In naming a restaurant, managers can provide a headline, if the content follows suit. Here it does. The relatively new restaurant Bravo of Stavanger’s ever more trendy eastern district can be summed up like this: Good food, a select wine list at good prices in a cosy atmosphere.
The food is down to earth but it comes with a creative twist. At the moment the menu consists of eight medium-sized dishes from mainly local ingredients, and a number of snacks. The by-the-glass wine list contains around 20 references, and there is also a longer wine list. The selection largely consists of what you would call natural wines, and all of them are made in an organic, sustainable way. To call the pricing moderate would be an understatement. Look carefully and you can find wines at only 1,5 times the price of the state monopoly.
We were there last Friday, and one of the owners, Rakel Juklestad Helgheim, guided us through four courses and nine wines, assisted by her partner and chef Daniel Vigdel Hansen. Eight of these were chosen from the glass menu and the last one was kindly offered from the longer list by Rakel and Daniel. The platters were shared and most of the wine glasses too.
While enjoying some Spanish olives from the snack menu we decided to go with smoked salmon from producer Jana, right down the road, with carrot and a creamy cheese. It was followed with beetroot with almonds and guasacaca (a Central American sauce), for me the best dish of the evening. Tender cucumber slices struggled to compete with the tasty crab with mustard and lime. Then the kitchen excelled again with a seafood platter with baked ling and spring onion in a mussel sauce with celery and soy.
Knochentrocken 2021(Der GlücksJäger), a sauvignon blanc-chardonnay-riesling from Pfalz, had the volume and roundness that often come with the varieties, with matching acidity. It has some yellow colour, an unfiltered appearance, with melon and lime aromatics.
More mineral with a stony character, sea and salt and some pear was the next, La Mer 2022(Dom. de la Fessardière), a Muscadet, before we with Alsacian Sons of Wine’s Soulographie 2021 were back in a darker and richer style. Made from all the so-called non-aromatic grapes of the region (pinot blanc, chardonnay, auxerrois, pinot gris and riesling) it was nevertheless aromatic, with mature apples, flowers and fennel, and full on the palate with a fresh acidity.
It’s not every day that we can add a new Chablis to the repertoire. Pommier‘s 2021 would deliver. It’s light yellow/golden, and smells of green apples, lime – and luckily only a touch of butter. In the mouth it’s concentrated and full of flavour, and has a long, saline finish.
Malterdinger 2020(Bernhard Huber), a chardonnay-weissburgunder (pinot blanc) from Baden came in a light, greenish robe. It showed a richness on the nose, with herbs and butter. The oak was maybe more evident on the palate, and added to the feeling of fullness. I would have given this wine a few years in a cellar.
Scions of Sinai is located in Stellenbosch, South South Africa. Nomadis 2020 is based on cinsault, with contribution of pinotage. Ruby red with red and dark fruits (blackberry, raspberry) and spices. Luscious and savoury. North to Germany and Pfalz, Lebenshilfe is an ecological and social organization, offering work for people with intellectual disabilities. Together with the professionals they have here made the fruity Spätburgunder Trocken2020, a wine with cherry and raspberry fruit, combined with spices and a touch of vanilla. On the palate the fruit follows up, a bit spicy and with a light structure.
Clotaire Michal offered a structure and dark entry for a beaujolais gamay. Maybe not strange, as he had worked several places in the Rhône Valley before settling there. A Fleur de Peau 2019 opens with an animal whiff together with raspberry, plums and spices. It follows up with an impressive structured palate. It’s first of all impressive to taste now, and a terrific gastronomic wine for tasty dishes. However it would easily benefit from a few years more ageing. Back to a white wine, or to be exact… Matassa of Roussillon makes all their whites with skin-contact, so the colour would be darker. Cuvée Marguerite2021 (predominantly muscat varieties and some macabeo) is no exception: Light orange or amber colour, slightly turbid. On the nose there is citrus, white flowers and peach, and in the mouth it’s grapey and quite full, also with a slight tannin.
Muller-Koeberle of Alsace was one of the big revelations at Vinmonopolet’s tasting of new listings and vintages last week. Martin Paulsen of importer Autentico Wines presented two wines from this producer. Here we chose the Symbiose as the Wine of the Week, but the other, Schlossreben, a blend of six grapes, was equally good.
David and Marianne Koeberle took over the family’s 27 hectares of vineyards in the village of Saint Hippolyte in 2005. They converted early on to organic and biodynamic practises. The latest years they have taken further measures too meet the strict demands of the Vin Méthode Nature (see article about certification of natural wines here).
Symbiose comes from a single vineyard co-planted on granite soil, surrounded by trees and forests and vegetation. Saint-Hippolyte is located at the foot of Haut Koenigsbourg and is a typical wine-producing village, particularly famous for Rouge de Saint Hippolyte (pinot noir) with its own appellation. The best vineyards are located at 250-400m above sea level on the slopes towards the Vosges in the west.
Here one hectare of the various grapes is co-planted. The grapes were hand-harvested and co-fermented with 6 days of skin-contact before pressing, matured for 6 months on lees before bottling without filtration.
The grape varieties are pinot gris 20%, riesling 20%, pinot blanc 15%, auxerrois 15%, muscat frontignan 15%, gewürztraminer 15%.
Light amber with a red hue, somewhat cloudy. Aroma of reaches, flowers, citrus and aromatic herbs. Good volume and concentration, long.
I was lucky to get a table at Vinkontoret (The Wine Office), Stavanger, Norway on their last day. Now they have closed the doors.
This is a biodynamically farmed pinot blanc, also with some auxerrois. The vineyards sit on iron-rich clayey soils outside Andlau village. Some keywords: Hand-harvested, whole bunches, natural fermentation in old Alsatian foudres without additives, aging on the lees for up to a year, bottled lightly filtered with only a tiny quantity of sulphites.
Kritt Pinot Blanc 2019 (Marc Kreydenweiss)
Light golden. Flowery, with pear, mature yellow apples and some herbs. Concentrated, round, creamy and somewhat buttery in the mouth, a small quantity residual sugar well balanced with the acidity. Long salty finish.
The Olivier Horiot domaine is located in Les Riceys, a commune in Côte des Bar. We are in the southern part of Champagne, and it’s an area that has once belonged to Bourgogne. Here in the Aube département the vineyards are more scarce than in central parts of Champagne, and interspersed with forests, waters and farms.
The Horiot family continues to produce wonderful natural wines from biodynamic viticulture, and has by the way also done a great job to recover the region’s indigenous grape varieties, like arbane.
Maybe inspired by nearby Bourgogne, the domain separats its different terroirs into distinct cuvées. The result is champagnes with strong individual character.
The name Métisse refers to the fact that this cuvée is made from several different terroirs in the village of Les Riceys. It’s a non vintage, made from pinot noir and pinot blanc. It has a minimal addition of sulphites and undergoes neither fining nor filtering.
Métisse Pinots Noirs et Blancs Extra Brut(O. Horiot)
Pale yellow, small, delicate bubbles. Aromas of apples, pears, citrus, flowers, brioche and spicy notes. It’s fresh and lively on the palate, with a fine-tuned interplay between the autolysis and the fruit. Completely dry, good length.
With a little help from their friends: Welshriesling, Neuburger, Muscat Ottonel, Grüner Veltliner.
The most autochtonal grape varieties with indigenous character. Originally grown on limestone, schist and sedimentary soils. Handpicked, left overnight on the skins and stems, spontaneously fermented in large, old oak casks. Unfiltered. No sulfur added. Pure.
This is the beginning of the back label text, and it sums it all up well.
Gernot Heinrich runs his farm by the Neusiedler sea in a terroir-focused way with biodynamic treatments. His focus is on local grapes, and as such are the main actors in this performance among the minor grapes, the whole farm seen as a whole. It’s not a very small business, but after a more conventional big player start he now shares the principles normally associated with small artisan producers.
Natural White 2017(Weing. Heinrich)
Turbid yellow-green-greyish. Aromatic flowers and elderberry, somewhat yeasty over a layer of apricot. Over all a wonderful glug-glug, full, with integrated acidity and the slightest bit of resistance in form of a peel’ish hint of bitterness.
Food: Apéritif, salads, charcuterie, fried fish
Finally, as the back label advices: Attention: For best enjoyment, shake before pouring!
Kreydenweiss is a leading light in biodynamic Alsace. They perform well in various styles, and you can find several of their wines on these pages. May I for instance bring your attention to this original orange wine. This time we shall talk about a really good economic sparkler, made with half and half of auxerrois and pinot blanc.
It was created by Marc’s son Antoine, who now runs the family estate.
2015 was a year with sparse rainfall, partly saved by some showers in August. They now another crémant, but this remains somehow an entry-level fizz with grapes supplied by their partners. The quality was good, and as opposed to the year before the grapes were completely without rot. Surprisingly, in spite of the hot summer, the wine retain very well the acidity. Because of the hot weather the grapes were low on nitrogen, that feeds the fermentation, so it took a great deal of patience before it started.
Crémant d’Alsace 2015(Marc Kreydenweiss)
Light straw-coloured, gentle mousse. Aroma of white flowers, lime, white peach and yeasty biscuit. Fresh style, high acidity, still a bit honeyed and quite full in the mouth.
The Real Wine fair brings together small independent vine growers from all over, to celebrate their talent, and to illustrate the diversity in the world of artisan winemaking. This year the number of participants was around 160. The fair is organised by British importer and distributor Les Caves de Pyrène, with help from many good friends.
In addition there are guest speakers for the seminars, and it’s possible to buy delicious food from the many food stalls set up for the occation. The city is bustling with activity in the days leading up to and during the fair, with many of the producers participating. And there are pop-ups, take-overs or what you like to call it when a restaurant has guest cooks from other restaurants.
“So much wine, so little time…”, a favourite quote about the fair
I will try to cover some of this in three chapters. Here are some of my most interesting findings from the fair itself. In the next article I will talk about Simon J. Woolf’s seminar and his book. Last article will be from wine bar Terroirs, who received visitors from Norway.
Here are just a few of the many good wines I tasted. To prevent the Nile from crossing its banks, the rules of the game are: Pick 5 countries, 3 producers from each, then one special wine. Please search elsewhere on this blog, and you will find that most producers are already mentioned here.
We start at home in the UK. Not far away in East Sussex and Kent we find British organic wine pioneer Will Davenport. From his Davenport Vineyards he offers well-made whites and sparklings. A new producer for me was Ancre Hill Estates, over in Wales, that showed sound winemaking and exciting results. Really expressive, and completely natural, were the wines of Tillingham, near Rye in East Sussex (not far from Hastings). The driving force is Ben Walgate, who also acts as cellar master and winemaker. All his ferments are wild, and he works with steel, oak and clay. He has some really interesting work with Georgian qvevri going on. But now…
PN Rosé 2018(Tillingham Wines): A pét nat of mainly ortega variety (68%), the rest müller thurgau, dornfelder, rondo and pinot noir. The grapes are sourced from a number of growers, so there is also a mixture of soils and elevations. It was fermented in ambient temperatures. No filtration, fining or sulphur additions. The colour is salmon pink, has some natural sediment; a fruity aroma including gooseberry, rhubarb, some yeasty notes; refreshing acidity, easy drinking.
Serena and Ben of Tillingham
From Austria there were many splendid wines to chose from, and I could have written a long piece of praise only about the three chosen ones. Sepp of Weingut Maria & Sepp Muster were there with delicate orange wines and much more. Claus Preisinger has become a favourite with his stylish grüners, other whites, and his ground-breaking blaufränkisch reds. The “prize” goes to Christian Tschida this time, for his many superb offerings from the hot Neusiedlersee area.
Laissez-Faire 2015(C. Tschida): This is a blend of pinot blanc and riesling (though I think it used to be a varietal riesling). Made in big barrels, no racking, no no…Christian is hinting to the laissez-faire philosophy, isn’t he? The wine is yellow with orange hints, slightly pétillant; very fruity, appley with hints of anise and fennel; super acidity reach the tongue, it’s rich, plays with oxidation. Very interesting, and very enjoyable drinking.
Christian Tschida (right) with Jimmy “just a friend”
Spain is one of my preferred countries, and very well represented on this blog. It was nice to see Pedro Olivares again, and taste his diverse portfolio of wines from sea level to 1700 meters in Murcia, Jaén and València. It’s always a pleasure to taste the cool wines of Pedro Rodríguez of Adegas Guimaro in Ribeira Sacra. Daniel Jiménez-Landi of Comando G has worked hard for the Gredos (or: Cebreros) region, since he crossed over from the family farm in Toledo. For many years now he brought to the limelight some of the most elegant, mineral and simply inspiring wines that the country has to present. I use this opportunity to express my deepest compassion for all that is lost in the recent terrible fires (vineyards, trees and land).
El Tamboril 2016(Comando G): This wine outside the program is sourced from a 0.2 hectares vineyard of garnacha blanca and garnacha gris on sandy quartz and granite at 1.230 metres. It’s a result of the latest harvest. Whole bunches are pressed into concrete eggs, before 10 months in old French oak. The wine is light yellow; aroma of wild flowers and herbs, mature apples, some ginger; full, concentrated and long, with super acidity. A great modern Spanish white.
Dani (left) with his friend and fellow Gredos vintner Alfredo
Portugal has a similar position for me, and I taste some of the wines quite often. Pedro Marques’ expressive, natural Vale da Capucha wines from the north of the Lisboa region are always worth a re-taste. The same can be said about Vasco Croft’s Aphros range from the country’s northernmost region Minho. Herdade do Cebolal on the Alentejo coast, in the southern part of Setúbal, was new to me. Luis had brought several interesting wines from small plots with a variety of soils.
Imerso 2015 (sea version)(Herdade do Cebolal): The main focus of interest this time was a wine that had been aged 10-18 metres under water, in collaboration with a professional diver that knows the coast intimately. We also tasted it alongside an “on land-version”. And it must be said that the underwater wine was softer, more elegant. Maybe the maturation is faster. The colour was cherry red; aroma of plums, with a vegetal component; round in the mouth, quite polished.
The underwater version of Imerso alongside its “on-land” counterpart
We now move out of “the old world” and into an even older wine world. Well probably. Anyway, Georgia has long traditions, and a long unbroken tradition of wines made in qvevri, big clay pots. When we also take into account the country’s orange wines it’s no wonder that Georgia has become such a wine pilgrimage destination lately. Iago Bitarishvili from the Kartli region offered some demanding wines. Some were aromatic, some with an intriguing mix of waxy texture and bitter taste. These wines I want to re-taste. Iberieli is a family producer (named Topuridze) located in Guria to the west and Kakheti to the east. Like the two other producers presented here they use the most familiar Georgian grapes like mtsvane, rkatsiteli and saperavi. They have also taken up the tradition of qvevri making. On to something more familiar: I have tasted Pheasant’s Tears’ wines at several occasions. But this was the first time I had met John Wurdeman, the man behind the label.
Tsolikauri-Vani 2018(Pheasant’s Tears): This time I tasted just a few wines. A really interesting wine was the Tsolikauri-Vani. Tsolikauri is a widespread variety in the west. It has a light skin, and John tells it gives fine acidity, good for semi-dry and semi-sweet wines. Vani is a place, and if my memory doesn’t fail me it’s here that the wine comes from. The winery is in Kakheti though. The wine is light in colour, with just a hint of orange; aroma of white flowers, apples, tea, some citrus; it’s quite waxy in the mouth, well-balanced and, needless to say, with a good acidity.
John Wurdeman, with Gela Patalishvili
In next chapter from the Real Wine fair we will follow the orange wine track and also move over to other continents.
Vella Terra, now in its 4th edition, is organized by Alejandra Delfino and Stefano Fraternali. In Barcelona’s Estació del Nord there were on 10-11th February gathered more than 100 producers. In addition there were several activities linked to the fair. One of these was an Asian-Catalan fusion kitchen with orange wines, presented by the Casa Xica restaurant and held at the festival’s own Garage Bar, and a tasting of natural sparkling wines at the Toto restaurant. Another was a presentation of aged natural wines from the Catalan pioneers, also at the Garage Bar, where I was lucky to get a seat.
I would say that this event has a more international air to it than the Vins Nus, held in the city at the same time. Here were many winemakers from Catalunya and other Spanish regions, but the features from other countries were much more evident. France, Italy, Portugal and Austria were among the well-represented places. Just like the Vins Nus the objective is to raise people’s awareness of natural and organic wines, and to eat and drink healthier. Like at the other fair, the goal is to present wines made by minimal intervention. But I would say that there is a slight difference in approach, and that the producers here are, well maybe not more open, but could we say: less strict in their view of the use of SO2 (to say it simple, or maybe over-simplified).
Vella Terra at the Estació del Nord
There were so many interesting, personal wines, that I can only present some highlights. And again, I will try to limit myself to one wine from each producer, though I know that again it will not be easy.
While the albariños of coastal Galicia should be well-known the reds don’t have the same recognition. Forget the images you may have of dark, sturdy, bubbling, bitter wines from the old days! Now there are several producers who show how fine, elegant and cool the coastal reds can be. Two of them were represented here. I will tell more about Antonio Portela later, whom I visited a couple of weeks after this fair. Although he is not far from Cambados, where the headquarters of the Consejo Regulador of Rías Baixas is located, his farm on the Morrazo peninsula is outside the delimitations of the DO area. So he uses terms as ‘tintos marineiros’ (something like ‘reds from the sea’), he uses grapes like espadeiro branco (related to the loureiro), tinto caiño, and he is a defender of the local grape tinta femia (related to the caiño redondo). His low vineyards in or near the beaches are the most atlantic in the whole of Galicia.
His red wines are from the parish of Cela in the town of Bueu, and the white wines from O Hío in the town of Cangas. They are all fresh and vivid – from the Quereres de Berobreo 2017 (called ‘viño mareiro’, mainly espadeiro blanco), with its light, green apples, citrussy fruit, via the rounder, more mellow Quereres do Hío 2017 (also viño mareiro, albariño-dominated) to the delicious, grapey Area Donón 2017. Donón is the village where the grapes grow, to the extreme west, just before you reach the island of Cíes outside the Ría de Vigo. These are practically wine from sand, from the beach. The red Namorado 2017 (tinto mareiro), fermented and aged for 12 months in used French oak, has all the virtues that this area can offer: It’s light in colour; pure, with fresh, red fruits on the nose; a vibrant flavour, a good natural acidity and in a long saline finish.
Juan of As Furnias hasn’t learned the tongue-in-cheek trick yet
As Furnias is more inland, in the Rías Baixas subzone Condado do Tea. After his studies in enology Juan González Arjones went to Barbaresco, to work with a small family producer, then also in a wine shop in Torino. Then he went back to his native Crecente to start his own project. He has also been managing a vineyard for the reknowned producer Terras Gauda, nearer to the coast in the subzone O Rosal. In 2010 he planted his own vineyard down there. Pícaro 2015 was a terrific red sparkling wine from a variety of grapes (albariño, treixadura, blanco legítimo, brancellao, sousón, espadeiro), with a lovely red fruits nose (raspberry, strawberry), and some tannin. After this came a vertical of his emblematic wine, the As Furnias, in vintages 15, 16, 17, 18. This too is a multi-varietal where each grape gives its contribution; the espadeiro gives both freshness, some herb and mushroom, and some special flavour characteristics (like cherry), while the balsamic notes come from caiño longo, and the spice from the sousón. They are typically made with 12 days fermentation in steel, and with no sulphite additions. The 16 was an early picking from a hot year, but everything went right in 15. As Furnias 2015 had all the best; quite dark, inky colour; pure yellow fruits, red berries, herbs and some menthol; a good tannin structure and a wonderful acidity.
Ismael Gozalo, MicroBio
In my opinion the small settlement of Nieva has long been and interesting spot on the Rueda map. This small, high altitude settlement in the province of Segovia houses producers like the Viñedos de Nieva with their excellent old pie franco vineyards, the Herrero family’s new project, not to say Ossian. Ismael was born here, and he also was involved in Ossian. But now he goes solo, and his project surpasses it all. I have covered some of his whites here and reds here. And there are several other wines mentioned elsewhere on this blog. The whites are a study in the possibilities of the verdejo grape, mostly very old and un-grafted, combined with the extreme climate of this part of Castilla. The reds include tempranillo, rufete and syrah.
This time I tasted two pét nats, the early-harvested (and reductive wine-making) Nieva York 2018 and the younger vine (and oxidative wine-making) Correcaminos 2018, the fresh and citrussy MicroBio 2018, and the Rack 2018. For this wine Ismael has been looking for a reduction. Some gas was added to the musts fermenting in steel to raise the turbidity. No battonage. All this to keep the reduction and the wine’s selv-protection. Not a beginner’s wine, with the green-greyish colour, the cloudiness, the bubbles, the creaminess, and the acid-structured taste. Flowery, citrussy, stone-fruity too, I should add.
Mariano Tabernero, Bodegas Cueva
I didn’t visit Mariano’s table that day, I just took a couple of snapshots as I went by. But later that night I was taking part in a tasting at the Bar Salvage of the Gràcia neighbourhood. I was then sitting next to Mariano and his wife, and they let me taste some wines. More about this soon.
Eduardo of Azpillaga Urarte
The family has a long history in wine in Lantziego, Rioja Alavesa, but it was not untill the 1970’s that they started to make their own wines. It was when Eduardo Pérez de Azpillaga Urarte started in the family company that the way towards an organic, sustainable farming began. So, in 2001 their vineyards finally got their organic certification. Maybe I liked best of all the white, non-DO Viña el Pago 2016 from garnacha blanca. It was macerated with whole bunches at 7 degrees for 72-100 hours, on stirred lees for 4-5 months. The result is a quite dark yellow wine with mature apples, some citrus, aromatic spices and a touch of dried fruits on the nose. In the mouth it’s medium-bodied with some tannin structure. The reds include a carbonic maceration wine with the same name, and an interesting clay aged wine called Fincas de Aztule 2015. Under the label Naturostean 2017 they had a dark, rich, sweet and quite alcoholic tempranillo, not from dried grapes, but with added alcohol. They stress that this was an experiment. A winery to watch.
Friedrich Schatz: The Acinipo will now have a label representing the nettle, or preparation 504
Friedrich, or Federico, Schatz of Ronda has long since established himself as one of the leading producers of table wine in Andalucía. He has been in the avantgarde of organic and biodynamic farming in the area, and uses both international and local grapes. I have visited him several times, and you can read more about his whole range here. Many will know that his wines carry one special letter that together spells his name, and as such they have become some kind of collector’s items. However, this will now come to an end. Schatz presented this time the first vintages that will come on the market without that one letter. In-stead they will carry a drawing of plants used in biodynamic farming.
Other than that, the wines are the same, full of taste, with a touch of something exotic, and also with a good level of acidity. When asked I have often picked the Acinipo as a favourite, because it refers to the Roman ruins just down the road, and it’s made from lemberger, a grape from where his family can be found – and because it has been a good wine of course. This time I pick the Pinot Noir 2013 (formerly known as C), is made with 12 months of ageing in French oak on lees that has been moved a few times. It has a dark cherry colour, an aroma full of red fruits with cocoa and some aromatic spices. In the mouth it’s medium-bodied, tasty, with a lovely acidity and also with a slight bitterness in the end. The acidity can be said to come from the cool night temperatures, and it was also an extreme year with a lot of rain and snow in winter, and temperatures down to -12ºC.
I finally got the chance to meet Jean-Phillippe of Domaine Padié whose wines I have known for some time. From Calce north-northwest of Perpignan, Roussillon, he releases one wonderful wine after another. I tasted some samples and some bottled wines. Quickly through the 2018 samples, there was the limestone-blend Fleur de Cailloux, with its yellow colour, mature apple-scent with flowery tones, full with some tannin, the light and luscious Calice, a carignan from young vines in schist soil, the juicy Gibraltar – and finally the Petit Taureau, from older carignan plants in limestone, with its ruby red colour, and very fresh fruit.
Among the bottled wines I tasted the red Le Tourbillon de la Vie 2017, partly own vineyards, partly chosen from others: quite dark, luscioius, plums, red fruits, light tannin. Unpretentious, I would say, but very good. The Petit Taureau 2017, that originates from limestone marls (carignan) and schist (syrah), made with reduction in mind (both the grape varieties and the concrete vats environment). The wine was cherry red, with expressive fruit (red and dark berries), some flowers and herbs, and soft tannins in the mouth with a super and long, cool acidity. Ciel Liquide 2012 was made of grenache and carignan in equal proportions, from what Jean-Phillippe calls “a mosaic of terroirs” from Calce (limestone, calcarious clay and schist). It spent 5 years in barrels of 600 liters, 2 years in tank after that: Ligh cherry red; on the nose there is some warmth, the citrussy notes appear, also stone fruits (cherries, plums); good balance between the elements, with just enough tannins, and super acidity in a long finish.
There were a couple of French producers that I didn’t know, but are worth mentioning. Les Vins Pirouettes were represented by Vanessa Letort. They are winemakers from Alsace who work in close collaboration with around ten small producers, all working organically, some with biodynamics – each producers with his characteristics. Some of the most interesting wines were made by Stéphane Bannwarth, who is based in Obermorschwihr, south of Colmar. There was a lovely, appley riesling, with great acidity, and a full rose-scented gewürztraminer. I chose the Tutti Frutti de Stéphane 2016 (gewürztraminer, pinot gris, pinot blanc and auxerrois) was a light coloured wine, with a touch of gas, green apple and pineapple on the nose, medium full, and with a lovely integrated acidity.
Domaine Balansa has 15 hectares in Corbières. I tasted some clean, fruity wines from grenache blanc and gris, and syrah. A speciality was the Muscat 2018 aged in amphora, very light in colour, aromatic (both fruity and flowery), medium bodied, and with just enough acidity. Domaine Carterole was established in Côte Vermeille (coastal southern Roussillon) by Joachim Roque. The 10-70 years old cooperative plots he had bought were transformed little by little to be able to make natural wines. In 2014 he rented a winery in Banyuls-sur-Mer. I tasted a slighty pétillant white Ton Sec 2018, a well-balanced, but a bit on the “wild” side, apple, tea and ginger-smelling Esta Fête Le Blanc 2018, from 90% grenache blanc and the rest rousanne. An interesting wine was Vermentino Amphorae, that was light yellow, quite open, with apple, pear and citrus tones, and a slight tannin-structure.
Andrea Pendin of Tenuta l’Armonia
I visited Andrea following a London wine fair last year, and you can see my report here. He has a creative approach, and makes several styles of organic wines from volcanic terroir in the small settlement Bernuffi (Montecchio Maggiore, Veneto region). His wines can maybe be characterized as inviting, simple, fresh, and very difficult to stop drinking. In spite of that they have a strong sence of place too. He uses biodynamic techniques, green manure and very little intervention, and of course always spontaneous fermentetion. Repeated from my article about them: ‘Basically there are two different lines. “Pop” consists of high quality “easy” natural wines from volcanic soil at a good price. “Cru” is a premium line from native varieties in clay and limestone.” Should I chose only one wine, let it be the Frizzi 2017, a pét nat, or col fòndo sur lie from the “pop” line. It’s simple, un-oaked, slightly bubbly, light salmon-pink, apple and strawberry-scented wine, not very structured, and oh! so delicious. In addition to a varying content of different grapes, here pinot noir 60%, the constant is the local durella, a grape providing acidic backbone, that the vintners in the area are very proud of.
Catarina and Antonino, Valdibella
Valdibella is a small cooperative operating from Camporeale, on the north side of Sicilia. They encourage biodiversity, and they concentrate on native varieties, both for grapes and other crops such as olives. Enologue Antonino Vilardi work closely with the growers. He says they want the whole chain, from grower to consumer, to share the same values, or visions, and to know about how the products are made. Therefore they can appreciate the quality, and they will understand that the products can not have a very low price.
I tasted a couple of interesting grillos, Ariddu 2017, a light, grassy-citrussy wine, Grillo sulle Bucce 2017, (bucce meaning skins), so the colour was light orange, with aromas of flowers, peel, a touch of white pepper, and some bitterness in the finish. Zi bi Bò 2017 (from zibibbo, a synonym of muscat of Alexandria) is an aromatic, rose-mango-scented wine, slightly off-dry. A wine full of character was Dhyana 2017 from perricone, a light rosé of salmon colour; strawberry and redcurrant aromas; some warmth in the mouth, but also with an acidity that carries on to the end.
Niklas Peltzer representing Meinklang
Werner and Angela Michlits of Meinklang are found in Burgenland, Austria, in the village Pamhagen on the Hungarian border. In fact some vineyards are on the other side, and they also bottle a Hungarian wine from the volcano Somló. Here is a perfect biodiversity, vines and other crops between the natural ponds of the area. They fertilize with compost that they produce themselves, using sheep, cow and horse manure and several other components.
Meinklang has a full range of very reasonably priced high-quality wines, and is mentioned in many posts of this blog. Here is one of the wine-of-the-weekend articles, where you can also see a picture of their Angus cows. Today we concentrate on their Hungarian pét nat Foam Somló 2017. The 35-60 year old vines (6o% harslevelü, 4o% juhfark) are grown on volcanic rock with a light layer of loess. The fermentation started in tank, then it was bottled with 10 grams residual sugar, and finished fermentation in bottle. No additives, no filtering. The result is a fresh, vibrant wine, low in alcohol, high in acidity. The colour is light straw, slightly turbid; aromatic, pears and peaches, some spice (white pepper); a certain warmness (or rather: a component of mature fruits like apple marmelade), but kept alive of a long, cool acidity.
Ondřej Dubas, Krásná Hora
This is, believe it or not, another producer that we have covered more than once on this blog. Read here a report on various Czech wines tasted in England last year. I like their sparkling wines, and the Blanc de Pinot Noir 2018 wasn’t bad at all; light, with a slight blush, aroma of apples and red berries, well-structured. They offered an aromatic Chardonnay 2018, and equally convincing as before was the skin-contact, gooseberry-rhubarb-scented Gewürztraminer, now in the 2018 vintage. Our focus will this time be put on La Blanca 2018, a blend of riesling (40%), sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, and gewürztraminer from several vineyards (a total of 40%), and the last 20% is pinot blanc. The wine is partially fermented in old barrels and partly in steel. Only a minimum of SO2 is added. It’s a bit cloudy, light golden; apples pear and citrus on the nose; low alcohol, bone dry, with a steely acidity.
It’s maybe unfair, but there is a limit to how much one can do in one day. There were many producers that I should have spent more time with, such as the locals Clot de les Soleres, Casa Pardet, Cosmic, Escoda-Sanahuja, Gratias, Mas Candí, Recaredo, Can Sumoi, Pepe Raventòs, Laureano Serres and Alfredo Arribas, all of whom I know make good to excellent wines. Elsewhere in Spain there are Sistema Vinari, 4 Kilos, and abroad: Carussin, Casa Belfi, Colombaia, Quinta da Palmirinha, La Cave des Nomades, the list goes on…
This was my first Vella Terra, but I really want to go back, to be a part of the positive vibe that are found in the city these days. And, as Alejandra Delfino, co-founder of Vella Terra, states, “natural wines are not a passing fad, but rather a trend that has come to stay, and something that will continue to increase demand among wine lovers”. Amen to that, and we could add that while the natural wine has been something of a punk movement, I think it’s right to say that the mainstream is now moving in that direction.
The Real Wine fair is a two days event with focus on naturally made wine, where many of the leading producers in the genre come from all corners of the world to gather in London, this year at the Tobacco Dock in the eastern part of the city. The activities are not restricted to these two days either, as the arrangers (most importantly importer/distributor Les Caves de Pyrène) have collaborators all over the UK with their own arrangements in the weeks and even months leading up to the fair itself.
This is a very nice place to be, with so many nice people (both producers and visitors) contributing to the atmosphere. And about the wines, I say ‘natural wines’ for short. But there are so many different interpretations of the theme, and add to this the variations in terroirs, grapes and producer personalities, so there are not two identical wines here.
There were maybe not that many sparkling wines on show, but it struck me that here were some of the leading producers of naturally made sparklers in many categories. So here are a few.
Let’s begin in Champagne. Pierre Gerbais is located in the Côte des Bars area in southern Champagne, and has been certified since 1996. Their vineyard consists mainly of the dark marl called kimmeridge. They use the most traditional grapes of the region, but they are also noted for making the first 100% pinot blanc called L’Originale.
From the fresh Cuvée Réserve (24 months on lees) I tasted my way through the five champagnes they had on offer. Among the more special treats were the aforementioned L’Originale (officially NV, but from 2011 grapes): 100% pinot blanc, mostly from a vineyard planted in 1904, in white clay soils: A concentrated wine with aromas of yellow apples, some toast, salty minerals and it’s drying off. L’Osmose Extra Brut (also white clay, also from the 2011 harvest) made from chardonnay: Light colour, quite complex, with apple, some nuts, a nice acidity, and a dry aftertaste. In contrast, L’Audace (2011) is from pinot noir and from darker soil. Here is no dosage, no sulphur added. It’s darker yellow than the others, apples, strawberry, toast, and a mineral finish.
Finally the Grains de Celles Extra Brut, made from 50% pinot noir and the rest chardonnay and pinot blanc and with 36 months ageing on lees, is the most complex of lot. More toasted, aged notes, but some freshness too, yellow apples, mineral, with a slightly sweet fruit balanced by its concentration.
Antoni “Ton” Mata Casanovas now leads Recaredo together with his cousins Josep, Carles and Jordi. If there is one emblematic cava producer it is this one, second to no sparkling wine producer from anywhere. They practise dry farming with biodynamic principles, and only work their own vineyards high up in the Alt Penedès.
I have visited them in Sant Sadurní (Catalunya) and tasted through the whole range. Here most cavas were represented. All their wines have a great concentration of flavours, from low yields and prolonged ageing on lees. They don’t have any dosage, and all of them long exceeds the ageing requirements for a gran reserva. They have more focus on the xarel.lo grape than most cava producers. This is the grape that shines most brightly of the cava grapes given a few years of ageing.
Terrers Brut Nature Gran Reserva 2010 has slightly more macabeu than xarel.lo: Aroma of mature apples and a touch of apricot and peach, some balsamic notes and some toast too, and a fresh appearance in spite of the ageing. The Finca Serral del Vell Brut de Brut 2007 is made from approximately even shares of xarel.lo and macabeu. The colour is light, it’s complex, with fresh pineapples aromas along with some toast, some balsamic, and a surprising freshness after 8 years on the lees; the aftertaste shows a stony minerality. According to Ton this is because of the calcareous soil on top of the hill. Further down the same road is the Reserva Particular 2005 (also a gran reserva despite the name), that can be considered one of the purest expressions of Mediterranean sparkling terroir wine (even if Recaredo themselves makes another fantastic cava only in some years), with a xarel.lo 55%/ macabeu 45% blend: Dark straw colour, some lime, smoke, concentrated, rich, and remarkably fresh for its age (almost 10 years on yeast). Worth noting is also that their Brut Intens Rosat 2012 (garnacha/monastrell, a little pinot noir) har all the charms of a sparkling rosé, but is also clearly in the family of aged Recaredo wines.
Then there is Franciacorta, in the hills near Brescia in the Italian region of Lombardia. The only producer presented here was 1701, the first certified biodynamic producer in the area. They never use any dosage and sulphur only when absolutely necessary.
As an ouverture there is the low-pressure (3 atmospheres) Sullerba, that is outside the appellation. It’s a light and lovely, yeasty and appley, super easy-to-drink wine. Made from chardonnay in steel and amphora with 12 months on its lees. Their Rosé is lovely, from the 2012 vintage (these wines are also officially NV), fresh with raspberry notes, and a good balance between the fruit and the aged qualities. The Satèn from the 2013 vintage is a chardonnay with 30 months on lees; fresh, not too complicated, but delicious drinking. Maybe the most “serious” (among these wines, all of them obviously serious) is the Vintage 2011 Dosaggio Zero, a 90% chardonnay, the rest pinot noir (pinot nero in Italian), 42 months on the lees, 20% in barrels. Here is a perfect balance between ageing and fruit character, with some toast, mature apples, and a balsamic touch. Long curve. 1701 was a nice surprise and a producer that I didn’t know before.
Rhona Cullinane and Federico Stefieni
Talking about fun: Prosecco is often marketed as such, but alas, like for many others the vast majority doesn’t give me much of that. But luckily Casa Belfi was in the house!
Casa Belfi (or: Albino Armani) works according to biodynamic principles and there is no fining or filtering involved, nor any addition of SO2. 6 months on lees is typical. I have tried all the wines before, and they are truly joyful wines to drink. I think especially the normal Colfòndo Frizzante 2015 has a good value, with its expressive, pure fruit. It’s yellow/orange, cloudy with a super and fresh apple and citrus peel aroma, notes of bread, and a dry finish. The Colfòndo Anfora 2015 is darker after 7 days of skin contact and 4 months in clay. It’s still fruity, with mature apples, a spicy touch and a citric aftertaste. Talking about fun, the red Raboso Frizzante 2015, from the grape variety by that name, has all the playful expressiveness you can ask for. Red with a dark rim; red berries, earthy notes, and lovely fruit all the way.
Casa Coste Piane was also there. This is an estate that dispose of many old vines, some pre-phylloxera, and like Casa Belfi the second fermentation takes place in the bottle, dégorgement is not carried out, so some cloudiness is inevitable. At this point it has not the same expressive qualities as its neighbour, but has more subtle citrus and minerality, and it’s definitely promising.
A couple of days before the fair I visited Will Davenport in his winery in Rotherfield, East Sussex (a short article will follow).
Davenport Vineyards, or Limney Farm, is the biggest organic producer in the UK. The winery is small and modest, but it’s fully equipped to make both still and sparkling wines. Therefore they give services to other producers in the area. I love their still white Horsmonden White, but as this piece is about sparkling wines we shall take a brief stop at the Davenport Pet Nat (you know that wine that everybody makes nowadays that can do it, a welcome trend, in my opinion), aged 3 months before disgorging: Light in colour, very aromatic, mature apples, some citrus. Then there is the Limney Auxerrois Sparkling 2014, from a vineyard near the farm, 18 months on lees: Rich yeasty character, stony minerality, and a fresh and delicate touch too. And lastly the Limney Sparkling Rosé 2014: salmon pink, some autolysis character on the nose, plenty of fruit, raspberries and a citric touch.
Lisa Harvey and Ian Hardwick, volunteers for the Forty Hall project
I was about to say that Forty Hall Vineyard makes the wines with the shortest travel, from Enfield, North London. It’s not quite true that it’s the one with shortest travel, because it has travelled down to Davenport’s winery in East Sussex, and back again, because Forty Hall is among the producers that get some help from Will Davenport.
Forty Hall is a 4 hectar organic vineyard, the first commercial producer in London since the middle ages, led by volunteers as a non-profit organization to support the community.
The London Sparkling Brut 2014 was delicious, beautifully balanced with lightly yeasty character, rounded fruit (mature apples and a touch of citrus) and just enough acidity to match.
Apart from this there were some occational bubbles from producers that aren’t primarily makers of such, both fully and half sparkling wines from Loire, from Italy, and from elsewhere in the world.