Tabula Rasa #V18R, South Australia

Tabula rasa is Latin for clean or blank slate. The vintage is 2018; the R stands for red.

This is a blend composed of 76% Grenache (mostly old vines from McLaren Vale, apparently), 10% Shiraz, 9% Mataro and 5% Carignan. Dark ruby/garnet, this has blackcurrant ice cream on the nose, with a hint of vanilla. Brambly fruit on the palate. Keen tannins and good acidity lend eminent drinkability despite 14.5 per cent abv and a full body. This has a crown cap enclosure and contains only 0.5 litres. I can almost imagine turning up at a drinks party with this and imbibing it straight from the bottle like a beer.

Bought from our local bottle shop, Baythorne Wines. Only on sale in Australia and the UK, as far as I can tell.

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Collective Z, ‘Der Sonne am nächsten’ (Touching the sun), 2019, Pfälzer Landwein


Christoph Ziegler’s day job consists of running a well-known wine advertising agency in Bad Dürkheim. With the help of his friends (‘Collective Z’), he also tends 1.5 hectares of old vines (planted 25 to 50 years ago) just outside Leistadt in and around the limestone sweet spot of the Berntal valley. It’s a small, secluded corner of the Pfalz, full of forgotten plots arranged in higgledy-piggledy fashion.

This is a rosé made from Dornfelder. Relatively dark in appearance – the wine looks almost like a very light red. On the Collective Z website, Christoph says it’s a ‘herbal bomb’. He’s right: think herbes de Provence on the nose, with rosemary, thyme, tarragon, oregano, etc. Or Ricola eucalyptus. Or – weirdly – squash ball. However, the fruit should not go unmentioned: aromas of ripe, sweet, succulent strawberry, which, come to think of it, remind me of other Pfalz rosés that I have had in my time. The Dornfelder connection.

Savoury notes such as bacon emerge on the second day. The herbal and strawberry duet continues on a medium-bodied, succulent yet dry palate. This wine has plenty of what the Germans call Schmelz – a wine-related term that German-to-English translators love to hate. It’s that ‘glazed’, mellow, almost melted sensation in your mouth. Sometimes it’s as if the wine is coating the palate in a thin, silky film, as is the case here. Sometimes the sensation is chewy. Certainly, the effect is tactile and, at times, even ethereal. Some clever people also think they can smell it.

The finish is long and pure.

Manual harvest followed by wild-yeast fermentation, then aged for 10 months in old French oak barrels. No fining or filtering.

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Simone Adams, Spätburgunder trocken, ‘Kaliber 12’, Rheinhessen

It’s exciting when you get to taste your first wine from a producer of whom you have you have already heard much about. Ingelheim in Rheinhessen is for Pinot Noir a bit like what Westhofen or Dalsheim is for Riesling in the south of Rheinhessen – a legendary wine village forgotten during much of the 20th century, but excelling once again.

Simone Adams, Spätburgunder trocken, ‘Kaliber 12’, Ingelsheim, Rheinhessen
Dark ruby. Pronounced peppery notes, with black cherry and blackcurrant. Certainly more black than red fruit. Dijon clones? Distinctly herbal, stemmy aromas too. Almost reminiscent of eucalyptus – as if there’s also a dash of Shiraz in there.
If anything, the herbal theme intensifies on the palate, almost overwhelmingly so. Slightly drying (but satisfying) tannins, with malt notes, a hint of mint and a medium (+) body. Pure, chalky finish. Very distinguished for an entry-level Pinot.

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Seckinger and Nussbaum

I wrote the following last July, but have failed to post it until now. Now all I have are distant yet pleasant memories. I regularly overthink things and probably thought I could improve the text at a later stage.
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There has been a notable buzz surrounding an up-and-coming generation of growers in Niederkirchen – a village that benefits from its proximity to the Mittelhaardt meccas of Deidesheim, Ruppertsberg, Forst and Wachenheim. The Fusser, Scheuermann and Seckinger wineries have all been making waves. All three practise biodynamics.

The Seckinger brothers in particular – Philipp, Jonas and Lukas – are arguably the best known of this trio of producers, thanks in part to their discernable social media presence.

Seckinger, Riesling vom Löss 2019, Pfalz
Pale lemon. Wet stone, hints of pineapple, white currant, touch of herbs – on both nose and palate. Dry as a bone, light and almost delicate on the tongue but with refreshing, electrifying acidity. Clean as a whistle. Pineapple more pronounced on the second day. White stone fruit also emerges. Still very youthful of course; I would be very interested to taste this wine in, say three or four years.

Nussbaum.Projekt, Sylvaner Löss und Kalk 2018, Pfalz
This is a garage winery involving three gentlemen called Matthias Rau, Benedikt Grein and Joachim Schmidt, who specialise in Riesling, Pinot Noir and Sylvaner. Their vineyard plots are located in Ruppertsberger Spieß and Königsbacher Ölberg – two privileged vineyards. I was lucky to grab a couple of bottles of this last year from a merchant based in the Rhein-Neckar region. Sylvaner fermented on its skins. Inaugural vintage.

Medium gold, or is it pale amber? Caramel pear aromas on the nose, pear and red cooking-apple peel. Medium acidity, light tannins, pleasant phenolic astringency. Think juicy, just-picked red apples from the best orchard possible. Tremendous volume on the nose. All the above translate beautifully on to the palate. Hard to believe that it’s only 11 abv.
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This is the moment I stopped writing last July. However, the Nussbaum wine had great soul and was one the most memorable wines of 2020. My notes do it scant justice.

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Wöhrle, Lahrer Kronenbühl, Spätburgunder, VDP.Erste Lage trocken, 2018, Baden

Medium, almost deep ruby. Definitely more red than black fruits, with kirsch notes and hints of smoke and tobacco. Mouthwatering on the palate. Tannins are elegant and medium. Nice acidic bite, with a florally, cherry-like theme and a herbal, salty, smoky finish. Caught this wine at its youthful, primary-fruit peak. This is gorgeous. I will wait on the other bottle for a good few years – or succumb to temptation. 13.5% abv.

Made from small-berried Burgundy clones. SC stands for ‘Selektion Carl’, because the first vintage from these young vines coincided with the birth of son Carl. Cold soak (maceration) followed by fermentation on the skins. Subsequent maturation for 16 months in new pièces.

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Andreas Durst, Portugieser 2014, Pfalz – short notes on a Pfälzer Landwein

Haunting perfume on the nose, with concentrated raspberry, strawberry, violet, and Christmas spice. Chocolate and leather too. Complex and ethereal on the palate, with dense yet supple tannins lending both intensity and elegance. Long-lasting on the finish. This wine has an unfettered, beautiful old-school character born of low-tech farming and winemaking rooted in a respect for nature and based apparently on pure intuition.

Wine-related photography is Andreas Durst’s day job. Durst, born in Wuppertal, made a name for himself as the go-to photographer of Medienagenten, a wine marketing agency based in Bad Dürkheim (Pfalz). During his career, he has snapped pictures of, and for, the great and good of German-speaking wine.

In 2008, he moved to Bockenheim in the northern reaches of the Pfalz. It is there that he began making his own wine. His ‘cellar’ was a garage, but his vines (less than a hectare’s worth) lay on a bedrock of pure limestone. The ungrafted Portugieser plantings used for this wine date back to 1906 – they look appropriately gnarled and twisted.

For a more eloquent summary of Andreas Durst than I could ever write, read this by Stephen Bitterolf, the founder of US wine importer Vom Boden.

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Wasenhaus, Gutedel 2019, Baden

Two Burgundy-trained growers producing miniscule quantities from top sites inherited from Henrik Möbitz in and around Staufen as well as in the Kaiserstuhl area make this a highly sought-after property. I was never able to get my hands on any Möbitz wine. His following back then (early 2010s) was mostly confined to Germany and the US. However, Wasenhaus have turned heads in the UK indie wine scene in the past few years, so the wines have become slightly easier to come by from my point of view.

A slightly cloudy, deep lemon-green colour with amber hints. Cidery notes on the nose to begin with, along with a whiff of yeast. This evolves to show ripe apple and pear, green tea and a hint of blood orange. Quite remarkable aromatic intensity. The orchard fruit takes a back step on day two, giving way to chalky notes and a suggestion of hazelnut and pastry.

For a wine with 10% abv (!), you might expect something faintly watery without the residual sweetness that you might associate with such alcohol levels. Not here. Medium (-) body and bone dry, with considerable flavour intensity mirroring the characteristics on the nose and complementing them with a saline, lingering finish. This is structured, detailed, refreshing and extremely drinkable wine that punches well above its diminutive weight and is worth every penny.

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Sandhi, Pinot Noir 2017, Sta. Rita Hills AVA, California

It’s ‘Sta.’ with the conspicuous American full stop. As the Oxford English says, ‘If an abbreviation consists of the first and last letters of a word, the American rule is to include a full stop/period at the end.’ Being a translator, I like to get my knickers in a twist about things like this, especially when people use it in British English. However, the reason for the abbreviation is because Vina Santa Rita winery in Chile objected when this fledgling AVA was created during the 2000s under the ‘Santa Rita Hills’ moniker. To avoid litigation, the Californians came to an agreement with their South American counterparts, and the ‘Sta.’ (“Period!”) was born.

This appellation is all about cool-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Situated less than 10 miles from the ocean in the Santa Ynez Valley in the southern latitudes of Santa Barbara County, much of the sunny weather is tempered by the cold Pacific currents. This manifests itself in fog – or ‘sea smoke’ – seeping in from the ocean. Santa Ynez is the only notable winegrowing valley in California that runs at right angles to the Pacific (i.e. east to west), with no mountains to block the fog.

Deep ruby appearance. Savoury Old World character on the nose. Red cherry, raspberry, black cherry, blackberry, and leather. Maybe a hint of cola, but nothing too overt. Very intense yet very elegant. High acidity and medium tannins on the palate. Concentrated but silky. Supple and fine. More raspberry and black cherry. Very intense but smooth and silky. Minerality? Maybe not, but this is a savoury Pinot treat. Long, lingering finish.

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Tatomer, Steinhügel Riesling 2017, Santa Lucia Highlands, California

Graham Tatomer is also one of those rare birds: a Californian who makes Riesling. Tatomer learned a lot from working in the Wachau at Weingut Knoll, where he also became acquainted with Grüner Veltliner.

Given the wildfires that raged in California earlier this autumn, not to mention in the neighbouring US states of Oregon and Washington, there is a certain irony in the assertion that this wine comes from a cool-climate region. But the Santa Lucia Highlands is considered just that, thanks to the cold Pacific breezes and fog that funnel in from Monterey Bay.

An unassuming lemon-green. Expressive nose. Exotic floral notes (honeysuckle dripping with pollen), sweet apple, cream, hints of candied lemon, and green tea. This is not completely dry in my book – the honeysuckle is quite overt. Medium to full body, 13% abv. Luscious texture, longish finish.

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Chasselas

Chasselas is your typical mildew-prone European grape variety that shouldn’t really work in England. What could possibly go wrong?


After two years of living in rented accommodation after our return from Switzerland, we bagged our first-ever mortgage last year. My wife Jenny and I became first-time house buyers, aged over 40. We now live in Jenny’s home village in the county of Suffolk.

The front garden at our new abode is considerably bigger than the back garden. (Our address was once a council house.) Previous occupants used to grow their own produce, although the most recent owners preferred trim borders and bushes to cabbage and carrots. The grass was yellow and the borders in bloom (yet untidy and overgrown) when we arrived in summer 2019. Instead of working on my gardening skills, I hired someone with a mini-digger to rip up most of the lawn a few months later – with a view to planting vines the following spring.

Fast-forward to 18 April this year: 50 grafted vines arrive at our doorstep. I immediately start digging. Here are the details:

A massal selection of 50 Chasselas vines; prepared and grafted at the Pépinière Hebinger vine nursery in Alsace, sourced indirectly via a supplier in Somerset. We planted five rows, with the vines situated 80 cm apart along each row and a gap of 140 cm separating each of the rows. Due to space constraints, we had to plant three of the vines in a separate area of the garden. However, the planting density is still relatively high in an area measuring almost 50 square metres – that’s almost one vine per square metre.

Why vines? Because our front garden is a south-south-east-facing suntrap. The off-white/cream facade of our house (and our neighbours’ house) reflects the sunlight and protects the plot from northerly winds, yet there is usually enough breeze around to dry the vines quickly after rain. The well-draining, gravelly loam soil in our front garden also seems well-suited to tempering the natural vigour of the Chasselas vine. Massal-selected vines tend to be less vigorous anyway. This is important when the vines are spaced so closely to each other.

From a personal point of view, growing my own vines is like scratching an itch. Before becoming a translator at the turn of the millennium, I considered a career in wine. I even worked for two summers as a vineyard helper in the Pfalz and Alsace respectively. Ultimately, I ditched my viticultural ambitions in favour of a job in Basel. But the itch remained.

Chasselas is a variety with which I have considerable affinity. I used to live in the Markgräflerland region, one of the grape’s hotbeds in the south-west corner of Germany, where the locals refer to the variety as Gutedel [guut:eey:del]. Despite being one of the world’s oldest grape varieties, Chasselas has led an underdog existence everywhere except in its Swiss hotbed on the shores of Lake Geneva, from whence it probably originated.

Growing Chasselas in England is quite a challenge. Or let’s put it another way: I could have made things easier for myself by planting a disease-resistant variety. Fungicides and other synthetic treatments are a no-no. Natural, organic treatments will be frequent. Teas made from common ‘weeds’ such as horsetail, dandelion and yarrow have been part of my repertoire since planting, as has diluted milk on one occasion. These solutions help to control mildew in different ways. In the long run, I may have to ditch the milk if I ever manage to make wine and want to label it as vegan.

Any actual harvest is still a long way off. We’re talking 2023 (or maybe 2022, depending on how well the vines establish themselves). In the meantime, I need to replace the plastic roof that turns our garage into a sauna during the summer months. That’s the next project.

 

 

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