Unusual to get tasting notes that include references to Frazzles and “that savoury taste you get a few hours after being punched in the nose,” especially when the wines are at a tasting called Wines with a Conscience. What did Ellis Wines’ new concept tasting all mean? And did the idea stack up? We sent Chris Wilson to 67 Pall Mall to find out, and he was pleasantly pleased with this 50-strong range of Organic, Biodynamic and Sustainable wines, one of which actually uses the winery’s self-produced bee pollen yeast.
“I find that more and more producers are doing these processes anyway. It’s definitely a generational thing in the old world as younger family members take the reins and make changes in the vineyard and winery,” Ellis wine buyer Megan Clarke says.
There’s nothing like a divisively-named tasting to get the usual wine trade backs up and, it would seem, get the punters through the door.
67 Pall Mall’s St James room was buzzing with buyers, sommeliers and the odd hack as Ellis Wines laid bare its ‘Wines with a Conscience’ concept and the wines which inspired this interesting tasting.
“What does it all mean?” is usually the question I ask my wife while gazing into the night sky after one too many sherbets on a night out with friends, but on this fine and fresh autumn morning it was my opening gambit when speaking to Ellis’ head of marketing Rupert Lovie.
“Well,” he begins, “it’s our take on wines which are made with an eye on the environment and the future.” He explains that be that work in the vineyard to produce organic or biodynamic fruit or actions taken in the winery – such as water recycling or use of lightweight packaging – there’s a definite trend towards working in this way.
“There’s no point in having a theme if it’s simply plucked out of the air, we want to cut through the buzzwords and noise,” he adds. “These are wines which we feel fit into these categories [Biodynamic, Organic, Sustainable].”
Speaking to Ellis’ wine buyer Megan Clarke it’s clear that she agrees and puts this into practise when sourcing wines. She uses a three-pronged approach to buying: Quality, price, sustainability and, increasingly, it’s this final prong that’s easiest to achieve.
“I find that more and more producers are doing these processes anyway. It’s definitely a generational thing in the old world as younger family members take the reins and make changes in the vineyard and winery,” she says.
Many of these processes were on show during this showcase of 50-odd wines, from wines made with organic and biodynamic certification to more ‘out there’ methods such as the use of ‘bee bread’ yeast.
Here are 10 wines which stood out at the tasting and ticked a few ‘conscience’ boxes along the way.
Laibach Chenin Blanc ‘Sur Lie’, 2018
Organic fruit fermented in a concrete egg; this is a bold Chenin made in the slightly untrendy tropical style. It shimmers and shines with pineapple and guava fruit, lime acidity and a floral kick. There’s a stony/mineral close that’s the perfect foil for this tangy and tasty wine.
JB Adam, Riesling Grand Cru W ‘Kaefferkopf’, 2012
This biodynamic Riesling may be seven years old but it brims with life and verve. It’s bright and joyful; unabashed in its exuberance. There’s real development here shown across its waxy mouthfeel and savoury finish but the snap and balance comes from fresh pear and lily characters. Delightful.
Marques de Riscal, Rueda ‘Limousin’, 2017
Its Frank Gehry-designed hotel pushes all the right buttons in architectural circles for its eco-friendly approach to design, and since 2018 all of Marques de Riscal’s vineyards are certified organic. This 100% Verdejo, coming from 40-year-old bush vines, is aromatic and full with generous stone fruit, tight acid and a herby/leafy edge on the finish.
Domaine des Carabiniers Cotes du Rhone ‘++–‘ Sans Sulfite, 2017
The clue’s in the name here, nothing added, nothing taken away, including SO2. This biodynamic wine has a stunning nose of redcurrant jelly, overripe strawberries and pepper. Then comes the dried herbs and dried blood; that savoury taste you get a few hours after being punched in the nose. A real knockout wine.
Dominique Roger, Sancerre Chene Marchard, 2017
A classic mineral-driven Sancerre that’s punchy and packed with pear, apricot and kumquat fruit. It’s as clean as a whistle and dances in the mouth with bright, almost spritz-like acidity and a finish that’s as deep as Bill Withers’ groove.
Balestri Valda Soave, 2018
Soave can be mighty, but it can also be meh. This one certainly falls into the first category. This is made with organically-grown fruit and punches well above its price point (£9.95 trade) with a splash of tree fruit, generous acidity and a lush mouthfeel.
Cantina Orsogna Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ‘Vola Vole’, 2018
The bee on the label offers a suggestion to what’s going on here but you’d never guess that the Cantina Orsogna cooperative creates its own bee pollen yeast to use during fermentation, carefully selected from the pollen the bees collect from the natural wildlife surrounding the vineyards. Many wineries cultivate bees in the vineyard but this is next level stuff. The wine itself comes from organic fruit and is breezy with delicate red notes of cranberry and raspberry and an attractive feral edge.
Cantina Orsogna, Primitivo ‘Ruminat’ Lunaria, 2018
From the same producer comes this succulent Primitivo which too has a wild taste to it, almost as if it’s straight from the tank. It’s from biodynamic vineyards and is full and rich in its fruit profile (sticky plum, raspberry jam) but light of foot. Delicious and intriguing.
Tenuta di Lilliano Chianti Classico, 2016
A poised and precise Chianti from this organic (in practice but not certified) Castellina producer. It’s balanced and rustic (a wonderful thing in Chianti) with dusty red fruit and savoury tannins with a real bite to them.
Strandveld ‘First Sighting’ Shiraz, 2017
Down on the tip of Africa, a wave’s crash from the icy Atlantic, is Strandveld which farms the land of the Cape Agulhas and produces a raft of classy, fresh wines. The standout red is this Shiraz, which is matured in old oak and delivers a crisp smoke-infused hit. There’s black fruit, herbs and white pepper spice, but the overriding character is Frazzles, and you can’t argue with that.