Les Pionniers

20181211_190540Overall, I find the wine selection in most UK supermarkets to be rather lopsided. There is still a heavy focus on industrially produced wines from the English-speaking New World that are named after some poor animal’s tail (take your pick) or ‘carefully sourced’ from some paddle-less creek. Another gripe – although this could be said for the English-speaking wine industry as a whole – is that the cult of the winemaker also reigns supreme, i.e. you will stress at all costs that whoever ‘crafted’ the wine is also ‘heading up winery operations’. However, even in these troubled times, there are still some affordable little gems that are able to speak for themselves eloquently enough.

Co-op ‘Les Pionniers’ brut, Champagne
This is an own-brand champagne, though the label doesn’t state who actually produced it at source. Healthy medium-light yellow, with fine bubbles. Attractive brioche and butter on the nose, with hints of blackcurrant. Impressive biscuity concentration.
Pure and clear on the palate, with uplifting acidity and less stuffing than the nose might have suggested (no more than medium body). Lip-smackingly dry, with berry fruit (mostly redcurrant) and a satisfying finish. With ample structure and integrity, this fizz punches above its weight.


Das Kleine Kreuz

003 (2)After ‘Das Kreuz’, here is the ‘lesser’ of the Bordeaux blends that the Rings brothers produce from the ‘Das Schwarze Kreuz’ vineyard situated to the south of Freinsheim. Incidentally, Andreas and Steffen Rings have now relocated their winemaking operations from a backstreet near the village railway station to a spanking new site in the middle of this vineyard.

Andreas and Steffen Rings, Das Kleine Kreuz 2009, Pfalz
This is mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Laurent, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Dark, almost opaque red. Densely packed aromas. The finest dark chocolate imaginable combines with currants to evoke something slightly akin to Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut. There is also has a slight Amarone/Rumtopf characteristic. I remember this wine’s initial dark fruit of youth. This has developed into something even more voluptuous. Hints of iron lend an interesting counterpoint. Velvety smooth on the palate with mellow tannins. Full-bodied concentration with dark and dried berry fruit. The 2009 season was warm, and this wine is a blockbuster with 14.5% abv. Certainly not a bottle to drink on your own in one sitting. Nevertheless, there is enough freshness to lift the opulence and density onto a higher, extremely delicious, multilayered plane. I would say that this red is at the perfect stage right now. The finish is long – with serious structure framing the wine’s silky smoothness.



20181213_143115Oliver Zeter has been on my ‘wine radar’ for several years – but you could say that he is responsible for some of the best wines I’ve never drunk. Time to change this.

Oliver Zeter, Sauvignon Blanc Fumé 2016, Pfalz
Bright straw yellow in appearance. A distinct nose, but one that adamently refuses to descend into caricature and kitsch. Ripe gooseberries, smoky, savoury bacon, fresh green leaves (mint), elderflower. This is complex and balanced – and quite unlike most Sauvignons I’ve come across. The riff of gooseberries and elderflower continues on the palate, but without the burning green nettley/peppery sting that often emerges on the back palate. What we have is nice acidity providing backbone instead. Medium (+) body with a forceful, persistent finish that ends in a satisfying vein of smoky minerality. Fumé by name, fumé by nature.


Burgweg 2007

20181012_152840This wine comes from the prize south-facing ‘Im Großen Garten’ plot of the Burgweg grand cru, overlooking the Eckbach stream that originates in the Palatinate Forest (Pfälzer Wald). By all accounts, Knipser tweaked the style of their Pinots from 2008, focusing increasingly on elegance and finesse at the expense of alcohol levels. With its substantial 14% abv, this Pinot Noir comes across at first sight as a relic from yesteryear.

Knipser, Burgweg GG, Spätburgunder trocken, 2007, Pfalz
A healthly ruby colour with only slightly light-brown hints round the edges. A dense yet expressive kaleidoscope of aromas – from iron notes and blood orange, to forest fruits (blackberry and raspberry), hints of bacon and a chalky minerality. A medium (+) body probably reflects as much the vintage as the Knipsers’ previous approach to making Pinot, if truth be told. However, the masculine, powerhouse character of the wine has uncoiled somewhat over the years – and pleasingly so – to leave tannins that melt in the mouth, as well as tertiary notes of leather and bacon, a certain chalkiness and the same aforementioned berry fruit expression. Also worth noting is that the oakiness of around five years ago has dissipated completely. The finish has vital acidity and is highly structured and long-lasting. At 11 years and counting, this wine is now reaching adulthood and is more than worthy of its GG status. Easily in ‘ninety-something’ territory, were I a critic.



img_20180814_165836Last Saturday, and a trip to England’s smallest city, Wells. What a lovely place. Even the misly, drizzly conditions failed to detract from its charm. The elegant architecture of the cathedral – inside and outside – was really worth a look.

I also popped into one of the city’s wine shops. The proprietor of Santé Wine Imports, David Schroetter, sells an interesting selection mainly of French wines. My wife and my visiting aunt followed me into the shop and were intrigued, for their part, by the small range of gins and liqueurs on offer. I just focused on the wines and eventually came away with the following bottle.

Guy Allion, Les Parcs Pinot Noir 2016, Touraine
Dark ruby with violet edges. Linear with a subtle fragrance of dark fruits (cherry). Crunchy tannins on the palate. The dark fruits are refreshing and more overt compared to the nose. Juicy and succulent.  A beefier, rough-and-ready, masculine style of Pinot with noticeable, youthful tannins. Although the wine does evolve into something a little more silky after a day or so. Medium body with a medium finish. Nothing that complex, but a good, honest wine for the price: over £13 from the shop, but costing just under 7 euros if bought directly at the winery.


Red slate

20180223_202516Given that I translated a whole chapter about Clemens Busch and his wines in this book (The new art of German Riesling), it’s a strange that I have only ever blogged once about a wine of his, and that was nearly four years ago.

I love Rieslings from red soil, be they from Nierstein, Birkweiler, Ungstein, Pünderich or elsewhere. They seem to ooze a generosity and depth to which my simple palate can easily relate.

Clemens Busch, Vom roten Schiefer, Riesling trocken 2012, VDP Ortswein, Mosel
Here is a quote from the English I wrote:

Grapes from younger vines in Rothenpfad are used for this wine. Spontaneously fermented and usually slightly off-dry. This wine has won quite a cult following among private customers and sommeliers. “It features on a good few wine lists in New York.” [Clemens Busch] People seem to adore its spicy, wild, unreformed personality.

Rothenpfad not only has red slate soils; it is also extremely steep. While tasting through Busch’s wines in ‘preparation’ for the book, this was the vineyard that stood out for me at dry, ‘grand cru’ level. This, the village wine, has no where near the same complexity as a Rothenpfad GG, but it has the same big-hearted personality as its big brother.

Beautiful golden yellow in appearance. Waxy scents rise up out of the glass, along with slate and notes of pineapple and a hint of raspberry. Welcoming and creamy. Waxy on the palate, with reddish fruit, succulant peach, slate and a suggestion of bitterness on a generous finish. Showing extra precision 48 hours after opening, with pineapple underlaying an ample acidic backbone. Only 12 abv, which is a good, modest counterpoint to the wine’s silky, moreish character.

These notes are brief, but the wine itself has plenty of legs in it yet.


Isabella the Forbidden

img_20180805_193738_5601The following wine comes from Pico, a volcanic island in the Portuguese Atlantic archipelago of the Azores. Isabella is the grape – a native American varietal that belongs to the Vitis labrusca family. Obrigados Vinhos, an NYC-based importer of this wine, refers to Isabella as a ‘hybrid of Vitis vinifera and Vitis lambrusca’. I’m puzzled as to where the vinifera bit comes in. Jancis Robinson, for her part, refers to Isabella as ‘one of the oldest native American varieties, probably descended from the seedling of a wild native, Vitis labrusca’. Technically speaking, it is illegal to sell wines from this and similar North American varietals in the EU. Apparently, grapes such as these were blamed for the spread of phylloxera in Europe in the late 19th century. However, the French outlawed North American grapes simply on aesthetic grounds, claiming that they tasted like raspberries and were therefore offensive to the palate. The European Commission eventually followed suit in 1979. Consequently, Isabella is only widespread in places outside Europe such as New York State, Brazil and India (where it is known as Bangalore Blue).

Winemaker António Maçanitas also rescued a small plot on Pico dating back to the turn of the last century when Isabella served as a stopgap – due, ironically, to its resistance to the same phylloxera that it inadvertently helped to spread. Like other grapes on Pico, Isabella grows within a spectacular UNESCO-protected network of dry-stone basalt walls that protect the vines from the winds and salty spray that blow in from ocean. Some spectacular pictures of this unique island landscape can be found here.

António Maçanitas (Azores Wine Company), Isabella a Proibidas, Pico, Açores 2013
The name ‘Isabella’ is crossed out on the label for good reason, while ‘Proibidas’ needs no translation. Sam, the retailer who sold me the bottle, told me that the import of this wine is subject to WTO tariffs, given that the EU effectively refuses to recognise the grape.

As far as I know, this is a completely unfiltered, unsulphured wine.

Dark ruby with violet edges. An immediate ocean whiff on the nose, along with the slightly perfumed scent of cranberries. Further notes emerge around 24 hours later, reminding me of mocha and Indian chai spices. Even a touch of blood.

Firm pithy acidity of the type that hits the front of the mouth instead of the more conventional freshness at the back. And I really mean this in terms of the pips and tannins themselves more than anything else. Definitely an unusual sensation, and probably not everyone’s cup of tea. Cranberries on the palate again, with very sour cherry. Noticeably pithy astringency – a stemmy, ‘seaweedy’ bitterness that I quite like. I guess that’s what they call ‘phenolics’. Medium-bodied with a medium finish.

American grapes such as Isabella are known to be ‘foxy’, in that they have ‘a sort of wild, musky, animal smell’ reminiscent of a ‘fur coat’ (Dr Vinny of the Wine Spectator). I can’t deny that Isabella lives up to this questionable billing to a certain extent. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have automatically thought ‘ah, wet dog …’ had I not knew about this before.

Notwithstanding the above, this is a totally distinct, honest wine that has broadened my horizons. You can’t say better than that.



20180316_181909 (Small)
Jesuitengarten – adjacent to Kirchenstück and Pechstein in the village of Forst, but no less famous.

JL Wolf, Riesling Jesuitengarten Spätlese trocken 2008, Pfalz
Golden with amber hints. Succulent yellow fruit with a hint of cream on the nose. Perhaps a little oily, but the aromas are very clean otherwise. Barely any sign of ageing at all. Juicy, candied Golden Delicious apples. Slight viscosity in the mouth on the entry, with apricots and more apples. Pretty much clean as a whistle for a wine approaching the end of its first decade. Much the same even after 48 hours. Delicious and very drinkable, though maybe lacking that je ne sais quoi (clout, complexity, you name it) of a really top dry Riesling midway through. Nonetheless, the finish is fairly long by anyone’s standards. I paid 13 euro for this only back in February, and which was an absolute bargain.



Vin nature

20180215_170726I’m currently in catch-up mode. Here is a random bottle I picked up a few months ago.

Clos du Moulin aux Moines, Pinot Noir XV Vin Nature, Bourgogne
The year is 2015, I assume – the only clue are the Roman numerals. Cloudy ruby in appearance, this initially smells of apple mead – a funk that happily dissipates after an hour or so. Spicy and earthy (wet mud) aromas on the first day. Next day, a little reticent but with a suggestion of cherry. Slender, delicate mouthfeel but with some earthiness/chalkiness translated onto the palate. On day three, more perfumed on the nose. Very pure and very dry. Light-footed but concentrated – if that isn’t a contradiction in terms. Minerally with cherry notes. Somehow ‘straightforward’ but in an extremely tasty way.


Pinot Noir from Trimbach

20180128_200948So far, this is one of the best wines I’ve had this year.

Trimbach, Pinot Noir Réserve 2015, Alsace
As with Bürklin-Wolf in the previous blog post, we’re talking here about an icon of dry Riesling. However, this Pinot Noir is an education in itself.

Vivid ruby/garnet with pinkish edges. Very pure and linear impression on the nose. Less the charmer and more a masculine, minerally character with not an ounce of fat. Maybe a whiff of red or black forest fruit, but nothing too overt. Was this aged solely in inox or in wood? I can’t detect anything pointing to wood.

Unfettered, sinewy and precise on the palate. Medium-bodied and bone dry. The tannins feel slightly crunchy in this mere baby of a wine, but they are well-integrated. Some red fruit emerges, but in a firm, no-nonsense, athletic style. Refreshing acidity washes over the back palate and into a long finish. This is a 180-degree departure from the mushroomy, sous bois smell of the undergrowth or the comforting savouriness of many other Pinots. What we have instead is the intense purity and linearity of a wine that puts its proverbial front foot forward.