It’s a case of ‘one step forward two steps back’ for Bulgaria and its wine producers, believes Justin Keay. After the huge success of the previous two years, this year’s new vintage tasting in London was lacking some of the best producers, many of the indigenous varieties and a lot of the imaginative winemaking so evident in 2018. Talking to key buyers, Keay discovers that price is an issue, consumers’ lack of knowledge and also an inward-looking focus that smacks of a lack of understanding of the global wine market.
Tasting the new releases from Vega-Sicilia is up there with ‘DRC day’ in January. But when that tasting is behind the hallowed doors of the wine estate itself then tasting Unico 2010, Valbuena 5° 2015, Alion 2016 and Unico, Reserva Especial 2020 takes on an added frisson of excitement. Spain’s ‘first growth’ and arguably its most prestigious winery is notoriously difficult to gain access to, but Peter Dean did and posts this account of what it’s like to sample Unico 2010 in the hushed drawing room of the Nineteenth Century villa that serves as its headquarters.
As a restaurateur Roger Jones has found that his customers are more at ease when ordering wines and grape varieties that they can pronounce. So how were they going to fare with Vachnadziani, Rkatsitelli and Karmrahyut – three varietals from Georgia and Armenia, that are part of Hallgarten’s 80 new-wine refresh of its portfolio, embracing Ancient Wines? Jones tasted through the range, recommends his stand-out wines, which are best value, and which ones stood up to the Old and New World wines which, for Jones stole the show.
The ‘black wines’ of Cahors in France’s South-West are still suffering in the UK from a reputation of being too challenging – both cerebrally and on account of their sometimes ferocious tannins – sad given the fact that in the 14th Century half of all wine imported into Britain was from Cahors. At the UK launch of its new cuvée Lucter, Château de Haute-Serre owner Bertrand-Gabriel Vigouroux shows Simon Field MW how he has made it his mission to manage the tannins in Cahors without sacrificing the essence of the wine and its key points of difference.
Ever since he vacated the chef de cave seat at Piper-Heidsieck, Regis Camus has devoted his attention between making premium sake and top Champagne cuvée Rare. In London to show off the new vintage, Rare 2006, to Anne Krebiehl MW, he explains why this cuvée is a ‘sunny’ one rather than ‘iconic’ or ‘radiant’; why most of the Chardonnay in the blend comes from the Montagne de Reims rather than the Côte des Blancs; why it is only the ninth white Rare since 1976; and why making Champagne of this calibre requires the maker to have a ‘photograph’ in their mind of each vintage.
Unusual to get tasting notes that include references to Frazzles and “that savoury taste you get a few hours after being punched in the nose,” especially when the wines are at a tasting called Wines with a Conscience. What did Ellis Wines’ new concept tasting all mean? And did the idea stack up? We sent Chris Wilson to 67 Pall Mall to find out, and he was pleasantly pleased with this 50-strong range of Organic, Biodynamic and Sustainable wines, one of which actually uses the winery’s self-produced bee pollen yeast.
The ‘New Old World’ of Central and Eastern Europe is producing some extraordinary and exciting wines right now. Pay particular attention to wines involving the Blue grape, says Justin Keay, whether it’s known as Blaufränkisch, Kekfrankos, Lemberger or one of the many other names it adopts as it follows the winding Danube down to the Black Sea. The grape was part of a landmark tasting in London which had a Hungarian focus but also had wines from Romania, Bulgaria, Austria and even Australia – vinified as a single varietal but also, perhaps most successfully as a blending component.
One of the bugbears of Peter Finlayson is that wines are drunk way too young. In order to prove a point he assembled a gaggle of wine experts, including our own Anne Krebiehl MW, and showed them a flight of his Galpin Peak Pinot Noirs that he makes in South Africa’s Hemel-en-Aarde valley. Finlayson has always taken his cues from Burgundy, his winery Bouchard Finlayson is a joint project with the late Paul Bouchard, of the Beaune négociant Bouchard Aîné & Fils; and the Pinot he makes is always made to be laid down. Krebiehl takes up the story.
British wine consumers and buyers are a tad obsessed with the ageability of wines – Cabernet Sauvignon in particular – a hangover perhaps from all that collecting Claret. But while tasting aged Bordeaux is not uncommon in the trade, getting the opportunity to see how well Napa Cabernet ages is a much rarer beast. This much was in evidence as Napa Valley Vintners’ annual ’A Perspective on Vintages’ tasting made its London debut to a packed crowd of wine experts, including our very own David Kermode. The tasting showed off 16 different vintages, allowing Kermode to assess the part played by vintage variation and the consistency of style of the winemakers present.
Ruinart was the first Champagne house to make a rosé way back in 1764 and they are still going strong. Correction. They are going from strength to strength argues Anne Krebiehl MW who confesses to being taken aback at how good the new vintage Dom Ruinart Rosé 2007 is, as well as the wines shown alongside it – the 2007 Blanc de Blancs and two other vintage Rosés. Ruinart has always made Chardonnay the backbone of its wines, a philosophy that helps achieve one of its prime goals – to be able to drink it from 9am one day to 9am the next.
After the success of Trilogy 2015 which was Cabernet Sauvignon dominant, Warwick Wine Estate’s new cellar master JD Pretorius decided to make Warwick Estate Trilogy 2016 Cabernet Franc dominant, making it one of the very few Bordeaux blends in the Cape to have this style of blend. Geoffrey Dean caught up with Pretorius at the launch of the 2016 to find out the challenges of growing Cab Franc in the Cape, why the blend is as it is and to taste the previous vintages of 2012, 2008, 2005 and 1997 to compare and contrast the new wine.
In just over a decade Elephant Hill has become one of Hawke’s Bay’s most prestigious estates, situated as it is on the coast at Te Awanga that, even by New Zealand standards, is jaw-droppingly beautiful. The winery has vineyards in three distinct districts: Te Awanga, Bridge Pa and Gimblett Gravels each of which have their own microclimate and soils and, together, make Elephant Hill a ‘complete’ Hawke’s Bay producer. For head winemaker Steve Skinner the challenge is to create wines that convey their sense of place and which can deliver even when the climate conspires against them. Skinner was in London to showcase his new ‘Element’ single vineyard wine series and ‘Icon’ blends – and to reflect on how far the winery has come in the 12 years that he has been making wines there.
Always asking questions, always pushing boundaries, that’s the philosophy of Daniel Sorrell who has been the winemaker at Cloudy Bay for the past four years. As the winery celebrates its 35th anniversary Chris Wilson met up with Sorrell to taste the new vintage Cloudy Bay 2019, where he also found out what made 2019 a nerve-wracking season, why Sorrell thinks Cloudy Bay has become one of the iconic white wines of the world, how the estate is seeking a ‘nervous’ quality in the wine and how it is trying to avoid the thiol-heavy style that seems to be going out of fashion.
‘It’s not so hard making wine – the real difficulty is selling it,’ goes the wine industry adage. There’s a lot of truth in that statement, of course, which is why the ‘Get It On’ tasting is so important for German wine producers without a UK importer. Wines seeking distribution are paired with importers who are looking for a German wine and the hope is that they end up ‘Makin’ Whoopee’. Since Wines of Germany has been running this wine tasting version of Blind Date, there have been 45 unrepresented German wine distributors who have found a UK importer. David Kermode was at the latest tasting and picks out the wines that he thought should no longer ‘be single’.
During 2018 Enotria&Coe introduced 150 new wines, 70 of which are from France. The strategy was aimed at filling some missing gaps in the portfolio, to add interesting boutique wines to their existing anchor producers, and to offer a range of price points to its growing customer base. Drafted in to oversee the change was Rebecca Gergely, formerly of La Marchande, who showed a selection of the wines to Peter Dean at Enotria&Coe’s swanky new tasting suite at Park Royal.
The exquisite wines of Alois Lageder have for long been a favourite of sommeliers the world over – an early convert to biodynamics, his wines bristle with a life of their own. But visiting Lageder in his home town of Magre, in Alto Adige, the most northern part of Italy, is a truly unforgettable experience, writes Justin Keay. Not only is the setting breathtaking but tasting through a 30-wine strong portfolio, grouped into four main sections, is an eye-opening discovery of many cuvées that rarely see the light of day. This, all accompanied by the great man’s philosophising on varietals, agriculture and “cultivating nature as a habitat for life.”
Send top chef and wine expert Roger Jones to pick a handful of his favourite Alsatian wines from the Alsace Rocks! tasting and what do you get? 1600 words on 27 wines, tasting notes, food-matching suggestions, two special producer profiles and more enthusiasm than is all together comfortable in a diminutive Welshman. Jones is a massive fan of Alsace and one of the world’s experts on its wines – both as a wine lover and, most importantly, understanding how they work in the context of his top restaurant.
From Greek Civ O Level to extensive studies in Cretian wine, Kate Hawkings has always had a passion for Greece, its culture and its wines. Here she travels to Crete and visits Lyrarakis, a wine estate that underwent major rebranding and redefinition of its strategy in 2016, focussing on their pioneering work with native varietals – Dafni, Plyto, Melissaki, Vilana and Kotsifali – and emphasis on Crete’s distinctive terroirs. Hawkings hears how difficult these grapes are to work with as well as gives full tasting notes on the latest vintage.
As far as challenges go, Maison Bruno Paillard’s N.P.U. Champagnes are as formidable as they are delicious. The Buyer reported before on the seven-point-manifesto that was dreamed up years ago in London and resulted in the creation of this unusual cuvée. Now it was time to present another vintage of this wine which has only been made seven times since it was conceived in the mid-1980s. Alice Paillard, daughter of founder Bruno Paillard, was in London to present the N.P.U., or Nec Plus Ultra 2004. Anne Krebiehl MW reports
“Sampling new, 2019 Hunter Valley Semillon feels like a form of vinous infanticide,” writes David Kermode, after tasting through the latest vintages of white and red with Iain Riggs, chief winemaker at Brokenwood. Having just completed his 48th vintage, Riggs can rightly be called one of the forefathers of Hunter Valley, taking a small scale winery in 1982 and turning it into one of the most highly regarded estates in Australia today. Riggs discusses Semillon, screw cap, Graveyard Shiraz (the 2017 has just been awarded a Best in Show at the 2019 Decanter World Wine Awards), climate and Dolly Parton styles of Chardonnay.