A Little Sparkle
Posted: 2nd November 2021
It’s official – confirmed in last week’s budget – we are to become a nation of sparkling wine drinkers. The outmoded tax which penalised sparklers has been scrapped and unless the wine is over 15 percent ABV (and very few are), sparkling wines are actually going to come down in price in the spring. This is an obvious nod to the burgeoning production of sparkling wine in England and Wales which will not only make wines such as the very good champagne-style, bramley and apricot-scented Chapel Down I had from Tesco recently more competitive, it will also liberate (up a point) your foreign champagnes, proseccos, cavas and Sekts.
A few weeks before this new bounty was dangled before us, I was sent a collection of ‘Winzer Sekts’ made by my friend Fred Loimer in Langenlois in Austria. They were produced biodynamically on his two estates in the Kamptal and in the Thermenregion south of Vienna. A Winzersekt is a sparkling wine made by a small producer rather than some massive industrial concern. These are ten-a-penny in both Germany and Austria. The most expensive German examples can cost up to 100 Euros a bottle and boast a tradition going back over 150 years. Loimer’s wines were shipped by Oddbins, but that seems to have ceased. If they were here they would still sell for less than Chapel Down.
Loimer’s sparklers are all a touch on the austere side and had me thinking of baking soda. The Reserva Extra Brut, for example, had just two grams of sugar in it (a good deal less than Chapel Down) and tasted quite salty. The best of them were the Rosé which boasted a panoply of fruits from quinces and peaches to strawberries and honey and the lemon-zesty Blanc de Blancs which was a real pleasure to drink. Loimer also showed his still wine Gumpold with a gorgeous lemony acidity and a very impressively structured 2019 Pinot Noir also from the Thermenregion called Anning.
Both Aldi and Lidl are about to offer champagne for half the price of Chapel Down. It may not be the best you have ever tasted, but it is quite drinkable. Their basic champagnes are a little more: the Comte de Senneville from Lidl is just £12.99 and Aldi’s Veuve Monsigny is £13.49 – and both punch well above their price. If you fancy splashing out at Aldi there are two others that impressed me: the Philizot Blanc de Noirs (£18.99) and the Veuve Monsigny Rosé (£16.99). I would also recommend the Crémant du Jura at £8.49 and the Sparkling Shiraz from South Australia (£6.99). My friend Oz Clarke tells me it was Australia’s ‘Bacchus wine’ in the old days, left in the wedding suites of antipodean motels, it was meant to give creative strength to newlyweds.
Lidl keeps a tight list, but with some considerable bargains if you are as hard up as we are. There is an impressive raspberry-perfumed Argentinian Malbec at £4.49 and a textbook Chianti for £5.99. Aldi on the other hand has wheeled out some treats, many of which will be available online only. Widely distributed is the lemony Sicilian Grillo at £5.99. Online only is the Domaine La Roche white Pessac-Léognan (£19.99) which has proper complexity. Also online and at the same price a really super and ‘typical’ Chablis Premier Cru from Albert Lucas. Again only online but at an appealing £6.49 is a 2018 Okfener Bockstein from the Saar. I can’t think of a greater bargain.
Moving to reds, there is a proper juicy Fitou at £5.49, and online an exciting 2021 Central Otago Pinot Noir for £9.99. More generally available is the 2019 Lebanese red for £7.99 with a redolence of brown sugar and big, sweet, meaty tannins from its Bekaa fruit. Then a lovely raspberry-scented 2016 Paraiso Sur Chilean Syrah (online £9.99), or a Shiraz from Cannon Springs in California (£6.99) that is worth more than its modest price-tag; or a waxy 2018 Chianti Riserva (£6.49) or (online) a 2017 Barolo for £14.99.
The real treats tend to be on the expensive side, like the 2018 Amarone (online £19.99), the 2018 Barbaresco (online) at £17.99 or the 2019 Jean Lefort Gevrey Chambertin at £24.99. There are three more lovely wines from Bordeaux: the 2015 Château d’Arsac from Margaux (online £19.99) which was both ready and authentic, and the Château Moulinet from Pomerol (online £24.99) – this was rich, with a hint of liquorice – and a 2015 Grand Cru St Emilion – Château Laforge (online £19.99) which is perfect for drinking now.
If that is too much, I heartily recommend the 2020 Crozes Hermitage, a proper Syrah at £12.99 and the 2019 Priorat (£15.99), a strapping wine with fine, cooling tannins. In a similar idiom are the 2019 Gigondas (£17.99), with its tell-tale brown sugar nose and the jammy, figgy 2018 Le Moulin Teyroud Châteauneuf du Pape (online £19.99).
Finally two Christmas pudding wines: 2019 Canadian Vidal Ice Wine (online £13.99), and 2017 Six Puttonyos Tokay Aszu (50 cls for £12.99) which is all coconuts, mangoes and pineapples.
The Cistercian Schloss Gobelsburg is a neighbour of Fred Loimer in the Austrian Kamptal. This year the estate is 850 years old, and its tenant, Michael Moosbrugger is holding a series of tastings worldwide. In October we were privileged to taste a vertical of the Riesling wines from his top, Permian rock, Heiligenstein (‘The Rock of the Saints’) site. Moosbrugger acquired a 50-year lease on the monastic vineyards of Kloster Zwettl in 1997, but the tasting took us all the way back to 1971. His period at the helm corresponds to a hotter, riper growing season influenced by global warming, which has seen a distinct rise in alcohol in Austrian wines. The wines had by the Cistercians were more hit and miss. After the Wine Scandal of 1985 the estate became chiefly famous for Messwein – wine used by priests to celebrate mass. Drinkers felt this was reliable because the priest’s wine may not be adulterated. The majority of the wine made at Gobelsburg in the wake of the scandal was mass wine.
My favourites in descending order were the 2019, 2010, 2008, 2004, 2001 and 1999 – a famous ‘Neuner’ – the years with nine in them are meant to be particularly good in Austria, and this was probably the best of all. There were fewer good wines from the monks’ time. I gave high scores to the dry 1983 (there was a sweet Spätlese), the 1973 and the 1971.
Australia is not Austria (unless you are Japanese), but I enjoyed some very good wines from Western Australia too in a comparative tasting of Cabernets and Shirazes from the Margaret River and Great Southern regions. With Shiraz it is vital to rid yourself of any desire to find those peony/carnation characters you get from granite-grown Syrah in France. At its worst, Australian Shiraz can be a potent form of raspberry cordial. Fortunately none of the Western Australian examples were like this, they were more likely to be earthy or tarry than smoky or floral.
My favourite Shirazes were the 2018 Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge from Great Southern which was pleasantly smoky as well as tasting of raspberries, and the tarry 2018 Cape Mentelle from Margaret River which came in at a hefty 15 percent, but didn’t taste like it. It was 88% Shiraz. There were a lot of varietal additions made to season it.
I still preferred the Cabernets, which were part of Margaret River’s original claim to fame, with sea breezes and cool nights bringing a rare perfume to the grapes. The 2018 Alkoomi Black Label comes from the Franklin River (Great Southern) and has a pronounced cassis character. At £15 was good value. The 2018 Domaine Naturaliste (nudists?) Rebus was richer and more confected, but still delicious. And then there was Vasse Felix which seemed the least classically ‘Cabernet’ but which represents a benchmark Margaret River style and has done for a generation or more.
And finally I come to cider, another sparkler (sometimes) and one more drink that will cost less as a result of the budget. The following ciders are available from cideriswine.co.uk. Tinson’s Anatomy from Lewes is a nice dry cider made by the champagne method with a pleasant expression of apples. You should be warned that acidity levels can be twice those found in wines and without adding correcting sugar cider can be searing. Abel Méthode Cidre (with some perry – or pear cider) is another champagne-style cider from the North Island of New Zealand. The 2019 Eden Orogenies from Vermont mixes grapes and apples, which I found very satisfying. Templar’s Choice Perry (despite its name from France) was the sort of fresh, fruity, refreshing drink I have enjoyed many times in Normandy. Berryland Rhubarb and Mead 2019 from the Ukraine was a most unusual drink but very enjoyable for all that. And finally my favourite: Riestra Sidra Natural from the Spanish Asturias, where it has quenched miners’ thirsts since 1906. I could imagine it cutting through the fat in a hunk of pungent Cabrales cheese.