The Michelin-starred chef and Buyer contributing editor travels to the autumn portfolio tasting of Armit Wines held in London two days ago and puts the range to the test for quality and value. Whilst there he re-aquaints himself with new vintages of old favourites and makes some new discoveries.
Digby Fine English, Dowie Doole, Momento, Bell Hill, Tenuta San Guido, Delaire Graff and Domaine Huet: tried and tested and highlighted by Jones for special mention during the Armit tasting.
One of the delights of London portfolio tastings is that you can get the chance to try the whole experience of a distributors’ list from the base to the top.
As a restaurateur I am not always on the lookout for ‘trophy’ wines but do want to see how they compare with other wines, likewise it’s a dream for MW students and sommeliers to try wines that they cannot always get access to. There are, however, many serious traders like, for example, Greg Sherwood MW (Handford Wines) who are there to try and buy the very best for their elite clients and always worth listening to/eavesdropping on their comments.
I remember and have admired Armit Wines from their foundation in Notting Hill in 1988 by John Armit, where they were more involved in private client sales, and have since become an important supplier for the trade. However, at Tuesday’s tasting I was in search of the depth of their portfolio and to see how wide their portfolio was both in value and quality.
Digby had not been on my radar but has been on Christine Parkinson of Hakkasan fame for some time, they even have magnums of the 2009 Rosé by the glass in their restaurants, which was not available to taste but the Digby Leander Pink Brut NV (£32.99) was and it was a wonderful example of a ‘foodie’ sparkling roseé with a seductive nose and a lovely textured elegance that can carry fine food or showcase that sparkling rosé is not only about strawberries.
Digby Fine English, launched in 2013, is a negotiant rather than a vineyard, working with specially selected growers in Kent, Sussex and Hampshire. It is not surprising that the winemaker is the one and only Dermot Sugrue, who undoubtedly has made one of the biggest impression on the English sparkling revolution.
The Digby Fine English Vintage Reserve 2010 (RRP £39.99) was an excellent, full flavoured, precise wine, however I was very impressed with the Digby Fine English Brut NV (RRP £30.99), which highlighted English Sparkling at its best.
I thought that I was on the pulse with Aussie wines but this McLaren Vale winery, Dowie Doole blew me away, owned now by winemaker Chris Thomas. Set up originally in 1995 by Drew Dowie and Norm Doole this boutique winery is something special.
Dowie Doole, Tintookie Chenin Blanc 2012 (RRP £22.85)
This wine is sourced from the McLaren Vale sub-region of Blewitt Springs, planted in 1933, vibrant, fresh fruited, balanced, great depth but holds a lovely clean restrained flavour – will get even better with age.
Dowie Doole, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2015 (RRP £18)
At this price there are not many Cabernets that are so smooth, drinking at this age and deliver a lovely elegance with soft cedar wood, spices, bright berries, a complete value added wine.
Dowie Doole, Moxie Sparkling Shiraz NV (RRP £20)
No! an Aussie sparkling Shiraz, never! but yes this is as good as it will get for Aussie sparkling Shiraz and I have tried quite a few in my visits to the Barossa. Luscious, rich but not sweet, intense but not overbearing, the base wine is 1995 Shiraz which is topped up annually like a sherry solera system. Magnificent, perfect with blue cheese or, as Chris suggested, oysters with the salty flavours balancing the richness – this is a bargain.
Momento, South Africa
Marelise Niemann is based at the Gabrielskloof winery in the Bot River, sharing the facilities with some of South Africa’s finest young winemakers, Peter-Allan Finlayson, John Seccombe and Julien Schaal.
Momento, Tinta Barocca 2016, (RRP £25)
The grapes for these are sourced from an old 42-year old Tinta Barocca vineyard in the Bot River area, which had been used previously for blending. Niemann spent some time in the Douro to get a grip on this grape and has produced a fabulous wine. Fresh, red blush cherries, dark juicy plums, spices, velvety, silky, elegance. It was a wonderful perfumed palate and drinking well in its youth.
Bell Hill Vineyard, so named for the bell-like shape on the southern side of its hill, was established in 1997 by Marcel Giesen and Sherwyn Veldhuizen. Situated in an ancient, north-facing limestone quarry in the Weka Pass, North Canterbury, the vineyard now covers two hectares of high-density plantings. The Weka Pass area was previously unplanted with grapes, but Marcel and Sherwyn were drawn to the pure chalky limestone soils and calcareous clays.
With a delicate touch and focus on excellence, Marcel and Sherwyn are passionate about using Burgundian techniques to craft their stunning range of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines. Biodynamic farming is also at the heart of their vineyard activities, as they believe it is integral to growing top quality fruit, whilst allowing for the ultimate expression of this unique terroir.
I visited this vineyard a couple of years ago, and was not only impressed with the wines but Marcel’s brilliant cooking.
Bell Hill, Old Weka Pass Road Pinot Noir 2013, Canterbury, New Zealand (RRP £57.15)
Bell makes two Pinot Noirs and this is its more moderately priced Pinot, which still only has a tiny allocation. This wine is regarded as one of the finest Pinot Noirs to come from New Zealand. Purity, precise, perfect… no other words needed.
Armit do well with an expansive Italian portfolio with the likes of Gaja, Ornellaia, Sassicaia and Tua Rita but that is for another in-depth report. I would, however, highlight for exceptional value Tenuta San Guido, Le Difese IGT Toscana 2015, Bolgheri (RRP £16.95) the younger sibling of Guidalberto and Sassicaia.
This wine offers exceptional value and is named after the teeth of the wild boar that roam the Tuscan hills. 30% Sangiovese and 70% Cabernet Sauvignon this is made to be drunk young; restrained, elegant, crisp acidity with juicy fruit.
Delaire Graff, South Africa
Despite its diamond backers and sumptuous winery, the wines from Delaire Graff are some of the most refined elegant wines from South Africa, made under the guidance of the brilliant winemaker Morne Vrey.
With wines such as the Delaire Graff Chenin and Chardonnay (RRP from £15) you really do have a bargain.
The range goes up to a Reserve and Icon range and include world class wines such as the Laurence Graff Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the Terrace Block Reserve Chardonnay.
Delaire Graff, Botmaskop 2015, Stellenbosh (RRP £23.50)
Five-variety Bordeaux blend, full bodied but focused, subtle, soft acidity, deep dark berries, luscious wine that is evolving all the time; decant and serve now for an exceptional experience of a class Bordeaux-style wine.
Domaine Huet, Vouvray
As a lover of Chenin Blanc, here we have the master, a biodynamic producer that leads the way. The way they masterfully produce Demi-Sec wines that are rich but not sweet, succulent but not heavy, tempestuous but not blowsy, is a marvel.
Domaine Huet, Vouvray Le Mont Moelleux 2009, Loire (RRP £37.20)
Quince, pineapple, mango, floral, ginger, this wine is a luscious rich wine that is perfectly balanced leaving a glorious tingling luxury fruit basket on the palate.
There were of course many more gems at the tasting, but what was pleasing was the depth and variance of price points, each giving the highest quality in its bracket. An educational and inspiring tasting hosted in a lovely open airy room at 8 Northumberland Avenue, London.