Wine Education

BLANKbottle – Good Wine Real People Great Stories

12 August 2019 by Richard

Pieter Walser is the brains behind the BLANK bottle concept. He reminds me of the most popular boy at school who effortlessly excels at everything he does. He shines as a cult winemaker, an artist, a marketer, a surfer, an actor, a negociant, a designer, an entrepreneur, a family man, a visionary, a raconteur, a party animal, a leader, a rebel, a genius, a magician …you get my drift. Whilst Pieter comfortably wears all these hats with great aplomb, he says he prefers not to wear a hat atall, not knowing how to label himself. Speaking of lables, it is really hard not judge his wines by their inimitable, ingenious labels, especially as Pieter draws every one himself and they all have an engaging and absorbing story.

Some of the newly landed, limited edition wines – from left-to-right B-BOS-I & The Empire Strikes Back.

Some of the newly landed, limited edition wines – from left-to-right B-BOS-I & The Empire Strikes Back.

Pieter’s very first, virtually self-taught effort at making wine was in his last year at Uni using a friend’s garage. Clearly he had a golden touch as he quickly sold on all he made, using his tenacity and radiating charm. His impecunious student status must have informed his decision to plough back every rand into buying more barrels and finding more extraordinary vineyards to source grapes.
In 2004, when Pieter was just beginning to bottle his own wines, one of his first customers proclaimed “I don’t do Shiraz”. So, Pieter poured her a glass of straight Shiraz. “I love it” she immediately bellowed! It was at that time that Pieter decided not to varietally label his wines, with the idea of breaking down all preconceived ideas about what you find yourself drinking.
Still to this day, Pieter has no land to his name and buys in grapes and rents vineyards, often on short-term contracts. Usually the wine’s provenance is shown as Western Cape, as the grapes that go in to the blends come from different districts. Some wines are repeated year after year, while others are one-off releases. The limitations are what excite him and there are always new parcels and opportunities arising.

In a nutshell, BLANK bottle is a series of limited edition wines, each with its own individual story, made from specially selected parcels of grapes from around the Cape. In terms of winemaking, this is about as boutique as it gets. Pieter’s scale-small winemaking is hands-off with old barrels being used so that the wine expresses a sense of place. The most recent developments include Pieter messing around with concrete egg & amphora ferments with some skin-contact and whole-bunches.
This September we are showcasing some of Pieter’s new wines with BLANK bottle masterclass tastings in our Kew shop on Wednesday 18th and in Chiswick on Thursday 19th. You will discover more about the man behind the label, his stories and the composition of these new additions. Pieter works with 38 different grape varieties now just to keep everyone guessing. Book on-line here, phone or pop into either shop.

Jaa Koffer

More of the new arrivals – from left-to-right Jaa-Bru & My Koffer.

BBGWSFinally, having built up such a good rapport with Pieter over the last few years, we asked if he would make a wine exclusively for us. He duly barrel-fermented and blended some Macabeo and Fernão Pires, making just 670 bottles and drew a fetching label featuring members of The Good Wine Shop team. I get a hipster makeover with some dark glasses! It has an alluring stone fruit and tropical fruit nose – peach, guava and pineapple – delicate floral tones and a richly textured palate with bright acidity and a saline mineral finish. It is a perfect match with pan-fried scallops with parsnip purée & pancetta crumbs.

Celebrating 31 Days of German Riesling

12 July 2019 by Richard

I recently read an article about the amount of time we function without sight and I am not talking ‘blind’ wine tasting here or sleeping off yet another wine tasting dinner.  Our eyes saccade as they bounce around and you blink 2 or 3 times every minute meaning we are blind for 10-15% of our waking time.

In my experience, many consumers are blind to Riesling – the sneezing whilst overtaking a lorry at top speed on the motorway in torrential rain, kind of blind.

Well, we are championing ‘31 Days of German Riesling’ this July, with a month-long campaign celebrating Germany’s king of grapes and for me personally, the greatest grape on the planet.

If you missed out on the two Riesling masterclasses, which sold out within days, do not worry as we have a German Riesling wine bar takeover at Kew on Saturday 13 July.  We follow that up with a German Riesling Showcase tasting at Chiswick on Friday 19 July, from 6pm.  Ten exceptional examples of very dry to off-dry and a sweeter Riesling can be tasted at the event.  Expect the very best German producers from the likes of Keller, Fritz Haag & Schloss Lieser.

As a self-confessed Riesling-nut, I want it to reach a wider audience so more people can appreciate it, value it and come to love it. So, here are a couple of affordable trocken (dry) German Riesling that I recommend as ‘must-trys’:

Knewitz Riesling 2017, Rheinhessen:

Two brothers in their 20’s run this small family estate and they are establishing a fine reputation for themselves.  They have some vineyards with the highest pure limestone content in Germany and this brings a very precise style of bone-dry Riesling, which is a little Chablis-esque.  Organic grapes are hand-picked and fermented spontaneously in stainless steel.  The result is a crisp, super-refreshing, mineral-laden style, with a note of green apple crunchiness and texture.  By the way, Jancis Robinson recently rated it very good value and, unsurprisingly, I totally agree.

Horst-Sauer ‘S’ Riesling, 2017, Franken:

I first visited Herr Horst-Sauer about 20 years ago as he was then considered one of the rising stars of the Franken region.  So, imagine my surprise and delight when a supplier contacted me in the spring to say they were bringing their wines into the UK.  This Riesling is planted in the Escherndorfer Lump vineyard, an Erste Lage (a prime site), with a parabolic south-facing, limestone-rich slope, within a short distance of the meandering river Main.  Sandra Horst-Sauer, the talented daughter, has taken the reins and the list of awards has grown exponentially – more than you can shake several sticks at.  Sandra crafts this dry Riesling allowing the cool, mineral character of the site to be elegantly expressed.  Perfectly ripened grapes give flavours of quince, baked apple and juicy pink grapefruit that are immediately appealing.  A coiled, citrussy vibrancy and brightness will unfurl over the next few years, if you can resist it for now.

Whether you are Riesling blind, indifferent or a full-on fanatic we have some eye-opening wines, not only from Germany but other corners of the world too.

What is Grower Champagne?

18 June 2019 by Shaun Gregan

I have heard many times that Champagne is not a real wine, that it has its place at parties, that it doesn’t reflect the land, that a region so dominated by commercialism could not make a wine of any REAL depth, and that this fizzy grape juice would be incapable of delivering a euphoric oenological experience the way a fine Burgundy, Bordeaux or Brunello (to name a few) could. Despite these beliefs being widely held, they simply aren’t true. Sometimes you just have to dig a little to find what you’re looking for……

In recent years the term ‘Grower Champagne’ has been circulating more and more, going from something only known about by wine geeks and trade professionals to now, the casual wine enthusiast and infrequent wine bar goer. People are now recognizing names like Agrapart, Vouette et Sorbee and Selosse. For all this newly found interest, are we getting more from these growers than what the Grandes Marques offer?

The Grandes Marques make some beautiful Champagne, but in the wine world we are convinced of the value of terroir – something that struggles to show through in wines that can come from anywhere in a 35,000 hectare region.

Aube Countryside

Wines from great growers are often made from grapes coming from a single village and many times even a single parcel. They set out to showcase the land they come from, whether chalk in the Cote des Blancs, clay and sand in the Marne valley or marl in the Aube. Although this approach of showing the terroir may be commonplace (though none the less special) in Burgundy and many other corners of the fine wine world, it is still something rarely seen in Champagne. This expression of the land, with care, attention and ingenuity shown when making the wine, can lead to spectacular things – wines with truly unique characteristics based on the village or vineyard from which they come. It is only right that the small pockets of this large region are able demonstrate in the bottle what makes them great.

As mentioned earlier, wine produced by growers is a fairly new thing in Champagne. For hundreds of years it was the norm for someone to grow the grapes, and another to buy them and make the wine. While this lead to the growth and popularity of the wines of this quaint region, reflection of the land and individuality of the wines faded into the background. Then in the last 30 years or so, things started to change. We began to see winemakers who wanted to show where they came from, and rather than just to produce another bottle of AOC bubbly. They set out to make exciting, energetic and often unforgettable Champagne.

RL Cognaux

Champagne like that of Ruppert-Leroy from Essoyes, who farm biodynamically and use no sulphur (including at the bottling stage) leading to wines that are big, chewy, and amazingly vibrant – the kind you almost need a seat for!

Le CotetJacques Lassaigne in the isolated village of Montgeux produces some of the finest Chardonnay there is, despite being deep in the heart of Pinot Noir country. Sharp and focused, with sublime minerality – wines that could wake you from a coma! And all the while, a beautiful reflection of the terroir.

ESPRIT_DE_CRAIE_SITEVarnier-Fanniere, in the Grand Cru village of Avize, crafts Chardonnay with a wonderful combination of tension, chalky mineral notes, and a polished, seamless texture.

savart accompFrederic Savart in the tiny village Ecueil, with his splendid use of oak, makes wines that are so rich, powerful and saline, they almost bring a tear to your eye!

These are just some of the growers who are making wines that are unique and make a statement, not just about how they were made, but where they’re from, the care taken with the land, and giving these grapes a chance to show what they are all about. It’s Champagne from these producers, and producers like these, that could make anyone passionate about wine.

Authenticity in Wine

7 May 2019 by Richard

What is an authentic, or ‘real’, wine?  Is it made from organic grapes, using biodynamic practices?  Is it natural, in that there is nothing added (bar – maybe – a pinch of sulphur) and nothing taken away?  Has the fermentation taken place indigenously, with native yeast? Where does egg-fermented wine fit in? Does the wine have a bit of wildness or ‘funk’?  Is the wine sustainably produced? And, is it vegan-friendly?

That’s the mother of all wine rabbit holes, isn’t it?  But as it is Real Wine Month and whether or not you are a convert, I am going to lead you to the entrance of that hole and ask you to stick your head into it.

Real wine fair

Personally, I prefer not to think about the list of permitted additives in industrial, homogenous, unsustainably produced wine but, if you do, the list would be longer than the Brexit process and the chances of you being left totally befuddled and with a very sore head indeed are high.  So, think about moving on from drinking such wines: it will be your gateway to a more enlightened existence.

What follows are recommendations of three great authentic wines for first-timers, selected because they are not too funky and they express a transparency often found only in natural wine.

Ciello Bianco

An inexpensive ‘antipasto’ would be Ciello Bianco: a nimble beauty derived from organic Catarratto grapes grown and made by a Sicilian family with minimal intervention.  The lightest possible filtration, with non-animal products, leaves the wine a little cloudy and endorses its vegan-friendly credentials.  A fine lees sludge is often visible at the base of the bottle and contributes a little extra lemony flavor and pithy texture. Convention destroyer alert: give it a vigorous shake to get maximum flavour from it!

Off the Grid

Ovum ‘Off The Grid’ Oregon dry Riesling was mentioned in Margaret Rand’s 101 Wines to Try Before You Die.  An honest, ‘fruit comes first’, minimal intervention strategy allows the vintage and vineyard to shine, not the winemaker.  A native fermentation takes place in both old, neutral wooden barrels and small concrete eggs so that the heat produced is distributed evenly and the temperature remains cool. Thus, the wine retains a naturally bright freshness. The grapes are grown on a stony site and a light flinty wine results with flavours of mirabelle, quince and galangal root.

Mistral

Terre de Mistral Cotes du Rhone is from a small co-op that works according to the principles of Terra Vitis using no chemical treatments other than a very little sulphur. Last month this unfined and unfiltered, natural Cotes du Rhone was the highlight of the week for Josh’s Wine List and “the best affordable red I’ve had in a long time.” Think freshly-picked black cherry, cracked black pepper and a waft of a sliver of saucisson sec.

Real Wine Fair DatesWith numerous other authentic wines available at The Good Wine Shop look out for our ‘real wine’ neck tags in-store or ask our knowledgeable staff. Beyond that, why not explore The Real Wine Fair on the 12th and 13th of May – https://therealwinefair.com/tickets/ – or follow #realwinefair and #realwinemonth on social media.

Pinot Noir Perfection

15 April 2019 by Richard

The Sideways effect:

“If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving.  I am not drinking any f*****g Merlot“,  Miles pronounces in the film Sideways.  If like me, you recall watching it on a DVD player back in 2005, you may remember its main characters eulogise the Pinot Noir grape.  Overnight demand went through the canopy, especially in the United States, and became known as the ‘Sideways effect’.  15 years later, the phenomenon is alive and kicking as plantings of the grape multiply across the world.  However, the capacity for great wines to be produced is limited, as the grape only produces really interesting wines when conditions are cool and the growing season is long.  It is seen by winemakers the world over as the ultimate test, so, luckily for wine drinkers, attempts to create seriously good, multi-layered wines continue.  The result is a plethora of extraordinary wines from all corners of the winegrowing world.  To paraphrase Maya from Sideways ‘they all taste so f*****g good’.

Miles and Jack Sideways

A brief history before Hollywood let the cat out of the bag:

Pinot Noir is a 2,000 year old variety that has given birth to 21 varieties through spontaneous crosses, including Chardonnay and Gamay.  It is a great grandparent to Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon and a likely grandparent to Syrah.

During this time it has had plenty of chances to mutate: Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir Prècoce all have the same genetic fingerprint.  Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are simply colour mutations.

Where it is thriving nowadays:

France has the most Pinot Noir planted with 29,576 ha, but it still only the 7th most planted variety in the country.  Its presumed birthplace is Burgundy but just 6,579 ha are planted here.  Whilst my focus is on still wines here, most of recent growth has been in Champagne; 12,900 ha represent 39% of all the area.

The United States takes a silver medal with 15,091ha in California.  The Sideways movie put one Pinot Noir in particular on the vinous map and that was Hitching Post. The ‘Hometown ‘ Pinot Noir, from Santa Barbara, has juicy flavours of ripe cherry, an earthiness, seductive spice and falls just the right side of brightness for me.   The famous restaurant of the same name was the scene for a part of the movie and a major tourist attraction now.

Pinot Bunch

My own fair hands grasping a bunch of Pinot Noir grapes!

A surprise for many is that Germany takes third spot.  It now has 11,800 ha thanks to climate change, young talented winemakers, world class wines, and increasing demand.  One producer I have been following for almost 20 years is Ziereisen. The Tschuppen Pinot Noir is blackberry-spiked, has a mineral note as well as a deep, savoury edge and is a delight.

New Zealand’s success is more apparent in the UK market but Argentina is just emerging as a contender.  Take the Verum Pinot Noir which is from Rio Negro in Patagonia, as far south as grapes successfully ripen.  Raspberries and a touch of earth combine to deliver quite a bit of complexity for its price.

To learn a little more about where else Pinot Noir is successful, how its wines are made and taste 7 examples from around the globe, book a Pinot Noir Perfection Masterclasss, on Thursday 16 May in Chiswick, now. (Kew’s tasting has already sold out!).

Motta Matters – Bolgheri’s Star in the Making

22 March 2019 by Richard

 

Motta Face

In 2009 the talented, energetic Fabio Motta acquired 4 hectares of vines in a prime location within the Bolgheri DOC, home of Sassicaia, Ornellaia and other cult wines besides.  The location of the vines is idyllic: overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and benefitting from the cooling on-shore breezes in summer, at the foot of the beautiful rolling hills of Bolgheri with its deep soils of clay, silt and river stones and a brilliant luminosity and south-western exposure to sunlight.  The vines were planted 12 years earlier, in 1997, not just to the traditional Sangiovese, but to the ‘Super Tuscan’ varieties of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and some very promising Syrah too.

Motta VineyardLike his vines, Fabio Motta is deeply rooted in Bolgheri: for many years he worked for the celebrated Michele Satta, who is now, in addition to being both his friend and mentor, also his father-in-law!

Always hugely respectful of the terroir and the environment, and with the aim of producing transparent and sincere wine, Fabio farms organically, but began converting his vineyards to biodynamics in 2015.

Unsurprisingly, his authentic, low-intervention philosophy is carried into his cellar: he works with native yeasts only, never filters, and handcrafts wines that stand out as elegant and complex, rather than too powerful and concentrated.

In 2012 Fabio bought a tiny clay-rich, stony vineyard called ‘Le Gonnare’ and hit his straps with the 2013 vintage.  In its first year of production, it received overwhelming critical acclaim:  Gambero Rosso awarded it 3 bicchieri and the Wine Advocate rated it 96 points.

Gonnare BottleThe current vintage, 2015, is 85% Merlot and 15% Syrah and after a natural fermentation is finished in oak barriques, one third of which are new, for 18 months.  It is large scaled and structured, with abundant red and black fruits, toasty oak, dark chocolate and granitic earthiness, alongside sculpted aromas of Mediterranean flowers and herbs.  Quantities of this, his flagship wine, are tiny (about 300 cases per annum) and allocations are tightening, as it gets the deserved recognition in other fast growing international markets. Just about to land, the 2016 vintage shows every sign of being even better

His ‘Pievi’ is a blend of Merlot (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese (25% each) and shows primary fresh fruit notes alongside balsamic notes and is rich in pliant, ripe tannins, a fuzzy texture and great persistence. The three varieties are native fermented separately in wooden barrels of 33hl in size, punched down by hand twice daily and in the first days of fermentation aerated frequently with pump-overs.  After blending, the wine is passed into 2 and 3 year old barriques, where it integrates for 12 months, before being bottled unfined and unfiltered.

‘Lo Scudiere’, the most recent arrival on our shelves, also comes from the from the Pieve vineyard. Contrastingly, it is 100% Sangiovese with 25% of the fruit whole bunch fermented, skins are pumped-over daily for a month into 30hl conical oak and it is aged in neutral, used oak barriques for 1 year. It has aromas of forest floor, hedgerow fruits and is faintly funky with a chewy frame, a juicy damson fruit centre and sensational sapidity, all of which meant I wanted to drink another glass of it.

I admit my bias here as I adore his wines, so here is a recent independent press review courtesy of the Wine Advocate: “Fabio Motta presents a very impressive set of new releases… These fantastic wines will cement the reputation of this young and up-and-coming winemaker from Bolgheri, and will lift his profile… Fabio Motta is crafting his own biodynamic winemaking signature that shows both elegance and power.”

So, forget the other famous, arguably overpriced, ‘Super Tuscan’ wines of Bolgheri – what matters is the Motta label – it is the label to watch.

Motta Logo

Marcus Huber – The Talented Traisental Trailblazer

12 February 2019 by Richard
Acacia

Marcus explaining that this Austrian Acacia barrel was made for his father’s 40th birthday and is still in use today.

Back in the 1990’s, the ninth generation of the Huber family ran a small family restaurant, which, as is traditional, would produce all the food themselves, rear pigs and make wine – all from 4 hectares of land.  To supplement the farm produce, deer and wild boar would be hunted in the woods above the vineyard terraces.  This idyllic Traisental lifestyle appears so laid-back and amiable, and such a contrast to London, that it would not have been surprising if the coming generations of the Huber family continued with this traditional family business.

This is where the ambitious son, Marcus, enters the arena.  At the tender age of 21, he took over in the farm to focus on a new wine venture. In less than half a generation, he has rapidly grown the holdings to a total of 50 hectares, 25 of which he owns and the rest are on long-term contracts.

Slopes PlotThe Traisental region is west of Vienna, near to and south of the Danube, and has the smallest area under vine in Austria, with less than 800 hectares.  However, Marcus has no master plan to conquer Traisental. He does have an eye on acquiring a few more prize sites but prefers to limit further growth now to keep the business manageable and within the family, as currently, he has just his brother to share the increasing responsibilities.

Shrewdly, over the last 18 years he has been busy buying up plots on the highest parts of the slopes (350-380m) of the north-south oriented terraces.  Mind-bogglingly, he now has almost 200 sites, averaging only just over ¼ of a hectare in size!  I ask if this is a logistic viticultural nightmare but he says it is not too bad as they pragmatically work through the plots from north to south when pruning or harvesting.

Whilst Gruner Vetliner is ruler in the Traisental, with 63% of plantings, Riesling does exceptionally well in the south, especially on the higher terraces of calcareous conglomerate subsoil, with occasional marl, that face a fraction closer to the south than the east.

Calcerous Conglomerate

A piece of calcareous conglomerate, which looks and feels like stony concrete.

The continental climate here gives warm, dry summers and harvest time, with 30 days of temperatures in excess of 30 degrees usually.  Whilst Marcus has managed to practise organic farming for many years, he has recently decided to jump through some red-taped hoops and apply for certification, which after a 3 year qualifying period, is due in 2020.

10 years back Marcus built a new winery into the hillside of some of the original farm land and he has, recently, further extended it.  With two levels in the winery he can gravity feed the wines, and all the cellars look tidier than a show home that Mrs Hinch has repeatedly cleaned!  Apart from a few small old barrels of the tight-grained but neutral Acacia oak, for wines from his best sites, there are lots of shiny stainless-steel tanks.

The squeaky clean stainless steel tanks in the latest addition to the winery.

The squeaky clean stainless steel tanks in the latest addition to the winery.

Whilst bygone images of shooting wild boar to feed the family and village inhabitants might intrude on the sensibilities of vegans, his wines are now clarified using pea protein only and, as such, are super vegan-friendly.

It seems to me that Marcus still has the drive and energy of a 21 year old, whilst benefiting from the experience he has gained growing grapes and making wine here for two decades.  Consequently, he can channel his considerable charisma and business acumen in nurturing his clients in both the domestic and international markets.

I ask if he has a succession plan – to go to an eleventh generation – but his three daughters are far too young.  Rather sweetly, he does mark the corner rows of his plots with a pink sprayed stake, to signal his affection for them from the vineyard terraces.

Settled into the tasting room at the winery we work through a tasting of 23 wines.  Like Marcus, I would summarise his wines as toned, precise, handsome and charming.

The tasting room was a welcome respite from the chilly winter weather

The tasting room was a welcome respite from the chilly winter weather

The Riesling ‘Engelsberg’, which translates to Angel’s Hill, awakens and heightens my senses with its squeaky dryness, green apple crunch, juicy yellow plum, waxy texture and hint of sea spray.

A really refreshing pale rosé grabs my attention too.  Made from early harvested Zweigelt grapes, it transports me away from the cold, snowy Austrian winter momentarily to a Mediterranean summer.  This dry, bright pink wine reminds me of freshly picked, home-grown tomatoes, summer herbs and green olives and, put simply, is joyous.  A sommelier in our group suggests it would be perfect with a cherry tomato, basil and goats cheese salad: I agree, we drink to that and say, “Prost!”

Wine Bottles

BLANK bottle – Good Wine, Real People, Great Stories

10 December 2018 by Richard

Pieter Walser is the brains behind the BLANK bottle concept. He reminds me of the most popular boy at school who effortlessly excels at everything he does. He shines as a cult winemaker, an artist, a marketer, a surfer, an actor, a negociant, a designer, an entrepreneur, a family man, a visionary, a raconteur, a party animal, a leader, a rebel, a genius, a magician… you get my drift. Whilst Pieter comfortably wears all these hats with great aplomb, he says he prefers not to wear a hat at all, not knowing how to label himself. Speaking of labels, it is really hard not judge his wines by their inimitable, ingenious labels, especially as Pieter draws every one himself and they all have an engaging and absorbing story.

New Wines

Some of the newly landed, limited edition wines – from left-to-right Epileptic Inspiration, Jaa-Bru & PhD.

Pieter’s very first, virtually self-taught effort at making wine was in his last year at Uni using a friend’s garage. Clearly he had a golden touch as he quickly sold on all he made, using his tenacity and radiating charm. His impecunious student status must have informed his decision to plough back every rand into buying more barrels and finding more extraordinary vineyards to source grapes.

In 2004, when Pieter was just beginning to bottle his own wines, one of his first customers proclaimed “I don’t do Shiraz”. So, Pieter poured her a glass of straight Shiraz, without telling her what is was. “I love it” she immediately bellowed! It was at that time that Pieter decided not to varietally label his wines, with the idea of breaking down all preconceived ideas about what you find yourself drinking.

Still to this day, Pieter has no land to his name and buys in grapes and rents vineyards, often on short-term contracts. Usually the wine’s provenance is shown as Western Cape, as the grapes that go in to the blends come from different districts. Some wines are repeated year after year, while others are one-off releases. The limitations are what excite him and there are always new parcels and opportunities arising.

In a nutshell, BLANK bottle is a series of limited edition wines, each with its own individual story, made from specially selected parcels of grapes from around the Cape. In terms of winemaking, this is about as boutique as it gets. Pieter’s scale-small winemaking is hands-off with old barrels being used so that the wine expresses a sense of place. They fit perfectly into our GOOD WINE, REAL PEOPLE, GREAT STORIES philosophy.

Pieter and Friends

Pieter, 3rd right, with his ‘party animal’ hat on, at one of our annual tasting events at The Good Wine Shop.

Having built up such a good rapport with Pieter over the last couple of years, we recently asked if he would make a wine exclusively for us. He duly barrel-fermented and blended one barrel of Macabeo with a barrel of Fernão Pires, making just 670 bottles and drew a fetching label featuring members of The Good Wine Shop team. I get a hipster makeover with some dark glasses! It has an alluring stone fruit and tropical fruit nose – peach, guava and pineapple – delicate floral tones and a richly textured palate with bright acidity and a saline mineral finish. It is a perfect match with pan-fried scallops with parsnip purée & pancetta crumbs.

The Good Wine Shop blend by BLANK bottle (yes, Pieter drew us upside down!)

The Good Wine Shop blend by BLANK bottle (yes, Pieter drew us upside down!)

What I’ll be Drinking this Christmas

1 December 2018 by Richard

The festive spirit only really comes alive in our house in mid-December, the day after my wife’s birthday… but I think I may have snaffled a record this year by consuming my first mince pies as early as September. Does that seem wrong? Listen up: my daughter’s year-round breakfast consists of a HOT CROSS BUN – now that does seem wrong to me. Surely, you should have them for high tea?! But at least you can only buy mince pies for 5 months of the year, not all year round! Like seasonal fruit and vegetables, they are so much tastier and I feel a little bit smug. I am sure I am not alone in thinking Christmas should be like the first unforced asparagus of the season. It should be a special season of indulgence, a once-a-year banquet with exceptional wine in the company of your nearest and dearest, right?
RisleusAt home, we start with some celebratory Champagne, toast our health and happiness and attempt to sing happy birthday to Jesus. This year, we will pop the Hubert Paulet Risleus 1er Cru 2002 – the flavours of ripe baked pears and apples, freshly-baked bread, buttery croissants and crushed sea-shells are super expressive and a joy to sip. All this is topped off with the London Philharmonic playing Handel’s Messiah in the background – Hosanna in the highest.
Sat down, cross-armed, we will all pull crackers, don the hats and read the jokes. Why did the turkey cross the road twice? To prove he wasn’t a chicken! Urggh, the old ones are best, aren’t they?
Speaking of the turkey, it is a misconception that I just grab a number of random bottles when locking-up the shop on Christmas Eve. No, no, my festive wines have been in the planning stage much longer than that. So, about 5 minutes before close, I will line up some options. I pick two for the turkey. What shall I have? Doah, the red Burgundy of course. Pinot Noir works wonderfully with turkey (or goose) and Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux’s Vosne-Romanee Les Chaumes Premier Cru 2008 has dark berry fruit and striking truffle and undergrowth notes. Or, should I really splurge on Roberto Voerzio’s Cerequio Barolo 2009, which is a stunner, having captivating me previously with its generous, inviting fruit and seductive personality. With the hands of the Christmas Eve wine o’clock tick-tocking down, I decide to take both.Vosne
Heading for the door, I remember the fromage wine – Stilton is a must on our cheese board and demands a sweet wine so, without hesitation, I grab Paul Meunier’s Maury with both hands. This lightly fortified, sweet yet fuzzy, port-like wine is made from old Grenache vines organically grown on a remote and windswept vineyard on rocky black schist in the Roussillon. It is a mesmerizing match.
Relieved that I have survived another Christmas in wine retail, I lob the shop keys into the foot well of my car and make a mental note to look out my Zalto Mystique decanter and Zalto Burgundy glasses so that the wines rock, along with Christmas itself.
Maury SmallBy the late afternoon of Christmas Day, replete but with my stomach now bigger than my eyes were, I get to gorge on a luxury, 12-month matured Christmas pudding. I will sneak a glass of ‘Antique’ Pedro Ximenez, aka PX, by Fernando de Castilla and (don’t tell anyone) another, later, with a mince pie. This Sherry is 20 years old and its luscious sweetness is tempered by an amazing array of complex flavours – coffee, fig, liquorice, tea and raisins. I am in heaven as all my Christmas sugar hits have landed in one stupendous smash.
Merry Christmas everyone.

Is This an ‘I Was There’ Moment? The Wines of Alheit

25 November 2018 by Richard

20121005_cartology_001_2016

Is this an ‘I was there’ wine moment? I think so. I was there. I bought the first ever vintage of Alheit Cartology, the 2011. It was revolutionary to me at the time – it had such clarity; a wine with a truly authentic Cape identity. Back then, just 22 barrels were produced of this profound blend of mostly Chenin Blanc with a touch of Semillon. Thankfully, due to a diligent search for special, old vineyards around the Cape, there is a bit more of the Cartology bottling to go around these days! Today, Chris and Suzaan Alheit make a range of single vineyard white wines in addition to Cartology, wines which are already sought-after but threaten with each successive vintage to cross the line into unobtainable… It will no doubt comfort me – a little – to know ‘I was there’ at the beginning when I can no longer find any bottles for my own cellar!

Suzaan Chris

Chris and Suzaan Alheit

Alheit’s focus remains strongly on dry-farmed heritage vineyards, mostly white grapes, but they are getting very excited about new sites they have found, planting vines in wonderful, often remote, places. Consequently, they have released additional single vineyard wines this year, which are from extreme locations or just produce exceptional fruit. We have secured a minuscule allocation (6 bottles per wine) of some of these, including your last chance ever to get your hands on a bottle of Radio Lazarus:

radio_lazarus_2017 horizThis remarkable Chenin Blanc was originally a single vineyard wine, but since the 2015 vintage comes from two plots planted in 1971 and 1978. Sadly, due to an extremely dry vintage in 2018 these already low-yielding vineyards are no longer viable for wine production (these vineyards only produced 50 litres of wine between them in 2018!) making 2017 the last vintage of Radio Lazarus to be released.

huilkrans_2017 horizThe new Huilkrans bottling (named after a cliff near the vineyard that ‘weeps’ when it rains) is from a vineyard that the Alheits have worked with for some time but has finally matured enough to stand on its own. A richer, deeper style than some in the portfolio due in part to deep red sand soil over a base of red clay, this nonetheless shows great saline minerality and appetising spice notes.

la_colline_vineyard_2017 horizThe La Colline Semillon is from a vineyard planted in 1936 containing a mixture of three Semillon clones: Semillon Blanc, Gris, and Rose. The result is a ripe, citrussy style that retains great freshness and meshes beautifully with some well-judged oak. More delicately textured than the Chenins but no less intense.

So, if you love truly great wines with a sense of place and authenticity, and you’d also like a chance to say ‘I was there’ – I suggest you pick a bottle or two before I do!

Click here to browse our full range of Alheit wines.

All pictures credit Alheit Vineyards www.alheitvineyards.co.za