Setting aside its considerable range of Italian agencies was a bold move for Armit Wines at last week’s Autumn Portfolio tasting – and it worked, very well indeed. Showing just 80 wines the tasting was focused, showed off Armit’s international estates and also proved how contemporary many of the wines are. With new agencies Terroir Sense Fronteres and Château Maris present; new wines such as La Rioja Alta’s Viña Arana Gran Reserva there; and some interesting curios, this was a tasting where it was hard to overlook the strength and depth of the range. Peter Dean highlights a dozen wines that sommeliers should look out for.
“A non-vintage still Coteaux Champenois Pinot produced by an always-fascinating Champagne house from low-yielding, 60 year-old vines – what’s a sommelier not to love?!” writes Dean.
When John Armit left the helm of Corney & Barrow in 1981 to form John Armit Wine Investment it was with the intention of creating a Bordeaux specialist agency that would look after supplying 100 clients with mainly top grade, en primeur claret. In recent years and since he stepped down in 2010 as chairman of Armit Wines, the company has largely been seen as a specialist in Italian wines.
It was a brave move, then, and an interesting one for Armit to remind wine buyers that their portfolio is considerably broader with many contemporary, cutting edge estates on board – and to not feature any of the Italian wines in its Autumn Portfolio tasting.
Locating to Claridge’s ballroom and featuring bespoke canapés from chef Martyn Nail to highlight some of the wines, there was a real buzz about this tasting that was missing from the last Armit tasting I attended in One Great George Street. The wines were showing very well indeed.
All of the Armit wineries present were grouped into four sections: Boutique, Green, Modern Classics and Pioneers. Below is my personal selection of the 12 Best wines from the tasting.
Digby Fine English, Hampshire, Vintage Reserve Brut, 2010
There were a lot of claims coming from Trevor Clough at the Digby table. “We are England’s first negociant,” and “We are the UK’s most exported wine.” Whatever the case the wines were showing well, proving once again that English wine is moving on quality-wise at a frenetic pace.
This is a 65% Chardonnay with Pinots Noir and Meunier making up the rest in equal measure, with fruit sourced from across the South of England. This is a bright, sophisticated fizz with the bottle age adding secondary characteristics of nuts, lemon curd and shortbread to a ‘Garden of England fruit basket’ of apples, pears, red plums. It’s already an award winner and you can see why at £24.75 (DPD) it matches many Champagnes twice the price.
Champagne Geoffroy, Champagne, Cumières Rouge Traditionel, NV
A non-vintage still Pinot Noir from low-yielding 60 year-old vines, produced by an always-fascinating Champagne house – what’s a sommelier not to love?! Matured in wood for two years, never fined or filtered, this is a crunchy style of Pinot – cherries and blackberries on the nose, strawberries on the palate, with the added complexity of Christmas spices on the finish. Would benefit from up to 10 years cellaring but will also make a fascinating by-the-glass menu pairing. (£25.15 DPD)
Momento, Western Cape, Grenache Gris, 2018
Hard to believe this masterful white is from young vines – there is so much depth to the flavour and so much minerality – it’s like having crushed rocks in your mouth. Winemaker Marelise Niemann has worked with Beaumont and Thorne&Daughters and is in that league – making terroir-driven wines, using drought-resistant varieties, with real precision and focus. There are notes of crisp, green apples, orange peel, white peach; the grainy texture has real energy with attractive mineral and saline qualities. Hugely impressive and a steal at £17.30 DPD.
Bell Hill, Canterbury NZ, Bell Hill Pinot Noir, 2015
Tasted blind you could easily be in a Grand Cru Burgundy vineyard, the quality is that good. Terrific structure and acidity that keeps it fresh and vital underneath a brooding, complex cloak of fruit and savoury flavours (black cherry, mulberry, spice); an interesting ferrous, mineral quality too. The DPD is terrific value at £56.70 given what’s in the glass, that said it might be hard to trade a customer up to circa £200 for a New Zealand Pinot. On the other hand with only 2616 bottles made, and Armit not doing retail, the market price is already up around £130.
Paddy Borthwick, Wairarapa, Pinot Gris, 2018
I tasted this twice and both times realised I hadn’t written any notes – it is that good and that distracting. It is dry, with a little weight in the mouth, with the ripeness of the fruit giving it an apparent sweetness. The notes are largely floral (honeysuckle) and of ripe orchard fruit but its location on New Zealand’s North Island (admittedly in a windy part) gives the fruit a touch of tropicality – apricots and hints of cantaloupe melon. Terrific balance and, at £9.30 DPD you can well scratch your head – ridiculous VFM.
Château Maris, La Livinière, Les Amandiers, 2016
One of the two new agencies represented at the tasting, this Languedoc-based biodynamic pioneer has recently moved from Bibendum because, like Armit, it is owned by Invivo. All four wines available to taste – an interesting young vine Brama, a Grenache/ Syrah blend, a single varietal Grenache and this 100% Syrah – were showing exceptionally well. It was Les Amandiers, though, that was out of this world with Maris owner Robert ‘Bertie’ Eden comparing 2016 to 2001 for sheer quality. La Livinière produces grand cru level red wines such as Gerard Bertrand’s Clos d’Ora and this is in the same league at less than half the price. (£48.35 DPD)
The wine has power and weight but still feels light on its feet – heady aromas of blackcurrants, blackberries, blossom, liquorice – a mid-weight palate that achieves that delicate balance between full-on fruit and crushed-rock minerality.
Matetic Vineyards, San Antonio Valley, Matetic Syrah, 2013
Another wine with intensity and concentration of fruit but which is built for the long haul – 30% whole bunch, prodigious use of young oak, zesty acidity – and finely balanced. The colour is deep purple; notes of black fruits, black pepper, earth, spice tin; the palate is savoury, with sweet tannins, meaty, and a nice purity of black fruit. Tim Atkin made it his wine of the year, incidentally.
Terroir Sense Fronteres, Montsant, Guix Vermell, 2017
A second new agency showing on the day, although I predict we will be hearing a lot more about this Montsant-based estate. Old vines, high altitude, organic and biodynamic principles with minimum intervention, foot-trod grapes for gentle extraction – they tick a number of boxes and all four of the wines really sparkled – an interesting white blend of Grenache Blanc and Macabeo, and a Grenache/ Carignan blend – but it was the two 100% Grenache Noir wines, Vertebra-Figuera and Guix Vermell that were outstanding.
The Guix Vermell is referred to locally as ‘Garnacha finer’ – the fruit is grown at 800m on limestone/ clay soils – and produces light, fruit-driven wines of great elegance, power and complexity, putting them right at the very top of what Spain can offer. This is POA (it’s in the £250 a bottle ballpark) and has to be tried, the Vertebra-Figuera is from fruit grown on clay at 650m and is £25.35 DPD.
Pierre Gimonnet, Champagne, Rosé de Blancs 1er Cru NV
My favourite Rosé fizz of the day was this pretty traditional but exceptionally crafted Champagne – 88% Chardonnay 12% Pinot Noir. Salmon pink, tight mousse, raspberry and strawberry notes abound, crisp linear acidity, fine-texture, lovely balance and weight on the palate. Bright, fresh, elegant and refined. Need I say more? £30.55 DPD.
Astrolabe, Marlborough, Taihoa Vineyard, 2016
I’m not a massive fan of Savvy Blanc from Marlborough, but this style I love – fruit picked ripe, whole bunch pressed, wild yeast ferment in old barrels. The wine has lots of the tropical fruit notes (passion fruit, guava, limoncello) you might expect but there’s a refinement to the overall flavours, a salinity, and a nice mineral zip to the acidity. Crisp, textured, vibrant – a class apart. £18.90 DPD.
La Rioja Alta, Viña Arana Gran Reserva, 2012
This is the new Gran Reserva from La Rioja Alta which is aimed at a younger palate, making it the only house in Rioja to boast three Gran Reservas. The style is more fruit-forward with earlier drinking in mind. That, combined with the freshness of the 2012 vintage and backbone of linear acidity, makes it open, accessible with delicious fruit flavours. If you had a Bounty bar with a blackberry coulis that pretty much sums up the delicious mix of flavours. £24 DPD
Bien Nacido, Santa Maria Valley, The Captain, 2013
The first vintage for this top cuvée is made from grapes grown from three different high elevation blocks of Bien Nacido with two different soil types and two different clones. The wine is an absolute delight – silky finesse, rounded, but with a firm structure underneath. There are notes of wild blackberry, sous bois, wood smoke, the fruit has a crunchy, slightly spicy edge with fine-grained texture and a youthful lick of sap on the finish. Best to cellar but also made for early drinking. £59.07 DPD
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