His year started in Marlborough and it ended in Morgon, en route he visited Spain, Italy, the Rhône and Bordeaux… on more than one occasion. Welcome to the Top 12 wines of 2019 as discovered by Mike Turner, restaurateur, wine consultant, journalist, web geek and contributor to The Buyer. Every day over the holidays there will be more Top wines from 2019 as chosen by our panel of wine tasters – to pick up on some gems you may have missed in the year but also so you can pretend you’ve got some work on when the in-laws pop round.
Merotto, Llopart, Paul Barre, Lapierre, Millton – Mike’s Top Wines of 2019 include some you may well know about, but many that you won’t have done. Take it away Mike!
To get together a list of my favourite wines of 2019 I effectively just went back through my photos and jogged my memory banks of the brilliant experiences I’ve had and the great people I’ve met. That these experiences also tend to involve nice wine is a bit of the kicker of the gig really, isn’t it?
I don’t ever want to forget that without the people who make it, the friends and family you share it with, and the fun-and-games around the whole wine and food experience, then it’s just another drink.
I couldn’t believe my luck as I was kindly invited out to the Sauvignon Blanc conference in Marlborough, New Zealand. Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand has a very “on the fence” reputation right now in the UK, with plenty of wine snobs scoffing at the famous Kiwi style. Fresh, vibrant, iconic wines? How dare they!
Well I still love the stereotypical Kiwi style, but those that think it’s a one trick pony need to think again. Amazing wines are being produced with lees contact, barrel ferments and ageing, reductive winemaking, and many more flicks and tricks. Cloudy Bay’s Te Koko is one of the best on the market, but keep your eyes out for more!
By the time February came around, I’d made it up to New Zealand’s North Island and, despite a nasty bout of tonsillitis and a day wandering the mean streets of ‘Gizzy’, I’d recovered enough to join the troops on a tour around James Millton’s farm.
James Millton is the godfather of Kiwi biodynamics, and had me absolutely entranced by his views on winemaking and the wider world beyond. And the wines are unbelievably good. I am yet to taste a biodynamic wine that doesn’t have a super long finish with more flavour concentration than you can shake a stick at. His Clos de Ste Anne Chardonnay was a real standout. Do go check it out.
By March I was back from the painful ravages of a Kiwi summer, and happily back in my gloves and scarf in sunny Blighty. The Wines of Portugal team came on over to show off the great and the good, from north to south. Although I always use this as an opportunity to educate myself on my massive blind spot in Southern Portugal, it was the reds of Quinta Do Noval that caught my eye the most.
These are really subtley made red wines, not what you’d expect from the hot and dry climbs of the Douro Valley. Good range now, with blends and varietals showing off the Portuguese red varieties, as well as the odd tourist here and there (some excellent ripe Syrah in there). It was the Cedro Do Noval that always has me, sub £20, excellent fruit, relaxed but firm tannic structure, and a lovely kick of herbiness to go with that roast goat on a Sunday. Magic stuff.
In April I made it down to a dinner in a part of London that is way too trendy for me to usually enter. I braved it though in order to scratch an itch I’d had since trying a very unusual, but tasty blanc de noir Cabernet Sauvingon ‘white’ from Changyu Moser the year before.
The atmosphere was excellent. Lenz Moser is a gent, the food was excellent, the room was plush red everywhere, and Joe Wadsack was on fine form, which always adds to the night! The wines though were so much more than I’d thought they’d be. That ‘white’ Cabernet was so…er…weird, but good, I was expecting more of the same. Weird but good. Lenz has been busy for a few years in China now, and the aged examples of his Cabernet Sauvingon would grace any table and many, many food pairings.
I made my first trip ever to Avignon in 2019. As someone who extols the virtues of wine tourism, I couldn’t have loved the place more. I’m a medieval history nut, and this place is AMAZING! The fact that they held the tastings at the Pope’s Palace had me geeking out all over the place!!
It was also a chance to meet up with a fella I’d met the year before in London through a mate called Richard Dudley-Craig. Bernard Duseigneur has had a relatively similar path to me in terms of career in finance followed by a move to wine. Whereas I became an average scribbler, Bernard makes superb biodynamic wines across a handful of Southern Rhône appellations, including these beauties Catarina and Le Songe de Catherine, from his smallholdings in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Super wines, super fella.
By June I was really exploring my interest in ‘Sustainability in wine’. What did it all mean? How does it fit with Organics or Biodynamics? Are we, as an industry, categorising the efforts of winemakers and grape growers across the world into a term that’s just convenient rather than correct? Where’s that three-handed economist when you need them!
At Bibendum’s Sustainability event, I met Derek Mossman, winemaker at Garage Wine Company in Chile. He was one of the first guys to open my eyes to the idea of community sustainability, i.e. looking after the people around him to ensure they’re all still pulling together year on year. Also, even if you only make a bit of this and a bit of that, it’s an ethos that sells and has punters coming back for more!
There I was out in Bordeaux again, and renewing an acquaintance with some of the boys and girls of the Crus Artisans. These are producers where the owner takes an integral role in all of the production, from grape growing to bottling. In itself that doesn’t necessarily guarantee top wine, but why would you bust your arse so hard if you weren’t making top wine? You wouldn’t!
Towards the end of August I went out for a brilliant little jaunt around Fronsac with Sally Evans, owner of Château George 7 and entrepreneur in all things wine tourism and Fronsac. So there I was, with Decanter’s Jane Anson no less, swearing at the fact I couldn’t work out how to turn the motor of the electric cycle on! We got there in the end mind 😉
We hit three stops on the tour (should have been four had I not have got us lost), and the first one was the biodynamic vineyards of Paul Barre. Château La Grave is quite easily the finest Fronsac I’ve ever tasted, and that’s high praise given I’m a big fan of that region of Bordeaux. If I’m right, no-one imports that to the UK at the minute… just saying!
Any time you get a chance to meet Natalie Christensen, winemaker at Yealand’s Estate, you take it. She’s a very cool person who brightens up any room she walks in… oh and she makes top wines.
This time around was my first go at the new “State of Flux” range out of Yealands. Very minimal intervention winemaking, touch of sulphur just to stabilise at bottling, but otherwise this is really expressive fruit in a bottle, a real game changer for them I feel. Be quick though, it’s selling out like hot cakes!!
October took me on my first ever trip to Prosecco. Not the massive industrial bit, the very beautiful (despite the rain) hills of Valdobbiadene and rolling slopes of Conegliano, to go discuss all things DOCG and marketing.
It was a crazy trip really, with 1% of the world’s MWs on it with us. Of course I asked the most searching questions, naturally!!
On this trip was Sarah Knowles MW, the Wine Society’s buyer for Italy. She found a few that she really liked, including one fantastic biodynamic producer in Conegliano. But, despite the high standard of wines on show, it still boils down to “could you sell it”?
This Rive Di Col San Martino from Merotto was an absolute delight, really concentrated fruit flavour, great acidity, lovely balance, but a tough sell at nearly £50 a bottle after taxes are thrown in. But it was so good, and I was so impressed with the DOCG wines, that it had to make the list!
Doing the pre-Christmas rounds means, inevitably, coming face to face with lots and lots of bottles of bubbles all vying for your attention.
Anyone out there recognise the word “Corpinnat”? I can see a few hands going up at the back, but mostly shakes of the head.
Well Corpinnat is where we’re at with progressive, organic, low yielding ex-Cava. A handful of producers out there fed up with Cava’s expanse and cheapening of the name, have come together to sign up to produce high end, eco-friendly, traditional method bubbles from very specific plots of Catalunya. You will be hearing more about it! But for now, you can try it yourselves with these excellent wines (especially the Rosé) from Llopart.
Towards the end of the year I did a little two day trip to Beaujolais. I’d been before, but very much just passing through on my way somewhere else, so this was my first effort at hitting some wineries. ABSOLUTELY. BLOWN. AWAY.
Felt a bit harsh choosing just one producer to single out, but Lapierre just pipped the others with this eye-opening vertical of natural wines from Morgon. The depth of fruit, the subtlety of body, the silkiness of the finish. It just didn’t stop. Lapierre was ace, but look out for the wines of David Beaupere, Robert Denogent, and Marc Delienne too. Anyone who thinks Beaujolais is a cheap party drink needs to get involved. Wow these are good wines!
No better time to open up your best bottles than this time of year, so eat, drink and be merry with your nearest and dearest, and we’ll see you all in 2020!