Our globetrotting contributing editor, Michelin Star chef, influential member of the wine business and all round nice guy, Roger Jones, reflects on his Best Wines of 2017 based on the many trips he went on. He is currently back in South Africa hosting various pop-ups and events as well as sourcing a few new wine stories and took time out to send us this series of reflections on 2017.
South Africa, New Zealand, Greece, Spain, Portugal – was there any place that Jones did not go in 2017?
JANUARY – Stellenbosch, South Africa
I was lucky (or well served by my South African wine chums) to be the UK’s first journalist to visit Lukas van Loggerenberg at his shed high up in the Stellenbosch hills early last January. It was an eye-opening visit that you can read about here. And, of course, seeing the quality I secured a significant allocation of these wines. I have tasted them again back in the UK and they are certainly fulfilling their early promise, no more so than the Break a Leg Blanc de Noir 2016, a still Rosé from Cinsault grapes that brings a ray of sunshine to the wintery days you are having in the UK (thanks for the reminder Roger – cheers mate).
FEBRUARY – Waipara, New Zealand
Having been over in New Zealand for the Pinot Noir Conference (which you can catch up with here) it would be foolish not to pick a Pinot Noir and, whilst I admire the great Larry McKenna and Nigel Greening, it was the younger guys who highlighted the diversity, quality and styles that are coming out of New Zealand.
Away from the historic star Pinot regions of Central Otago and Martinborough, it was great to see Marlborough (especially from the Southern Valleys where clay is more dominant), Nelson and Waitara (near Canterbury) shine. I would especially recommend any Pinots from the Clavin Vineyard in Marlborough, which has quite a few winemakers sourcing wines from here (Fromm, Giesen, Te Whare Ra).
I had visited Marcel and Sherwyn at their Bell Hill Vineyard, Weka Pass, north of Canterbury previously and, besides Marcel’s wonderful cooking, the Pinots and Chardonnay they produce here are quite stunning. The Bell Hill Pinot 2013 is a savoury masterpiece, hints of fresh green herbs (sage and thyme), lovely acidity, delicate blue fruit, hints of Christmas spices. This is a serious Pinot Noir that showcases the grapes perfectly.
MARCH – Sanlucar, Spain
Whilst sherry seems to reinvent itself in new marketing terms regularly it was a joy to not only visit Sanlucar again but to visit a classic producer who excels in making ageworthy sherry, highlighted last year (2016) for producing the most expensive sherry ever, with a retail price of £8,000 – Barbadillo Versos.
However more approachable in price terms but still rather exciting is the Barbadillo Palo Cortado VORS 30 Year Old. The VORS stands for Very Old Rare Sherry or Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum (sounds better) and is based on single aged barrels of sherry with a minimum 30 years age. Luscious gold colour, clean and pure on the palate, hazelnut skins, golden luscious raisins, mouth watering, hints of perfect mocha coffee on the nose, huge length.
APRIL – South Africa – Brandy
South Africa is, of course, the darling of the Press currently with its clean, precise quality and extra value wines but, over the last few years I have become interested in the huge waves that the South Africans are making on the brandy market winning global awards and, to compound matters even worse for the French, have even started to make Cognac (to do this they had to buy land in Cognac) and even bottled it in a classic Chanel bottle (KWV Cognac).
Two of South Africa’s finest producers are KWV and Vyn Ryn’s. One of the finest I have tried is Van Ryn’s Au.Ra 30 Year Old Brandy. Only 107 bottles were produced and even in Rand this is quite a pricey bottle. Fragrance of marmalade and vanilla on the nose, then dried fruit freshened with ginger, roasted nuts and a luxurious velvety finish that has layers of sherry-like flavours, espresso, creamy and luscious.
I wrote about my views on South African brandy in this article here.
MAY – Monmouthshire, Wales
No Air Miles gained on this trip. Whilst hosting a charity lunch at this winery set in its own microclimate just outside Monmouth, I managed to taste through their range and luckily acquired some of this amazing sparkling wine, 2010 Ancre Hill Blanc de Blanc highlighting that the Welsh can also compete with the excellence that England are capable of with sparkling.
Vibrant, fresh, zingy with tangerine notes on the nose, followed by a delicate fine sparkle with layers of fresh clean stone fruit and a very fine baked brioche background – the poise and texture are outstanding. If you’re interested there’s more about this wonderful winery here.
JUNE – Rioja, Spain
Whilst I am certainly a modernist when it comes to wine I cannot leave behind certain old masters, such as Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia and their 1947 Gran Reserve Vina Tondonia is a masterpiece. This vintage is drinking as well as I can remember, it is the supreme Rioja, beautifully balanced, clean, precise with a balanced level of fruit and musky truffled aromas to keep this pure. Rumour has it that this is very similar to Latour 1947 or is it the other way round?
The Vina Bosconia Gran Reserva 1947 bottled in a Burgundy bottle to reflect its original name Vina Borgona has a more fruity and smokey bacon crisps flavour, with the chewy meaty blood dripping giving the wine a deeper luscious flavour, which to me gives it the nod over the Tondonia but I would not decline a glass or bottle of both, especially at 12.5% alcohol.
JULY – is our annual season of events at The Harrow, and besides The Mamba Riedel Decanter Awards & The Tri Nations Wine Challenges we also hosted Wines of Alsace, English Sparkling Wine and a charity lunch.
AUGUST – Napa Valley, California
So many highlights on my first ever visit to California, and a great thank you to British Airways for showcasing the quality of wines that they provide in First Class, both in the lounge and on the plane.
Raymond Vineyards is not as famous as the more expensive Super Napa wines that we tried on the trip but it was certainly the most showstopping star attraction as was meeting Jean-Charles Boisset at his Moulin Rouge-inspired Winery. His wines offer great value, and one of the highlights was the 40th Anniversary Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, this wine is juicy and approachable now, velvety smooth and seductive, purity, and fresh fruit supple tannins, great value too.
You can read about my views on Californian wine here.
SEPTEMBER – Amyndeon Florina, Greece
My third feature on Greece is yet to be posted but will be based on Alpha Estate which surpassed everything else that I had seen in Greece. This was my second visit in three months and the quality that we are seeing now coming from Greece is quite outstanding.
Alpha Estate Blend 2014 S.M.X made from 60% Syrah, 20% Xinomavro and 20% Merlot is a stunning wine that oozes with violets, bilberries, menthol, cool velvety silky smooth, hints of spices, just a delight to drink.
If you missed my Greek articles start with this one here.
OCTOBER – Navarra, Spain
Back for the fourth time this year, but this time I headed to Txakoli and Navarra, both interesting areas with the “Cider House” an experience not to be missed.
One of the star attractions of the trip was the visit to Vina Zorzal to see how ancient old vines have been rescued and contribute to some real quality wines. Vina Zorzal, Malayeto 2015, 100% Grenacha from minimum 35 year old vines. Bright fresh, purity of fruit – this is immense, clean focused, layered. Black fruit dominates but in a gentle way: blackcurrants, blackberries with black spices, soft gentle cedar wood, some minerality and river stone.
NOVEMBER – Tejo, Portugal
Ninfa Reserve Sparkling 2014. Quality sparkling wine from Portugal? It may surprise you, it certainly surprised me, 100% Pinot Noir and from the Tejo region of Portugal. Touch of salmon pink colour, layered and very fine structure. Joao Barbosa who owns and makes the wine produces immaculate, pure, precise wines at his modern but beautiful winery on the side of a valley deep in the Tejo countryside. This sparkling wine would certainly sit comfortably with the hierarchy of English sparkling wines.
DECEMBER – back to South Africa