The Dirty Dozen tasting – a collective tasting featuring 12 fine indie portfolios – is usually an uber-cool affair in a basement in London’s Soho… tats and Shoreditch beards obligatory. So, it was some surprise when the 12 announced they were heading to Glaziers Hall for this year’s tasting, a venue normally associated with en primeur campaigns and the pin-stripe brigade. Chris Wilson was relieved to find the usual fine selection of interesting and sometimes challenging wines – even if that was just that they were challenging to pronounce!
Wiston’s NV sparkler was one of the big hits of the Dirty Dozen tasting and it came with a superb VFM price tag.
In previous years this tasting – one of the best in the calendar – has been held at The Vinyl Factory in Soho, which seemed to suit its left-field, edgy, anything-goes vibe very nicely.
For 2018 it moved south of the river (just) to Glaziers Hall near London Bridge, a more conventional and conservative venue which I hoped wouldn’t take the edge off this benchmark tasting of portfolios from 12 of the UK’s most exciting and dare-taking small importers.
The room itself was nothing to write home about (a little small if anything) but thankfully the wines still shone and with a focus on the new offerings on show I’ve plucked out a dozen-and-a-half wines from across the spectrum to shout about, including something from each of the 12 importers.
These are wines which I feel are versatile and original enough to spice up any on-trade list, but not too ‘out there’ to put off or confuse your average punter (excluding the Rotgipfler Satzing, of course, which will need some explaining!).
Saronsberg ‘MCC’ Brut 2015 (H2Vin)
This traditional-method sparkler from Tulbagh in the Western Cape bursts with green apple and greengage fruit and has just enough complexity to make it elevate above many of the more simple MCC wines around. The toasty creaminess on the finish is graceful and long.
Wiston Estate Blanc de Blancs NV (Swig)
Just two of the Wiston wines on show at this tasting and the non-vintage stole the show. It’s full and bold with a clean, generous mousse and characters of freshly cut green apple, elderflower and English hedgerow. A benchmark English NV fizz, and at £20.50 DPD, an exceptional price too.
This wine from one of Schloss Lieser’s top Mosel vineyards has a vibrant, punchy nose of tropical fruit and sherbet. It’s dry and lean with fighty acidity and fleshy hits of grapefruit and lime. A mineral finish is the icing on the cake.
Weingut Wittmann Riesling 2016 (Howard Ripley)
Another textbook German Riesling, this time from biodynamic producer Weingut Wittmann in the Rheinhessen. There’s real purity here; Burgundian minerality and a chalky texture play effortlessly with vibrant citrus fruit, green apple and ruby grapefruit.
Made from the esoteric Doña Blanca variety (95%, with 5% Puesta en Cruz) which grows on rugged bush vines on a sandy, granite plateau 800m above sea level, this is a serious white. There’s a honeyed richness here which comes from the fruit but also by fermenting and aging a third of the must in old French oak. Its weight and poise is impressive, as is the delicate tree fruit.
Antonelli Anteprima Tonda Trebbiano Spoletino DOC 2017 (FortyFive10)
This old vine Trebbiano is grown among maple trees on a west-facing site 350m above sea level. It’s peachy and tangy with a hint of orange and a delicious purity. In the mouth it carries some weight and is almost chewy in texture; this is a white than can handle food and will certainly age well.
A savoury French white from the Vermentino grape which has a slightly cheesy nose, but don’t let that put you off. It’s this nutty, Marmite savouriness that adds appeal and intrigue. On the palate the fruit comes and it’s sweet with guava and pineapple notes and a lovey mouth-coating richness.
Mylonas Winery Naked Truth Savatiano 2016 (Maltby&Greek)
This single vineyard Savatiano from Attica in central Greece is made in a hands-away style; its fermented ‘wild’ on the skins for 10 days, then left to settle on its lees for six months before being bottled un-fined and unfiltered with just a dash of sulphites. It’s creamy with a hazelnut bite, bright yellow fruit and floral aromas. A waxy mouthfeel adds to the appeal.
A ‘wild’ Sauvignon from a single vineyard that’s fermented in old French barriques and spends 10 months on lees before bottling. It has a lively ‘new world’ taste of ripe pears, peaches and sea spray and is clean, dry and long. Given its flavour profile and weight it could be something other than Sauvignon Blanc, but it’s not. Whatever, it’s delicious.
Oakridge Over The Shoulder Chardonnay 2017 (Flint Wines)
Winemaker Dave Bicknell was on hand to share his wines and stories from behind the Flint table. His Over The Chardonnay really shone; it’s a glossy, thoughtfully made wine comprising fruit from a variety of top sites across the Yarra Valley. There’s zesty citrus fruit, juicy tree fruit and a clean mineral/wet stone character that offsets the creaminess that comes from various barrel techniques.
Andrea Felici Verdicchio dei Castelli de Jesi Classico 2017 (Flint Wines)
With vineyards situated high in the hills between Apiro and Cupramontana, Andrea Felici’s Verdicchios are some of the best around. This is no exception; it’s so incredibly crisp with a delicious herby lick which rubs up against the lemon and white peach fruit effortlessly.
Johanneshof Reinish Rotgipfler Satzing 2016 (Astrum Wine Cellars)
An earthy, smoky white wine from Austria’s lesser-known (but celebrated by those in the know) Thermenregion. Rotgipfler is a crossing of Traminer and Roter Veltliner and produces slightly spicy aromatic wines. This wine boasts these characters but also honey, quince and a creamy, oily texture. It’s a classy and nicely poised wine which, despite its rather awkward name, deserves to be better known.
Daniel Ramos El Berrakin 2017 (Raymond Reynolds)
A fresh, young, approachable wine made from Garnacha which sees no wood and benefits from it. Stainless steel fermentation and ageing gives it a youthful zip and promotes the delicate cherry and raspberry fruit. There’s almost a ‘fizziness’ on the palate, which helps promote the light acid to bring balance and a certain glossiness.
Made from small parcels of fruit from the best vineyards this is a fruit-forward up-front Pinot that’s brimming with character and appeal. It’s bright with berry fruit at the fore and not much in the way of tertiary characters at this stage, but that doesn’t matter when the fruit is so immediate and pure. A real wear-it-on-the-sleeve blockbuster.
La Marea is the brainchild of Californian Ian Brand, who also makes wine under the better-known Le P’tit Paysan moniker. While Le P’tit Paysan takes its inspiration from France, La Marea has its sights on Spain. This Grenache is from a single plot in San Benito County and is light and nimble with raspberry and smoky notes. Incredibly easy-going, much like Brand himself I’m told.
Carmelo Rodero Ribera del Duero ‘Reserva’ 2014 (H2Vin)
A sumptuous and modern-styled blend of Tinta del País (Tempranillo) and Cabernet Sauvignon, with the Tempranillo taking the lead (90%). 30+ year-old vines situated on the Carmelo Rodero estate provide the fruit and in the winery new and old oak works its magic. This is ripe and juicy with plum and damson fruit, a savoury cocoa-bean tickle and a smooth and hot vanilla finish. Wonderful.
Blank Bottle Retirement @ 65 2017 (Swig)
A cheery and perfumed blend of Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah that could come from Southern France rather than Southern Africa. Its delicately-handled fruit gives off floral and confected aromas of rose petals, red cherry, raspberry pop and garden herbs.
Cruse Wine Co. North Coast Monkey Jacket 2017 (Roberson)
Valdiguié (Gros Auxerrois) leads the charge in this Californian North Coast field blend, and is joined by Carignan and Tannat to make for a very South-West France-style composition. It’s captivating stuff with a joyful lightness and freshness of fruit and floral aromas (rose petal, apple blossom). The tannins are ripe and rounded too as is the red berry profile.