The Mentzendorff annual tasting is a crucial date in the diary for all serious wine buyers – and so it proved once again as the importer laid out its wares in Whitehall’s palatial One Great George Street for what’s on offer during 2023. Geoffrey Dean found that the portfolio has all bases covered with a fine mix of classic wines and spirits plus new lines and picks out his highlights from the tasting.
“To finish with some of the world’s great brandies – a quintet of Delamain Cognacs – was a fitting conclusion to what was a special Mentzendorff annual tasting,” writes Dean.
Few places in the world for a trade tasting can be grander than the Great Hall in Westminster’s One Great George Street, with its marble columned walls, ornate gold leaf and stunning 13-metre high ceiling. The latter features Charles Sims’ masterful painting commemorating the First World War, while two giant chandeliers hang off it to give a theatrical feel. The magnificence of the venue was matched by the splendour of wines and spirits that was offered for tasting by Mentzendorff, with all manner of new releases and ‘first looks’ at old classics.
Where better to start than a top English sparkling wine from the oldest commercial vineyard in England. That is, of course, Hambledon, where Felix Gabillet, a native of the Loire, has been winemaker since 2015. On show was the soon-to-be-launched Premiere Cuvée Rosé NV (RRP £75), a beguiling blend of 88% Pinot Meunier, 5% Pinot Noir and 7% Chardonnay. This spent five years on the lees and had 5g/l dosage. “I am so pleased with it,” Gabillet purred. “It is vivacious, intense and seductive with a marine undertone. The Meunier gives it a heady note.”
Gabillet’s compatriot, Vincent Avenel, managing director of Domaine Chanson, was also in the Great Hall with an impressive range of the Burgundy negociant’s wines from four vintages between 2017 and 2020. The Beaune Bastion Blanc 1er Cru 2018 (RRP £36) was a highlight. “It was a very warm year, and this is my favourite,” Avenel declared. “It is super with a perfect balance between freshness and maturity, with minerality and length.”
Half a dozen other French producers showed their wares, with three organically-farmed Cornas single vineyard Jean-Luc Colombo wines from the 2018 vintage catching the eye. These were Les Ruchets (RRP £69.50), La Louvée (£76) and the majestic Le Vallon de l’Aigle (£240). At the the other end of Vins Colombo’s price range, its Picpoul de Pinet Les Girelles 2021 offered value with its flinty minerality and fresh florality (£12.50).
Another southern French producer providing excellent value for its quintet of mid-market Solas labels (all £12.50) was Laurent Miquel. Laurent was absent but his Irish wife, Neasa, was on hand to reveal they have the biggest planting of Viognier in the Languedoc. Their Viognier 2021, from vines dating back to the mid-90s, was both elegant and fresh, with ABV kept to 13% for a grape naturally high in alcohol. Its Albariño 2021 was particularly drinkable, while the Syrah 2020 was garriguey with very fresh acidity. ‘Solas’ means ‘light’ in Gaelic, and all five wines – the others being Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – were reflective of their name.
The Loire estate, Langlois-Château, also gave a reminder of what good value old vine Cabernet Franc can represent with their Saumur-Champigny Vieilles Vignes 2018 (£24.50). Its Coteaux de Saumur Les Beaugrands 2020, from a tiny, low-yielding, organically-farmed plot was a sumptuous sticky (with 50g/l residual sugar) that was well-priced at £28 (37.5cl).
Newly released by Mentzendorff was the delectable Vin de Constance 2019, one of the world’s great sweet wines – made by Klein Constantia in the western Cape. The winery’s marketing manager, Jacqueline Harris, whose husband is the viticulturist, had flown in from South Africa to showcase the 2019, which she declared one of the best vintages of recent years. She revealed that as many as 26 different passes were made through the Muscat de Frontignan vines to pick the grapes. “Each pass was vinified separately initially and then blended together during the latter part of fermentation to balance out the sugar, alcohol and acidity,” she said. For the record, the RS was 166g/l, the ABV 14%, the pH3.71 and TA 6.1g/l.
Another leading South African estate, Hamilton Russell, was represented by co-owner Olive Hamilton Russell, although not her husband Anthony who was resting at home in Hermanus after breaking a leg skiing. “We think our Pinot Noir 2022 is perhaps our best yet with its pure fruit, spicy structure and savoury notes,” she opined. “Our Chardonnay 2022, which was bottled only in November, we’re also very pleased with.” Both showed really well, retailing at £41 and £38 respectively.
Back in Europe, leading Piemonte producer Ceretto was showing a couple of Barbarescos from 2018 and four Barolos from 2017. Nearly all of its vineyards have been organically farmed since 2015, including their Nebbiolo d’Alba Bernardina DOC 2018, a good early drinker. “2018 is more juicy and fruity than 2017, a challenging year with very strong tannins,” Edoardo Vacca, Ceretto’s export manager, said. The Barolos from 2017 certainly reflected this, notably the Brunate DOCG and the Prapo DOCG (both £125). By contrast, the Barbarescos from 2018 had much more approachable tannins, with the Bernadot DOCG already a pleasure to drink.
Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona in Tuscany have long produced outstanding Brunello di Montalcino. Four labels from 2017 and 2018 were on show, with the Pianrosso 2018, a new release, the pick (£65). Its Rosso di Montalcino DOCG 2020 is drinking well now, and offers value at £20. Its Extra Virgin Olive Oil Biologico (organic), priced the same, is some of Italy’s best, being highly complex with fruitiness, bitterness and notes of artichoke.
Another Tuscan estate, Tenuta Fertuna, was the first Italian winery to make white wine from Sangiovese grapes. Its Droppello Alto Bio IGT Costa Toscana Bianco 2020 (£17.50), of which 30,000 bottles were produced, sells well in both Italy and the USA. Hopes are high it will succeed in the UK market. With a low pH, it possessed vibrant acidity. A super-premium new wine, the Celeo 2018, a 50:50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot aged in 100% new oak, is set to retail at £35-40.
Super-premium Spanish wines were likewise on show with Bodegas Roda’s ultra low-yielding Cirsion 2019 justifying its £135 price tag. An appealing new wine from the Rioja Alta estate was unfurled – the Blanco 2020 (98% Viura, 1% Garnacha Blanca, 1% Malvasia), which was partly aged oxidatively. Further west in Ribera del Duero, Bodegas La Horra’s Corimbo I 2016, from Tempranillo vines aged between 45 and 96 years old, had fine-grained tannins with remarkable concentration and exceptional length.
Across the Portuguese border, in Evora, Cartuxa’s two top-of-the-range whites (both £45) made an interesting comparison. Each were made from a field blend of Malvasia, Arinto, Roupeiro, Fernão Pires and Trincadeira, but whereas the Vinho de Curtimento 2016 was fermented and aged in stainless steel, the Vinho da Tavola 2018 was aged in clay amphorae.
Finally, to the fortified and spirits. The Fladgate trio of Fonseca, Taylor’s and Croft each showed their 2003 vintage ports, all now ready for drinking even though they will reward further cellaring. Taylor’s Golden Age 50-year old Tawny was sensational, its aromas of raisins, clove, prunes and black pepper giving way to notes on the palate of passion fruit, coconut, toasted almonds and butterscotch. At an altogether lower price point (£16.50), Henriques & Henriques’ newly released 5-year old Verdelho Single Vineyard underlined the exceptional value of Madeira of this age. The same could be said for Hidalgo’s La Gitana’s En Rama 2023, bottled straight from its sherry butt especially for the tasting.
To finish with some of the world’s great brandies – a quintet of Delamain Cognacs – was a fitting conclusion to what was a special Mentzendorff annual tasting. The new release of Pleiade La Rambaudie, Cognac Grande Champagne (RRP£180) was accompanied by the first showing of a new organic French gin named Anae (£42). Launched last year, it is a collaboration between creator Pauline Raffaitin, Group Bollinger and Delamain. Its eight botanicals, all sourced in France, are juniper, chamomile, cornflower, lemon thyme, lemon verbena, coriander, fenugreek and maceron seeds (aka marsh pepper).
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