What to Drink in January
I'm sure I am not the only one that always feels a huge sense of relief when December and the year finally come to an end. Over-indulgence is hard to avoid at Christmas time, and in the wine world, the general idea of most wine lovers I know (myself included) is to save the rare and valuable bottles for the festive season. Higher prized wines come with higher expectations though and that is something I really noticed at the end of 2023. I drank some of the big names in natural wine for the first time but they rarely reached the heights I was hoping for. The other issue I have with these more 'elite' wines if that they often lack unique character. There are obviously many exceptions but I feel that the further you go up the "hierarchy" of wine, the more precise and perfected the wines become. In some ways this is great and there are definitely times I want to drink these bottles (Christmas...) but this is not what attracted me to natural wine in the fist place. It's hard to describe exactly what that unique character is but when you taste it, you know. Sometimes we don't want something that has been repeatedly made over and over again to perfection. Most of my favourite wine experiences have felt like a single moment in time captured in one bottle. Vintages that came after were never the same. Maybe the winemaking got "better", maybe the climate changed or maybe our palates and expectations changed. But that wine is etched in the memory forever, and more often than not, these experiences don't come from the big names and so-called "unicorn" wines.
With all that in mind, January is the perfect moment to return to the essence. Featured below are three picks from vignerons in the earlier stages of their viticultural journeys who are all making wine close to each other in the south of France / North of Spain. Drinking these in the first couple of weeks of the year has reminded me what I really love about natural wine and whilst there will always be time for those big names from Jura, Burgundy etc, this is what it's really all about! Highbury Library aims to champion young and emerging winemakers and that's what we will continue to do in 2024.
This is the second vintage from Marius Long aka Sense Pressa and the first to be available in the UK. I met Marius a couple of years ago in Barcelona and it was exciting to hear that he would soon be releasing his wines. He comes from a restaurant background in Paris and moved to the village of Padern, working closely with La Voluta. I absolutely loved drinking this medium bodied red from him recently. It's a blend of Syrah and Grenache which gives loads of fresh blackcurrant fruit, delicate spice and a beautifully silky texture. So much character and perfect for the cold weather.
Just down the road in the village of Cucugnan, Jean-Benoit Vivequain and Anna Rubio started their project La Voluta after meeting in New Zealand and produced their first vintage in 2017. I love their concept of never creating the same wine twice. Each cuvée might be a blend of different vintages, grape varieties, parcels or all of the above. Shiraaz 2022 was the standout for us at a recent tasting in London with Jean-Benoit. Another medium bodied red with super-fresh acidity, a touch of CO2 and flavours of cherry, blackberry and spice.
Fernando Berry has been importing natural wine to the UK from Spain and southern France for nearly ten years so by now he has developed very strong relationships with some of the most exciting winemakers in Europe. Now he is producing his own cuvées by collaborating with the likes of La Voluta, Clot de les Soleres and Nuria Renom. Filthy/Gorgeous 2022 is made with Macabeo grapes grown by Nuria and taken to the winery of Vinyes Tortuga in northern Catalunya for vinification. After crushing, the juice spent 48 hours on the skins before fermentation. The wine was then aged in a combination of tank and amphora vessels for 1 year. The result is a fresh skin contact wine, golden in colour, with a pronounced apple character.
So there you go, three wines to keep your senses excited as we progress though the bleak month of January.
If like many you are choosing to reduce your alcohol in take this month, we have our favourite non-alcoholic wine alternative back in stock. L'Antidote is delicious concoction of sparkling Gamay juice, herbs and other fruit made by Romain Des Grottes in Beaujolais. We also have a great range of no and low alcohol beers which you can find here.