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.
Steven Spurrier was looking splendid pouring his Bride Valley Rose Bella 2014 in matching pink shirt and pink handkerchief, writes Jones.
Having been a customer of Liberty Wines for 20 years one thing is for sure you do not miss their annual Autumn Portfolio Tasting.
Held last week at the Oval, with the England cricket team out on the pitch practising, it certainly brought in the crowds, on what was a busy tasting day. It is not the usual ‘tasting crowd’, many were there just for lunch, which I am told is very good, but in 20 years I have not participated and follow Matthew Jukes’ rule of not tasting and eating. However the distraction of lunch for the masses does open up the tasting room to a less crowded experience, which is ideal for getting around quickly.
Anyone new in the wine trade could learn so much in a day at a Liberty tasting, they set out their tables in grape variety, thus allowing us to quantify and reflect different styles of each grape in price ascension. There are Liberty staff everywhere advising, discussing and helping if and when needed.
Champagne and Sparkling
Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve for me continues to offer one of the best value quality champagnes on the market. However my top three Sparklings on the day were Nyetimber “Tillington” Single Vineyard 2013, Arras E.J.Carr Late Disgorged Tasmania 2004 and Piper Heidsieck Rare Millesime 2006.
I collect the Tillington series and without being condescending to Cherie, this wine has come of age and is quite majestic delivering the finest ever from Nyetimber. The delicate clusters of micro bubbles that dance in the glass as elegantly as Swan Lake, there is a taste spectrum of the finest Michelin Star desserts on the palate, crème brulee, macaroons, strawberries, tangerine and all-so-delicate shortbread.
The Arras Late Disgorged 2004 is a big boy, but perfectly balanced and aged to perfection. Ed Carr is a master at producing aged masterpieces.
The Rare Millesime 2006 from Piper Heidsieck is both complex and still evolving but has already great attributes which makes it a joy to drink now but it will evolve beautifully, a real class wine.
Liberty to me changed the UK perception of Riesling and, instead of the negative press reviews we used to get from boring old journalists (“only the trade like Riesling”), consumers in recent years have taken this versatile grape to their hearts. For me Liberty has helped this wave of love for Riesling by introducing not only Australian Riesling to the market with great gusto but went in search of the best Rieslings across the globe.
There were nearly 30 Rieslings to try, and that does not go anywhere near cover their full portfolio. Here are my highlights of their highlights.
Plantagenet Angevin Mount Baker Riesling 2017
The classic stone and mineral nuances you get from Mount Baker, the purity and linear flavours make this an unique, wonderful and pleasurable Riesling.
Peter Lehmann Masters Wigan, Eden Valley Riesling 2013
One of Australia’s most celebrated aged Riesling, named after Andrew Wigan of course, they always release this ready to drink with at least five years ageing. The most value for money, quality wine you can buy, it has texture, depth, and freshness and those brilliant, long, lingering, juicy flavours that entice you back and back.
Axel Pauly “Helden” Mosel Riesling Trocken 2016
For Mosel this is quite dry, and a new name to me, luscious crisp apples and pears on the nose, stony bright and focused on palate.
Dreissigacker Rheinhessen Bechtheimer Riesling 2016
Touch of spritz on the front, giving it freshness, bright clean and focused, perfectly balanced fruit, a wine that will age with grace.
Grosset “Alea”Clare Valley Riesling 2019
Another maverick of a wine maker, Jeff must be saving up cash for something as it’s a 2019 and already released! But what a wine, with that Mosel style, with texture, depth and elegance – a beautiful wine.
Maximin Grunhaus “Abtsberg” Grosse Lage Mosel Riesling Spatlese 2017
7.5% alcohol ! Restrained, fruit-driven wine, textured and full of luscious flavours held together with an excellent citrus acidity at the end.
Grosset “Springvale” Clare Valley Riesling 2019
Although a 2019 and should be aged this is quite perfect, even to drink now, the purity is what Jeff does and this is as pure as they come. Stunning.
Maximin Grunhaus “Abtsberg” Grosse Gewachs Mosel Riesling 2017
More % at 12% than its brother above, this has aromas of quince, bruised apples, lemon curd, but perfectly balanced on the palate with crisp acidity leaving a juicy, forward wine oozing in freshness.
Loimer “Steinmassl” Erste Lage Kamptal Riesling 2016
This Austrian Riesling is restrained, delicate with herbaceous and taut fruit on the nose, focused, structured – a complex wine with so much class, as it opens out the fruit flourishes; a wine to decant or age… beautiful.
Dreissigacker “Morstein” Rheinhessen Riesling 2014
At first, a touch of extra ripe fruit on the nose, then on the palate this is opulent, focused with excellent, unctuous purity; clean and precise finish pushes you back for more… a star.
Whilst I focus on Riesling in this article I must highlight the Vie di Romans “Dessimis” Pinot Grigio 2017, the grown up Pinot Grigio for adults. Quintos dos Carvalhais Atipico Dao Branco Especial NV from Portugal – if you want a classy Portuguese white with texture, depth and character you have it here in abundance. I don’t care if Cullen’s Amber Wilyabrup Sauvignon Blanc 2017 from Margaret River is orange, this is outstanding, pure harmony, touch of retsina on nose then pure class, dried white stone fruit, herbaceous, pure olive oil, this is pure poetry.
From England it was great to see still white wines shine, especially Balfour – Hush Heath Estate Liberty’s Bacchus, called after the vineyard dog not the wine company! With its classic citrus and gooseberries and tangerine tang. But highlight of the day must go to Steven Spurrier, will this man never retire?!
Bride Valley comes of age
I know Steven well and he has recounted many tales about his Dorset estate, from sheep to vines, but these were overshadowed by the quality of his most recent releases.
Firstly his straight Chardonnay stood out in a table of some 60 wines, this Bride Valley Chardonnay 2018, was so focussed, blind I would have called it an excellent Pinot Blanc, spiced nose of apples, clean, gentle mid-palate of Dorset summer berries, with a texture that builds in the mouth and has a clean, precise finish. Pretty perfect.
Bride Valley Blanc de Blanc 2016, Fruity orchard nose, on the palate there is the classic “baked apple with all spice and custard of youth”, combined with a rather enticing fresh citrus acidity, a beautiful Sparkling wine.
Bride Valley Rose Bella 2014, Steven was looking splendid pouring this Rosé in matching pink shirt and pink handkerchief. Fresh, clean and bright with a lovely balance of autumn raspberries, shortbread and fresh acidity.
Alas, I had to move on to the next tasting that day, no time to exude my thoughts on some amazing Chardonnays like David Moret Saint-Romain 2016, Dawson & James Tasmanian Chardonnay, Jean-Claude Boisset’s St Aubin or Shaw + Smith’s sublime Lenswood Vineyard Adelaide Hills Chardonnay.