If you suffer from FOMO then you might want to look away from Peter Dean’s Top 10 wines of 2018, one of which hails back to the Nineteenth Century. Whether they were drunk in the hallowed spaces of hard-to-reach wine estates, in tastings back in the UK or, indeed, at home – these wines represent the very pinnacle of wine experiences for Dean. The fact that this list could easily have run to 100 wines is testament to the richness of the wine world we all live in.
Sancerre, Rioja, Chablis, Champagne… this year’s list has a decidedly Old World feel
Always hard nutting down the criteria for ‘Best wines of the year’ – in previous years I have tried to limit them to wines that are still available to buy – but 2018 had so many vinous treats of the very rare kind that I have stuck to wines that simply blew me away and were ‘Best in Class’.
“People do make wine outside Europe,” Roger Jones has told me on more than one occasion. But sorry Rog, my Top 10 wines of 2018 has, gulp, no wines from the New World in, although there were many in my shortlist of 39.
Of these I loved the Monte Bello 2014 from Ridge that kept popping up in various tastings, the 1991 Meerlust that MMD had in a superb masterclass, Vespidae 2014 Pinot Noir from Orgeon’s JK Carriere, the odd but brilliant Moser XV 2016 white Cabernet from China, Cask 23 2015 from Stag’s Leap Cellars, 2014 Harlan, the 1976 Cinsault from Domaines des Tourelles that was opened to show how well their straightforward red wine ages, the 2010 Grange from Penfolds and the new The Caley 2015 from Yalumba. I could go on.
Being a journalist in the wine industry means accessing so many rare and aged wines that it is hard for them not to rise to the top of the pile. And going by my Top 10 wines of 2018 I guess I am an Old World sort of person at heart.
La Grand Côte 1986, Francois Cotat
I was asked for a shortlist of wineries I wanted to visit in the Central Loire and I had one name on my list (to ensure I got there) – Cotat.
I have loved the purity of these wines for so long, I have collected them and finally got to meet Francois in December, a very humble man who normally says Non! to these sorts of visits. We tasted through the new 2017 vintage and then he started getting a few unmarked bottles out. The little office/ tasting room was antique, it was freezing and the spittoon was a bucket. But to taste a Sauvignon Blanc of this purity 32 years on when it was still lively with more years left in it was extraordinary. The wine was golden yellow, had Cotat’s trademark richness (not sweetness) – tart au citron, bit of pineapple and plenty of grip in the mid-palate and on the finish. Wow.
Rosado 1976, Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia
I like the wines of Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia for similar reasons I guess – they have that same uncompromising style and are entirely expressive of the soil the fruit is grown in.
This was a tasting in Haro with winemaker Mercedes in which we tried a gobsmacking array of wines – 1964 (red and white) 76 (Rosé), 78, 81, 83, 84, 86. You could write a book about these wines – each one highly nuanced. The point of the tasting (not revealed until later) was that the 1981 Gran Reserva was the only wine that was ‘built to last’ intentionally. The Rosado was a regular Rosé that many would have drunk well before the 1980s and here it was still going strong, with just enough fruit – all tertiary of course. One of the wine events of my life. And the occasion was totally nuts too.
Remírez de Ganuza, Gran Reserva 2005
On the same trip to Rioja we visited Remírez de Ganuza whose wines and approach have left quite an impression on me. From the terroir to the table this estate makes wines that reek of perfection and innovation. We tried all the wines in Spain, except the Gran Reserva which I tried at a lunch when they came to London.
It’s the freshness and purity of Fernando Remirez de Ganuza’s wines that runs through the portfolio; remarkable in the case of the Gran Reserva given its 39 months ageing in oak (80% French/ 20% US). Using only the shoulders of the grape bunches (90% Tempranillo/ 10% Graciano) there is concentrated black fruit – cherry, kirsch – dark chocolate, spice with a little lick of mint on the finish. Dark, full-bodied but with a linearity to the fruit and acidity that keeps it focused and makes it such a joy to drink. It’s not the 2004 100-Parker-pointer, but this new release costs five times less and stock is still available. An incredible wine with one foot in both Rioja camps – both traditional and modern.
If you want to read why I think the estate is one of the best in Spain click here.
3 Terraces, Qvevri 2016, Papari Valley
You cannot get more Old World than Georgia and this top cuvée from Papari Valley is outstanding on so many levels. It is 100% Rkatsiteli , that has spent eight months in Qvevri. It is unfiltered, dry, amber wine, the colour a deep gold/burnt orange. The nose and the palate are like going somewhere exotic for the first time: on the nose you have Amaretti, fresh almonds, honey, dried dill, sweet brandy; the mouthfeel is disarmingly light, an almost watery front palate, then rich mid-palate with apricot Rumtopf, dried orange blossom, then full-on dry with a beautifully textured Qvevri finish, it’s almost like blotting paper – completely dries your mouth out.
This dryness and river stone texture disappeared when eating Georgian food, that my wife, Emma, had prepared to go with the wine. If you are unsure about this style of wine, drink this and tell me you’re not convinced.
Montrachet Grand Cru, Marquis de Laguiche 2008, Joseph Drouhin
There was quite a bit of history behind this bottle. I called Roger Jones and reminded him I had it in my cave to which he said “Bring it down it’ll be good with the white truffles.” Who was I to argue?
Roger was making lunch for a select group of friends from the trade. As soon as you entered The Harrow at Little Bedwyn you were almost overcome by the smell of truffles. We ate very well as we always do at Sue and Roger’s place but the Montrachet was match of the day – paired with white truffle risotto. Both wine and dish were sensational on their own but together they reached unbelievable heights of gastronomic bliss. Simply one of the best things I’ve experienced on a gastronomic level anywhere.
As one fellow diner said before we started “This isn’t Chassagne-Montrachet, or Puligny-Montrachet, this is Montrachet Montrachet.”
Romanée-Conti 2015, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
Some wines have a reputation for a reason and finally tasting Romanée-Conti for the first time was like discovering the blueprint of what truly great Pinot Noir should taste like. I’m not a fan of scoring wines but this 2015 was completely perfect. In every respect.
The tasting itself was an experience – from clutching my invite with sweaty palms to being served by croupier-quiet sommeliers to seeing national journalists, eyes closed in reclining positions around the room – looking towards the Heavens. Staggering and monumentally beautiful. There’s much more to say of course and if you’re interested click here for the full account.
Aged Tawny Port 1870, Van Zellers/ Last Drop
There were far fewer journalists at this event – only Henry Jeffreys and myself in fact – the tasting of this little piece of history and it was a Wednesday night to boot. Last Drop Distillers are genius at locating the final barrels of spirits and this was their first (and not last I hope) foray into Port.
We tasted two bottles that you can buy in a limited edition case – an 1870 and a 1970 aged Tawny Port sourced from the same family in the Duoro. When our hosts opened the 1870 the room started filling up with its aromas like a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Weirdly the 1870 was also slightly fresher than the 1970 – the acidity was still there but with amazing levels of flavour: sticky toffee pudding, walnut shell, dried orange peel, mahogany, rosemary.
Rare Millesime 1979, Piper-Heidsieck
There was such a palaver going on in the kitchens at 67 Pall Mall that I couldn’t hear much of what Piper-Heidsieck chef de caves Regis Camus was saying about two wines of his that we tasted side by side – Piper Heidsieck Rare 1979 and 1988 (given my seat was closest to the culinary brouhaha). But the wines spoke for themselves.
OK, so 1988 is more of a recognised great vintage but the 1979 was right up there with the very best – nothing to prove, so settled, with such an amazing depth of flavour and with a tension still between richness and incredible freshness. One of the two best Champagnes I’ve ever tasted.
Grande Cuvée 153ème Edition, Krug
A visit to Krug earlier in the year held many treats as you’ll appreciate that started with tasting the 2004 Clos du Mesnil within the tiny walled vineyard itself. It was about 9am, very chilly, bright sun, with the Champagne almost as dazzling. The wine was unreal but obviously decades too young.
It wasn’t until lunchtime when Olivier Krug opened a Jeroboam of Krug Grande Cuvée 153rd edition that you could start appreciating the House’s long-ageing reputation. This wine is based on the 1997 vintage and was well into secondary evolution: deep gold, walnut shells, toasted bread, brioche, caramel, dried fruit notes. We drank it with spectacular small plates of food involving jamon, asparagus, sashimi and lobster.
Chablis Grand Cru ‘Les Clos’ 2002, Vincent Dauvissat
Words cannot accurately describe the extraordinary complexity and layers of flavour in this Chablis Grand Cru. Looks-wise it wasn’t overly evolved; on the nose we were clearly with Old World Chardonnay (this was tasted blind), possibly a Montrachet; there were notes of white flowers, sea shells, fresh nuts, apple peel; on the palate there was a minerality but the wine did not pivot around it like some Chablis do, rather it was more integrated into broader flavours of ripe citrus, honey with a little lick of creaminess – that came in waves and changed over the hour we tasted. The finish was medium, long and tingly. Still so fresh, with many more years ahead of it.
In many ways the perfect bookend to the Cotat – so many similarities in the purity of the winemaking and the glorious results.
If 2019 has as many great wines in as 2018 did then I am in for a spectacular year. And Roger I promise I will do my best to get some New World wines into my Best Of this time next year. Hope you had a great Christmas and have a spectacular New Year.
Still to come in this series we have the other wine experts who make The Buyer what it is.