The Dirty Dozen tasting this year was once again staged in Phonica, the Soho record store, much to the delight of vinyl junkie Chris Wilson who also has a taste for the old vino – particularly wines that challenge the status quo. On side A, Chris has six whites to recommend to the on-trade, on side B six reds that will also knock your socks off.
The Dirty Dozen is a loose collective of small, niche wine importers who focus on quality, individuality and substance over style. They include Swig, Flint and Wine Treasury.
I have a confession to make, I’m a vinyl junkie. I cannot walk past a record shop without diving in, flicking through the racks, buying slabs of plastic to take home and nurture. Most of the tracks I buy I already own in other (more practical) formats but I simply can’t resist adding that particular song or LP to my collection in 7” or 12” format.
You can imagine how thrilled I was when it was announced that this year’s Dirty Dozen tasting would take place once again at (or beneath) Soho record shop Phonica – a legitimate reason to visit a record shop during the working day, and an opportunity to purchase some more platters for the collection before (and after) tasting some damn fine wines.
The Dirty Dozen is a loose collective of small, niche wine importers who focus on quality, individuality and substance over style. On the whole they have portfolios made up of leftfield wines of real interest, so it’s a nice fit for these 12 importers to show their wines together under one roof.
As in previous years each importer showed 24 wines, and there was huge variety across the room with perhaps a common thread of lesser-known varieties or expressions – even the classics had a twist. Once again this proved to be an outstanding, must-visit tasting and judging by the eager throng in the room word is truly out about these importers and their special wines.
To keep with the vinyl theme, here’s my Greatest Hits selection from the tasting, six killers on each side of the disc.
Side A: Whites
Murgo Etna Bianco, 2016 (£7.83, Roberson Wine)
With a trade price of £7.83 a bottle, this must be the best value wine at the tasting. Etna continues to gain much-warranted exposure, but what’s holding many buyers back is its price, not so here and the quality doesn’t suffer either. Made from a blend of Caricante and Catarratto, it’s a delicate, aromatic white with floral and green tea notes and a fine structure that’s smooth but not pristine. It’s the jagged edges and hit of acidity that somehow make it more enticing.
The BLANKbottle Winery Haan, 2016 (Swig)
By the time I made it through the scrum to Swig’s table, they’d run out this one-off production from South African man-of-the-moment Peiter Walser. Thankfully an extra bottle was in the back of an Uber on its way to the tasting… just around the corner apparently. When it finally arrived, it was well worth the wait. Fleshy and smoky from the off it’s an upfront, generous wine with peach, lemon pith and gooseberry. This is a blend of two Grenache grapes Blanc (90%) and Gris, the latter adding a delicious briny, waxy note. Another winner from Walser.
La Calcinara Clochard Verdicchio, 2016 (Swig)
‘Clochard’, so I’m told by the guy on the Swig stand, is French for ‘vagrant’ and this plucky Italian white is so named because the fruit comes from vines grown outside of the Verdicchio Castelli DOC. This is a vagrant to embrace. It’s rich and viscous with a real kick of spice and candied fruit. There’s a Play-Doh scent on the nose too, which sounds unpleasant but adds a welcome salty/mineral edge to the richness. I can only imagine this gets even better when food is on the table.
Domaine Rewa Riesling, 2013 (H2Vin)
A bright and really precise Riesling from Central Otago. Domaine Rewa makes four wines from just 5.5 hectares of vineyards all with a nod to old world styles. This looks to Germany rather than the Alsace, it’s off-dry with a pleasing whack of residual sugar, low-ish alcohol and the kind of petrol and rubber characters you expect from the Mosel. There’s orange blossom, beeswax and apricot too and a delicious texture and weight in the mouth.
Szepsy Furmint Estate, 2015 (Top Selection)
“Very on-trade” a fellow taster muttered after having a sip of this, and she was spot on. This is the type of white wine that gets sommeliers all frothy around the mouth (not a pretty sight). It’s so complex and detailed but accessible at the same time. There’s the familiar cider apple nose of a white wine that’s seen some oxygen, followed by lime, spice and a lean, unforgiving acidity. Yes, very on-trade.
La Vierge Original Sin Sauvignon Blanc, 2016 (The Wine Treasury)
This Hemel-en-Aarde Sauvignon benefits from 9% barrel-fermented Semillon, which gives it a lush, creamy edge to counter-balance the Sauvignon’s zesty, lively acidity. There’s a delightful mineral prickle on the palate which has you reaching for another sip almost as soon as the first has gone. A tropical, aromatic flourish on the finish rounds it off wonderfully. The stand-out Sauvignon of the tasting.
Side B: Reds
Mac Forbes Pinot Noir, 2016 (Clark Foyster)
A WSET tutor once told me that you can pick a Pinot easily. “If you can see your shoes,” he opined, “it’s Pinot.” His rule works here, but not always with Pinots from down under and there were many at the tasting which bucked the trend. This ultra-modern take from the Yarra is lush, rich and pale… it dances on the tongue with raspberry and lychee, then come dried herbs and just a whiff of liquorice. It’s long too, you think it’s finished but it’s still there, dancing away.
Domaine Melody Crozes-Hermitage Cuvée Friandise, 2015 (Flint Wines)
France and Italy are easily overlooked at tastings like these where wines from less-established but possibly more exiting regions are so prevalent, but there was a strong Gallic showing on the Flint Wines table. This fresh and zippy Crozes-Hermitage has upfront blueberry and cherry characters and a lovely balance. It’s a powerful wine with some smokiness (smoked lardons) and spice on the palate but remains fresh and bright on the finish. On this evidence 2015 is turning out to be a fine vintage in the Rhône.
Sami Odi Little Wine #6, NV (Swig)
At last year’s tasting one of the standout wines was a non-vintage red (Sean Thackrey’s Pleiades, The Wine Treasury), and this year Barossa winemaker Sam Odi follows suit. There must have been a mix up with the labelling because this is called ‘Little Wine #6’ and it’s far from petite. Assembled from casks of Syrah from 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016 it’s a chewy, meaty, alive wine that teeters on the edge of being something else altogether. Only 2,000 bottles of this earthy, ethereal treat are available, so move quickly.
Chatzivaritis Estate Goumenissa Red Xinomavro-Negoska, 2013 (Maltby & Greek)
History tells us that Philip II of Macedon, the King of Macedonia from 359-336 BC and father of Alexander the Great, was a huge fan of the two grapes that that make up the Goumenissa PDO which is none-too-shabby an endorsement. This Xinomavro-Negoska blend produces an earthy, rustic wine with stark tannins and black olive/mushroom characters. This is savoury, opulent and aromatic and it’s backed up by some first-class typography on the label.
Quinta do Vale Meao Meandro Tinto, 2015 (Raymond Reynolds)
This red from the Douro is secretly muscular. It draws you in with a sweet and seductive nose then – wham! – there’s a blast of red fruit (plum, ripe cherry) and tannins. Six varieties go into the blend, with Touriga Nacional (40%) and Touriga Franca (30%) leading the way; Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cao and Sousao make up the numbers. Meandro – named after the meandering Douro river which dominates this part of Portugal – is a Vale Meao’s ‘second’ wine, but you wouldn’t know, it’s concentrated, elegant and punches well above its price.
Noah Bramaterra, 2012 (Astrum Wine Cellars)
European specialists with a real focus on Italy, Astrum Wine Cellars champions unusual and underdog grape varieties and there are a few to be found in this upbeat, lip-smacking red from northern Piedmont. Made by a husband and wife team who took up winemaking in 2010, this wine comes from the Bramaterra DOC and comprises Nebbiolo (70%), Croatina and Vespolina. It’s light and balanced with strawberry and cherry fruit, lime cordial acidity and a long, mineral finish.