Last Spring Fells took over the distribution of Yalumba and a few key wineries from the Negociants portfolio. What are the key changes and how are the new vintages tasting? On one of those beautiful summery days in February we sent Roger Jones along to the Fells annual tasting at the Riverside Rooms, Savoy Place to find out and, not only did he catch up with Yalumba’s Robert Hill-Smith but also many other top winemakers, keen no doubt to see how the Fells portfolio was changing with the new additions.
Robert Hill-Smith has made a very shrewd decision by joining Fells to ensure that his family business continues to highlight the very best from Australia to the Great British restaurateur.
Having known the Negociants portfolio and Hill-Smith family for over 20 years it was with trepidation when I heard last spring that there were changes afoot. However, it seems that the tide has turned and the Yalumba family and friends have settled in well at Fells.
The biggest attraction to Yalumba is that Fells can now offer their wines to a much wider audience and these wines sit within a multi-national world class wine portfolio.
It was interesting to see even more of Fells’ wine principals turn up to this year’s portfolio tasting than normal, maybe to see how good were these Australian wineries that had jumped on board!
So what have the Australians brought to the table besides, of course, Australia’s most historic family-owned winery?
In my mind the best value sparkling wine in the world, delivering quality, finesse throughout their range, the Jansz Tasmania Premium Cuvee and Premium Rose must be the best £ for £ non vintage sparkling available whilst the Jansz Tasmania Vintage Cuvee 2012 is a beautiful, aged, balanced vintage sparkling that oozes with charm and elegance. Us British should be equally worried with Tasmania offering possibly a bigger challenge than Champagne to our English & Welsh Sparkling Wine industry.
Another star from Tasmania specialising in prestige single vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Vasse Felix, Margaret River
One of the icons of Margaret River and one of the original founders (by Dr Tom Cullity in 1967) of this prestige region in Australia, the jewel in the crown being Heytesbury Chardonnay and Tom Cullity Cabernet.
And of course Yalumba itself with not only the new Samuel’s Collection but…
Up there with the finest Rieslings in the world, one of the wines that brought about the rebirth of Riesling throughout the world.
Louisa Rose is rightly renowned as one of the finest female winemakers in the world, especially when it comes to Viognier and Riesling and this wine showcases her immense talents. There are of course other Viogniers in the range.
The Menzies, The Signature et all and of course the sought after limited edition The Caley.
Yalumba has always excelled here where it comes to Shiraz and Cabernet, these wines age with grace and offer exceptional quality but, more importantly, give a feeling of the land and feel of the Hill-Smith family ethos – quality.
All change at Yalumba
So besides moving house what else have Yalumba been up to this last year?
Yalumba is Australia’s most historic family-owned winery, established in 1849 and to this day still owned by the Hill-Smith family. Robert Hill-Smith is the current guardian with his daughter Jessica firmly now back at base as the sixth generation having earned her spurs travelling the wine world in many disguises.
Yalumba Samuel’s Collection
This collection highlights Yalumba’s history and celebrates everything that is so good about this esteemed family’s wine collection and, of course, is in memory of the founder Samuel Smith who went to Australia in search of gold and found “liquid gold”.
Underneath the new labels, to the Yalumba groupie, many of these wines would of course be familiar from trials and single vineyard releases over the years. But what Robert and his team have tried to achieve is to group all of the premium wines together under one brand and one price, with the aim of targeting the premium on-trade and prestige off-trade market.
These are refined wines that offer an exceptional quality at an attractive price. The grapes for all seven labels are sourced from the two Barossa regions of Eden Valley and Barossa Valley.
Tasting notes on Yalumba Samuel’s Collection
Yalumba Eden Valley Roussanne 2017
Delicate aromas of wild flowers; a bouquet of lavender, roses and lilies, on the palate there is white stone fruit, pink grapefruit and sauce anglaise towards the end, the finish has a soft, nutty, honeyed element.
Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2017
Rather racy and exciting, which is how Yalumba do so well with their Viognier; apricots and orange essence, textured, full and refreshing at the end, enticing another glass.
Yalumba Eden Valley Chardonnay 2018
Needs a bit of time, but this is a classic style, fresh and lively, lemon curd with pink grapefruit acidity, delicate stone fruit hidden in background, this wine is all about fresh citrus Chardonnay, zingy and exciting, especially with Indian food.
Yalumba Barossa Bush Vine Grenache 2017
Bright, fresh, focused, a platter of luscious autumn picked dark fruits; cherries, blackberries, Scottish raspberries, juicy plums, silky smooth, the delicate flavours from aged wooden barrels give it a wonderful texture.
Yalumba Barossa Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2017
Strawberries and Yorkshire rhubarb, silky smooth with an oriental spice, palate is full of juicy succulent light berries, wow what a wine, serve slightly chilled on one of these warm British winter days.
Yalumba Barossa Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
Aromas of cedar and redcurrants, then on the palate a rich (inky) brooding wine that opens up in the glass.
Yalumba Barossa Shiraz 2017
Full bodied but restrained, big dark flavours balanced with spices, cherries and dark fruit combine well, great texture and fine finish.
But what about Fells and the old guard?
There are many star attractions to the Fells Portfolio including:
Famille Hugel, Alsace
Alsace still provides one of the best value regions from France, and we must not just think of Riesling, the Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer grapes both offer exceptional quality and value, with Hugel’s Gewürztraminer Classic 2015 offering a stunningly restrained but full flavoured wine that would be beautiful with any savoury dish.
William Fevre, Chablis
Pleased to see Chablis making a comeback on many restaurant lists, the William Fevre Chablis 2017 is a delicate, fresh, bright and balanced wine with a clean floral delicacy offering great value whilst the William Fevre Chablis Grand Cru Bougros Domaine 2012 was just sublime, mineral and rich.
So many highlights here from their added value Cote de Rhone Blanc 2017, to two Condrieu; E.Guigal Condrieu 2017, which was restrained, fresh and elegant and E.Guigal Condrieu “La Doriane” 2017 which was vivacious, vibrant, long and luscious. It was also a rare chance to try the quite rare and outstanding E.Guigal Ermitage “Ex-Voto” Blanc 2006, with its hedonistic nose, wild summer flowers and buttercups dancing with excitement, gentle perfume, still youthful at 0ver 12 years old.
Familia Torres, Spain
So much class here from Torres starting with their Sauvignon Blanc; Fransola, DO Penedes 2017, a great balance between New and Old World, refreshing but plenty of character from some barrel ageing. Milmanda, DO Conca de Barbera 2014 highlights the quality of Chardonnay now coming from select growers in Spain and, of course, they make great red wines such as Perpetual, DOQ Priorat 2015, sourced from 70 year old vines – this velvety, silky, clean opulent wine defies its price tag.
Of course Fells already has a few top New World wineries already on their books such as Te Mata, Terrell’s and Vergelegen amongst others.
I see in conclusion that Robert Hill-Smith has made a very shrewd decision by joining Fells to ensure that his family business continues to highlight the very best from Australia to the Great British restaurateur and independent retailers. I am also delighted to see that Robert continues to think that the British market is an important one for Yalumba and Australia.