The Dirty Dozen are twelve small, specialist importers who see themselves as complementary to one another and not competition in what they offer the trade. It has been two years since we last saw Astrum, Carte Blanche, Clark Foyster, FortyFive10, H2Vin, Howard Ripley, Maltby & Greek, Swig, Wine Treasury, Ucopia and Yapp all together under one roof but here they were, back for another tasting of epic proportions. David Kermode, aka Mr Vinosaurus, was our man with the tasting glass.
“The blend combines Verdelho, Palomino, Riesling, Chenin, Crouchen and Hárslevelü ….Unusual, might be an understatement, but God it’s good,” writes Kermode.
An action thriller with an all-star cast of flawed heroes, hellbent on changing the world… The Dirty Dozen was a Hollywood blockbuster, so it wasn’t a bad place to start, when a collective of like-minded producers were looking for a name to capture their exploits.
Established a decade ago, this particular Dirty Dozen is thankfully a little tamer than the sociopathic hoodlums featured in the movie, but there is no doubting the sense that these guys are on some sort of mission: in this case to bring left-field, edgy and innovative wines that tend to challenge the status quo.
The annual tasting, which returned to Glaziers Hall after a two-year pandemic pause, is always a hot ticket, attracting sommeliers, merchants and writers looking to spot the next big thing.
“We consider ourselves broadly like-minded in our focus as small, specialist importers concerned with wines of authenticity and integrity,” says James Doidge MW, managing director of The Wine Treasury, a founder member. “The one tasting per year is the only organised activity we perform, but as a group we often share thoughts and ideas … we consider each other less as competition than as complementary to each other, sharing and respecting the same values.”
The grouping includes specific country and regional specialists as well as those who engage in direct retailing to the public alongside wholesale, which was evident in both the levels of knowledge and the convincing ‘hand sell’ that came from behind the tasting counters.
“All the other members I spoke with were very chuffed with the event … I think that our customers found the experience of attending a largely ‘normal’ tasting as refreshing as we did,” says Doidge, “there seemed to be no problem with any appetite for a big tasting, and aside from having organised individual spittoons, it was run much the same as before.”
“Attendance was largely identical to previous years: we suspected that a deficit of people not attending through remaining Covid-related concerns about crowded events would be counter-balanced by extra people coming who might not have done so normally, in the previously saturated calendar of tastings, and I believe that may have been what happened.”
A Dirty Dozen Most Wanted (prices are trade):
The BLANKbottle Winery Orbitofrontal Cortex, Western Cape 2020 – Swig (£35) “The conscious part of Pieter Walser’s highly original brain thinks that this was the best blend of white grapes in the cellar, combining Verdelho, Palomino, Riesling, Chenin, Crouchen and Hárslevelü,” says the description, and who are we to argue? Unusual, might be an understatement, but God it’s good. A delicious, complex layered orgy of concentrated fruit, with a delicate, yet pronounced, savoury core. There’s peach, apricot, fennel and white pepper, with a refreshing minerality. One of the components of the blend, Crouchen, is a rare find. Originally from the Pyrenees, where it is now virtually extinct, it can be found in small quantities on the Western Cape and in Australia’s Clare Valley.
Busi Jacobsohn, Classic Cuvée, Brut, East Sussex, 2018 – Yapp Brothers (£27) A new and astute signing for Yapp, the wines of Busi Jacobsohn have really impressed me each and every time I have sampled them. Elegant and assured, there’s plump orchard fruit and citrus, balanced by distinctive English apple acidity, with luxurious autumn fruit crumble and lingering notes of lemon shortbread. They have won an award for the labelling which oozes the class of a top Champagne house.
Red Newt Cellars Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes, New York, 2017 – The Wine Treasury (£17) From the excellent Red Newt Cellars, this is the flagship wine, coming from a single plot in the Lahoma vineyard, dominated by sandstone and loam. Fresh, accessible, complex and complete, it spends three days on its skins for phenolic extraction. There’s tangerine, pink grapefruit and red apple, with a flinty finish. Delicious.
Weingut Holger Koch, Pinot Noir*, Baden, 2017 – Howard Ripley (£22.50) The team at Howard Ripley are expert in sniffing out Germany’s gems and this organic Baden Pinot is a proper find. Crunchy, with raspberry, red cherries and a hint of crushed cloves. It is fresh, silky and really dangerously drinkable.
Los Peros Tinto, Ca’ di Mat 2018, Gredos – Carte Blanche Wines (£24) Garnacha from 75-year-old vines on granite soils at high altitude (750 to 950m), matured in a mix of oak foudres and concrete. There’s fresh tangy, hedgerow fruit with incredible purity and length.
Ramilo Tinto, Lisboa, 2018 – Raymond Reynolds (£8.33) A blend of Castelaõ; Touriga Nacional; Aragonez, the former is most evident, with juicy, bright, dark cherry, berry fruit and some (good) rustic character. Like most wines from Portugal, it represents excellent value.
Volacus, Malagouzia, PGI Cyclades – Maltby and Greek (£16) From the beautiful island of Tinos, which is rapidly establishing a reputation for the top flight volcanic wines that come from its boulder-strewn hills. An eruption of pithy, fresh citrus leads into a cocktail of stone fruit, all underpinned by a refreshing granite structure.
Terre de Gabbro, Muscadet en amphore, 2020 – Carte Blanche Wines (£21) A biodynamic masterpiece from IWSC boss Christelle Guibert and organic pioneer Vincent Caille. 100% Melon de Bourgogne, from old vines, some 60 years of age, with a gentle 21 day fermentation in amphora, followed by nine months on lees in concrete vats. Delicate, precise and gently textured, with an ethereal citrus purity, it takes Muscadet to a different level.
Oltre Torrente, Colli Tortonesi, Timorasso, 2019 – FortyFive10 (£16.50) The name Oltretorrente translates as ‘beyond the stream,” a literal reference to the Scrivia, a tributary of the Po River, but it could also be a metaphor for the wine. 100% Timorasso, a relatively rare Piedmont white variety, with plump, creamy apricot, red apple interwoven with wild honey.
Schloss Gobelsburg, ‘Tradition’ 50 years, Kamptal – Clark Foyster Wines (£165, in magnum) Released to celebrate Schloss Gobelsburg’s 850th anniversary, an extraordinary multi-vintage blend from winemaker Michael Moosbrugger. From 31 vintages, going back 50 years, there’s candied peel, greengage, bruised apple, white pepper and honeycomb. Textured, complex and incredibly complete, it is genius.