There are many different dessert and fortified wines. This one is very little known, but I don’t understand why. It’s a moderately sweet wine that pairs well with typical Christmas fruit cakes like panettone and pandoro. The category is ratafia, elaborated throughout the Mediterranean, but this specific wine belongs to the sub-category Ratafia de Champagne (or: Champenois). It was my contribution to a blind tasting session in the local wine club, and one of the highlights of the evening.
The term “ratafia” can be used in about three different products; some may know the almond biscuit and the liqueur. The dessert wine has seen a solid upturn in recent years, and there are now at least 120 producers of ratafia in Champagne.
An anecdote explains that the name is supposed to have come from Catalunya, where three bishops are said to have argued fiercely, but finally reached an agreement. They wanted to celebrate this with a toast, and got some wine from a local farmer. As his drink had no name, they suggested “rata fiat” (Lat. ‘it is signed’), the last words of the document they had drawn up.
The wine is fortified, but it’s not marked by alcohol,. It’s fresh, and not overtly sweet. The basis are organically grown 1 cru chardonnay grapes from Montagne de Reims. They were manually harvested in october 2013. The alcoholic fermentation was blocked by adding distilled wine (marc). It was then aged for 7 years in wooden casks of 400 and 600 liters. The wine clocks in at 18% alcohol and 100 g sugar.
Vilmart & Cie is a récoltant-manipulant (RM) in Rilly-la-Montagne, just outside the city of Reims. They are now in their 5th generation and grow their grapes organically.
Golden colour. Fresh aroma of mature lemons, candid apricots, menthol. Medium-bodied with good concentration, fresh acidity and a natural/integrated sweetness reminiscent of acacia honey. Great length and balance. Inspiring.
Yesterday was that day again. The third Thursday of November I always await with excitement. I feel that nowadays the craze is gone, the hype is silenced, it’s not that many people who talk about it as before. But the wines are better than ever. Well, the best wines might not be equally “sensational” as in the past few years (that means, the ones I have tasted, a few favourite producers and some wines I think I ought to try), but the overall quality is superb. Even if the wines are lovely now, there are a few that will drink well throughout the whole of next year.
A novelty for me is the no sulfur added nouveau from Laurent Perrachon. I read that the producer is based outside Juliénas and harvests six appellations, among them Chénas, Fleurie and Saint Amour. Martine and Laurent are fifth generation, and the sixth is also involved in the family business. They claim to be the independant winemaker in Beaujolais with the most comprehensive list of crus.
This nouveau originates from 3 hectares with gamay with an average age of 45 years, pruned in Gobelet (bush vines) in crystalline soils. The grapes were picked manually, before a semi-carbonic maceration for 4 days. Always in stainless steel vats. Total production is 8.000 bottles.
Beaujolais Nouveau Sans Sufre 2023(Laurent Perrachon)
Dark red colour. The aromatics consist mainly of dark and wild fruits like blackberry, but also has some cherry and a component of strawberries, sweet flowers, and a balsamic note behind. It’s moderate on acidity, but compensates with a dense and generous fruit quality. It’s lightly structured with fine tannins, quite full on the palate, and good length with a fruity finish. A possible crowdpleaser.
Mademoiselle M is a sauvignon blanc from Kimmeridgian limestone soils (marl with oyster sediments), located in the appellation of Pouilly-Fumé. It’s made without added sulphites, aged in used oak vats for 18 months.
Alexandre Bain owns 11 ha in Tracy-sur-Loire. Like his friend and collegue Sebastien Riffault across the river in Sancerre, Alexandre harvests later than most in his region, which gives the wines a darker colour. To retain the maximum acidity in his grapes, Alexandre trains his vines low. Harvest is done by hand, and yields are small.
Mademoiselle M 2015(Alexandre Bain)
Dark golden, slightly turbid. Aroma of mature apples, flowers, a touch of honey and a flinty minerality. Quite full on the palate, glyceric, concentrated flavours. Rich for a sauvignon blanc. Probably at its peak right now.
I have been a couple of days in Grimstad, Norway, the beautiful seaside town of my childhood. The most inspiring restaurant these days is Smag & Behag. They have also opened another restaurant in neighbouring Kristiansand. But this is the original. The wine list is not very extensive, but they have a magnificent underground cellar, high ambitions – and the selection is well-crafted and consists of organic and natural wines of good quality.
For a four course meal I selected four wines together with the waiters. The three first wines -young and beautiful- were Brocard‘s saline Chablis Sainte Marie 2022, Domaine de Nozay‘s flinty Sancerre 2022 and Olivier Merlin‘s raspberry-scented Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2021. Instead of going for a dessert with a sweet wine I chose a selection of cheeses and this week’s wine, a classic style Chianti
Castell’in Villa is located in the south of Chianti Classico, just outside the village of Castelnuovo Berardenga east of Siena in Tuscany. The farm is run by the Greek-born Princess Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa, who lives in a medieval tower on the property. Out of a total of 300 hectares, 54 ha are vineyards that are all grown organically.
The sangiovese grapes are grown in old river deposits with pebbles and sand, in a vineyard planted in the 1960’s. The grapes were picked by hand and spontaneously fermented, before 3 weeks’ skin maceration. The wine is aged in large oak barrels. Unclarified and unfiltered, and low sulfur (<40 mg/l).
Chianti Classico 2018(Castell’in Villa)
Dark cherry red, with a beginning hint of brown. Aroma of red berries, herbs, leather, mushrooms. Firm and fine-grained tannins, good acidity, notes of tea and plums, with a decent concentration and length.
At Raw Wine Copenhagen I met Philippe Lancelot, maker of natural wine in Champagne. The estate was created by his parents who both inherited some vineyards, then bought new ones together. Philippe had introduced biodynamic practise for all vineyards by 2012. He wants to express the individuality of each cru and village, almost always completely dry and in most cases without any added sulphur. He showed five magnificent wines, among them Le Fond du Bâteau 2018, from the lieu-dit (named vineyard) of the same name in the surroundings of Choully, a grand cru village in Côte des Blancs. 100% chardonnay, no dosage and zero added sulphites. Light golden, aroma of green apples, citrus, chalk and brioche, concentrated, mineral, long, pure.
The oldest wine he presented was the 2014 vintage of Les Bas des Saran 2014, also pure chardonnay, with no additions. This one comes from four lieux-dits of various grand cru villages, among them Cramant (his home village). It’s vinified in oak barrels and vats, and spent 5 years in the cellars before launch.
Les Bas des Saran 2014(Phillipe Lancelot)
Light yellow. Discreet floral nose, expressive citrus, brioche. In the mouth it has a dry and tense attack, but develops both creamy and fruity. Concentrated, long, salty.
Raw Wine is ever expanding and has finally come to Scandinavia. Last Sunday some 180 artisans from all over the world was gathered in the conference center The Plant in Amager Øst, Copenhagen. There were three seminars, of which I participated in one (about wines from Castilla y León, read a note here). In the days leading up to the festival there were also tastings and other events collected under #rawwineweek, of which I also participated in the biggest of the additional tastings (see a report from Café Josephine here).
With 180 producers it’s obvious that I couldn’t taste everything. This time I rambled around with no special plan, except I wanted to talk to some that I didn’t know before, some that I knew a little, and of course say hello to some good friends.
My readers might not know that I have a history in Peru. But I have, and my daughter is half Peruvian. Some years ago I visited the region of Ica. It was exciting to know that there is now a natural wine producer right in the desert. The people of Peru knows that it’s their country, not neighbouring Chile, that is the cradle of pisco. The old harbour of Pisco is located right there, only 75 kilometers from Ica, and both are located south of Lima.
Pepe Moquillaza is also a pisco maker and has done a great job recuperating quebranta grapes for pisco production. Now he is rescuing Peruvian clay vessels (also called piscos, or botijas) for natural wine making. In Copenhagen I tasted two of his maritime desert wines. The first one was Mimo Italia Quebranta 2020 (italia, local name for moscatel de alejandría, and quebranta in equal proportions), organically and biodynamically farmed, with two years of skin-contact, not sulphured, aged in old oak, unfined and unfiltered. It’s a light amber coloured wine with good volume, a grapey character and also good acidity. Albita de Ihuanco 2019 is a blend of albilla (local name for palomino) and italia. It combines the minerality of albilla with the flowery scent of moscatel. It’s yellow in colour, and has good volume in the mouth, with some tannin and a lot of fruit. Like the previous wine it has almost zero sugar and a moderate 12% alcohol. The length of the skin-contact is here two months.
Lanfranco Fossà was there on behalf of Davide Spillare, who lends his name to the labels. I met them both when I visited the important village of Gambellara in Veneto five years ago, and it was nice to catch up. (Here you can read about that visit, with more background.) The wines are fresh and lively, and quite light in body. As if some extra freshness is needed, the L1 Frizzante 2021 sparkler has a small percentage of durella to give an extra boost. Bianco Rugoli 2016 comes from an 85 year old vineyard with volcanic soil, with bushes trained in pergola. The nose is complex with mature apples, wax and aromatic herbs, good acidity and a salty mineral finish.
A relatively new discovery is Bianka und Daniel Schmitt of Rheinhessen. During the last couple of years I have tasted several impressive wines, from the entry-level 1 litre bottles of Frei. Körper. Kultur. and upwards. It was then lovely to be able to meet Bianka in Copenhagen. These wines are fresh, tasty and truly inspiring. Here we tasted rieslings, like the flowery, red appley, quince and honey scented Riesling M 2018 and the flor-aged Voodoo Doll 2020. There’s no evil behind the appropriate black label; it is floral on the nose, with almonds, herbs and a touch of tropical fruit. Of the reds I will mention two; first the elegant Spätburgunder2018, with its generous raspberry, complemented with flowers, green peppers and an interesting hint of coffee. Kékfrankos is the Hungarian name for blaufränkisch, that the Schmitt family brought over from there. Now in its 2021 vintage it’s medium-bodied and in a way light, but it’s also wonderfully complex, smells of blueberry, morello, herbs and a touch of coffee, it’s luscious in the mouth with soft tannins, an agreeable acidity and a pleasant bitterness in the finish.
Philippe Lancelot is a natural wine classic within Champagne. The estate was created by his parents who both inherited some vineyards, then bought new ones together. Philippe had introduced biodynamic practise for all vineyards by 2012. He wants to express the individuality of each cru and village, almost always completely dry and in most cases without any added sulphur. He showed five magnificent wines, among them Le Fond du Bâteau 2018, from the lieu-dit (named vineyard) of the same name in the surroundings of Choully, a grand cru village in Côte des Blancs. 100% chardonnay, no dosageand zero added sulphites. Light golden, aroma of green apples, citrus, chalk and brioche, concentrated, mineral, long, pure. The oldest wine he presented was Les Bas des Saran 2014, also pure chardonnay, with no additions. This one comes from four lieux-dits in the grand cru villages, among them Cramant (his home village). It’s vinified in oak barrels and vats, and spent 5 years in the cellars before launch. It has a discreet floral nose, more expressive citrus, brioche, in the mouth it has a dry and tense attack but develops both creamy and fruity.
Château Meylet is another natural wine venture from a classic place. They are also biodynamic since 1987. David Favard runs the family estate, that due to its location in St. Emilion has a high percentage of merlot plants, but also cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, malbec and petit verdot. Cuvée Baiser d’Ange 2021 is an interesting orange wine from semillon, made with 15 days skin-contact in amphora. Yellow colour, rich with a sweetish sensation. Château Meylet 2019 showed that the reds have some oakiness at an early stage. Luckily there are aged wines then. The 2003, made by David’s father, has stood the test of time. Red with brick rim; red and dark fruits, some tobacco and spice; fine tannins and well-balanced, a raisiny touch also.
Mas de la Lune is located in the Agly valley, Côtes du Roussillon. In schist and granite soils grow varieties also known from the Spanish side, all of them 70-90 years old. Vanessa Courtay showed me a handful of wines in several colours. I am not sure which vintage I tasted of Le Second Souffle; I think it might be 2022, although it then would barely have the time to stay the 9 months with skin-contact that Vanessa told me it had. Anyway it had also little colour for that amount of time. It’s made of macabeu and tastes of wax, flowers and yellow apples, with a structure that more than the colour tells about the prolonged time on skins.
I will soon go on a trip to Bobal country in mid-south-east Spain. A perfect introduction was then to visit the table of Altolandon, from the Cuenca part of DO Manchuela. The property lies up to 1.100 meters, that makes a slow maturation and a fresh acidity possible. Carmen Sebastián and winemaker Rosalía Molina showed me several wines as proof of this. Milhistorias Bobal 2020 has a bright red-blueish colour; red and black fruits on the nose with flowers and herbs; it’s fresh and fruity, very much alive and with a super acidity.
When I was about to call it a day and leave I stumbled upon Nacho León of Demencia Wine. He is located in Villafranca del Bierzo, and the name points to mencía, the most important grape in the area. The wines come in an expressive style, with good fruit and firm tannins. Fuente de San Lázaro 2019 comes from 115 year old vines in a variety of soils and is made in old wood. It shows red and black fruits, herbs and am earthy touch; in the mouth it has the firm tannins, and also a lot of freshness. Villegas 2019 comes from sandy and clayey soils and is also made in old wood. Ripe red and black fruits, herbs, a toasted note; the tannins are firm and there is some coffee and a touch bitterness in the end.
A highlight was indeed the veggie pita served by Jakobsen’s Pita. Not least because I met Ismael Gozalo, that gave me a sip of his magnificent Frágil 2021, a glass-raised verdejo, just in time to enjoy it with the pita. And of course, interviewing Isabelle Légeron MW for Vinforum magazine, in a story about the Raw Fair itself. When it’s published I may port a short version of it here.
Clos des Vignes du Mayne in the Mâconnais (southern Bourgogne) has been owned by the Guillot family since 1952. The land has been used for farming for more thousand years, and no chemical products have ever been used. Now Julien Guillot makes the wines in the most natural way possible, and according to a biodynamic philosophy.
The Bourgogne Rouge Les Crays comes from a small plot of vines aged around 40 years old in calcareous soil. Certified by Demeter, Guillot uses natural treatments and preparations. The harvest is manual and the grapes are selected in the vineyard itself.
The pinot noir grapes are macerated in whole bunches for about 8 days. Following spontaneous fermentation with native yeasts, the wine ages in wooden barrels for 12 months. It is finally bottled without being filtered, clarified or any sulphur added.
Bourgogne Rouge Les Crays 2020 (Julien Guillot/ Clos des Vignes du Maynes)
Cherry red. Dark and red fruits (dark cherry, raspberry), tart plum and tea against a mineral background, and a hint of acetone. Good volume, meaty, lovely texture and good length.
In my local wine club we had recently a tasting of nine riesling grand crus from Alsace, and one blend. The wines showed a generally very high quality. The prices are high, but considering the quality I find them competitive compared to many other areas.
None of the three so-called “conventional” wines excelled. Of these the Brand grand cru from the Turckheim cooperative was the most interesting, not least because of the price. Trimbach‘s wine from the same vineyard was way too expensive, and the Schlumberger southern Saering uninteresting. Among the natural and organic producers I found Gustave Lorenz‘ wine okay. Kreydenweiss‘ wine from the northern Wiebelsberg cru sadly had a touch of mousiness. But even so it was not difficult to tell that it is a fabulous wine.
Here are five wines that really stood out, all of them from the central area near Colmar, all of them good ambassadors for their respective crus and for the region.
Zotzenberg Riesling Grand Cru 2019(L. & A. Rieffel)
Zotzenberg sits in a basin on the south side of the Mittelbergheim hillside which reaches 320 meters. It’s facing east and south, and has quite a lot of sunshine. It covers 36 hectares, is composed of marl and limestone. The cru was formerly known for its sylvaner, but now gewurztraminer, riesling and pinot gris all perform well here, with wines of both freshness and body.
The Rieffel property covers a total of 9.5 hectares and is currently run by Lucas Rieffel, third generation of winegrowers, who took over from his father André in 1996. They are based in Mittelbergheim, central Alsace, but have also vineyards in the north.
Tasting note: Light golden colour. Rich and open aroma of yellow apples, flowers, a peppery note. Good volume and structure, a touch menthol, long.
Brand Riesling Grand Cru 2021(Zind Humbrecht)
Brand is located in Turckheim, where Zind Humbrecht has their headquarters. The soil is granite and the exposure is south, southeast. The altitude is up to 380 meters, and it totals 57 hectares. Both riesling (41%) and other grapes are grown here. A structured palate and a “willowy freshness” (Vins d’Alsace) resulting in a mineral sparkle and a saline sensation is typical for this cru.
The domaine was created in 1959. It’s today run by Olivier and Margaret Humbrecht. They have 42 hectares and are co-owners of six grand crus, among them 2,4 hectares in Brand. They use biodynamic methods.
Tasting note: Light yellow. Intense aroma of flowers, citrus, aromatic herbs. Great concentration and minerality, steely acidity, dry, long. This wine is young at the moment and has a long life ahead. (Read about another vintage of the same wine here.)
Bordering the edges of the municipality of Eguisheim, the locality of Eichberg Grand Cru faces the south-east at an altitude between 220 and 340m. Here is a particularly dry and warm microclimate, as the amount of rain registered is currently the lowest in the Colmar area. The terroir of this locality is essentially composed of limestone conglomerate and marl, with clayey, stone-rich soil. The 57.62 hectares grow various varieties, noted for opulence, fruitiness, but also finesse.
The head office of the Ginglinger family is in Eguisheim, in a house dating from 1684. Pierre-Henri who lends name to the company, took over in 1976. Today it’s run by his son Mathieu, 12th generation, who manages 15 hectares his wife Stéphanie. -You grow good grapes by respecting the earth, he says. Thus, organic farming has been practised for a very long time.
Tasting note: Light golden. Aroma of mature citrus, pear, flowers. Generous and fruity, with good acidity, elegant.
Schlossberg Riesling Grand Cru 2017(Dom. Bott-Geyl)
Schlossberg is a 80 hectare cru on sandy granite with south exposure in Kientzheim. The altitude is all the way from 230 to 400 metres. Riesling is the indisputable master here with 71% and the best wines by far. With a long growing season, this terroir has ideal ripening conditions for the grape. The wines are often light and floral, and with freshness from the granite.
Jean-Christophe Bott has been responsible for Domaine Bott-Geyl since 1993 and converted to biodynamics in 2002. In the vineyards he believes in low yields and in the cellars he employs natural and minimalist methods. The domaine owns vineyards in 6 grands crus.
Tasting note: Light golden. Intense aroma of mature apple and flowers, with a touch of smoke. Concentrated, lovely structured, fresh, with a stony minerality, long. Great richness and delicacy at the same time.
Kaefferkopf Grand Cru 2015 (Christian Binner)
Kaefferkopf is the latest addition to the grand crus, from 2007. It is located in Ammerscwihr, just outside Colmar to the northwest. It’s a granite-limestone vineyard with east exposure that is distinguished for various grape varieties. This wine is based on 40% gewürztraminer, the rest riesling and pinot gris. Therefore I placed it outside all flights at the end of the tasting.
Christian Binner comes from a family of vintners that has been producing wine in Ammerschwihr since 1770. He is also noted for helping small farmers in the area with facilities and bottling their wine using his Les Vins Pirouettes label.
Tasting note: Light amber, slightly turbid. Aroma of yellow tomatoes, orange peel, dried fruits and some spice. Great structure and complexity, long.
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.