The ‘power of the press trip’ is an overriding theme of this list of Top 10 Wines of 2018 from David Kermode, aka Mr Vinosaurus. Almost all of the wines were tasted and enjoyed in situ whether that was in the sunny foothills of Soave or further afield in New Zealand and Canada’s British Columbia. Oh, and David also found it very hard whittling his list down to 10 wines – which seems to be an overriding theme of this year’s Best Ofs…
Big oaky Chardonnay might not be the height of fashion but there was one in David’s top 10 that might surprise you.
Trying to whittle this list down to a final ten has been almost painful. Thank God Peter Dean didn’t ask for one winning wine. I don’t know how the Nobel Prize committee do it.
Like most writers, in 2018 I have been privileged enough to enjoy some unforgettable cellar samples, rare vintages, freshly-disgorged Vintage Champagne and Cognac considerably older than I am, but I’ve tried to keep this to stuff you can actually get your hands on, albeit at a price.
Like the best occasions, we start with Champagne. I tend to love the idea of Brut Nature more than the reality of it, so Gosset’s Grand Blanc de Noirs, Extra Brut, with its marginally more generous dosage of 5 g/l, hit my personal sweet spot. Streams of fine bubbles and complex layers of citrus, apricot, beeswax and amaretti biscuit unfurl on the palate like the peel of a Christmas clementine, all wrapped around a crisp mineral core. Like Mary Poppins, this Pinot is pure, precise and practically perfect.
I used to give pink bubbles a wide berth. That was until I visited the Hotel du Marc earlier this year for a celebration of Madame Cliquot’s great ‘discovery’ 200 years ago. Thanks to the legendary Joël Robuchon, we enjoyed a treatise on the food pairing potential of rosé Champagne. Stunned to realise he had actually cooked our lunch, none of us were aware how special this exquisite occasion would become. He died just four months later. Veuve Clicquot, La Grande Dame Rosé 2004 is like the finest shortbread dipped in Kirsch; elegant, complex and long enough to rival one of my festive anecdotes.
2018 began with a press trip to New Zealand. In Hawkes Bay, Elephant Hill’s winemaker Steve Skinner, showed me two examples of Syrah, Earth and Stone from the Element Series, which speak of the terroir in the Bridge Pa Triangle and Gimblett Gravels respectively. Like non-identical twins, these beautiful wines have so much in common, but also subtle, yet discernible differences. Elephant Hill Element Series Stone 2015 Syrah edged it for me, with its juicy fresh bilberry, blackberry, smooth, velvety tannins and sense of something wild.
Michael Seresin’s biodynamic wines made Marlborough really memorable for me. The single vineyard Pinot Noirs all have a different personality and, sadly, my favourite, Tatou, will disappear as the plot is changing hands. Cropped to a bottle per vine, Seresin Tatou 2013 Pinot Noir is an intense, slightly earthy experience that makes perfect sense when you see the ‘shabby chic’ sheds in which it begins its journey from grape to wine. Layers of generous black cherry, perfect pinchy tannins and cool, crisp acidity all support this fine, very adult wine.
Kiwis seem to have the midas touch wherever they end up: winemaker Matt Dumayne is doing some fantastic experimental winemaking at the Okanagan Crush Pad, in British Columbia, a place so immaculate that you could eat off the floor. Matt brings a profound sense of elegance to his wines, primarily using concrete eggs, with some steel and not much oak. Narrative Cabernet Franc 2016, Okanagan is wonderfully expressive of both grape and terroir, with crunchy red cherries and foraged blackberries, this was the star in a really impressive line up.
Gamay also works really well in BC, but my favourite example of that great grape came from its home in Beaujolais. Henry Fessy, Régnié, Chateau des Reyssiers 2016 has that mystical mix of elegance and energy that makes Gamay so special. Fresh, floral, light but not lacking substance, all delivering a thrilling red fruit rush. This is what Bojo’s all about.
I love altitude wines, so it’s little surprise that Kaiken Obertura 2014 Cabernet Franc features in my Top 10. Smooth and spicy, layer after layer of pure fresh fruits – redcurrants, blueberries, juicy black plums – gently pop in the mouth, like bubbles blown through a hoop. Delicious.
Santa Tresa has done wonders for Sicily’s reputation as a great place for organic. Winemaker Stefano Girelli’s latest expansion is Cortese. Of the six new wines, Vanedda Bianco 2016 was the most remarkable. A blend of Catarrato and Grillo this was all about texture. Fermented on skins for a couple of days, with seven months on fine lees, this wine was a layered feast of slightly smoky tropical fruit and minerality, with lovely length.
It’s not just the Sicilians reinventing themselves: Inama Vigneti di Foscarino Soave Classico 2014 will drive the region’s reputation upmarket, with its ripe, grainy orchard fruit, fresh citrus and delicious wet stone mineral character, this is a wine with such purity that it still has a way to go, if you can wait.
Talking of feasts, Rombauer Carneros Chardonnay 2015 might surprise you. Oaky Chardonnay might not be the height of fashion, but with great winemaking it still has the wow factor. This plump, generous wine is big, but never overblown, with vibrant citrus, apple crumble and toasted peach all beautifully balanced by mouth-watering acidity. In the best possible way, this is a meal in itself. I love this wine. It sells out every year in the US and it’s madness that no-one seems to have it here.
David Kermode is a writer, broadcaster and wine presenter with his own site vinosaurus.co.uk