It wasn’t just the self-pour bottles of 1996 Lafleur and 1981 La Rioja Alta that made the Armit Wines 2021 autumn showcase feel special, neither was it the library stock magnums and imperials of many of the jewels in Armit’s crown – although they did help. The tasting really proved that Armit has got its mojo back, with new estates rubbing shoulders with the more established agencies in the room. Peter Dean highlights the new wines on show and talked to the key players about why this was a tasting that really raised the bar.
“Terroir Sense Fronteres’ Tatjana Peceric has moved away from wood to vinification in cement and using 100% whole bunch, so its three wines and one personal project of Peceric’s is becoming more and more on-trend – evidenced by the flurry of activity around its tasting table,” writes Dean.
“2020 was like a really bad party, the kind where you look at your watch and say excuse me to your host, you’ve got a plane to catch, then you get home and try to start the evening all over again.”
Bertie Eden, winemaker at Château Maris was chatting at the Armit Wines autumn showcase where he and a good number of winemakers (some as far away as Argentina) had made the trip to show off their latest vintages. Eden’s infectious bonhomie was typical of the good vibes in the Nash room at Pall Mall’s Institute of Directors club where the tasting was held.
Finally we could get back to some kind of normality and finally we had an opportunity to crack a few special bottles… and that Armit did, in an extraordinary show of celebration and generosity, the library stock that was freely available included Chateau Lafleur 1996, Latour’s Pauillac 2013, La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 1981, Domaine Leflaive’s Puligny Montrachet 1er Les Combettes 2002, Bruno Giacosa Barolo Rocche del Falletto 2008 plus magnums and Imperials of aged top end wines from right across the portfolio.
“Well we didn’t want to host just any old tasting,” managing director Brett Fleming said with the twinkle of a man who knows he has really helped Armit get its mojo back.
The new wines were showing well but these wines with age felt like a real line in the sand and also Armit raising the bar on what is possible with a portfolio tasting. Attendance was double from what was expected and, I suspect, when others get to hear what an embarrassment of riches was on show, they’ll be turning them away from the doors next time around assuming, that is, that the UK gets over its shortage of bouncers by then.
New estates and the lesser known
Like many importers Armit has added new estates to its ranks and a number of new wines, plus was putting special focus on a few producers who have perhaps slipped under the radar. So how were they tasting and which were the stand-outs?
A new estate from Campania, Viticoltori de Conciliis had five whites and three reds on show. This is an organic producer with 15 hectares of indigenous varieties, each wine truly representing Campania’s key styles. The younger generation took over about 20 years ago converting the business from grape growing into winemaking. The wines are terroir-driven, steel vinified, pure and expressive. The 2020 Falanghina and 2020 Bacioilcielo Fiano are both terrific value (£7.80 & £14.80) and ‘do what it says on the tin’ the latter with wild flowers and honeyed bouquet, stony texture and citrus pith finish. The 2020 Donnaluna Fiano (£12) is a single vineyard wine and 2016 Perella Fiano (£16.80) has also seen some wood and is far more complex with a broader width.
The three reds are all Aglianico with none having those ‘none shall pass’ tannins of yesteryear. 2019 Bacioilcielo Aglianico (£8.90) was rustic-nosed, rounded, fruity and very easy drinking, the 2018 Donnaluna Aglianico (£12) had the black fruit dialled up with more depth and texture while the 2011 Naima Aglianico (£23) was a steal at this price compared to the iconic Aglianicos of the region – concentrated and intense, bags of juicy fruit, ripe integrated tannins with a smash of blood orange on the finish. This was 15% abv but you wouldn’t have known it, the rest of the wines were mostly 12 or 13%.
Another new estate to Armit is Mendel Wines from Mendoza which is well known to consumers through a decent presence in the off-trade. Under the direction of winemaker Roberto de la Mota since 2002, Mendel has some of the oldest vines in Argentina (almost 100 years old) and their six reds and a white were all impressive.
Their single varietal Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec (all 2019, £14.85) were textbook examples of the grapes – all structured, and showing decent concentration, acidity and balance. The Malbec is the winery’s flagship and shows Mendoza Malbec off very well – soft tannins, velvety and rounded, ripe and rich with layers of fruit and notes of wood and smoke. There is an entry level easy drinking 2019 Apertura Malbec (£9.40) and a single vineyard 2018 Finca Remota Malbec (£46.80) which is a gorgeous, intense, mineral-driven wine that could rub shoulders with Bodega Noemia for freshness and complexity.
Having established itself 20 years ago in the Spanish region of Montsant, Terroir Sense Fronteres is not a new winery but it has only been with Armit since 2019; as head oenologist Tatjana Peceric has moved away from wood to vinification in cement and using 100% whole bunch, so its three wines and one personal project of Peceric’s is becoming more and more on-trend – evidenced by the flurry of activity around its tasting table.
2019 Negre (£14.90) is a 75% Grenache 25% Carignan blend from a 400m high vineyard which is fresh, light, elegant and stony-textured. Beautifully pure with mouth-watering acidity – another example of how Spanish winemakers are making us take a fresh look at Garnacha. 2019 Vertebra-Figuera (£23.90) is a 100% Grenache, almost see-through, which is taut, textured and has great register on the palate. 2017 Guix Vermell (£184.90) is another 100% Grenache from 60 year old vines grown 800m up which is off-the-scale delicious in a Grand Cru Burgundy sort-of way and would make a fascinating tasting partner with Torres’ top end high altitude Priorat Mas de la Rosa. Peceric’s pet project, 2019 Coreografia Pas de Deux, (£31) is a 60/40 Grenache/ Carignan blend from a 700m high vineyard which has energy, layers of flavour, precision and a firm stony core. Stunning wines.
New Zealand’s Astrolabe Wines also deserves a special mention for its two Sauvignon Blancs which it was showing along with a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The 2020 Province Sauvignon Blanc (£12) shows off the ripeness of this top vintage, and also the sensitive farming here, the wine is clearly from Marlborough but its blend of different regions makes for a good deal of complexity with stone fruit, peaches and cream, hits of tropical fruit and saline making for a delicious whole. The 2019 Taihoa Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (£19) is a wood-aged SB from the Kekerengu coast which the furthest south Marlborough stretches into North Canterbury. Although it spends nine months in oak, this only makes itself felt through palate weight and texture, the wood seamlessly integrated elsewhere. Textured, layered with bags of flavour – a real winner.
New wines from ‘old faces’ included two new whites from Piedmont’s Punset the 2019 Langhe Arneis (£13.10) which has more mid-palate depth and presence than we’ve previously expected from this grape thanks to its use of skin contact while the 2019 Neh?! (£9.90) is a four-grape blend that is easy drinking, textured with an attractive wild fennel nose. Looking at the labels you wouldn’t think they were from the same winery – the former is the parents’ design while the pop arty Neh?! belongs very much to the new generation at Punset.
Also new and showing well were two Prosecco Spumante from Veneto’s Radise, an NV Millesimato DOC (£7.60) and a DOCG NV Prosecco Spumante (£8.80) – big, mouth-filling and fruity. Two beautifully made new Burgundies from Domaine Michel Mallard a 2017 Ladoix Blanc ‘Le Clos Royer’ and a 2017 Chorey-Lès-Beaune (both £22). The 2017 Gevrey-Chambertin ‘Symphonie’ from Domaine Alain Burguet (£34.70) offered a different level of Pinot power – intense with a bit of sous bois funk, and great register on the palate. There were also two new rosés from Domaine des Mapliers the 2020 Rosé ‘Preferences’ (£9.80) and the 2020 Rosé ‘Abacus’ (£13.90).
All prices are DPD per bottle.
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