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.
“The Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva 1954 is now just starting to shine, still youthful, brick clear, hints of Iberica Ham, cedar, crimson and cranberry, pure and a wonderful experience,” Jones writes.
As I am in semi-retirement I took advantage of the various lockdowns and, of course, where possible under government guidance also took full advantage of the outside drinking code – raiding not only my cellar but friends’ cellars too and the odd Zoom trade tasting.
Although a magnum of Cristal Rosé 2008 came quite close, there could only be one winner and this still Rosé Clos du Temple 2019 from Gérard Bertrand continues to wow. When I first tried it I knew that Bertrand had released something special, and we immediately put it on our restaurant wine list by the glass. Close your eyes and it could be a decadent fine white Burgundy, open your eyes and it’s a decadent Rosé.
I said last year that Muscadet was making a comeback, and here with “Katharos” Muscadet Sans Soufre Ajoute 2018 wehave a very talented young winemaker in Louise Chereau who is taking the Melon de Bourgogne grape to another level. Wow, this shows how good Melon de Bourgogne can be, more Burgundian than Muscadet. Made without Sulphates, Louise was at pains to stress it was not an ‘Orange’ or ‘Natural’ wine, she is merely focussing on getting the best out of this great old grape.
Tried Chablis Premier Cru, Mont De Millieu, Domaine William Fevre 2013 at the Fells tasting in early February, and this aged Chablis was shining, it had depth and texture but also so elegant and light with a clean lime mineral flinty elegance.
So many to choose from, including a fabulous trip to Domaine Zind-Humbrecht for a masterclass of its Pinot Gris with Steven Spurrier in February, but for me my top Alsace goes to Domaine Weinbach Riesling Schlossberg Grand Cru 2005, which I served with the classic Seared Diver Caught Orkney Scallop, Black Pudding and Foie Gras with a reduction of Alvear1927 PX.
Only one winner here and its Arras, at our annual Mambas Awards – celebrating the best from Australia – (this year guests were restricted from the usual 90 to just a handful) in the final of the best Aussie Sparkling Wines of the last 16 years all three finalists were Arras. With my choice going to the 2007 Arras Grand Vintage for value and quality, which was also just sublime.
Just before lockdown I hosted lunch for Clement Pierlot from Pommery and we tasted through a selection of Magnums from 2002, with Les Clos Pompadour a beacon of indulgence and excellence. In October I shared many magnums whilst working for Tom Stevenson in our ‘bubbly bubble’ judging CSWWC, and a magnum of Cristal 1996 showcases why Cristal holds the stature that it does, so it’s the Cristal for me.
Chateau Margaux 2012 was served at a Braai I attended during the summer hosted by a very generous South African friend. I do not get the chance to drink much First Growth and so took full advantage on this occasion, yes it is young but my word what a wine, I hope I get the opportunity to try this in another decade.
At a Zoom masterclass to check on the quality of The Yalumba Caley 2015, Robert Hill-Smith said the 2015 had the character of all three previous vintages put into one; precision, sophistication, vibrancy, vitality, fresh acidity and that classic iodine sea salt flavour from Coonawarra. This is more Barossa Shiraz-dominated but is restrained and complete. A world-class wine – definitely a wine that will turn heads in years to come.
South Africa Cabernet
Whilst the Restless River Cabernets are making a stir especially the 2012, which is drinking superbly, my top South African Cabernet has to go to Tokara’s Telos 2015, I had purchased the first release last year and was excited to try it in its youth and shared it with my friend Gareth Birchley. This continues to excite me as it did on the previous occasions that I have tried it and certainly deserves its high profile and price; Goosebumps on the back of the neck experience.
Since I retired I have decided to make an inroad into my Gran Reserva Riojas from R Lopez de Heredia. Back in 2000 we were the importers and managed to collect quite a cellar with reds back to 1910 and whites back to 1957. For some reason we had a glut of the Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva 1954 as I had been enjoying the 1964 and 1947 more, but the 1954 is now just starting to shine, still youthful, brick clear, hints of Iberica Ham, cedar, crimson and cranberry, pure and a wonderful experience. Perfect with Char-Grilled Octopus.