1996 Left Bank Bordeaux Retrospective

Photo 16-03-2015 18 45 25As we wait with baited breath for most of Bordeaux to let us know how much they need a new kitchen/sports car/holiday/renovation of the East wing etc. (delete where applicable), sorry, I mean release their prices for the 2014 vintage, it’s always interesting to look back to a time when release prices were sensible(ish) and whose wines are in or approaching their drinking window.

Fill it up, fill it, to the rim...

Fill it up, fill it, to the rim… (alright Jim)

1996 is considered one of the top post war vintages and can be mentioned in the same breath as 90′ 00′ & 05′. Though the quality may not quite be up there with the recent legendary vintages of 09′ & 10′, when you look at current market prices and consider storage costs etc. up to when you will finally get round to these vintages you can see the attraction of vintage like 1996. The tasting was led by Jimmy Smith, headmaster of the most excellent West London Wine School on 16th March 2015 in London.

'Choose life, choose a job, choose classed growth Bordeaux' - Trainspotting, one of 1996 best films.

‘Choose life, choose a job, choose classed growth Bordeaux’ – Ewan McGregor (not a Bordeaux merchant contemplating this years release prices) in Trainspotting, one of 1996 best films.

Where were you in 96’?

This was a year blighted by natural disasters (and I’m not talking about the Spice Girls getting their first number 1 with ‘Wannabe’), snowstorms in the U.S, tornado’s in Bangladesh and a category 4 cyclone in India to name a few. In England we were still being bombed by the I.R.A and having to deal with the catastrophe of mad cow disease. A nail bomb was let off at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Prince Charles divorced Diana and Will Smith was saving us all from Aliens in Independence Day. Now you remember?

Bordeaux vineyardIn Bordeaux the weather was a lot more agreeable and a mild winter gave way to a two week heat wave in March, May was cool, June was hot, flowering was quick but in some places uneven. July didn’t start off great but temperatures soon picked up and everything was going well until a large rainstorm struck at the end of August, this benefited left bank Cab vineyards that badly needed a drink after the drought like conditions but hit the right bank pretty hard Merlot pretty hard. As so often happens, September saved the vintage and was dry with strong, windy conditions drying off the vines quickly, harvest officially started on September 16th. A left bank vintage, the best wines show concentrated, full bodied wines that are built for the long term.

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Château D’Angludet 1996
£44 Fine + Rare (Cru Bourgeois) Margaux
Charred coffee, warm gravel and dried black fruit, fresh violets and blackberry, touch smoky on the nose.
Acidity is very forward with the fruit seeming a touch charred though there is still plenty of tension, tart tannin. Plenty of development on the nose and a dominated on the palate by slightly volatile acidity.
88pts

Photo 16-03-2015 17 31 10Château La Lagune 1996
£54.95 Roberson (3rd Growth) Margaux
Very attractive, ripe red berry fruit, truffle, forest floor, a touch of hoisin, leather with a floral lift.
In the mouth there is still a great freshness, lush red fruit, good acidity and refined light tannin. Elegant.
90pts

Photo 16-03-2015 17 31 15Château Cantermerle 1996
£25 Fine + Rare (5th Growth) Haut-Medoc
Plenty of smoky black fruit and cedar notes on the nose.
Good weight all the way through the palate, ample tannin and acidity, still
rather youthful with great structure. Punches well above it’s weight.
(My Best Value wine of the tasting)
91pts

Photo 16-03-2015 17 31 20Château Batailley 1996
£40 Fine + Rare (5th Growth) Pauillac
The dark berry fruit on the nose is still quite tight but well structure with a sweetness to it, forward, quite polished.
Palate has decent tannin, dark berry fruit still has freshness, decent overall balance. Overall quite restrained, be interesting to see this again in a few years.
89pts

Photo 16-03-2015 17 31 23Château Haut-Batailley 1996
£57 Berry Bros. (5th Growth) Pauillac
Opulent, slightly dried fruit on the nose with sweet cedar, gravel good mineral character.
Juicy palate with very attractive red fruit character but pretty tight, will benefit further aging or long decant/red meat.
90+pts (Voted best value wine of the tasting)

Photo 16-03-2015 17 31 28Château Calon-Segur 1996
£102 Berry Bros. & Rudd (3rd Growth) Saint-Estephe
Rather green on the nose, blackcurrant, black olive and some classy wet earth notes.
Palate is dominated by the wines acidity, quite sappy, tart. This has plenty of class and character on the nose but disappoints taste wise.
87pts

Photo 16-03-2015 17 31 32Château Léoville-Barton 1996
£85 Fine + Rare (2nd Growth) Saint-Julien
Developed nose but still with a good concentration of fresh black fruit. Palate,
though sappy and a touch tart has a good black fruit led frame, good length.
91pts (Voted Best wine of the tasting)

Photo 16-03-2015 17 31 37Château Ducru-Beaucaillou 1996
£158 Cadman Fine Wines (2nd Growth) Saint-Julien
On the nose the fruit here is fragrant, forward and really quite youthful with good concentration, smoky blackcurrant led.
In the mouth that dark berry fruit has a sweetness, wonderful structure
and overall balance. This is at a great stage in it’s life and is a
pleasure to drink though still easily has another decade+ in it.
93+pts (My favorite wine of the tasting, pure class!)

Final Thoughts – Is Bordeaux Still Relevant?

Of course it’s bloody relevant, it’s the world’s largest fine wine region! But is it relevant to you or the modern day wine lover? I know it has little or no relevance to me. I like it and I’m lucky enough to get to drink the good stuff on a fairly regular basis but hardly ever buy it, I couldn’t tell you the last bottle I bought (maybe a Château Olivier Blanc or something similar), though I suppose it’s not meant for a pleb like me!

As prices don’t look to be going anywhere but up or sideways (and they’re already way too high) and with incredible wines of a similar ilk being made in multiple other regions, for less, where’s the attraction to new or younger drinkers? They’re off discovering Barolo, Barbaresco, the Northern Rhone, new wave California, Jura and other interesting wine spots. Mere hours before this tasting I had been at another one, an almost polar opposite, Vault Tasting at The Winemakers Club where a number of excellent U.K importers were showing great wines, often at a fraction of the cost of these classed growths, infinitely more affordable and way more interesting. I know where I’d rather spend my hard earned.

Photo 16-03-2015 14 53 01Buying young Bordeaux is akin to buying a tailor made suit from someone on Saville Row, you do it if you have the money, you know its quality and will last you a long time, it’s a bit of a statement to yourself and others. The only thing is, that tailor makes millions of suits, and he’s actually got a bloody big factory and warehouses full of the things, hanging there un-bought, gathering dust, and slowly going out of fashion. Maybe they’ll never get worn. Who cares, I’m off to the second hand vintage fair to find me an unwanted old suit at a fair price.

Is there any light at the end of the tunnel for Bordeaux en primeur?

Is there any light at the end of the tunnel for Bordeaux en primeur?

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The Remedy – To Monday!

Monday isn’t my favorite day of the week, the come down after the euphoria of the weekends adventures, unless…

You know at the end of the day you’ll be spending an evening at one of London’s best wine bars with some of the greatest Spanish wines that you have never even heard about. This is a good remedy to any Monday.

Remedy interior
The Remedy is a wine bar and restaurant that may not have the profile of other top London wine spots, (it’s not as trendy as Sager + Wilde or as modern as Verdin) but make no mistake, it is one of the capitals finest. This is the kind of place that London’s top Somm’s go after a shift to chill out, it’s somewhere you will discover some amazing bottles of wine (and not just the trophy stuff). Located on Cleveland Street in the ghetto of Fitzrovia it’s just round the corner from MW HQ which I found a bit of a surprise.

MWHQ

MW HQ

I’d always imagined MW HQ as being more akin to the Thunderbird’s Tracy Island but with a much better cellar. MW’s being deployed to whichever wine region or market they are most needed in. 5. 4.3.2.1. MW’s are GO!! This got me thinking, which MW would each Thunderbird character be? Lady Penelope could be Jancis Robinson, I love the idea of ‘Parker’ driving her round in FAB 1, ‘sherry m’lady?’. Did you know the character of Parker was originally based on a somm? Anyway, I digress.

Robert Parker Jr.

‘Err, Sherry m’lady?’

The reason I was at The Remedy was to have dinner with a group of young winemakers who are producing some remarkable bottles under the Envínate (wine-yourself) umbrella. Envínate is a project set up by Laura Ramos, Jose Martinez, Roberto Santana & Alfonso Torrente after they met at oenology school in Alicante and was a natural evolution from consultancy work that they were doing in 2005. They make wine in three different regions of Spain, Ribera Sacra in Galicia, Extremadura in South West Spain and in Tenerife on the Canary Islands, searching out small and unique vineyard parcels.

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No, they’re not making wine in Jurassic Park, that’s Tenerife

Old school in their approach they look to fully express the ‘terruño’ or terroir of each site by eschewing chemicals in the vineyard, picking by hand, treading by foot and using wild ferments, old barrels and little or no sulphur. Unfortunately Laura Ramos & Jose Martinez were unable to make it to London but Jonatan Garcia from Suertes del Marques joined and they were in fine form and throughout the course of the evening conveyed their huge passion for the amazing sites that they farm and wines that they make.

Photo 05-09-2014 11 57 57

High elevation vineyard in Tenerife

The opportunity to dine with these guys had attracted a number of London’s wine elite including flying winemaker & MW student Nayan Gowda, importer Richard Dudley Craig and the multi talented Daniel Primack of Winerackd to name but a few. Before the dinner kicked off we got stuck into a couple of bottles, the first was a creamy bottle of 2005 Savennières from Château D’Epiré in the Loire Valley that Richard had brought along, proof he is an importer with a keen eye!

Photo 02-02-2015 19 47 52 (1)Next up was an incredibly tasty wine from down under called Somewhere on another Hill from a producer called Jauma. What happens when you leave Gewurztraminer and chenin blanc on the skins? This happens. The acidity from the chenin is a good foil to the ripe fruit of the Gewurz, rose water, Turkish delight and lychee plenty of structure, an alluring wine and interesting producer well worth checking out (nice one Dan).

Photo 02-02-2015 19 51 57 (1)

Roberto Santana – Táganan – Tenerife – Canary Islands

Roberto Santana
Roberto is the winemaker at what must be Tenerife’s top winery, Suertes Del Marqués, he was in town with owner Jonathan Garcia Lima, they make three white wines and five red under the main label. Two of the white wines are relatively easy to get hold of in the U.K and are unique in character, the Trenzado is a downstairs mix up of local grapes with Listan Blanco (Sherry’s Palomino to you and me) and Pedro Ximénez (yeah, you heard me, PX!) at its core. Trenzado takes its name from the distinct way that the vines are trellised which is depicted on the wines label. A unique wine that benefits from a long decant and will be very interesting to see how it develops with a few years in bottle.

Trenzado

Trenzado trained vines

The Vidonia is a step up in price but worth every penny, again this needs plenty of air to open up and if you can manage to keep your paws off should be great in years to come.

Photo 02-02-2015 19 59 25Envínate Táganan Blanco 2013
White blend that includes Listan Blanco, Malvasia, Marmajuelo, Albillo, Gual and Forastera among others. Tenerife. 3800 Bottles produced.
Táganan is what the locals round these parts were known as and roughly translates to ‘the people surrounded by mountains’ and this comes from about 17 plots of ancient vines on volcanic soils at an elevation of between 100 and 200 metres.

Struck match and rich orchard fruit on the nose complimented by a mineral, salt bake character, the palate shows great texture and again leads with a saline snap to the acidity. Food match: fried sardines and grape mustard.
92pts

Photo 02-02-2015 20 24 03 (1)Suertes Del Marqués Vidonia 2013
100% Listán Blanco, Valle de la Orotava, Tenerife.
Grown on volcanic soils at an altitude of between 350-600 meters the grapes are whole cluster pressed, it spends over 10 months on the lees in 500ltr neutral French oak casks after a natural yeast fermentation.

Reduced to start with notes of matchstick that mellow out with time in the glass, the nose then offering up lemon oil, macadamia nut and a strange but very inviting meat jus note. Wet lemon hand towels, smoky bacon. Wonderful structure on the palate with a powerful snap on the mid palate, fresh with a saline mineral, grippy finish. Food match: Smoked Mackerel and deep fried pardon peppers.
93pts

Photo 02-02-2015 20 10 47 (1)

The first flight of wines was paired with Fried sardines with grape mustard mayonnaise.

Photo 02-02-2015 20 54 58 (1)Envínate Táganan Tinto 2013
Red blend that includes Negramol, Listan Black, Black Muscat, Listan Gacho, Vijariego Black among others. 4200 Bottles produced.
This comes from a number of different plots that include; Ensambaje Campillo, Chavarria, and the plateau Zorrocloco. Again old vines on volcanic soils at an elevation of between 100-300 metres above sea level.

Rose bud floral notes on the nose gaining a more mineral character with some air. Fresh and up front in the mouth this had the fruit that you would expect on really good village level Beaujolais but with some of the great acidity that you get with unoaked Mencia.
91pts

Photo 02-02-2015 21 09 10 (1)Suertes Del Marqués La Solana 2012
100% Listan Negro
This comes from a northeast facing vineyard with an elevation of between 400-520 metres and vines that are between 80 – 110 years old on volcanic soils.

Bright upfront cherry and blueberry fruit on the nose with richly textured cherry compote and blackberry fruit in the mouth, light body with chalky tannins on the finish.
92pts

Photo 02-02-2015 21 09 52Suertes Del Marqués El Ciruelo 2013
Listan Negro with a small percentage of Listan Blanco
This wine comes from 0.75ha plot of ungrafted vines that are over 90 years old on volcanic rock with wild cover vegetation at between 500-550 metres elevation.

Where the La Solana is more fruit forward the Ciruelo is defined on the nose by a smoky, meaty and mineral character. A wonderfully pure palate with svelte dark chocolate infused tannin, delicious red fruited acidity follows through on the finish.
93pts

Photo 02-02-2015 20 56 45 (1)The second flight of wines were paired with smoked mackerel and deep fried pedron peppers.

Alfonso Torrente – Lousas – Ribeira Sacre – Galicia
For some years the wines of Ribeira Sacre (Sacred Shore) have been at the top of my Spanish wine shopping list. Reds from the Mencía grape, when not overly oaked can be incredibly attractive offering a unique acidic minerality not found in many red wines. Godello in the right hands is no less majestic and if you’ve yet to try Rafael Palacios offerings I would highly recommend searching them out.
Judging from the wines tasted at this dinner, Alfonso Torrente is up there in the top echelon of Mencía producers, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Palacios and Raul Perez. The only problem is that these wines are produced in tiny quantities and are very hard to get hold of, if you see any of them on a wine list do not hesitate to snap them up. Berry’s do a good example from Godelia in neighboring Bierzo that comes in sub £10 if you want an intro to this most characterful grape.

Photo 02-02-2015 21 52 45 (1)
Envínate, Lousas, Viñas de Aldea 2013
A blend of 90% Mencia – 10% Merenzao, Caiño, Alicante Bouschet, Sousón
Lousas is the name of the local slate which is what the Alfonso’s vines are planted on, the average age here is around 60 years at an altitude of between 400-600m with a predominantly southerly exposure. Malolactic fermentation in neutral oak and spending 11 months on the leaves with no fining or filtration at bottling. 2200 Bottles produced.

On the nose there is a great mix wet wood and kola nut, the palate at the moment seems quite blunt but there is plenty of lush black berry fruit and a refined tannic structure.
90pts

Photo 02-02-2015 22 15 18 (1)Envínate, Lousas, Camiño Novo 2013
Blend of 85% Mencia, 15% Alicante Bouschet from a single parcel of 70 years old vines planted at 430m with a south-eastern exposure ( wine making as the Viñas de Aldea) only 700 bottles made.
Camiño Novo or ‘new Road’ is thus named after a former owner of the plot died while trying to build a new access road to the site. But then, if you gotta go this is Mencía to die for and probably the greatest take on the variety that I’ve tried, it was my favourite wine of all the Envínate wines and I wish I had some in my cellar!

A beautifully perfumed nose with dense red & black berry fruits and a compact mineral earthiness, wonderfully floral, a real beauty! In the mouth the juicy acidity hits right from the off and there is a prolonged and very classy red fruit character along with a ripe but firm stem’y finish with a great mineral depth. An incredible wine that clearly has great aging potential.
95pts

Photo 02-02-2015 21 45 44Envínate, Lousas, Seoane
Blend of 95% Mencia 5% other (Merenzao, Caiño, Alicante Bouschet) from a single parcel in Doade, Amandi at an elevation of 400m with 100% whole cluster fermentation, only 700 bottles produced.

Though no less serious than the Camiño Novo this wine has a more up front, aromatic fruit laden profile on the nose with cherry, rose petal and rich strawberry fruit, concentrated yet at the same time incredibly elegant. An abundance of snappy, taught red fruit on the palate that is pushed through by plush, chalky tannins.
92pts

Photo 02-02-2015 21 56 15 (1)The third flight of wines were matched with pork fillet, grilled aubergine & courgettes with a Fior di Langhe fondue.

Dessert was a Hazelnut Parfait with raspberry coulis.

Photo 02-02-2015 22 39 49 (1)This really was an outstanding dinner with some amazing wines, great food and enthralling company. After the serious business of dinner was done with a number of other great wines were cracked open (including a scandalously young bottle of Clos Rougeard 2010) and I hear the merriment went on long into the evening despite a heavy schedule the next day, maybe Monday is the new Friday?

Photo 02-02-2015 22 27 17 (1)Cristiano Guttarolo, Rosato Amphora Rosé
Smelling of smoky strawberry and light cherry liqueur, there is a sweetness to the rough edges and this has a very elegant, pure palate of red berry fruit, über drinkable.
90pts

Photo 02-02-2015 22 37 26 (1)A huge thanks to Roberto Santana, Jonatan Garcia, Alfonso Torrente and owner David Clawson and the other guys at The Remedy for a fantastic evening and providing the perfect cure for Monday.

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Purple is the New Orange (wine)

The below was my reply to an email with a group of friends asking what kind of wine I was bringing to a BYOB dinner.

I’ll be bringing some purple wine.

What is purple wine?

Photo 13-01-2015 23 04 59

This is not sizzurp.

It’s a brand new style of wine that you may have never heard of let alone tasted before!

Starlings heading to the pub after a long nights picking.

Starlings heading to the pub after a long nights picking.

Field blends from regions beginning with the letter B are cryogenically flash frozen in the vineyard after picking (performed by well trained starlings) which can only be completed on the same night (usually Halloween) and according to the Biodynamic calendar (though as grapes come from different time zones/hemispheres/seasons – Barolo & Barossa for example, this sometimes involves a flux capacitator and some Libyan terroirists).

Consultant oenologist M. Gaddafi 'Micro oxidation is an act of terroirism'

Consultant oenologist M. Gaddafi ‘Micro oxidation is an act of terroirism’

The grapes (there can be up to 57 varieties) are then co-fermented on their skins in a (500ltr) whale’s vagina (lined with a new polymer made of breathable clay and concrete) for 42 years, 42minutes and 42 seconds. Fermentation temperatures are controlled by the super computer Deep Thought (if the whale farts there can also be some carbonic maceration).

57 Varieties

57 Varieties

After bottling the wine is held in a ‘stasis anti grav control mechanism’ you may have seen a sneak peak of this in the film Event Horizon where it was used to contain Dark Matter.

No reduction problems here, the Angel's sold their shares.

No reduction problems here, the Angel’s sold their shares.

The wine is then racked with a combination of guilt and the eggs of an albino dodo.

The racking of the guilt.

The racking of the guilt.

It is then fined £50 and must go directly to jail without passing Go and collecting £200.

Photo 13-01-2015 23 13 08The wine is only ever bottled in a Clavé-bôam these are hand blown bottles made by the ancient biblical kings of the Northern Kingdoms and hold 620ltrs of wine. This is due to the extra mass the wine gains while held in stasis.

Giant bottle of wine

‘Errr, it’s corked mate’

The wine is currently being pored by the glass by a number of New York sommeliers that are rumored to have sold their souls to the devil.

A Somm-ster

A Somm-ster

It has been rated 200/100pts by both Parker & Suckling (Jancis gave it 16.5).

I will be bringing the famous ‘asteroid vintage’ of 2032.

This was the last vintage made as the winemaker had been shooting blanks, could not impregnate his wife Sally and was unable to get a child license. He had no heir to continue on at the domain which is located somewhere under the Franco-Swiss border & Jura mountain range (bordering the CERN Hadron collider, who he was in constant legal battles with regarding cellar contamination).

Photo 13-01-2015 23 16 54
This was also the year that an asteroid destroyed the planet earth.

If this is corked I will bring a backup bottle of legal drinking age Alsatian Riesling and a unicorn red from Pomerol.

Lots of love

Matt

I think my friends often wonder about my mental state but it’s all just a bit of fun really.

(No whales were harmed in the making of this post, email me for stockists)

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Camartina – Super Tuscan Vs. Classed Growth

If a Super Tuscan and a classed growth Bordeaux had a fight, who would win?

This was the thought that dribbled through my mind while sniffing at a glass of Querciabella Camartina 2010 the other night.

The thought percolating away was that this was a serious wine capable of ageing at least a decade or three, maybe longer, how would it shape up against something down Gironde estuary way from the same vintage?

Certainly not one of the big 5 or even a super second, £ for £ this would have to be a fair fight, maybe something that’s (relatively) good value like Grand-Puy-Lacoste?

Having a snoop, it transpired that Mr. Justerini & his mate Brooks would happily deliver a case of 12 bottles for the bargain price of £689.52 (or £57.46 a bottle) while Mr. Armit was asking for £372 for a case of 6 of the Camartina (£62 a bottle), the Italian was just tipping the scales but these boys are in the same weight division.

2010 Madison
I’ll set the scene.
We’re in Madison Square Garden’s 2010 Arena, it’s packed to the rafters with fans and our two wines are limbering up before the evenings headline bout.

But what odds are those ever knowledgeable wine pundits going to offer me?
Mr. Michael ‘Let’s get ready to rumble’ Buffer grabs the mic hanging down from above the ring and introduces tonight’s vinous pugilists.

Lets Get Ready to Rumble
IN THE RED COOOORNERRR WEIGHING IN AT….
62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot and 6% cabernet Franc we have….

GPL 2010
CHATEAU. GRAND. PUY. LAACOOOOSSSTE!
He’s silky, he’s concentrated, he’s punching well above his 5th growth status and has already outshone many of his contemporaries in this very arena, knocking out stable mate Haut Batailley in this very ring only last night in an amazing third round haymaker!

But let’s have a quick word with our ring side commentators and see what they have to say;

Tim Atkin – 97/100
‘You sure Tim, that’s a mighty fine score, what did you give the Latour, you know it only goes up to 100 right?’ ‘Oooo-kaaay, moving swiftly on’

James Suckling – 95/100
‘Sooo James, your 95 points on that? You wanna talk about it? Errr okay, of course you can go play with your ball’

‘Right, I think it’s time to ask some of the fans in the stands!’

Cellar Tracker – 93.4/100
KHAMEN says ‘The most violet (I think I just invented a word)’
WIKDWABBIT says ‘won an informal tasting’
GRAPE JUICE says ‘Classy and refine. This is one of the few wines that I actually request a 2nd pour and swallowed. Before I even realize, it slipped through my palate and down the throat ever so lightly and smoothly.’

‘Greeeeat, always good to hear the people’s voice….’ ‘….and finally let’s ask the living legend that is Jancis Robinson which way she thinks this bout will go’

‘Jancis, where’s Jancis?’ ‘What you mean we ain’t paid our subscription, you fooling with me?’
‘Well, er, alrighty folks it appears that Jancis has leeft the building but I have it on good authority that she gave it a stonking 16/20 point score’ ‘Damn, she really gone off these new style Bordeaux wines huh?’

AND IN THE (OTHER) RED COOOORNER WEIGHING IN AT….
A whacking great 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Sangiovese we have….

Photo 10-10-2014 18 14 51
CAM-ARRRRRRR-TIIIIIIINAAAAAA!

‘He’s youthful, he exudes class, possibly the greatest fighter to come from this stable in the past few decades (maybe ever!) showing great nuance, finesse, understated class and impeccable pedigree.’

Riiiiiiight, let’s see what our commentators have to say about this finely tuned Italian stallion.

Antonio Galloni – 95+/100

‘Well, well, wellll! Coming from a man that knows his Sangiovese from his Sagrantino that is high praise indeed. Some clear promise can be seen in this young brawler!’

James Suckling – 94/100

‘Ooooo-welll, it’s one hell of a sucker punch from Suckling who has given it to the GPL by just one point.

Jancis Robinson – 17/20

‘I’m afraid that Jancis has left this one to be called by her colleague Walter Speller (she ain’t omnipresent you know) but Walt has given it to the Camartina by some way, this is going to be one hell of a tough one to call…..’

Alright, enough of this nonsense, putting two wines up against each other is about as smart as scoring them in the first place, though what I do think the above day dream establishes is that so-called Super Tuscan’s (even the lesser known ones) are usually worthy of the prestige and price they often command.

Photo 10-10-2014 18 20 24 (1)Querciabella make some cracking wines, their Mongrana and Chianti Classico wines are firm favorites of mine and at under £20 a bottle they offer good value and match well with a wealth of Italian dishes.

They have farmed organically since 1988 converting to biodynamic’s in 2000, they have 74 hectares in Chianti Classico and 32 hectares in Maremma giving them the largest extensions of biodynamically farmed (certified organic) vineyards in Italy. They use no animal-derived products in either there grape growing or wine making and all their wines are 100% vegan, these guys know how to bee-have and you don’t have to worry about taking this round to your hip(py)-est mates house for dinner.

I’d tried one of their top wines, Camartina a number of times before but have to admit wines costing £50+ rarely find their way onto my table so a recent vertical held by West London Wine School was a great chance to better acquaint myself.

Camartina is what many would describe as a ‘Super Tuscan’, a term that worked marketing wonders for a group of wines with an interesting back story in the 80’s, 90’s & 00’s though today feels a bit over played.
The wines we had can be split into two distinct decades when it comes to the blend of grape varieties; the 90’s are Sangiovese heavy and 00’s are Cabernet led.
Photo 10-10-2014 18 15 08Chianti Classico 2008 £19.99 Waitrose Cellar
(5%cab Sav, 10% new French oak, 14 months maturation
Great wet, bloody nose but with a smokey, mineral, graphite core along with tight rose hip and black cherry that developed in the glass to show more wet tobacco leaf notes. Palate is well strung with taught tannin backing up taught, structured black currant and cherry fruit powerful but light bodied thanks to the acid. Snappy with some lovely red berry fruits on the finish.
90pts

Camartina Vertical

Photo 10-10-2014 18 25 36
2010
£74.40 Armit
Rich and very concentrated nose with intense black and purple fruit along with damson, fresh violet and rich soil, gravel, mulberry, very tight.
Classy, powerful but quite constricted in the mouth though the tannins are present but ripe and back up the classy black fruit that has a very mineral dent. By no means singing but this has class and staying power. A great wine that just needs plenty of time to come out of its shell. Considering the price it would be very interesting to try this side by side with a 2010 left bank Bordeaux.
93++pts

Photo 10-10-2014 18 14 402008
£70.80 Fine & Rare
The nose here has a sweeter fruit than the 2010 but the dominant character is a classy mix of incense, violets and Thyme, lifted, not heavy.
There’s something here that reminds me of a green pepper laced quiche(say whaaaaat! Yeah I said it).
In the mouth again this is rather tight but has a lovely tannic structure, more drying than the 2010 and certainly more red fruited, slightly fuller in the mouth and hits the gums a bit more. Classy and should develop well but slightly bitter and not any where near the 2010z
91pts

Photo 10-10-2014 18 14 302004
£87.50 Armit
The nose is really showing some class here and has some beautifully framed wood spice characters, blackberry, black cherry and almost edging into a black Forrest gateaux mocha character, lovely!
In the mouth the tannins are very grippy and drying and it almost drags the dark fruit down with it to the pit of your mouth, drys the toughie too much for me. Food is a must and it will be interesting to see where this goes with further ageing.
90+pts

Photo 10-10-2014 18 14 202003
£74.46 Armit
This has an outstanding nose with a plethora of red fruit sprinkled with sugar icing with a great mineral lift expressive, floral, open, giving and voluptuous, this is ripe and enticing and incredibly seductive at the moment.
In the mouth this has a balance though there is some tension and a definite shift towards a fresh red fruited acidity over tannin, fresh and drinking beautifully now. Easily the most enjoyable and complete wine of the tasting.
94pts

These are the Sangiovese led wines

Photo 10-10-2014 18 14 101999
£74.46 Armit
Very classy nose that has a plush leather, mulberry, pencil lead, understated but there is also some very on-point, rich smoked charcuterie. In the mouth this has great balance but lacks character and seems to almost evaporate on the mid palate. Some dried leather notes come back round on the finish which is very classy though not too pronounced.
92pts

Photo 10-10-2014 18 14 021997
£73.80 Fine & Rare
Has an inky depth on the nose that was missing on the 99′ very iodine, with notes of white, black olive, mushroom and fresh earthy notes, black truffle, staples and fresh cherry.
In the mouth this really does have a lovely feel, drys out a touch on the mid palate and finish but has definition and well defined, rounded fruit, even tastes quite fresh on the length. Better than most big boy Bordeaux 97′
93pts

Conclusion

This tasting showed a clear consistency in quality throughout the different vintages, maybe more so than a region like Bordeaux. In short, if you like Cab blends that can be laid down for some time and don’t want to pay silly money for a poor Bordeaux vintage then these wines are well worth investigating.

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Best Wine & Music of 2014

As the end of the year creeps ever closer it’s always fun to cast an eye back over the last twelve months and recall the best bits; music, travel, food & wine, all topics that I take the most pleasure in pondering.

Over the course of 2014 I’ve been lucky enough to try some of the greatest wines to ever pass my lips and spend a fair bit of time in some amazing wine regions (Burgundy, Champagne, Jura & the Rhône Valley) with some of my favorite people.

Top 10 Wines

Here are the ten most memorable wines I can recall drinking in 2014, they may not be those that I scored the highest (always a rather silly pursuit anyway), but the wines that have given me the most pleasure, for their quality, character and the circumstances they were consumed in. This has been with good friends, the person that made the wine or in a memorable setting.
Huet 1947
1. Domaine Huet – Le Haut Lieu Moeulleux 1947 £440 from Albany Vintners

Domaine Huet is one of my favorite white wine producers, their (biodynamic) vineyards are some of the healthiest I can remember visiting, the wines last forever (a 1934 sec was still going strong earlier this year) and they have an amazing back story. 1947 is a legendary vintage and Gaston Huet has described this wine as ‘the best wine I ever made’.
Now I’m not the biggest fan of scoring wines but it’s a necessary evil and something I do, primarily to remind me to buy more of what ever scored well at a decent price. Before trying this wine I thought critics that gave wines a 100 point score were nuts, how can a wine be perfect? But this was, I couldn’t imagine how it could have been any better, drinking it was an emotional experience and the taste lingered in my mind for days after.

It was at a ‘show and tell’ dinner thrown by some friends that live just round the corner from me in Brixton. In attendance were a bunch of wino’s, and everyone had to bring a bottle that meant something to them and then talk about the wine. An incredibly generous friend brought this along and it stopped everyone in their tracks, it was simply stunning, the best wine I’ve ever had. It made me feel a tad guilty for turning up with a sub £20 Hungarian Kékfrankos from Peter Wetzer (though that’s a cracking drop too).

Such an incredible colour, liquid amber

Liquid amber

An incredibly layered nose with notes of bergamot, toffee apple, treacle tart, apple tart flambé, flapjacks, fresh red & green apples, treacle pud as well as floral notes such as iris and polished antique wood furniture. In the mouth there is still an amazing acidity backing up rich and nuanced toffee apple, orange peel and an amazing finish.

Good things come to those who wait (at least a decade)

Good things come to those who wait (at least a decade)

2. Domaine Roulot – Meursault ‘Les Tillets’ 2004 £110 from Howard Ripley

Burgundy can be a cruel mistress, especially white Burgundy but when it’s on point and from producers such as Leflaive, DRC, Coche-Dury, Raveneau and Roulot it can be out of this world, the best expression of Chardonnay on the planet.

The wines of Domaine Roulot have an awesome mineral backbone and can be much more chiselled and precise than other Meursault wines that tend to be much fuller, richer and more concentrated. The wines benefit from plenty of time in the cellar and at 10 years old this bottle from the Les Tillets lieu-dit was truly exceptional. I took it along to a BYO dinner at Tagine in Balham with three good friends who are all wine educators and it was über! Had too much fun to write a tasting note but I do remember that it went incredibly well with merguez sausage!

Cheval 813. Chateau Cheval Blanc 1981 £289 from Fine + Rare

81′ is my birth vintage and this is the best wine I have ever tried from that year, so far. There might be a few wines out there that are equal or better (Krug 1981 is supposed to be killer as is the La Rioja Alta 890 Gran Reserva 91′ but I have yet to try these wines). Had this in great company and there is a wonderful story behind it, read more here.

Gaillard CR4. Pierre Gaillard – Côte Rôtie Esprit de Blonde 2012 (Currently Unavailable in U.K)

Pierre Gaillard’s winery is located high up in the hills near the impossibly beautiful town of Malleval. Pierre is a large man in all senses of the word, more than filling the frame when he warmly greets you at his tasting room door. His wines have a distinct elegance and this was singing when I visited the Northern Rhône in May. It blew me away, a baby but so gorgeous even at this early stage in its life, it should only get better.

Melleval

Melleval

Charred, bloody Steak and rose petal along with a plethora of redcurrant, cranberry, red cherry and strawberry compote, very well defined. In the mouth the fruit has just as much definition, a soft tannic structure and elegance, a wine of supreme breeding and outstanding fruit.

IMG_29285. Jacques Puffeney – Arbois Trousseau 2011 Cuvée Bérangères (If you see it anywhere, buy it!)

An earlier vintage of this wine (along with Puff’s Savagnin) literally stopped me in my tracks at a tasting some years ago, they are thrillingly good wines. It was love at first sip and I devoted a fair amount of time trying as many wines from the region as possible. In August I finally got round to visiting its vineyards, wine makers and stunning lakes with my best mate Jimmy and his camper van Jeff.

Jeff in Dover. Over.

Jeff & Jim in Dover. Over.

This was one of the first wines that we opened on the way down, drunk as dusk settled under the white cliffs of Dover while camping (possibly not legally) in the beautiful Samphire Hoe (we had an early ferry the next day). The wine has a mineral weight to it that I love and have only come across in wines that cost at least three or four times the price. Somehow we didn’t finish the bottle as I found about a glass worth the following afternoon when we unpacked Jeff on the sunny vineyard slopes of Bouzy in Champagne. It had only improved with a bit of air and I slugged the lightly chilled wine straight from the bottle while enjoying the scenery and remember feeling wholly nourished.

Mouton 20056. Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2005 £390 from The Wine Society

It’s always a pleasure to drink any of the first growths, especially when you’re not the one paying, (cheers Jim!) and getting to compare 8 different vintages in one sitting is verging on the point of debauchery but hey, it’s a tough job and somebody’s gotta do it right? Knocked back alongside the 85’, 96’, 98’ 01’, 02’, 04’ & 06’ vintages at a tasting at West London Wine School, the 2005 stood out and though still at a very early stage of its life, with a decent decant this was absolutely singing.

Opulent, classy and with a fantastically nuanced, sweet berry and black olive nose that builds in intensity on the nose. The palate shows balance, poise with fruit filled, plush tannin, fresh acidity and a wave of minerality that laps on the finish. Pure class.

Clape 20087. Clape 2008 Cornas (A tough vintage to find try Roberson for the 2006 £64.95)

Which bloody door is it? A question running laps around my internal dialogue on a blisteringly hot day in May while hustling down the main road that slices through the little town of Cornas. Running late for an appointment with Olivier Clape, the sun was beating down and the nondescript row of houses did not seem to be numbered, where are the cellars? I was starting to perspire. Then, quite suddenly further down the street a head popped out of a doorway, a hand waived, thank god, we were saved! Passing through the nondescript portal into a very workman like winery space filled with palates of empty bottles, work benches and faded posters of local vineyards we stepped into a rickety lift and descended into the cool, dark cellars of a Rhône legend.

Pierre Clape with his thief

Pierre Clape with his thief

Tasting in frigid cellars during the winter months it can be distractingly cold and not the greatest place to try wine but on a roasting hot day there is often nothing more welcoming. We were greeted by Olivier’s father Pierre with a wistful smile and warm smile (even though we were late). He proceeded to scale a small set of ladders, theif in hand to draw wine from the large old foudres and into out glasses. Tasting through the various cuvees of his wines was a real pleasure, some unlabelled bottles were pulled and offered blind (the 2002 still tasting incredibly young) but the 2008 from bottle was my favorite.

A superb nose of Asian spice, crustacean style mineral notes, violets and other indescribable floral aromas along with an abundance of rich fruit. In the mouth this has a great purity of dark structured berry fruit, fine, drying tannins backed up by a lovely minerality, great stuff, one for the cellar.

1983 Cote du Jura apres label

1983 Cote du Jura apres label

8. Domaine Macle – Côtes du Jura 1983 from Hedonism (2012 vintage £24.30)

Domaine Macle may be better known for the Chateau-Chalon they produce but it was the Côte du Jura wine made predominantly from Chardonnay (with a touch of Savagnin) that really stayed with me after visiting the domains cellars, it was somewhat of a revelation.

No, it's not for sale!

No, it’s not for sale!

There are few still dry white wines that can take extended bottle aging and remain fresh, most oxidise and become fat, developing plumper fruit and nutty notes before becoming unpalatable. But what happens when the wine already has some oxidation? Well in the case of this wine there appears to be a reverse trajectory with the wine becoming fresher, cleaner and offering more purity as it ages. Tasting the wine with Laurent Macle in the ancient cellars while his young daughter hung to his leg vying for his attention it was plain to see that with this warm, humble family man at the tiller the family will continue to make exceptional wines.

The nose is almost reminiscent of a well aged German Riesling at first but then layers of expression pour from the glass with notes of pistachio, caramel crunch and numerous curry spices. Delicious in the mouth with an elegant balance to the oxidised character that seems to have been tamed leaving a hazelnut praline richness great length that shows an understated intensity.

Melon que rouge9. Philippe Bornard Melon le Rouge-queue 2012 (Not available in the U.K)

Melon à Queue Rouge has been one of the grape finds of the year and I’m a massive fan of the wines made by this natural variation of Chardonnay. Every bottle I’ve tried has been either good or great and the wine Philippe Bornard bottles is one of the best. The wines seem more rounded than your usual Chardonnay and give expressive ripe yellow fruit with an incredibly pleasurable weight to it.

P BornardThis stood out while tasting through his wines in the atmospheric 17th century cellars they call home and Philippe is an engaging man with a sly sense of humor that can be glimpsed through his cheekily named cuvee’s. Though it is more common to knock back a glass of Vin Jaune with your comté the best match I had while in the region was a glass of this and a 12 month aged piece of Comté from Fort des Rousses, a truly heavenly combination.

photo(21)10. La Belle De Mai Saint Péray 2008 (No longer available, 2012 buy here)

This wine has made it onto this list for a number of different reasons, it’s not by any means an expensive or particularly sought after bottle but it did reminded me of a valuable lesson; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A wine drunk at the right age, with the right kind of food can be dynamite and you really don’t have to spend a fortune on the food or the wine, just find the right match and both will punch above their weight.

An afternoon snack with Laure

An afternoon snack with Laure

The wine was served with a simple yet delicious starter, kind of like a very rich asparagus omelette at a dinner high up in the rolling hills above Saint-Pray in the Northern Rhône and it worked perfectly with the 6 year old Rousanne. The host was the lovely Laure Colombo who had recently moved into this beautiful house and the dinner was full of local ingredients that perfectly suited the wines that she and her family make, it was an enchanting evening and Roussane is now a firm winter white favorite.
Other memorable wines; Lafite 95’, Huet Le Haut-Lieu Sec 34’, Scholium Project The Prince In His Caves, Vincent Paris Granit 60 12’, Elementis Skin Contact 11’, Schiefer Szapary Blaufränkisch 11’, Cartology 13’ and so many more.

Top 10 Records of 2014

Our tastes in music, as with wine is totally unique. These are the records that have been pushing my buttons in 2014, please feel free to share yours in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

Nick Mulvey – First Mind
A joyous album and the one record that I have listened to more than any other this year, nuanced string arrangements and a certain momentum throughout that is backed by some great song writing. Portico Quartet had some good songs (Knee-Deep in the North Sea & Steepless spring to mind), but this is very different and Nick has raised the bar, I can’t wait to hear more, a true talent.


Palace – Lost in the Night
This EP was another record that I spent some serious time with in 2014. A soulful, bluesy sound full of dreamy reverb that manages to instantly transport you somewhere else, somewhere better.

Taylor McFerrin – Early Riser
Early Riser managed to successfully fuse together electronic, R&B, jazz and soul music in a way that only a few others have been able to do so well. It had a west coast bump that at times was reminiscent of J Dilla, some great female vocal features in the form of Nai Palm, Emily King & RYAT. It was a diverse album and one that I kept on coming back to.

Angel Olsen – Burn your Fire for no witness
You better make sure that the restraint bar is pulled down and locked tight before getting into this album is its an emotional rollercoaster that starts off sounding doped up and anguished on Unfucktheworld then straight into the short sharp shock of I’m over you (almost) that is Forgiven/Forgotten. The tone constantly changes but you realise that even when sounding delicately spaced out and ethereal there is great power under the surface. The girls gonna be alright.

Lone – Reality Testing
There is something very comforting about the sparky, fuzzy beats on this record, many of the tracks appeal to previous loves (hip-hop & house stand up). These days I feel a bit too long in the tooth to be raving it up in XOYO with the yoot dem but if this was left on play in the background of a Friday night along with some rum & coke I’d probably be tempted to shake a leg. Bubbling stuff.

Honeyblood – Honeyblood
I didn’t want to like this anywhere as much as I did, bit Seattle/grungy/90’s PJ Harvey-ish which wouldn’t usually be up my alley, but…. It’s great! Plenty of energy characterful (though by no means Glaswegian sounding) vocals and raw guitar riffs that seem to hang in the air after being plaid.


Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – Give the People What They Want
The Queen of funk has been pushing out great records with the Dap-Kings on a regular basis for over a decade but this has to be one of my favourites to date. Seriously, who else is putting out funk & soul of this high calibre? No one, not since Amy Winehouse died, check Sharon she’s a dapper and smashes it live with one of the best horn sections going.

GoGo Penguin – v2.0
Quality not quantity here, proving you don’t need an orchestra to make beautiful, nuanced music that can really move you, these guys show the great heights that can be reached when all you have is drums and a piano. Their Break-beat jazz style is awesome to behold and genre pushing, 1 hour & 1 minute of your life that will not be wasted.

Catch you in 2015

So that was 2014; barbecue’n over Bouzy, sunbathing on the hill Hermitage, swimming through the crystal clear waters of Jura and cooking Morteau sausage in the ancient vineyards of Chateau D’Arlay are a few other images that are ingrained in my memory of this great year. I hope you also had an amazing year and I raise a glass to you and watch out 2015, here we come!

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Drinking Château Cheval Blanc in McDonald’s & Birth Vintages

Cheval PicThe first time I ever drank Château Cheval Blanc it was from a paper cup in McDonald’s….

Why?

It was a tip of the hat to Paul Giamatti’s character Miles in the film Sideways who drinks his prized bottle of 61’ Cheval Blanc in a burger bar from a polystyrene cup. The wine costs about £2,000 a bottle….

A younger Wiki (that ate more McDonald's by the look of it!)

A younger Wiki (that ate more McDonald’s by the look of it!)

I was with a few mates on the way back from a big tasting in town, one of the girls had been helping with a master class and managed to liberate an almost full bottle of the 2004 vintage for us to enjoy. Walking past a McDonald’s and just couldn’t resist the opportunity. Ordering our burgers we asked for a few extra cups, found an out of the way corner booth and got stuck in. It was a great wine (even slurped out of a cup to wash down a Big Mac and French fries) and there was a mischievous thrill at drinking one of France greatest wines in a fast food joint. The two things I learnt that day were that wine should never be taken too seriously and whenever possible should be enjoyed with friends and a smile.

Let’s be Franc.

I love the grape variety Cabernet Franc. It’s the daddy (of Cabernet Sauvignon) and makes some of the most refreshing, savory, gluggable wines going, perfect served slightly chilled on a warm summers day while tearing through a rustic, al fresco meal with a load mates.

Mulberry and bramble fruit with a certain earthiness, sometimes pencil shavings but with a savoury balance that begs for another sip, once you fall for this wine you will never look back. My first stop for this grape would be the Loire valley; Chinon, Bourgueil, Saumur-Champigny and Anjou where you can pick up incredibly good bottles for a pittance or search out more serious stuff from domains like Charles Joguet and Clos Rougeard.

The other place Cab Franc smashes it (though this time in the mix with Merlot and to a lesser extent Cabernet Sauvignon) is on Bordeaux’s right bank in St. Émilion. It is often the dominant player in what many think to be the area’s best wine, Chateau Cheval Blanc, making up to 56% of the blend in some vintages. The estates second wine Le Petit Cheval has had up to 98% Cab Franc in the blend which is surpassed only by one of Bordeaux’s rarest wines; Les Vieilles Vignes du Chateau Trotte Vieille , a 100% Cab Franc bottling made only from old vines with only 135 hand etched bottles being produced each vintage.

Castle of the White Horse

So whats so special about Cheval Blanc then?
Sitting at the top of the overly complex and meritocratic classification of St. Emilion alongside three other Premiers Grands Crus Classés (A); Ausone, Pavie & Angélus, Château Cheval Blanc is a bit of an oddity. It’s location in the far North West of the appellation right on the border with Pomerol means it sits apart from all the other top wines of St.Emilion that tend to be on the limestone plateau near the town (except for its neighbour, the ancient Chateau Figeac).

The location along with the high level of Cabernet Franc in the blend gives Cheval Blanc a unique character that is part St. Emilion part Pomerol and one of the greatest expressions of Cab Franc on the planet. It is a stones throw from two top Pomerol estates; La Conseillante & L’Evangile, sharing a large percentage of its soil type (sandy clay over blue clay) with Pétrus. The wines are sublime to drink even in youth they show a ripe rounded texture and character that seems to only get better with age.

Birth vintages

There’s something special about drinking a wine that was made in your birth vintage, even if the wine isn’t great, a certain je ne sais quoi exists when consuming a product that has been on the planet for almost exactly the same time as you. I was born in 1981 which wasn’t the greatest of years the world has known in terms of wine production but luckily for me down in Rioja they had a pretty cracking vintage and I’m a big fan of the wines, made to age they can often be found at incredibly reasonable prices.

1981 in Bordeaux wasn’t as fortuitous as it was in Rioja, plenty of rain up to May, a hotter than usual August with further rain at harvest diluting many of the wines that were produced, what the French might call a ‘classic’ vintage, the wines had good balance but were considered only for short term aging and are now thought to be well over the hill.

I’ve managed to dispose of a fair few in my time and none have been blown me away, I remember being particularly under whelmed by a bottle of 81’ Chateau Margaux (supposed to be one of the wines of the vintage) at a dinner about five years ago and had not really given them much thought since, until….
I was having a chat with a gentleman who is very much in the know when it comes to fine wine and he mentioned that the 81’ Cheval Blanc had been the wine of the night at a vertical dinner at The Ledbury in 2010. The 1981 was rated by many as the wine of the night. Writer Neal Martin noted ‘Surprisingly, it is the Cheval Blanc 1981 that proves one of the highlights of the dinner, more so than the rather soupy 1982.’ The following vintages all being rated lower – 70’ 78’ 79’ 83’ 86’ 88’ with only the 85’ & 89’ both far superior vintages coming close.

At an earlier Cheval vertical in July 2007 the 1981 again stood out and was noted as ‘the dark horse’ of the tasting, showing the real character of Cheval. It was rated 95/100 points beating off 89’ 93’ 95’ 96’ 99’ 01’ 02’ & 03’.

Parker Vs. 1981 Cheval Blanc

There is also a fantastic story in the book The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, JR., and the Reign of American Taste by Elin McCoy about Parker and the 1981 vintage.

With a reputation for high-quality wines, criticism doesn’t always go over well at Château Cheval Blanc. In the 1980s, Wine Advocate reviewer Robert Parker did a barrel tasting of the 1981 Château Cheval Blanc. The vintage in Saint-Émilion was a mediocre one that year, and Parker described the famous wine in his newsletter as “disappointing” and “mediocre.”

Displeased with this characterization, vineyard manager Jacque Hèbrard invited Parker to the estate to sample the wine again. Parker agreed. When he arrived at the estate, however, Hèbrard’s miniature schnauzer attacked, biting down on the critic’s calf and drawing blood according to Parker. Hèbrard stood and watched. Bleeding, Parker asked for a bandage. Instead, Hèbrard handed him a copy of the newsletter.

Park-Grrrrrr

Park-Grrrrrr

Jacque Hèbrard’s story differs from Parker’s, in that he claims Parker was not bleeding.

Parker did re-taste the wine and changed his assessment in January 1998 rating it 90/100 points and then again in December 2003 giving it 89/100 points saying: ‘This somewhat charming, lightweight Cheval Blanc is fully mature but elegant, with sweet red and black currant fruit intermixed with mineral, licorice, and a hint of herbs. Spicy, medium bodied and very pleasant, this wine’s harmony gives it considerable appeal. Drink up.’

As my tastes are not generally in line with Parker’s I had to hunt a bottle of the 81’ down and was eventually given a bottle as a gift from an incredibly generous client who knew what the wine would mean to me.

Soif, well worth a visit!

Soif, well worth a visit!

I was going to save it for my next birthday but that was over 9 months away and I just couldn’t do it. Two good friends of mine that work with wine, were both born in 1981 and soon to be leaving the country for Hong Kong & America were swiftly invited to a great little restaurant down in Battersea called Soif who allow you to bring your own wine an Mondays.

Jean-Pierre Robinot, great wines, interesting labels....

Jean-Pierre Robinot, great wines, interesting labels….

We got started with a glass bubbles from the legend that is Jean-Pierre Robinot – L’Opera des Vins, a sparkling PetNat that was full of wild strawberry funkiness on the nose with a firm red berry palate. If you want to buy his wines Roberson also sell a few. 88/100pts

Photo 27-11-2014 14 27 53

Next up was a bottle from one of California’s top Chardonnay producers, the 2009 Kistler, Hudson Vineyard in Carneros. A wine of great concentration that although quite opulent has such an amazing acidic core, it manages to marry the clarity of a top Chablis with the opulence of a top Cali Chardonnay, great stuff! 93/100pts

Château Cheval Blanc 1981

Château Cheval Blanc 1981

Château Cheval Blanc 1981
This had been in the decanter for about an hour and a half and had opened up beautifully; the nose had a wonderfully sweet, wild berry fruitiness backed up by classy autumnal sous bois, espresso, moist tobacco leaf and bitter cherry. Unbelievably suave in the mouth, quite full with light tannin and an acidic lift still present to the lightly dried berry fruit, dainty, very attractive with an excellent finish, still very lithe and alive. The greatest 81’ I’ve ever had. Enjoyed with Onglet, Chips & Cafe de Paris Butter. 95/100pts

Château Cheval Blanc 1981in the glass

Château Cheval Blanc 1981in the glass

Drinking these wines with good friends in an un-stuffy atmosphere really did bring home the fact that one of the greatest pleasures you can derive from wine is in sharing it with others. I’m also glad that McDonald’s have never deemed  to offer BYO.

Paty & Me in Soif

Paty & Me in Soif

My eternal thanks to Lucy, Paty, Guillaume & Ken. Sharing is definitely caring!

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Australia – Same Ocean, New Wave

Photo 26-10-2012 14 12 17

Nothing really happens that quickly in the world of wine, new vineyards take years before they even produce fruit that is good enough to squash and bottle and further decades to peak.

We’ve been making wine for thousands of years and over that time have eked out many of the planets greatest terroirs (though climate change may re-draw that map somewhat in future), is there a vineyard out there that has yet to be planted or reach a peak that may rival yards like Romanée-Conti or Montrachet? It’s possible and I certainly hope so but I wouldn’t hold your breath!

To say that there is a new wave of Australian wines hitting our shores may be pushing it a bit, most of the producers talked about below have been grinding for years and written about in the U.K press for some time. Yet each year a new wave of recent vintages laps in, sometimes there feels to be a slight sea-change or that some form of critical mass has been reached, this is where I feel Australia is at the moment. If it’s been a while since you indulged in a decent bottle from down under, I’d like to reacquaint you.

Australia, a (brief) recent history.

It’s no secret that Oz has been making great wine for a good old while but over the last decade or so they’ve also been making plenty of less exciting (though very popular) bulk production, coca-cola style stuff for the super markets and convenience stores that love the £5 fodder they’ve been kicking out (one of my uncles almost exclusively buys ‘that Yellow Tail stuff’, swears by it!). Though certainly not the only country doing this, the popularity of their big oaky chardy’s became unpopular sometime ago and gave ground to everyone’s new beau – Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc (for whites), with Shiraz losing ground to newly popular Malbec from Argentina. Yes, Australia has had MJ’s Man in the Mirror on repeat as they lost market share to places like California & Chile, they’ve gone from having a wine lake (more vino than they can flog) to drought, wash out vintages they found hard to handle (2011) and even smoke taint from bush fires. The global economy and exchange rates haven’t helped when it comes to exporting keenly priced vino either.

Internally, Australian wine competitions are far too powerful and often have the effect of promoting good wines but rarely exceptional wines and in a certain way homogenizing wines in a way that Parker’s palate has done for many regions and markets. In short, they have too much power within the Australian wine industry.

Photo 28-10-2014 17 14 17

It’s been a tough transition from cheap and cheerful to a more premium offering, almost falling into farce with things like Penfold’s Ampoule. Selling for £120,000 it will no doubt have a limited market and is no doubt one of the least likely bottles of wine ever to be opened, its something I’d imagine even a super villain having second thoughts about buying.

‘I jus don’t sink it vill look right in missile silo cellar No.3, It’s just not my style ja, Doctor Doom is coming round for a Sine Que Non vertical unt even he vill be taking zee mikey’

I suppose things like this are only made to grab worldwide headlines and probably do help to change the general public’s overall perception of Australia to that of a premium producer in some way.

Photo 28-10-2014 17 23 30

Penfold’s Ampoule (Before being rescued by Luke & Leia)

Surfs Up.

Anyway, let’s forget the past and look at the present and future of Australian wine. A new wave is here, the wines are the proof and more than stand up to some of the best of the old world’s standards as well as more cutting edge stuff coming from places like South Africa, California and certain parts of France. The reasons are multifarious but include; a focus on cooler climate regions/vineyards, better clonal selection, vine age, denser canopies and shading of fruit, earlier harvesting, use of native yeasts, older oak, larger barrels and reduced treatments.

There are also plenty of up and coming young winemakers that follow their own rules, making edgy, interesting wines from the heart, not the wallet. This ever expanding group, many of them second or third generation winemakers are challenging the way their parents have farmed the vineyards and pushing for a change to organic and biodynamic farming, getting rid of pesticides and using lessons learnt in France & Italy. This is Australia though and they are dealing with a different climate which has meant that they have had to adapt the lessons learnt in cooler climates in Europe to suit their home turf.

A recent tasting at Dvine cellars down in Stockwell was a real eye opener on some of these new skool cats, Greg the owner is Australian and like anyone with a hint of national pride shouts about good Australian wine (and bemoans the bad stuff) he and Oli had picked a great little selection for this packed out consumer tasting.

Many of these wines are made in tiny quantities and there is a hungry audience for them down under so we’re lucky someone manages to smuggle any of them out of Oz and into our glasses. If any of these sound like your cup of tea I wouldn’t hang about (they won’t!). Some of the wines are a bit out-there and have extended skin contact which can morph a grape that you know and love into something almost unrecognizable which can be a good or bad thing, but is always interesting. If you are interested in any of these wines contact Greg & Oli and they should be able to hunt some down for you pronto.

Photo 04-09-2014 20 43 48Si Vintners

Based in the southern part of the Margaret River in Western Australia Sarah & Iwo farm organically and biodynamically with only a bit of sulphur prior to bottling which is without fining or filtration, they’ve been going since 2010 and have just over 8 hectares under vine most of which was planted in 1978.

The Si White is a 70/30 Semillon – Chardonnay blend that shows notes of melon & grapefruit skin on the nose and has a thick texture in the mouth with plenty of definition, pithy citrus fruit and a salty snap on the finish.

The Si Red is a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec. A bit more classic in style than the white with mulberry fruit on the nose and plenty of grip in the mouth.

They also produce a fantastic Pinot Noir based rose and a very interesting sounding Semillon called Chincheclé that is made from low yielding 35 year old vines. Whole bunch pressed and naturally fermented in concrete eggs (for TWO BLOODY YEARS!) under a naturally occurring flor. I’m yet to try this wine but I have it on good authority that it kicks and should be sought out. They only made 768 bottles though so good luck (try Vagabond, you might get lucky).

Angus Wines – Paolo & Gustav Wildstyle Riesling 2013

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A Riesling that is partly made in ‘Dora the Amphora’, partly foot crushed and then spends around three weeks on the skins, not exactly what you’d call a traditional style Riesling this would no doubt be slated by purists. It’s certainly interesting, cloudy in colour, intense with apricot and peach skin tannins and plenty of texture.
Lucy Margaux Vineyards – Adelaide Hills

Anton Von Klopper’s domaine is set amongst the untouched wilderness of the Basket Range, a series of hills to the west of Adelaide which at around 500m above sea level is cool enough to make some killer Pinot. He has just over 4ha spread over 4 different plots in what used to be a cherry orchard and dry farmed and 100% biodynamic and be also buys in fruit from neighbors that have similar principles and makes small amounts of everything from Sauvignon Blanc to Sangiovese.

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Egg wine 2013 £23.50
A wild ferment Sauvignon Blanc that is made in a concrete egg fermenter which softens the fruit making it more layered and with better lees contact. Fresh and floral nose with good intensity complexity & weight. Very well rounded hate to say this but has an egg like roundness in the mouth, clean finish with some citrus/tropical fruit on the length.
91pts

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Wildman Blanc 2013 £24.00
This really is a wild one. 100% Sauvignon Blanc that is picked late enough that some of the fruit has a touch of noble rot, whole bunch carbonic maceration and a long ferment in natural barrels followed by about 8 months under a natural flor. This is Sauvignon but not as you know it! It does manage to keep the essence of Sav Blanc though in a concentrated form, a wonderfully fragrant nose, rich texture in the mouth with orange & apple fruit chased along by some snappy acidity. My kind’a Savignon.
92pts

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Domaine Lucci Red Blend 2013 £17.50
An eclectic mix of 45% Merlot – 15% Syrah – 12% Cabernet Franc – 12% Pinot Noir – 10% Sangiovese -6% Chardonnay, this may not be hugely complex but it is irresistibly drinkable stuff. Full of red fruits, raspberry, cranberry and a very appealing sweet & sour palate with plenty of weight.
90pts

Jauma – Adelaide Hills
Jauma is the Catalan for James and the James behind these wines is James Erkine, an ex-restaurateur with an honours degree in soil chemistry who is somewhat of a Grenache specialist. You won’t find any fancy winemaking equipment in his Basket Range, sandstone cellar (built in 1841) and all the fruit from his un-irrigated bush vines is hand harvested with minimal intervention other than a small dose of sulphur just before bottling so the wine can make it to your mowzer in one piece.

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Like Raindrops – McLaren Vale Grenache 2013 £24.00
A blend of Grenache from their three vineyards in the McLaren Vale this is unashamedly drinkable stuff with bright cherry fruit and an absolutely killer palate, Aussie Grenache can often underwhelm but this is cracking.
92pts

Bindi, Michael Dhillon – Macedon Hills

Bindi is one of Australia’s greatest producers of Pinot Noir & Chardonnay, they are simply exceptional wines that are rare as hens teeth as they have only two hectares or Chardonnay and 4 of Pinot Noir. Understated wines made by the humble Michael Dhillon who looks for balance more than power, the wines are not cheap but this is for a reason and when compared to the price of many Burgundy wines they are outstanding value and will last in the cellar, if you ever see their wines and you have the dosh, don’t hesitate.

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Bindi Composition Chardonnay 2012 £39.00
Struck match, wet stone and delicate, lacy tropical fruit on the elegant nose. Wonderful balance in the mouth with a succulence and gentle power, long finish.
95pts

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Bindi Quartz Chardonnay 2011 £59.99
Restrained and delicately spiced green fruits and and outstanding length, tasted along with some of Australia’s best Chardonnays this still managed to stand out.
96pts

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Bindi Composition Pinot Noir 2012 £42.20
Wonderfully opulent, elegant herbal spiciness, multilayered & medicinal. Palate has bitter red berry fruit and an outstanding depth of flavour followed by a smoky finish
97pts
Castagna – Beechworth

Castagna was not a producer that I was familiar with up until recently and to be perfectly honest I was blown away by their wines, they are not cheap due to a small production and the winemaker Julian Castagna (rightly) wanting a fair price for what they produce. The vineyard’s are at an elevation of 500m in the foothills of the Australian Alps, they are 100% biodynamic and won’t release any wine in poor vintages (such as 2011). They produce Viognier, Syrah (including a sparkling), a rose called Allegro and a Sangiovese/Syrah blend called Un Segreto. The second label is called Adams Rib and is made by Julians son Adam who is the estates assistant winemaker, Two wines are usually made ‘the White’ which is usually a Chardonnay/Viognier blend depending on the quality of the vintage (a 100% Chardonnay was made in 2010 alongside the white, ‘The Red’ is usually a subtle blend of Nebbiolo & Syrah.

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Castagna Genesis Syrah 2010 £56.50
Would you hate me if I used ‘mysterious’ to describe the nose of this wine? Okay that may be pushing it a bit far but this is certainly one of the best Syrah wines I have tried this year (and that includes 2 weeks sniffing around the Northern Rhone in May). Lovely, smoky dark plum and blackberry fruit on the nose with anise, earth, dried herbs and cracked black pepper. In the mouth there is plenty of red fruits along with cinnamon & nutmeg spice, beautifully soft tannins and a lifting acidity that makes this incredibly refreshing and a true pleasure to drink. Worth splashing out on and should age well.
98pts

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Castagna – Adam’s Rib Blend 2010 £32.50
A blend of 70% Nebbiolo & 30% Syrah, this is a very serious wine and though it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the Genesis, is not that far behind and has bags of finesse. The nose shows dried flowers and Chinese five spice and some plush and expressive raspberry and cherry fruit that also comes through in the mouth along with an elegant tannic structure.
93pts

Patrick Sullivan – Yarra Valley

Patrick Sullivan makes small batch, minimal intervention wines from some great plots around the Yarra such as the evocatively named ‘thousand candles’ site, working with growers to procure the healthiest fruit possible. After moving to London at 19 and working in Selfridges wine department Patrick travelled for a couple of years getting a taste for honest wines that showed a sense of place and that had not been over worked in the winery. Heading back to Oz he enrolled in a winemaking course but quickly switched to viticulture realising that he would never use the majority of what was being taught in today’s modern winemaking courses for his wines. So in essence he’s a bit of an old school producer believing in all the effort going into the quality and health of the vineyards and fruit rather than modern jiggery-pokery in the winery.

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Breakfast Wine 2013 £32.50
Sauvignon Blanc fruit that comes from a sunny, well exposed section of the already rather infamous Thousand Candles vineyard in Yarra Valley that Patrick can see while eating his breakfast, hence the name (as far as I know this isn’t meant to be drunk with your cornflakes though is certainly food friendly). The colour of the wine instantly points at extended skin contact which gives this wine great texture in the mouth and a lovely nose that is full of bay and mint leaf as well as a juicy tropical edge.
91pts

William Downie – Gippsland

Bill Downie is a Pinot man through and through, it’s pretty much all he makes (you’ll be lucky if you find a bottle of his Petit Menseng), he spent a number of years in Burgundy working with legends such as Hubert Lignier & Domaine Fourrier and is considered to be one of the best producers of Australian Pinot Noir. He is a big fan of regionality and makes Pinot in Yarra Valley, Mornington Penninsula & Gippsland. These are intricate wines that have a savoury/sweet character all of their own and it will be fantastic to see how the wines develop with age. The bottles are very distinctive, sturdy Burgundian bottles, usually topped with green wax and beautiful art work from Reg Mombassa a.k.a Chris O’Doherty whose art you may remember adorning Mambo surf wear back in the 90’s.

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No So2 2010 Gippsland Pinot Noir – £20

I have to admit that this style of Pinot doesn’t ring my bell but at the price is a good introduction to Bill’s wines and if you’re a fan of stalky and smoky whole bunch fermented pinot then this will be up your street and there’s plenty of crunchy black fruit (I’d buy this for the label art alone).

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William Downie 2013 Yarra Valley Pinot Noir – £46.99

Now this is great stuff but a wine that really will deserve some time in the cellar, well defined small berry fruit, smoke, this wine has great finesse and really does show a fantastic mineral flair.
93+pts

Luke Lambert – Yarra Valley
Luke is another of Australia’s young wine turks, eschewing what he learnt at wine school to make wines in a riskier more hands off way, concentrating on the vineyard far more than the winery. Growing up in Brisbane, Queensland not traditionally a wine producing region he was introduced to wine by his parents whose palates favored wines with less fruit sweetness and following on from many trips to various cellar doors as a youngster decided that wine making was what he wanted to do as a career. Travelling in Europe he fell in love with amongst others the wines of Cornas & Barolo and realised that the more you try to push wine in a certain direction in the winery the more it lacks the character of the vineyard he was looking for.
He bottles both a Shiraz under his Crudo label and a Syrah under Luke Lambert, both from the same vineyard in Yarra Valley just separate blocks with the Crudo coming from the lower slopes and having a bit more muscle than the Syrah which works well with defining the style of these two very different wine. It is worth noting that he was one of the first Australian producers to use Syrah rather than Shiraz in Oz. Luke also makes a Nebbiolo a rosé that is a shiraz/nebbiolo blend and a sparkling Chardonnay, these are all small production, hard to find and nearly all his wines will certainly benefit an extended decant before you get stuck in.

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Crudo Chardonnay 2012 – £21

This is the first white bottling under Luke’s Crudo label and takes its lead, in part from sous voile Chardonnay made in Frances Jura region. With a mixture of extended skin contact and some of the barrels being aged under flor its safe to say that Luke was making a bit of a gamble making this wine. The gamble however has paid off and this is a fantastic wine that does need to be coaxed out somewhat but has very precise and direct apple, pear, lime fruit profile along with some almond nuttiness.
92pts

Luke Lambert Syrah 2012 – £31.00
40% whole bunch fermentation with natural yeast in large, 40 year old barrels really lets the fruit sing with this wine which has a very expressive perfume that is backed up by a herbal, spicy black fruit, great acidity and incredible length on the finish.
93+pts

Tom Shobbrook – Adelaide Hills

Tom along with Sam Hughs, Anton Von Klopper & James Erskine is part of Natural Selection Theory, these guys are among the GodFathers of Australia’s new (natural, if you will) wine movement.
Tom spent a good old time in Chianti making wine at organic & biodynamic producer Reicine and returning to the Barossa valley decided that he wanted to do things differently to the mainstream. He found it hard even to convince his own parents that there was another way to do things and that there where alternatives to what had become the norm in Barossa. Tom likes to experiment a fair bit and will use everything from a concrete egg to an open top barrel to ferment his wines, he’s got three main ranges; Didier, Didi & Shobbrook and works with quite a few different grape varieties, everything from Riesling to Merlot. The two wines that I like best from his range are the Didi Giallo and the Shobbrook Golden Circle, both Sauvignon Blanc (probably the grape I am least likely to go for) that has spent time on the skins turning it into a completely different animal, if you are new to this style of wine I’d start off with the Golden Circle before heading to the Giallo.

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Shobbrook Pineapple Egg Golden Circle Sauvigon Blanc 2013 – £17.50

Such a great, complex nose that shows spiced pineapple chunks, golden syrup, apple blossom, wild mint leaf and bay leaf. In the mouth its not as expressive but has a great orchard apple skin tannic texture along with pear fruit, scrumpy but in a good way.
91pts

Further Drinking….

Wine Australia and in particular Emma Symington have been doing a outstanding job of nurturing an interest and love of Australian wines within the U.K trade for many a year now, putting on a fantastic range of tastings and master classes that have really highlighted the quality of Australian wine across the board. It was with great sadness to the whole trade that Yvonne May passed away earlier this year, I’m sure that she would be hugely proud of the work her team have done to promote the wines that she was so passionate about.

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Australian Chardonnay Master Class with Justin Knock MW

One of the most recent tasting they put on was in the grandiose surrounds of Australia House on the Strand and included a Master class with Justin Knock MW on a number of Australia’s top Chardonnays, looking at differing styles over a number of vintages. There was also a tasting of 102 wines that had been handpicked by a cross section of the British wine trade and covered the main grape varieties, ranging in price from under £10 to £80.

The below is a list of wines that particularly stood out at the tasting, I would highly recommend searching any of them out (especially the ones with the *).

Sparkling

*Jansz 2007 – Tasmania £21.99

Inocent Bystander Moscato 2014 – VIC £9.99

Peter Lehmann ‘Black Queen’ Sparkling Shiraz 2009 – Barossa £16.95

White

*mac forbes RS16 Riesling 2013 – Strathbogie Ranges, VIC £22.00

Jacob’s Creek Steingarten Riesling 2011 – Barossa, SA £16.59

Jacob’s Creek Reserve Chardonnay 2012 – Adelaide Hills, SA £9.99

Henschke Julius Riesling 2013 – Eden valley, SA £21.50

*Fox Gordon Princess Fiano 2012 – Adelaide Hills, SA £16.75

Ochota Barrels, The Slint Chardonnay 2013 – Adelaide Hills, SA £28.00

Leeuwin Estate, Prelude Vineyards Chardonnay 2011 – Margaret river, WA £24.00

Vasse Felix, Heytesbury Chardonnay 2012, Margaret River, WA £28.95

*Philip Shaw, The Dreamer Viognier 2013 – Orange, NSW £14.95

Reds

*Moorooduc Estate Pinot Noir 2010 – Mornington Peninsula, VIC £29.50

Ochota Barrels, A Forest Pinot Noir 2013 – Adelaide Hills, SA £27.00

*Spinifex, Esprit 2009 – Barossa, SA £25.00

Islander Estate, Sangiovese 2013 – Kangaroo Island, SA £12.00

Jamsheed Syrah 2012 – Yarra Valley, VIC £31.00

Logan Shiraz 2012 – Orange, NSW £17.99

Shaw + Smith Shiraz 2012 – Adelaide Hills, SA £25.90

*Skillogalee Basket Pressed Shiraz 2010 – Clare Valley, SA £16.98

Enjoy!

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