London’s annual Washington State Wine tasting was one of the last ‘live’ events to be held in March 2020, before the pandemic struck. 16 months later and Geoffrey Dean attended this year’s event which showcased 91 wines from 13 producers. The well known names of Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Reynvaan, Gramercy Cellars, Betz and L’Ecole No 41 were all there but what made this event even more fascinating was the sheer amount of wines coming from lesser known estates and ones which are seeking representation in the UK.
In a brave about-face, Louis Roederer has ditched its best-selling Brut Premier NV cuvée and replaced it with the new Louis Roederer Collection 242, a multi-vintage blend that uses both a string of reserve wines and a high proportion of a solera-style Perpetual Reserve – created in 2012 and topped up after subsequent harvests. Underlying the move is cellar master Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon’s vision to cope with warming temperatures in the region and to create an unique NV that gets increasingly complex with each subsequent harvest.
The impact that British wine has made both domestically and in international markets has been spearheaded by its sparkling wines. But what of English still wine? For too long it has played second fiddle – obtaining the right fruit ripeness from the unpredictable British climate, and also making wine at a competitive price point have not helped. But there are now so many examples of top quality still wine made on these shores that wine scribe Justin Keay decided to take a closer look, visiting a number of estates over the summer and focusing on two in particular – Balfour and Tillingham – that have approached still production from opposite ends of the wine spectrum.
Riesling is one of the top grapes favoured by those in the wine trade – and for good reason. It is totally unique in its ability to withstand extreme cold, produce TDN and make such a vast array of wines with little or no need to be blended with any other varietal. David Rosenthal from Chateau Ste Michelle in Washington State, Erni Loosen from Dr Loosen Estate in the Mosel, Sam Barry from Jim Barry Wines in the Clare Valley, and Jean-Frédéric Hugel from Famille Hugel in Alsace, each discuss three of their new wines and what makes them special while Geoffrey Dean tastes.
Tenuta Sette Ponti is a Tuscan estate that may not be on everyone’s radar, but it soon will be, argues David Kermode. Guided by the vision of its owner Dr. Antonio Moretti, it is fast expanding with its two sister wineries Poggio al Lupo in Maremma, and Bolgheri’s Orma almost fully organic now and receiving rave reviews – the latter being favourably compared to its illustrious neighbours Sassicaia and Ornellaia. Kermode spoke to the estate and tasted the latest vintages of the wines.
As winemaking in Hungary improves with an increased focus on terroir so the country’s ‘other’ grape, Hárslevelű, is coming into its own. Hárslevelű has always played second fiddle to Furmint, but that is changing as Justin Keay discovered during one of the year’s more ambitious wine tastings. Having tasted the grape in a variety of styles he then spent more time with his favourite six wines to really get to understand this grape and why it has an exciting future ahead of it on the international wine stage.
Ex Michelin-starred chef and Australian wine expert Roger Jones tastes and rates Tom Cullity 2017 – the new premium Cabernet Sauvignon from Vasse Felix that critics are saying is the best vintage yet – alongside the four previous vintages, including the inaugural 2013 vintage that was released on the winery’s 50th anniversary. Jones also gets up close and personal with Vasse Felix owner Paul Holmes à Court and chief winemaker Virginia Willcock to discover the history of this wine and why it works so well with black truffles.
Sometimes an anomaly with the weather can do extraordinary things to a wine. In the case of Moët & Chandon’s Grand Vintage 2013, the lateness of the 2013 growing season in terms of budding, flowering and ripening meant that the house was picking grapes in October. Even with 23 years under his belt at Moët, chef de cave Benoît Gouez, says he didn’t have any reference point for such a late year, rot was an issue too, especially with the Pinot Noir. But the House has turned in a magnificent wine and, against all the odds, it achieved the best average balance between acidity and alcohol than any other Moët vintage Champagne over the past 60 years. Peter Dean got the story and reviews the two wines – blanc and rosé.
There are no Grand Cru vineyards in Meursault, but that hardly seems to matter sometimes when you are drinking aged Premier Crus from a top producer. This is one of the lessons that wine expert Harry Crowther learned during an exceptional tasting with Bouchard Père & Fils. In order to showcase its 2018 Meursault, the producer showed its new Genevrières and Perrieres alongside two different older vintages, as well as showing the new vintages of Les Clous, Le Porusot and Les Gouts d’Or. For Crowther it was an opportunity to really get under the skin of what Meusault means as well as to assess the new 2018 vintage.
A low alcohol Sauvignon Blanc macerated with hops to make a ‘winebeer’ was one of the many highlights at the ProChile wine tasting held at the Chile Embassy in July. Set up to offer the UK trade a first hand taste of 40 wines looking for a UK partner, David Kermode found the tasting small, perfectly formed and genuinely fascinating – demonstrating yet again how fast this country is progressing in offering wines made with indigenous grapes and alternative styles.
While many a glass of MCC will have raised over the weekend in South Africa, as the Springboks narrowly beat the Lions, it is actually in the UK where we have been falling in love with South Africa’s sparkling wine. Fifty years old this year, MCC is the fastest-growing category in South Africa and, for a top producer like Graham Beck, the UK accounts for over half of its export sales. On a recent trip to South Africa Geoffrey Dean spoke to Pieter “Bubbles” Ferreira, Beck’s cellar master, along with Rollo Gabb, MD at Journey’s End that is set to release its first ever MCC wine this year, and caught up with their new wines (along with Kleine Zalze) at a recent SA mini-tasting.
2019 in Burgundy was a revelation – the ripeness of the fruit balancing well with firm acidity – making it a vintage that can be enjoyed both young or with a degree of cellaring. Victor Smart tastes three of the new Château de Pommard wines, 2019 Clos Marey-Monge Nicolas-Joseph, Monopole and Grands Esprits in the company of estate owner Michael Baum, and recommends trying to put these wines away to age – that’s if temptation does not stand in the way. To Baum, this vintage marks the next step toward’s Pommard’s full conversion to biodynamics.
The 170 wines on show at the recent Consorzio tastings of Chianti Classico, helped prove that this DOCG is one of the most improved in Italy, with most of the 2019 vintage showing well and ‘good to go’. Since the introduction of the Gran Selezione premium category, regionality has been the main focus for the DOCG. But how is that working? And can you tell the difference between wines made in the nine different communes that each has a vast array of different soils, altitudes and micro-climates? Justin Keay thought he was up to the task and focused on four producers – Villa Calcinaia, Castagnoli, Lilliano and Vallepicciola – talking to the head winemakers about how regionality is working in their wines and ultimately picking 10 Chianti Classicos that need to be on your buying radar.
Personal spittoons and personal sommeliers… it’s the return of physical wine tastings. Fifteen months on from attending a physical wine tasting, journalist and winemaker Chris Wilson headed to London for not one but two physical tastings – the Georgian wine trade tasting and the Wines From Spain annual tasting. Both events were run on entirely different models –a walkaround style close to ‘old school’ wine tastings and a sit-down style where personal sommeliers serve you. So what were the key benefits and disadvantages of both models?
Managing to evade the rigours of Lockdown, quarantine and self-isolation, Geoffrey Dean travelled to the Wines of Portugal Challenge in Santarem. His job was to take part as a judge but he also managed to get out and about and get a snapshot of contemporary Portuguese winemaking through the eyes of six very different winemakers – from the small and unrepresented in the UK, right through to the second largest producer in Portugal. On top of getting an idea of what the challenges are facing the winemakers here, Dean also got a chance to try many wines and recommends the ones that stood out on the day.
After 18 months of Zoom tastings and mini samples, this July’s generic Wines of Spain tasting was an opportunity to experience the real live thing, albeit through Covid-safe protocol. Here Justin Keay found further proof that with closer attention to soil, climate, altitude and the nuances of individual grape varieties Spain is truly becoming one of the world’s most interesting producer nations. The tasting covered all of the country’s regions providing an exciting opportunity to taste lesser-known wines from increasingly-improving regions of Ribeiro and Txakoli. Afterwards Keay had an audience with Paula Fandino from Mar de Frades.
Wine expert LM Archer discovers Lugana Riserva white wines and Bardolino reds from Northern Italy from producers Le Morette, Le Fraghe, Rizzardi, Zenato, and Ca’ Lojera and argues that they are a match for red and white Burgundy at a fraction of the price. The Consorzio di Tutela Chiaretto e Bardolino has been busy of late, putting its weight behind a charm offensive to promote this ancient wine region at the southern tip of Lake Garda, showcasing its two-year aged white Riservas and reintroducing three historic sub-zones developed during the 19th century. These include the northern foothills of Montebaldo, the morainic, more Mediterranean, lakeside hills of La Rocca, and – warmer still – the, southern, gravelly hills of Sommacampagna.
Every wine producer has a vineyard or site that gives that little bit more and works that little bit harder – with the wines produced from it being synonymous with the name of the estate. For the great Burgundy producer Joseph Drouhin that place is the Clos des Mouches, a 14 hectare vineyard acquired 100 years ago by Maurice Drouhin, that sits between Corton Charlemagne, Pommard and Puligny Montrachet. The red and white Premier Cru wines that come from this rare monopole are legendary in Burgundy, but that wasn’t always the case. In the 1980s the family realised the soil was dying and something had to be done quick to bring it back to life.
The fine wine world is increasingly taking stock of the great Italian white wines that are on offer, as their quality improves. One case in point is Verdicchio which often used to be just about the Anfora bottle and nothing else – this was a white wine that punters used to chill with ice cubes. One of Italy’s leading Verdicchio producers, Sartarelli, showed its latest vintages to wine consultant Douglas Blyde, who explains the background to the wines and why this Marches-based producer is consistently picking up the major gongs at the wine competitions.
There is a real underdog quality to the Champagne growers of Les Riceys. Once the preferred tipple of Louis XIV, the wines in this Eastern French commune are now overshadowed by the great Champagne Houses of the North – which only serves to make them more diverse, idiosyncratic and with a point to prove. David Kermode introduces us to five producers of these Grower Champagnes: Champagne Batisse-Lancelot, Pascal Manchin, Péhu-Guiardel, Arnaud Tabourin and Vincent Philpaux, who have collectively formed an Alliance to better promote their wines to the outside world.