Wednesday Wines – Episode 123 – A glorious mixed bag

Episode 123 – A glorious mixed bag

24th August 2022

This week eight lovely wines with no overarching theme whatsoever!

A Beautiful German from The Wine Barn

2020 Dr Heger, Ihringer Winklerberg Weissburgunder Premier Cru Dry, Baden, Germany (£25.20, www.thewinebarn.co.uk).

 While this is an exceptionally high-class Pinot Blanc, all of my tasting notes read like it is a Chardonnay. The volcanic soils and large, old format oak mean that this is a stripped down, nowhere to hide white wine. It is, therefore, even more exciting to reveal that this is a stunningly balanced, silky-smooth beauty. Dry, elegant, buoyant and super-long, this is a wine to fall for in an instant, and it rewards so far above its price tag that it is incredible.  Heger has hit this wine out of the park, so if you fancy something a little different and unexpected that will amaze your senses with its class and complexity, you have come to the right place. 

An Insanely Delicious Champagne

2013 Henri Giraud, Argonne, Champagne, France (£370.00, www.petershamcellar.com).

Last week, I had the great fortune of dining at The Clove Club (www.thecloveclub.com), and I drank this wine with the tasting menu. Well, that is not exactly true. My companion and I decided to pour 2019 Invincible, Número Dois Branco, Douro with the nibbles and first few dishes. We decided to open this beauty, give it some air, make sure it was chilled but not iced and then bring it into the arena around dish number three. It was precisely the right decision, thank goodness, because with I cannot imagine that any regular white or red wine would be able to work with every single one of Isaac McHale’s incredible flavour combinations like this elite Champagne. Argonne is a breathtaking wine (it is from Champagne, it is sparkling, but this is a wine as opposed to fizz), vinified and matured in new oak from the Argonne Forest. It is absurdly upholstered, almost theatrical, in its delivery of perfume and flavour. Deployed as an aperitif, it would shock and perhaps upset palates, but in place of a grand white or carefully selected red, it can romance almost any flavour I can think of. Powerfully built from 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay, harvested from Äy, this wine is no shrinking violet. It is, by contrast, a cartload of oranges, almond tarts and wild honey careering down a hill, out of control, crashing into your palate with impact, spectacle and sheer joy. I always thought it was Champenois drivel when it is suggested that Champagne can be served throughout a grand feast. While I am happy to cruise through a few courses with Champagne, I have always craved a red wine or two during the meatier dishes. All of a sudden, Argonne is the answer. It is otherworldly, bombastic, spectacular and all-consuming. If you want to taste a consummate ‘tasting menu’ Champagne that will blow your mind, this is it.

A Quintet from Howard’s Folly

Available in the UK from www.wanderlustwine.co.uk

I have tasted all of Howard’s new releases and a couple yet to be launched, and here are my picks.

2020 Howard’s Folly, Sonhador Branco, Alentejo, Portugal (www.howardsfollywine.com).

Some details – 13.5% alc; Source: São Mamede Mountains, Portalegre; Field Blend of 100-year-old vines at 665m; Soils: slate and granite; 15% in new French 500l barrels; label is ‘5 Last Colours’ by Tiago Alexandre Ramos Jesus, a finalist in The Sovereign Art Foundation Students Prize, Portugal 2020.

My thoughts – This is an incredible wine. When you peruse the details above, you will see that it is made from a field blend of ancient, indigenous grape varieties, and this mystery and history abound in the glass. Rich, exotic, pineapple, lemon balm and green tea-scented, lush and heady and also, believe it or not, pinpoint refreshing and superbly yummy on the finish! 2020 Sonhador Branco follows the epic 2019, and these wines will expand your vinous horizons while raising a smile, and few wines have this skill.

2021 Howard’s Folly, Sonhador Rosé, Alentejo, Portugal (www.howardsfollywine.com).

Some details – 12.7% alc; Source: São Mamede Mountains, Portalegre; Grape Varieties: Aragonês (Tempranillo), Castelão. 

My thoughts – This is a superb rosé and Howard’s finest to date. 

Clean, ripe, dry, hauntingly perfumed and devastatingly refreshing, this is up there with the finest in the country, and I would be more than happy to throw it on a table with a load of Provençal versions and delight in its holding its own. It occurred to me, as I was polishing off a bottle I bought in Estremoz (the town in Portugal where Howard has his winery), that it is immensely talented with all manner of cuisine. Name a dish; Sonhador will likely sidle up to it and pair like a beauty.  

2017 Howard’s Folly, Touriga Nacional, Alentejo, Portugal (www.howardsfollywine.com).

Some details – 14% alc; Source: São Mamede Mountains, Portalegre; 35-year-old vines; Soils: slate and granite; Label by Michael Craig Martin.

My thoughts – Firstly, I love the HF labels, and I recommend that you look at their website and see the extraordinary artists who have worked with Howard over the years. This particular label is a cracker, and the wine is a revelation, too. On the one hand, it is meaty and dark; on the other, it is bursting with ripe, juicy plum and blackberry fruit. This thrilling Touriga is achieving a balance and freshness that the Douro has yet to discover. Where the wines in the north are usually more brooding and powerful, this version is cheeky and refreshing (I tasted it slightly chilled) at the same time as profound and memorable. It is drinking perfectly, and I cannot recommend it enough.

2018 Howard’s Folly, Reserva Tinto, Alentejo, Portugal (www.howardsfollywine.com).

Some details – Source: São Mamede Mountains, Portalegre; Grape Varieties: 35% Alicante Bouschet, 35% Syrah, 30% Field Blend; 35-year-old vines; Soils: slate and granite

My thoughts – In a word, tremendous. While 2018 Sonhador Red is a decent wine, it narrowly missed inclusion in this article. Its big brother, Reserva, is a very different prospect with lusty, swaggering fruit and generous, toasty oak. This is a wine with confidence oozing out of every pore, and it is ready to drink now, announcing itself with a vast fruity fanfare. There is enough grunt under the bonnet to propel this wine forwards for another decade, so while you will hear it calling you from the wine rack, you need not hurry as I suspect there are more chapters of flavour to discover as this hearty wine evolves.

2018 Howard’s Folly, Cristina, Alentejo, Portugal (www.howardsfollywine.com).

Some details – Nothing to report here apart from I suspect it is named after Vineyard Manager Cristina Francisquinho!

My thoughts – This unlabelled wine is giving little away, but I can tell you that it is Howard’s most ambitious red to date. Winemakers David Baverstock and Pedro Furriel have played a blinder here, and Cristina’s selection is imperial if this is indeed the story. With bonfire spice, Christmas cake decadence, and punnets of black cherries on board, this is a Titan in the making. I will let you know more when I hear, but this is a wine to watch out for, so keep an eye on the Howard’s Folly website.

Penn Croft A Sneak Preview

2021 Penn Croft, Bacchus, Missing Gate Vineyard in Essex, England £21.00 www.penncroftvineyards.com 

Ben Smith, head winemaker at Penn Croft, has a rather impressive CV.  He made 2018 Oxney Chardonnay – my first and only 20/20 scoring English wine. He also made 2020 Penn Croft Pinot Blanc – another stunner I wrote up in Vineyard Magazine’s March issue earlier this year. This new release reverts to England’s most nostalgic grape variety, Bacchus. And no surprise, Ben has a different take on this grape than the crowd. He manages to layer mint, cucumber and elderflower alongside every-changing hints of exoticism. Delicious, magical, shape-changing and bone dry, it gains its class from its sensational fruit and a cunning 25% barrel ferment portion in 4th fill neutral oak. There is even a deft 10% MLF to soften the mid-palate making the texture sheer heaven.  Drop Ben a line if you want to secure some stock of this beautiful wine.