White Fine Wine

by Will Nicolson

Like surfers, the band of pickers huddle around the tractor waiting for their perfect wave. It doesn’t come in the form of a torrent of water but a gentle smile of satisfaction from the boss as they stare down the refractometer. As the moment of perfect ripeness arrives, armed with only secateurs and sunscreen the posse of pickers, hopefully sober, decent into the vines to begin another vintage that will send the whole wine world into a thesaurus-busting frenzy of positive adjectives and wild all-encompassing phrases to describe tens of thousands of unique and individual wines.

 

Yep, it is harvest time in Europe and the good news is that the volumes, in most areas, are better than in 2021. They couldn’t be much worse, to be honest, but the slow journey back to better availability of certain wines has begun. However, it will probably take another full harvest in 2023 before we see a return to normal, whatever than is or was or has become the new normal.

 

One of the areas worst hit in 2021 was Burgundy and in particular the white wines from the famous fine wine regions of Meursault, Puligny Montrachet and Chassagne Montrachet where the Chardonnay grape makes some of the most sought-after and expensive white wines in the world. These are wines which are made in small quantities in the best of years but combined with an unprecedented rise in demand and painfully small volumes they have been like hens’ teeth to get hold of, which has exacerbated the demand for them due to the strange human trait of always wanting what you can’t have or the need to have whatever everyone else has even if you lived happily without it for years. The hedge fund and investment folks are also into it now, so the prices will only go one way as the rich swap it between themselves for ever-increasing sums of money.

 

The Burgundian shortage of white wine has laid bare a problem I’d never really thought about before. White Burgundy has become the default and for many, the only fine white wine there is. With its relative scarcity and the increasingly uncomfortable price, many have been left in the uncomfortable position of believing fine white wine no longer exists to them. Well, it also turns out, that when you open your eyes and your taste buds, there are plenty of solutions to this third-world problem.

 

1. Riesling

We bang on about this a lot. If you were happy to pay £25 – £30 for village Puligny or Chassagne Montrachet, then we are still offering Sybille Kuntz Spatlese Trocken 2015 for £25.49. Seven-year-old Riesling from one of the finest vintages sourced from the Kuntz’s best vineyards in Niederberg-Helden. I mean, come on?

 

Felix at Meyer Fonne has vineyards in several of Alsace’s Grand Cru vineyards. All rich, and lower in acidity than the Kuntz’s wines but with the same wonderful fruit and mineral balance. Both ‘Kaefferkopf’ 2018 and ‘Wineck-Schlossberg’ 2018 are under £30 and are world-class dry Rieslings.

 

2. Chardonnay from somewhere other than Burgundy

Chardonnay is planted worldwide and makes wines at all price points. For me, South Africa has some of the most refined, balanced and complex examples and the top offering from Newton Johnston in the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde is superb and well worth trying.

 

A little more expensive but still under £50 is Castillo Romitorio’s maiden 2020 vintage of Metafisica, which may well become a collector’s item one day. Only 1200 bottles were produced and born out of 25 years of research into Chardonnay vines planted at high altitudes in Tuscany.

 

3. Timorasso

Walter Massa makes a fantastic example of this ancient Italian white grape. This is an intoxicating glass of wine with complex fruit and spiced notes. I’ve no idea what “Fine wine” actually is but if it is measured on pure enjoyment then this is it for me.

 

  1. 4. Gruner VeltlinerIngrid Groiss Winemaker

Under £25 and again scoring right at the top of my “enjoyment” chart are Ingrid Groiss’s single vineyard Gruner Veltliners. Both benefit from a little bottle age or decanting but these are rich, weighty wines with exotic fruit and beautiful mineral notes.

 

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