Sekt, but the serious version
Sekt – Germany’s term for sparkling wine – has long held a reputation as a bulk-produced, easy-drinking category. Though this may be true for the vast majority, the real interest lies in the proportion (said by the German Sekt trade association to be 1.7%) regarded as ‘serious’ Sekt, made using the traditional, bottle-fermented method. I embarked on a journey during harvest 2023 to explore. The following are a few favourites.
In Rheingau, Barth’s Ultra Brut Nature 2015, made with Pinot Noir, achieved a fantastic balance between freshness and a maturing, complex palate. From Rheinhessen, the Raumland, Reserve Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut 2014 puts on a show of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris – toasty lemon sorbet and creamy pastry, dusted with ginger and sweet spices, nutty with plenty of drive.
Pfalz biodynamic producer Eymann’s Cuvée No420 Rosé Brut 2020 boasts great structure and lovely red fruit depth on the back palate. Equally impressive is the No420 Extra Brut 2020, shining with vibrant citrus fruits and a mineral, elegant mouthfeel. From another Demeter-certified family producer in Pfalz, Frank John’s Riesling Brut Nature 2018 showcases the true potential of Germany’s signature grape as a sparkler – no sulphur dioxide added, plus 41 months on lees, leads to a polished, saline palate, extremely rich in umami with nutty depth and a rounded texture.
With the tagline ‘Born in Africa. Made in Britain’, Severan bills itself as the first British sparkling wine that’s black-owned and funded – 80% of investors are black and brown. It is British (not English) bubbly, as even though it gets its second fermentation and bottling at Hampshire’s Penn Croft/Itasca winery (left on lees for 2.5 years), the Chardonnay grapes were picked in South Africa’s Franschhoek region and the base wine made at Môreson. Named after Rome’s first African emperor, Lucius Septimius Severus, the label is the brainchild of music manager Dumi Oburota (who launched rapper Tinie Tempah’s career, among others). Oburota saw the rising popularity of English sparkling wine, yet was irked that the brands didn’t represent those around him drinking it. His aim was to create a ‘legacy brand’ that reflected his own African roots as well as the ‘diversity and excellence of Britain’s black culture’.
Launched in June, the Severan Black Label Brut NV (£46 severan.co.uk) has aromas of almonds and yellow orchard fruit that continue on the palate alongside a lemon posset creaminess. Not as racy as many non-vintage crémants, Cap Classiques or English sparklings, but the generous, ripe fruit will appeal to fizz fans – albeit those with deep pockets.
Chile’s cool climate stars
Concha y Toro’s technical director Marcelo Papa is responsible for the success of big brands such as Casillero del Diablo. But when I caught up with him at Decanter HQ recently (above), we talked about a smaller project that’s arguably closer to his heart: Amelia from Limarí Valley. Papa has been working in this region since the 1990s, with a vineyard of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir planted in 2.5ha blocks, 22km from the Pacific ocean. ‘Limarí is cool climate, but it’s cloudy, so there’s less sunlight. We have a similar number of degree days to Burgundy and Oregon,’ he adds, explaining that he wanted to make ‘a very classic style of Chardonnay’ in the Burgundian model.
The new release of Amelia Chardonnay 2022 (93pts) combines poised, linear acidity with textured creaminess, bright citrus and a chalky mineral freshness, plus subtle tropical and citrus aromas. Amelia Chardonnay 2021 (95pts; £39 The Wine Society) has the same subtle tropical signature, but the extra year in bottle gives greater expression and harmony. There’s a tension to the creamy mineral palate, with mouthfilling texture and great presence on the tangy, salty finish. Meanwhile, Amelia Pinot Noir 2021 (93pts; £39 The Wine Society) is a taut and refined red with an expressive nose of cherry, spices, raspberry and rose that will certainly continue to evolve in bottle.
The sweet appeal of Sauternes
Each September, as sweet wine producers wait patiently for botrytis to set in, the Grands Crus Classés estates of 1855 (27 crus of the Sauternes and Barsac appellations: one premier cru supérieur, 11 premier cru, 15 deuxième cru) gather to showcase their latest in-bottle vintage (2020) and a back-vintage of their choice (as well as a dry white, for those who make them). This year’s tasting was held at Château Rayne Vigneau and proved once again the variety and quality on offer among the botrytis-affected sweet wines from this famous region.
The 2020s shone with their richness but also freshness and brightness. These young wines are perfect to have before food as aperitifs during the upcoming festive season – Châteaux Lafaurie-Peyraguey (£180 Millésima) and Broustet 2020 are worth seeking out and enjoying zesty and cold. For Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey, Doisy-Daëne 2016 (£41.67-£56 Millésima, Noble Grape, Tanners) is perfect – concentrated but pure, crisp yet heady and totally delicious. For something a little lighter, La Tour Blanche 2009 (£71 Bakers & Larners) is forward and floral with power but such easy drinkability, or try Suduiraut 2013 (£44.95/37.5cl Shelved Wine) which is rich but nuanced with super- lively acidity. For those who want more mature flavours and something to go with dessert, look to Guiraud’s moreish 2003 (£24.90- £29.26 Christopher Keiller, Four Walls) with its unctuous dried fruit, wild honey and thick texture, or Rieussec 2001 (£120-£121 Hedonism, The Whisky Exchange) with gorgeous caramel, coffee and apricot flavours, and a mineral finish.
Chianti Classico comes to London
In a suddenly autumnal London, I spent much of a day immersed in Chianti Classico wines courtesy of Francesco Ricasoli and Giovanni Mazzei (above), both in town to showcase their latest releases. Ricasoli’s three 2020 Gran Selezione crus Colledilà, Roncicone and CeniPrimo, plus flagship Castello di Brolio – all proudly bearing the now-ratified UGA ‘Gaiole’ area name on the label for the first time – are a masterclass in soil differences and terroir, the result of years of research into the estate’s soils and the cultivation of its own clone of Sangiovese and own yeasts. To drink now, the Castello di Brolio (a blend of vineyards; £46.67 Millésima) is silky-smooth and accessible, while CeniPrimo is my pick for the cellar as its balance of dark fruit sapidity with high acidity and grippy tannins bodes well for the future.
Giovanni Mazzei’s personal project Ipsus is a wonderful exercise in transparency, showcasing the glorious potential of Sangiovese from Mazzei’s small hillside estate in Castellina-in- Chianti. The 2018 is an absolute stunner (I awarded it a rare 99 points earlier this year; £388-£396 Hedonism, Petersham Cellar), while the new 2019 (£247ib Cru, Honest Grapes) is darker and bolder but with the most beautiful floral fragrance and some funky purple and pomegranate-like fruit. There’s a chance this could be even better than the 2018 – only time will tell.