Distinct, exciting, exceptional value – these are just some of the words that Michelin star chef Roger Jones has used to describe many of the wines he encountered at the two-day Ellis Wines portfolio tasting. A wine importer that might not be top of mind by many wine buyers, Jones also found one rare ingredient these days – loyalty – from customers and also suppliers.
Patagonia, Uruguay, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Alsace, Chablis and finally Champagne – Roger goes on a veritable world tour at the tasting.
Ellis Wines may not be on everyone’s radar but it was a delight to browse around their recent portfolio tasting hosted at London’s Vintners Hall.
What became apparent quite quickly was the loyal following Ellis Wines has, not only with their customers but also with their suppliers, many there for the long term, which is so pleasing to see given the amount of musical chairs that there has been in recent years.
“We are passionate about wines that are distinct and exciting. Life’s too short for the dull and bland oﬀerings creeping across some wine lists.”
I totally agree with him, and from my highlights listed below there were plenty of wines that came into the distinct and exciting range. One key item that James did not mention was ‘value for money’ and many of these wines certainly to me offer exceptional value for such good quality.
It was also unique to see the tasting spread over two days to ensure that Ellis consumers could taste in relative comfort.
Bodega Familia Schroeder, Patagonia, Argentina
Loved the description of “irrigation by snowmelt water from the local river.” This to me was showcased well in that both the Pinot Noirs and Malbecs I tasted had a pristine taste.
As a relative newcomer to the delights of South America I was delighted to go through these Malbecs and see such refinement and restraint. Malbec Alpataco 2017, £8.85 Soft and gentle bust of juicy bilberries, delicate chocolate, cherries, violets and spice on the palate, fruit-driven but controlled.
Malbec “Patagonia Select” 2013, £10.95 £2 more than the above with four years extra age – that’s value – this wine is balanced, juicy and savoury, layered, but with a clean bright freshness.
Malbec Barrel Fermented “Saurus” 2013, £16.25 Named in memory of the ‘dinosaur’ which was unearthed when the winery was built, this is smoky, with BBQ aromas, perfumed, soft oak, plums, cassis, delicate chocolate combining together well to give a balanced, fresh-drinking Malbec.
I also tried two Pinot Noirs, Alpataco 2016 which was a very straight clean Pinot, the fruit was tight but fresh, with a savoury balance giving it more of an Oregon style Pinot. Whilst the Pinot Noir Patagonia Select 2016, £11.50 is a beautiful clean delicate wine with a lovely perfumed nose, fruit again is restrained giving it a real elegance. There are some nuances of truffles in the background to give it complexity.
Pisano, Uruguay Rio de los Pajaros Torrontes 2016, £11.95
Torrontes is a native grape of Argentina, here it is used to produce a vibrant, refreshing, golden hued wine that has a slight citrus tingle to control the honeyed, spiced wine, and it has a lovely balance.
Chimmichurri Reserva Tannat 2016, £10.00 Fresh, juicy and fruity, and a perfect match to a steak with Chimmichurri (originates from the Basque country) dressing which is made from freshly chopped parsley, garlic, coriander, thyme and lemon with some dried chilli flakes.
More serious, however, is the Rio de los Pajaros Family Reserve Tannat 2013, £14.95. 2013 was a great vintage in Uruguay, and this showcases how good the Tannat grape can be. Tannat is originally from the South of France (Madiran) but in recent years Uruguay has taken over this grape. It can be quite tannic, but this wine is luscious and has got acidity to counterbalance the tannin and has fruit in abundance – blackberry, dark Scottish raspberries, dark spiced chocolate, and a silky finish – a great introduction to classy Tannat.
I would also highlight the Rio de los Pajaros Tannat Syrah Viognier 2015, £11.95 a soft gentle elegant wine that gently glides down.
Paulett Wines, Clare Valley, Australia
Riesling is what the Paulett family is all about but don’t miss out on their Watervale Semillon 2016, which is a well rounded, honeyed, textured wine ready to drink now or its superbly balanced Polish Hill River Cabernet Merlot 2013 at £9.65, or their restrained Polish Hill River Shiraz 2015, £9.65.
Their Rieslings are extraordinary, and the Polish Hill River Riesling 2014 was one of the stand out Rieslings in Decanter’s Riesling Panel Tasting to be published shortly, I know as I sat on the panel.
However, the latest release 2017 Polish Hill River Riesling, £9.65 highlights another fabulous vintage. These wines bring vibrancy, freshness, clarity and so much joy to the palate. There cannot be a better value ‘Grand Cru’ grape variety to showcase wine’s great attributes.
They also release an older vintage and I tried the 2010 Polish Hill River Aged Release Riesling, £11.95 which is much better value here than at the cellar door in Australia. This had evolved beautifully with classic lime-marmalade-on-toasted-brioche nuances with citrus peel and bright acidity.
Schubert Wines, Martinborough, New Zealand
It was good to catch up with Kai Schubert again, having last seen him when I was at the Pinot Noir conference last year, more of which is here.
German born Kai has been hitting the high notes in New Zealand for many years especially with his Pinot Noirs which reflect the German Pinot restraint combined with the clear skies and warmth of Martinborough. His Pinots need no introduction, but please do try and buy some of the 2015 Pinot Noir “Block B”, which is just magical.
However his Sauvignon Blanc wines are also something special, the Sauvignon Blanc 2016 “Selection S”, £12.50, is bright and vibrant with a nose full of citrus and wild herbs, followed by a vibrant enticing wine on the palate – this is fresh and exciting, far away from those tired SBs of old.
Shubert Sauvignon Blanc 2017, £15.00 has had partial oak fermentation, and partial whole bunch pressing, this gives a more textured wine with aromas of juicy pineapples, flinty mineral. This is a rich, complex wine with citrus undertones, a long lingering finish, but also with an overall freshness to make it moreish especially with shellfish.
A new company set up by five friends, who in turn will produce five wines but the first on the market is this easy drinking, elegant, well priced Wines & Roses Tempranillo Tinto 2015, £7.95 – sweet fruited on the instant palate then it evolves into a fragrant, balanced, clean and exciting wine that oozes with charm.
The company is named in tribute to Guns & Roses but there is no wild or unruly behaviour in this wine. (Readers might like to know that Roger once shared a hotel with Guns & Roses who were conducting an ‘after party’ while Roger was trying to get his beauty sleep – Ed.)
Pesquera Alejandro Fernandez, Ribera Del Duero, Spain
The quality of the Pesquera wines is well documented, however it was a delight to try their Alejairen Blanco 2015, £16.95, made from Airen grapes and aged in oak barrels for 24 months. This had a luscious yellow colour, was full flavoured with an oily texture, Moroccan aged lemons and thyme on the palate. There is a real balance coming through with some great saline characters, hazelnuts, vanilla and ripe, citrus fruits.
Dechesa la Granja, Toro 2009, £10.95, 100% Tempranillo, from the Castilla y Leon Region. A rich, dark, full bodied fruit-driven wine, lovely dry tannins combine with the rich fruits to deliver a fabulously focused wine; smoke and spice evolve on the mid-palate, at this age this is a real bargain and still youthful in appearance.
Jean-Baptiste Adam, Alsace, France
Alsace is certainly doing well in the UK and this winery highlights the hidden gems of Alsace – it’s not just Riesling that they excel at. The Pinot Blanc 2014 ‘les Natures’ Organic, £10.95 highlights the granite soil it is sourced from with a stunning depth and a texture that only Alsace can produce in a Pinot Blanc – this is exceptional value for wine of this quality that would sit well with any Burgundy on a fine dining table.
Of course the Rieslings were wonderful, especially the Grand Cru Kaefferkopf Vielles Vignes, 2014, but seek out the Gewurztraminer 2016, £12.35, a classic restrained Turkish Delight style, tight on floral and violets, but free on the exotic flavours.
Chateau d’Esclans were on show and Les Clans Provence Rosé outshines Garrus for me, but what I would say is that nearly every UK importer and his mate has Chateau d’Esclans on their list and the variance in price is significant from dealer to dealer. But don’t put that you off buying these great Rosé wines, just shop around.
For value for money and quality I have not found many to compete with Gautheron’s straightforward Domaine Gautheron Chablis 2016, £13.95 – clean, fresh, focused with plenty of depth and texture, a classic proper Chablis. Their range is definitely worth looking at and the Chablis 1er Cru ‘Vaucopin’ 2016, £18.50 was also excellent.
Champagne AR Lenoble, Champagne, France
Family owned and currently run by Anne and Antoine Malassagne, the great grandchildren of the founder, the wines from this estate are sensational. There is not enough room in this article to fit the amount of praise I could heap on these wines. But here is a brief encounter I had with the AR Lenoble Premier Cru Blanc de Noirs 2012, £49.50, my notes said “ a star studded wine”, the tiny bubbles were dancing on my palate, refined, everything perfectly balanced, hard to give definite flavours it was just perfection on the nose, palate, mouth and still in my memory.
This was a perfect way to finish a tasting that certainly lived up to James Ellis’s words of wisdom.