Setting aside its considerable range of Italian agencies was a bold move for Armit Wines at last week’s Autumn Portfolio tasting – and it worked, very well indeed. Showing just 80 wines the tasting was focused, showed off Armit’s international estates and also proved how contemporary many of the wines are. With new agencies Terroir Sense Fronteres and Château Maris present; new wines such as La Rioja Alta’s Viña Arana Gran Reserva there; and some interesting curios, this was a tasting where it was hard to overlook the strength and depth of the range. Peter Dean highlights a dozen wines that sommeliers should look out for.
The summer of 2015 was not spectacular in Hampshire, but it was long and dry and the Chardonnay it produced was out of this world. Anne Krebiehl MW hears first hand from Jenkyn Place’s Camilla Jennings how this led the English winery to make its first ever Blanc de Blancs, under the watchful eye, as always, of consultant winemaker Dermot Sugrue. Jennings explains how the brief was to make a wine that had great elegance but also approachability – being able to be drunk in all manner of situations.
When a country or wine region is renowned for doing something well, there is often very little motivation to do things differently. The consistent and value-driven wines were out in force at the 2019 Wines of Chile tasting in London last week. There was also a fair smattering of the premium-led wines that have been grabbing headlines of late. But in terms of envelope pushing, for Sarah McCleery, the wines from Loncomilla, La Ronciere and Viña Laurent were the ones that piqued her interest most. Using a range of ancient varietals, vinification formats and techniques these estates are currently pushing the limits of what is possible in the country, both philosophically and geographically.
Having dispatched the USA rugby team in the morning at the Rugby World Cup, it was England’s turn in the afternoon to be shown the sheer power and majesty of the US – or the Californian wine scene to be more precise. Two of the hottest wine tasting events in London were being held at the US Embassy – Collectible California and Covetable Napa – and our man with the ‘golden tickets’, David Kermode, braved apocalyptic weather conditions to get there. Once inside he discovered a treasure trove of wines, including 14 of Napa’s most iconic wine estates each showing two vintages, a decade apart.
Anthazographobia is the fear of being left behind, ignored or forgotten. Martin Scorsese’s anti-hero Travis Bickle had it in Taxi Driver and Justin Keay reckons he’s a sufferer too. Aussie maverick winemaker Chester Osborn had a cat that was exactly the same which is why he named a wine after it called The Anthazographobic Cat. But there is no chance that the iconic wines from the other of Australia’s First Families of Wine will suffer this fate. At a monumental tasting called AFFW Unlocked, which was a highlight of last week’s Australia Redefined event, an embarrassment of riches from Australia’s finest winemakers had a point to prove – and that was that ‘Australia does premium wine’ – ones that really will leave a legacy on the world of fine wine.
Copenhagen Sparkling Tea, a Bolé Spumante from Italy’s newest DOC, a range called Ulterior of amphora-vinified wines from one of Spain’s hottest new winemakers in La Mancha, egg-fermented Savvy Blanc from Yealands, a new Dry Pink Pepper Gin and a terrific new range of wines from Swinney in Western Australia, all these and more fresh ideas gave the Enotria&Coe Autumn tasting a real buzz this year. Peter Dean reports
Armand de Brignac is a Champagne brand that everyone has a view about – irrespective of whether it has been tasted or not. The juxtaposition between the humble Pinot-driven Cattier family and owner Shawn Carter (Jay-Z) is a fascinating one; there is the ostentatious packaging, the stratospheric price tags and the flamboyance and technical mastery of the 30-litre format. Which all leads to the same question – is this a Champagne House that has the Midas touch or not? So who better to answer that question than Simon Field MW, ex-Champagne buyer for Berry Bros & Rudd, who accepted The Buyer’s invitation to a first tasting of the third assemblage of its prestigious cuvée Blanc de Noirs A3 alongside all of the other new releases.
While the white wines of Alto Adige are all about their floral notes and complexity, the reds are a different proposition altogether. Made largely from Lagrein and Schiava the reds have muscular tannins and sometimes-searing acidity. They are, however, very much in vogue and requiring the assistance of good sommeliers to explain their undoubted benefits to on-trade customers. In this unique corner of North Italy for the biennial Alto Adige/Süd Tirol wine summit, David Kermode gets to grips with these wines and also recommends his top 6 Alto Adige reds.
As he waits for his Irish passport application to be considered, and works on his Australian accent, a Brexit-battered Justin Keay crawled out from under his sofa to visit the Wine GB tasting last week. At first scoffing on how we can promote ourselves as ‘Unapologetically British’ Keay spent the day at the tasting and came round to the belief that this was a watershed tasting – that the breadth and depth of English and Welsh wine had never before been showing so strongly. Keay picks out six wineries that he thought stood out particularly well at the tasting and gives his reasons why, as well as giving special mention to the other wines that he felt were just starting to bring back some British pride to his deflated self.
The Caley is only into its third vintage but with the launch of The Caley 2014, Yalumba is proving that it justifies rubbing shoulders with Grange and the other new super-premium Aussie blends that have recently taken the stage. To launch the wine, Yalumba boss Robert Hill Smith drafted in pal Bruce Tyrrell, booked a Royal Family hangout, shipped over a load of new and old beauties – including a Maurice O’Shea Hermitage 1942, amongst many others. Jancis Robinson MW, Steven Spurrier, Matthew Jukes and our man at the table Roger Jones were suitably wowed. Warning – this feature contains a fair degree of smugness.
The crusty old farts in red trousers are a dying breed, argues Kate Hawkings, who welcomes the smart, engaging wine merchants who have replaced them and are keen to interact in the wine marketplace with different formats, new style events and who are even, God forbid, willing to take a wine tasting down the M4 to Bristol. Such was the case with Berkmann’s ‘Wine Lab’ event which had innovative themes to mix up the styles of wine, keep everyone on their toes and look at well known labels with an entirely new perspective. There was a much sought-after Tignanello-vertical masterclass in which Hawkings learned that our PM is a big fan, although he wasn’t there – he seemed to have a little bit of business elsewhere.
Australia has traditionally had a dearth of premium and super-premium wines, Penfolds Grange being the exception to the rule. Now a whole clutch of estates are releasing top dollar cuvees destined for the luxury end of the market. Clare Valley winery Taylors – known as Wakefield in the UK – was always inspired by the 1966 vintage of Mouton-Rothschild when it established 50 years ago. Now, to celebrate that landmark anniversary the winery is launching Wakefield The Legacy, a $1000 wine, launched in London last night by Wakefield’s Neil Hadley MW. Peter Dean got a ringside seat.
The boring old journalists who trot out the line “Only the trade likes Riesling” really have met their match with Liberty Wines, argues top chef and wine expert Roger Jones. A Liberty customer for over 20 years, Jones has its annual Portfolio Tasting inked into his diary before many importers’ events. And it is their championing of Riesling that Jones believes is the company’s greatest achievement – something that has played all the way to consumers who have grown to better understand and love the grape. Jones picks out 10 of the 30 on show and gives full tasting notes as well as being wowed by the wines of Steven Spurrier’s estate, Bride Valley.
Matching wine with barbeque is never the easiest task. But then add in a bit of kudu or Braaibroodie and you could be forgiven for throwing in the towel. So it was at the WOSA Winemaker Braai in London when, after a long day at the New Wave South Africa tasting, winemakers showed how their wines could match their national ‘dish’ – barbequed meat, and lots of it. Toothpick in hand, Chris Wilson went along for the ride and picked his 6 best Braai-matching wines as well as listened to the winemakers hopes and fears – that largely were based around the Rugby World Cup. (Do they play rugby over there? – Ed)
With eyes shut you would have thought for all the world that you were tasting Hunter Valley Semillon. Except you weren’t. Welcome to the rare and wonderful Semillons of Rikus Neethling from the western Cape – a real eye-opener at a fascinating masterclass that was one of the many highlights at the Davy’s New World tasting last week. There were more wines from Australia, Kiwi wines including some from Little Beauty, Robert Sinskey’s idiosyncratic but wonderful Napa wines, Ventisquero, Gouguenheim and many more as Geoffrey Dean discovered.
As the September tastings calendar goes into overdrive and drinks buyers go into meltdown – trying to cover all bases – so the Bibendum autumn portfolio tasting was a breath of fresh air. Just by its title alone ‘Not another bl**dy tasting!’ was always going to be a drinks event with a knowing wink and so it proved. Daring, different, unusual, our man at the scene David Kermode loved its change of pace and style, although he would have preferred a few more spittoons, that were clearly scarce on purpose. He did, however, manage to find plenty of exciting wines, spirits, stickies and fortifieds that you should be taking a note of.
One of the most exciting things about a wine region ‘on a roll’ is the sheer explosion of talent. We were just getting used to the wines from winemaker stars at the vanguard of South Africa’s new wave – Mullineux, Sadie, Walser, Savage, O’Keefe etc – when a whole raft of new exciting winemakers comes onto the scene. Always canny at spotting new wines that will work for the on-trade, Chris Wilson clutched his hot ticket to New Wave South Africa, beat the queues (there was a way people!) and turns a spotlight on the fresh blood that is entering the scene. Read on for his Top 10 rising stars.
The Central Otago ‘fruit bomb’ style of Pinot Noir has been largely replaced by wines of more elegance and restraint. That said, the differences between fruit-forward New Zealand Pinot and ones that are more about acidity and tannin structure is what informs A1 and A2, the two wines from Akitu. In only six vintages Akitu winemaker PJ Charteris and winery owner Andrew Donaldson have managed to fashion two completely different wines from the same 12 hectare vineyard that can only be described as “marginal”, writes Anne Krebiehl MW who met up with Donaldson at London’s Institute of Masters of Wine to taste the new 2017 vintage and get more detail on what sets these two remarkable wines apart.
A pattern is clearly developing. In our many recent reports on the current state of British wineries and British wine events, our writers are finding that English and Welsh sparkling wine is now showing exceptionally well (and proving how much has been learned in the past decade) but it is the quality of the still wines that are showing the greatest improvement. Wanting to check this out for himself our very own Phileas Fogg (aka top chef and wine expert Roger Jones) decided to pop into Chapel Down incognito as a wine tourist on a busy and sweltering Bank Holiday Monday. Our ‘mystery quaffer’ was hugely impressed and reports back on which of the latest vintages you should buy.
Warmer weather, vine ageing and better winemaking means more balanced wines for British wine – whose standout summer event is Fizz Fest, organised by Vineyards of Hampshire. The sun shone on the day itself as much as it has on the vines this summer, which looks like yielding a spectacular 2019 crop. Justin Keay found the eight wineries present in fine fettle but more interesting was the amount of experimentation going on – Madeleine Angevine, Schönburger, Auxerrois Blanc and Pinot Gris anyone? The innovative use of ‘completely different’ grape varieties was a real head-turner, as Keay elaborates.