Author: Jack Carr
There’s a time and a place for chunky tannins, sumptuous oak and jammy, full-bodied reds. But it ain’t here, and it ain’t now.
The sun has got his hat on and it’s time to explore brighter, more refreshing styles.
From wild Navarra Grenache to juicy Cote du Rhone, Hungarian Pinot Noir, Austrian “Beaujolais” and new-wave German smashers, this shortlist is crammed with summer-ready bottles that’ll have you reaching for your corkscrew along with your sunglasses.
Party Starter - PUSZTA LIBRE!
2021, Claus Preisinger, Burgenland, Austria
Grape Varieties: Zweigelt + St. Laurent
A shining light in today’s natural wine world, Claus Preisinger made his first cuvee at the tender age of twenty. Beginning with tiny plots of Zweigelt and St. Laurent, he learnt to make simple, unadulterated wines at his family home in Godl - a small town on the shores of lake Neusiedl - northern Austria. Farming the land in harmony with nature, Claus lets native yeasts ferment each of his wines, before laying them down to rest in old wood, steel or concrete. The resulting bottles are lightyears ahead of the robust styles the region is normally associated with. Claus’s are invigorating wines, characterised by brightness and finesse - two unmistakable marks of good biodynamic winemaking.
One for Beaujolais fans, Puszta Libre! is a tribute to old-school Burgenland table wine. Carbonic maceration keeps things juicy while light extraction lets the zippy fruit shine. Tannins are nowhere to be found. Instead you get bags of soft black cherry, dry redcurrant and a faint pinch of cracked black pepper. Unleash a bottle at your next garden party and drink-in the impeccable vibes.
Whippersnapper - Cuvee Rot 2020
Bergkloster, Rheinhessen, Germany
Grape Varieties: St Laurent + Regnet + Cabernet Dorsa
Next in the spotlight is the exuberant Jason Groebe. His Bergkloster wines represent a new generation of talent bursting forth from Reinhessen, Germany’s largest winemaking region. Like-minded vignerons here are breaking from convention and going back to nature, encouraging biodiversity in the vineyards and using minimal intervention in their cellars. As with all natural wines, the goal is to reflect the authentic character of the land, which in this case is verdant, varied, and brimming with possibility.
Bergkloster Rot benefits from a good half hour in the fridge, and opens up generously as it rises to ambient temperature. In my opinion this one cries out for oily fish or poultry, think sardines or quail - straight off the bbq - with black pepper, olive oil and hard herbs like rosemary or bay. The wine finishes with crunchy, herbal, almost bitter notes that accent the fruit; blackcurrant, rhubarb and pithy red cherry. Everything rides on a bright wave of tartness and supple, precise tannins. Yum yum yum.
New Frontier - Bencze Pinot Noir 2019
Grape Varieties: 100% Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir aficionados will say it’s always the right time to open a bottle of the good stuff. But in our experience, nothing beats a balmy alfresco evening, the remnants of a late lunch scattered about the table and the day’s scorching heat giving way to evening’s cosy dusk.
Reverie aside, let’s take a quick look at Istvan Bencze, whose 18 hectares of biodynamic vines thrive in the mineral rich, volcanic soils above Lake Balaton, western Hungary. The plots have always been farmed organically, but with time, dedication and a rare sensitivity, Istvan has progressed to full biodynamic certification, as well as completely doing away with filtration and the use of sulphur dioxide in the cellar.
This Pinot Noir comes from low altitude vines, harvested early to preserve acidity. Deeply intriguing from the second the cork comes out, this is a fruity, earthy, energetic delight. There’s an unmistakable sour cherry funk, with notes of bruised raspberry, strawberry, smoke, and a bracing line of salinity. Everything mingles amid silky tannins and a hint of umami - dried porcini? Zippy, fascinating and multi-layered, this bottle is a superb introduction to one of Eastern Europe’s most enigmatic prodigies. Highly recommended!
Wild & Wonderful - Naturaleza Salvaje Clarete 2020
Azul y Garanza, Navarra, Spain
Grape Varieties: Garnacha + Garnacha Blanco
This is some special juice. ‘Naturaleza Salvaje’ translates as ‘Wild Nature’ and this bountiful light red comes from some of the most arid terroirs in all of Europe; the Navarra, northern Spain. Situated right on the periphery of Europe’s largest desert, vines here have to work hard to seek out moisture in the dry soils. Counterintuitively, it’s these testing conditions that tease the most flavour out of each and every berry. The scarcity of water combined with baking sunshine, cool nighttime temperatures and old vines is a recipe for bright, brilliant, concentrated flavours.
The team at Azul Y Garanza are passionate about authenticity. After a meticulous hand de-stemming and gentle maceration, they allow natural fermentations to transform the juice into wine, eschewing the use of filtration and keeping additions of sulphur to an absolute minimum. Their hard work and dedication really pays off with this one - the wine is bursting with fresh strawberry, blood orange, rose petals and red cherry. Acidity is present but certainly not overpowering, the result of gentle elevage in large concrete tanks. Oh and tannins? What tannins?! In the end the candied, oh-so-moreish fruit notes and extreme drinkability mean that a bottle of this stunner never sticks around for very long. So make sure you’ve got your glass at the ready if you’re sharing, because turn your back for a second, and this bottle has a habit of emptying itself.
Budget Banger - Vin de Petanque 2021, Mas de Libian
Grape Varieties: Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah
Hailing from Saint-Marcel d’Ardeche in the southern Rhone Valley, the biodynamic wines of Mas de Libian are a familiar sight on our shelves. Year in, year out, they deliver a purity and approachability that’s hard to find, especially at this price-point. Quite frankly they punch well above their weight. Helene Thibon has been at the helm since 1995, and she takes the credit for shepherding the family operation through to full biodynamic certification.
This 2021 vintage of Vin de Petanque is vibrant, fresh and fruit-packed. It’s as good as any we can remember, and we can remember a few! Generous Grenache, brooding Mourvedre and opulent Syrah all work in harmony. The wine is light and invigorating with bags of sun-baked blackberry, tart blueberry and just a touch of licorice. As the name suggests, Vin de Petanque is the kind of unpretentious thing to enjoy with friends over a game of boules, accompanied by your sandals and a sense of humour. Drink chilled for extra refreshment, and don’t be shy of serving this one with food. Juicy and fun it may be, but Vin de Petanque’s levity belies enough structure to contend with anything from lamb ribs to charcuterie.