2020 was a monumental year for wine writer Chris Wilson. This was the year that he opened his first winery Gutter & Stars – in fact Cambridge’s first urban winery – and started to practice what he preaches. While the inaugural vintage at Gutter & Stars is maturing nicely, Wilson reflects on what wines really caught his attention this year, from ones at physical tastings in the first few months of the year, through to others which came through the post for Zoom tastings. His Top 10 Wines of 2020 list also includes two that came from his cellar including the bottle of fizz that christened the new winery.
Radford Dale Thirst, Ministry of Clouds Grenache, Sean Thackrey Pleiades XXVII Old Vines, Offbeat Wines Skinny Dip, David Franz Long Gully Road Semillon
This was dug out from the cellar back in April when a good friend decided to up sticks and move to Australia – we enjoyed it the night before he left and I bet he can still taste it now.
It’s been an emotional year, even the shires are in tiers.
2020 may have been topsy-turvy but there have been many opportunities to taste some amazing wines, from traditional tastings and lunches in the first quarter of the year to samples-through-the-letter-box tastings at the kitchen table.
A few bottles from the cellar were brought out and enjoyed too – and very welcome these treats were at times – and a couple of these make an appearance in my 2020 Top 10.
Enjoy, hope you had a Merry Christmas and have a cracking New Year!
Pol Roger Brut, 2012
This was the wine my wife and I celebrated with when we got the keys to the basement of Chesterton Mill in August, home of my new urban winery Gutter & Stars. Perhaps it should have been English fizz, but this was to hand and proved to be perfect for the occasion. Deep and rich, both in colour and texture with scraped toast aromas, white peach fruit and a sprinkling of gingerbread spice. Lemon peel acidity evens things up. Simply delicious and still very youthful.
David Franz Long Gully Road Semillon, 2017
Sampled at the Australia Day Tasting back in January when it was still considered sensible to cram hundreds of people into a room to rub shoulders, shake hands and spit all over the place, this old vines Semillon stayed with me as the lockdowns piled up. Produced in tiny quantities from vines billed as the oldest in Australia (some 129 years old) the Long Road Gully is peerless. Sun-kissed tropical fruit, dried herbs, lanolin, sherbet acidity… it’s got the lot. What a wine.
Offbeat Wines Skinny Dip, 2018
Very much on the natural spectrum is this impressive orange wine from Solaris fruit grown in Devon. Fermented in an 800-L amphora and left on the skins for three months it is chewy and textured with an arresting yellow plum and green apple profile. The acidity is bold but smooth and it has an ethereal mouthfeel and incredible length.
Benjamin Laroche ‘La Manufacture’ Chablis, 2015
Woah – when sampling this wine back in May I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so impressive. Dense and waxy with a marmalade tang, stone fruit and a delicate stroke of oak it’s one of those wines that you quickly go back to to make sure you got it right the first time. Enjoyed in the late evening sun with a tuna steak on the barbecue… pretty much perfect.
Opus One, 2016
This was tasted back in January as part of a dinner organised by Lenz Moser to showcase the wines produced by his Château Changyu Moser collaboration. Each Chinese wine (all Cabernets) was paired with a famous French or American wine, including Château Leoville Barton, Les Tourelles de Longueville and Opus One. They all stood up well but the standout wine of the lot was the 2016 Opus One. Silky and opulent with a deadweight smash of black fruit, earthy tannins and a green olive bite it has tremendous length and a confident swagger. If Lenz can emulate this in Ningxia he’s on to a winner.
Sean Thackrey Pleiades XXVII Old Vines, NV
I first came across this wine in 2016 at the Dirty Dozen tasting and its story gripped me almost as much as the wine itself. Winemaker Sean Thackrey crafts this multi-vintage, multi-variety blend in Sebastopol, California with a clear plan to ‘irritate the wine police’. Anything that comes with that sort of modus operandi is fine with me. This is the 26th iteration of Pleiades and it’s based around Pinot Noir with Sangiovese, Mourvèdre, Viognier, Syrah and Petite Sirah all in the mix too. It’s a heady blend with wood smoke aromas, candied red fruit and a savoury, mushroom butch-ness. Christ it’s good.
Radford Dale Thirst, 2019
Consumed on a glorious early spring evening when lockdown was still a novel (and enjoyable) concept this South African Gamay Noir has it all. It’s bright and lithe with a refreshing acidity, cherry drops-style fruit and just a hint of the feral bite that you get from hands-off wines. It’s slightly hazy (unfiltered, unfined – natch) and slipped down a treat. One of the finds of the year, and I see that the 2020 vintage has just dropped.
Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux Nuits-Saint-Georges ‘Les Poisets’, 2018
“It’s a magical vintage,” said winemaker Charles Arnoux as he unveiled his impressive collection of wines from the 2018 vintage in early March. The 15 different cuvées all had something about them but for me ‘Les Poisets’ edged it. There was a sweetness of fruit which just sat perfectly with the wine’s slate backbone. Pomegranate and raspberry added the prick of acidity which kept it on its toes. A beautifully crafted, svelte Pinot Noir.
Ministry of Clouds Grenache, 2018
Tasted as part of a nifty little set of wines sent by Wine Australia to showcase the country’s burgeoning old vine Grenache scene in McClaren Vale. Winemakers Bernice Ong and Julian Forwood take fruit from 80+ year-old bush vines to create this perfumed, heady Grenache that’s floral and lifted with red cherry fruit, fresh herbs and a delicate acidity. Utterly modern winemaking.
Schloss Johannisberg Riesling Auslese Rosalack, 2012
To finish, a sweetie from 2012. This was dug out from the cellar back in April when a good friend decided to up sticks and move to Australia – we enjoyed it the night before he left and I bet he can still taste it now. Elegant with lime marmalade, honeysuckle and fresh lime peel, it has incredible depth and poise; complex but utterly approachable. Some delicate botrytis notes too. Sunshine in glass.