Olly Bartlett mid-pour
Olly Bartlett from Indigo wines, mid-pour

The UK may be one of the toughest, most price conscious wine retail markets in the world, yet somewhat miraculously the independent and on-trade sectors are developing a real love of the small, the quirky and the characterful. Exhibit A: The Dirty Dozen is a conglomerate of twelve passionate and free spirited UK wine importers, who pulled off one of last year’s most talked about tastings. I wondered if this year could live up to the hype?

It’s becoming quite the fashion to have a statement for your tasting event – a manifesto if you will – and the dirtsters have certainly captured the zeitgeist with theirs:

“We are committed to wine of integrity and authenticity.

We believe in wines that speak of their terroir.

We select winemakers that cherish their vineyards and the environment.

We choose small over large and real before synthetic.

We import wines for people that care, made by people that care.”

Notice how they’ve managed to avoid the “n” word? Clever . . .

I didn’t have time to get round all the wines (or even all the importers), but my highlights are listed below. All in all, a seriously impressive tasting packed full of interesting, characterful wines with stories to tell. Although some of the importers primarily deal with the on-trade, many will also quite happily sell to personal customers.

Matej Skerlj – Vitovska 2008 (Friuli, Italy)

I’m a big fan of Vitovska, a grape with a pronounced nuttiness, capable of quite some complexity in the right hands (Sandi Skerk springs to mind). This slightly tannic and very taut example didn’t disappoint. Although the extended skin contact arguably contributes as much to the style as the grape variety, some varietal character still shines through on the nutty, drying finish.

Importer: Aubert & Mascoli

Marco Sara – Frank 2009 (Friuli, Italy)

A charming Cabernet Franc from a small biodynamic producer. I liked the green pepper nose, super fresh red fruit and soft texture. Perhaps a little short on the finish though.

Importer: Aubert & Mascoli

Aubert and Mascoli have also just started importing the wines from Chateau Tire Pé (AOC Bordeaux). I’ve really fallen in love with “Les Malbecs” as I mentioned here. It was showing very well at this tasting.

Elvio Cogno – Langhe Nascetta 2011 (Piedmont, Italy)

I’m a sucker for an unusual grape variety – and they don’t come much more obscure than Nascetta, which was practically saved from oblivion by Valter Fissore at Elvio Cogno. It was well worth the effort (this is only the second vintage where they are allowed to use the DOC Langhe Nascetta), as this is a ripe, almost unctuously textured wine with aromatic notes and intense pear drop flavours. It’s extremely persistent, very balanced, and surprisingly well priced (Around £15 retail).

Importer: Flint Wines

I did also try Elvio Cogno’s Barbera D’Alba 2010, and although competent and attractive, it didn’t make the same impact as the Nascetta.

Franz Hitzberger – Grüner Veltlier Federspiel ‘Rotes Tor’ 2011 (Wachau, Austria)

A super-elegant, mineral Grüner, which really stood out from a clutch of Austria’s best known white variety.

Importer: Clark Foyster

Feiler-Artinger – Neuburger 2011 (Burgenland, Austria)

An organically produced dry white from a region better known for its sweet wines. Elegant, austere stony/slate nose, balanced by a hint of sweetness on the tongue, almost stalky green pepper (capsicum) and a pungent dry finish.

Importer: Clark Foyster

Dosnon & Lepage – Recolte Noir NV (Champagne, France)

Wonderful grower champagne with intense redcurrant fruit and pinot character, and a slew of yeastiness adding weight and complexity. Not cheap (retail £32.95 or £26.95 if you buy 12), but so much more interesting than most grande marque non-vintage offerings.

Importer: Roberson

Domaine de L’Escarpolette – Escarpolette Blanc 2011 (Languedoc, France)

A beguiling blend of Macabeu and Muscat – and the grapy Muscat character really shines through on the finish. This is skilled winemaking – to combine the complex, slightly tannic style of a skin-contact white, with a perfumed freshness that has varietal integrity.

Importer: Roberson

Pesquera – ‘Janus’ Gran Reserva 2003 (Ribera del Duero, Spain)

OK I admit it. I’m slightly addicted to the mouth coating, almost tarry texture of this wine. A massive slab of Tempranillo it may be, but also impressively fresh and still with some discernable fruit. Very well integrated oak. Rich. (And you need to be too, to afford this – around £80 retail)

Importer: Roberson

Coto de Gomariz – Flower and the Bee 2011 (Ribeiro, Spain)

This Northerly region in Galicia is building a name for its fresh, mineral white wines. This Treixadura has ripe pear and stone fruit, great acidity and a mineral if slightly “hot” finish.

Importer: Indigo Wine

Castro Ventosa – El Castro de Valtuille Mencia Barrica 2008 (Bierzo, Spain)

The tell-tale herbal twang of Mencia, bolstered up with some serious, tannic red fruit. Lovely.

Importer: Indigo Wine

Elementis – Skin Contact 2011 (Swartland, South Africa)

Possibly my wow-wine of the whole tasting! Who’d have thought that Chenin Blanc would react so well to extended skin contact? Rich, complex spiced honey on the palate, with bracing acidity to keep it all hanging together – and a lovely golden colour. Dry on the finish. The only issue with this wine is a slight disconnect between the label – which positions it as not entirely serious – and the price, which at around £22 retail, is *very* serious. I’d kill for more of this though! (Well, maim, at least . . .)

Importer: Indigo Wine

Bodegas Escoda Sanajuja – Les Paradetes 2007 (Conca de Barbera, Spain)

A sulphur free wine, with an old “barolo” nose (slightly oxidative character). A blend of Sumoll, Garnacha, Carignan, there’s some spicy oak, great structure, and a haunting forest fruit finish.

Skerlj Vitovska
Skerlj Vitovska
Elvio Cogno Nascetta de Langhe
Nascetta de Langhe
Elementis Skin Contact
Elementis Skin Contact
Les Paradetes
Les Paradetes