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Enotria’s portfolio ‘never better’ as it faces 2023’s challenges

Enotria’s portfolio ‘never better’ as it faces 2023’s challenges

The theme of Enotria & Coe’s annual tasting this year was ‘cognoscenti’ although it could have been ‘fortis’, writes David Kermode who suggests that strength in the face of adversity is just as key in 2023 as being well informed. Kermode talks to E&C’s managing director Ants Rixon about his priorities going forwards, the new agencies in the portfolio – Bodegas Maranones (Madrid DO), Bodega Cerron (Jumilla), Mayfield (Orange, NSW) and Champagne A Robert – and highlights 10 wines from the tasting that he thinks should be on every wine buyer’s radar.

David Kermode
15th March 2023by David Kermode
posted in Tasting: Wine ,

“The portfolio has never looked better which is testament to Peter Wallbridge (head of wine) and his talented team of buyers,” says Enotria & Coe managing director Ants Rixon.

The Joseph Drouhin flight was a major highlight of the tasting

There’s always a theme to an Enotria & Coe annual tasting: this time it was ‘cognoscenti’ – derived from Latin, a reference to those well informed about a particular subject – though perhaps it should have been ‘fortis’, the Latin for strong, because the challenges have been coming thick and fast of late, meaning importers have needed all the strength they can muster.

The last Enotria & Coe tasting I attended marked – we hoped at the time – the last gasps of the global coronavirus pandemic, but then along came another variant, Omicron, closely followed by the start of a war in Ukraine, a surge in energy prices, a shortage of dry goods, including glass, all washed down with a resultant spike in the rate of inflation.

“It’s a tough trading environment – months of inflation, labour shortages, recessionary woes and the government now looking to lift the freeze on alcohol duty – means (price) increases across all drinks categories,” Enotria & Coe’s managing director, Ants Rixon tells me. “We are watching this closely to see how it plays out, we operate largely in the premium end of the market, which we expect to remain resilient. Our focus for the year ahead is to lead with wine – our core strength – and not to get too caught up trying to compete in the wholesale market.”

Sustainability push

Trying to stay focused on the future, Enotria & Coe used its tasting at the Old Brewery to outline a new ‘Sustainability Charter’ to focus the sharing of best practise across the entire supply chain, from grape vine to glass.

“We will aim to act as a thought leader in encouraging the sharing of ideas, approaches, techniques, methodologies and solutions across different product categories, regions and channels of the hospitality industry,” says Rixon, who believes the company’s portfolio has “never looked better.”

To illustrate, the showcase included some, still relatively new, high profile names – the wines of Argentina’s first female winemaker Susana Balbo and Rías Baíxas veterans Martin Codax spring to mind – though Rixon was also keen to shine a light on some new additions that might have flown under the taster’s radar until now.

“We launched Codax and Balbo last year – to immediate success – this year we welcome Bodegas Marañones (Madrid DO), Bodega Cerrón (Jumilla), Mayfield (Orange, NSW) and Champagne A Robert which we all anticipate being successful – the portfolio has never looked better which is testament to Peter Wallbridge (head of wine) and his talented team of buyers.”

With more than a thousand wines and spirits to be sampled and plenty of producers present, this was – as ever – not one to try doing in a rush, but the following, slightly eclectic, selection of wines (and a spirit) caught this taster’s imagination:

Top 10 wines from the Enotria & Coe tasting

Ken Forrester at the Enotria & Coe tasting, February 27 2023

Ken Forrester, FMC Chenin, 2021 (£34), a benchmark top end Chenin Blanc from the man they call ‘Mr Chenin’, for he has done more than most to put this underrated variety on the map. Summoned to London at the start of harvest back home, this was a flying visit for Forrester, who was holding court at his stand in the Tri-Nations room. The wine, the result of multiple passes in the vineyard to ensure optimal ripeness, offers enticing aromatic notes of wild honey, grilled pineapple and fleshy apricot. Rich, layered, and complex, with perfect poise, it obviously has years ahead of it, but will be difficult to resist.

Kooyong Faultline Chardonnay 2019 (£33) A single parcel wine from this Mornington Peninsula institution, a beguiling blend of chamomile, orange zest, raw ginger and russet apple, the fruit has real definition, there’s well integrated oak and a textural charm that speaks of creamy lemon posset. Delicious.

Wynns Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (£23) Emma Robinson, buyer for Australia, kindly suggested I head for the Wynns table for some amazing library wines – including a stunning 1997 John Riddoch Cab, with a supremely elegant tertiary delicacy – but I have chosen this wine for the accessibility and sheer bang-for-buck that it delivers, bursting with leafy blackcurrant, cherry and baking spices, there’s a lovely graphite note that runs through it like lead through a pencil, with tender tannins, it is a wine that just demands another glass.

Yealands Estate Single Vineyard Albariño 2022 (£11) Yealands’ winemaker Natalie Christensen learnt to work with Albariño during her apprenticeship in Rías Baíxas, and it was time well spent, as this Kiwi Albariño has an authentic varietal signature. Steely, fresh and tangy, the vibrant acidity is just the right side of a cold shower, with a lovely saline streak running through to the finish.

Susana Balbo, Signature Rosé 2022 (£17) Rosé is a booming market and Argentina wants a slice of it, with Malbec. It stands to do well if this is anything to go by… a delicious premium rosé, 60 percent Malbec, the remainder Pinot Noir, with delicate floral aromas reminiscent of Torrontes, crunchy berry cherry profile and a satisfying tension with juicy cranberry acidity and a good lick of mountain stream minerality.

Martin Codax, Lías Albariño 2020 (£17) A lesson in lees ageing and a work of patience, six months battonage, a year resting on lees in a steel, followed by six months bottle ageing, a yeasty voluminous feast of sourdough, greengage and rocha pear, framed by the variety’s signature sea breeze salinity. A textural treat from one of the region’s finest producers.

Contratto Barbaresco Riserva Baluchin 2013 (£41) A tip from veteran Italian buyer Sergio Deluca, a top-notch Barbaresco from a labyrinth of limestone cellars now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offering a beautiful expression of Nebbiolo at its floral, perfumed, powdery best. So nimble, yet with such incredible breadth as the mid-palate unfolds like a map of Piedmont with its delicate-berried detail.

La Spinetta, Timorasso DOC Colli Tortonesi 2020 (£20) An ancient vine, indigenous to Piedmont, Timorasso is a rare treat, because there’s not much of it planted, but it almost always delivers. This is a very good example, with an elegant orange blossom nose leading into a fruit salad of citrus flavours, supported by firm acidity and surprisingly savoury layers of pastry-like texture.

Joseph Drouhin Vosne-Romanée 2017 (£112) The Drouhin flight was a major highlight of the tasting and it was devilishly difficult to choose one wine, but this was drinking so incredibly well. It’s a cliché, but the ‘iron fist in a silk glove’ springs to mind, with its elegant red fruit, white truffle, soft leather and subtle spice supported by firm acidity, teasing depth and finely woven tannins. Superb.

Salcombe Distilling Company, Start Point Gin (£34) The iconic ‘Start Point’ lighthouse marked the beginning of the 19th century voyages of the Salcombe fruit schooners, which carried the exotic goods, fruits and spices that inspired this gin, or at least its name. I hadn’t encountered this before and was very impressed with its classic London Dry character. Citrus forward, there’s plenty of juniper flavour (which too many modern gins lack) and just a delicate hint of aniseed.

(Guide trade bottle prices provided by E&C)

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