veltliner Urgestein 2018, from schist soil, 10% skin-fermented, made in old oak and steel: This one is more yellow, more mineral, also with peppery tones; good weight in the mouth, and evident acidity. Completely natural. Riesling Alte Reben 2016, 10% skin-fermented for 6 weeks: It’s light yellow; flowery, fruity (but also some mineral); in the mouth it’s textured, rich. A nice take on a riesling.
Riesling PUR 2015 is a wine with 100% skin-contact for 3 weeks: Golden colour; a bit waxy, appley, with ginger and some honey; full in the mouth, textured and with a good acidity. Lastly the Zweigelt Blauburger 2018, an “Austrian merlot”, as Matthias called this second variety (a cross between blauer portugieser and blaufränkisch, noted for colour, not tannin or acidity). The grapes were grown on clay (the zweigelt), loess and schist soil. The wine is blueish; smells of red berries, some green components (pepper), herbs; it’s clean, soft, luscious and also crispy.
Stay on this channel for more from the first restaurant.
No, this is not just a slick heading, but actually the name of the wine. For so much loves Rheinhessen producer Wittman this type of soil that they decided to name a wine after it.
I bought it in a tax-free shop at a ridiculously low price. And in the wine is in fact bottled specifically for the Heinemann group, that’s responsible for the selection of most airports in northern Europe. It reminds me of some of their more basic dry rieslings though, but more about this and this brilliant winery at a later occasion.
Light yellow. Young, fruity aroma of yellow apples, flowers, and a stony minerality. Young, slender, but with good concentration, slightly spritzy riesling style, and am elegant acidity dancing on the tongue.
I’ve known Riffel for many years, and tasted some of their wines in several vintages, such as this one, their basic dry Riesling. But this time I encountered it by chance, as it was a house wine at a modest restaurant in Stavanger, Norway.
Carolin and Erik Riffel are found in the municipality of Büdesheim in the Bingen area, Rheinhessen. Bingen was the birthplace of the famous Hildegard, composer and more. But nowadays it swings more than ever here.
The vineyards cover 16 hectares, most of it riesling, together with other grapes. Their work with silvaner is very promising. They have for a long time had an organic approach, and in 2012 they switched to biodynamic farming. Obviously they use spontaneous fermentations, and there are few additions. Riffel produces around 100,000 bottles annually. Aside from the still wines bottle-fermented sekt, pét nat and non-alcoholic grape juice are made.
This is a fresh wine made in steel at controlled temperatures, lightly filtered, and clocks in at 5 grams residual sugar and around 8g acidity. The alcohol is 12% vol.
Riesling Trocken 2018(Weingut Riffel)
Light colour, greenish tinge, just a little pétillant. Fresh fruit, citrus (lemon, lime), green apples, a touch of gooseberry. Light, with a fresh acidity, and a pleasure to drink.
Food: Fish, shellfish, salads, light meat, not too heavy or spicy Asian…
I think it’s common not to visit sights and attractions close to your home, because you can always go – some other time. This may also be the case with bars and restaurants. Stavanger, Norway (in my own backyard, so to speak) has got its first decent wine bar, and then it should take three months before I managed to get there, and then quite by chance, while I was waiting for a party to start some other place in downtown Stavanger.
Once inside, I meet an old wine-mate Emil Heimdal behind the bar, and then I know we are talking “serious business” here. I know him from several restaurants over the years, and this is a man with passion for wine and real dedication. Emil took over the wine section of this bar, now called Vinkontoret (The Wine Office), together with Christoffer Ingebretsen. They have no purchase agreement that binds them, so they buy exactly the wines that they want and now collaborate with about 30 importers. They use the Coravin system, which allows them to serve anything by the glass. Here you can buy smaller units than a whole glass and pay less, so you can taste more wines during an evening.
Emil serves smaller units of better wines
They can literally offer hundreds of wines. They have a list that is heavy on traditional wine regions such as Burgundy, Rhône, Alsace, Mosel, Rhine, Piemonte, Tuscany and … say west-of-Vienna Austria.
But these people are just as crazy wine freaks to throw in almost anything you can think of.
As for grapes, of course they offer cabernet, merlot, syrah and such, without being “ashamed” of it at all (as if that would be something to regret). If you look carefully at the list you will see some “oddities” like a manzoni from Trentino, a kékfrankos from (why not) Austria, and you can get the “Pornfelder” if you like, Lukas Krauß’ German blend of portugieser and dornfelder. But most of all it’s a focus on the classic grapes here, even from not-so-classic countries.
There was a time when Stavanger was more in the avant-garde of the Norwegian culinary movement, when the oil industry was booming, and the most important gastronomic educational institutions were located there. Today there is no doubt that the hegemony is in Oslo, and that every initiative like this deserves a warm welcome.
Emil and Christoffer also have a small selection of handcrafted beers, like lambic and geuze. (Bear in mind that one of the country’s best beer selections is just across the same narrow street, at Cardinal bar. So this is obviously not their biggest priority.) The wine selection must be best in town. I am not sure if the wine list is the longest, but there are several hundred references, and mainly wines to drink, no show-off crazy over-priced stuff.
Here are just a few picks from my first brief visits.
￼Here is a riesling spätlese trocken from the Ökonomierat Rebholz of Pfalz, the Rebholz 2008. It proved to be a rich and honeyed wine with a thick texture and great acidity. To the right is a Gevrey-Chambartin, the Rossignol-Trapet Clos Prieur 1er Cru 2008 from Domaine Rossignol. It shows a clear ruby, somewhat developed colour, and smells quite aerial og cherry and plums. The tannins are still evident, and the acidity is well integrated. The actual vintages of these wines on sale are 2012 and 2013, respectively. So come here to get the wines closer to their peak.
Here is a wonderful pinot noir called Nature 2015 from Alsace producer Rieffel, now with Lucas and André in charge. Today the estate covers 10 hectares, all organic certified. The 30 year old vines are planted in soil of clay and alluvial sandstones. The fermentation is spontaneous and goes on for seven months in 228L barrels. It’s really fresh, juicy and quite full, with just enough structure to match a wide variety of food. After this I wanted a red with darker fruit, and I suggested syrah. On the counter was a Stellenbosch syrah, that was already opened, so I went for that one. The Liberator The Francophile 2015(Dreyfus Ashby) was ok; a somewhat warm blackberry fruit, earthy with some spice, mouthfilling with rounded tannins.
The door is permanently closed at The Office (Kontoret). The Wine Office has opened.
I met German winegrower Alexander Pflüger at a tasting yesterday, and tried the five wines that he had brought. Pflüger took over the family estate in 2010, fine-tuned the viticultural practise and started exporting. All the work had been organic since the 1980’s, but some biodynamic principles were introduced, and there is still a constant work to maintain a healthy biodiversity.
The farm is found in Bad Dürkheim, in the central-north part of Pfalz. All the wines are authentic, full of character and tell about their origin.
The vines grow on a terrace in Michelsberg vineyard. The St. Michael chapel is located at the top of the vineyard, and there has been winegrowing here since the 17th century. The vineyard faces south, and the soil consists of fossil limestone and a mixture of red and yellow sandstone. The must is macerated for about fourteen hours, and there is no filtering nor clarification before the spontaneous fermentation in large 2400 liters old wooden vats. Batonnnage is carried out over a six month period.
Pflüger’s Pferd in Pfalz…
In Pfalz vintage 2016 gave generally fruit-driven, elegant wines. This one is certainly no exception.
Light yellow, a touch of green. Clean, fruity, appley with a touch of lemon and canteloupe melon. It’s a relatively rich wine, but with a steely structure that keeps it wonderfully together in a perfect balance. It’s still young though, and I expect that it will continue to reveal more layers over the next few years.
One of two good and cheap wines I have tasted from the organic wine gut Wolf lately. It is Markus and Ulrike Boor who runs the estate (together with another named Louis Klein). Founded by monks who moved into the monastery in Wolf in 1478, the production contunued after reformation (of the church, that is), and today’s church was in fact built upon the old cellar in 1685.
From 4 hectars where the “Guldgrube” is one of the vineyards in Wolf (there is also one in Traben), good organic, crisp, light, elegant and sometimes mineral wines are made. The most significant ground is schist and the most prominent grape is, not surprisingly, riesling – but several other whites, and reds as well.
Some times you doesn’t want your wine to bother you with big questions, nuclear weapon threats and difficult international issues. Some times it’s ok that it comes to you, tickles your taste buds, and slides down – like a polite question, or maybe just to confirm that all is still well.
Karl May has a lot to offer, from single vineyard rieslings to easy drinking reds and whites.
He manages 20 hectars of organic vineyards in Wonnegau, Southern Rheinhessen. The grapes are handpicked. In the cellar he lets time do the rest. Thus fermentation occurs by its own and when the time is right.
Spätburgunder 2012(Karl May)
Bright red. Aroma of raspberries and cherries, a touch of spice. Luscious, cool, with a fine rounded acidity, quite slender if you think of it. Not very complex, fruity, easy-to-drink, and just lovely!
Food: Light meat, hard cheeses, salads… and try to bacalao