Vite Colte, the upmarket Piedmontese co-operative winery, is hoping to make major inroads into the British on-trade, when it bounces back into action, with its competitively-priced Barbera d’Asti and impressive range of Nebbiolos. Ahead of the latest release of the new Barbera d’Asti in the New Year, The Buyer was given a sneak tasting along with some of Vite Colte’s Barolo and Barbaresco labels. They made a good impression not just on Geoffrey Dean but also on noted Italian wine experts, Stephen Brook and Andrew Jefford.
As wine regions go The Loire is still one of the most neglected and under-valued in the world. It is also one of the most diverse regions, with arguably the world’s most diverse grape, Chenin Blanc, in its arsenal of varietals. In order to shine a light on Chenin Blanc’s diversity and value, Loire wine expert Jim Budd picked six of his favourite wines and explained how Chenin Blanc has had a renaissance over the past 30 years, particularly in the Anjou region.
LM Archer travels to Beaune to meet François Labet, one of the pioneers of organic viticulture in Burgundy, and the largest producer of Clos Vougeot Grand Cru. His two estates, Domaine Pierre Labet and Château De La Tour, are not just about making premium, iconic wines, however, his outstanding value Vielles Vignes Pinot Noir outsells the nearest other red Burgundy that Bidendum sells, by three to one. Archer hears first-hand about Labet’s minimalist approach to both viticulture and winemaking and samples a range of his wines, including the Corsican Pinot that he makes under his own name.
Will Coulanges-la-Vineuse, one of Burgundy’s lesser-known appellations, be getting a designation upgrade in the same way that Pouilly-Fuissé has in the south? LM Archer thinks so, especially given the quality exhibited by the wines of Domaine du Clos du Roi that sometimes blend Pinot Noir with ancient grape variety César. There is even one Pinot Noir that is non-vintage and is made by blending at least three different vintages together in one cuvée.
With the barbers shops shut in his region, wine expert Justin Keay has stuck to what is truly essential – discovering exciting new wines and wine regions without leaving the comfort of his own home. He has travelled to Georgia, the Lebanon, Lombardy, Chianti, Greece (all through Zoom), and discovered a range of fascinating and somm-friendly wines along the way. As is Keay’s love of the ‘grape unknown’ he raves about wines using Negroamaro, Susumaniello, Nero di Troia, Timorasso, Marawi and Begleri amongst others.
While most wine experts have been content with mini-samples sent to them for the virtual tastings that have become de rigeur in 2020, Roger Jones has simply gone downstairs into his award-winning wine cellar and dusted off a few real, life-sized bottles. The semi-retired chef also has a food-pairing lens to look through – hence this year’s challenge to find out which wines (if any) work with char-grilled octopus, a dish he is rather partial to cooking at all hours of the day and night. And talking of barbecues – he is the only member of The Buyer’s tasting team that has picked a Bordeaux First Growth to go with a South African Brai.
2020 for the wine writer was a real game of two halves – tasting in the flesh whilst mingling round the spittoon, then tasting alone on Zoom, trying not to talk about Covid. But the drinks trade’s speed and ingenuity in facilitating online tastings meant that it was easy to appreciate how exceptional 2020 was for new wines, irrespective of how difficult life in hospitality had become. For The Buyer’s drinks editor, Peter Dean, 2020 was ‘the year of drinking differently’ – it was a year of discovery (virtual or not) with some interesting finds unearthed in his Top 10 wines of 2020.
As a former professional cricketer, wine expert Geoffrey Dean has been used to ‘rain stopping play’ on many an occasion. But, like the rest of us, he has never had to contend with Covid-19 sending everyone back into the pavilion. Before the pandemic prevented international travel, however, Dean visited South Africa and Australia where he made a number of key vinuous discoveries which he shares with us in his Top 10 wines of 2020.
International travel – the lifeblood for wine experts – was restricted this year, making it nigh-on impossible to visit wine regions and meet winemakers face-to-face. David Kermode, aka Mr Vinosaurus, was one of the lucky ones, managing to visit New Zealand, France, Greece and Italy which has greatly influenced the wines he has picked as his top 10 wines of the year. Kermode also attended a spectacular last hurrah at wine industry favourite haunt The Harrow at Little Bedwyn, with top marks to James Smith at Vranken Pommery for having the foresight to have booked what turned out to be the last big wine launch at Roger Jones’ restaurant. So what’s going to happen in 2021 James?!
Themed webinars, ‘guessing games’ on Zoom, receiving full bottle samples of unaffordable super-premium cuvées – 2020 had some unexpected pleasures but, on the whole, it was a challenging year for Anne Krebiehl MW as much as it was for most in the wine trade. Here she reflects on a year that was full of exceptional bottles, including many outstanding Pinot Noir, Sekt, English fizz, Cabernet Franc and even Grüner Veltliner – but virtually all of them sipped in solitude.
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
What is so notable about an exceptional single vineyard with great terroir is that it can make an outstanding wine every year irrespective of the vintage. Such is the case with Clos des Goisses the 5.83 hectare vineyard owned by Champagne Philipponnat, that can be compared with the best sites in Burgundy, and whose Champagne was the first-ever single vineyard Champagne released on the market. Anne Krebiehl MW tastes four Champagne Philipponnat Clos des Goisses wines including the super-premium Clos des Goisses L.V. 1995 Extra Brut which has had an astonishing 25 years on the lees.
It had to be a special project that brought all three branches of the Rothschild family together under one roof for the first time. And naturally enough it had to be in Champagne. When the family bought Maison Prieur in Versus in 2005 they set in motion a project which took them from gravel to chalk, from red wine to white, and the slow development of Champagne Barons de Rothschild. Acquiring 3 hectares of Grand Cru vineyard and concentrating on Chardonnay as the main varietal in its cuvées, the house has just released its new Blanc de Blancs, Champagne Barons de Rothschild – Rare Vintage 2010, a wine which Anne Krebiehl MW put to the test.
Times cricket correspondent and wine expert Geoffrey Dean knows a thing or two about sporting legends – he has met many during his playing and writing careers. Which is why, when he covered the launch of the new Château de Pommard Simone 2018 for The Buyer, he knew instinctively that he was in the presence of real greatness. Not the ‘fly-by-night’ kind – but one that is young now, will improve with age, and then keep getting better and better. Dean raves about the wine in the presence of Emmanuel Sala, the head winemaker at Château de Pommard.
When Josef Reiterer went to register his newly-formed winery in the remote Alto Adige village of Mölten, the official there said that he might as well pour his money into the Adige river. There was no tradition of winemaking here, 1200m up, and you could only get to the village by cable car until 1973. But Arunda was born and now it’s making spectacularly good sparkling wines – so much so that when ‘fizz expert’ Anne Krebiehl MW tasted some on a trip to North Italy, she just had to make the pilgrimage to meet Reiterer – the highest altitude sparkling winemaker in all of Europe.
The international response in the aftermath of the August 4 blast in Beirut harbour was fast and effective. For Lebanon’s wine industry the message was simple – buy Lebanese wines so that winemakers there can have hard currency to work with. For it is the financial crisis in Lebanon that is putting the country most at risk now, argues Justin Keay. He talks to the owners of three very different Lebanese wineries – IXSIR, Oumsiyat and Domaine des Tourelles – about the challenges facing them, what is unique about their wines and how exports, particularly to the off trade are a lifeline on the long road to recovery.
Virtual tastings can be a hit-and-miss affair. With the 11th Koshu of Japan tasting, however, the silence of being at home and guided through what Koshu wines are all about by masterclass host Anthony Rose was almost preferable to being at a tasting in the real world. Koshu wine has an intensity and subtle, elegant beauty that made the format of this tasting so appropriate. And the wines themselves? They just keep getting better and better with 10 wines, chosen largely from the challenging, cool 2019 vintage, showing a bright acidity and sublime balance. Peter Dean reports.
90 minutes is all it takes to reorientate your palate to the delights of Gunma craft sake, argues Victor Smart. Although this ‘new idiom’ of wine appreciation might seem a little daunting at first, many of the basics are the same. Smart discovers three of Japan’s top Gunma craft sake producers Nagai Sake, Seitoku Meijo and Tsuchida Sake with the help of Sarah Abbott MW and discovers it is surprisingly easy to slip into a different world of taste – once your expectations have shifted, to revel in the delicacy of these painstakingly crafted beverages.
Sicily’s renaissance as a wine region has its roots in the mid-1970s when Diego Planeta’s influence started to be felt. In the past 20 years the seeds he sowed have borne fruit, with a massive increase of outside investment in new estates, improved facilities and a passion for maintaining and re-discovering Sicily’s viticultural heritage – just last month 6 new grape varieties being re-discovered. Stefano Girelli is a part of this new wave with his two organic estates Santa Tresa and Cortese producing wines of outstanding quality and value, using local varieties – Catarratto, Grillo, Fiano, Frapatto, Nero Mascalese and Nero d’Avola – and a mix of modern viticulture and ‘old style’ winemaking.
Restless River is one of a growing number of producers in South Africa which has sprung up in the past 20 years – challenging the old order and helping to define the country as a genuine fine wine region and not just a ‘value option’. Six years since discovering the wines at a craft fair in Constantia, and helping set up its import into the UK, our roving editor Roger Jones was re-united with Restless River’s owner and winemaker Craig Wessels. They taste through a number of vintages of Wessels’ wines as well as catch up on some of his winemaking techniques and separate the fact from the fiction – like ‘the one’ about him learning winemaking from a 2-day weekend course.