Thursday 14 January 2021

Slotovino 2020 Awards


Chimney sweeps bring good luck for the New Year

It has been soul-destroying to live through a period of 9 months in which in the UK alone more people died than among the civilian population in World War II. Yet the natural world has prospered maybe even better than before. 

Looking back on 2020, we see the usual merry-go-round in the first two and a half months and our awards for the year rely heavily on what we were able to experience during the normality of that short time.

Once the lockdown started, we witnessed the decimation of the on-trade which continues and may not revive for another year. As everyone knows, the off-trade has boomed and we have found mainly online winners there.

We sorely missed going to RAW, SITT, Historische Reben, PIWI Varieties at Rebschule Freytag, the International Cold Climate Symposium (St. Catherine's Ontario), Real Wine and many others. Fantasies of trips to Georgia and the Azores will have to remain just that for the duration.

Amazing how wine writers kept going. It must be difficult but there was little noticeable difference. We ourselves dug deep into the online wine world. There is a story attached to one of our winners Francisco Korta, Wine Personality of the year  (Southern Hemisphere). Hardly sooner than we started a conversation on email about his Grosse Merille than there was a knock on the door and three bottles were handed over for our enjoyment - hot from Chile. Amazing.


                                                                   PIERRE GALET 

Before listing the awards, we remember Pierre Galet who died on New Year's Eve 2019/20 aged 98. We had already made our awards for 2019 so it is fitting to salute him this year. He needs no eulogy other than to say he was probably the greatest Ampelographer of all time as well as a great human being.



Francisco Korta

FRANCISCO KORTA (Southern Hemisphere) and JESUS RECUERO (Northern Hemisphere).

For our Wine Personality of the year 2020, we have decided to split the world into its two hemispheres. The reason is that we have a special nominee from Chile as well as one from Spain. 

Let's take Chile first: FRANCISCO KORTA. Here is our post on the story of his Grosse Merille:

Our detective story began with a thumbnail review in Decanter's South America 2020 guide by Alistair Cooper MW. The mention of Grosse Mérille was the first we had ever heard of this variety and a great surprise in the context of wines from Chile.

Maybe it shouldn't have been such a surprise. After all it was only a short time ago that we had been writing about Casa Silva's 'Romano' which is said to be none other than the César variety from Bourgogne.

Nevertheless we got 'Wine Grapes' down from the shelf as we always do and looked up Grosse Mérille. there is an entry on 'Mérille' and Petite Mérille is mentioned as a variety commonly mistaken for Mérille but no mention of Grosse Mérille.

Pierre Galet's 'Dictionnaire Encyclopedique des Cepages' was as ever out next stop. Again there is no entry under Grosse Mérille but under Mérille we learn that there is a Mérille grosse. Worryingly there is also an indication that Mérille is a synonym for Cinsaut. Cinsaut is widely planted in Chile.

Next stop, Google. Here we found an article on the W.I.P. (Wine Independent Press) site which was both illuminating and convincing.

First of all, Grosse Mérille was more commonly known as Gros Verdot previously. Back to 'Wine Grapes.' Gros Verdot' we learn is not only no relation to Petit Verdot but has been banned from planting in the Gironde since 1946 even though it was an important variety in the 19th century.

It is said to have been an important ingredient in a  Bordeaux wine named Comte de Queyries after the Queyries quay along the Gironde in Bordeaux and has all but disappeared now.

As with César and of course Carmenere, Bordeaux loss has been Chile's gain. In Chile it has become known as Verdot Chileno or just Verdot. Gros Verdot/Grosse Mérille/Verdot Chileno/Verdot survives there having been brought with other varieties in the 19th century. It was also taken to California where it tends to be confused with Cabernet Pfeffer. We hope the latter apercu will not keep Slotovino readers awake at night.

Philippo Pszczolkowski, left and Francisco Korta.  

Back to W.I.P, the story of how Francisco Korta of the Korta winery enlisted the collaboration of Philippo Pszczolkowski (Ps-chol-kovski) a distiguished faculty member of the department of Fruit Culture and Enology of the Pontificia Universidad de Chile. Pszczolkowski had recommended Verdot Chileno to Konta having carried out rigorous researches on it to prove its integrity as a stand-alone variety (unrelated to Mérille) and having also traced its lineage as an import from its home in France by molecular studies by INIA (Instituto de Investigaciones Agropecuarias, Chile) together with INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, Vassal Collection, Marseillan France).

Philippo was very conscious of the limited number of vinifera varieties planted in Chile and saw the decline of Verdot Chileno as something to be combatted. Francisco took on the challenge and planted 2.5 ha. After various trials and errors he found a method of vinification which best suited the variety and chose to call it Grosse Mérille rather than Verdot Chileno, Verdot or Gros Verdot in order to avoid any misunderstanding with Petit Verdot. A sound decision



Grosse Merille also gets the award for THE MOST SURPRISING GRAPE DISCOVERY OF THE YEAR because you don't expect to make discoveries among Vinifera grapes of any kind in the Southern Hemisphere.




Jesus Recuero

Our winner from the Northern Hemisphere is JESUS RECUERO from Bodegas y Vinedos Jesus Recuero (founded in 1873) at Villanueve de Alcardete 125 South East of Madrid in the province of Toledo.

 Recuero is dedicated these days to reviving obscure or disappearing varieties:

I dedicate my efforts to working old vines, some of which have practically disappeared. Also similar projects in Caceres, Sierra de Gata.


A list of varieties used in Recuero wines would include

Airen Centenaria (100 year old Airen vines) 

Airen del Pais (Airen?)

Brujidera (aka Marufo, Moravia dulce)


Gordal (Perruno according to Galet)

Malvar (aka Lairen - no relation to Airen)

Ojo de Liebre (Palomino Fino) 

Pardillo (aka Albillo Pardo)

Pinuelo (aka Garnacha)

Rufeta (Rufete?)

Tinta Madrid (according to Galet 'Cepage de cuve noir, donne pour etre une simple variete du Tempranillo ou un cepage distinct a vin ordinaire, aujourd'hui remplace de plus en plus par le Tempranillo).

Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) 

Verdejo Serrano (almost extinct variety not related to Verdejo. Aka Rufete Blanca which is not a colour mutation of Rufete).


As often mentioned in these pages, Spain is shy when it comes to their indiginous rare grape varieties so it is good going for a single estate to be able to list 6 or 7 really obscure ones. We salute Jesus Recuero with this award.




We don't pretend to be experts in English sparkling wine. The majority of wine produced in this country issparkling so maybe we are lagging behind here. If we are it has nothing to do with the quality of the product. We can imagine English (and Welsh) Sparkling Wine becoming 'a thing' worldwide. It is already happening. The drawback now is the price which is mostly equal to average Champagne prices but the wine is still not quite the equal of average Champagne.

There are exceptions and for us, this is one of them. We consumed this bottle at Christmas and can honestly say it gave us more pleasure than the Pol Roger reserve we drank at New Year - good as that was.

We discovered Furleigh on a visit to the Jurassic Coast, Dorset in February 2020. They don't sell their wines widely. You can get them from the cellar door and only a few retailers the cheapest of which is Waitrose Cellars. At £23.50, it is a bargain and could be the most fantastic ambassador for English Sparkling wine if better known.





Alvarelhao is a thoroughly underrated red grape from the Vinho Verde area of Portugal and Northern Spain where it is also known as Brancellao. 

We first discovered it in Forlorn Hope's 'Suspiro del Moro' made from grapes grown in Lodi, California. That set us on a mission to find more wines from this grape but most were disappointing in comparison. 

This one from the Ribeira Sacra restores our faith in Alvarelhao. No doubt a tricky grape to get right but Ponte da Boga does this outstandingly well.




RALL'S CINSAULT BLANC ticks all our boxes as it were. Cinsault Blanc is a two-time colour mutation of (red) Cinsault. The first mutation was to Cinsault Gris and this mutated in turn to Cinsault Blanc. All these took place in South Africa where there are 0.2 ha. remaining. Cinsault Blanc was once known as 'Albatros.' 

We hadn't had much experience of Rall wines of Wellington, South Africa but you can tell from the label that this is a cool producer with taste. 

That is the first box ticked: an interesting back story. Cinsault Blanc (or even with the spelling Cinsaut Blanc) is not mentioned in 'Wine Grapes.' Tick box 2. 

The wine is ethreally delicious (box 3).

It is low in alcohol (10.5%). That would be box 4.

Not overpriced at £25.99 from Handfords (box 5).




THORNE DAUGHTERS TIN SOLDIER SEMILLON GRIS/ROSE (ELGIN). A wild ferment from Red Semillon, another South African colour mutation. Not just rare and interesting but individual and beautiful. Semillon Rose/Red Semillon is fulsomely described in 'Wine Grapes' as being unique to South Africa. It may at some point have been more common than the usual white Semillon. It had become common by the 1820s but now exists only as a few interplanted ungrafted bushvines in some old vineyards.




ROIG BOIG means crazy red in Catalan. It is a (very) natural wine from a blend of Sumoll, Roigenc, Mandó, Cannonnau, Monica, Torbat, Parellada and Xarello by La Salada, Penedes. If ever a wine was 'more-ish' this is it.





We found these at the Panda Fine Wine table at SITT. We had no great expectations but were bowled over by both the wine made from a Chinese hybrid called Beichun obtained in 1954 from Muscat of Hamburg crossed with a Vitis Amurensis Ruprecht vine (whatever that is) - a Chinese wild species. The result is surprisingly successful. Jose Vouillamoz, are you listening? 

The Rkatsiteli was quite possibly the best example of wine from this grape we have ever tasted. There are magicians at work in the Puchang Vineyard as you can see in the following from their website:

Puchang Vineyard is situated in the Turpan Valley in Xinjiang, north of the Gobi Desert in a region we know for all the wrong reasons as the Uighur Autonomous Region. The weather has every extreme and there are few pests so the vineyard has been certified organic since its creation in 1991.The poor soils are irrigated by run off from the nearby Tian Shan Mountain using the centuries old Karez water courses tunnelled and cut through the rock, originally used to bring water to the ancient silk road trading city of Turpan. The winemaking team is run by Italian Loris Tartaglia with help from Gerard Colin consultant at Ch. Lafite Rothschild.

Beichun is a Chinese hybrid grape created in the 1950’s in an attempt to find a grape that could survive the extreme cold of a Chinese winter. A crossing between one of the wild mountain grapes, Vitis Amurensis from Jilin Province, north of North Korea and Muscat Hamburg a black Muscat grape also used for table grapes. The result is a full bodied wine with red fruits and a floral almost rose like nose, probably from its Muscat roots, plenty of dark fruits with balancing tannins and acidity, really interesting.

The Rkatsiteli grape came from Georgia in 1956 in a time when China was closed off to the west and no grapes could be imported. Here a proportion of Welschriesling is added to the blend giving verve and aromatics. The result is a floral nose, with notes of Jasmine, grapefruit and ginger and a crisp palate with lemon and white peach notes, refreshing acidity and light minerality,  an attractive and flexible wine that drinks well on its own or with many foods.


PREDICTION FOR 2021               


EU wines will become more expensive. Hardly an original thought but we would like to get one prediction right after so many wrong ones. ur 2019 prediction was 'EU wines will not be more expensive .' Maybe no crystal ball was needed in either case.




Whites from red grapes are most often disappointing in our experience. We must get a handle on the white Merlots of Ticino for example. Up to now, they haven't exactly bowled us over. 
All the more remarkable is this white Pinot Noir from Furleigh vineyard in Dorset. We used to find 'so good it doesn't taste like an English wine' as fitting an accolade as could be given but more and more we are finding English wines that are good by any standards. This is one of them.

FURLEIGH VINEYARD TYRANNOSAURUS RED. At the risk of being thought as somehow linked to Furleigh Estates, we award a third prize to this estate: this time their red wine blend of 75% Pinot Noir and Precoce, 25% Rondo and 5% Triomphe. Note this last. We have asserted from bitter personal experience that it is impossible to make a good wine from Triomphe. The 5% of Triomphe in this blend was obviously not enough to spoil this tasty wine. How many English or Welsh red wines can one call tasty anyway?

This has to go to BK Wines Savagnin 2017. It is everything you could wish from an Orange Wine. Just the thing to convert those who never tasted Orange Wine before and as so often, a wine that can be drunk with everything. It's from Lenswood, Adelaide Australia. 

This has to be Thierry Hesnault's SEIBEL 54-55 - a sparling wine from the Loire made from the once popular hybrid also known as Plantet. 'Wine Grapes' finds wines from this grape 'slightly odd' and raspberry-flavoured. This doesn't sound promising but Thierry Hesnaut's version didn't have the slightly odd taste as far as we were concerned: raspberry maybe but in a good way.
It is surprising how many old hybrids like Seibel 54-55/Plantet are not as bad as originally thought. The classic example is Alicante Bouschet, now so ubiquitous one might think people might think it is not a hybrid at all.
The wine went oh-so-easily down the hatch. Maybe we are unsophisticated. Who cares? Pleasure is a valid criterion.



Ulrich Martin

Andreas Jung

This prize goes to ULRICH MARTIN and ANDREAS JUNG jointly for the production of 'Historische Rebsorten,'
In February 2020 we posted the following:
On March 28th (2019) we published a post 'Andreas Jung, intrepid grape hunter and archaeologist'. This told the strory of this exceptional person, Andreas Jung who had found 58 white varieties and 37 red ones in the Sudpfalz vineyard area and was trying to re-establish them, some from the small nooks and crannies where they had lingered on since the middle ages and beyond. Many had been assumed to have been extinct.

In particular the varieties for possible winemaking were considered to be

Blauer Elbling
Roter Veltliner.

Well, now wines have been made from these revived varieties and you can buy them from the Historische Rebsorten website. They sent us our order in record time. We look forward to tasting these wines one day when we can get some friends together for a tasting. Meanwhile the very fact of these wines existence is worth our award, irrespective of their quality. 

We award this prize tp PURE WINES in 2020 because we found ourselves turning towards them time and time again for their interesting, eclectic range of natural wines. Pure Wines certainly don't shy away from obscure grape varieties. They wouldn't win any prizes for efficiency or web design but bear with them; they are a sweet and friendly lot and their hearts are in the right place.

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Based in Spain (near Barcelona), Gourmet Hunters is not a company we sought out intentionally - just one that kept on cropping up in our searches. In November 2020 we wrote:
Gourmet Hunters' website is not the last word in ease of navigation but its list of grape varieties is a goldmine and that is in no small way thanks to Gourmet Hunters' eclectic choice of wines. The name of this companymay not trip off the tongue but they are Gourmets for sure and have certainly done some hunting.

We found 36 wines with obscure varieties on their website - 8 of which were unknown to 'Wine Grapes.' Otherwise it must always be remembered that 'Wine Grapes' excludes varieties whose production is not large enough to make wines commercially.
You will like Gourmet Hunters. Their website is informative if like so many in need of improvement. They deliver quickly and efficiently.


Awarding a new prize every year without even considering previous laureates is becoming like a game of  'Just a minute'. In the category of best winemerchant (London), we haven't had the opportunity to visit many retail addresses this year so most of our buying has been online. Nevertheless, late in the day, we came across NOBLE GREEN of Hampton Hill/Twickenham, This is not the Noble Fine Liquor of Broadway Market nor the Noble Rot company. 

Noble Green are a family company and have been going since 2005. They have won many prizes in the past, most notably Decanter Best London Wine Shop award in 2020, Best London Neighbourhood wine shop in 2018  and IWC Best in London wine merchant 2019. We knew nothing about this glittering record before making our decision to award our Best London Winemerchant prize 2020 to Noble Green ourselves.
Why the name Noble Green? None of the team appear to be called either Noble or Green and these words do not appear in their address.
Our selection included among others 
Segal (Judean Hills) Levant Argaman 2017
Flint Vineyard (Norfolk) Pinot Noir Precoce 2018 
*Domaine de Menard Cuvee Marine, Cotes de Gascogne Blanc (Sauvignon Blanc, Gros Manseng and Ugni Blanc) 2018
Aladasturi, Ramaz Nikoladze 2017
Tikves (Northern Macedonia) Krastosija Crveno 2018
*only 11% Abv, this was a particular delight. At £9.50/£10.50 a steal so we ordered a case of 12.


Vivai Cooperativo Rauscedo for SORELI. as vinified by Azienda Agricola Obiz.

We had visited the Vivai Cooperativo di Rauscedo (VCR - the world's largest vine nursery) in 2018, selected out favourite white grapevine for planting in the UK (Soreli - 'Sun' in Friulian dialect), planted the vines and obtained a 'campione' - the wonderful Italian word for 'sample' from the kind people of Azienda Agricola Obiz (Friuli). They had planted Soreli and already  made two vintages which they sent us.

We had planned to present these at a tasting but Covid intervened. Rather than risk this wine going off while waiting for the pandemic to end we opened the bottle of 2018. 

This award is to the VCR for having obtained this variety from (Tocai) Friulano and a resistance partner. If A.A. Obiz can make such a tasty, aromatic and downright lipsmacking wine as this, then VCR fully deserve it.

Pretty obvious this one: The pandemic has seen an explosion in WEB SALES. No doubt this will subside somewhat when everything gets back to some normalcy but not entirely.




We didn't go to many restaurants in 2020 but the SEASIDE BOARDING HOUSE near Burton Bradstock in Dorset was one. 

We remember thinking at the time that the winelist in the restaurant was going to be a good contender for this award so we duly photographed the winelist.

The list may not be legible from these photos so here are some of the gems according to Slotovino;


Junmai Ginjo Sparkling Sake
Bride Valley Cremant. 'England's very first Cremant.' Dorset
Furleigh Estate Rose (see our award for Sparkling Rose above)


Grolleau Gris, Domaine du Haut Bourg. Loire
Bride Valley Chardonnay (Dorset)


Chateau de Plaimont Cotes de Gascoigne.
Cabernet Franc, Conte Brandolino. Friuli ('serve chilled') Friuli
Pinot Noir Domaine Mader. Alsace

There is much to commend all these choices. When did you last see a sparkling Sake or a Grolleau Gris on a restaurant wine list? Also, hats off for including local wines from Bride Valley, owned of course by Arabella and Stephen Spurrier.



Awarding the best book prize to 'A LA RECHERCHE DES CEPAGES MODESTES ET OUBLIES' may be seen as cheating a bit, but Slotovino makes the rules and in this case, although first published in 2016 with the second edition ('Nouvelle edition enrichie') in 2018, we only became conscious of it in 2020. 

We believe this was sent to us as a gift for having subscribed to Cepages Modestes annually for a number of years although attending only once. We may have put it on the shelf and forgotten about it until now. In any event, we were delighted to find it because it features entries on interesting 'cepages modestes et oublies' such as Aligote dore de Bouzeron, Arrouya, and Mancin (which 'Wine Grapes' says is a synonym for Cot and Jean Rosen writing here says '...est un tres vieux cepage girondin, comme en atteste le nombre de synonymes, mais aussi la genetique qui ne lui a jusqu'ici trouve aucun parent.'). These are not featured in 'Wine Grapes' and Camaraou, Erremxaoua, Castets and Chichaud are, alongside more familiar ones such as Aubun, Enfarine, Dureza, Etraire de L'Adhui, Genouillet, Mollard, Mornen, Negret de Banhars, Orbois and Ribeyrenc etc.

The book is handsomly designed and the articles are written  sometimes by the grape growers themselves or else by top personalities in the world of Cepages Modestes.
We especially like the subtitle 'L'Autre gout des vins.'      
Various Accolades and acknowledgements - Sam Doncaster, Andrew Jefford, Francisco Korta, Jancis Robinson, all the good people from Cave L'Etiquette, Chambers St. Wines, Chris Lisney-Smith, Decantalo, Domaine R. Dubois et Fils, Drinks & Co. Exel, Handford Wines, Historische Rebsorten (Rebschule Ulrich Martin), Kudos Wine (Greek Wine and Sprits), Steph and Rupert Merton, Noble Green, Michael Sun of Panda Fine Wines, Vinatis, Perbacco Wein (Hannover), Arianna from Podere Scurtarola, Jancis Robinson, Vins y Licores Grau, Waitrose Cellars, Wine and More Croatian Wines, Wineware, the Wine Society, T. Wright Wine, Bolton.