Another enjoyable evening of tasting and talking with Ben and the gang brought these little gems to my attention. It’s always nice to share good news, so toddle off to Hanging Ditch and treat yourself to these tempting whites.
1. Champagne Collard-Picard, Cuvée Prestige NV (12.5% ABV, 50% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir, 25% Pinot Meunier, £90 en magnum)
A find of Ben’s and one of which he is justifiably proud. Founded as recently as 1996, albeit by scions of existing Champagne houses, the estate boasts 15 hectares of vineyards in the Vallée de la Marne (planted with Pinots Noir and Meunier) and the Côte des Blancs (planted with Chardonnay). Collard-Picard is notable not only for being such a young house but also for its use of oak to mature its wines.
A savoury nose of toast and lemon citrus, with a gently honeyed element from a degree of maturity. The fine bead matched the agreeable mousse, and the toasty autolytic and bright lemon characters from the nose carried through into the relatively full bodied palate. Firm acidity balanced the weight of fruit, and again a honey and nutty richness suggested a portion of library wines in the blend. The long finish had an intriguing dusting of nutmeg spice. Distinguished, lively and very competently made.
2. Château Civrac, Wild White 2012 (12.5% ABV, 100% Sauvignon Blanc, £12.50)
Château Civrac isn’t a typical Bordeaux estate: it was founded by Cornishman Mark Hellyar with the aim of giving the wines of the region something of a modern makeover. Although the château is actually situated in the Côtes De Bourg, the grapes for this wine come from the Côtes De Duras a little further to the southeast.
A firmly herbaceous, tomato leaf nose with a sweetly floral note. Dry with fresh acidity, yet softly textured thanks to a touch of residual sugar. Savoury green fruits, minerally and with a bitter pithy/nettley edge; for early and very enjoyable drinking. The contemporary styling of this mono-varietal white Bordeaux also extended to its packaging: a Burgundian shape of bottle so commonly used by Kiwi winemakers for their hugely popular Sauvignon Blanc wines.
3. Birichino, Malvasia Bianca 2012 (13% ABV, 100% Malvasia Bianca, £20.00)
Sharing over forty years of winemaking experience in both the old and the new worlds, Alex Krause and John Locke founded Birichino in Santa Cruz in 2008. With their stated and righteous aim of wanting “to impart the wonderment and excitement we have about wine to our public, and eat some good cheese”, they are not averse to also adding a little joy to the world. Seeking a name which highlighted a degree of playfulness for things about which they were deadly serious, and inspired by the surprising, slighty racy character of their first wine, the Malvasia Bianca that coquettishly lets you think it is sweet before delivering something else entirely, they eventually hit upon Birichino, meaning naughty in Italian.
Sourcing their grapes from vineyards with moderate, marine influenced climates, predominantly planted with ungrafted vines dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Alex and John are passionate about preserving the quality and integrity of their raw ingredients. This philosophy carries through to their minimal intervention style of winemaking: often favouring natural yeasts, avoiding the use of new oak and manhandling their wines as little as possible.
A ripe, exotic, almost Gewürztraminer-like nose of Turkish delight, roses and sweet baking spices lead into a palate that retained the richness hinted at by the nose whilst remaining dry. Floral and spiced with a green leafiness to it – Matthew adroitly suggested mint – and a viscosity again similar to Gewürztraminer. Pleasing acidity kept things lively, the alcohol was not at all intrusive and the finish was long and spicy. A distinctive, well balanced and very good value white wine, a particularly impressive feat for California.