After the success of the Dirty Dozen make way for the ‘Magnificent Seven’, another collective of small independent wine importers calling themselves Out the Box that is hell-bent on discovering exciting, new, ‘out-there’ wines as well as interesting takes on the classics. Read why Chris Wilson thinks this was the perfect wine tasting for anyone wanting to start a complete wine list from scratch.
The pick of the Out the Box tasting including real finds from the following importers: The Knotted Vine, Modal Wines, Red Squirrel, Basket Press Wines, Nekter Wines, SWiG and Maltby & Greek
If I was building a restaurant wine list from scratch Out The Box is exactly the tasting I would target. It’s focussed, energetic, full of characters and – above all – packed to the rafters with the type of wines that punters want to see, and increasingly expect to see, on restaurant lists.
Out The Box brings together a handful of small importers all with a bent for finding and bringing to the UK interesting wines that appeal to the on-trade and independent retail markets. Much like the Dirty Dozen collective, these seven importers all share a love for niche, out-there wines as well as new and exciting takes on the classics.
“We do not tie ourselves to any particular wine style,” says Out The Box organisers and The Knotted Vine head honcho David Knott. “We just like well-made wines… wines created by dedicated small producers making juice that represents the place they come from.”
The Out The Box crew comprises The Knotted Vine, Modal Wines, Red Squirrel, Basket Press Wines, Nekter Wines, SWiG and Maltby & Greek. Between them they showed 260+ wines from across the globe – there were no holds barred in terms of variety, provenance or style that made for a wildly exciting tasting.
What made this such a good event for sommeliers and on-trade buyers is that as well as a huge number of esoteric wines to star-stud a list with, all the wine list ‘must haves’ were there too – from Kiwi Sauvignon to Italian and French classics to grower Champagne and Prosecco.
You expect to find the weird and wonderful at a tasting like this, but it was the quality of the ‘stone cold staples’ that really stood out – when you taste an extraordinary and keenly priced white Burgundy or Chianti among all the orange wines, unpronounceable varieties and leftfield creations you know that you’re in the right place… and furthermore you know that the funky bits will take care of themselves.
Starting with the classics, let’s look at a handful of the best of the ‘must-haves’…
The ever reliable and fiercely knowledgeable crowd at SWiG are smitten with the Collard-Picard ‘Cuvee Prestige’ Champagne. This NV from winemaking couple Olivier Collard and Caroline Picard blends wine from four vintages and spends more than three years in bottle prior to release. It falls into the Brut category and has a hefty 9 g/L dosage but you wouldn’t know it. There’s richness and developed toast and nutty characters, but also a refreshing, green apple acidity to provide knife-edge balance. Lively and lush.
Prosecco doesn’t have to be ‘meh’ or ‘how much?’ – there’s a middle ground, which is demonstrated nicely in this version from 47 AD (The Knotted Vine). Refined, not too sweet and with a delicious Williams pear lick, this punches well above its price and comes classily packed too.
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
There were only three Kiwi wines in the room, all from Marlborough’s Loveblock, 2016 (The Knotted Vine). The Sauvignon was the standout; fleshy and refined it shows its cards upfront with a whack of green capsicum on the nose but it isn’t overblown or overly spicy/ green/ mercaptan-led. It’s the lush tropical fruit and classy length that really reels you in here.
Again it was The Knotted Vine which led the way here with a generous and balanced Mâcon Péronne from Domaine des Gandines, 2016. There’s white pepper spice and tropical lime and a focussed, long acid finish. It’s full in the mouth but never rich or cloying, just very nicely poised. A food wine for sure.
Spätlese may not be the Riesling style of choice in the supermarket aisle but put it in a restaurant with a half-decent sommelier and it’ll fly off the list. Versatility is the name of the game here; there are so many potential matches for this bold style. Modal Wines had a five-strong collection of Mosel Rieslings from Staffelter Hof, all made in an oxidative style. The strongest was the Dhron HofbergerRiesling Spätlese 2005 which was supple and muscular with cloudy apple and pear characters and a lip-licking sweet and sour finish. With 90 g/L residual sugar it’s by no means on the dry end of the scale, but the sharp lemon and lime acidity offers a superb foil to the sweetness.
Red Squirrel has loads of wines from the Old World on its books, but as you’d expect from this unconventional importer, not many of them plough the ‘classics’ furrow. Even the France de Bel red Bordeaux on show from Château de Bel doesn’t follow the rules; it’s 100% Cabernet Franc, non-vintage and comes in a bottle that wouldn’t look out of place on the counter of an 18th century chemist. And all the better for it – this nimble smoky, spicy wine is comprised of fruit from Bordeaux Superieur vineyards from five different years that have been aged in 500-litre oak casks using a Solera-type process. Not your average Bordeaux.
It’s 22 years since Oasis’ seminal sophomore record (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? was released so it’s fitting that this 2015 Paso Robles Pinot from Field Recordings, named Wonderwall, is on show now. It’s a punchy, cool climate Pinot, jammed full of red cherry fruit and a tonne of tertiary notes that seesaw from rolling tobacco to mushrooms to pine resin. This is full and bright now but still has a long way to go.
And now for something completely different… a snapshot of some the best ‘alternative’ wines on show (two from each importer)…
Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko, 2016 (Maltby & Greek) – Santorini’s signature white deserves a spot on any list and this is a fine example; crisp, delicate and saline with waxy lemon and mineral/ wet wool characters.
La Calcinara Mun Rosé, 2016 (SWiG) – Made from 100% Montepulciano, quickly run off the skins to result in a very pale-pink wine. There’s raspberry and lychee here as well as rose petal and a lovely acid spritz at the finish. Delightful rosé.
Wine Hooligans Sea Monster, 2015 (Nekter) – Full throttle, no holds barred blend of Viognier, Riesling, Grenache Blanc, Gewurtz and Chardonnay. Viognier dominates in this floral, satin-edged wine that retains just enough acidity to balance the ripe tropical fruit.
Paserene Union, 2015 (Nekter) – This blend from Tulbagh is Syrah-led with Carignan and Mourvedre in the mix too. It’s fresh and lively with red fruit and sweet vanilla dominating. A warm, wonderfully composed wine.
Krásná Hora Ryzlink Rynsky Riesling, 2015 (Basket Press) – Three parcels of Riesling are vinified separately (following 12 hours skin contact) then blended to make this chewy, chalky wine that’s got crushed oyster shell and lanolin notes as well as restrained stone fruit. Complex and intriguing in equal measure.
Peter Koráb Karmazin 1934, 2015 (Basket Press) – Made from Blaufränkisch this Czech red is tangy and tannic with redcurrant acidity and blackcurrant fruit. There’s a savoury, cigar-smoke side to it too, but where it really shines is on the finish – long, crisp and mineral.
The Garajeest Jim Semillon, 2015 (Red Squirrel) – Just 3,000 bottles of this cool climate Semillon were made and it’s fast gathering cult status. Grippy and smoky with bruised pear and box hedge characters it’s difficult to pin down, but very easy to return to. Lovely label too.
Okanagan Crush Pad Haywire White Label Pinot Noir, 2016 (Red Squirrel) – A concrete-aged Pinot from British Columbia. Fruit for this bright and exotic wine comes from a mountain vineyard 500m above sea level. This is earthy and savoury yet sings with delicate red fruit.
Joiseph Ruhe In Frieden, 2015 (Modal) – Newcomers Modal do a great line in low and no sulphite wines as well as skin contact whites. The standout was this Gemischter Satz (traditional field blend from Vienna), of which only 240 bottles were made – hence the name ‘Rest In Peace’. It has spent three weeks on the skins giving it firm tannins and a tense, gooseberry edge. Very out-there.
Balazu des Vaussières Millepertuis, 2012 (Modal) – This ‘under the table’ red hails from the Rhône and comprises Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan. It’s floral with rose petal and cherryade characters and a striking, almost fizzy mouthfeel. There’s no gas, it’s just lifted and lean on the finish.
Ministry of Clouds Grenache, 2014 (The Knotted Vine) – The always on-song Ministry of Clouds have an enviable collection of wines, all fruit-driven, clean and meticulously focussed. This is possibly the best – it’s full and plush with aromatic, freshly-picked fruit (raspberries, cherries) and a lick of pepper and fire.