Friday, 22 June 2012

Introducing Tutto Wines...

There is an exciting new arrival on the London natural wine scene in the shape of Tutto Wines who held their first ever portfolio tasting on Wednesday in the downstairs cellar at which is in itself a relatively new (since Feb 2012) and equally interesting operation.  I had been meaning to visit the shop for some time as they stock some very serious kit but rarely venture to this part of East London due to the strict dress code in operation, and prohibitive facial hair regulations. I was glad I made the effort and the shop (which I believe has both on and off license) is well worth a visit if you're into Ploussard, Savagnin, Romorantin & Mondeuse etc...

The tasting was an opportunity to try some very serious and well selected wines from Italy, all of which are being imported into the UK for the first time thanks to Alex Whyte & Damiano Fiamma of Tutto Wines, who bring experience from the natural wine scene in Australia (121BC wine bar in Sydney) as well as from closer to home (Brawn).  Some of the growers represented were already familiar to me (which is partly what drew my attention to the tasting in the first place) but none of the cuvees listed by Tutto Wines have been shipped previously.

I use the term "natural" when describing these wines with some trepidation as it tends to conjure up disproportionately passionate prejudices both for and against, but suffice to say that these wines have been very well chosen, and whilst they are clearly not massively commercial they are also neither faulty (unless you mind a teenie weennie bit of VA!?!) nor particularly difficult to understand, and most importantly, to enjoy...

According to Alex Whyte: "(t)here is no set criteria, the wines are not chosen via rhetoric or dogma... (t)hey represent Italy's seemingly endless glut of grapes and the places they come from... (w)e look for balance, grace and most of all drinkability".  They also take pains to work with shipping companies that will ensure these potentially fragile wines will arrive in good condition "so the hard work that has gone into each bottle doesn't go to waste".

We began with the sparkling wines of Quarticello from Emilia Romagna, which had impressed me at RAWfair and which are part of a welcome trend for proper or Real Lambrusco which is slowly taking off in the UK.  The Malvasia Despina 2011 was pleasantly perfumed and attractive but thankfully more restrained than typical examples, while the Lambrusco Ferrando 2011 from thin-skinned Salomino grapes was spot on and just how it should be (ie. pale, crisp, fresh, and most importantly... dry!)

Next up were the dry white wines of Nino Baracco from Marsala whose 2010 Grillo, which is sourced from dune vines just 1km from the ocean, had a delightful saline character and was about as complex an example of this varietal as I have ever tasted. The Zibibbo 2010, with its distinctive aromatic profile was less successfull, though it is the kind of wine favoured by various restaurateurs who tend to fill their BTG lists with equally pointless (and more or less identical) aromatic whites from all over the world in an attempt to look eclectic.

I had tried some of the wines from Cantina Giardino before as they are also imported by Aubert & Mascoli but the Fiano Gaia 2009 (from 40yo vines at 450m above sea level) which spends 4 days on skins and a further year on its lees, was new to me and impressed with its savoury character and lack of the usual blousiness which marks most examples not grown at altitude.  The Aglianico Drogone 2006 (which was the final wine tasted) was quite serious and very structured (even from decanter) but also clearly very good and (despite no SO2!) a wine with clear ageing potential...

My main reason for going to the tasting however, was to try the Litrozzo wines from Le Coste di Gradoli in Lazio, whose more serious cuvees are imported by Raeburn Fine Wines and are amongst the most enjoyable wines I have had the pleasure of drinking in the last couple of years.

Bottled without sulphur and only available in Litres (hence the name!) these entry-level wines are stonkingly good value and would be perfect for BTG lists in all those trendy little places that don't take reservations in Soho. The 2011 Bianco is a field-blend of Procanico, Trebbianone & Pampanone etc... and is absolutely charming with none of the cidery flavours some of you might be expecting!  The 2011 Rosso from a similar abundance of varieties it would be pointless to list is equally charming and refreshingly light on alcohol at just 11%.

I was also intrigued to try the alpine Nebbiolo from Ar.Pe.Pe of Valtellina in Lombardia as another of my real discoveries of the past couple of years has been the enormous wealth of Nebbiolo delights from outside of Piemonte proper (think Spanna from Boca, Gattinara, Lessona and especially Carema) and from as far afield as Northern Lombardy where Marco Fay makes some phenomenal Chiavennasca (the local name for Nebbiolo) which are available through Passione Vino

The only wine to taste was the basic Rosso di Valtellina 2010 however, which was charming but hardly profound so a direct comparison with the wines of Azienda Agricola Sandro Fay would be unfair. I would be interested to try the whole range at some point though as these are properly made old-school wines which see extended macerations and maturation in large chestnut and/or oak barrels.

Finally, we tried the wines of Cristiano Guttarolo from Gioia del Colle in Puglia, with whom I was also already familiar, as the basic Primitivo is imported by Aubert & Mascoli. The lack of sulphur has led to some mixed experiences with this wine in the past but the producer is clearly one to watch and the cuvees selected by Tutto Wines (2009 Primitivo & 2010 Negroamaro) both of which are aged in anfora, were on good behaviour and displayed the typical elegance that is the result of being 400m above sea level, as well as the lack of excess heat which results from picking too late. The Negroamaro was particularly enjoyable for me due to its fairly pronounced volatility (which brought to mind Cornelissen's Rosso del Contadino #4) though I appreciate that this is probably a turn-off rather than a positive for some of you!

It was a hugely enjoyable tasting and their range is of consistently good quality across the board which is refreshing to see as it is all too easy to import any old unsulphured rubbish if you don't know what you are actually doing. It is a pleasure both to be introduced to new wines of real authenticity and to discover that there are other people out there who share the same passion for introducing these wines to a wider audience.  The tasting also demonstrated to me the increasing importance of Twitter in relation to discovering new wines (I believe Jancis may have mentioned something about this recently?) as this is both how I was introduced to what Alex & Damiano were doing and how I heard about the tasting in the first place!


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Una bota de...

I was first introduced to the magnificent sherries of Equipo Navazos ( in the Summer of 2008 by the absolutely charming Eduardo Ojeda of Grupo Estevez (who own Valdespino, La Guita etc...) during what remains to this day as the single greatest winery visit I have ever experienced.

Our tour was arranged by the equally lovely Maggie Rosen who must have told Eduardo that we were very very important people as I very much doubt that most passing tourists who happen to answer the phone for Berry Bros. & Rudd get to taste Coliseo (VORS Amontillado), Cardenal (VORS Palo Cortado) & Toneles (Moscatel so old that it doesn't have an acronym) from barrel.  The Toneles barrel even had a frickin lock & key on it!?! Obviously now that I am really really important I get this kind of treatment all the time!

What stayed with me most from the visit, however, was Eduardo's obvious pride when he showed us his "special" barrel of Macharnudo Alto Fino which was destined for his exciting new project.  We had seen the vineyard earlier in the day and it was clear that Eduardo felt that it was possible to create a truly truly great wine from this terroir if freed from the commercial constraints of Valdespino.  Tasting this cask was the first time that I understood Fino as a "wine" first and foremost, as something akin to Grand Cru Burgundy, rather than as a distinct category.

Needless to say I have been a massive fan of, and advocate for, these wines ever since so the opportunity to try the new releases at a tasting organised by Paul Shinnie of Rhone to Rioja at Quo Vadis yesterday was too tempting to decline.

First up were the two bottlings of the I Think Manzanilla "En Rama" which are exclusive to the UK and available only in halves.  En Rama is all the rage these days and it is amazing how two little words on a label can influence a taster's opinion to the extent it is seemingly divorced from almost any sense of rational thought.  I have been consistently underwhelmed by the various bottlings on the market in the last couple of years (the new La Gitana version pictured below was recently given a prize at the LIWF) but had given the Equipo Navazos version the benefit of the doubt as it can be difficult to gauge storage conditions and optimum drinking windows from bottling without a fair bit of experience.

The 2010 bottling was once again disappointing and tasted a bit flat in all honesty, which would be fine if it didn't cost over £10 per half bottle, but the newly-released 2012 bottling was a completely different story with much more pronounced acidity and real zip to the finish.  The packaging looks great too which helps (no pic sorry).  My guess is that it's just a freshness thing, which always used to be a notorious problem with more basic Manzanilla & Fino in the UK market, due to sluggish sales and lack of knowledge about how quickly these wines should be consumed.

Next up were two bottlings of Miguel Sanchez Ayala Manzanilla, No. 32 bottled in October 2011 and No. 8 from October 2007, but in contrast here it was the older bottling that showed complexity and real character alongside the expected salinity, with the younger wine still dominated by wood to my mind.  I had similar feelings about the flight of Macharnudo Alto Finos (No. 18/Dec 09, No. 27/Mar 11 & the recently-bottled No. 35) from Valdespino, which showed a real progression reminiscent of Grand Cru Burgundy once again, which I always struggle to enjoy from barrel or soon after bottling because of all the oak.

But the standout wine of all of the Finos for me was the No. 30 Manzanilla Pasada "1/15" from La Guita (below) which was bottled in June 2011 and for which my tasting note just reads: "Really fucking good."

There followed two younger Manzanilla Pasada bottlings (Nos. 39-40) which failed to excite me and I was similarly non-plussed with the first Amontillado (No. 37) but was then absolutely blown away by the No. 31 Amontillado "Bota No" from La Guita (below) which was bottled in October 2011 in 1700 50cl bottles and had just an incredibly intense assault on the front palate with rich caramel colour and salinity which bordered on just the right side of raspiness.
Personally I think it was a mistake to try and follow that with the Palo Cortados as they just don't have the same level of intensity, but having said that, both the No. 21 (Valdespino/Feb 2010) and the No. 34 showed pretty damn well. The tasting note for the has yet another bizarre explanation for the Palo Cortado classification but I have it on pretty good authority that a true Palo Cortado only results from the cask variation inherent from fermentation in barrel using natural yeast (a practice that has all but died out in Jerez). I have also heard other producers claim that the position of the barrel in the cellar can bring about similar variation and character? It seems to have caught on regardless and I'm willing to bet a fair bit of money that most of the people present would claim it to have been their favourite!

The range was completed by the No. 38 Viejisimo Cream which was fine but not particularly exciting and a bizarre "cooked" wine No. 33 Dulce Color "Bota No" which was not at all profound and left a rather unpleasant taste in the mouth!  There were also two PX bottlings being shown but I didn't taste them because they were, well... PX.

Another "blogger" with a little more experience than I in such matters was also at the tasting.  Here is a link to their offering:

The wines are available from Rhone to Rioja or through those lovely chaps at Indigo Wines