Paul Medder

Natural Wine Killers: Bellotti Semplicemente Vino Rosso 2016 (Italy)

Piedmont is probably the most consistently premium wine region in Italy. Spread over rolling hills between Turin and Genoa, it is one of the few regions in Italy where most wines are produced following traditional DOC or DOCG rules and there are no regional IGT wines. Regions like Barolo and Barbaresco are famous for their robust, long-lived wines, which are aged for several years in barrel, requiring time to mellow. Although Barolo and Barbaresco producers may produce more accessible red wines, they tend to be polished, often with plenty of sweet oak. These are serious wines, often with serious prices.

Stefano Bellotti’s Cascina degli Ulivi stands out like a beacon, seeking to produce honest wines, made naturally and entwined in a philosophy of self-sufficient farming. Sadly, Bellotti passed away from cancer last September, aged just 59. He leaves an important legacy though, both with his wonderful wines and the manner in which they were produced.

Bellotti was a pioneer of the “Triple A” movement. Meaning Agricoltori (Farm workers), Artigiani (Artisans) and Artisti (Artists), the certification is an indication of true terroir wines, produced in harmony with nature. Bellotti was an early adopter of organic principles, way back in 1981, and converted to biodynamics in 1984.

There is a memorable scene in Jonathan Nossiter’s 2014 film Natural Resistance where Bellotti demonstrates the difference between the health of his biodynamically cultivated soils and a neighbour’s, where conventional herbicides and pesticides are used. The difference is striking: Bellotti compares it to life vs death.

The Semplicemente Rosso speaks very much of life. Sealed with a crown cap, it demonstrates humility. It is not pretending to be anything it is not. A blend of Barbera and Dolcetto, it is fermented and aged in large oak vats for 11 months. There are no added sulphites, and the wine is not fined or filtered. It is raw and edgy, packed with intense black cherry and cherry kernel aromas. The palate is punchy, with fresh acidity and grippy tannins. There is some volatile acidity in there, but not at the expense of the cherries. In short, it is delicious.

Now the weather is getting warmer, lightly chill this wine to emphasise its freshness. Pour yourself a glass and toast to Signor Bellotti.

Claire Bullen’s food pairing: Duck ragu pappardelle or French-style sausage and lentil casserole

Paul Medder is a freelance wine educator and wine expert. He occasionally tweets @PaulMedder. To sign up for our Natural Wine Killers natural wine subscription box, head here.

Natural Wine Killers: Gut Oggau Winifred Rosé 2017 (Austria)

Who is Winifred? What’s her story? She’s not giving much away, staring at us as she does, rather blankly. Not exactly happy, but not sad either. Her firmly parted hair suggests a certain amount of seriousness. Perhaps more serious than you might expect for a rosé.

It’s fair to say the juice within this Instagram-friendly bottle is also more serious than you might expect for a rosé. Quite deep and dense in colour, it’s almost a light red. If Winifred were drawn in colour, she might remind me of Michelle of the Resistance from ‘Allo ‘Allo.

All this may seem a little pretentious. However, Gut Oggau is not aiming for modesty (“a glass of Winifred could change your life” reads the back label). She is one of a series of labels picturing a fictitious family. Winifred is one of the children, younger and full of energy (unlike her stepmother Josephine, who found the love of her life, Timotheus, at an older age). Altogether, they make up a kind of vinous Guess Who?

Gut Oggau is a relatively new project, started by Eduard and Stephanie Tscheppe in 2007. Eduard came from a traditional winemaking family in Styria, while Stephanie’s parents run a Michelin- starred restaurant. They purchased an abandoned 17th century winery in Burgenland, restoring its old screw press, and converting the vineyards to biodynamic, now with Demeter certification.

Burgenland is in southern Austria, close to the banks of the lake Neusiedler See, near the border with Hungary. As it is the warmest wine region in Austria, red wines are much more significant, though the Tscheppes do also make whites. Winifred is a field blend of roughly 60% Zweigelt and 40% Blaufränkisch – both black grape varieties which can produce strikingly coloured, fruit driven red wines, but only medium in body and tannin. In other words, grape varieties that are well suited to making rosé.

The grapes come from low-yielding old vines, giving them extra concentration. They are pressed and then aged in large, old barrels for eight months (uncommon for a rosé). After this maturation, the wine is bottled without fining, filtering or the addition of sulphur, giving it a cloudy appearance.

In the glass, Winifred’s personality comes through strongly. Aromatic and packed with red cherries, but also quite smoky and meaty (think biltong). The palate is equally vibrant, with sour cherry and cranberry – this is one to appeal to lovers of lambic and kriek beers. Served lightly chilled, it’s a wonderful accompaniment to warmer April afternoons.

Paul Medder is a freelance wine educator and works for one of the UK's leading wine distributors. He occasionally tweets @PaulMedder. To sign up for our Natural Wine Killers natural wine subscription box, head here.

Natural Wine Killers: Jean Christophe Garnier Bezigon Chenin 2017

A mere two editions since our December box, here we are extolling the virtues of Chenin Blanc once again. Where then it was all about the bubbles, with an immensely enjoyable Vouvray Brut, this time the focus is on a dry still wine.

In that column, we waxed lyrical about the versatility of Chenin Blanc from the Loire. Its ability to produce truly invigorating wines from dry to sweet and sparkling is almost unmatched in the world of wine. Within the Loire, there are other white grapes which garner more attention (the Sauvignon Blancs of Sancerre and Poulliy-Fumé are household names), but for me, the chameleon-like nature of Chenin is more likely to set my heart racing.

This wine from Jean-Christophe Garnier is from the Anjou sub-region of the Loire Valley. Although it is a cool climate with maritime influences, the Mauges hills protect the region from the worst of the weather coming in from the Bay of Biscay. This shelter, combined with warmer soils, gives winemakers the confidence to leave their grapes on the vines longer, and seek out greater levels of ripeness.

The western section of Anjou contains the appellations of Savennières (home to some of the greatest dry Chenins) and Coteaux du Layon (a source of some of France’s most underrated sweet wines). Garnier’s plot comes from the small, but acclaimed village of Saint-Lambert-Du-Lattay. Although technically in the zone of Coteaux du Layon, Garnier makes dry wines, following his own rules and using the generic Vin de France denomination.

Garnier’s is a no-frills operation. He uses an old apple press, taking 2-3 days to extract all the juice from his berries, and after fermentation, ages the wine in large oak foudres for one year (hence the oxidative, bruised apple and almond aromas). He starts with organically cultivated grapes picked at maximum maturity, giving the wine a honeyed, baked apple aspect. There’s some volatile acidity there too, giving it a fresh finish, but not at the expense of the fruit. Paired with a fatty, rich plate like Anjou pork rillettes, and you’ve got just the tonic for a dank wintry evening.

Claire Bullen’s pairing: Braised chicken thighs with honey-glazed root vegetables or a mixed charcuterie platter

Paul Medder is a freelance wine educator and works for one of the UK's leading wine distributors. He occasionally tweets @PaulMedder. To sign up for our Natural Wine Killers natural wine subscription box, head here.

Natural Wine Killers: Catherine & Pierre Breton ‘La Dilettante’ Vouvray Brut NV

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This wine features in our December edition of the Natural Wine Killers box - being December, of course we had to bring you some bubbles. It’s the season where casual wine drinkers the length and breadth of the country pop open millions of bottles of Prosecco and Cava, toasting to a bountiful 2019. We like a good glass of fizz too, but have, as you might expect, made a rather less obvious choice…

Vouvray sparkling flies well under the radar in the UK, perhaps because only 10% of these wines make it outside of France. Vouvray also lacks a clear marketing focus. There are few wine regions which can make sparkling wines, along with white wines ranging from dry, to medium and sweet, and do all of these things well. Vouvray is one such appellation, making it a delight for wine lovers.

Vouvray is located in the Loire Valley, in northern, central France, not far from the town of Tours. It has a cool climate, but with a long growing season, allowing growers to pick their Chenin Blanc grapes at varying levels of ripeness. The grapes that go into making sparkling wines will typically be earliest picked - their high acidity being prized when making refreshing bubbly.

Vouvray Brut is made in exactly the same way as Champagne – the Traditional Method, where the second fermentation (which produces the bubbles) happens in the same bottle in which the wine is aged and sold. However, the growers of Vouvray are more interested in selling their wines for fair prices locally than sponsoring fashion catwalks (those Champagne marketing budgets don’t come for free).

By law, Vouvray Brut must be aged for 12 months in contact with its lees in bottle. It’s these decomposing yeast cells which give sparkling wines their biscuity, bready character. The Bretons, being among the most respected producers in Vouvray, age their wine for twice this time, on a par with Champagne. The wine therefore has a richness in character equal to many Champagnes twice its price.

Catherine and Pierre are both from the fourth generation of winemaking families. They are extremely conscientious about their practices, with this wine being certified organic. The wine is also made with indigenous yeast and spends 12 months fermenting in tank before bottling and second fermentation.

The nose is inviting, with aromas of baked apple, brioche, and a typical Vouvray honey note. The palate is fresh, with green apple and lemon pie. The mousse is super creamy, with a long, crisp finish. Make sure you keep this one stashed at the back of the fridge at the Christmas party, and leave the others to their Prosecco.

Claire Bullen’s food pairing: A mixed sashimi platter or splash out with caviar-topped fried chicken

Paul Medder is a freelance wine educator and works for one of the UK's leading wine distributors. He occasionally tweets @PaulMedder.