The Vignerons’ Lunch at St. JOHN Restaurant is an annual tasting of the group’s wine range – available to trade and consumer – including its own label wines blended by the wine team, its own Languedoc winery Boulevard Napoléon, and a group of vignerons that St. JOHN works with, either on its own label wines or with specific and bespoke cuvées. It is also an excuse to praise at the high altar of British cooking, with St. JOHN co-founders Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver. In a somewhat messy fashion.
No surprise to find that eight of Geoffrey Dean’s Top 10 Wines from his travels last year come from the New World. As both a cricket correspondent for The Times and a wine expert Geoffrey spends a lot of his time in South Africa and Australia, enjoying the two main passions of his life. 2019 has been a year with many exciting discoveries including a Cabernet Franc from Uruguay and a Rosé from Paarl in South Africa plus he did make room for a deliciously old Lynch-Bages and a top Burgundy.
There are a number of ways to assess your Top Wines of 2019 and, for The Buyer’s drinks editor Peter Dean, one of the key criteria is availability – the wines need to be best in class obviously but they also need to be newly released onto the market this year. After all, The Buyer is trying to encourage sommeliers and wine buyers everywhere to discover new wines and broaden their palates so that if you’re excited by the sound of a wine we write about and then you find it is home brew from Chave’s second cousin, four bottles made, then quite frankly what’s the point? Some familiar names, then, and some surprises in Peter’s Best Wines of 2019.
One of the highlights of the year at The Buyer was posting several pieces by Justin Keay that always managed to ‘feel the temper of our times’ – forever weaving his disgust at Britain’s political malaise into features about British Wine, which he had just started taking seriously and, well almost every other wine he was tasting! No surprise, then, to see one English wine here in his top 10 wines of the year plus, as you would expect of Justin, a fascinating mix of wines from Greece, Portugal, Austria and Virginia. And no, that wouldn’t be a wine from Mr Trump.
If you had told David Kermode at the beginning of the year that his top 10 wines of 2019 would have included a Cava, a Prosecco and a Pinot Grigio you might have seen him take a large sleeping pill and put the alarm on to wake him at the end of December. But such is the constant, often disarming, unexpectedness of being a professional wine expert that finding magnificence in the most obvious of mainstream places is one of the joys of the job. OK so there was a 1914 Pol Roger and a 2005 Harlan thrown in there as well but nobody can be perfect 😉
Anne Krebiehl MW finished the decade in style – releasing her first book, the excellent Wines of Germany, and travelling to all parts of the globe to judge Riesling competitions, visit wineries, discover little gems and have a quasi-supernatural experience on the Sonoma Coast. Here she reviews her year in wine, a year in which she uncovered some true, upcoming ‘artists’ in Germany as well as being treated to a Bollinger from 1918 and a Beaune from 1947.
It starts with a Pet Nat and it ends with an ultra-premium Champagne, drunk from a plastic cup with scampi and chips on Brighton beach. Welcome to the Top 10 wines of 2019 as discovered by Harry Crowther, wine consultant, wine expert, journalist, publisher and contributor to The Buyer. Every day over the holidays we will be posting Top 10 wines from our panel of wine tasters – to pick up on some gems you may have missed in the hurly burly of the tasting calendar.
His year started in Marlborough and it ended in Morgon, en route he visited Spain, Italy, the Rhône and Bordeaux… on more than one occasion. Welcome to the Top 12 wines of 2019 as discovered by Mike Turner, restaurateur, wine consultant, journalist, web geek and contributor to The Buyer. Every day over the holidays there will be more Top wines from 2019 as chosen by our panel of wine tasters – to pick up on some gems you may have missed in the year but also so you can pretend you’ve got some work on when the in-laws pop round.
The Dão in Portugal is undergoing something of a vinous revolution of late. And, although their indigenous red varieties are leading the charge, it is the white wine Encruzado which knocked David Kermode off his feet when he visited Quinta dos Roques and Quinta dos Carvalhais amongst others. The grape has got some similarities to Chardonnay in that it loves wood and can be crafted by the winemaker, but it has a profile all its own and some intriguing anomalies – a two year dumb phase and an unwillingness to travel; or is that simply because the Portuguese don’t want to share their best kept secret?!
Ask a Spaniard where the best quality Spanish wines come from and the answer will be twofold – Rioja and Ribera del Duero. In the UK, however, Ribera wines are much less well known than Rioja even though their best wines are on an equal footing. Fresh from a recent tour of the region Peter Dean shares with us the wines he discovered on his trip – some very well known and others that are hidden gems ripe for being discovered by wine buyers everywhere. They are a ‘Duero Dozen’ that reflects, in a good way, how the wine styles here are changing for the better.
A recent extensive tasting of Gigondas wines, mostly from the 2017 and 2016 vintages, showcases the consistently high quality of these wines, typified by classic southern Rhône garrigue notes, freshness, generous fruit intensity and a balanced structure. Rhône expert Bart Feys puts this exclusive Buyer tasting into perspective by first looking at the geology and history of the region and then picking out the top Gigondas from 2016 and 2017 vintages, plus a few other gems that prove why these wines should be on every wine lover’s radar. Because of their consistently impressive range, Feys also focuses on two exemplary domaines Domaine des Bosquets and Chateau Saint Cosme.
The rare opportunity of tasting the 1974 Bodega Norton Malbec, one of the few bottles left in existence, was one of the many draws to a tasting lunch hosted by Norton winemaker David Bonomi. A wine older than scribe Chris Wilson – but had it aged as well? Also on offer was the new 2017 vintages of the Finca Perdriel and Altura but it was the 2015 Privada and Lote Agrelo wines that really turned Wilson’s head – that, and a chance to enter the Hogwarts-like Gothic St Pancras Tower.
It’s a case of ‘one step forward two steps back’ for Bulgaria and its wine producers, believes Justin Keay. After the huge success of the previous two years, this year’s new vintage tasting in London was lacking some of the best producers, many of the indigenous varieties and a lot of the imaginative winemaking so evident in 2018. Talking to key buyers, Keay discovers that price is an issue, consumers’ lack of knowledge and also an inward-looking focus that smacks of a lack of understanding of the global wine market.
Tasting the new releases from Vega-Sicilia is up there with ‘DRC day’ in January. But when that tasting is behind the hallowed doors of the wine estate itself then tasting Unico 2010, Valbuena 5° 2015, Alion 2016 and Unico, Reserva Especial 2020 takes on an added frisson of excitement. Spain’s ‘first growth’ and arguably its most prestigious winery is notoriously difficult to gain access to, but Peter Dean did and posts this account of what it’s like to sample Unico 2010 in the hushed drawing room of the Nineteenth Century villa that serves as its headquarters.
As a restaurateur Roger Jones has found that his customers are more at ease when ordering wines and grape varieties that they can pronounce. So how were they going to fare with Vachnadziani, Rkatsitelli and Karmrahyut – three varietals from Georgia and Armenia, that are part of Hallgarten’s 80 new-wine refresh of its portfolio, embracing Ancient Wines? Jones tasted through the range, recommends his stand-out wines, which are best value, and which ones stood up to the Old and New World wines which, for Jones stole the show.
The ‘black wines’ of Cahors in France’s South-West are still suffering in the UK from a reputation of being too challenging – both cerebrally and on account of their sometimes ferocious tannins – sad given the fact that in the 14th Century half of all wine imported into Britain was from Cahors. At the UK launch of its new cuvée Lucter, Château de Haute-Serre owner Bertrand-Gabriel Vigouroux shows Simon Field MW how he has made it his mission to manage the tannins in Cahors without sacrificing the essence of the wine and its key points of difference.
Ever since he vacated the chef de cave seat at Piper-Heidsieck, Regis Camus has devoted his attention between making premium sake and top Champagne cuvée Rare. In London to show off the new vintage, Rare 2006, to Anne Krebiehl MW, he explains why this cuvée is a ‘sunny’ one rather than ‘iconic’ or ‘radiant’; why most of the Chardonnay in the blend comes from the Montagne de Reims rather than the Côte des Blancs; why it is only the ninth white Rare since 1976; and why making Champagne of this calibre requires the maker to have a ‘photograph’ in their mind of each vintage.
Unusual to get tasting notes that include references to Frazzles and “that savoury taste you get a few hours after being punched in the nose,” especially when the wines are at a tasting called Wines with a Conscience. What did Ellis Wines’ new concept tasting all mean? And did the idea stack up? We sent Chris Wilson to 67 Pall Mall to find out, and he was pleasantly pleased with this 50-strong range of Organic, Biodynamic and Sustainable wines, one of which actually uses the winery’s self-produced bee pollen yeast.
The ‘New Old World’ of Central and Eastern Europe is producing some extraordinary and exciting wines right now. Pay particular attention to wines involving the Blue grape, says Justin Keay, whether it’s known as Blaufränkisch, Kekfrankos, Lemberger or one of the many other names it adopts as it follows the winding Danube down to the Black Sea. The grape was part of a landmark tasting in London which had a Hungarian focus but also had wines from Romania, Bulgaria, Austria and even Australia – vinified as a single varietal but also, perhaps most successfully as a blending component.
One of the bugbears of Peter Finlayson is that wines are drunk way too young. In order to prove a point he assembled a gaggle of wine experts, including our own Anne Krebiehl MW, and showed them a flight of his Galpin Peak Pinot Noirs that he makes in South Africa’s Hemel-en-Aarde valley. Finlayson has always taken his cues from Burgundy, his winery Bouchard Finlayson is a joint project with the late Paul Bouchard, of the Beaune négociant Bouchard Aîné & Fils; and the Pinot he makes is always made to be laid down. Krebiehl takes up the story.