While half of all ‘tastings in the flesh’ are being postponed at the moment, Liberty Wines has held two large-scale events within a week. Following its Burgundy tasting, last Tuesday was the turn of its complete portfolio tasting which was dominated by new agencies which it had picked up from FM&V plus a whole raft of new French wines which our man at the tasting, Roger Jones, was quite taken with. Highlighted wines include the second vintage of Crystallum ‘Ferrum’ Chardonnay, the Mullineaux’s excellent introductory label, Kloof Street, and many more from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
“France, however, is where Liberty seems to have concentrated and increased its portfolio the most,” writes Jones.
Liberty Wines brought back some reality to the wine trade on Tuesday, whilst hosting its annual portfolio tasting at The Kia Oval. What a pleasure to see a busy, full-on live tasting based over the large, open plan banqueting rooms on two floors. Liberty has increased its portfolio especially in the Old World from France, and it was equally impressive to see such a wide range of press, trade and influencers enjoying the event.
Over lockdown Liberty has increased its South African portfolio, these include scooping up Chris and Andrea Mullineaux who run Kloof Street, Mullineaux and Leeu Passant. Sourcing from both Swartland and Stellenbosch these guys have been trailblazers, with many of their wines now placed under the ‘Icon’ category with strict allocation on their wines. However where they excel is in producing ‘introductory wines’ to their portfolio to tease customers into their family. Wines like their Kloof Street range offer value, quality and freshness.
Kloof Street Swartland Rouge 2018, for example, is a Swartland red based on the Southern Rhône style led by Syrah: perfumed, violets and spice, some structure and body but overall it is a forward, easy drinking, food friendly wine that really shines.
Another new winemaker on Liberty’s books is John Thorne Seccombe of Thorne & Daughters, where you will find a fascinating and eye-opening range of white wines highlighting the variance and styles that can be made from some of South Africa’s rarest and oldest vineyards. I have watched John develop his brand over the years and encourage you to try these wines that bring a new dimension to your white wine offering.
With ‘Rocking Horse’ Cape White Blend 2020, Thorne & Daughters John somewhat unusually allows some oxygen in at the start of the wine process, which gives the wine its golden colour, but (do not panic!) it is pretty perfect on the palate: yellow plums, kumquats and a hint of herbaceous bay leaf and thyme. Full flavoured but finishes with a lovely clean acidity. The blend is made up of 25% Roussanne, 22% Semillon, 19% Chardonnay, 18% Clairette and 16% Chenin Blanc. This gives you an introduction to John’s wines, but do also try his single vineyard wines such as ‘Paper Kite’ Swartland Semillon and ‘Snakes & Ladders’ Sauvignon Blanc.
I cannot leave South Africa without highlighting Peter-Allan Finlayson, of Crystallum fame who has, of course, been with Liberty for some time but continues to excel and bring new gems to the table every year, and this time it is his new (second vintage) Crystallum ‘Ferrum’ Chardonnay 2021, sourced just outside Hemel-En-Aarde at Shaw’s Mountain in Overberg. This single vineyard wine has a high degree of ferrous mineral, flint and an attractive Asian citrus freshness, honeycomb and a touch of tangerine perfume, this is textured and will evolve beautifully, with future vintages getting better and better. Interesting the Chardonnay was grafted onto Sauvignon Blanc root stock.
Liberty has always been very strong in Australia and New Zealand so I will just list a few wines that reassured me that these two countries continue to excel.
Henschke, ‘Peggy’s Hill’ Eden Valley Riesling 2021, is new to Liberty and joins the Julius Riesling, which is good news as originally Johann Henschke thought that the UK market did not have the interest for two Rieslings from the same house, especially from the family that produces some of the finest reds in the New World. This Riesling is fresh, focused, zesty with white peach then that classy blend of crisp apples and tangerine.
Shaw + Smith from the Adelaide Hills is, of course, famous for their M3 Chardonnay, but in recent years I have been hugely impressed with their Lenswood Vineyard Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2019. With the vines planted in 1999, and the first release in 2014, this fine-boned, aromatic Chardonnay has notes of brioche then on the palate pink grapefruit and peeled white peaches; stunning and fresh, this will age for more than a decade – a spectacular wine.
Farrside By Farr, Geelong Pinot Noir 2019, is a previous winner of the Mamba Riedel Decanter Awards (with their 2016 vintage); this is not cheap but delivers perfection, and is for me one of the finest Pinot Noirs from Australia.
Over to New Zealand and new to me was Trinity Hills Gimblett Gravels Marsanne/Viognier 2019, this had zing and zang, citrus and lemon curd, nutty and floral, a bit of a hit on first taste but this is a fabulous wine to serve by the glass with food, leaving a fresh and moreish palate.
I was also pleased to see that Ata Rangi has opened up the availability of its Ata Rangi ‘McCrone Vineyard’ Pinot Noir 2016 to a bigger audience where, back in my restaurateur days, it was only offered to ‘friends’ of Ata Rangi… luckily I was included in that list. This aged and profound, precise Pinot Noir from Martinborough is drinking pretty perfectly now and ideal to go straight on your list.
Also on form and offering good value was the Burn Cottage ‘Moonlight Race’, from Central Otago, which was darker and more brooding, with truffles and hedgerow red berries.
An increased focus on French wine
France, however, is where Liberty seemed to have concentrated and increased its portfolio the most. Before we delve into the still wines just a reminder how good the Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve is, based on the 2016 vintage but with 40% reserve wines, this multi-vintage (labelled Non Vintage) delivers one of the best Champagnes at this price range – pure excellence.
As for the still wines, Domaine Rolly Gassmann Riesling de Rorschwihr ‘Cuvée Yves’ Vendanges Tardives 2010, is a bit of a mouthful to read but this late harvest Riesling delivers a pretty luscious wine that is full of floral and fruit-driven flavours balanced with a nutty, tropical vibrant acidity.
I also liked the Domaine Chevalier Ladoix Blanc 1er Cru ‘Les Grechons’ 2019, which was toasty (brioche), flinty then fresh and vibrant on the palate, with delicately refined stone fruit, and real precision.
Of course good Burgundy is no longer in everyone’s pocket, but David Moret Puligny Montrachet 2020, does deliver; sourced from across the Puligny commune, this has spice, texture and those glowing flavours that highlight great Puligny Montrachet.
If you’re looking for value and quality in Burgundy, Domaine Chevrot, Maranges Blanc 2019 is a good place to start. This is racy white wine, from the southern most region of Côte de Beaune, which more generally highlights red and offers a bright, focused, fresh and precise wine with restrained white stone fruit.
Château Moulin Riche offered two excellent value Bordeaux wines, with the Château Moulin Riche Saint-Julien 2014 a wine to list immediately. This delivers everything a customer would want with black cherries, violets, some cedar and a hint of tobacco – succulent and lovely to drink.
Château de Chambert, ‘Grand Vin’, Cahors Malbec 2014, is a rich and powerful wine with luscious red fruits, violet-perfume, cocoa and spice – dark and seductive. This is a Malbec to savour, it is already aged but will continue to evolve and will be glorious with wild boar.
There were some great wines from these two estates – Maison Les Alexandrins and Domaine Les Alexandrins – in particular the Maison Les Alexandrins Condrieu 2019 which was waxy, had citrus, orange blossom, was refreshing and had a real wow factor, if you love Condrieu you will love this wine. From the two Crozes-Hermitage I preferred Domaine Les Alexandrins Crozes-Hermitage 2018; this was structured, savoury, smoky, sweet bacon, bilberries and refreshingly clean on the finish. Also quite superb was the Domaine Les Alexandrins Saint-Joseph 2018, a great bargain, ‘silky and exciting’ I wrote, certainly one of the best Saint-Josephs I have had for some time.
And finally, if your pockets are deep enough, from Racines in the Santa Rita Hills (USA) comes some superb Pinot, especially ‘Sainte-Rose’, Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2019. This rather special Pinot delivers purity and precision, is silky and delicate, refined and powerful, the alcohol was also perfectly balanced.
Big thank you to David Gleave and the whole Liberty team for making everyone feel so welcome and encouraging some sort of normality, we are all very grateful to you all.