• Simon Reilly

A sweaty Sunday in Sydenham

You know when you enter a room and you realise you're wearing too many clothes?

It's cold outside so they've pumped up the heat inside. It's gettin' hot in here....

Not only that, you're about 30 mins late to meet your mate and you've been doing a pathetic run-trot all the way there. It's Sunday so you had a few last night. There are beads of sweat lining up just inside your pores for this opportunity to do a runner.

You are sweating like Donald Trump watching the opening credits of Saturday Night Live.

There is a very small window of opportunity to take your jumper off but you just met your mate and you are mid that "sorry I'm late, did you get the message? oh you didn't?" conversation and you know the last thing they want after waiting half an hour for you to arrive is an eye full of your fat, freckly, hairy belly as your t-shirt clings to your jumper and disappears over your head. They might even spot that ball of belly button fluff that has gathered during the run-trot.

So you continue to sweat.

Quite quickly you realise that the t-shirt under your jumper is soaking wet with dark patches in the under-arm and under-moob areas. We're talking a combination of Sandy Lyle on the 18th green at Augusta in '88 and Colin Montgomerie's ubiquitous "sweat bra".

There is no turning back.

Everyone else in the room seems to have caught that window of opportunity that you missed and are wearing only t-shirts. They even started asking "are you not a bit hot in that jumper". You wipe the sweat from your brow like Jimmy Connors in a 5-setter at Wimbledon and lie through your teeth "no, I'm fine". This is met with a look mixed with disgust, amusement and fear. I did try blowing my finger nails a few times but this made no discernible difference.

On the upside, as people backed away from me as I internally combusted, it did give me a bit of room to taste the wines at last Sunday night’s wine tasting at 161 food + drink in Sydenham, where this unfortunate turn of events unfolded.

Al, who runs 161, is also behind Under The Bonnet (alongside Belinda and Basile), an importer of mainly natural wines from small-scale producers, mainly in the Loire valley, but expanding. The 2Naturkinder wines they import from Franken in Germany being a wineloon favourite.

They were joined by Kiffe my Wines (a small importer specialising in wines from from languedoc/Roussillon, run by a French bloke called Jimmy), Otros Vinos (an importer of small production, low intervention Spanish wines, run by Fernando) and Le Grappin (Andrew and Emma Nielsen's excellent Burgundy, Beaujolais and now also Rhone production outfit).

Here's Jimmy showing his wines in the sweatbox basement of 161 Food + Drink;

It was an excellent tasting, despite the heat. Although I am quite familiar with the Under The Bonnet portfolio (from regular visits to 161) and the Le Grappin wines, I enjoyed new wines (new to me anyway) from both as well as revisiting some old favourites. I was also really impressed with the offerings from Kiffe My Wines and Otros Vinos.

Here are the highlights, in the order I tasted them...

Le Grappin

I have been drinking Andrew and Emma's wines since the 2012 vintage. Although excellent across the expanding range I have found that in each vintage a different wine steals my heart.

In 2013, the Beaune 1er cru tasted more like a 1er cru Meursault to me, so buttery yet linear and precise at the same time. In 2014 the St-Aubin was my winner, the irresistible combination of aniseed, almonds and lemons knocking me out. In the recently released 2015 vintage, it is the Santenay 1er cru that stands out.

Call me an out of touch philistine if you like but I am a sucker for the fuller Chardonnays produced in warmer Burgundy vintages. 2014 may have produced long lasting, elegant whites but the 2015 Santenay is so welcoming now, I could drink it all night.

If Garfield was a wine, this is it. Round, cuddly and full of its own self-confidence.

Another new wine for me was the 2016 Beaujolais-villages "Nature" which he suggests "needs a skoosh" before opening. It smells really “stemmy” if that is a word, with aromas of violet. Brilliant crunchy red fruit on the palate with bracing acidity but then softness and length on the finish. Apparently he has bottled 120 magnums of this and I reckon I could do a whole one in a sitting. The definition of gluggable...

Under the Bonnet

I have talked at length before about how good the wines of 2Naturekinder are (read more about them here) so all I will say is that the 2015 Wanderlust is still ace and was one of the best red wines in the room. I am also a big fan of Gamay from the Loire and Gregory Leclerc’s 2014 “La Mule” is a personal favourite from past visits to 161. So soft, light and fruity, it is a wine that disappears very quickly over one of 161’s legendary charcuterie boards.

There were a few wines from Under the Bonnet I hadn’t had before which also stood out…

Thomas Boutin’s “Brind Zingue” 2014 is a Pet Nat from the Loire blended from Cabernet Franc and Gamay. Light pink in colour, I got flavours of grapefruit and red currants with a bitter blood orange tang on the finish. I am probably offending Monsieur Boutin here, but it was not unlike an Aperol Spritz, which for me is a compliment as I love the stuff.

One of the highlights of the tasting was a new variety for me, a 2014 Oeillade from Mas Lau in the Languedoc, by Laurent Bagnols. Made by an ex-sommelier who gave up serving wine to make it instead, it is a Vin de France so he cannot put the variety on the label. Instead he has cheekily put an illustration of a winking eye on the label and called the wine “Clin d’Oeil”, which means wink in French. It also means he manages to get at least half of Oeillade on the label. The wine tastes of delicious dark cherries and is full, soft and long with a grippy tannic finish. A fascinating wine.

I also enjoyed two wines from La Roche Buissiere, a producer from the Rhone. The 2014 Cotes Du Rhone “Petite Jeanne” is a blend of Syrah and Grenache with a really dark purple colour and is full of minerally acidity and crunchy redcurrant and gooseberry flavours. The 2015 is a Vin De France called “Petit Jo” from the same blend of grapes. Presumably they did something the Cotes Du Rhone people didn’t like or were just feeling rebellious. I found it richer and sweeter than the Petite Jeanne, the flavours more of plums and dark berries, and all in all a bit rounder and simpler. But still a very good wine.

Kiffe My Wines

I immediately took to Jimmy, partly because he was sweating almost as much as I was, but mainly because he talked so passionately about making wine.

He set up Kiffe My Wine to allow him to get into the vineyard and make wine. Kiffe pretty much means “have a blast” in French Jimmy tells me, so he’s basically asking us to have a blast with his wines. All his wines are from the Languedoc-Roussillon. He started by importing one palate of Etienne Fort’s wines last year.

A stand out wine for me was Etienne Fort’s Blanquette de Limoux 2014 "Monsieur S", a sparkling wine made from Mauzac. This was a deliciously refreshing lemony fizz, and you can almost feel the lees coating your mouth. His other sparkler, the Cremant de Limoux 2014, is a Chardonnay and would sit quite happily next to the wines of Champagne.

The other producer in the Kiffe My Wines roster that stood out was Les Freres Soulier.

The first of their wines I tasted provided one of those fascinating experiments that wine geeks like me get off on. The 2015 Coqueyron Haut is a Grenache rose. It had skin contact overnight on the first day of the first ever harvest by Les Freres Soulier, finishing the wine at 5am after about a 24 hour shift in vineyard and cellar. It was worth the effort. Definitely what I would class a “serious rose”.

Jimmy gave us a taste from a bottle he opened a week ago and it was delicious, really minerally with dark fruits. It was like a really complex light red wine, soft and integrated. He then gave us a taste from a newly opened magnum. It was totally different. Spiky acidity and crunchy red fruits.

If I bought a bottle I think I’d definitely decant it and drink it like you would a light red, chilled but not too cold with charcuterie. A fascinating comparison.

The other wine from Les Freres Soulier that I thought was great is their 2015 La Clastre, a blend of Syrah and Grenache. It is a very well made wine with delicious dark cherry fruit flavours. Really complex with Burgundian elegance.

Otros Vinos

There are a lot of people getting very excited about Spanish wine just now, and based on the wines I tasted from the Otros Vinos range I can understand why.

I came to these last of all and after spending a long time sweating in the basement tasting the Under the Bonnet and Kiffe my Wines offerings I was so hot and bothered I swithered with escaping to the cool of the street, but I’m glad I decided to stick it out.

I found the wines really refreshing and exciting across the range. They just seemed to offer so much flavour and excitement. A few stand outs…

The first wine to his me for six was the 2014 Macabeu by Clot de les Soleres. Cloudy in the glass, it comes from near Barcelona, 300m above sea level on limestone. This was the entry level wine but my god it was good, I need to check out more of their wines. It had really fresh, pithy grapefruit flavours and an almost exfoliant-like texture coats the mouth. The finish is grippy and tart. A really exciting wine.

The 2014 Tinto Cosecha, Verdevique is a blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha made with whole bunch clusters fermented in steel tanks, given 25 days maceration. It has deliciously plump dark fruit flavours and is round and tannic. This would be a serious match for a Galician “Chuleta” steak.

Possibly keeping the best until last, the 2015 “Asoleo” by Marenas is a dessert wine aged in a 200 year old barrel, made with no added sulphur. Only 220 50cl bottles were made of this amazing wine, made from Muscatel grapes which were harvested in July and left to dry in the sun for six days.

Unctuous raisiny goodness, the Asoleo is thick, long and delicious. Essential drinking.

So, a successful tasting. The main things it told me were that wines from Le Grappin and 2Naturekinder are still ace, Spanish wines are really exciting right now and I think rose should be taken more seriously.

That’s right, rose is the next big thing. You heard it here first…