Wednesday 24 July 2013

Raw and LIWF, 2013

Last year we missed the first RAW wine fair because we simply hadn't heard about it until it was over. This year we were determined to catch it even though it is held at the same time as the London International Wine Fair at Excel.

This was not as easy as it sounds; the fair is held at the Truman Brewery in Brick Lane which is quite difficult to find for an amusing cultural reason. Being home to one of the biggest concentrations of Bangladeshi restaurants and businesses, no one knows where the brewery is even though it is a fantastically prominent building - the only one with an arch over the road.

We found it eventually and as in the case of so many places that are difficult to find it was worth the effort.

RAW is devoted to various degrees of natural wines; Low and no-added SO2 artisans, Grower - no added S02 artisans and Grower - low added S02 artisans.

The moving spirit is Isabelle Legeron MW who styles herself "That crazy French Woman". She does an excellent job in attracting a great number of luminaries from the natural wine world including famous names such as Olivier Cousin, Frank Cornelissen, Strohmeier, Lammershoek, Malibran, Meinklang, Vina Cotar, Demencia, Fondo Radikon, Lauren Rosillo, San Giuseppe and Terroir al Limit as well as a whole host of others deserving of being represented and appreciated in the UK too.

We started our tour of over 170 exhibitors with Cobaw Ridge whose representative who we took to be Alan Cooper said with typical Aussie humour that the only Lagrein to be found at the show was from his winery at Macedon Ranges, Australia.

After browsing many fascinating tables we came upon a Zweigelt made by Meinklang by the interesting method of leaving the vines unpruned "Wild Vines"). It seems this adds to the quality in some way. Amazing.

As already mentioned, the Strohmeiers were there and we were delighted to meet Frau Strohmeier whose Blauer Wildbacher we had so enjoyed in various forms including Silcher and Lestoa (red). Strohmeier has obviously made the leap to Natural Wine production; the difference is enormous. We can't say if the change is for the better. The wines are now so different as to make any comparison impossible. Interesting indeed.

Next came what was for us the highlight of the show, the Kadarka wines of Oszka Maurer from Hungary.We had discovered Kadarka back in November 2008. The wines from this grape tasted rather typical of the Eastern European wines we drank in Communist times or else neutral. We never considered adding Kadarka to our list if discoveries - the Slotovino Hall of Fame, so the surprise in discovering at first sip the truly lovely sensation of Oszkar Maurer's various wines - all from Kadarka - was tremendous. So much so that we have chosen him as our Winemaker of the Year, 2012/13. Here is our appreciation in that list of awards;

Oskar who? Well, so impressed were we with what this modest diffident Hungarian has done with Kadarka that we predict he will go down in history with those who have rescued heritage varieties and brought them to a wider audience. Kadarka doesn't need to be rescued perhaps - it is grown to a fair extent in Hungary and even Romania but it has never bowled us over and we suspect not many others either. Oszkar Maurer though specialises in this grape and has made truly delicious wines from it. So much so that we think there will be no justice if he isn't immedtately recognised as Mr. Kadarka and is snapped up by agencies and importers all over the world. This surely is what Hungarian wine has been waiting for. Their USP is of course Tokay but what they needed was something to offer in dry, still table wine that's not an international grape bomb from Villanyi, lovely though tose can be. If this isn't it, we would like to know what is! Gratulálok

On other tables it was a joy to meet Laren Rosillo

the super-talented Spanish winemaker who makes the Mediterranean Mountain Wine Tinta Rome/Garnacha red wine of Sedella and much else and to see Stefano Bariani,

producer of Centesimino at Fondo San Giuseppe whom we had met at the Real Wine Fair at Tobacco Dock some months before.

Others we were delighted to come across for the first time were Daniele Portinari who makes a Tai Rosso in at Alonte in the Veneto at 13% (so not the ultra light style); the first natural Tai Rosso we have seen

Gabrio Bini of Saragghia (Pantelleria)

who makes a dry Zibibbo and a sweet Tardana - otherwise known as Planta Nova, an ancient but rare variety not generally held in much esteem, but here to prove the rule.

and a whole raft of winemakers from Croatia.

RAW was vital, dynamic, interesting in contrast to the London International Wine Fair which this year seemed a little downbeat from previous years. Could it have been smaller than before? Next year it transfers to Olympia where it will have a different atmosphere.

We are not implying that the LIWF didn't have plenty of interest. There were large stands devoted to New York and Virginia wines this year, previously in smaller housing. The Russians and Brazilians too seemed more prominent and the Hungarians and Romanians seemed to have better presentation.Despite this it seemed on this occasion to lack the buzz we had felt at RAW.

We have been banging on about wines from New York State rather. Perhaps it is because we love an underdog. At their much larger stand  we had the opportunity to try Hudson Valley wines for the first time having never found them in NYC. Indeed, friends who actually live in the Hudson Valley dismiss these wines as beyond the pale but here were drinkable ones not to be overlooked.

Brotherhood is the oldest winery in America in constant production by the way.

We also found a wine from the Niagra Escarpment - on the US side. Since 2005, this has been an AVA in its own right. Wine has been produced here since the 19th century. We had to come to the Excel Cantre, London to find wine from there too, having never come across it in New York.

It was on a level with Canadian Cabernet Francs presumably just on the other side of the Niagara Falls which is to say good.

If you will pardon the fuzzy picture, and by now it wasn't only our photography that was fuzzy,

Virginia Wine was also interesting with a Vermentino (our first from North America), the lonesome Nebbiolo and others

Over in the Hungarian compound there were several heritage varieties and local hybrids on offer including Cserszegi Fuszeres, Irsay Oliver and Juhfark.

At the Brazilian stand there was an interesting curiosity - a Teroldego, no less.

In the Italian sector we were impressed by the number of Gutturnios on offer - a Croatina/Barbera speciality from  Parma which according to Winesearcher.Pro is not available in the UK. We very much hope someone finds an agency here for Gutturnio, a wine famously dismissed by Victor Hazan because he thought the name ugly.

For us the undisputed stars of LWIF were the Russians. We had enjoyed tasting Vedernikov's Tsimlyansky Chornyi at previous shows at Excel ,

 but here was Krasnostop too, from Chateau Tamagne

equally soft and lovely

as well as a Saperavi, the Sparkling wines of Abrau Durso (available from Zelas in Archway) and others. Russian wine is being marketed as the 'Sleeping Beauty'. Nothing to do with the gimlet-eyed gent pictured above. That is just Prince Lev Golytsin, the father of Russian wine. We think Russian wine will become familiar the world over in the not too distant future - as long as what is produced by the other winemakers is as good as what was on show here.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Slotovino awards 2012/13

We understand dear Slotovino reader that the suspense has become unbearable so herewith our 2012/13 awards. You all know the rules; no previous winners are eligible. Awards may change, with different categories in different years to suit the field.

Wine Personality of the year

Jon Wurdeman

In our blog of 16th May this year on the Real Wine Fair, we wrote the following on Mr. Wurdeman;

(He is an) inexhaustable promotor not only of his wines, 'Pheasant's Tears' but also those of his colleagues. Mr. Wurdeman is an American from Virginia whose story is so picaresque that at the age of 35, it could fill at least one novel. He studied Polyphony and Painting and has a fascination for Georgia, so much so that he moved there, married a Georgian girl and has become Mr. Georgian Wine in no time at all. He speaks of all the different families who have made wine through thick and thin over centuries whom he has now encouraged one by one to make a go of it commercially.

Winemaker of the year

Oszkar Maurer

Oskar who? Well, so impressed were we with what this modest diffident Hungarian has done with Kadarka that we predict he will go down in history with those who have rescued heritage varieties and brought them to a wider audience. Kadarka doesn't need to be rescued perhaps - it is grown to a fair extent in Hungary and even Romania but it has never bowled us over and we suspect not many others either. Oszkar Maurer though specialises in this grape and has made truly delicious wines from it. So much so that we think there will be no justice if he isn't immedtately recognised as Mr. Kadarka and is snapped up by agencies and importers all over the world. This surely is what Hungarian wine has been waiting for. Their USP is of course Tokay but what they needed was something to offer in dry, still table wine that's not an international grape bomb from Villanyi, lovely though tose can be. If this isn't it, we would like to know what is! Gratulálok

Here's the example from Romania spotted at the London International Wine Fair, (not tasted). Just to prove Kadarka/Cadarca is not miniscule in its production.

Red wine of the year

Forlorn Hope 'Suspiro del moro' Alverelhao

Thanks to Andrew Jefford, Matthew Rorick's "Forlorn Hope" winery was already on out radar but when we spotted this beauty on our hotel restarant we couldn't resist. Nothing prepared us for the sheer gorgeousness of this wine from Alverelhao - a grape somehow familiar but never tasted on its own.

2011/12                    Thierry Navarre Ribeyrenc
2010/11                    Casetta
2009/10                    Tocai Rosso
2008/09                    Vernaccia Nera (actually the runner up to what we thought was 'Francisi' - the grape
                                 of Santa Ne. We later discovered Santa Ne is a blend albeit of rare varieties).   

White Wine of the year

Polvanera Minutolo

Don't take it just from us; Minutolo was the star of a tasting we attended which included unfamiliar varieties from the Mediterranean called "South". Everyone loved it and so do we. Minutolo is not that rare in Puglia but in spite of that being our favourite Italian province we had not come across it before. Thanks to Astor Wines of New York for the introduction.

2011/12                     Malvasia
2010/11                    Kerner as in Astley Vineyards 'Veritas'
2009/10                    Torrontes as in Cinco Tierras Cafayate, Salta
2008/09                    Vilana

Rose wine of the Year

J-F.Ganevat - 'Rien que du fruit'.

We stumbled across this at Les Caves du Pantheon in Paris and were very glad we did. It is recognisably Jura and recognisably Vin Naturel. What more could one wish for?

Our problem with Rose has always been to find wines with personality. This has it in tonnes.

201/12                     Grisard's Rose de Mondeuse
2010/11                    Strohmeier Blauer Wildbacher Rose (Austria)
2009/10                    Ackerman Sparkling Cabernet Franc (Loire)
2008/09                    Vitkin Israel Journey Rose.

Light wine of the year (new category)

Bedell - First Crush merlot, North Fork, Long Island

Light wines are surprisingly difficult to find and often patronisingly named; glug, slurp, swig and worst of all 'vin de soif' (as if wine was the thing to quench a real thirst). Can we be forgetting that most wine was lighter even in the recent past? Look how Bordeaux has been creeping up in alcohol. The rather ostracised Bordeaux Clairet has been suggested as representing what  a great deal of Bordeaux might have resembled centuries ago and Gemischte Satz. is held up as what every man, woman and child drank in Mozart's Vienna.

Of the lighter wines we found this year, Bedell's First Crush was a good as any and coming from a relatively obscure area we have chosen it to recognise diversity of region as well as grape variety.

Special award for the rescue of an endangered variety 

Joint winners A.A. Longanesi Daniele and A.A. La Sabbiona

One of the pleasures of our researches into the by-ways of the wine world is meeting competitors who are also friends and colleagues. An excellent example of this came at Vinitaly where our joint winners, neighbours from Ravenna were showing their extraordinary wines side by side and as can be seeen from our snaps, in a collaborative way.

They both produce 'Famoso', an obsucre local grape but each has another speciality, La Sabbiona has Savignon Rosso also called Centesimino and Longanesi has, well Longanesi; the only recognised grape variety we know to be named officially after the person who has discovered it as opposed to a person creating it (as with Manzoni, Muller-Thurgau etc).

For the entertaining back stories, see our blog on Vinitaly. All these wines are simply beautiful.

Winemerchant of the year (London)

259 Hackney Road

Remember the good audition/bad audition scene in 'Mulholland Drive'? 259 Hackney Road is the Wine Merchant equivalent of the former. Run by impossibly nice Parisians and specialising in the most rarified and exquisite Vins Naturels from the Jura and the Loire/Loir, the shop elevates Hackney to a 'vaut le voyage' destination for wine. Hackney already has other fantastic facilities such as the E5 Bakehouse, Colombia Market and so forth. Estate agents must be rubbing their hands.

2011/12                    Highbury Vintners
2010/11                    Harlequin
2009/10                    Artisan & Vine jointly with Bertrand and Nicholas
2008/09                    Caves de Pyrene jointly with Zelas

Winemerchant of the year (rest of world)

Vinoteca La Cartuja, Marbella

We were enchanted by Julio and his enthusiasm in this unexpected venue for a model wine shop. Julio is one of those rare persons who will start giving you a discount as soon as he sees you love wine and even, in our case press a free bottle of wine on you just because he wants you to love it as he does.

La Cartuja is also very enterprising with a very interesting programme of events, sampling machines, proper tasting tables and a long dining table as thoughtful facilities to promote the enjoyment and knowledge of wine.

2011/12                    Ricerca Vini, Milano
2010/11                    Chambers Street Wines, New York
2009/10                    Caves des Pupilles jointly with Caves Auge, both of Paris
2008/09                    Astor (New York) jointly with Per Bacco of Milano.

Supermarket of the year

Sainsburys - for still stocking the McWilliams derived Taste the difference Hunter Valley Semillon 2006.

2011/12                     Marks and Spencer
2010/11                     No award
2009/10                    Whole Foods
2008/09                    No award

Best Airport Duty Free

Not awarded

2011/12                     Cristoforo Colombo, Genova
010/11                       Vino Volo, various US airports
2009/10                    Lavinia, Malaga
2008/09                    Schwechat, Vienna, runner up Marco Polo, Venezia

Worst Airport Duty Free

Most of the airport Duty Frees we have visited, especially Valencia where in spite of having a dedicated shop for local specialities has a poor showing of wines from the region. A missed opportunity.

2011/12                    Milan Malpensa
2010/11                    Vasteras
2009/10                    Lyon
2008/09                    Berlin Tegel

Most surprising Wine discovery

Forlorn Hope's L'ultimo suspiro del moro' Californian Alverelhao at the Brasserie of the Standard Hotel in New York.See Best Red Wine above.

Well we never said a wine could'nt be awarded a prize in two separate categories; not only was this wine from an obscure grape variety and magnificently made but amazingly on a hotel restaurant winelist, that of The Standard Hotel, New York. Look for this wine on Winesearcher.Pro and there are only two merchants in the world to offer it, both in California! Only six merchants sell Forlorn Hope wines of any description according to Wine Searcher and all those are in the USA.

So our surprise may hopefully be understood.

2011/12                    Chenancon in le Touquet
2010/11                    Biddenden Gribble Ridge Dornfelder (England)

Most interesting wine trend

Emerging regions are making good progress with for example Brazil, New York and Virginia with their own large stands at the London International Wine Fair creating lively interest, Turkey packing them in for a seminar on their grapes and wines and much more.

2011/12                    New bottling materials including Paper
2010/11                    Improvement in Sparkling wines the world over
2009/10                   Orange Wine

Prediction for 13/14

Supermarkets will continue to play it safe and become ever less interesting while independents specialise more and more to provide interest. One thinks of 259 Hackney Road with its Natural Wine from the Jura and Loire, Vini Italiani etc. seemingly prospering while supermarkets tread water.

2011/12                    The Chinsese will buy up ever more Old World wine proction facilities and properties.
2010/11                    The Fine Wine bubble will burst
2009/10                    Ever more Branding
2008/09                    Lower alcohol

Best Restaurant winelist

Caravan, Kings Cross, London. Wine list not available online. You will be going there in any case if you are in London. Check it out and tell us if we are wrong!

2011/12                    Ristorante Nouvelle Vague, Genova
2010/11                    Cafe Muzio, New York
2009/10                    Locanda Locatelli, London
2008/09                    Gramercy Tavern, New York

Best Sommelier

We have to give this to the nice chap also at the River Cafe whom we challenged (wrongly) over whether Nuragus was just the ancient name for Sardinia and not a grape.  He modestly disappeared and returned with the bible, aka 'Wine Grapes'. Collapse of stout party. Victory for truth and education.

2011/12                    Not Awarded
2010/11                    Laure Patry, Pollen St. Social Club, London
2009/10                    Frank, L'Antico, Kings Road, London
2008/09                    Waterside Inn, Bray, England.

Best kept wine secret

Bobal in its lighter style. We love the more obscure by-ways of Spanish wine but they are stubbornly difficult to root out. Even the less obscure varieties such as Bobal are submerged in rich and heavy examples when actually the genius of this grape lies for us in the lighter examples. Everyone in Spain will tell you their wines are muscular and high in alcohol because Spain is a sunny country, but excuse us; what about Greece, Georgia and others where the wines still tend to be 13% and under.

We don't have much experience of the lighter Bobal but what we have read about this and tasted in a humble Tapas bar in Requena this year is a revelation.

2011/12                    Georgian Wines
2010/11                    Trentino
2009/10                    Savoie
2008/09                    New York State

Best English Sparkling

Wistan's Sugrue Brut

Desmond Sugrue (a charming Irishman) was responsible for great vintages at Nytimber and has extensive international experience in Pomerol among other places so when Wistan gave him the chance of making his own Sparkling wine it is no surprise it has been a big success.

Best English Red

Biddenden's Gamay

Earlier re-incarnations of this have been thin but those we have bought this year from The Wine Pantry have been just lovely, pipping our former favourite Gribble Ridge Dornfelder to the post.

2011/12                     Bolney Pinot Noir

Best English White

Stopham Estate Pinot Blanc

We were not quite enthusiastic enough in our initial report on this interesting and unusual wine saying that its chief mnarit was that it doesn't taste like an English wine. The fact that the memory has lingered has suggested this as our winner for best English white this year although there have been others perhaps just as good such as Gusbourne's Guinevere - a tad more expensive than our Pinot Blanc and less fascinating being Chardonnay.

2011/12                     Biddenden Gribble Ridge Ortega

Best publication 2012/13

'Wine Grapes' of course.