Compared to the finest crus of Burgundy by some of the world’s leading wine critics, Querciabella’s Batàr is no ordinary white wine from Tuscany. Celebrating its 30th year with the 2018 vintage, this is a Pinot Bianco/ Chardonnay blend that has an almost uncanny ability to age. To prove the point and to launch the new vintage, winemaker Manfred Ing lined up a once-in-a-lifetime vertical for David Kermode, including the very first vintage – 1998 – that Kermode describes as a ‘miracle’.
“Extravagant, fruity and plump, yet also poised, precise and teasingly laced, like the lovechild of Barry White and a ballet dancer,” writes Kermode about the new Batàr 2018.
Few if any of us can claim to have escaped the effects of ageing – Tom Cruise even has a few wrinkles these days – yet just south of Florence, there’s a white wine that could lay some sort of claim to vinous immortality.
Batàr from Agricola Querciabella is a white Super Tuscan, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco young enough to be a Thatcher’s child yet attracting the kind of acclaim usually reserved for the wine world’s revered old timers, it is coveted by critics and collectors for its freshness and intricate complexity.
Having enjoyed an extensive vertical tasting, Jancis Robinson OBE MW declared that Batàr “manages to be both rich and fresh and seemingly capable of ageing forever,” saying it reminded her of a Corton-Charlemagne, while an impressed Hugh Johnson also drew parallels with wines from Burgundy’s finest Grand Crus.
So quelle surprise that the good burghers of Bourgogne had a bit of a boeuf with its original name, back in 1988: ‘Batard’. Though apparently intended as an homage, the French thought otherwise, the embassy got involved, arms were raised, words were exchanged, and, a few vintages later, the new Batàr was born.
As it happens, the Italians may well have the last laugh, as this is no imposter, no batard child, if you’ll excuse the pun, but rather, an extraordinary, probably unique, cult wine with an unusual and distinctive name that sounds more than a little Levantine, thanks to the removal of the original last letter.
To add to the intrigue, unlike the majority of its Tuscan peers it is not crafted by an Italian winemaker, but by a passionate, restless South African, Manfred Ing, whose youthful looks belie an impressive CV, with experience garnered in the wineries of Central Otago, Napa and Barolo.
“As a young winemaker I think it’s incredibly important to go out and learn, I was a sponge and I wanted to learn from the best,” he tells me ahead of a private tasting, looming large on a wall-mounted screen at 67 Pall Mall. “My goal is perfection, you can always improve something. Maximum attention to detail allows for minimal intervention.”
“You can’t just do what you did before. You have mother nature throwing you different challenges … these extremities of the seasons that are changing the way fruit grows and animals live,” he says. “I have a weird photographic memory for vintages. The rain is coming at different times of the year, sometimes the temperature peak arrives July, other times in August.”
It is not just the climate changing things. Ing, who joined Querciabella just over a decade ago, has overseen his own evolution of Batàr towards a leaner, tauter style, more obviously fruit-focused, with earlier harvesting, lighter lees contact, a reduced reliance on new oak and a greater emphasis on bottle ageing before release. The result is a remarkable wine that brings a Burgundian bravura to the trademark Tuscan terroir, courtesy of Ruffoli’s elevated vines at 400 to 600 metres and its Galestro soils, a form of rocky schist.
The Pinot Bianco includes grapes from the ‘Gouges clone’, mutated from Henri Gouges’ holdings in the premier cru vineyard of La Perrière in Nuits-St-Georges which Ing relishes for its distinctive textural charm: “We planted it in 2008 and it gives a textural component that is silky and spicy. We have 19 rows of it.”
“Texture is something that I am completely obsessed about (and) it tortures me, getting it right,” he tells me, looking slightly pained. “I really believe in precision. Texture is what separates our wines from their peers … it is their soul, how they speak. Our wines are not just a black and white drawing, but a beautiful canvas full of different shades.”
The latest release of Batàr is the 2018 vintage, regarded as one of the best of the past decade thanks to a prolonged ripening season and perfect harvest conditions. It is likely that we shall still be talking about it decades from now, as Querciabella’s owner Sebastiano Castiglioni holds back significant quantities of Batàr, both to make the case for its ageing potential and also to show his guests a good time.
“Sebastiano is a very big wine collector, if he had it his way, we would keep back thousands of bottles. We keep hundreds, with the goal of enjoying them and it is doing wonders for us,” says Ing.
It just keeps getting Batàr – a vertical tasting:
Bottled last year, Ing says it is “still a baby” and it merely hints at its potential longevity. With a delicate nose of lemon rind and wild honey, the palate offers both weight and elegant restraint. In turns, extravagant, fruity and plump, yet also poised, precise and teasingly laced, like the lovechild of Barry White and a ballet dancer. I’ll take you just the way you are… RRP £70.
Ing says this was a “special vintage,” with the moderate summer and warm autumn allowing for gradual ripening, and it shows. A golden bauble colour, there’s astonishingly youthful apricot, peach and pear, with lustrous, lacy texture from the Gouges clone that made its debut in this year. Ing has some of this in his personal cellar, which he is hiding from himself, as it still has so far to go.
From a warmer vintage, there’s chamomile, waxy lemon, hazelnut, with plump fruit and just a hint of evolution, I would dare to suggest it might be at its zenith, a decade into its life. I think this was my favourite.
With the oak slightly more evident, as this predates the Ing dynasty and Manfred’s efforts at dialling back, but it comes from a very well balanced vintage. There’s vibrant lemon zest, mandarin and sweet souk spice, the Pinot Bianco making its presence felt in the rich texture.
Predominantly Pinot Bianco, rather than the 50/50 blend with Chardonnay of more recent vintages, due to the wet conditions and cooler temperatures that year, there’s orange rind, and perfumed mandarin with a delicious suggestion of Marsala.
Boasting fresh, plump fruit notes after all these years, with Kaffir lime leaf and lemon zest, there’s still tension from the vibrant citrus acidity and a subtly savoury undertow. Like a statue of the Virgin Mary shedding a tear, this must be a miracle.
Batàr and all the wines of Querciabella are imported and distributed by Armit Wines, which is a supplier partner of The Buyer. To learn more about Armit click here.